Written by David Fury
Directed by James A. Contner
Someone’s getting beaten up by a bunch of dudes in black robes. Angel walks through a fiery corridor into the chamber and pulls the bag off the guy’s head. It’s Drogyn. But Angel’s not here to save him. He’s here to vamp out and finish the job of killing him.
Rewind to the previous morning, when Angel is waking up in bed with Nina. They’ve just been having sex, and she’s making sure he’s not perfectly happy. Also that he’s not thinking about Buffy. He says he wasn’t. But now he does have a lot on his mind. She thinks he needs a vacation, and that she should go too. But he can’t. He’s so close to what he’s been trying to accomplish for years, but he’s not sure he’s a good person anymore. She is!
Illyria is walking down one of the corridors, and she passes Spike, who can tell she’s sort of in the same boat he was when he was a ghost. Past her peak, lost all the respect of the people around her, directionless. He recommends she get out of the building every so often. She’s scared of the outside now that she’s weaker. Yeah, I think you’d be fine, Illyria. It’s not like it was in your time; people mostly don’t just attack each other on sight. Spike asks why she’s not hanging around Wes, and she says they “are no longer having intercourse.” She of course means that in the old sense of interaction, but Spike of course is severely thrown because he thinks she means it in the new sense of sex. When gets all gobsmacked and stutter, she explains that acting like Fred severely disturbed Wes, so he’s not talking to her. Spike tells her that her ability to look and act like Fred hurts Wes and the rest of them more than any other power she has.
Hamilton brings a senator (who’s wearing the kind of tweed dress suit Umbridge would wear, only with less pink, so you just know she’s evil) into the lobby and introduces her to Angel and Gunn. She’s been with W&H since before Holland Manners died. Angel can tell her aid is a vampire. She requests blood for him, and Harmony has to break it to them that W&H doesn’t provide complementary human blood to its clients. Hamilton tells her to make an exception, and Angel tells her to ask the lab if the blood bank has some extra.
Wes catches Angel on the way into the meeting with Gunn, Hamilton, and the senator and her aid. Demons have been killing people at an abandoned amusement park. Spike and Illyria walk up in time to hear this. Angel isn’t interested. He’s acting like the fatalities are just statistics, and they can’t save everyone or “sweat the small stuff.” He goes into the meeting. Spike volunteers to take care of the demons, and Wes walks off. Illyria resents that he didn’t even look at her. Spike offers to let her come with him to kill demons.
Angel’s meeting with the senator involves finding ways to undermine her extremely upstanding opponent. Also, it seems she’s not just a corrupt politician. She’s a demon! Probably put inside that body by the necromancer Angel and Spike killed at the beginning of the season. She wants to run a smear campaign on the upstanding opponent, and make it look like he’s a pedophile. Maybe even use brainwashing to make him think he’s a pedophile. Gunn explains angrily that they don’t do stuff like that, but Angel says it’s fine, and he dismisses Gunn.
Wes looks up stuff about the type of demon killing people at that park, but his reference material in the omnibook gets overwritten by the message “You’re looking in the wrong place,” paired with a black circle with spikes coming out of it. Gunn comes in to talk to Wes about Angel, and by then, the omnibook is back to normal.
Angel is playing racquetball with that red-skinned, horned demon guy who looks like the devil (we saw him briefly in “You’re Welcome”). I love how Angel’s outfit is all black. They chat about the Fel Brethren (the guys who wanted the pregnant lady’s baby two episodes ago). Angel’s waiting to hear about something from this demon dude and his associates. The demon dude encourages patience and optimism.
Spike and Illyria make their way through the amusement park at night. Illyria observes that Angel doesn’t seem to care about the people this demon is killing. Spike thinks he just hasn’t gotten out and done some good violence in too long, but Illyria believes Angel has been corrupted by power. Spike actually argues in Angel’s favor. Wow! I thought I was exaggerating when I described him as the lone hold-out, but he really is! Trippy. Illyria describes the process of a leader becoming a tyrant. Steps one and two are disregarding the needs of the helpless and ignoring the advice of the people at his side. The rest of that lecture will have to wait, because Spike’s just sensed the demon. They start tracking it, and Spike continues to argue for Angel. He does believe him capable of turning evil, just, not without him noticing. Illyria is not convinced. She believes the next step on Angel’s path is to grow paranoid about the people around him. He will see betrayal everywhere, and so he will begin betraying. This will end in the murder of one of the people closest to him.
