Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Whedonverse Classic #8: ANGEL's "She"

Whedonverse Classic continues somewhat differently today. Instead of highlighting an overlooked or forgotten episode of Buffy or ANGEL, I re-visited the worst episode in ANGEL's history, Bai Ling's "She." Whenever Bai Ling guest stars in a TV show, chances are the episode will soon become the worst episode produced by the show. Bai Ling ruined a friend of mine's week with her turn in the Jack's Tattoos episode of LOST ("Stranger in a Strange Land). I decided to re-visit this episode in hopes it'd become my second least favorite episode of ANGEL.

"She" remains my least favorite episode of the series. As soon as the funny dancing ends, the episode goes straight to the dump. The first post-dance scene involves a guy who makes the mistake of opening a box. In a few seconds, his eyes explode and he's burned alive. The image is an impressive hook. In fact, "She" doesn't lack good ideas. The execution is off. David Greenwalt & Marti Noxon co-wrote the episode. Greenwalt directed it. I'm still confused how the episode missed when the co-creator wrote and directed it, with the help of one of Buffy's superstar writers. I think Joss has a story credit for "She" as well. Your humble blogger won't claim to know what ailed the episode twelve years ago nor even bother to claim he's found a solution to the problems in the episode. I mean, what's the point? I don't think anyone besides me, at this very instant in time, is thinking about "She," especially the big guys and gal behind "She." Joss is working on Wastelanders in rainy London; Greenwalt is working on season two of Grimm; Noxon's writing and producing somewhere (still Glee?).

Somewhat telling is an interview former ANGEL writer-producer Tim Minear gave to Fandom years ago. The interview is available to read on Minear's website. It's part of a four part interview in which Minear talks about every episode of season one. Minear's insights are fantastic, so, indeed, it's telling when the compliments he pours on "She" ignore the actual plot of the episode. Minear highlighted the cell-phone scene between Angel and Cordelia, and complimented Greenwalt for doing the best directorial job of the season. Story-wise, the staff wanted to find a woman who would work well with Angel. I assume they thought of Bai Ling's character first and then filled in the details of her story and why she's in Los Angeles. Most importantly, they needed to figure out what part of her attracted Angel to her.

The demons introduced in "She" are thin metaphors for female genital mutilation in foreign countries who engage in the practice so the females will be more "marriageable." Jhiera and her demons emit heat from their bodies. Each female demon has a strip of raised ridges along their spine that is the core of their "desires and passions." It is their "Ko." The oppressive male demons from their dimension want to remove the ko. Jhiera is an ancient demon goddess who helps them escape to Los Angeles. Angel follows her after the trail of burned bodies and learns the truth about what's going on. Jhiera doesn't trust him and uses her power of seduction to 'slow him down' as it were. He's a male and she doesn't trust him. Angel's not entirely sympathetic to her either. Jhiera can live with collateral damage. Angel can't, and he won't accept folk like Jhiera who will throw away a life to save one. Jhiera throws the freedom thing in his face. Angel tells her to fight, but he'll stop her the day she crosses the line. Jhiera seemingly never crosses the line because she's never seen again.

The best parts of the episode exist outside of the A story. Cordelia's party in the teaser is an all-time great sequence in the show. (I adopted Wesley's style of dance for a high school homecoming dance, but I doubt anyone is interested in finding out more about THAT story). Wesley comes to the office the following morning, sheepish and vulnerable, because his financial situation is a mess, and tears up when Angel offers him a job. Weak, sheepish and vulnerable Wesley is one of my favorite sides of the character. Throughout the episode, he goes out of his way to kiss up to the boss. Cordelia constantly tells him he doesn't need to kiss ass to stick around. One assumes The Watcher's Council influenced Wesley's behavior in the work-place. From what we saw in season three of Buffy, Wesley was a horrible Watcher, probably walked on egg shells from the time he made Head Boy at the Academy to the day he was fired, plus, his upbringing in merry England was the stuff of nightmares, as his overbearing father hurt his son's sense of self-worth daily. Kierkegaard wrote, "“What if everything in the world were a misunderstanding, what if laughter were really tears?” Laughing at Wesley and his quirks is easy in "She" but the behavior comes from a place of tragedy.

The best parts of the A story, of which there are few, involve the tone and spirit more than the actual mechanics of plot. The A story incorporates ANGEL's greatest strength, which was portraying that fuzzy gray area, this real world where easy answers aren't readily available, where morals are as murky as the sewer water Angel steps in as he traverses the city by day. Angel agrees the innocent need protection but not when the protection involves innocents, like Wesley and Cordelia. Jhiera's like a super hero goddess from a bygone era, an era in which figures on the street weren't worth a damn when it meant saving a city from destruction, or saving the world. She sees the world in absolutes. Angel doesn't. Angel's someone who understands Jhiera, though. No character in the Buffyverse understands The Fight more than Angel; the day-to-day fight that lacks glory and accolades. Jhiera thinks nothing of innocent civilians, but Angel considers them daily, because he got a second chance to atone for his sins; if he got a chance, innocent people should have much more than that and should not get caught up in supernatural nonsense. Angel's personal mission statement shows up throughout the season like when he chooses not to save Fred in "A Hole In The World" and during his fight with Hamilton in the finale. "She" succeeds in the A story because of the show's emphasis of the tone and spirit of the show; it's mission statement, in other words.

"She" is an episode best watched once during one's initial viewing of the show. I actually skipped over "She" during my weekly viewings with a friend. I told her the 44 minutes weren't worth it. Of course, since this is ANGEL, there are enjoyable moments, but the parts don't add up to a memorable whole.

"She" is terrible.

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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.