Written by David Greenwalt, Tim Minear, and Doug Petrie
Directed by Bruce Seth Green
We open at the hotel, where Cordelia, either through telepathy or exceptionally bad dubbing, is telling Wesley without moving her lips that they should check on Angel. He’s down in the cellar, from which strange noises are issuing. Apparently he’s been even more aloof than usual because of Darla. Cordy is fed up with this obsession. Wesley has had words with Angel about it. Well. He’s had words with him about his tea preferences. Angel comes upstairs and they hasten to appear as though they weren't just fretting over him next to the cellar door. Angel emerges with an armful of laundry. And why is his shirt tucked into his pants? That’s not the kind of shirt one tucks into pants, unless one is a complete dweeb.
Angel seems to have made progress regarding his Darla obsession. Wes is very smug; he thinks him having tea with Angel is what did it. But then Gunn turns up with news about Darla’s whereabouts, and Angel immediately drops everything in favor of Gunn’s update. Yeah, he was lying about making progress. Wes and Cordy are very annoyed. Darla is at a low-rent motel because W&H isn’t picking up her tab anymore. Angel and Gunn leave.
Darla is in her low-rent motel room, applying lipstick. She decides she doesn’t like it and wipes it off, and not only are her lipstick applying skills top-notch, but she manages to convey an air of deep melancholy through such simple actions as looking at her reflection and changing her mind about makeup options. Someone comes in. It’s Lindsey. He’s been looking for her.
Lindsey has brought Darla back to W&H. She seems a bit resentful about it (and about being alive again in the first place). Holland comes in with a file folder, the very soul of graciousness. Darla doesn’t think she’d be able to do anything about Angel, if that’s what they want. It’s not. Holland hands her the file, because she’s W&H’s “moral responsibility.” Whatever’s in the file has Darla distraught.
Darla isn’t in the motel when Angel and Gunn show up. Angel can come in without an invitation because it’s public accommodation. Makes sense. He could enter Faith’s motel room in Buffy S3. They poke around a bit. Judging from the cross necklace on the dresser, Darla might’ve been expecting Angel to look for her.
Flashback! It’s France in 1765, and a lynch mob is after Darla and Angelus. Their horse is about to drop dead of exhaustion. They’ve been pursued for quite some time, it seems, by someone named Holtz. (Fantastic foreshadowing for S3, that.) They’re hiding in a barn, and for some reason, Darla lights a lantern. Isn’t a lantern a bit of a giveaway, and can’t they see in the dark? Bah. They’re about to have a roll in the hay (both literally and figuratively) when a flaming torch thwacks into a post just over Angelus’s head. The mob’s here! Angelus is ready to fight to the death, but Darla knocks him down with a plank and rides away on their only horse, leaving him to fend for himself.
In the present, Darla is chatting up a super dweeby, mulleted (and balding) vampire in a bar that seems to cater mainly to vampires. With some difficulty and much irritation on her part, she eventually convinces him to turn her in the alley behind the bar. Just when he’s going in for the bite, though, he turns to dust. Hello, Angel. Darla is pissed. Angel doesn’t care. If she turns, he’ll have to stake her again, and he doesn’t want that. He wants her to give being human a shot. That’s going to be a little tricky, because she’s dying. Her syphilis has picked up right where it left off. She’s only got a few months left.
Angel comes back to the hotel with Darla. Cordy and Wes walk out to meet them. She’s got luggage with her, and Cordy is less than happy about this evidence that she’ll be sleeping over. Angel is convinced that Darla’s prognosis is a W&H trick. Darla isn’t. Angel’s reasoning is that W&H are the masters of playing mind games. Way better than he and Darla were in the good old days. Angel has Wes and Cordy keep an eye on Darla while he heads out to prove she’s not really dying. He says she’s not a prisoner, then leaves. Cordy says Darla is a prisoner. She and Wes will be happy to hit her over the head with large objects if she attempts any skullduggery.
Angel breaks down Lindsey’s door and starts making threats. Lindsey interrupts him with an invitation. Angel strides in and gets Lindsey in a chokehold. That won’t be necessary. Lindsey shows him the medical reports. He has files from every doctor he could find, including his own. Darla is definitely dying. It occurs to Angel that it’s weird for Lindsey to care so much. He’s in love with Darla. Lindsey resents Angel for not saving Darla by turning her. But Angel has a very different definition of “saving”—one that doesn’t result in a soulless Darla, and he’s determined to find it.
