Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Whedonverse Classic #3: ANGEL's "The House Always Wins"

Season 4 of ANGEL has one stand-alone episode, which is "The House Always Wins." David Fury points this out in the commentary track of the episode. I paused, as I thought deeply about other season 4 stand-alone episodes. Couldn't "Players" be considered a stand-alone episode? But no, one would've needed to see "Ground State" to understand the A story. I chose to write about "The House Always Wins" for the third post of the Whedonverse Classic because of the big green demon, Krevlorneswath of the Deathwok Clan.

"The House Always Wins" is a very average episode of television. Gunn, Fred and Angel hit the road for a brief vacation in Las Vegas and, also, to meet up with Lorne, who left the Hyperion in "Tomorrow" to pursue his show business dreams. There's a brief exchange between Gunn and Angel about Lorne 'reading' him, but Angel just wants to getaway from the nonsense of Los Angeles. The vampire with a soul recently emerged from months trapped under the sea, kicked his son out of the hotel, tried and failed to find Cordelia; and his former friend and trusted colleague, Wesley, is in bed with the enemy. Literally. Las Vegas is an opportunity for Angel to return to a simpler time when he hung out with the Rat Pack and Bugsy Siegel. The vamp with a soul thinks he and his friends will take in a show, catch up with their friend, and return to Los Angeles in better spirits.

Angel can't enjoy a brisk walk around the block let alone enjoy an uninterrupted stay in the City that Never Sleeps. Lorne possesses a wonderful ability to help people shape their destinies. He's an empath demon who can see into one's soul when one sings a song to him. Angel met him in the season two premiere, and he's become a vital member of the team ever since. Lorne is the heart of ANGEL. Someone wrote a terrific essay about the character in The Five Seasons of ANGEL book. Winifred Burkle once told him, over a sinful amount of Chinese and in lieu of absolutely nothing, that she thought most people would prefer to be green, Lorne's shade if they had the choice. The line connotes the feelings of love and friendship the team, not just Fred, felt towards their Pylean friend. The character helps in a myriad of ways throughout the series. Aside from his empath ability, he knows practically every demon in Los Angeles thanks to his years of running Caritas, a demon karaoke bar that mystically prevented violence from happening; it was a spiritual sanctuary for any demon looking for peace, quiet, song, and their path of destiny. Lorne constantly hit the streets for a tip, a cure, anything really, that would help his friends.

Lorne's exit in "Tomorrow" was a big blow to Gunn and Fred. Everything went to hell after Wesley tried taking Connor away from LA. Cordelia and Angel were supposed to meet at a beach, but Cordy ascended to a higher plane, and Connor trapped Angel in a water coffin. Groo left. When Lorne left, it felt like ANGEL Investigations would cease to be; all who remained were Gunn, Fred, and the woefully raised Connor Angel. Things are slightly better several months later. Lorne found success in Las Vegas. Angel is back and happy with Gunn and Fred. So when they watch Lorne entertain an audience in Las Vegas, they're beaming for their friend. He's singing songs, engaging the audience, meeting packs of fans backstage, but he ignores them. Lorne acts like he doesn't even know them. But why?

It's surprising that the ANGEL writers didn't turn Lorne's ability around on him in seasons two or three. I mean, it's not like Lorne didn't get beat up occasionally by someone who wanted access to his gift, but no one tried to control him in order to control other people's lives and futures. Lee DeMarco, a seedy Las Vegas casino owner, of the Tropicana, used Lorne's ability for evil. The one time Lorne said no to Lee, Lee blew a girl's brains out. His free-will disappeared, and he was literally caged-in by DeMarco. Each night, Lorne read people who sang along with him, fed their destinies to Lee DeMarco, who used the information to steal their destinies for profit via mystical magic. So, yeah, Lorne needs some saving, which is a rarity.

Gunn and Fred eventually save Lorne, and Angel (when he loses his destiny to the casino). Lorne being saved is a foregone conclusion; but saving Lorne and Angel isn't enough, he needs to save the people who's lives he helped steal. Lorne has the triumphant moment of any character who's been held captive and forced to do bad things against his will: he destroys Lee and the magic ball in one fell swoop. The destruction of Lee isn't physical. One doesn't need to literally kill a man to kill a man, as Aquinas once opined.

Lorne returns to Los Angeles with his friends. Angel's confused about how he could've saved his friends lives if he had no purpose. Lorne tells him, "Well, even without a flight plan, bucko, you're still a stealth bomber. You were fighting for your friends' futures. The people you love are part of your destiny. Nobody can take that away, not even you." The line is a microcosm of the aspects of Lorne that make him great. This isn't the first nor last time he'll impart helpful words to his friends. He understood people, considered people as individuals, each and every one special and unique, and he didn't judge. Lorne doesn't need a gypsy or anyone yelling at him to help him realize he needs to atone, regardless of the circumstances of what he needs to atone for. Lorne just Gets It.

"The House Always Wins" isn't the greatest showcase for Lorne, though it is a great showcase for the late Andy Hallett. There were better episodes with Lorne, like "Happy Anniversary" and "The Life of the Party." The best Lorne moments happen within episodes that don't have anything to do with him. This episode's notable for its enduring message: "the people you love are part of your destiny." Yes, indeedy.

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.