Sunday, June 10, 2012

"The Trial" (Angel 2.9): In which Angel has a major-league meltdown

Ah, Angel season 2 does love to invoke some quasi-mystical and medieval mortification of the flesh tropes. Once you engage in a series of physical and mental stations of the cross moderated by a dispassionate British butler, I think that we've safely exited the detective/noir genre. And though I sort of miss the way vampirism tweaked hard-boiled masculinity, I also recognize that not everyone shares my research interests. And I do love the way this episode takes Angel's limitations and shoves them right in his handsome face.

I also like the way he freaks the fuck out when being faced with said limitations, Joaquin in Walk the Line style.

"The Trial" is the Angel guide to learning that being a supernatural knight in shining armor still might not be enough to save your syphilitic damsel in distress.

DO recognize that lawyers relish a good loophole.  Turns out that when the partners at Wolfram & Hart brought Darla back as human, they also brought back her rampant, and therefore incurable, STD.

Remember when syphilis was funny?

Well, now it's sort of tragic. Darla only has a few months to live, reducing her to scamming loser vamps for sire-age, and giving Angel's "being human rocks!" philosophy a much-needed complication. He has been a bit intolerably "I know what's best for you" to her since she came back.

Angel's "I did not know that" face.

I was more satisfied than I expected to see him brought up short by the revelation that he doesn't hold all the cards.

DON'T underestimate the bond between Angel and Darla. For obvious reasons, Buffy downplayed the intensity of Darla and Angel's relationship, both pre- and post-ensoulment. But this season of Angel,

with its flashbacks aplenty,

hits the highs and the lows (Darla abandoning Angelus in a burning barn to face a pitchfork-wielding mob) of their century-plus entanglement. So Angel's willingness to undergo a pretty horrifying trial to cure Darla feels earned. It's also fun that the trial itself seems to wed Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

"Only the penitent man shall pass."

and 50 Shades of Grey.

This posture actually figures more prominently in 50 Shades Freed. Won't go into how I know that. 
Unfortunately, it turns out trial-running British butlers also are subject to loopholes, so despite Angel's willingness to die to give Darla (human) life, turns out her return from the dead the first time already counts as her second chance. Bummer.

DO give Lindsey his due. Lindsey is sort of the Spike of the show so far, pain-management-wise. All he wants is to avoid losing Darla, so he does whatever it takes in the short term to avoid that.

What it takes.

And also, he got a spiffy new haircut as well.

I kind of miss the floppy bangs of despair, but whatever.

Crossover alert! Though not as explicit as the "Fool for Love"/"Darla" interplay of a few episodes ago, Jenn, because she's real smart, notes a deep thematic resonance between this episode and "Listening to Fear." I'll let her take it away: "I think there is an insightful echo to these two episodes because we get to see both of our heroes essentially lose it. Buffy lets go while washing dishes, and Angel loses his temper when he realizes that he can't save Darla even after the Trial. I think what makes both breakdowns interesting is that they occur when each character realizes that something is completely out of her and his control. Both are used to working hard and risking their lives and souls to get what they want. And, they usually succeed, especially because what they "want" rarely involves anything that touches them personally. In other words, their desires to help others is coming from outside of themselves. That's what makes them strong and admirable and ruthless. However, both Angel and Buffy are having to deal with people close to them at risk in a totally different way and more importantly, non-magical or supernatural way. Both Joyce and Darla are suffering because they are human and they are ill. Having Buffy and Angel acknowledge that lack of control not to mention frustration and helplessness in back-to-back episodes, highlights how linked they still are."

Well said, co-watcher. 

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