1x21: "Blind Date"
Review by Ryan Bovay (Ryan-R.B.)
Posted on July 17, 2006Writer: Jeannine Renshaw | Director: Thomas J. Wright | Air Date: 05/16/2000
This is a retrospective review and may contain spoilers from anywhere in the series. Read at your own peril.
"Blind Date," in the proud tradition of shows as unique and therefore few as Buffy and Angel, carries on the show's legacy of secondary character development today, and this time it's for everyone's favourite lawyer (if such a thing can exist): Lindsey McDonald. Sometimes a little awkward, and oftentimes forgotten in the same way "Lonely Hearts" [1x02] often is (being right before/after a major episode/premiere/finale), it's also quite potent and incredibly tense. The episode dives beyond the surface of both Lindsey and Wolfram and Hart, giving us our first real look into an organization that is far too intricate to simply be called 'evil.'
The plot is simple: A blind, sensory-trained assassin named Vanessa Brewer who is contracted and defended by Wolfram and Hart, is acquitted in a court case in which Lindsey defends her. Following the trial, Lindsey learns of her next targets: a group of child seers who pose a threat to the demonic law firm. Shocked and overwhelmed, he turns to Angel Investigations for help in taking down the assassin and saving the children. Like many episodes in the Whedonverse, the plot is a series of devices used to place the characters where the writers want them to be, and it's only with extra effort that they're more interesting than their synopses. Here, the story isn't all that interesting – Vanessa's scenes are where interest wanes the most – but the hell of Lindsey's conflict into which it leads us is both spellbinding and unpredictable.
Take Holland Manners, for example. This is his first appearance on the show, and I was always so glad it wasn't his last. He's high on the ladder at an organization as unique as Wolfram and Hart for a good reason, playing Lindsey very effectively, and we're never quite sure what he'll do. He follows Angel's given M.O. for the Wolfram and Hart types when it comes to Lee Mercer's betrayal; living in a self-constructed world free of guilt and torment where only power and necessity are relevant. Lee is shot on his order, and Holland describes the experience as 'unpleasant,' and Lindsey is spared the same fate over far more grievous an offence.
In this episode the focus is on Lindsey, and it plays both as a bringer of back story and a setup for future events. If "To Shanshu in LA" [1x22] is to set up the main conflicts for S2, this episode is to set up one of its key players, since understanding Lindsey's decision to remain at W&H is key. Now, from what we've seen of him up to this point, he's generally a tenacious man who requires control of a situation. He was up front with his legal attacks on Angel in "City of" [1x01], and went behind his superiors backs to have Angel exterminated by Faith in "Five by Five" [1x18], seeing how the ensouled vampire had constantly shaken Wolfram and Hart's control of certain affairs. He is, indeed, a man who is about power, and of the preference to be the one holding it; Angel's attempts to take it away from his firm have infuriated him repeatedly up to this point.
It's here that he has what Angel calls a crisis. News that the group of children is next on the assassin's hit list affects him very instantly and very clearly, and our next scene is of him arriving at Angel Investigation's doors. He goes on risking life and limb for this mission, but in the end is won back over by the firm. It's what holds him there that is the most interesting, and goes back to the idea of power. When Lindsey describes his childhood experiences, we get a very simple, but effective picture of what is driving this man. Not unlike Willow in the later seasons of BtVS, we see that those who are burdened down early in life, or at key developmental stages (such as high school), often go on to desire to become the anti-thesis of their former selves. A young Lindsey McDonald watched his family be stomped upon, with his father willing to let the world roll over him. Now he's driven by nothing more than the desire to be powerful and never to allow that to be him.
Because of this, Holland Manners is able to manipulate the conflicted Lindsey very handily. As I mentioned, what he is experiencing is a moral crisis, punctuated by a moment where a decision has to be made that will determine whether the crisis is a temporary glitch, or a true epiphany. Holland is able to wedge himself masterfully into that moment and influence Lindsey's decision by appealing first to his convictions: "Look deep enough in yourself, and you will find that love," referring to love as a clarity, and an ability to find one's place in the world and mastering ones own destiny. This ties in to the final scene, as here he's also offering Lindsey the idea of having that destiny to himself; being the stomper, not the stomped-on. But in the last moments of the episode, Holland himself reaches a perfect clarity – of villainy.
He first appeals to Lindsey's vanity, complimenting him on his ability to see past right and wrong, and into the greater scheme of power. He also purports that the power that gives them control over the world is a stabilizing force and despite its evil appearance, stabilizes for the better; control, and the right people having it, is better. Holland even goes so far as to say that it is good, and the world is better for Wolfram and Hart's efforts. Sam Anderson's intonation of every word here makes the performance just gold for me, and when he makes the final sale: "a thundering raise, and ungodly benefits…. What I'm offering you, Lindsey, is the world," I felt chills in my spine.
This is the final moment that punctuates Lindsey's crisis and leaves it as a crisis, although to say nothing has changed for all of this would be a fallacy. If anything, he is now surer than ever of where he belongs. With the belief that the power of the firm can give him the ability to do good, and give him the ultimate control he deeply desires as a human being, there is nothing now in his path that will go too far or shock him again like this incident did. Any examination of religious or political fanaticism will teach you that the only thing on Earth more frightening than a madman is a perfectly sane one with the intense power of conviction, and with this, no evil will ever be too great for Lindsey to commit.