At the hotel, Darla is sitting in the courtyard while Cordelia rants to Wesley about how Darla doesn’t deserve a second chance after how much evil she did. Then Angel shows up. Cordy is embarrassed, but he wasn’t listening. Wes and Cordy gather from his silence that he didn’t find good news. He heads out to talk to Darla. She wants to run again, unless he’ll turn her. He tries to convince her that’s a bad idea from the “don’t let W&H win” angle, but her priority is not dying, so she doesn’t care who wins. Angel has an idea of how they can figure out what to do.
Darla sings at Caritas! She sings “Ill Wind,” and she’s quite good. I love that song choice for her. Angel is still pretty annoyed with Lorne about fake T’ish trying to kill him, so he’d like Lorne to just tell him how he can help Darla without any of the cryptic frills attached. While Darla sings, Lorne reads Angel a bit too. Angel needs to deal with the fact that he can’t always save everyone, but Angel won’t let it go. He refuses to accept that Darla only has two or three months to live. I think the reason he’s so determined isn’t that he’s in love with Darla but that he identifies very deeply with her situation. He too didn’t make much of his human life, and he’d give anything to have a second chance. If this is Darla’s, then he wants her to be able to have a full lifetime to make the most of it. Darla finishes her song, everyone claps, and Lorne tells Angel about a deadly quest he can do that might save Darla.
In order to access this quest, Angel has to dive into an empty pool. Darla is already very skeptical, but Angel doesn’t hesitate. At the bottom of the pool, Angel gets transported to what looks like a medieval dungeon, where an English butler in a cravat (I’ll just call him Jeeves) is there to give instructions. Darla is suddenly there too, because her life is what’s in the balance. If Angel wins, she’ll be healed. If he loses, she’ll die. While Angel’s doing the trials, she can enjoy refreshments in the antechamber. Bahahaha.
Ominous roaring sounds in the distance while Jeeves explains about the trials. Which require Angel to be shirtless. It should surprise no one that I’m a big fan of this quest.
He has to take off his shoes too. The first trial involves getting past a demon with weapons and chain mail, which can put itself back together if you cut it in half. In the antechamber, Darla is frantic with worry about Angel, and demands to know what’s happening. Jeeves gives her some kind of psychic link with Angel for the duration of the trials, and she spends the rest of the time flinching and feeling generally horrible that Angel’s doing all this for her while he gets beat up by the demon.
After taking a few hits and realizing that this demon heals from getting cut in half, he figures out the trick. He cuts the demon in half again and chains the two halves to separate torch brackets across the chamber. Success! The portcullis goes up. On to the second trial.
The portcullis drops behind Angel. Darla is really not enjoying the show. The ceiling opens up in the corridor beyond the portcullis, and Angel’s eyes widen in fear. The floor and walls are completely covered in crosses. And he’s barefooted. (He could probably rip up his pants and tie the material around his feet to protect them. But I won’t dock him points for not doing that.) He tries to run the length of the corridor, but his feet get so badly burned that he falls down, which puts his entire torso in contact with the crosses. He leaps up again and makes it to the door. It’s locked. The key is in the birdbath a ways back. Which is full of holy water. After sustaining many more burns, he manages to get the key and unlock the door.
Jeeves is quite impressed with Angel. So is Darla. Time for the third trial. Angel hobbles into the next chamber, where shackles catch his hands and pull them tight so that he’s standing there spread-eagled in the middle of the chamber. Jeeves appears and claps. The third trial is simply a wall of stakes that will fire at Angel while he’s chained up. Certain death. Angel can tell Jeeves to fire the stakes, or he can walk away. He’ll survive, but Darla will die instantly. Jeeves asks if the world will be a better place with Darla in it but no Angel. Darla clearly doesn’t think her life is worth this. Angel does. He tells Jeeves to go ahead. The stakes fire. Darla screams. And then Angel is standing right in front of her, fully clothed again (dang it) and very much not dust. Darla is relieved beyond measure, and she calls him Angel for the first time since Buffy S1, I think.
Jeeves congratulates Angel for completing the trials. He even says “kudos,” which is probably the most hilarious moment in the episode. He put his hands to Darla’s head to heal her...but he can’t. It seems the Trials can only save the life of people who haven’t already been given new life through supernatural means. (Does that mean Angel would be ineligible because he came back from hell, or because he got turned human by Mohra blood? And I guess Buffy would be ineligible after Buffy S5, because Xander resuscitating her in “Prophecy Girl” wasn’t supernatural.)
Jeeves shows Angel the door, straightens his cuffs, apologizes for not being able to help them, and vanishes. Angel kills the two demon guards in the room and smashes everything else, ending in repeatedly punching a stone pillar until he collapses to the floor in defeat. Darla approaches him, full of sympathy.
