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Revisiting ANGEL - The Trial

Shane King returns with another in-depth Angel retrospective. This week it's Season 2 Episode 9, The Trial.

“The Trial” begins a terrific run of three episodes for the show. Up until now, the Darla-Angel arc has been a slow burn. Darla was brought back in the closing moments of the first season’s finale, “To Shanshu In L.A.”, and since then everything has been slowly leading to this cataclysmic string of episodes. “The Trial”, and its two successors, contain everything you want from a television episode...character growth, suspense, drama, emotional attachment, and a series of plot twists that blow your mind. As far as a three-episode run goes, “The Trial”-“Redefinition” might be the strongest “Angel” ever creates. Alongside “Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been”, “The Trial” is my favourite episode of the season thus far. Part of the reason for this is that I love things with rounds or stages. Angel needing 21 kills to escape in “The Ring” is another example of this. Here, Lorne sends Angel on a mission to try and cure Darla of her pesky syphilis death. In order to give Darla another chance at life, Angel must complete three trials. The premise sounds simple enough, right? On paper it sounds like an exciting episode, but nothing that’s going to be overly spectacular. However, the closing five minutes of this episode gives us so much to deal with that you can’t help but collect your jaw from the floor as the episode fades to black. Just when you think Angel has succeeded *boom*, Darla is already living her second chance. Just when you think Darla is going to revert back to trying to be turned into a vampire again, *boom*, she accepts her fate. Just as Darla accepts her fate *boom*, Drusilla returns to the Buffyverse and turns the unwilling Darla into a vampire once more. I’m blown away by the consistency of this season thus far. The first season had some wonderful episodes, but it was primarily standalone episodes with a theme of redemption. The second season is filled with complex overarching themes, a coherent season story, and so much character development that I’m frothing at the mouth (excitement, not rabies).

The episode opens with Angel doing laundry...I must admit, I didn’t see that coming. I never thought of Angel as someone who did his own laundry...or bathed, actually. Does he need to bathe? His heart doesn’t beat, but he somehow sweats. Does the sweat smell? Does he need to bathe purely to clean himself or is it for smelling purposes too? If vampires have super-sniffing powers and Angel is able to produce smelly sweat, is he always able to smell himself and it drives him mental? THESE ARE THE QUESTIONS, PEOPLE...where was I? Oh yes, a badass vampire that enjoys fabric softener. Angelus must be cringing inside of Angel. Both Cordelia and Wesley are worried that Angel is distracted and heading down a very dark path because of his Darla obsession. By the end of the next episode, they’ll be proven right and Angel will fire them both.

It would appear that Darla is dying of syphilis, just like she was as a human the last time around before The Master swooped in to save her with his cloak billowing behind him. Wolfram & Hart bringing Darla back as a human means that she’s once again capable of dying a human death. It makes sense that she still has syphilis and that it’s killing her. Lindsey’s reaction to the news is most interesting and welcomed because it gives his character even more depth. He has feelings for Darla! It’s so typical of Lindsey to love someone he couldn’t have a future with. Either she’s about to die or she’s going to become a soulless vampire again. Lindsey is self-hating, even if he sometimes doesn’t act like it. The first thing he does after work every day is shower because he’s “always dirty” and needs to wash away the stain of Wolfram & Hart. So why does he stay? Because he wants power. He’s choosing power at the expensive of his piece of mind. Here’s something to consider...were Wolfram & Hart lying? Is Darla truly dying of syphilis or was it a scamola so that Darla would run to Angel? I personally think Darla is dying because it makes perfect sense. However, we never find out for sure. It would be in character for Wolfram & Hart to lie.

Angelus first mentions Holtz during a flashback in this episode. I’m fairly certain that by this point in the season Joss and David Greenwalt had decided on Holtz being the ‘Big Bad’ of the following season.

