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ANGEL: Episode By Episode, Part 3
In an exclusive interview, supervising producer Tim Minear continues his guided tour through the show's first season.
By Edward Gross
August 28, 2000
'Somnambulist' is truly one of the highlights of Angel
's first season. Things start off mysteriously enough with Angel waking up from nightmares of having killed, and then discovering that those nightmares seem to be true. Only later does he learn that one of his protégés has come to town, and is killing in the way that Angelus taught him.
'It was originally titled 'The Killer I Created',' explains supervising producer Tim Minear, 'and I saw it spoiled on the Internetthe entire plot was out there. The point of the episode is that Angel's protégé comes back. I went on to the Buffy
message board at some point and they asked me what my next episode was going to be. I changed the title to 'Somnambulist' and said it was about dreams and about possibly horrible things that you do in your sleep. Which completely fooled the fans and they did not know it was the episode they already knew about. I didn't lie. I just shifted the focus. When we first came in at the beginning of the season, there was a board, and Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt had come up with several different ideasjust germs of ideasand one of them was 'A vampire that Angel taught is killing in Angel's old M.O.' I immediately took to that idea. What I brought to it was in the first act the idea that Angel thinks he's killing again and we don't reveal that it's this guy until the second act. Joss loved that twist.
'It actually didn't change all that significantly from the time we broke it to the time I wrote it for the first time with Doyle still in it,' he continues. 'The biggest change was my rewriting it for Wesley. The way Joss works is that a lot of times he will have a moment in his head. He won't necessarily have the plot yet, but he'll know that there is a certain moment that the thing is about. For this episode, when we were very early in the breaking stage, he knew that he wanted Kate to have to literally go through Angel [with a stake] to kill the other vampire, which to me was just the perfect moment. Because it's Angel opening himself up and actually sort of taking responsibility in a visceral movie kind of way for this horrible thing that he's done. It was really all about that moment.'
As this was the first script Minear wrote for the showdespite the fact it was put in the 'script bank' for laterit represented the first time he wrote for Kate, and the episode also represented her discovery of what Angel actually is. 'That was sort of the point of the episode,' he says. 'I have a bunch of favorite scenes in that episode, but my absolute favorite is when Angel comes to her and she says she's going to stake him and slams the door in his face. That's definitely where we've gone with herwhere she doesn't just accept this, and that will continue in the second season. I really like the fightsthat there was conflict with Wesley because he wasn't part of the team yet. But by the end of the episode he is
on the team. It made it far more interesting.
'The scene that the fans really seem to like the most is the last one between Angel and Cordelia, which was originally written for Doyle. It's when she comes up on the roof and says we all have something dark in us, and you're not him anymore. Then at the end he says, 'If I ever change...' and before he can finish she says, 'I'll kill you in a heartbeat.' You don't often see the pretty girl and the handsome boy having a buddy moment on a TV show, and I think that's really interesting.'
In 'Expecting,' following a night of casual sex, Cordelia awakens apparently nine months pregnant and ready to give birth to a demon's child. Naturally, it's up to Angel and Wesley to stop Cordy and several other women from giving birth to these demon critters.
'Oh, jeez, body horror!' laughs Minear. 'I think that's what that episode isit's about body horror. Originally we weren't sure where to go with this. I know at one point there was a sort of funny version of it where it was just ridiculous, and Joss came in and said, 'No, we should play this straight,' and suddenly the thing broke that way. The other thing that it served to do was to show that Wesley was more than he appeared to be on Buffy
, by showing up at the end and being able to shoot straight. It was also the beginning of the idea that Cordelia is family and that they were forming a family there. It's just naturally fallen that way.'
If one has a complaint about the episode, it's that the story seems a bit anticlimactic with Angel and Wesley freezing and destroying the giant demon involved, rather than there being some sort of hand-to-hand combat. 'I kind of like it, actually, where he realizes that the only way he can kill it is to freeze it,' differs the producer. 'I also like that each one of them plays a part. Angel brings in the [CO2] canister; Wesley fires the shot that causes it to explode; and Cordelia smashes the thing to bits.'
'She' involves a woman from another dimensional plane trying to free the enslaved women of her culture. Despite her resistance, Angel forces his way into her life so that he can help. 'One of the best-directed episodes of the season. David Greenwaltwonderful director,' Minear enthuses. 'The idea was that we were sort of bringing in these women in a number of episodes to see if there was any spark between them and Angel, and I think that at the core of that was the big exposition scene. But really what the scene was about is that Angel was saying, 'I'm really, really attracted to you.' There are a lot of really bitching things in that episode. I love the scene where he follows her into the art gallery: Angel has to pretend that he's a tour guide and it's really cool that he knew the artist he starts talking about. I also likedand I think this was from [Buffy
producer] Marti Noxonthe scene where he can't work his cell phone. Angel's disease with modern technology is, I think, great.'
