Angel 4x17 Review: Chess Pieces
Written by Steven S. DeKnight
Directed by Steven S. DeKnight
Angel is confronting the thing that’s been pretending to be Cordy. She wants to know how he figured her out. It was her phrasing when talking about the baby, which was the same as used by the big scary voice talking to Angelus. They were already suspicious, but that’s what tipped the scales. Angel knows this thing isn’t Cordy. Before he can try threatening her to find out where the real Cordy is, Connor comes bursting in, tranqs Angel, knocks out everyone else, and flees with her. Crap.
Gunn gets back to the hotel after the rest of the team, at which point they all update him. Angel knows Connor’s only working for evil Cordy because she’s been manipulating him. They try to figure out when Cordy stopped being Cordy, and they figure she returned to this dimension with it, but it only woke up after Lorne’s spell to get her memories back. Also, the Beast probably killed everyone at W&H because they had the info sucked out of Lorne’s head, which could be dangerous to this evil being.
Angel guides the rest of the team through flashbacks on how Cordy pulled off all the inside jobs all season. She killed Manny the Ra totem (while naked), killed the Svear family while everyone else was busy, and stole Angel’s soul. Also, the vision of the spell to reensoul Angel was actually a spell to screw up Lorne’s empath ability so she could remain under the radar. Then she personally let Angelus out of the cage, and handed Lilah to him on a platter. Wes is deeply troubled by the idea that Cordelia killed Lilah. They’re all very certain now that Cordy’s baby is evil.
Connor has brought Cordy to an abandoned meat locker or something. She tries to convince him that the rest of A.I. are the unreasonable ones for trying to kill her and the baby. She says the reason Angel would do that is because he hates him for stealing her away from him. The creepy music starts again. These are exactly the right buttons to push with Connor. She pretends to be all sad because of how Angel has turned everyone else against her.
At the hotel, Angel joins Wes in the office after trying and failing to track Connor and Cordy by scent. Angel looks at his old sketch of Cordelia. Angel tries to tell Wes how sorry he is about Lilah. Wes resists the sympathy at first; why would Angel care about her? They were enemies. Well, Angel’s a good friend. He cares about Lilah’s death because Wes does. Wes is definitely touched by that. Wes proposes they ask the Powers about Cordy directly. Angel doesn’t think the Powers care, considering how they haven’t already stepped in. He thinks they have another option.
Cordy grudgingly accepts the meat locker hideout. Connor is still struggling to accept the idea of Angel attacking Cordy. Maybe he’s still Angelus! She says no. Angel’s been manipulating him to keep him in line. Then she starts with the “who can say what’s good or evil anyway?” Unfortunately, Connor hasn’t grown up reading comic books, so he doesn’t realize that she’s giving the most classic of all villain rationalization speeches.
Fred and Gunn are looking for clues in Cordy’s room, which she kept in pristine condition. Angel heads out to shake down some demons for info. He finds Skip down in a dungeon-y lair, eating buffalo wings. He says the Powers wanted him to keep quiet about the stuff with Cordy, and that Angel should move on because she’s on a higher plane. Angel points out that they’re a few plot threads past that now. Skip says he hasn’t seen Cordy since she ascended. Angel thinks either Skip is as much as a dupe as all of them, or he’s working for the thing that took over Cordy. They fight. Skip reveals that he’s rather better at fighting than when Angel beat him up in “That Vision Thing.” He’s really enjoying this opportunity to show off how powerful he actually is.
Back at the meat locker place, Cordy tells Connor Angel won’t give up until he finds them. She has Connor put his hand on her stomach to feel the baby move. Cordy is confident that the A.I. team will change their tune once they see the baby, but that’s still a couple weeks out. Connor believes he can protect them until then, but Cordy has a way of...expediting the process. This will involve collecting some special ingredients.
Angel and Skip are still fighting, and Skip is still winning (and not telling him anything). Angel uses a chain to break one of Skip’s built-in weapons off, which helps. He does the same to one of the spike things coming off his head where an ear would be on a human. One last huge blow and he takes Skip down.
At the hotel, Fred is spouting a theory when Angel appears in the middle of the lobby with the unconscious Skip. He used that portal thing from “That Vision Thing” to get back there to see him. Nice continuity nod. Also, since Skip confirmed that he’s been on Jasmine’s payroll at least since then, I feel like my theories about Cordy’s characterization since early S3 are definitely valid. Angel tells the rest of the team to bind Skip to this dimension.
A vampire is about to attack a nice girl when Connor stakes him. She’s very grateful, and then Connor punches her out and takes her back to the meat locker place. He’s not super happy about what Cordy’s having him do. She’s trying to convince him that killing the girl is okay because she’s just a normal, while they and their baby are on a whole different level.
The A.I. team has successfully bound Skip within a circle in the lobby. Fred will be working on a spell to put him in infinite agony, and it’ll only take twenty minutes to finish. He tries to convince them he’s just a mercenary, not really in the know. Also, he’d like a cigarette. He tells them that Cordy is possessed, and that her so-called ascension only happened to make that possible.
