Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by Joss Whedon
We begin the spinoff series with a very noir detective voiceover by Angel while various images of Los Angeles and its seedy demonic underbelly flash across the screen. The only things missing are smoky saxophone background music and for the image to be black and white. The voiceover switches to drunk Angel at a bar, telling some rando dude sitting next to him about the girl who is the reason he came to Los Angeles. Behind him, a few people are playing pool. When they head out, Angel gets off his barstool, slick as it is possible to be, and follows them. The whole being plastered thing was clearly an act.
The three guys from the pool-playing group are vampires! Angel, pretending to be drunk again, staggers up before the vampires can bite the two girls. He fights them, eventually vamping out. He stakes two of them at once with spring-loaded stakes strapped to his arms. The girls try to thank them, but he rebuffs them, and they back away when they see his fangs. He stakes the last vampire and strides away down the alley.
Intro theme! I love the Angel theme music. It’s what made me realize, back when I was sixteen, that my favorite instrument is the cello. Our three main characters will apparently be Angel, Cordelia, and a black-haired, blue-eyed guy we haven’t met yet.
Angel makes his way to an office building, walks through an office that doesn’t appear to be in use, and takes the elevator down to the basement. His apartment. It has lots of rich, dark colors, somewhat reminiscent of the basement apartment he had in Sunnydale, except bigger and with more weaponry on the walls. Angel is unstrapping his spring-loaded stakes when the unfamiliar guy from the opening credits makes his first appearance. He’s an Irish half-demon named Doyle whose face occasionally erupts in blue spikes. He’s been sent to help Angel. He annoys Angel by dropping a quick summary of Angel’s backstory for the benefit of those in the audience who haven’t been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It seems that Angel’s been spending his time since he left Sunnydale doing the same kind of stuff he did in the cold-open. Killing vampires and other monsters, saving people, and avoiding human contact.
Doyle feels that Angel’s so detached from humans that he’ll eventually give in to the temptation to bite them. He may have a point. Angel’s gaze did linger on the bloody forehead of one of the girls he rescued. They head out because Doyle wants a drink while he finishes up his sales pitch. Higher powers have been sending him visions of people who need saving, and these visions are for Angel because he’s capable of making a real difference. The latest vision pertains to a girl named Tina, who works at a coffee shop. Angel is skeptical of his ability to strike up a conversation with a woman he’s never met, an insecurity that Doyle finds just as hilarious as I do. Despite his absurd gorgeousness, Angel’s people skills are shaky.
At the coffee shop, Angel catches a glimpse of Tina, who is begging her manager for extra shifts. She seems nice, but extremely stressed. Angel looks painfully awkward as he tries to chat with her. She seems to find it endearing. She agrees to meet him when her shift ends.
He waits by his car, and she comes out in a Little Black Dress, with her hair up, and she aims a thing of pepper spray at him. She thinks he’s working for this guy who’s been harassing her. He’s able to use his ability to seem utterly woebegone to alleviate her suspicions. She came to LA to become an actress, but she’s had no luck. He offers her a ride to the Hollywood party she’s headed to.
At the party, Angel tries to get more out of her on Russell, the guy harassing her, but she doesn’t want to talk about it. She leaves him alone while she tries to get her security deposit back from the party’s hostess. A Hollywood manager guy thinks he must be an actor and won’t listen to Angel’s denials. Then Angel hears a familiar voice. Cordelia Chase is there! They chat for a minute. She’s an actress, and apparently it’s going great. Her sense of tact is at the same level as when she was in Sunnydale. She ditches him to go keep networking.
An unspecified amount of time passes at the party, and Angel makes his way over to Tina in time to see a guy in a suit giving her a hard time. She’s ready to leave now, but she still doesn’t want to talk about what’s wrong.
They get jumped when they get to the parking garage. Two guys tackle Angel in the elevator, another one grabs Tina, and the guy from the party is there too. She tries to run away, but they catch her again. They’re going to take her to Russell. Angel emerges from the elevator, having left his two attackers unconscious. He jumps into his car, but it won’t start. That would be because it’s not his car. Someone else parked their 1967 Plymouth GTX convertible two spaces away from his. He jumps out and gets in his actual car and starts up a game of chicken with the guys who took Tina. They lose. He pistol-whips one of the guys and punches out the other while Tina gets in his car, and they drive away.
So Cordelia may have been exaggerating about her success as an actress. She lives in a fairly crappy apartment and her agent hasn’t been able to book her any auditions lately. Also, she squirreled away some of the snacks from the party to eat there.