I have an opinion and I don’t think it’s a popular one...while I adore Angel and Buffy as a romantic pairing (it’s actually my favourite of Buffy’s relationships), Darla and Angel have significantly more chemistry together on screen. Angel and Darla have so much history together that any other relationship Angel has on the show will pale in comparison. How can you compare a few years to over a hundred? There are so many different stories that can be told between these two characters on flashbacks alone, let alone the ones that are being told in the present! Darla and Angel know everything about each other! They know how the other one thinks, how they hunt, how they operate...nothing can compare to that and the chemistry that it creates between David and Julie is unreal. One of the reasons why it works so well is because it has a series of deep, complex, emotional layers. Taking this episode for example, is Darla entitled to go out and try to be turned into a vampire because she’s dying? I think so. On the flipside of that, is Angel right to stop her? If Darla succeeds in being re-sired, she’ll be soulless again and will hurt innocent people that Angel has chosen to protect, so even though he doesn’t want her to die, he can’t afford to let her live again as a vampire either. Furthermore, Angel wants Darla to give her humanity a chance! As far as a returned soul is concerned, he’s been where she is! He knows what she’s going through with the remorse and the guilt! These are all grey-area questions. There’s no real right or wrong answer. Angel stops Darla from being sired by the most adorably nerdy vampire in history and in a weird way I feel sorry for Darla. I wasn’t expecting to feel this way. She almost became a soulless monster again and I feel sorry for her...should I be questioning my moral compass? Darla almost being turned into a vampire in an alleyway is a poetic parallel to Liam (Angel) and William (Spike), who were both sired in alleyways themselves by Darla and Drusilla. IS EVERYONE TOO CHEAP TO SPRING FOR A HOTEL ROOM IN THE BUFFYVERSE?! JEEZ!

At first, I was confused as to why the flashback scenes were included. Upon further inspection I believe that I’ve put my finger on the flashbacks, Darla leaves Angelus to the mercy of Holtz and his men and rides off on the horse by herself. This shows that Darla is more interested in self-preservation than she is concerned about the safety of her soul mate. This is exactly what’s happening in present day Los Angeles. Darla would rather be a soulless vampire that’s alive than be a deceased human that died with a soul. Even after regaining her soul, she’s still more interested in self-preservation than doing the right thing. By the end of this episode, Darla has finally learned what’s more important in life. For arguably the first time ever she puts what’s best for her behind what’s best for Angel and the world...which makes the ending all the more shocking and sad.

Cordelia: “You’re a prisoner.”
Wesley: “I’d have to concur with that.”
Cordelia: “See, you’ve got our friend all in knots.”
Wesley: “Can’t say we like you much.”
Cordelia: “So, sorry about the dying, but if you try to escape, we will hit you.”
Wesley: “On the head.”
Cordelia: “With very large and heavy objects, okay?”

Does anyone else want Cordelia and Wesley to have their own buddy-cop spinoff show? I’d totally watch that! They could tour the world being all sassy and bicker with each other over everything! Hell, take Phantom Dennis too! It makes a glorious change of pace that Wesley and Cordy are on the same page instead of bickering with each other. Cordy and Wesley know that Angel is ignoring their advice. They know that Darla is screwing up Angel’s mental state. What can they do about it? At this point all they can do is try to keep him grounded and reel him in if he falls too far into obscurity. However, I can also see Angel’s side of the situation. How can Angel leave Darla to die? Saving souls is Angel’s mission and purpose! This particular soul holds a very special place in his heart, of course he’s going to do everything he can to save her! The only problem is that he’s ignoring his friends’ advice. Cordelia and Wesley (more so than Gunn at this point) have earned Angel’s trust and respect. They could be useful in helping to save Darla, why not bring them into the mix a little more? Why not listen to their advice? I’ve also got to mention that if the ending of this episode hadn’t happened, Angel wouldn’t have fired his friends. Both Angel and Darla have come to terms with the fact that Darla is dying...and then Drusilla swoops in and ruins everything (did I mention that I met Juliet Landau earlier this month?!)!

Another interesting part of this episode is the conversation between Angel and Lindsey while Angel is looking for a non-fangy way to save Darla. Lindsey being in love with Darla adds a whole new dynamic to not only this episode, but the season. Remember, it’s Lindsey that recruits Drusilla to save Darla. Almost the entirety of the remainder of the season stems from this act. The power play of Angel vs. Wolfram & Hart (primarily Lindsey and Lilah) that unfolds throughout the next nine episodes all starts because of Lindsey’s feelings for Darla. Lindsey tells Angel here that if he had the power, he’d turn Darla into a vampire to save her, but he doesn’t have that luxury. Angel does have the power to save Darla, but he won’t. This scene is a prelude to the conclusion of the episode. Lindsey does do something to save Darla from death, something that Angel was unwilling to do. Simply phenomenal storytelling. Angel returns to the Hyperion Hotel after seeing the tests that the Wolfram & Hart doctors performed on Darla. He looks out of the window at her sitting outside in the garden and in that moment realises that she’s truly dying and that he’ll do absolutely anything to stop it. It’s just heartbreaking. He doesn’t look depressed, he just looks lost. It’s a whole new level of sadness for Angel’s character. If Lorne hadn’t given Angel another way, would Angel have turned Darla here? I think so. After the trials fail, Angel does talk to Darla about re-siring her, but Darla refuses.