Cordy is doing some ritual now. The nice girl wakes up. Connor tells her everything’s okay, but she is justifiably afraid. She promises not to tell anyone if he just lets her go. He hears a voice and stands up. Darla appears. She’s here from the Powers with a message for him. She sees the girl on the floor. Connor’s victim. She tells Connor she knows he’s good because of what his soul did for her when he shared it with her while she was pregnant. Connor thinks she died because she hated him. She sets him straight. She would gladly die over and over again if it would save him, and he’s going to repay that by killing an innocent girl? (Dangit I’m crying now.) Also, the girl can’t see Darla, so she thinks Connor is insane. Darla tries to use logic on Connor. How can he possibly think that the ends justify the means here? How can he think the ends are good if the means are so evil?
The team is still talking to Skip, who’s being glib and nonchalant in a very irritating way. He claims that not only did the thing possessing Cordy maneuver her into becoming a higher being, it put her in the position to get the visions in the first place. It’s been moving all of them around like pieces on a chess board. The team hates this explanation, because they have free will. He claims it’s responsible for Connor being born, because it needed two supernatural beings to give birth to its own vessel, which is what Cordy’s carrying now. Also, the only way to stop it is to kill Cordy, because it’s too engrained in her system to extract it in any way besides letting the baby be born. But if the baby’s born, Cordy will either die or be a vegetable anyway.
Angel wants to find Cordy, and Skip mentions a ritual that would do it, if they had one super rare item. Ha! They totally have that! Cordy kept it in her desk as a back-scratcher. Skip is very annoyed that he accidentally helped them.
Ghost Darla is still with Connor. She tells him the A.I. team don’t trust him because of what he’s done, not what he is. As soon as he was born, they knew he was good and they loved him. He thinks the same will happen with his own baby. She tells him he has a choice. He doesn’t think so; what are they supposed to do when the A.I. team is hunting them? He doesn’t want to hurt the girl, but he thinks he has to. Darla disagrees. It seems she’s not allowed to give him all the facts. Not going through with this has to be his choice. (Why can’t it be an informed, choice, though? That seems a bit arbitrary.) Connor yells at the girl. Darla tells him he’s still good and he knows it.
Gunn and Fred watch Angel through the window of the office. Fred is having something of an existential crisis over whether or not she really has free will, but Gunn thinks that’s all a bunch of crap. All these higher beings can do is tweak circumstances; they still make their own choices. They won’t know when the critical choices come by, so they should act like they’re always coming. Fred is impressed. Lorne and Wes return from doing their tracking spell and give Angel a location. Angel wants to go alone, because he doesn’t want them to have to watch when he kills Cordy. Fred in particular understands what this will mean for him and she can’t even talk for how bad she feels for him. He leaves.
Cordy, holding a cleaver, finds Connor about to let the nice girl go. She says it’s time. Connor is tentatively on Darla’s side now. He argues with Cordy about this. Cordy says that whatever’s been telling him not to go through with this is some trick cooked up by the A.I. team, and he shouldn’t believe it. On the other side, Darla is telling Connor to tune Cordy out. I love how Cordy is in black and Darla is in white. Hah! And Connor’s in gray. Nice. Cordy reveals that she can see Darla, and she yells at him that Angel is doing this because he hates him. Eventually, he sides with Cordy. Darla watches sadly as Connor drags the girl over to the designated spot. As Cordy raises the cleaver, the girl raises her head to reveal Darla’s face. She begs Connor one last time not to do this, but then the cleaver falls. The blood spatters Connor’s face.
Darla’s eyes continue to stare accusingly at Connor, before turning back into the girl’s. Cordy lies down in a circle of candles. She has Connor stick his hand in the pool of the girl’s blood and then press it against her stomach. The blood absorbs into her skin and a massive earthquake starts up.
At the hotel, the earthquake knocks some rubble onto the circle binding Skip, which breaks it. He’s keen to get revenge on the team for what they’ve done to him so far. Wes attacks with an axe, but he throws him across the lobby. Then he goes after Fred. Gunn attacks, causing him to drop her. Then Wes gets up, shooting at him. The bullets ricochet off, breaking lots of stuff. For some reason he keeps shooting. This seems very stupid, and hey, the last bullet ricochets back into Wesley’s hand. Wow. Wes notices the hole left from where Angel broke off one of Skip’s horns, and he shoots directly into that. Skip has a second to be surprised before he topples over.
Angel arrives at the meat locker. He tries to tell Connor that this isn’t really Cordelia, but he’s not listening. They fight. Cordy yells for Connor to kill Angel. Angel throws Connor aside and closes in on Cordelia. He grits his teeth and apologizes before swinging his sword, and those few seconds cost him his last chance to end this before it started. Light explodes from Cordy’s stomach, knocking him back. It resolves into some kind of tentacle monster thing made of light, which then turns into Gina Torres. The last of the light fades away and Cordelia loses consciousness. Angel tries to attack Gina Torres but then stops and falls to his knees in awe. So does Connor.
