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Revisiting ANGEL - To Shanshu in L.A.

In this weeks Angel column Shane King takes an in-depth look at the Season 1 finale, To Shanshu in L.A.

If there were two words to describe season one of “Angel”, they would be ‘redemption’ and ‘connection’. After moving to Los Angeles, Angel was physically and emotionally disconnected from the world by choice. After having recently drank Buffy’s blood, Angel didn’t trust himself around humans, so he hid away from the world. Enter Doyle. Doyle showed Angel that distancing himself from humanity was going to make his cravings worse, not better. If Angel has no human contact, he’ll start to slowly see humans as food, as opposed to people with feelings and emotions. Doyle explained to Angel that Angel has the power to make a connection with people and help the helpless. After realising this, Angel founded ‘Angel Investigations’ and started down his own path to redemption. “To Shanshu In L.A.” takes these two words, these two pillars of the show, and gives us a glimpse into how they’re going to be used going forward.

What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be a part of humanity? To be a part of the world? As a vampire with a soul, Angel is unique. There’s nobody in the world that walks the same path as him (yet...)...but that doesn’t make him human. He walks in the human world and the supernatural world, yet he belongs to neither. Due to this, Angel doesn’t have desires and impulses like the rest of the world. Humans need love, shelter, affection, friendship. Vampires need blood and violence. Since Angel debuted in
 “Welcome To The Hellmouth”, what has he desired? What has he needed? Buffy. What else? Nothing. I’ve heard a lot of people say that Angel was boring on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. To a certain extent I agree, but Angel’s lack of emotion and caring a lot of the time in Sunnydale finally makes sense after this episode. Angel has no desires, no reasons to live. He doesn’t run on emotion and passion like humans do. Angel can’t age or grow, or look at himself in the mirror. Yet, Angel isn’t without conscience or caring like other vampires. It explains why Angel loves to brood, it explains why Angel likes to spend time alone, it explains why Angel is mopey! That’s why he acts so nonchalant when Wesley makes a tiny, tiny translation error with the Shanshu prophecy and kinda, maybe, possibly tells Angel that he’s going to die...oops.

Angel doesn’t care in the least. Since moving to Los Angeles and being rebuilt by Doyle, Angel has seen and lost a lot. He lost Doyle, Kate turned her back on him, he alone lives with the memory of his perfect day with Buffy, and half of the villains that Angel helps to get arrested, Wolfram & Hart save from being put behind bars permanently. He’s given up caring. What “To Shanshu In L.A.” gives us is Angel’s motivations for the next four years – the potential for becoming human one day and the desire to keep his friends safe. After Vocah takes Cordelia and Wesley away from Angel, he realises that he has two people that he needs in his life. Not just two people that need him like everyone else, but two people that he needs. It could be argued that “To Shanshu In L.A.” is Angel’s most important episode because it dangles the carrot in from of Angel’s face that allows him to keep fighting as the years wear on. Angel’s biggest dream is to one day become human and now he has the potential to actually do so one day! Angel never dreamed of becoming human because he never felt like he deserved it after all the suffering he caused previously. If the prophecy were to come to fruition, it would validate Angel’s redemption that he’s trying so hard to seek. It would prove that he’s made amends.

The episode opens with Wesley working on translating the scrolls of Aberjian that Angel stole from Wolfram & Hart in the previous episode,
 “Blind Date”. The problem that Wesley is having is that he doesn’t know what the word ‘Shanshu’ means. I’m sure that won’t go wrong at all...

Cordelia: “Nobody gets my humour.”
Angel: “I thought it was funny.”

I love the way that David delivers that line. I’ve always found David (and Angel) to be at his funniest when he’s either delivering dead-pan like this or when he’s over-the-top, like his dancing in
 “She”, when he’s puppet Angel, or when he’s sensitive Angel from “Sense & Sensitivity”. However, notice how little emotion is in Angel’s voice when he says this. He thinks that Cordy’s remark is funny, yet he doesn’t laugh. Why? Because he’s given up caring. He’s lost hope and that’s a dangerous thing to lose.

