Poor Angel. As I’ve said before, one of the great strengths of this series is its willingness to knock the stuffing out of its protagonist from time to time. He is, deep down, a fundamentally self-centred character, one whose own tortured soul is his primary preoccupation, and the thing that makes that bearable to watch is that it isn’t taken too seriously. There’s a lot of that going on in “Couplet” but, funny as the gags at Angel’s expense are, it’s not the jokes that make this episode great, it’s the fact that Angel actually starts to take his humiliations to heart. Much as we might enjoy our Champion being reminded that he isn’t all that, we don’t want him to actually stop being all that. Angel’s strong, and noble, and self-sacrificing; a hero, and any threat to that has the makings of great drama.
At first glance, Angel’s jealousy of the Groosalug would seem to just be more of him being his typically vain self. Yes, Groo’s relationship with Cordy is the impetus for Angel’s feelings but his initial reaction is still pretty childish, “Does he seem shorter to you?” There’s certainly some funny stuff here but, as the episode progresses, it becomes clear that Angel isn’t just sour about his lost love (as usual) or pouting because he’s not the one and only champion around; he’s worried that there only needs to be one champion around, and that Groo’s manifestly better at it than he is.
Groo slaying a demon in the sunshine neatly encapsulates Angel’s problem and forces us to stop laughing. There’s nothing funny in seeing our hero looking on from the shadows as someone else saves the day and is then showered with gratitude. That’s pretty much Angel’s life right there; forever an outsider. And he’s not merely jealous that Groo’s gain some sunlit acceptance where he can’t, he’s frustrated by his own limitations and worried that they make him less of a hero. Cordy giving Groo a Angel-makeover certainly doesn’t help this feeling that he can, and perhaps should, be replaced.
Ultimately, it’s Angel’s limitations that help him save the day as his lack of a heart helps slay tree-beast online predator. While it would be easy say that this reduces the lesson to “everyone’s got their own unique strengths” we still need to contend with the fact that he doesn’t get the girl in the end. He doesn’t even get the credit he deserves for saving the day, nor has he gained the self-confidence not to be bothered by these facts. Being an unsung hero isn’t actually enough for Angel, and that’s why he sends her away. Yes, he wants her to be happy, but it’s also too painful for him to see her with someone else, someone who, manifestly, could be him. It’s a move that both redeems and damns Angel at the same time which, for the second time in the episode, neatly encapsulates his character.
At least Angel’s able to take some solace in his son. There’s one relationship that won’t end in… Man, this show really does love to kick him when he’s down.
Loved the exchange between Gunn and Wes: “What are you, her brother?” “Apparently.” Ouch.
Sending Angel to pickup the mystical condom? Both hilarious and awful.
David Boreanaz is particularly great this week at blending the tragic and the comic.