So even after doing over 200 of these reviews (not an exaggeration), I still find it kind of difficult to just say whether or not I liked an episode, if it’s not one I really liked or really disliked. The “meh” episodes are much more difficult to dissect for quality, somehow. I feel like I tend to say an episode is decent, okay, or good simply because it failed to enrage me with its awfulness, like it can get away with being a little bit awful and I’ll still say it’s decent. (I have this problem with grading my students’ papers, too. It’s a major struggle for me to give out grades other than As unless the writing is just atrocious, because I grew up with the “any grade that isn’t an A is horrible” mentality.) It’s kind of the same with characters. If I don’t love them or strongly dislike them, it’s hard to say how I feel about them. This is one of those episodes. I love the bits with Darla, and I like how well the A.I. team is working together (particularly Wesley), and I like how the stuff with Skip feels like the writers are giving me permission to disregard any characterization I haven’t liked going back at least to the beginning of S3 (so, Angel/Cordy, basically). However, that last bit is rather sticky. It would be much better if the characterization had actually been good the whole time. Also, you can’t just get most of four seasons into a series and then have a villain claim that his boss has been using everyone as her chess pieces for the entire series unless that was your plan from the beginning, as a writer. That would actually be the kind of villain arc I’d find incredibly interesting, but intent and execution are essential. You have to plan this stuff out and foreshadow it; you can’t just retcon it and call it a plot twist. Which is why I’m only willing to chalk the bad characterization up to Jasmine’s machinations as far back as early S3. I’m almost positive the writers didn’t plan Evil Cordy any earlier than S3, and they definitely didn’t plan Jasmine any earlier than Charisma Carpenter’s pregnancy, so I’m not letting that particular idea control more of the show than that. Thus, overall, while there are things to like about this episode, it’s also the episode that brings some serious long-term continuity issues to a head. If I had to give this episode a grade, I’d give it a B. Maybe I should start doing that all the time. The questions it raises about free will are very intriguing, particularly with the way Skips claims and the team’s assumption that they’ve been hung out to dry by the Powers are contrasted with Darla’s gentle attempts to convince Connor not to make this horrible choice. I think it does come down on the side of free will in the end, which is important for where things are going now that Jasmine has arrived. It’s kind of like “Epiphany” in that way, with Angel deciding to keep doing good even if there’s no grand plan, only for Kate to counter by pointing out that he got into her apartment without an invitation, hinting at some kind of divine intervention.
Angel is in a position very similar to what Buffy had to deal with in “Becoming.” His love interest, through no fault of her own, has been taken over by the persona of the Big Bad, so his options are either to let the Big Bad win or to kill her. Like Buffy, he makes the hard choice. I don’t blame him at all for the moment of hesitation. Also, I seriously applaud his detective skills. He goes a long way towards making up for failing to notice something was wrong with Cordelia for so long by remembering about Skip and that he’d be a good lead for info on Cordy.
Bye, Cordy. See you in “You’re Welcome.”
I love Gunn’s speech to Fred about free will. He seems to be emerging quite nicely from the gloom of this season so far.
It makes sense that Fred would be the one most troubled by the idea that their lives are controlled by some unknown entity. She’s the one who has already had the least control over her life in recent years. She landed in Pylea seemingly out of nowhere, and was then rescued seemingly equally out of nowhere. However, I think Fred’s experience is an example of a major hole in Skip’s claims of Jasmine’s influence. It wasn’t chance that Fred picked up the book that sent her to Pylea. That was the doing of Professor Seidel.
And this is where Connor’s Greek tragedy arc reaches its climax. I feel really bad for him, but not as bad as I would if Cordy’s evilness hadn’t become so incredibly transparent by this point. Like, how is he still falling for this nonsense? But I do love the contrast between Darla and Cordelia, not to mention the extreme irony of Darla being anyone’s shoulder angel. (Incidentally, I have a theory that Darla is basically Connor’s guardian angel now—I mean, she did say she was sent by the Powers.) Sadly, I think it makes sense that Connor would ultimately side with Cordelia. He doesn’t know Darla, and Cordelia has been the only person he felt like he could trust all season. I do like that he clearly has some measure of faith in Angel, Fred, and Gunn’s goodness, but it wasn’t enough to outweigh Cordelia’s influence.
Wesley has really seen the extent of Angel’s friendship now, I think. It seems like part of the reason he let himself get so dark over the last season is that he may have subconsciously been trying to become the person he thought the A.I. team believed him to be (again, very similar to Buffy in S6). But Angel just proved that he really does still want to be Wesley’s friend after everything, because he can be sorry for the death of someone he’s hated for three and a half years on Wesley’s behalf. Please accept that you’re part of the team again, Wes! I hope he has good reconciliation moments with Gunn and Lorne, since he kind of can’t with Cordelia.
[After accidentally giving the team the right information to find Cordy] “Wait, wait. Uh, did I say ‘Bu’shundi’? I meant ‘Ru’shundi’. It’s a whole different—crap.”
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The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.