Drogyn steps out from beneath the wooden roller coaster to inform them that Angel has already taken that step. Spike introduces Illyria to Drogyn, and then they get jumped by that demon. Spike fights it, it throws him into a fusebox or something. Illyria steps up for her turn. Spike shouts advice, but she just throws it through some of the support beams for the roller coaster. (Not enough of them to bring it crashing down, though.) She may be weaker, but she certainly isn’t weak. Drogyn is here to find Spike because he needs to warn him. Also, he’s been attacked. By Angel, he says. And he’s incapable of lying.
Wes grabs a pen from Harmony’s desk and draws that spiky black circle on it. Harmony thinks it’s a tattoo design. She recommends putting it on his calf. He takes the drawing into Angel’s office, but he’s talking to Hamilton, and he’s not interested in talking to Wes just now. Wes leaves, trying not to show his concern. Lorne runs into Wes on the way out, and they discuss the growing badness of Angel. Gunn joins in as they make it back to Wesley’s office. They all agree that Angel is not himself. Then Wes gets a call from Spike.
They all go to Spike’s flat, and Drogyn tells them how Angel sicced a pack of goons on him. He beat them and tortured one of them to find out who sent them. Angel did. Because Angel was afraid he’d find proof of what really happened with Fred and Illyria. They object. Wasn’t Illyria’s return predestined? Drogyn thought so, but now he thinks it was merely planned, and Fred’s death was a sacrifice to get Angel clout with the right evil people. They get angry at Drogyn, but he reminds them that he was Angel’s friend too. He considered him a brother in arms. Gunn still doesn’t want to believe Drogyn, but Wes delivers some cool exposition on who Drogyn is and why he’s very trustworthy.
Wes shows Drogyn his sketch of the spiky circle. Drogyn doesn’t recognize it. They’re still skeptical that Angel had any involvement in Fred’s death, but they’ve definitely noticed his sketchy behavior lately. Illyria guesses Angel must be planning to make his move soon. Wes wants to ask Angel what he’s doing. Spike asks Illyria to stay and guard Drogyn. He invites them to play Crash Bandicoot.
Angel signs something and hands it to Harmony. That’s when Wes, Spike, Gunn, and Lorne arrive. They all go into Angel’s office. Let the intervention begin. Spike tells him Drogyn’s in town and someone tried to kill him. Angel doesn’t seem bothered. He wants everyone to get back to work, because they’re here to get to the top. Gunn thinks he sounds more like Angelus than himself. Angel scoffs. Angelus would’ve killed half of them by now, just for fun. Spike points out that one of them is already dead. Then Angel gives a chillingly comic book villain style speech about how good and evil, Angel and Angelus are just “minutiae,” and power is what really matters. Without power, you can’t accomplish anything. They ask if he’ll even care about helping people once he’s done everything it takes to get the kind of power he’s talking about. It seems he already doesn’t care.
Harmony comes in to tell Angel he has an important call, and he dismisses all of them. On the way out, Wes asks if Fred was part of that small stuff he doesn’t care about anymore. Angel says he loved Fred, but doesn’t say anything else, then ominously shuts the doors in Wesley’s face.
Wes and Lorne are discussing Angel. Wes doesn’t want to believe Angel could be corrupted by power, because Angel has never even cared about power before. Lorne points out that he never really had any. Not like this. It messes with you. Then Spike and Gunn emerge from, I guess, the detention area in this police station they’re apparently in, with Lindsey in tow. He’s in leg and arm irons.
Angel meets Nina at her art school. She’s happy to see him but figures something’s probably up. They sit down on a bench. He hands her a packet of plane tickets. It takes her a moment to realize that this isn’t Angel deciding to go on vacation with her. He’s sending her, her sister, and her niece out of the country. She’s not happy. He knows things are about to get extremely bad, and he wants her out of harm’s way. She thinks the tickets are a sign of him not caring, not the other way around. He promises to come for her if he makes it out of this okay. She tells him he’s a sucky liar. She agrees to go, and this is basically a break-up.
