Written by Tim Minear
Directed by Nick Marck
Cordelia is poking around an online database about demons. It seems pretty useful, but not quite comprehensive. There’s nothing in there about Wolfram & Hart (ooh, cool, A.I. is suspicious enough about them that Cordelia is using her downtime to research them), and the species from “She” is also missing. Wesley feels this is evidence that good old book research isn’t quite obsolete yet. Cordelia makes a joke about how there should be a dating site for demons if there’s a database of them. Wesley isn’t amused, so then she switches to prodding him about his complete lack of a social life. He in turn mocks her shallowness.
Angel appears in the hallway, having overheard their increasingly petty argument. He wants them to knock it off. But they just keep escalating. They finally press pause on their squabble when a beat-up guy in a suit staggers into the office looking for Angel. They help him into a chair and tells them about how his brother was kidnapped. Then he shows them the little box containing his brother’s finger, which was mailed to him that morning. He needs their help because the kidnappers aren’t human.
After the credits, he’s still telling them about his brother. He thinks the kidnapping might be related to his brother being in trouble for his gambling debts. Angel has him write down everything he saw of the kidnapping. Meanwhile, he’s going to go shake down the bookie.
A group of people are playing poker in some shady location. Then Angel strolls in. Seems one of the players is that bookie. He tries to pull a gun on Angel, but Angel catches his hand before he can get it aimed. Lucky for the guy, he doesn’t want to fight, he just wants info about the kidnapped guy. They go out into an alley. Bookie guy doesn’t want to tell him anything, but then he bribes him. Real smooth, too. He makes like he’s going to give him a light for his cigarette, but then it’s cash instead of a lighter.
Angel goes to the location the guy gave him. Back at the office, Cordelia is searching the demon database for things that match the description Mr. McNamara gave them. Wesley feels that he’ll be able to find the demon much more quickly in his books, but before he can finish his smug sentence, Cordelia has already found what they’re after. Which is likely the thing Angel’s about to encounter in this sewer tunnel he just climbed down into. He finds a body buried in cement. Uh oh. Also, why is he using a flashlight? Is that for the audience’s benefit or does he really need it to see down there? He gets jumped by two of the same kind of demon Cordelia just looked up, but he successfully beats them up and gets info out of them. Someone is lurking a little farther down the tunnel, watching all this go down.
Angel goes to the location the demon gave him, where Jack McNamara was apparently sold. It seems to be some kind of black tie, exclusive event. Tickets are required for entrance. Unless you’re strong enough to pull a steel grate off the outer wall, which Angel is. He goes inside and comes up to a table where a pretty brunette is drinking alone. She knocks a card off the table with her glass, and he snatches it out of the air in a rather charming fashion. She seems charmed. He returns the card, which is a gambling voucher for what looks like a fight.
Sure enough, in the next room, a crowd of spectators is gathered around a pit where two demons are fighting. They cheer for the big green demon to deliver a killing blow. The guards inside the pit toss him a dagger, and he uses it to slit his opponent’s throat. The announcer grabs a microphone and introduces the next fighter. Trepkos (who looks like a humanoid ankylosaurus) has won more fights than any other demon. Angel spots Jack McNamara walking into a back room on the other side of the observation area. Strangely, he appears to be unharmed and walking of his own volition. Angel follows.
Then a bright light turns on. Jack and his brother both standing there. It seems they pull this trick on a lot of demons, but not many make it past the howler demons in the sewers. Angel tries to fight his way out, but they tase him unconscious. He’s going to be one of their fighters now.
Angel wakes up in a cell underground. Broad red lines are on the floor of the facility, and Angel is now sporting a shiny new bracelet with XXI on it. He has a bunkmate, a fairly ugly demon. He tries chatting with him in a few different languages, but he gets nothing. Jack comes out to explain the rules. You can’t cross the red line or badness will happen. They’re all prisoners unless they can get their bracelets off, which only happens after you’ve won twenty-one fights. Angel isn’t interested in killing anyone for sport.
