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2x14: "The Thin Dead Line"
Review by Ryan Bovay (Ryan-R.B.)
Posted on January 8, 2007
Writer: Jim Kouf and Shawn Ryan | Director: Scott McGinnis | Air Date: 02/13/2001

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Spoiler Warning!
This is a retrospective review and may contain spoilers from anywhere in the series. Read at your own peril.
Review

Here we come to what is probably the worst episode of the season and, in consideration of the score, that's quite a fine thing. Even the show's fifth and final season can make no such claim about having such tepid lows. "The Thin Dead Line" is thoroughly enjoyable, if somewhat contrived and choppy in terms of its plot. For every bit of character fun and smart-ass line we get we're left with a hole or convenience still a bit too tough to overlook. But, this is the first episode of the arc that leans the amount of story time in favour of Wesley, Cordy and Gunn and does to so with swift purpose and lasting effect.

We also get a significant appearance for Kate whose development here, like the Gang's, functions as a prelude to the events of the thundering two-part conclusion to the Darla arc just ahead. The two stories are tied together by Anne, whose teen shelter Angel took advantage up but then helped in "Blood Money" [2x12]. Anne's kids begin complaining of brutal police harassment and Gunn, being an old regular of hers, puts Angel 'it's just a name' Investigations on the case while Angel, his concern for his old friends starting to shine through, inadvertently follows them into it. The smaller aspects of how this occurs, such as Angel happening to run into one of the zombie policemen while lurking around the teen shelter, don't irk me.

What's worth identifying as a negative immediately, however, are some key turnpikes in the plot similar to that instance, but more critical to the story and done in even lazier fashions. The first comes in Anne's initial interactions with the team, in which she brings up how Angel scammed her, but failed to mention how he also redeemed that act by taking a near-deadly beating to get her money back. In contrast to her character in her last appearance, in this episode she's far more timid and easily intimidated with no ideas on what to do. Even her prior association with Gunn himself seemed a bit too convenient, even if it didn't stretch believability.

The ideas of the episode are strong, but much of what is done to carry out the critical events feels forced for the events' sake. Any viewer of the show who has ever handled Internal Affairs for any organization would know the implausibility of there being no public outcry about a rogue police force operating in such a violent fashion for three whole months. Since the zombie police officers act randomly, violently and without discretion it's hard to imagine that they didn't at some time attack someone who wasn't poor or in a gang and who wouldn't have made a large public case about it. Are we to reasonably believe that only gangster and street kids can live in area so populated with buildings that someone has to own and maintain?

Or perhaps 'whitey' owns them all and pays his employees to maintain them. In an episode abound with racial themes, I could've bought even the simplest of explanations about how the Captain was singling out street kids and thugs with his zombie force, but no such explanation existed. We're left with a gaping implausibility; not a common characteristic of this show. And yet, what we get out of the moments these holes exist give us almost makes me want to forgive the weaknesses: Wesley's pain, Gunn's fury, Kate's sorrow, the Gang's tight unity and Cordelia's rejection of Angel are the emotional spikes common of this show's better episodes.

The theme here is centered on justice. The Police Captain believes that his officers were needless victims; though they were prepared to lay down their lives, how they were taken and why repulses him. By re-animating them he may be creating abominations, but he views it as a just retribution against selfish thugs who've terrorized many just like his people. Then there's Jackson, one such thug who's hardly a poster for self-reflection and feels he should be free to do as he pleases and his opposite Gunn, who sees the injustice of the police crackdown but can't deny its just intentions. Remorseless criminals like Jackson have made the streets feared and the neighbourhood reviled.

If your average news-watcher can't be shaken out of apathy by images of Darfur and Rwanda, than one can't expect them to care about police brutality in a neighbourhood known for slaying cops. Hell, they may even cheer it on. Jackson's version of justice enrages Gunn because of how it hurts everyone, personified by Wesley's gunshot which he took trying to help Gunn. That particular aspect of it weighs heavy on him; remember in "First Impressions" [2x03] when he nearly broke down because of his failure to help an old fling? His anger and desperation here are many times that; he and Wesley have fought battles side by side and with Cordelia have begun a new mission to help the helpless, something very important to him.

