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3x01: "Heartthrob"
Review by Ryan Bovay (Ryan-R.B.)
Posted on March 2, 2006
Writer: David Greenwalt | Director: David Greenwalt | Air Date: 09/24/2001

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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

"Heartthrob" is another competent but flawed season opener, following in the footsteps of "Judgement" [2x01]. It has a lot going for it in the way of characterization for Angel and in some ways, actually took a very brave approach on a tough subject for the show's titular character. And, like all David Greenwalt episodes, it's full of zesty dialogue and barrels along in the interest of fun. The end of the hour hasn't taken us anywhere particularly miraculous, but it's definitely worthwhile and, even if deserving of a similar score, a lot more fun to watch than "Judgement" [2x01] was. The introduction of Fred to the regular character roster also adds something new and interesting to the mix, as actress Amy Acker adorably plays up the stutters and nervousness that is post-Pylea Fred.

This episode, like the season openers that preceded it, deals with the main theme of the season head on in anticipation of episodes to come. For Season Three, it's responsibility. Angel has become more a part of the human world than he ever has been, and living a human life requires fulfilling certain responsibilities. Many of those come at Angel in S3, particularly in the form of his son Connor, whom is he left to raise after the death of Darla in "Lullaby" [3x09]. "Heartthrob" deals with another kind of responsibility, though: responsibility to the dead, particularly the dearly departed whom we've loved. The episode's strongest attribute is how well it applies the new central theme to dealing with a serious and necessary character issue.

What's more is that Angel deals with it a way that's interesting and unpredictable, while still making perfect sense in light of his development last season. I liked how Greenwalt made fun of the fact that Buffy and Angel were now on separate networks and crossovers had been made forbidden; no one in the episode actually says the name Buffy, but they all know she's dead. Angel spends the hour dealing with this. Or does he? Rightfully so, you may expect Angel to be fully grieving throughout the entire show, yet when he returns from a very non-peaceful retreat, acts out of character for a man who's lost the love of his life.

The other characters recognize it; particularly Cordelia, who's always been Angel's closest friend and strongest emotional tie to his mission. But the truth is that Angel has moved on, and the show defies our expectations by making it clear just how far he's come. Buffy's memory, dragged up by the confrontation with James, pains him, but he's above obsessing over it, while James isn't. Angel has grown, James has not. In James, we get a portrait of the man Angel once was: Starting out in a new life (a vampiric one, in James' case), his growth as a person became tied to someone else's, resulting in a close, and unassuming bond of love unparalleled by any other kind of relationship one can have.

Losing that connection has destroyed James, as it once nearly did Angel. However, he shows no signs of any such devastation. He brings gifts to his friends, chats warmly with them and forges on in helping Fred regain her sanity and confidence. The lessons Angel learned in "Reprise" [2x15] and "Epiphany" [2x16] inform all he is now: He knows he can't save everyone in the world, and he knows he couldn't' have saved Buffy. And no matter how much he still loved her, he'd now spent years building his own life and purpose, becoming his own person. Like Angelus once did, he knows that 'love' as James experienced it can be as harshly debilitating as it is wonderful, and the obsessions that it can spurn are nothing but self-destructive.

For James, who undergoes a procedure to render him invincible at the cost of his unlife (after a certain number of hours), this is literally true. Without his great love, he's nothing: literally, and he gives his unlife to try and destroy the person who took his love. If one thing bothers Angel, it's that he doesn't feel this way; he can and has already moved on from Buffy, having no interest feeling responsible or attacking those who are. But as Cordelia lovingly points out, it's a sign of his strength and character. His ability to carry on with his heart intact, filled with Buffy's memory and love, makes him stronger and better than James could've been even if he had had a soul.

The act of surviving to properly honour the dead in our lives shows greater respect for them than anything else could. Angel's moved on to the 'new place' in his life, as Lorne advised him to in "Epiphany" [2x16]. The whole show seems ready to move on to a new place as well: The sets are brighter lit, moods are cheerier and bonds are closer than they've ever been. However, the simple and easily avoidable issues that plague the episode keep it, disappointingly, from being among the stronger premieres. It lacks the more crippling issues that S3 has as a whole, thankfully, but overestimates its ability to engage; a rare flaw for this show. Much of the last act simply holds little interest.

The fights and chase scenes, especially in the sewer, were uninteresting and attempted substituting tension for substance. One such case is the idea that not knowing how long James has until he 'runs out' creates said tension, all because Cordelia's cellphone has cut out a critical moment. With the show nearly over and the villain being a one-shot, this attempt falls flat. And while I appreciate the in joke that cellphones in the Whedonverse never work (remember "She" [1x13]?), it was too cliche. The quick and dramatic resolution aboard the train did relieve and was well earned, but seemed too little too late. As is true of the whole story, there seemed to be patches of thin shallowness between the scenes of entertaining interaction and real progress, especially in the second half.