Wes and Cordy are trying to figure out where Angel is. They tried Kate, but she neither knows nor cares where he is. Wesley thinks it might not be an emergency, but Cordy doesn’t feel like erring on the side of optimism. Wesley gears up (awkwardly) and heads out to talk to the same bookie Angel met with.
In the mess hall area of the fighters’ prison, everyone’s been served a scoop of nasty-looking gruel. What, no blood for the vampire? One of the demons steals a shrimpier demon’s food. *squints* Hey wait a second. The shrimpy demon is totally played by the same actor as the frat guy with the weird, powdery-looking hair in “Fear, Itself.” His hair looks much better now.
Angel calmly tells the bully demon (the same one who won the fight he witnessed, who looks like a frog and even has the long sticky tongue) to give the bowl back. Frogger threatens him, and guards on the other side of the red line charge up their tasers, but Angel just slides the bowl back to its owner.
Later, the demon kid he helped comes up to him to express his lack of appreciation. Jack and his brother come in to announce the night’s matches. Trepkos versus the demon kid. The demon kid promptly drops his bowl. He’s terrified, but then he goes to trash talk Trepkos anyway. Trepkos says nothing. Then Angel’s roommate makes a mad dash for the red line. Angel tries to stop him, but he jumps over it and incinerates immediately, his bracelet clattering to the ground. Angel will be fighting in his place that evening.
The bookie is beating a guy up when Wesley arrives to ask about Angel. The bookie expects another bribe for more information, but Wesley doesn’t feel like giving it. Instead, he pulls a crossbow on the bookie, who sneers at it and pulls a gun. Then Wes shoots him in the hand, making him drop the gun, and pinning the hand to the wall. He then pulls a gun on the bookie’s goons with his free hand. Daaaaang, Wes! That’s the coolest he’s been his entire run in the Buffyverse! The goons all drop their weapons and leave the room. Then Wes wiggles the crossbow bolt pinning the bookie’s hand to the wall and asks him again to tell him where Angel is.
The announcer guy once again introduces the night’s events. Meanwhile, up in the observation area, the brunette from earlier has a chat with Mr. McNamara about Angel. She wonders if the fact that he has a soul will make him a better or worse fighter. She bets Angel will win.
Angel is standing with his back to the wall while all the other demons who are fighting tonight warm up. The demon kid comes to give him advice about his opponent, but Angel doesn’t want to play along with this whole demon gladiators scenario. Jack comes in to bring out Angel and his opponent, a lean but incredibly agile demon. Angel defends himself but doesn’t take the offensive. The other demons are watching from the prison area. Frogger in particular is disgusted that Angel isn’t fighting.
Cordy and Wes, both dressed nicely enough to look like a couple of guests at the fighting ring, come walking up to the entrance. Cordelia scopes out a couple of actual guests, and then they go con them out of their tickets by pretending to be plainclothes detectives who are about to take down the whole operation. Cordelia may not be a great actress when it comes to actual acting jobs, but she can grift well enough. Wesley barely manages to not lay it on too thick, and they succeed in getting the tickets. After their marks drive away, Cordelia smacks Wesley for being such a dork.
Angel is pretty much getting whaled on. The crowd is booing. Cordy and Wes come in and spot Mr. McNamara. Then they get close enough to the ring to see Angel, and they’re horrified. According to Wes, demon fighting pits like this have been a thing since the days of actual gladiators. He explains the bracelet/disintegration rule to Cordy. A guard tosses a knife into the ring so Angel’s opponent can finish the match. He cuts Angel on the arm, and Angel vamps out. The spectators start chanting for a killing blow again, but to their surprise, Angel is the one who makes it. They start chanting his name instead, and Angel looks at the blood on his hand. Cordy and Wes seem to understand that he didn’t want to have to do that.
Now it’s time for Trepkos and the demon kid to fight. Angel passes them on their way in and his way out. He tells them the system will break down if none of the demons actually fights. Frogger thinks he’s an idiot. Trepkos just says he’ll kill the kid quickly. Which he does.
