One of the best parts of these reviews is finding an episode that’s far better than I remember. “The House Always Wins” is one such case. Memory told me that this was yet another ill-advised detour for the series, experience showed me that this was a fun departure for the gang and a welcome spotlight for Lorne. Was I being unfair to this episode the first time around, or am I simply in a different head space now? It may be a bit of both, but I lean more towards the later. It’s a testament to the depth and variety of this series that impressions of it can change so much over time. Angel was never merely one thing, and so it makes sense that it should have a different appeal to different people. I’m not the same person I was a decade ago, and thus this isn’t the same show.
Speaking of the gap between memory and present reality, it’s actually been long enough that “Lady Marmalade” doesn’t grate the nerves. Not that Andy Hallet’s rendition ever did, but its just that the song, much like this episode, wasn’t remembered fondly as it was annoyingly everywhere for about a cup of coffee. I’ll defer judgement on Labelle and their other imitators and just delight in Lorne’s most over the top number. We’re a long way from Caritas and it was great to see him back in his element. If memory serves, this is the last time in a long time that he’ll perform before a crowd. Of course, like everyone else on Angel, Lorne isn’t actually allowed to succeed and the high of his performance is promptly followed by us learning just how shitty his life is as a psychic slave.
I’m not sure how to feel about Lorne’s status as a victim here. The beatings and threats to the demonic dancing girls serve to mitigate his guilt, but there isn’t a lot of heroism to make up for it. He’s certainly not passive in his own escape with that high C on the strip and he steps up in the end to try to protect his friends, but we can’t help but think that Demarco is correct in his conclusion that Lorne won’t give much trouble, whatever happens to Fred and Gunn; he just isn’t a fighter. That’s certainly bad for Lorne, but I’m not sure that its bad for the story.
It’s Angel who ends up being the hero here (with an assist from Cordy) and while that’s exactly the type of short-shrift I objected to when it happened to Gunn, I don’t think that it’s out of place for Lorne. It’s his assessment that Angel’s not fighting for his destiny, but for his friends, and that same logic can be applied to Lorne himself. The Host’s role is not to be the centre of the story, but to help others find their path, but he still has agency in who he chooses to help. It’s this capacity to choose that was taken away from him and it’s this that, ultimately, saves him. Lorne may like to think of himself as merely fate’s messenger, but he’s still placed himself on the side of the angels in whom he’s chosen to befriend. While he lacks the strength to keep his gift from being used for evil but, in consistently choosing to use it for good, he’s ensured that the good guys will have his back. It’s not Lorne’s destiny that saves him, but that of his friends.
First off, sorry for the protracted hiatus. We finally moved into our new home in August and it effectively consumed my life. The “good” news is that my commute has now been extended, giving me plenty of time to watch and write about television so these posts should finally start being regular again.
The trade in destinies is a nice extension of Angel’s demonic subculture. Its also another one of those onthenose Whedon metaphors that works in spite of itself. People gamble away everything they have all the time in Vegas, I only wish that Angel falling victim to it had been explored a little bit more thoroughly. It was nice that “fighting for his friends” is what snaps Angel out of his funk but, with his destiny being such burden, it would’ve been even better had he reacted a bit differently than the typical soot jockey.
It’s nice to see the finally Gunn’s “let’s go to vegas” line finally pay off.
Angel’s always been more effective in building its season-arc than in telling one-off stories, but this episode is a rare exception, so much so that Cordy’s physical return felt a little anti-climactic.