One of the disadvantages of this season’s intensely serialised storytelling is that the show has lost much of its variety. The few forrays outside the realm of apocalyptic epic (e.g. the Gunn and Sparky caper) have felt more distracting than refreshing. ”Shiny Happy People” proves that Angel can still colour outside the lines, even ones it drew itself. I won’t say that I’d become desensitised to all the doom and gloom, the series has done a good job preventing that, but the time was still right to change gears. Rather than trying to top the Apocalypse thus far, Jasmine takes us in the opposite direction and the effect is satisfyingly creepy. All the peace and happiness makes for a new kind of dread and Fred is an inspired choice to serve as the audience’s surrogate.
While “Squirrely Fred” was dropped rather unceremoniously shortly after the character’s introduction, the traits are still dusted off when occasion demands and this is probably the finest example. There’s no full blown wall-writing here, but Acker does a good job working in some of her old mannerisms and bringing an edge of panic to her voice. I love that it’s the possibility of losing Jasmine that initially drives Fred over the edge (out, out damn spot) and then this is exactly what ends up happening to her. The horror Fred experiences isn’t just at the disgusting visual (she’s seen plenty of those) its at having it replace the pure peace and contentment she was experiencing. Cut off from Jasmine’s grace, Fred finds herself isolated from those that aren’t and perceives just how warped the world is becoming.
We’re right there with her of course, and its not just because we know Jasmine’s the villain. It speaks volumes about what a bleak show this has become that seeing everyone full of hope and joy can be so disconcerting. The real masterstroke of this gimmick is that it never really undermines the bleakness Angel’s been riding for so long. We know our heroes are enchanted and so being this happy is just another way for them to be defeated. Even as all the pain they’re carrying melts away, all the strife between them gets resolved and they become a far more effective demon fighting unit, they’re losing. It’s nicely creepy, particularly hwen Fred comes to share our dread.
The best scene is probably when Fred makes the mistake of telling Wesley what she’s learned. A room full of shiny happy people, all lining up to worship the rot demon, and our champions are conspiring against the one person who knows the truth. Delightfully Hitchcockian. She’s completely isolated after this, a fact drilled home as all of the other diner patrons kneel before Jasmine, apart from what she now shares with the audience. Fred’s been pushed out of the story, able to observe events but powerless to change them.
Love the fact that Wes is the last one to kneel. Surely his bitterness will inure him too all this peace and love. Nope.
It’s a wise choice for Jasmine’s goodness and light to be played (mostly) straight. While her power over her followers is absolute, she seems to have no desire to use it for anything but good, taking away everyone’s pain and anger and directing them to make the world a better place. The only sinister element to what she wants is the “eradication” of evil.
Gina Torres also goes a long way to selling Jasmine, letting her gorgeous smile slip for a fraction of a second when Connor questions her.
Much as I really do enjoy Jasmine, her appearance does exacerbate this season’s structural problems. The Beast/Angelus/Cordy/Jasmine doesn’t exactly lend itself to unity, much as last week’s exposition might claim otherwise.