Monday, August 13, 2012

Angel: Damage (5.11)

The opportunity to follow through on some of the lingering threads introduced at the end of Buffy was pretty irresistible, but what Damage does so well is neatly elaborate on where the Buffy ensemble have found themselves, as well as directly picking up one of their last story arcs, all the while ensuring that this is very much an episode of Angel. It's shockingly different to something like season one's Sanctuary, where all of Buffy's baggage felt more like a rude interruption than something that was at all relevant to the world of her spin-off show. Damage, alternatively, takes thin ingredients from the potential slayer arc and drowns them in themes of mental illness and sadistic torture, as well as making it surprisingly important to the characters of Angel and Spike.

The theme of damage resonates through much of the story. Most obvious is with Dana, somebody so wounded by the horrifying events her father put her through that she's now this animalistic monster, only its even more heightened thanks to Willow's spell back in Chosen. It's an interesting concept, especially as it dares to portray what was essentially a feminist, rousing victory as something a little less perfect than what we'd all ideally imagine. Naturally, most of those affected by the spell are strong and badass, but then there are people like Dana, the unforeseen side effects of good intentions.

And while Dana's insanity is her own form of dealing, Spike too finds himself a victim of his past. There's a wonderful coda to all of this, in which Spike is given brief consolation that he wasn't responsible for her childhood torture, only for Spike to own up to the fact that Dana just wasn't one of his actual victims... that he'd done exactly the same kinds of thing, only to other girls. It's just an interesting angle to explore, a script that doesn't deny the pain these individuals cause, but is willing to explore the explanations for their madness.

Andrew, whatever your feelings on the character, is bland enough to work as a kind of messenger for Buffy fans. Having any of the other Scoobies arrive in his place would have been too much of a distraction, so it's neat to just hear about what they're all doing from somebody sort of harmless. Granted, I wasn't a fan of Andrew's declaration that none of the Scoobies trust Angel anymore (I don't like when writers put words in the mouths of characters who aren't actually around), but generally his presence was fine. I also really loved the brief conversation Spike shared with him about Buffy, in which he proves how much he's thinking about her, but seems aware of the awkwardness a reunion could bring. From my own personal perspective, it's a lot easier on the human spirit to imagine romantic reunions rather than actually go through with them. It inevitably leads to disappointment. Boo hoo. Blah.

Damage is frequently uncomfortable as an episode, it has a tone that's eerie and violent and the subject matter handled is undoubtedly provocative, but it's such an interesting episode that you can excuse some of the showier, gnarlier elements. Great acting work, too, especially Navi Rawat. A

Guest stars
Tom Lenk (Andrew Wells); Mercedes McNab (Harmony Kendall); Navi Rawat (Dana)
Writers Steven S. DeKnight, Drew Goddard Director Jefferson Kibbee

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