“Waiting in the Wings”
Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by Joss Whedon
Wes is dreamily talking about Fred, but there’s a book open on his desk to a picture of a six-breasted demon, so Cordelia deliberately takes that the wrong way just to rib him. They’ll have to deal with her in about a month, so it’s not really urgent. Cordy and Wes discuss what Wes is going to do about his crush on Fred. He’s still biding his time. Cordy wants him to get a move on so that she can live vicariously through his romance. She’s ever so slightly bitter that she has no dating life now that she’s a good and useful person as compared to her endless string of boyfriends in high school when she was a Mean Girl. An uncharacteristically excited Angel pops in to inform them that they’ll be going to the ballet.
Wes might be biding his time regarding Fred, but Gunn definitely isn’t. They come back to the Hyperion together, and he’s very impressed with her appetite considering how tiny she is, but he also casually mentions that she’s gorgeous. She’s definitely smitten. Gunn is however very annoyed that they’ll be going to Giselle instead of the thing he wanted to go to, but Angel is sure he’ll love it. Angel saw this company do Giselle before he had a soul, and even then it made him cry.
The guy who owns the theatre and the rather creepy guy who owns the ballet company discuss how awesome the show’s going to be. Up on the catwalk, a gloved hand grips the railing and there’s a really unsettling laugh.
Cordy and Fred are dress shopping for the ballet—well, they’re picking dresses to wear and then return, anyway. Fred is so psyched to see the ballet that she does a TMI infodump on Cordy, who still doesn’t seem to particularly like her. However, Fred wants advice about Gunn. Before she can say it, Cordy starts giving her advice about Wesley. Neither of them uses names, so Cordelia accidentally encourages Fred/Gunn instead of Fred/Wes. Oops. Then Fred starts up again with her Angel/Cordy shipping, but Cordy barely seems to notice. (Okay, yeah, see, if she was secretly in love with him, she’d be all huffy and indignant, not bored and uninterested.)
Connor spit up on the jacket of Angel’s tux, and Lorne is trying to clean it up. Lorne is also shipping Angel/Cordy, which is incredibly irritating, both to me and to Angel. Why would anyone be pushing Angel towards having a love interest when they haven’t bothered to do something about his curse? Cordy shows up looking gorgeous in her dress. I guess. She’s looking forward to the black tie evening.
Fred really does look gorgeous in her dress and with her hair done up like that.
Gunn is embarrassed about his tux, and Fred doesn’t help by laughing delightedly when he finally shows her. But she’s not being mean; she’s just happy. He’s gorgeous too. Wes emerges as well and gives Fred her shoulder wrap, complimenting her dress. He also gives Cordy her wrap, which allows Cordy a chance to tell him he’s good to go with Fred. Uh oh. They all head out. Lorne will stay home to babysit Connor.
The ballet hall is really nice, but the A.I. team doesn’t have the best seats. Angel and Cordy sit together, and Wes, Fred, and Gunn sit together. The ballet starts, and hello Summer Glau. Fun fact, for anyone who doesn’t already know, this episode was where Joss discovered her, and that’s how we have River Tam in Firefly. So cool. Before long, Cordy is snoring against her chair. Angel taps her on the shoulder, and she just switches to snoring against him. Gunn, contrary to all his expectations, is having a magical experience. Angel, on the other hand, seems very troubled.
They all head out for the intermission. Angel interrupts Gunn’s praises of the ballet to tell them that this is the exact same performance he saw in 1890. Right down to the dancers. Angel’s photographic memory is incredibly useful. Cordy wonders if there will be snacks. Angel immediately rules out the possibility that the dancers are vampires. He and Cordy will go snoop around backstage while the other three go back to watch the show.
Angel accidentally compliments Cordy while they’re discussing what to do about the security guard, and she would like to focus on the compliment, but he’s already forgotten he said it. Cordy thinks she should bribe the guard instead of Angel beating him up, but when a $20 doesn’t work, Angel has to knock him out anyway. They go backstage and discover that backstage is an endless hallway.
The creepy dude who owns the ballet company is watching the performance from his private box. Fred, Wes, and Gunn are watching too. Angel and Cordy find the prima ballerina’s dressing room, and then they get possessed by spirits of the ballerina and her lover and start quoting really adult romantic lines from their dialogue. Then they make out. This is extremely uncomfortable. Luckily, before all that started, Cordy picked up a cross necklace, and when that hits Angel’s skin, they snap out of it.
The ballet continues. The prima ballerina seems rather sad. Cordy and Angel start making out again. STOP IT. They finally make it to the door of the dressing room and out into the corridor, where the love whammy lifts. Also, WHY ARE THERE SO MANY ERECTION JOKES IN THIS EPISODE?
