Monday, September 3, 2012

Angel: Origin (5.18)

There's a great conversation this week in which Connor asks if he's a superhero, and if Angel and his friends are also superheroes. It brought to mind the work of Stan Lee, and how Connor's journey here is very much an elaborate comic book origin tale. In this new world where everybody's minds have been altered, Connor is an ordinary teenage boy from an ordinary family, who gets hit by a truck one day and finds himself completely intact. His parents are concerned, and take him to a strange law firm specializing in supernatural weirdness. There he discovers his true identity, meets his vampire father and his team full of demons and blue-skinned ladies, and gains back his old memories. It's such an incredible story, increased in power by how adorably normal this new Connor is.

Vincent Kartheiser grounds his performance in total wonderment, so bewildered by all of these new discoveries about both himself and the world around him, but only seeing it all as something badass and awesome. To Connor, this new world is just 'cool', something that makes him stand out from all the other kids on the block and makes him particularly special. Drew Goddard's script creates the perfect resolution for Connor as a person. He instantly bonds with his impressed birth father, engages with his extreme abilities, and leaves the hour a clear-headed individual aware of his past and who he really is, but still deeply connected to the world that he's only really lived in for a couple of months. It's a remarkable story.

But there's also a tragic parallel to all of this, and it's no surprise that it involves Wesley. One of his early scenes in Origin involves Illyria inquiring about Wes' blind trust in Angel, and why he is so fiercely loyal to a man he doesn't always agree with. Wesley explains that it's something that Angel has earned over time. But when the memory-removal spell is broken, Wesley discovers the horrible truths that were mystically hidden from him. While Connor's memories allow him a greater perspective on his history and what's truly important to him, Wesley unexpectedly engineers his own misery, remembering a time when he did go against Angel and betray his confidence. It's such a haunting contrast, particularly at a time when Illyria is trying to understand human emotion and conflict.

Illyria herself continues to be a pleasure to watch. The writers have already sourced her comedic potential, utilizing her alien presence as a means to execute some hilarious gags. Her declaration that she wants to keep Spike as her pet, as well as her insistence that Connor is lusting after her both being stand-outs this week. But I also love how she expresses intrigue and her general weirdness, like her casual ingestion of a petri dish.

The demon subplot, with Angel having to train Connor to kill the entombed Sahjhan in order to keep his new memories intact, is very slight as stories go, but brought to life via strong characterization. Cyvus Vail is a ridiculously unnerving antagonist, somebody so visually arresting with his red skin and old man demeanor while, in terms of personality, being a huge dick. Sahjhan's return is also a lot of fun, back with that same dry humor.

Origin is another episode that roots around in the history of the show and creates some incredible material as a result. Even without the continuity, though, this is still a genuinely heartwarming story about fathers and sons reconnecting, with one of those rare happy endings for this show. Another late season five classic. A+

Guest stars
Vincent Kartheiser (Connor); Dennis Christopher (Cyvus Vail); Jack Conley (Sahjhan); Jim Abele (Laurence Reilly); Adrienne Brett Evans (Colleen Reilly); Adam Baldwin (Marcus Hamilton)
Writer Drew Goddard Director Terrence O'Hara

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