Angel brings Tina to his apartment. He makes her some tea and assures her that he doesn’t expect her to sleep with him in exchange or what he’s done for her. She starts crying, and he tries to get info about Russell out of her. She admits that he’s a major sadist who might be responsible for the disappearance of her friend Denise.
While Tina’s sleeping, Angel looks through her address book, then goes to the library to track down information about Denise on their computers. He finds a police report about the death of a girl with the same tattoo as Denise. When he gets back, Tina’s having a nightmare and whimpering in her sleep. He tries to get her to calm down, then tells her what he found out about Denise. Then she sees the note Doyle gave him with her name on it, and she thinks that means he’s working for Russell after all. She runs away. Angel tries to follow, but she goes into the sunlight. His hand catches fire and he vamps out. Even more horrified, she keeps running.
She makes it to her apartment and starts packing her suitcase. Then she pulls a gun on a guy who just entered her apartment. It’s Russell. He’s a forty-something guy in a suit. She accuses him of killing Denise, and he tells her that’s nonsense. Denise is fine! He gently takes the gun away and says he’ll give her anything she wants. She just wants to go home. She tells him about Angel. Then Russell vamps out, and he looks like he has leprosy or something. Angel rushes in to save the day, but it’s actually been long enough since Russell’s visit that Tina’s dead on the floor and Russell is gone.
That night, Angel watches from a neighboring rooftop as police investigate Tina’s apartment and take away her body. He’s not just going to let this one go. With Doyle’s help, he tracks down the damaged vehicle of Russell’s lackeys.
Russell is watching footage of Tina from the Hollywood party while his lawyer (played by the extremely cute Christian Kane) explains how he’s secured him an alibi for Tina’s death. He sees Cordelia in the party footage and decides to make her his next meal. The lawyer seems to know everything about what Russell is and is totally fine with it. This Wolfram & Hart law firm might be trouble.
Angel successfully tracks down the creep from the party, who tells him where to find Russell.
Cordelia is trying to will good fortune to herself by the power of positive thinking. Her phone rings. It’s the party hostess, who tells her about an opportunity with Russell Winters. Next thing Cordelia knows, she’s in a limo. She thinks this is her ticket to fame and success.
Angel is gearing up to fight Russell. He makes Doyle come along as his wheel man.
Cordelia meets Russell. She’s very impressed with his mansion. She tries to remain perky and optimistic, but she can’t. She tells him about how her parents lost everything due to tax evasion and that even though she’s been trying her hardest, she can’t seem to find any success as an actress.
Angel, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and pretending to be a lost, friendly tourist, gets in under the gate guard’s radar, punches him out, and then swiftly removes the Hawaiian shirt in favor of his usual all-black outfit. He leaps the wall and heads in Batman style. He sets some kind of small explosive in the fuse box and uses a grappling hook to get up to the second floor balcony.
Cordelia, embarrassed about crying in front of a strange man, looks around for a mirror so she can check her makeup. There are no mirrors. Also there are a lot of heavy curtains. Hey, this guy is a vampire! He denies it, but then decides that if she already knows, it’ll save him some time on explanations. He vamps out and moves in for the attack. She runs away. Instead of going for the door like a sane person, she runs upstairs. He uses vamp speed to catch up to her at the top (although if you’re watching in widescreen mode instead of the fullscreen version it was originally shot for, you may notice the actor standing just at the edge of the frame on the second floor while a double walks up the stairs) The power goes out thanks to Angel’s fuse box detonator, and Russell looks around instead of biting Cordelia.
Angel walks out of the dark hallway on the second floor. Cordelia feels very smug about Angel’s timely arrival. Russell is totally screwed. The two vampires fight while Cordelia watches. He probably would’ve been able to finish Russell off, but then armed guards show up and start shooting. Angel takes several bullets to the torso. He grabs Cordelia and jumps over the banister with her. Outside, Doyle hears the gunshots and starts to drive away. Then his conscience overrules his cowardice, and he tries to ram the gates. It doesn’t work, and the car is probably going to need some work. Angel and Cordelia arrive, and the three of them manage to get away.
At Angel’s apartment, Doyle removes the bullets and patches Angel up while Cordelia stands back, trying not to puke or pass out. She’s hopeful that because of Angel’s attack, Russell won’t come after her again.
Russell is having a board meeting or something, and the hot lawyer from earlier is there. Wolfram & Hart has opened an investigation into the identity of the man who broke into his mansion. Just when he’s expressing his confidence that they’ll be able to find him, Angel comes walking right in. He gives Angel a Wolfram & Hart business card and tries to intimidate him with some lawyer talk. Angel walks over to Russell, who explains that because he stays under the radar and pays his taxes, he can do whatever he wants. Angel is intrigued. He puts his foot on Russell’s chair, then kicks him through the window. It’s broad daylight outside, so he bursts into flames and turns to ash by the time the chair falls all the way to the ground. Awesome. Angel heads back out, slipping the lawyer’s card back into his pocket on the way, which is so slick that I actually like it better than how he dispatched Russell.