Lorne sings Connor to sleep. He’s annoyed that he wasn’t even invited to the ballet. But there’s something in the hotel. We don’t get to see what it is, but Lorne is surprised.
Angel and Cordy find nothing helpful wandering around backstage, and Cordy realizes that they said some important dialogue in the middle of all the gross romantic dialogue in the dressing room. She thinks they have to go back in there to find out what that was about. Angel super does not want to, but they don’t really have any other options. Fun reference to “I Only Have Eyes for You,” though. Cordy thinks Angel doesn’t want to because he thinks the idea of kissing her (or more) is gross. That’s not so much Angel’s objection.
In the audience, Gunn and Wes are both trying to pull a sly hand-grab with Fred, but before they can accidentally grab each other’s hands by mistake (which would’ve been hilarious), Fred realizes that Angel and Cordy have been gone too long, so they should go check on them. Gunn is very upset about missing the end of the performance.
Angel and Cordy aren’t immediately taken over by the ghost lovers, so they try to force it by reciting the previous dialogue in a very forced fashion. Then kissing, also super forced. Just when they think it’s not going to work, it happens again. And Cordy has dropped the cross this time. Crap.
Fred, Wes, and Gunn go backstage, but the creepy laughing minions from before inform the ballet master that there’s trouble.
Angel and Cordy keep doing that scene, while apparently rounding third base. The prima ballerina wanted to run away with her lover, but the ballet master guy was obsessed with her and was also a very powerful wizard. So, considering that she’s still dancing for him over a hundred years later, that probably didn’t go well.
Wes, Fred, and Gunn can hear Angel and Cordy moaning. Ewwwww. Cut back to Angel and Cordy (actually no please don’t). Luckily, they get attacked by evil minions before things can get entirely M-rated. Angel starts fighting the minions. In the hall, Gunn gets stabbed by another minion. Fred knocks out his attacker and she and Wes fight off the others. These minions are very unsettling. Their faces are like drama masks made out of flesh, and they never stop giggling and/or whimpering. KILL THEM WITH FIRE, GUYS. Or lots of stabbing. That works too.
Fred patches Gunn up. She’s very upset about almost losing him. He finds that sweet and quotes a dramatic line. Then he sobers up when he sees that she really is upset. He hugs her. Then they kiss! The lead-up to it is very good. But, of course, they have an audience: Wesley. Ouch.
Wesley staggers away and falls to his knees, then gets possessed by whatever vibes the ballet master guy is putting off. Angel and Cordy find Gunn and Fred. They fill them in on what’s up with the prima ballerina, and then Wes joins them and fills in the blanks—the wizard’s side of the story. He pulled the ballerina out of time and forced her to dance for him forever. Wes thinks they can break the spell if they find the wizard’s power source and overload it. One way to do that would be to kill his minions, which have started multiplying. The boundaries of backstage are starting to weaken.
Angel tries to get through so he can reach the ballet master while the rest of the team fight the minions. Wes is hurting a lot over Fred/Gunn, but he’s channeling that into fighting effectively. Angel makes it out of their reality bubble and sees the prima ballerina standing in the wings. He talks to her. He’s the first new person she’s spoken to in 112 years. We don’t find out for sure what happened to her lover. Either he didn’t want to keep waiting for her or the ballet master killed her without her knowing. She wanted to dance so much that she didn’t leave when she had the chance. She’s in purgatory, dancing the same performance every time. The ballet master is obsessed with her but doesn’t even notice that she makes the same mistake in the first act every time. She desperately wants it to end.
The team is still fighting the minions. Angel encourages the ballerina to take her fate into her own hands. Change the dance. She goes onto the stage and resumes the performance, and she follows Angel’s advice. Never having seen Giselle, I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen, but apparently she’s not supposed to dance away from the immobile form of her character’s love interest. It’s enough that Angel can make it up to the ballet master’s box. He breaks his gaudy broach, and all the magic fades. The ballerina gives Angel a bow and fades away. Weirdly, the audience isn’t freaking out. Angel punches the butthurt ballet master out.
Back at the hotel, Fred and Gunn are still making googly eyes at each other, and Wes is trying to remain stoic. Cordy is pretty sure she can’t actually return that dress now. Ew. She and Angel awkwardly talk about what happened. Before Angel can actually get to the point, that he might be interested in trying a relationship with her, she spots someone over his shoulder. It’s the Groosalugg! He’s here from Pylea! She runs gleefully into his arms and kisses him, leaving Angel all confused and abandoned. Lorne explains to Angel that Groo is here because he got deposed, so he wanted to find Cordy. Angel goes upstairs to see Connor.