This is the good, and there is an overwhelming amount of it. This is some of the most insightful character development of the season, very nearly on par with "City of" [1x01] or "The Prodigal" [1x15]. There are, however, several issues I do have with the episode as a whole. Once again, I felt Cordelia was underused, barely needed at all. Wesley does not fall victim to this as much as he did in the previous episode, but still didn't have a great deal to do either (though I particularly enjoyed Angel's "Thank You, Wesley" moment taking down the demon). Gunn, who is to become a regular next season, also felt forced into the episode. His appearance didn't bother me a great deal, and was actually quite entertaining; however I didn't like how anxious he seemed to jump into danger. His sister's death and the effects on his personality are not that far behind him (weeks at most), yet he seems unperturbed by grief or the risk of Angel's job for him; he's even enticed by it.
Before I finish, I'll touch briefly on Angel. It seems odd to talk the least about the main character of the show, especially when his development is nearly as important as Lindsey's. However, it is much briefer, and there are three items to note. First off, his reaction to Vanessa's acquittal is important. Having been fighting for souls in L.A. for nearly 10 months now, Angel is beginning to understand the true M.O. of the big bad world beyond High School, and of Wolfram and Hart; structured for power, not truth, as he puts it. This is also relevant, as we see how the battle against evil and all its pains (Doyle's death, Kate's hatred of him) have eroded him slowly and painfully, and the consequences here are evident. In the following episode, when Wesley believes the prophecy states Angel is to die, he doesn't seem to care; these experiences, as well as his lack of a tie to the world to keep him going in the long term, have led him to this.
The second point to discuss is the parallel Angel plays to Holland. It's not at all emphasized, but it makes a good point about Lindsey's choices and what each path holds. Angel offers death, pain, suffering and in the end, salvation. Holland offers power, control and luxury, but with the payoff of eternal damnation (literally; W&H contracts go beyond death, as he himself finds out in "Reprise" [2x15]). Being on Angel's end offers nothing for Lindsey, in that one will always find themselves under something else's heel. I was never sure if he would go back to W&H while watching the first time, but I knew he would never be able to make things work alongside Angel as he was.
Thirdly, Angel finds the Aberjian scroll while raiding the Wolfram and Hart vault, the scroll we will soon learn contains the Shanshu Prophecy, and we see the effect of this as well. I didn't quite buy that Angel was simply "drawn" to it, but it's not a big enough problem to bother me, and how it affects him is what's worth noting. It's the quietest of moments when Wes tells him that he does truly have his place in things, and just as Lindsey is coming to know of his, Angel is having a hard time believing it, as we're to see in the magnificent finale soon to come.
In the end only a few regrettable problems keep this fantastic and richly developed piece of work from being truly great. I'm sad to see Lee Mercer go, but just as one big lawyer is about to play a part in the season to come, another has to step down since there's nowhere really to go with him. And since we're going to be getting Holland as a trade off, it's not all that bad at all. Wolfram and Hart was always this series' most inspired creation, and it's always a treat to dig deeper into it.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
QuotesANGEL:It's still their world, Wesley. Structured for power - not truth. It's their system, and it's one that works. It works because - there is no guilt - there is no torment, no consequences. It's pure. I remember what that was like. Sometimes I miss that clarity.
CORDELIA:But not the trying to kill your friends and family part, right? (they look at her) Just checking!
ANGEL:Nothing ever changes.
LINDSEY:(enters the room) I need your help.
LINDSEY:They are constantly watching you. Other companies have drug testing - they have mind-readers. I go back there, they're gonna kill me.
ANGEL:That's what we call an acceptable risk. You're panicking right now. You can't believe how bad you let things get. That's not change. You have to make a decision to change. That's something you do by yourself. Most people - they never do.
LINDSEY:If I get myself killed, that'll convince you that I've changed.
ANGEL:It's a start.
GUNN:(shouting) OW! Did you just step on my foot? (The nearest guard is 8 feet away from him) Is that my foot you just stepped on? Are you assaulting me - up in this haven of justice? Somebody get me a lawyer - because my civil rights have seriously been violated. Oh, I get it, I get it. Ya'll can cater to the demon, cater to the dead man, but what about the black man!
HOLLAND:(to Lee) You've been in secret talks with Klein and Gabler.
LEE:(surprised) They approached me.
HOLLAND:You planned on taking clients with you when you left to join them.
LEE:(nervous) You don't understand. They misread me. (Holland nods to the security guard) I just wanted Klein and Gabler to think...
:(Guard shoots him in the back of the head)
HOLLAND:(sighs) Terminating an employee is never pleasant.
HOLLAND:Hm. Well, then you're in a crisis, son - crisis of faith. Do you believe in love? I'm not speaking romantically. I'm talking about that sharp, clear sense of self a man gains - once he's truly found his place in the world. It's no mean feat, since most men are cowards and just move with the crowd. Very few make their own destinies. They have the courage of their convictions, and they know how to behave in a crisis.
HOLLAND:Like now. You have everything it takes to go all the way here - drive, ambition, - excellence - but you don't know where you belong. And until you do - I guess we both have some important questions to answer. Now, my first one is - do I nod - to my friend behind me? - No, I don't. Because I know you, and I know a little something about character. I think what you actually need is a few days off to think about it. And I'm sure once you have - you're gonna do the right thing.
LINDSEY:Look, I didn't come back...
HOLLAND:Why did you come back? To return some disks? Take a moral stand? I don't think so. You walked in that door and called me by my first name. You never did that before. You wouldn't have had the nerve. But you're different now. You stood up to us and won. Do you know how many people have that much nerve? I can count them on one hand. I need people like that working for us.
LINDSEY:(surprised) You're offering me my job back?
HOLLAND:Oh, no. I'm offering you a new job. A permanent one, with a thundering raise and ungodly benefits. In fact, I'm offering you this very office. I'm going upstairs. What I'm offering you, Lindsey, is the world.
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