Before considering re-siring Darla, Angel takes her to sing for Lorne at Caritas. Darla sings “Ill Wind” and the words are just perfect for her situation...

It's so hard to keep up with troubles that creep up,
From out of nowhere when love’s to blame.
So ill wind, blow away,
Let me rest today.
You're blowin' me no good.”

The song choice here isn’t a coincidence. We’ve got sunshine, troubles, and love mentioned in these few lines. Darla doesn’t want to decay and die. She wants to remain in the sunshine, but she can’t because she’s dying (trouble). If it wasn’t for Angel, Darla would already be a soulless monster again by now (love). Also, Julie has a fantastic singing voice! I recently read that this is the most terrifying scene Julie has filmed before in her entire career because she isn’t a confident singer. Whether she’s confident or not, she sounds awesome! Lorne mentions to Angel that some people aren’t meant to be saved. Some people are destined to die. I think that this is a subtle hint to the audience that no matter how badly they want it, Darla isn’t going to be alive by the end of this just won’t be the result they expect. She’ll be undead, not dead. Let’s not forget, Lorne is an empath demon that can read the future of people’s current paths when they sing. Did he know that Darla was soon going to die? Did he know that Darla was going to be turned into a vampire again? We’ll never know the answer, but it’s an interesting point to raise.

Angel takes Lorne’s potential resolution to Darla’s looming death situation and quite literally takes the plunge in order to save her (into an empty swimming pool that sucks him into another dimension). He’s greeted by a friendly Englishman known as the ‘Valet’, who will assist Angel through the three trials. I adore Jim Piddock, who plays the Valet in this episode. He’s also stars in “Friends”, “Dollhouse”, and a host of other excellent television shows, as well as voicing “Major Zero” in Metal Gear Solid’s “Snake Eater”. That’s one helluva résumé! With that being said, who the hell is the Valet? How can he teleport in and out like that? Is he alive or dead? Is he non-corporeal? He doesn’t seem to care if Angel succeeds or fails, is this merely his day job? Does he like his job or does he often hand his C.V. out to local bookshops when he’s not at work? What are his motivations? We need to know these facts (well, some of them) to truly appreciate the Valet character.

The first trial is fairly straightforward. Kill the demon before he kills you and exit the arena in the direction of the second trial. Simple, right? There’s just one slight problem...the demon has the ability to reattach its limbs after they’ve been chopped off. That’s cheating. After numerous attempts to kill the yellow-skinned bastard, Angel finally manages to slice him in two and chain each piece to a separate area of the arena. Trial one: complete! Get in!

The second trial is obscene and vindictive. There are crosses all over the walls and floor (Angel is also forced to be barefoot and topless...any excuse to remove his clothes, eh Whedon?), which is bad enough. To make matters worse, Angel has to retrieve the key to the door at the end of the corridor by dipping his hand in a pool of holy water. Ouch. What if a non-vampire had to do the trials? Trial two would be as difficult as Spike needing to drink alcohol to save someone’s life. Do the trials adjust to the participant or are they always the same? I would imagine that trial three is the same regardless, but what about the other two? Hmm, now I’m gonna be stuck with serious thoughts all day...

The third and final trial is the only one that holds any real significance for the episode or arc. In essence, the third trial is very simple...sacrifice yourself to offer the other person a second chance at life. In one of the best acted and written scenes in “Angel” thus far, the Valet offers Angel some wise words before Angel chooses. Would the world be worse off if Angel sacrificed himself to save Darla? As much as Angel loves Darla, he knows that he’s more valuable to the world than she is. Angel is saving hundreds of souls every year, sometimes thousands! The fate of the world often rests on Angel’s shoulders! Darla has already proven that she puts herself before others and she can barely save herself. Even with all of that being said, Angel still chooses to die for Darla. To Angel, it doesn’t matter how important Darla is to the world, all that matters is how important Darla is to him. He tells the Valet to do it already and the scene explodes with hundreds of wooden stakes...and it turns out that the whole third trial was one big fake-out to see how much Angel cared about Darla. Does this diminish Angel’s willingness to sacrifice himself for Darla? I don’t think so. I already had my suspicions that Angel wouldn’t die. The trial itself isn’t the important part of the story, what the Valet said is and what Angel was willing to do for Darla is, as both will have important repercussions over the next few episodes.