Cordy and Wes leave. Cordy wants to tell the police, but Wes thinks that either a) the police already know and are getting a cut of the profits or b) McNamara would just kill all the fighters and bury the evidence if he caught a whiff of police near his operation. Their best bet is to find a way to unlock Angel’s bracelet. Luckily, Cordelia swiped the bracelet McNamara was playing with, so they have one with which they can reverse-engineer a key. It’s the first time Wes and Cordy have smiled at each other all episode.
Jack comes down to the prison to have a good mocking session against Angel. Jack was a little too confident in the red line, though. He should’ve remained at least an arm’s length away, because at this distance, Angel can reach across, and since it’s only his arm across the line and not his whole body, he doesn’t incinerate when he grabs Jack by the throat and pulls him over into a headlock. The guards rush in, but there’s nothing they can do without crossing the line as well. Angel tries to get one of the other demons to check Jack’s pockets for a key to their bracelets, but they just sit there. Angel yells at the guards to go find McNamara. They bring him down, and Angel tries to use Jack to trade his and the others’ freedom. Instead, McNamara just shoots Jack (and Angel through him) a few times, totally stonefaced. Then the guards come over and taze Angel unconscious again.
Angel wakes up in a squashy leather chair, in a large office with a great view of downtown. It’s the office of the brunette, and Angel’s gladiator bracelet is off. He figures out that she works for W&H based on the law books in her bookcase and the fact that she was at the ring. Her name is Lilah Morgan. She convinced McNamara to sell Angel’s contract to W&H. He’s free as long as he doesn’t make trouble for McNamara’s ring. Angel isn’t interested. Chaotic Good doesn’t get along well with Lawful Evil. They get right up in each other’s faces in kind of a sexy way (can’t blame Lilah), and then Angel tells the guards to take him back to the ring.
In Angel’s apartment, Wesley’s working on different potential keys for the bracelet, using a text he translated about these demon fighting rings and a voltage meter. He nearly electrocutes himself with one try.
Angel comes back to the ring and has his bracelet slapped on again. Trepkos and Frogger can’t believe he came back. McNamara is confident that the other demons still won’t work with Angel. Especially since he’s pitting him against Trepkos, who only needs one more kill to be free.
Wes is trying a different conductor while Cordelia hides behind a pillar. This one’s too weak to do anything at all. Cordelia volunteers a strand of hair from the horse she owned before her parents lost everything. Um. What? Hair doesn’t conduct electricity, whether it comes from a human or a horse.
Why couldn’t the solution just be a spell of some kind? Every time they try to bring physics into it, they screw up. Also, Wesley isn’t even using the hair to complete any circuit. He’s just poking the bracelet with it. Now, if they were trying to disrupt the bracelet’s circuit, then maybe that would work. He does manage to get the bracelet open using the horse hair. Dangit, it’s not even attached to anything! He’s just holding it with pliers!
Angel, looking even more stony-faced than usual, enters the ring. Trepkos follows. Angel tries one last time to convince him not to play McNamara’s game. He promises to kill Angel quickly. The fight starts with a swift kick from Trepkos to Angel’s stomach. Angel is definitely not the stronger fighter of this pair, although it probably doesn’t help that he let that other guy whale on him for so long and then got shot.
Cordelia wanders down to the underground part of the facility, pretending to be a ditzy guest in search of the bathroom. The guard falls for the distraction, giving Wesley time to slip past him into the prison area. He gets the attention of Frogger, who tells him Angel’s dead. Or, nearly. Wesley shows Frogger his key to the bracelets, which is just the horse hair pinched at the end of a metal stick. *rolls eyes* That doesn’t make any sense! Frogger steals it with his tongue before Wesley can finish explaining how he wants this deal to work.