Kate has something to say about it, too. When the zombie cops are defeated she's hardly joyful; she expects high murder and rape rates to return as Jackson's breed returns to the street. Can what the Captain did be considered all that reprehensible when he prevented so much horror? Well, yes. Innocents were attacked and nearly killed by a band of undead under the control of an emotionally compromised man. The moral arguments for him aren't particularly strong or complex (another weak point of the episode), but the reality of them is important to the characters and that's what's important. As aware as Kate was of the injustice of it, she's given her entire life to the law, and more recently to fighting the undead type of criminal.

Now that the ends of those two objectives are conflicting (creating more human injustice by stopping the non-human variety while aiding the non-human Angel who she suspects of murdering many humans), her descent becomes even steeper. She's been demoted because of her paranormal obsession that's fueled by the grief over her father's death ("The Prodigal" [1x15]) and she's clearly getting closer to the edge, as evident in her near breakdown when she worries if her father is among the walking dead. Her entire existence has been defined by his death and the mission that filled that hole is all she has left.

Angel knows how this feels, doubtlessly. He's been stripped of a good deal of his reasons to exist, but fighting for a good cause, seeing his friends in the flesh and hearing of Wesley's pain brings him briefly back to the land of the living. The Host's recognition of Angel's death wish in "Happy Anniversary" [2x13] clearly raises a self-awareness in him about how bad things have really gotten. Now that even Merl and Kate, two figures who have been antagonistic or at least pesky forces in his life can quickly recognize his selfishness and most baleful traits, he's starting to re-think how cut off he's making himself. Would he have still gone down the warpath to Wolfram and Hart?

I believe he would have until the minute Darla had been made dust, even if he reconnected with his friends here. But the final piece to his darkest moment yet to come in "Reprise" [2x15] is only put into place here when both plots collide for the episode's finest scene. Cordelia's outright rejection of Angel's attempt to visit Wesley is a harsh and honest product of what they've been forced to endure without him. They've fought enemies together, gotten a new office, established a clientele and proved that they're there for each other in the most horrific of circumstances. Angel may be ready to come back to them, but Cordy's not wrong in saying that they don't need him anymore; it's a truth she knows.

Her brashness in stating it and her complete unwillingness to give Angel a chance is a culmination of the pain they've been forced through by his betrayal. The best moral question this episode asks is: Is that just? I'm not sure about it myself. But every action here is believable, and the consequences won't disappear, as the next two episodes will show. It's in the moments like these that I want to like installments like this a great deal more than I do and that urge alone is a mark of something worthwhile.

Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+Angel sneaking up on Merl. How did he get so damn good at that?!
+Gunn joking around with the shelter kids and George and Rondell.
+Cordelia seeing her old blouse at Anne's shelter.
+Anne's ideas about having an extra eye: "That's handy."
+Angel's bluntness with Kate: "I just killed a cop."
  
-The Zombie cops. Lame and unfrightening.
Foreshadowing
  • Angel tries to reach back out to his friends but is outright rejected, giving him further conviction to continue on the warpath to W&H and no reason not to go through with his suicide mission in "Reprise" [2x15].
  • Kate is shown at one of her lowest points here yet; all she has left is the mission of the law she's been left with in her father's death as that comes apart, so does she. In "Reprise" [2x15] she is fired and then attempts to kill herself.
  • Gunn is chastised by George and Rondell for not being around for his old neighbourhood crew. In "Belonging" [2x19] this comes full circle as he realizes he's let his new bonds tear him away from his responsibilities, and that he's been a hypocrite in berating Angel for abandoning his friends when he's done the same.
70/100C+
N/A

DEPTH
N/A

EMOTION
N/A

CHARACTER
N/A

PLOT
Quotes
WESLEY:What I wouldn't give for a roving band of Prekian demons right now. (Cordy and Gunn give him a look) Without the ritualistic slayings of course.
CORDELIA:Of course.
WESLEY:Something to fight. Good to be done. A little action.
CORDELIA:Maybe we could by one of those star maps, find out where Steven Segal lives. (Gunn and Wes give her a look) You're telling me he got to be a movie star without a little demonic assistance?