After that non-death twist, I’m ready for the episode to settle down. What was that, another twist already?! Darla can’t be saved because she’s already living her second chance at life. Do you have to keep kicking me while I’m down? Angel just went through all of that pain and turmoil for absolutely nothing. I don’t recall ever seeing Angel angrier than he is after he’s told that Darla cannot be saved. He literally destroys the room he’s in, obliterates the guards, and starts to repeatedly slam his fist into a stone pillar. He’s running off of pure grief and rage. These trials were his last hope for Darla outside of death or siring her and that hope has been stolen from him. Go back in time and watch the Angel that arrives in Los Angeles in “City Of” and then watch this episode. Back then, Angel had given up on life. He was avoiding all human contact, he was depressed, and he just wanted to be left alone. Now here he is demolishing rooms because he cares so much about someone. Excellent character growth! Also, David and Julie were once again flawless in this scene. They’re both incredible throughout this episode, actually.

Darla and Angel leave the trials with nothing to show for it outside of Angel’s bruises and cuts. In the final scene of the episode, Angel and Darla are having a heart-to-heart in Darla’s motel room about what it means to be alive. Angel contemplates turning Darla into a vampire to save her and he mentions to her that she might be different because of his soul. We find out in season five’s “Why We Fight” that this is actually partially true! Since being re-ensoulled, Angel has only ever turned one person into a vampire, Lawson. Lawson was different to other vampires and did inherit a small amount of Angel’s soul-like qualities. Darla tells Angel that she doesn’t want to be a vampire anymore. She finally understands what Angel has been trying to tell her. Having a second chance at humanity, even for a short amount of time, is something to cherish. It’s something to hold on to. It’s an interesting parallel to what Joyce is going through on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” at the same time (Joyce has a brain tumour). I swear, watching these two seasons side by side will be the death of me. Angel accepts Darla’s refusal and tells Darla that he’ll be by her side for as long as she has left and that she’ll never be alone again. I am literally (yep, literally) dying of Angel-Darla feels right now! Send her! Send cellotape for my broken heart and a punching bag for my frustration. Just two episodes ago, Darla viewed her soul as a cancer. She despised it and would have done anything to tear it out of her. She tried to become a vampire once again, she tried to cut the soul out of her, and now she’s learned to accept it. Darla has reached the stage that Angel did during the middle of the 20th century. Angel is trying to be everything for Darla that he wishes he had during that time of his own life. He’s supportive, protective, and trying to aid her through every step of her journey of redemption...

...Then the door bursts open and in steps Lindsey, closely followed by DRUSILLA?! WHAT THE HELL IS SHE DOING HERE?! WE HAVEN’T SEEN HER SINCE THE END OF “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” SEASON TWO (excluding flashbacks)! THAT’S TWO AND A HALF YEARS! While Angel is powerless to stop her, Drusilla turns her former-grandmother into a vampire. It’s such a smart play from Wolfram & Hart in their quest to make Angel go dark! They know that bringing a human Darla back will throw Angel through a loop. They know that after he discovers she’s human and dying, he’ll aid her in any way he can. Darla has given Angel a genuine, real tie to the world again for the first time since Buffy. Sure, he loves Cordy and Wesley too, but not to the extent that he does Darla at this point and certainly not in the same way. Holland knows that dangling Darla on a string in front of Angel and then snapping that string will cause Angel to become very unhinged. Well played, Holland, you asshat. I’ve got to mention that the musical score that plays as Drusilla steps into the room and turns Darla into a vampire is amazing! It’s incredibly haunting and really made you feel that Angel was powerless to stop this from happening. Drusilla’s return should have been significant and shocking, and my word did it deliver. Finally, screw you, Whedon, Minear, Greenwalt, and Petrie! You bring Darla back as a human, then tell us that she’s dying, then just as she accepts her death (and in turn, us, the audience accept it), you make her a vampire again?! WHY MUST YOU CONTINUE TO MESS WITH OUR EMOTIONS!...I need a walk and some chocolate milk...

Quote Of The Episode

Angel: “Spare me.”

Valet: “I’d very much like to. Do you mind if I ask you a question? Isn’t the world a better place with you in it? You can save so many seems she can barely save herself. You know better than anyone the world can be a very bad place. Take yourself out and put her in, and how long will it be before she stumbles, before she falls?”

Angel: “I don’t know...”

Valet: “You don’t, and are you still ready to give your life when she can promise you nothing?”

Angel: “Yes.”


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.

Previous "Angel" Reviews 
"City Of" (1x01)
"I Will Remember You" (1x08)
"Hero" (1x09)
"Five By Five" (1x18)
"Sanctuary" (1x19)
"To Shanshu In L.A." (1x22)
"Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been" (2x02)
"Darla" (2x07)

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