Angel is barely holding his own against Trepkos when the guards toss in a pair of quarterstaffs with sharpened ends. Wesley finds Cordelia up in the audience and tells her about Frogger stealing his key. They need a new plan. Wesley thinks that plan should involve McNamara, who is on the other side of the audience. In the ring, Trepkos stabs Angel in the gut with his quarterstaff, but Angel breaks it off and keeps fighting. He’s about to kill Trepkos when he backs down, in defiance of the chants of “killing blow.” In the prison, Frogger has just opened his bracelet! He goes to watch Angel and Trepkos’s fight and sees Angel show Trepkos mercy. But then Trepkos gets up and starts beating Angel up some more. Trepkos raises his fist to punch Angel again, but their eyes meet, and he slowly lowers his fist. The audience stops chanting. Trepkos walks away from Angel, who then collapses. McNamara orders the guards to kill Angel and Trepkos, but then Wes pulls a gun on him. The man must be insane, because he’s as intimidated by that as he was when Angel took Jack hostage.
Demons come bursting through the doors into the ring. Frogger opened all of their bracelets. Wes and McNamara struggle for control of the gun. The demons start fighting guards. Frogger opens Angel’s bracelet. McNamara gets the gun, but then Cordy knocks him into the ring. He aims the gun at Trepkos, but Angel knocks his hand down. Then Frogger slaps a bracelet on him and tosses him to Trepkos, who throws him over the red line. He incinerates. Then Frogger unlocks Trepkos’s bracelet, and Trepkos helps Angel walk out.
Wes and Cordy are supporting Angel out of the building. They tell Angel the story of how they came up with the key. And they watch the demons leave, feeling proud of themselves until it occurs to them that they weren’t just warrior slaves, they were demons. So maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to set them loose in L.A.
Gladiator hadn’t come out yet when this episode aired, or I would’ve suspected that the writers had just gone to see it and decided to mix some demons into that formula. “The Ring” is pretty fun, but only if you don’t think too hard about that little joke at the end. We’ve had plenty of examples by now of demons who are good or at least neutral, so there’s no reason to assume that the demons the A.I. team freed are now going to run amuck in the city, killing and maiming people. They didn’t seem like they were necessarily soulless evil monsters. But we’ve still seen far more examples of evil demons, so it would have been helpful if they’d dropped a line or two of dialogue about how McNamara particularly enjoys forcing good demons to fight to the death, or how W&H recruits the winning demons to be their bruisers, or something. That would’ve made Angel’s determination not to kill any of his fellow prisoners a little more logical. Because if they’re just a bunch of monsters, then why not kill them? Was it just that he thought the only way out was teamwork? Bah. They could have made so much more out of this premise in which the humans are the villains and the demons are the victims, like that it’s not okay to exploit a “lesser” creature for your own gain, or something. Some of the stuff that’s unambiguously good about the episode includes Wesley and Cordelia getting great opportunities to shine and the introduction of Lilah Morgan. Wolfram & Hart hasn’t been mentioned for a while, but now they and A.I. are officially on each other’s radar.
Even though the premise of this episode is a little screwed up, it’s still a fairly strong showcasing of the strength of Angel’s integrity. He fights to help people and for redemption, not for the enjoyment of wealthy spectators. He can’t be bought and he can’t be intimidated. He will doggedly pursue what he thinks is right, even if the battle is an extremely steep uphill one.
Having watched Leverage, I’m very intrigued by Cordelia’s ability to act only when she’s doing it for a case. I love that there’s a practical application for that skill set. And I love that she doesn’t get to use it to make herself famous and wealthy like she wants to be. The family metaphor with the A.I. team continues now in the form of Wes and Cordy’s sibling rivalry type behavior, and Angel saying “children, we have company” in order to break it up. Each of them is very good at working with Angel, so in order for them to learn how to work together effectively, Angel had to be the one who needed saving.
I love the lengths Wesley is willing to go to already on Angel’s behalf. He might be a bumbling sycophantic spaz when interacting with Angel directly, but he’ll pull guns and crossbows out with steady hands and threaten people in order to help him. And I think this is the first episode where he and Cordelia really recognize each other’s strengths as members of the team. Cordelia, despite her lack of tact, has much better people skills than him, but he’s the one who can do the intellectual legwork.
“There’s not one reason why we can’t work together.”
“You’re right. There are about a thousand.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.