Later, they’re at Darla’s motel. Angel wonders if it wouldn’t be horrible if he turned her, since he has a soul. Maybe she’d end up keeping hers. Darla no longer wants to be a vampire again. She’s so touched by everything he was willing to do and sacrifice for her. Nobody has ever cared that much about her in over four hundred years. She can be content with the little time she has left, with dying the way she should have died in the first place. Angel sits beside her and promises he’ll be with her until the end. She starts crying, and he puts his arm around her. The camera moves to a wide shot. Credits?
NOPE. The reason it’s a wide shot now is so that we can see four W&H goons breaking into the room. They tase Angel immediately and duct tape his hands together behind his back, and they hold Darla in place. Lindsey comes in. He grabs Angel by his hair and asks an extremely meta question: “How did you think this would end?” In walks Drusilla. She’s here to do what Angel wouldn’t. Angel knows it’s her before he sees her. Darla is terrified, but she can’t do anything. While Angel watches the nightmare unfold in front of him and Lindsey seems to feel slightly guilty about what he’s done, Drusilla drains Darla and then feeds her her blood.
“The Trial” is my favorite episode of Angel. Yes, even over “I Will Remember You.” I might even like it better than any of my favorite Buffy episodes. It’s basically perfect. And not just because Angel spends about a third of the episode shirtless. There’s excellent humor (particularly in the scene with the pockmarked mullet vamp). Darla’s song in Caritas is absolutely lovely. The trials (especially two and three) are excellent, and you really get a sense of how unpleasant they are because of the way they’re shot, with Darla watching. Jeeves is an entertaining addition to that sequence as well, as an impartial but intrigued third party. The twist is one of the one of the biggest and best-executed gut-punches in the entire Buffyverse, and Lindsey’s almost fourth wall breaking line is the cherry on top. On a deeper level, I feel like this is the first episode where you really get a sense from David’s and Julie’s acting that these characters are centuries old and understand each other on a level that the mortal characters can’t quite grasp. It’s kind of mesmerizing to watch the scenes they have together. If the acting and writing had been that good in “Angel” (as in, the seventh episode of Buffy S1), then that would probably be my all-time favorite episode.
I feel like “The Trial” is very similar to “I Will Remember You” in terms of what it says about Angel. It’s almost more brutal, even. Angel is put in a position where he has to give up everything for someone else. What I like better about his sacrifice in “The Trial” is that it’s not about romantic love. Angel isn’t in love with Darla. This is agape. Pure, selfless love. He’s willing to die to give Darla a chance at life, even if that means he’ll never be able to live out his destiny and earn his own chance at human life. That’s how badly he wants to believe redemption is possible for anyone with a soul who wants it. Darla recognizes that when she watches him go through the trials. It’s why she calls him Angel—identifying him as someone separate from Angelus for the first time. It’s why she can face disease and death with a feeling of peace. It’s not all bad if someone like Angel is in her corner. I’m gonna cry. I better move on to Cordy’s analysis.
I kind of love how little sympathy Cordy has for Darla. As far as she’s concerned, Darla means trouble for someone she cares about very much, so she’s going to be very protective of Angel (even when she’s annoyed at him), even when Darla just seems to be a frail woman who’s very close to giving up all hope. But as fun as it is to watch Cordy being all protective, I also wish she could trust that Angel might actually be able to get somewhere with Darla. She’s seen quite a few examples now of Angel helping people who seemed past saving, Faith being the most prominent example. Angel tends to have pretty good instincts about people who can be reached. It’s why he continues to be so hostile to Lindsey.
Wesley seems to be getting increasingly passive-aggressive in his approach with Angel when he doesn’t agree with Angel’s methods. And Angel is starting to keep things he knows Cordy and Wes won’t like to himself. It’s a subtle fracture in their dynamic as a team, but this communication problem lays the foundation for what’s going to happen very soon.
It seems like Gunn’s role in the team is to do legwork and to be Angel’s backup on recon trips. Last season, Angel did all the legwork himself (and Doyle did some of it before he died), and Wesley was the one who served as his backup. It sort of seems like the more time Angel spends with Gunn, the less he’s spending with Wesley. I wish Gunn’s increased inclusion didn’t have to come at Wesley’s expense. I love Angel and Wesley’s friendship. The scene where Gunn and Angel check out Darla’s motel room also serves to stealthily set up Drusilla’s arrival at the end of the episode. If Angel can get inside without an invitation, then so can Dru. Very nicely done.
“Like...did he prefer milk or sugar in his tea. It’s how men talk about things in England!”
“I sense pain and anger. You still testy from last time?”
“Oh, when you sent me to that swami who was dead and his imposter tried to kill me? Why would I be testy about that?”
“Okay. I know I’m probably going to regret this—in fact, being prescient, I’m actually sure of it.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.