There is also a wonderfully offbeat moment at the beginning during a party in Cordelia's apartment when a woman asks Angel to dance. He imagines himself doing the dorkiest dance anyone could imagine, and gracefully declines. Says Minear, 'Joss had been talking about Boreanaz's funny dance. Actually, I had put it into 'Sense and Sensitivity' at one point where he said, 'I feel so deeply now, the only way I can express myself is through interpretive dance,' and I had him do this thing. It was really funny, but Joss thought it was too much; plus, we wanted to save it until it was just right. So we put it into 'She.' Here's this guy who looks like this, and he's a complete social retard. I think we've had a lot of success playing that aspect of the character.'
Minear continues, 'I went to the preview where they run the pilot for a sample audience sitting there with the knobs to vote for what they did or did not like. There were fans of Buffy
, male and female; there were people who didn't watch Buffy
, male and female; and across the board the one thing they all agreed on was that they all loved David Boreanaz. The men thought that this guy was really cool; they didn't feel threatened by him and felt that he was somebody they could relate to; and of course the women were in love with him. That's really special. I think that's because he doesn't come across as someone you can't relate to, because we can all understand what it's like to fumble and not get out what it is we're trying to say. My favorite scene of the episode is in the teaser, when he goes into the kitchen and he sits down, and the phantom Dennis gives him a beer. It's like, okay, the two dead guys at the party are connecting. Every time Dennis makes an appearance, the fans go nuts about it.'
One of the things that doesn't make sense, however, is the writers' attempts to hook Angel up with someone. It would seem to be a pointless task, as having sex would apparently kick in Angel's curse, reverting him back to Angelus. Minear disagrees. 'Angel can have sex,' he explains, 'as long as it's not perfect happiness. If you look at 'Eternity', yeah, that was his moment of perfect happiness that turned him evil. On the other hand, as Wesley points out in that episode, the reason he experienced the moment of perfect happiness before was not because he had sex, but because he was with Buffy. That
is when he found a moment of perfect happiness. But the point is, here is a guy who has to not
cut himself off from the world, who has to connect, who has to not be completely guarded, but on the other hand, it's a very fine line that he walks. And if he goes a little bit too far, there is the danger that he will destroy the very people he's connecting with. So it's not about sex per se, but we do know that that is a danger area. I can see where you get the impression about sex and Angel, but I think we've put a finer point on it on more than one occasion.'Angel
does The Exorcist
in 'I've Got You Under My Skin,' as the gang tries to help a family whose young son is possessed. What one doesn't understand, however, is that the demon within the child is desperately trying to get out
, but the evil within the youth is so horrible that it has trapped the creature there.
This was 'one of the very early scripts that we wrote before Doyle was killed,' details Minear. 'Actually we were going to do that as episode fifteen, because I was going to write episode fourteen, which turned out to be 'The Prodigal,' but we hadn't broken the story yet. I knew I wanted to do the scene where Angel is trying to be invited into a place to save somebody and the victim would not let him in. I'm thinking, 'Joss, I've got this moment in my head and to me it's all about this moment.' But there were only a few days to write that, so we pushed it to fifteen, and as I've said, we put the early scripts in the bank, so we pulled ['I've Got You Under My Skin'] out of the bank. It wasn't quite right yet. I did some work on it, and the thing I pitched to Joss was the parallels between this family and our little family. My idea was that Angel should accidentally call Wesley Doyle, because it should be about these two men who lose a son. At the end of the story the father loses his son, and at the beginning of the story Angel has lost a 'son', sort of. These two men are desperately trying to keep their family together, and through no fault of their own, they can't. Once we sort of hit upon that, the theme became much clearer.
'I don't know if it's a complete success,' he continues, 'but the fans really liked it. If you can find the emotional resonance with your character in a plot, then the thing starts to fall into place much more easily. It's not just a bunch of moves, which is what it was before. Also, Joss came up with the brilliant twist that the demon was trying to get out of the kid the whole time. That was the genesis of the idea: here's a kid who is possessed by a demon, and what you discover at the end is that the kid is even more evil than the demon. Which is a far more frightening idea. That was always there, but in the meantime you've got three acts you've got to play involving the emotional story. We went in a million different directions: Angel lost his youth; Angel was possessed by a demon; Angel understands this kid. That's kind of there, but not really. Then it became about that moment where the kid speaks in Doyle's voice and Angel grabs the towel, wraps it around his hand and grabs the cross. The idea of a vampire having to perform an exorcism is just too great.
'Originally, in an earlier version of the script, there was a priest who was brought in and got knocked out of the game and Angel took over. Joss at some point said, 'Do we need this priest? Can't it be Wesley?' Suddenly it makes perfect sense, because Angel's problem at the beginning of the story is, 'I let Doyle die. Things got too dangerous and I let him die because he did something that I couldn't do.' Now you have Wesley saying, 'I can perform this exorcism; you can't,' and you have Angel saying, 'I can't let you do that.' He finally agrees, but at the end of the day he really saves Wesley's life. So he's sort of atoning for the Doyle thing even though that really wasn't his fault. I also thought it was nice that five episodes after Doyle's death, Cordelia finally confronts him about it. You know, the living nature of the show is not always conscious, but it's what happens when you get a certain amount of hours of the show under your belt. The thing starts developing a life of its own. That's why we can keep going back to episode nine and say, 'It was absolutely right to kill Doyle,' because it made the second half of the season that much stronger.'Next week, we conclude our look at Season One and offer a preview of Season Two.