Fred is clutching to the shards of Angel/Cordy, surprised at this turn of events. Wes had rather a lot more emotionally invested in the ship he’d boarded. We end on him all sad.
There are a lot of fun things about “Waiting in the Wings.” I love how Plot A is very fairy tail-esque. It’s a bit reminiscent of both “Hush” and “Once More, With Feeling” that way, particularly with the freaky drama mask minions. And Plot A matches very effectively with Plot B, and with the actual ballet happening in the background. Giselle is about a girl who dies of a broken heart after the man she loves turns out to be engaged to someone else. Plots A and B reverse the genders of the love triangle participants so that each has one woman with two suitors. The character focused on most in each of the love triangles is the one whose love, like Giselle’s, is unrequited. Unlike in the ballet, though, no one dies of a broken heart. Angel is crushed by Cordy ditching him for Groo, Wesley (who was led to believe Fred was interested in him) is crushed when Fred chooses Gunn instead, and the ballet master was so jealous of the ballerina’s love that he cursed her to dance for him forever. It’s all very interesting parallelism. Even though I ship Wesley/Fred and it hurts watching Wesley pine for Fred, I love watching things develop between Fred and Gunn. The buildup for that has been wonderfully paced and the actors have excellent chemistry. The problem is that the Angel/Cordy side of Plot B feels contrived in order to better fit Plot A. It’s really bizarre to watch romantic interest spring up out of nowhere between two characters who have spent two and a half seasons acting much more like siblings. This episode is the first time Angel has displayed any interest in Cordelia (even though it’s not the first episode in which other characters informed him that he was interested in Cordelia), and on Cordelia’s, she mostly seemed oblivious and uninterested except when Angel was complimenting her, at which point she was interested in the compliment. If they really wanted to sell Angel/Cordy (which I’m glad they apparently didn’t, being a valiant Buffy/Angel shipper), then they should’ve worked more clues in over the course of the season, like Angel finding himself gazing at her or Cordelia turning down actual dating opportunities because she would rather spend her free time at the hotel with Angel and Connor. The way it’s been done, it’s like the only reason Angel has noticed Cordelia is that multiple other characters are shoving him at her. In any case, I’m glad Groo showed up when he did to stop that from going any further.
Since I basically already did my rant about how Angel/Cordy has no effective buildup and is executed very awkwardly, I’ll just use this section to talk about a couple of things I actually like about Angel in this one. It’s cool how completely unabashed he is about his enjoyment of ballet. He’s not too “manly” for the arts, or to sing lullabies to his son. It makes him even more appealing as a man that he’s actually invested in things a lot of guys might recoil from, whether because they’re too concerned with their own image or because they’re too apathetic about your interests.
Cordelia overestimates her perceptiveness. She spends most of her time around Fred paying more attention to anything else, but she’s still 100% convinced that Fred wants dating advice because of Wesley. Somehow, she completely missed all the signs of Fred and Gunn’s mutual attraction, even though Gunn, unlike Wes, was never being shy about it. She’s similarly oblivious about her own dating prospects, but I’ll give her a pass for that one, because what girl would want the guy she’s come to consider an older brother to be romantically interested in her?
Wesley is far too polite and tentative for his own good, but so far his ability to keep his hurt to himself does him credit, at least where Fred and Gunn are concerned. What’s upsetting is that he doesn’t seem like his unrequited love is something worth bothering Cordelia or Angel about. They’re his friends! He should be able to talk to them. For that matter, Cordelia, as the one who gave him bad advice about Fred, is kind of obligated to talk to him about it. And Lorne, the sage giver of advice, is living in the Hyperion! Why not have a chat with him? It’s good of him not to want Fred or Gunn to feel guilty when they’re so happy in their new relationship, but that’s no reason to just let his pain sit there as an open wound.
Gunn is so great in this episode. He’s very convinced he will hate the ballet, but he’s not afraid to gush about it when he finds it very moving instead. I really admire the initiative he shows with Fred. He doesn’t push, but he still makes it pretty clear how he feels. And he’s surprisingly poetic when it comes to the kiss scene.
Fred’s reaction to Gunn’s stab wound is so very sweet, and I still love the way she’s the only one who calls him Charles. Also, I think she might’ve had a bit of a crush on Wesley back before he got infected with that “primeval misogyny” nonsense in “Billy,” but I think she gave up on it by the end and thought Wesley had too. Gunn was really amazing with her in that episode, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that was where her feelings for him started.
“Stop calling me pastries!”
“That’s impossible. We’re watching the exact same troupe you saw in 1990?”
“Um, I think he said 1890.”
“Oh. Okay, that’s much more impossible.”
“You know, I was cool before I met y’all.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.