KATE:A couple of open cases I've been working. Two women killed in a clothing store. Thirteen lawyers from Wolfram and Hart slaughtered in a wine cellar.
ANGEL:(deadpan) Real tragedy.
KATE:Yeah, you seem real broken up by the loss. Anyway, we're still looking into this one.
ANGEL:Good luck with that.
KATE:I guess you never caught up with your vampire friends in time.
ANGEL:I did track them down later and set them on fire.

GUNN:(to George) All right, look, the plan is simple. I want you to roll the camcorder and wait for the cops to hassle us.
ANNE:How do you know they will?
GUNN:'Cause we'll be the ones walking while black.

JACKSON:I'm just doing my thing, man. Why - why don't you go on and get out of my face.
GUNN:(furious) Your thing hurts everybody! Why do you think nobody cares they're clamping down on this neighborhood?
JACKSON:'Cause they're a bunch of racist pigs.
GUNN:There is that. And there's people like you - tch! A thug with a gun, keeping the cycle going.
JACKSON:Not my problem.
GUNN:No! See, it's my problem, all right? 'cause they shot my friend over there!

CORDELIA:What are you doing here?
ANGEL:I heard about Wesley.
CORDY:Well, that's great. Too bad it takes a gunshot wound to make you give a crap. Wesley doesn't need you right now. We don't need you. You walked away. Do us a favor and just stay away.


Comments (22)
All Comments | Link1 | buffyholicFeb 20, 2008
I also get a little frustated when Anne doesn´t tell them that Angel helped her. This is an episode that I don´t mind watching, but I am just not a big fan.
All Comments | Link2 | MelMay 23, 2009
Well, Angel didn't intend to get beat down to get the money back--Boone wanted to know who was better, so instead of running off with the money, he stuck around to fight Angel. Angel didn't fight to get the money for Anne, he fought because he couldn't avoid the fight.
All Comments | Link3 | MelMay 23, 2009
Well, Angel didn't intend to get beat down to get the money back--Boone wanted to know who was better, so instead of running off with the money, he stuck around to fight Angel. Angel didn't fight to get the money for Anne, he fought because he couldn't avoid the fight.
All Comments | Link4 | MelMay 23, 2009
Well, Angel didn't intend to get beat down to get the money back--Boone wanted to know who was better, so instead of running off with the money, he stuck around to fight Angel. Angel didn't fight to get the money for Anne, he fought because he couldn't avoid the fight.
All Comments | Link5 | EmilyMay 28, 2009
Mel, that's true and it's a good point, but, at the end of the day, Angel *did* get the money back for her. She had no idea that he didn't go after Boone for it- she should've said something.
All Comments | Link6 | Nathan.TaurusJan 25, 2010 @ 6:12pm
An episode that made me think about gang violence and how people who try to protect and serve are slain for doing their job. If the cops had of just gone after the dealers and gangs with that sort of violence I don't think anyone would care.

Here we have another funny Gunn line but, still racist. "We'll be the ones walking while black." I know some cops are racist, although so is the dealer, Jackson.

Why didn't Angel beat the police captain to a bloody pulp? (Maybe off screen) He shot Angel thinking he was human so deserves justice. Also for the poor medic who died.
All Comments | Link7 | HughMar 16, 2010 @ 10:15pm
A possible explanation about the money is she's not really supposed to have it, remember. Not something she would go talking about when there's no reason to, especially when she doesn't even know Cordelia and Wesley.
All Comments | Link8 | JasonOct 2, 2010 @ 10:13pm
I'm surprised to find such a negative review of this episode, especially compared with the previous episode, "Happy Anniversary", which was cliched, plot-hole-ridden, boring, and, as Nathan.Taurus pointed out, only has one good moment (the car ride with Angel and the Host).

This episode, by contrast, had genuinely touching character developments, between Angel and Kate, Gunn and Wesley, Angel and Cordelia. There were scenes of real desperation and complexity. I thought it was pretty darn good. But-- to each his own, of course!
All Comments | Link9 | NeilApr 7, 2011 @ 2:50pm
OK the Zombie cops didn't really work but it deserved a higher mark, for a few reasons, Wesley and Gunn's bonding over the shooting (soon to be ripped apart by the Fred triangle), dealer Jackson who should have been used again, Anne who was criminally not used again until the series finale and of course my golden rule that any episode that features Officer Kate is always worth watching.
All Comments | Link10 | Ryan ONeilSep 16, 2012 @ 11:51am
When I first watched this episode, I loved to hate the cop who was willing to kill a bunch of people to keep gangbangers and drug dealers from killing people, who convinced himself that the enemy was determined by where the person lived instead of what they'd done.

