Heartthrob is a good episode made great if you enjoy meta-storytelling as much as I do. James’ kamikaze revenge quest provides a compelling illustration of why Angel’s right to move on after Buffy’s death, but this story also provides a commentary on the new divide between their respective series. It’s natural that a serialized drama give characters time to grieve, but extremely rare for one to, even obliquely, make reference to the realities of network/studio conflicts.
Buffy’s split with the WB wasn`t exactly amicable, and then entertainment president Jordan Levin said that it was important that Angel “… really establishes itself independently from Buffy.” Basically, a nice way of saying that the network wasn’t willing to play nice. The episode has some fun with the elephant in the room by having everyone the avoid saying “Buffy” but, more importantly, it reflects on Angel`s (the man and the series) status without Buffy as her death is used as a metaphor for newfound gulf between the series.
Spinoffs are often slighted as lesser reflections of the original and while I think that Angel shed this problem after it’s first season, there`s still the potential for an identity crisis here; Angel exists in Buffy’s universe, what does that mean now that it’s predecessor can’t be referenced? The solution is both awesome and anti-climactic; you just move on.
James can’t move on after Elizabeth’s death. His entire existence was so completely entwined with hers that, once she’s gone, the only course of action he can take is to have his own heart literally ripped out, leaving just enough time for some nothing-to-lose-revenge before following her in his own blaze of dust. It’s a devotion that disturbs Angel in the fact that he doesn’t share it. Buffy was “the love of his life,” but that life didn’t end when her’s did and he feels guilty for this fact. Angel wasn’t destroyed by Buffy’s death; he took some time off, then returned to reconnect with his friends and get back to work. It lacks the drama of James’ self-destruction, but it doesn’t invalidate the love. As Cordy points out, Angel honours her by continuing to fight.
Angel doesn’t go see his own demon doctor because his heart’s his own. The same can be said of the series. Buffy can continue to inform the context of what happens on Angel, but it’s not the only context. This series has it’s own stories to tell, and while Buffy might still be relevant, it isn’t necessary. In this sense, Angel doesn’t really need to establish it’s independence from Buffy, it’s existed for some time.
Love the use of the crutches on the subway. I’ve got a soft spot for medical aides used as weapons.
The demon monks and “shoulda gone to Vegas” routine didn’t really land for me.
On the other hand, the introduction of Holtz really did land. Darla’s pregnancy may be the big reveal that catapults us into the season arc, but Holtz will prove just as relevant and I love how organically he was brought into the series. I’ll have more to say about him as his story develops but, I’ll just say that I’m excited now as I think he’s one of the best antagonists ever to grace the screen.
Good to see Lorne back this season, although his appearance didn’t seem to serve any purpose beyond assuring us that he’s back this season.