“Loyalty” and the episodes that follow loom large in my memory of season three. Much of what’s come before has been good, even great, but this final stretch of episodes is so excellent that I often found myself wishing that the series would cut to the case. Knowing what’s about to unfold certainly contributes to my enjoyment of this episode but, even looked at in isolation, this is a pretty terrific hour of television. The cracks that have been forming in Angel Investigations are starting to split wide open just as those villains who’ve seemed cool but ineffectual thus far finally make their move. It all makes for an exciting promise of things to come.
Oh, and this episode also proves how amazing Alexis Denisof is, just in case you weren’t already aware. We’ve had plenty of character spotlight episodes, but this one’s unique. Without any imminent threat, the drama rests squarely on Wes’ inner turmoil and thus on Denisof’s fantastic performance. By turns harried, angry, and terrified, he’s pitch perfect as a man who’s falling apart. I’m a particular fan of the just slightly haunted expression he wears in virtually every scene. It’s clear that Wesley isn’t grappling with the prophecy as some sort of abstract chance, but as a horrifying reality. Accepting so much as the possibility that the prophecy is correct means accepting that Angel is even capable of harming Conner, and that’s too much for Wesley to handle.
While there’s certainly good reason to blame Wesley for his failure to bring his concerns to his friends, but his decision fits with his character and, more importantly, it pays off a number of things that have been developing this season. Wes has had trust issues since his days in Sunnydale, most particularly where Angel is concerned and while the two them are certainly close, the nature of this particular problem precludes him from sharing it with him. Fred & Gunn’s relationship has clearly driven a wedge between them and Wesley but it’s also left them too wrapped up in one another to interpret his behaviour as being about anything other than them. Send Cordy out of town at the worst possible time and you’ve got Wes feeling utterly alone as he contemplates the unthinkable.
It may be clear why Wesley doesn’t talk to his friends about this problem but a lot of people still object to his bringing it to Holtz. I can see their point, but it’s easy to miss the fact that Holtz is the one who brings up the threat to Connor. I believe Wes when he says he’s just there to dissuade Holtz from his vendetta, but when the vampire hunter starts parroting Wesley’s own fears back to him how can he help but listen? It is the nature of contemplating unthinkable circumstances that we begin to contemplate unthinkable responses.
The tragic part of this episode is that Wes almost steps back from the edge. Talking to Angel about anything threatening Connor is enough to convince Wesley just how absurd the prophecy is. This is the other way to react when contemplating the unthinkable, to simply have faith in the things you know to be true (like the virtue of your friends) and dismiss that which contradicts them. The discovery is the first thing all episode to elicit any joy in Wes and it’s a shame the omens manifest at precisely that moment. It’s almost like someone’s manipulating him…
Love, love, love the Loa! This is arguably the most hilarious piece of genre subversion on any Whedon series.
Gunn’s pretty sappy in this episode, which I think is meant to illustrate just how much he loves Fred, but it really only serves to make the two of them into the most annoying couple ever.
“Do you know that a child’s coffin weighs almost nothing?” It’s lines like this that almost make us want to root for Holtz.
In an episode completely full of great Wes moments, I’m particularly fond of “Or you could lie on the ground and choke for a while.”