I didn't absolutely love the characterization until I re-watched and could compare it to Angel being driven to the place where "destroying the enemy" was more important to him than helping people.
All Comments | Link11 | Ryan ONeilOct 31, 2012 @ 3:57pm
And now that I think about it, Jasmine. Wow
All Comments | Link12 | Nebula NoxNov 24, 2013 @ 4:29pm
We repeatedly see Cordelia as an expert in Emergency Medical procedures. I guess she had plenty of training in Sunnydale.
All Comments | Link13 | Anonymous FanAug 27, 2014 @ 8:07pm
Actually I think there is a second theme in this episode, The difference between Law and Order, and Absolute Tyranny. What that necromancer did was inexcusable. He had a childs view of justice "He took my toy! So I'm gonna take his right back!" the "toy" in this situation being the lives of the dead officers. He mocked their sacrifices by reanimating them and telling them to basically slaughter an entire homeless teens shelter. I hope Angel gave him a well deserved beating. It was nothing more than he deserved.
All Comments | Link14 | Freudian VampireAug 28, 2014 @ 2:29am
The parallel is between the police officer and Angel himself, both of whom have lost sight of justice and the mission and are simply lashing out at those who have wronged them.
All Comments | Link15 | Anonymous FanAug 28, 2014 @ 8:15am
Who? The kids at the shelter? Those cops where gunned down by actual murderers, drug dealers and the like. we only saw them going after the shelter kids in the episode. As for Angel losing sight of justice...temporary of course. this cop was not going to stop those zombie cops. remember what he said? "Clean House." He was giving an execution order. He was a tyrant and i am amazed he still had his job after that situation.
All Comments | Link16 | Freudian VampireAug 28, 2014 @ 9:28am
The police officer became more interested in fighting evil than upholding justice. Of course the kids at the shelter were not the ones who murdered those cops, but the fact of the matter is that his strategy was very effective.

It's the same thing with Angel. He becomes unconcerned with collateral damage and begins focusing entirely on getting his vengeance on Wolfram & Hart. Obviously it's to a less extreme degree, because otherwise Angel would be a completely unsympathetic protagonist. But there's definitely a comparison. See Ryan O'Neil's comment.
All Comments | Link17 | Anonymous FanAug 28, 2014 @ 2:29pm
The officer didn't want to fight evil, he wanted revenge. he was fed up with cops getting killed so he committed an evil act. He raised the dead. The dead should stay dead. disturbing their eternal rest, mocking their sacrifices and oaths by "upholding the law" using brute force. You saw that dead cop Angel rekilled.
All Comments | Link18 | KyleAug 28, 2014 @ 2:53pm
That point of view ignores the insight on Angel in this episode however. Angel was caught up in “winning” the war against evil. The police officer wanted the same thing. Like Angel, his desire to win was born out of revenge, revenge that began as a result of his fellow police officers’ deaths. That is not the point of the episode however. What we’re supposed to see is how far is too far when fighting evil. Angel went to almost any lengths to win against evil, as evident by his lack of moral standards at this point. The police officer went to the lengths of hurting innocent people, essentially contradicting what he said he stood for. Angel was heading down this road, and that’s the kind of thing we’re meant to see.
All Comments | Link19 | Anonymous FanAug 28, 2014 @ 4:28pm
Replying to Kyle (#18)
in other words, how far is too far?
All Comments | Link20 | KyleAug 29, 2014 @ 4:57am
Exactly. :)
All Comments | Link21 | PaulaJan 7, 2016 @ 12:50pm
I think this was a great episode so I was surprised by the rating. I find it really entertaining and I have to disagree because when they where cornered in the shelter I was genuinely scared (However, it might just be me there's just something about figures of power like police or doctors being bad that really freaks me out)
All Comments | Link22 | BoscalynAug 6, 2016 @ 11:20am
Awesome bit of context about "The Thin Dead Line" and how it relates to the state of police-community relations in 2001 LA:

http://forum.storywonk.com/index.php?/topic/2252-dusted-120-sexy-leather-cardigan/&do=findComment&comment=21599
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