Illyria and Drogyn are attempting to play Crash Bandicoot. They barely understand what the controllers are for, but Drogyn is slowly grasping the purpose of the game. It’s a test, and you collect items. He puts the controller down to talk to Illyria, though. She should be in the Deeper Well. She admits she wishes she was still in it. He’s not sure he believes that. She can’t decide. She uses this pointless video game as a metaphor for her existence in the world of men. It’s pointless and irritating, but what else can she do but play on?
Hamilton smashes down the door of Spike’s apartment. Seems he and Drogyn go way back. Hamilton pokes fun at Drogyn’s living arrangements in the Deeper Well. Drogyn doesn’t rise to the taunt; he quite enjoys his home. Hamilton throws him across the room in defiance of Illyria’s threats. He and Illyria fight, and he throws her into the opposite wall. They continue fighting. He beats her up pretty easily, while yammering about how underwhelming she is.
Wes, Gunn, Spike, and Lorne are trying to get info out of Lindsey. He doesn’t say anything useful until Wes shows him the drawing of the spiky circle. Lindsey thinks there’s no way the Circle of the Black Thorn would let Angel in. They’re a super elite, super secret evil society. The point of them is having and wielding power. They’re the ones greasing the wheels of the apocalypse for the Senior Partners. Getting into the Circle was Lindsey’s endgame when he came back to Los Angeles, but he failed. He doesn’t think Angel has it in him to become a Black Thorn. He’d have to stop doing everything that made him a “champion” and probably kill one of his lieutenants to even get on their radar. From everyone’s faces, he realizes Angel may have done just that. Wes thinks it’s their fault for not noticing in time. Gunn knows the old Angel never would’ve wanted this. Wes thinks there might still be a chance to save him, because he’d give them the same chance.
Now we’re caught up with the scene from the beginning of the episode. Angel walks past a big Black Thorn symbol on the wall of this underground gauntlet-y place, jumps through fire, rips the hood off Drogyn, vamps out, and kills him. The robed and masked people in the room watch. Next, a red-skinned hand hovers over Angel’s chest and brands Angel with the Black Thorn symbol while they all chant the motto or whatever of the Circle. They welcome Angel in.
The lights go on, and everyone takes their masks off. We’ve seen most of these guys before. Archduke Sebassis, the devil-looking guy, the Fel Brethren, Cyvus Vail, and the demon senator are among them. Sebassis congratulates him, and Angel makes sure he’s aware he’s still Angel, not Angelus. The senator comes up for her turn. She’s planning to be in the white house by ’08, using the power of the Black Thorn. Vail comes to talk to Angel. He compliments Angel on how good his son is at killing. The devil guy is impressed that the entire Circle turned up for this. Angel takes a good look around.
Angel goes back to W&H. He rubs the brand on his chest and walks into his office. The entire team jumps him once he’s inside. They confront him about the Black Thorn. He tells them they can leave before he kills them, if they don’t like how he’s doing thing. They fight. Lorne shoots Angel with a crossbow, and then Angel gets him in a headlock and uses him as leverage against them. He makes Lorne pull the crossbow bolt out, and then he pulls a crystal thing out of his pocket and does an incantation. Then he lets Lorne go and tells them all they have six minutes to talk before the glamour collapses.
Angel explains how he set all this up to trick the Black Thorn into letting him in. He wasn’t involved in Fred’s death, but he used it to get their attention. He used Drogyn because, being incapable of lying, they’d believe him if he believed Angel had gone evil. He has not enjoyed doing this. Lorne wryly compliments Angel’s acting skills. Angel tells them that after he kissed Cordy, he inherited the visions. Or, at least, one of them. He saw the Black Thorn and knew he had to take them down. The vision didn’t include the faces of the Black Thorn’s members, so he had to get closer to them.
The team is a bit troubled by how Angel was sincere about the importance of power. But then he twists it into something better. They can use their free will to overcome their weakness for power. They don’t have to accept that the world is slowly but inevitably grinding towards the apocalypse. Even if they can’t kill the Senior Partners, they can stop the gears by killing the Black Thorn. All of them. And the SPs probably won’t let them live after that. They’ll unleash their full wrath against them. So if the team is with Angel on this, they need to be 100% sure. He wants them to vote. They take a few seconds to reel from the magnitude of this. Spike is the first to vote yea. Then Wes. Then Gunn. Finally, Lorne.
