Well, here we are, the last crappy episode of Angel. I tend to Google episodes before writing about them (it’s a good way to gain perspective) and I was shocked to discover that “The Girl in Question” has its defenders. I just don’t get how anyone could like this episode. Having a comedic departure at a time when the series should be building momentum was ill advised to begin with but, if you’re going to do it, don’t forget the “comedic” part. Even if we put aside the bafflingly placement in the season and the equally baffling bait and switch of not getting to see Buffy, we’re still left with an episode where the overwhelming majority of the jokes don’t land. The quality of the Angel & Spike’s bogus journey hovers somewhere around the series’ first season, and that’s just inexcusable at this juncture.
I think that the crux of the problem is that “The Girl in Question” turns our heroes into chumps. That seems odd, given the fact much of the show’s comedy has always stemmed from taking Angel down a peg or three and Spike’s no stranger to humiliation for humour, but this episode takes it too far. Fun as it might be to see these two get embarrassed, particularly when they’re acting childish, they’re downright incompetent here. Letting their feelings for Buffy get in the way of the mission is one thing, but since when do these two renowned demon hunters have trouble with the butler and his human thugs?
We like to see Angel get knocked down because he has such an inflated image of himself; he’s the dark avenger who coolly broods when he’s not slaying demons and saving damsels. The reality of the series presents a less glamourous and more complicated image of heroism and the gap between who Angel is and who he pretends to be is fertile ground for comedy. But Angel still gets to be a super hero at the end of the day. Even when he fails he’s still a champion; meeting the physical, emotional, and moral challenges thrown at him with astonishing prowess. There’s none of that on display in this episode. Far from being a flawed hero, Angel’s presented as a pure stooge, bouncing from failure to failure, succeeding only because his rival really does prove to be the bigger man. The arc here is zero to zero. Why, exactly, should we enjoy watching it?
Not content with missing the mark on its Angel humiliation, this episode also fails in most other respects. Buffy’s the most obviously squandered opportunity here, though not the only one. Buffy’s been present in her absence throughout the season and so to suggest, however briefly, that she might appear here and then not deliver was plain stupid. Equally stupid: the head of Wolfram & Hart Rome. We’ve been told repeatedly that the W&H machine is bigger than L.A. and this was a golden opportunity to explore what the other branches might think about the champion in their midst. Instead we got a bosomy cartoon whose casual racism doesn’t quite qualify her to head up the devil’s law firm. The flashbacks, always the most consistent of Angel’s conceits, are mined for the same bad comedy (even Angelus has to be a chump, I think this is the only time we even see him humiliated) as the rest of the episode and make for a terrible final appearance for Darla and Dru. Finally we have Andrew, the golden boy of comic relief, reduced two unfunny scenes and (apparently) straight now.
I’d been dreading this episode since I started the season five rewatch. By far the worst one of the season, it also arrives at the worst possible time, killing the momentum leading into the series finale and boggling the promised Buffy payoff. The final two episodes more than pull this thing out of the gutter, but, if they have one problem, it’s how quickly Angel seemed to go over to the dark side. Spending this episode having him mull over the decision to side with the Fell Brethren would’ve been a far better use of time. Can we just pretend that’s what happened and forget about “The Girl in Question.”
On the bright side, Fred/Illyria/Wes are awesome. I’ve been regulating these two the Final Thoughts section, which is really a disservice to how excellent their interplay is. I’ll make up for it when I review the finale but, for now, awesome.
Amy Acker gives one of her best performances as she pivots between the two personas and, like everything else she’s done since “Hole in the World,” it makes me wish there’d been a sixth season. Just how much of Fred persists in Illyria is one of season five’s best questions and this is episode is as close as we get to a real exploration of it. The God King’s claims to be offended by the stench of grief is never meant to be taken seriously, nor should we believe she has any interest in getting to know Fred’s parents. The real explanation is that what she’s really looking to explore here is herself. Her place in the world has been Illyria’s central pre-occupation since she arrived and her physical form is a part of that, as is the way people treat that form. It’s twisted and captivating and Acker’s performance is essential to making it work.
For his part, Wes proves that even his masochism has limits. He doesn’t fully understand why he needs Illyria but, in my opinion, it’s all about twisting the knife. With Illyria around he’s got a living reminder of what he’s lost and, painful as that is, it’s better than moving on. But seeing “Fred” again is too much. He’s messed up enough to need Illyria around, but not so messed up that he’ll allow the obscenity of her using Fred’s image. It’s a rough spot to be in.