Vocah (‘havoc’ rearranged) is a truly spectacular one-episode villain that I feel should have been around for much longer than just one episode. How many one-episode villains are as powerful as Vocah? Vocah is able to stroll into the weird portal thingy under the post office where the Oracles reside and murder them with ease. It’s hard to even get into that place, yet a demon shrouded in darkness is able to break through their protection. I must admit, I was highly disappointed by the Oracles’ deaths because they were so fascinating and shiny, yet it makes sense from a storytelling standpoint. The Oracles hold too much power to be able to live. They have a strong connection to the Powers That Be, they have the ability to rewind time, and they can bring people back from the dead. They could basically reverse 99% of the next four seasons of stories. With their deaths and Cordy’s vision-coma later, Vocah removes all of Angel’s links to the PTB. Vocah – 1, Angel – 0. Also, a little trivia fact for you...the actor playing Vocah (Todd Stashwick) also plays M’Fashnik (“like ‘mmm, cookies’”) in Buffy season six’s “Flooded”.

Another aspect of this episode that seems to be vastly underappreciated is Kate’s story and how it sets up her arc during season two perfectly. Since the death of her father, Kate can’t cope. If any case has the slightest whiff of a supernatural element to it, Kate takes it. She’s the laughing stock of the precinct because of this and she’s slowly becoming an extremely cold, bitter person. She can’t forget about the existence of vampires and she can’t forget about her father’s lifeless body. It haunts her. This story becomes much more intricate during the second season, as Kate becomes something of a recurring thorn in Angel’s side for quite a large portion of it. I’m so pleased that the writers didn’t take the easy way out with Kate’s character. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Kate to become the friendly ally of Angel on the police force that most detective shows seem to inherently have. Instead, the show goes down the much more interesting route of having Kate resent and hate Angel for being caught up in her father’s death and introducing her to the supernatural world in the first place. Due to Angel introducing Kate to the supernatural world and because he was there when her father died, Angel has become the poster boy for evil in Kate’s eyes. She can’t look at him without being reminded of her father and being reminded of the vampires that took his life. It makes sense. As most of you know, I lost my best friend a few weeks before my 18th birthday. After he passed, I couldn’t look at his family anymore without being reminded of him. After the funeral had taken place, there was a good few years where I didn’t see them or remain in contact with them, simply because it was too hard to. There were too many painful memories and reminders.

Cordelia: “Well, he’s going to have to start wanting things from life whether he wants to or not.”

That would be rather counter-productive, Cordy. I do appreciate that Cordy has grown to love Angel so much that she’s practically
 demanding that he enjoys life (or ‘afterlife’, I suppose...) more. In trying to cheer Angel up, Cordelia goes hobby shopping for him. Ugh, I cannot take these adorable feels. Eventually, Cordy decides to buy Angel some art supplies. This makes sense, as we’ve seen Angel (and Angelus) draw before. However, we’ve only seen him draw using a pencil, so Cordelia has bought him a fabulous array of colours to try and brighten his life...until Vocah shows up, touches Cordelia, and opens her mind completely to all the voices and suffering that surrounds her. Cordelia has never been more aware of just how much pain and suffering there is in the world. She was raised in a privileged household, she had servants to act upon her every whim, and she had her daddy’s money to buy anything she wanted. After she transitioned to poverty, she started to become more empathetic, but it was forced empathy. Cordy was forced into a world of poverty, just like Cordy was forced into the visions that Doyle transferred to her. After Vocah’s spell is removed, Cordy chooses to help people in pain of her own free will. Alongside receiving the visions in the first place, this is probably Cordelia’s most important moment as a character. The self-obsessed, vain Cordelia of the past is gone from this episode onwards...for the most part. Also, Charisma Carpenter is a terrific screamer.

I’m impressed with just how quickly the show is able to make Vocah so hateable. Outside of Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsay Snow from “Game Of Thrones” and Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter series, it usually takes a while for a villain to become hateable. Dislikeable, sure, but hateable is a hard thing to achieve in 30 minutes of one episode.

Angel rushing to the hospital and telling the nurse that he’s Cordelia’s ‘family’ makes me all kinds of fuzzy inside. I swear, between this and the end of the episode, I’m going to need to kick someone or something to regain my icy interior. I remember when I first saw this episode. I was a young, carefree 11-year-old boy, filled with dreams and chocolate, happily in my element...
THEN THE BUILDING BLEW UP WITH WESLEY INSIDE OF IT! I assure you, a scream came out of my mouth that was so high I could feel my testicles grazing my Adam’s apple. It was a very emphatic statement to make – nothing is safe on “Angel”. Not the main cast (Doyle), not the secondary characters (Trevor Lockley), and not the physical locations.

Angel: “I’m sorry about your father, but I didn’t kill your father and I’m sick and tired of you blaming me for everything that you can’t handle. You want to be enemies? Try me.”