The camera pans backwards, out of the office and beyond the range of the glamour. From that perspective, it still looks like Angel has Lorne by the throat while the others yell at him. And that’s what Hamilton’s watching.
Now that’s what I’m talking about. “Power Play” is fantastic. It somehow feels much longer than a normal episode, but in a good way. Like it’s a full movie worth of awesome jammed into 43 minutes. I love Illyria and Drogyn playing videogames. I love how hard the team tries to hold onto their trust in Angel, and that their final decision is to basically give him an intervention, not take him down. I love all the call-backs to earlier episodes in the season. All the familiar Circle of the Black Thorn people, Lindsey, Drogyn, and Nina—having them all in the episode really helps make it feel huge. I still feel this arc could have been even better if they’d scrapped “The Girl in Question” and used the extra space to expand this stuff more, but they did very well with the screentime they decided to give it, and they made it feel longer than it was by including evil dudes from the beginning of the season, like Sebassis, and by tying it into “You’re Welcome.” Actually, if it hadn’t been for the fact that Angel got a vision from the Powers that this was what he was supposed to do, I’m not sure his big plan would’ve been as convincing at the end, since it’s basically a suicide mission. But if he has the Powers’ support, then it’s okay. Also, it kind of feels like the Senior Partners are the evil counterpart to the Powers that Be, which makes the Circle of the Black Thorn the evil counterpart to Angel Investigations. And this particular scenario, with the alleged official apocalypse and Angel working as a double agent, seems to be an excellent match for what the Shanshu prophecy describes. Maybe the prophecy isn’t clear on whether Angel will be on the side of good or evil because Angel deliberately muddles that in order to get close enough to the bad guys to destroy them. The prophecy being too clear about Angel’s allegiances would expose his plans to his enemies and cause him to fail.
I wonder how many people watching it for the first time fell for Angel’s ruse. I think the first real hint that it, in fact, was a ruse was that moment after his initiation into the Circle when he was taking a good look at everyone there. You could almost see him switching on his photographic memory. I kind of love that the final arc of the series is Angel playing a double-agent. I just wish it could have lasted longer.
I kind of think Spike is reassured by Angel’s existence. They don’t get along very well and they claim to dislike each other, but as long as they’re both around, neither of them has to handle being a vampire with a soul alone. There’s always someone else who gets it, and maybe it’s easier to keep doing the right thing when you aren’t doing it alone. Spike being the first one to raise his hand is probably one of my favorite Spike moments in either series. Unlike “Chosen,” there’s no girl to impress this time, and he’s much more certain that the outcome will be his death. He actually believes in what Angel’s fighting for, and he’s on board.
Gunn did go straight to Wesley after he realized something was wrong with Angel! Yesss! The bromance isn’t dead! I’m kind of surprised he took so long to raise his hand, though. His anger at the way W&H works should have meant he was very eager to jump in. But I guess this is a Gunn who doesn’t jump into things anymore. He considers carefully, taking the time to understand the weight of something before he signs up.
Illyria still doesn’t know where she fits in or how to exist with her power so drastically reduced, but at least she’s sulking and willing to assist the team instead of wreaking havoc. Her being so afraid of death is pretty useful. What I find particularly promising about her is her willingness to protect Drogyn even though she sees him as her jailer. And her understanding of the corrupting influence of power is fascinating. The lack of power seems to be having the opposite effect on her. She’s learning to trust, to care about small things, and to protect.
Lorne seems to be the reluctant voice of pessimism in this one. Wes and Gunn want to believe Angel is still good, but Lorne keeps reminding them that power corrupts, and even Angel may not be immune to it. And in the fight, he’s surprisingly the one who does the most damage to Angel before he throws up the glamor and reveals that he’s a double-agent.
Harmony is again barely involved! Hooray!
Wesley is oddly much more reluctant to believe Angel had a hand in Fred’s death now than he was in “Origin.” I’m glad. Getting his real memories back really did restore his trust in Angel, and it’s much harder to shake now. He understands exactly how much mercy and forgiveness Angel has shown him, and now he wants to do the same for Angel. Argh I love Angel and Wesley’s friendship so much!
“You smell that?”
“The odors of everything in this world of men are equally repugnant to me.”
“It’s a secret society.”
“Never heard of ‘em.”
“That’s ‘cause they’re secret.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.