Hot lawyer guy calls a meeting about Angel. Intriguing.
At his apartment, Angel makes a phone call. We hear Buffy’s voice saying “hello?” on the other end, but he doesn’t speak. Ooh, stealth crossover. Nice. Angel doesn’t feel like he’s really accomplished anything. Doyle tries to convince him otherwise, and then Cordelia starts screaming upstairs. Both guys dash to the rescue, only to find that she’s freaking out over a cockroach. Also, she hires herself onto Angel’s team (because he has a team now), and she thinks he should start charging the people he helps. He’s skeptical and also kind of bewildered by the way Cordelia is taking his office by storm. He considers for a few seconds, then smiles and hands her a box. She’s in. And Doyle has a crush on her already. Angel is on board for Doyle’s “help the helpless” mission plan.
As pilots go, “City Of” is an excellent one, which is particularly crucial for a show as difficult to define as this one. It’s an epic character-driven vampire detective series that is a spinoff of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Huh? But “City Of” does a good job of establishing Angel as a capable but aloof lead, Doyle as a hapless Jiminy Cricket type, and Cordelia as the emotional anchor. It also sets the tone as darker than its parent series (Angel fails to save the girl!), but still with enough whimsy to keep it from being all serious and dour. There are enough familiar things for Buffy fans to feel comfortable, but enough new things to keep them interested. The only complaint I have is about vampface 2.0. I’ve listened to the commentary, and I know that their goal was to make vampface even scarier than it is on Buffy because this show is darker. That’s a goal they definitely didn’t achieve (which is why they reverted to normal vampface thereafter). Vampface in the first few episodes of Angel just looks silly. It’s like they forgot to blend in the makeup all the way, or something, and the bigger brow ridges aren’t helping. That minor complaint aside, I’m especially excited to rewatch Angel now, because in my final semester of grad school, I took a class on detective fiction. Angel came up a couple of times in our class discussions, and now that I’m familiar with so many other detective stories, I’m eager to see what Angel borrowed from the genre and what it added to it.
Angel is freaking awesome in this episode. I’ve loved him since the second he stepped into the alley in “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” but this episode is already providing more concrete reasons to justify that than Buffy managed for a long time. He has a super dry sense of humor, which Buffy only ever gave us brief glimpses of. He’s not only capable in a fight (which we already learned quite well on Buffy), he’s actively seeking out demons to fight. He doesn’t have anyone to impress, he’s just trying to do the right thing. He’s also rather curmudgeon-y and socially awkward (but not in a way that makes him seem like a jerk, so it ends up being super endearing), which lends credence to Doyle’s insistence that he forge connections with the people around him. I don’t know how close Angel was to slipping and feeding off humans again. Considering that he made it almost a full century without succumbing to that temptation before he met Buffy, it seems like a stretch for that to suddenly be a concern now, when he’s actually fighting to protect people. I think it’s more likely that he would’ve ended up back in the condition Whistler found him in than that he would’ve started biting people. Or maybe he would have taken his nightly battles too far and become a vigilante, killing human criminals as well as demons. Then, eventually, he might’ve started feeding off those criminals. But enough hypotheticals. The point is that “City Of” successfully built Angel up from a side character to a main character.
Doyle, as the only new character, will require the most character-building of the three. And what we’ve gotten so far isn’t bad. He has street smarts, there are hints of a questionable past, and Angel’s influence is already bringing out a more courageous side in him than he was aware he possessed.
Cordelia has not been doing well since her family lost everything, but she’s going to work very hard to hide that fact. She has rarely looked as vulnerable as she does when she’s telling Russell Winters how difficult everything has been. After her performance in the talent show in Buffy S1, I’m not at all surprised to learn that she is now failing to catch a break as an actress. I’m hopeful that her interactions with Angel will prove to be very similar to her interactions with Giles. That’s not something I was looking for the last time I watched the shows, but I definitely will be now. Her blunt observations do extremely funny things to mature male characters with serious attitudes.
“Okay, you’ve told me the story of my life, which, since I was there, I already knew…”
“You’ve been watching me?”
“No! I—I just—I was looking towards there, and you-you walked…through there.”
“Do you take milk and sugar?”
“Because I don’t have…those things.”
“Doyle. I don’t want to share my feelings. I don’t want to open up. I want to find the guy that killed Tina and I’m gonna look him in the eye.”
“Then I’m gonna share my feelings.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.