That, right there, is the reaction of a man that has lost everything. Angel and Kate work way better as enemies anyway, so I’m all for it. Vocah has taken
 everything from Angel. His friends, his connections to the PTB, and now his home and office. It’s similar to Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s “The Yoko Factor” in some ways. In that episode, we see Spike and Adam separate Buffy from the rest of the Scoobies in order to leave her vulnerable. We’ve never seen Angel more vulnerable and frightened up to this point than we have during this episode. The difference between the two, of course, is that Angel has had many more years of practise at acting alone than Buffy has. Angel isn’t truly alone, though. He still has his newfound ally, Charles Gunn.

It becomes apparent that all of Vocah’s actions have been to distract Angel from Wolfram & Hart’s ritual that they’re about to perform. Of course, Angel shows up in the middle of the ritual and wackiness ensues. Lindsey tries to earn brownie points with Holland by continuing the Latin chant himself. You’ve got to hand it to him for trying...
what?! It was an obvious joke! The fight between our protagonist and Vocah is pretty cool. It’s well choreographed and I can say with some certainty that Vocah isn’t as pretty with his mask removed. Why does he look just like Jasmine with all those maggots and decay?! OH EM GEE, IS HE JASMINE’S ESTRANGED HUSBAND?! HAVE I UNLOCKED THE SECRETS OF THE BUFFYVERSE?! GIVE ME A COOKIE!

Lindsey’s decision in the last episode,
 “Blind Date”, comes back to haunt him. Lindsey attempted to burn the Aberjian scroll (that Vocah had stolen from Angel’s apartment before it went ‘boom!’), which Angel needed to restore Cordy back to health. So, Angel threw a cool-looking scythe thingy at Lindsey, which resulted in Lindsey’s hand being chopped off. Didn’t see that coming either. It goes to show the lengths that Angel is willing to go to in order to save his friends. He just mutilated a human being. An evil human being, but a human being nonetheless. This small scene between Angel and Lindsey is a superb follow up to “Blind Date” because it shows Lindsey (and the audience) that actions have consequences. Lindsey had the opportunity to leave Wolfram & Hart and start a new life elsewhere, but instead he remained with Holland Manners because Holland offered him power and wealth.

Cordelia: “Typical, I hook up with the only person in history who ever came to L.A. to get older.”

Wesley manages to translate the Shanshu prophecy correctly this time and it reveals to Angel that he may one day become human. At the start of this episode, Angel had given up caring and desired nothing. Now, he’s filled with hope, he has something to strive for, and two close friends that he can’t live without. “Angel” season one comes to a close on a positive note that leaves a lot of potential stories for the future. There’s no dramatic cliffhanger, but this story doesn’t
 need one. The entire season has been about connection and redemption and this episode delivers on those terms and gives a glimpse into what’s to come. Very few scenes in “Angel” get the positive emotional reaction out of me that this one does. It gives me overwhelming joy to see the happiness radiating off of not just Cordelia and Wesley, but Angel as well. Angel has never looked happier (“his scowl is slightly less scowly”). He smiles. He smiles. HE SMILES! A season that has saw Angel truly start down his path to redemption has given him an added incentive to keep fighting, the one thing he wants above everything else, his humanity. The wonderful thing about this realisation is that it means before this moment, Angel was helping the helpless and seeking redemption for zero personal gain. He didn’t know that there was anything in it for him, yet he helped people anyway. How noble. The episode closes on a positive, inspiring note...


WAIT...Holy salmon skin roll, they brought Darla back during that summoning! Darla, who appeared in “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” season one and was Angel’s sire. Nobody saw that coming! JULIE BENZ! What a fantastic cliffhanger to end the season on! Just when Angel Investigations was filled with hope, Wolfram & Hart throw a spanner in the works. Suddenly, all the flashbacks of the first season involving Angel and Darla take on another meaning. Joss and David Greenwalt were preparing the viewers for what was to come in the season finale. Sneaky, sneaky...and very well planned. Buckle up, kiddies. Season two is about to get very interesting.

Quote Of The Episode

Wesley: “Only a thing that’s not alive never dies. It’s saying that you get to live until you die. It’s’s saying you become human.”

Cordelia: “That’s the prophecy?”

Wesley: “The vampire with a soul, once he fulfils his destiny, will ‘Shanshu’...become human. It’s his reward.”


Shane ‘Shangel’ King is a blogger from England, where he spends most of his time reviewing television shows, attending conventions, and fanboying professionally. He’s currently reviewing every episode of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” in-depth on his blog, and will soon be covering “Firefly”, “Game Of Thrones”, “The Walking Dead”, “Chuck”, “Doctor Who”, and more in equal depth! You can also follow Shangel on Twitter.

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