The other major issue is the simple and lazy insertion of James and Elisabeth conveniently into Angel's past. Considering we've never seen or heard of these two before, the group can't have been together long; it's unnecessary ret-con. And seeing how it turned out, it makes you wonder why Angelus and Darla ever bothered forming a new group with Spike and Drusilla. However, unlike the previous flaw mentioned, there are reasons to forgive it. Firstly: It strengthens S2's character statement about Angel as someone capable of being both human and demon (Angelus) at once, as Angel/Angelus share the same opinions, in some ways, in this episode. Secondly, it allows Julie Benz's presence on the show to seem as simple as yet another flashback role when, waiting in the wings, the writers have a major plot twist ready to throw at us.

Beyond this, there's not much to discuss, an issue prevalent with much of S3. There's always a great deal of drama, foreboding and long scenes of tension, but not as much substance as the average episodes of previous years. Even the season's best episodes, with very few exceptions, boast more of a visceral gut punch than smart, intelligent social examination. It's particularly disappointing since S2 proved that both can co-exist exceptionally well in an episode. In admittance of that, though, there's still a great deal to enjoy as we dive into this new season, in which much of what we're promised pays off pretty well.

Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+Fred being cute and jittery.
+Cordy remembering the Ring of Amarra from "In the Dark" [1x03].
+The re-use of the subway train set from Buffy's "Fool for Love."
+Cordy sticking her tongue out at James.
  
-The fight sequences. The cuts between punches in this episode are pathetically obvious.
Foreshadowing
  • Cordy's speech to Angel is telling of his development this season. As Angel gets closer to his team and eventually has a son, he becomes less and less a champion and more of a regular human being with an odd, demon fighting job; a 'good guy.'
  • Wesley shows more shades of his newly developing 'man of action' persona which leads to his tragedy in "Sleep Tight" [3x16]. Where last season Wes bended easily to Merl, this time he's rougher on him to get the job done. Also: when Angel gives him the new knife as a gift, he's excited about getting out there and killing something with it.
75/100B-
N/A

DEPTH
N/A

EMOTION
N/A

CHARACTER
N/A

PLOT
Quotes
MAN:(speaking Tibetan) What happened?
ANGEL:(in Tibetan) Demon Monks. Shoulda gone to Vegas.

CORDELIA:Well the point is, you worked on things. It wasn't like a holiday where you'd come back home, to your friends, you know, with ... some ... small mementos of your trip...
ANGEL:Fishing for gifts?
CORDELIA:Yes!

ANGELUS:It's entirely true. (about Darla) She hit me with a shovel, wished me luck, and rode off on our only horse.
DARLA:(seductively) Life's full of surprises.
ANGELUS:Ah, life is boring. You're full of surprises.
DARLA:Of course, when he finally did catch up to me in Vienna I had to pay for my sins. Again and again.
ANGELUS:(to James) Can you even begin to fathom the things we did? Of course not ... you're in love.

FRED:(as Angel fights James) Angel? I thought I heard company. I came out of my room... small steps, like you said.
ANGEL:(comes out from under the balcony and yells at her) Go back to your room and stay there! (goes back to fighting James)
FRED:(confused) Oh. Okay then.
:
JAMES:You loved someone. With all your heart?
ANGEL:(softly) Yeah.
JAMES:No you didn't. Because if you had, you wouldn't be standing here playing games with me. You wouldn't be able to. Because when she died ... or when some bastard killed her, it would have killed everything in you.
ANGEL:I wouldn't be able to go on living.
JAMES:Don't worry. You won't.

ANGEL:It just feels like I'm betraying her somehow.
CORDELIA:(firmly) No! If you were a loser, if you were a sick obsessed vampire, then you'd go to a snod demon or whatever and get your heart cut out. But, you're not. You're a living, breathi- (pauses, reconsiders) well, living, anyway... (Angel smiles) ...good guy, who's still fighting and trying to help people, and that's not betraying her, that's honoring her.
ANGEL:You think?
CORDELIA:I'm Cordelia. I don't think. I know. Okay?


Comments (13)
All Comments | Link1 | DingdongalisticMar 3, 2007
Great review, Ryan. I found Heartthrob to be less gripping than a lot of Angel episodes, but no less engaging. I personally actually liked the way the episode panned out, and the character insights it had. It wasn't perfect, but I thought it did a lot better than Judgement.

"The fights and chase scenes, especially in the sewer, were uninteresting and attempted substituting tension for substance. One such case is the idea that not knowing how long James has until he ‘runs out’ creates said tension, all because Cordelia’s cellphone has cut out a critical moment. With the show nearly over and the villain being a one-shot, this attempt falls flat. And while I appreciate the in joke that cellphones in the Whedonverse never work (remember She?), it was too cliché. The quick and dramatic resolution aboard the train did relieve and was well earned, but seemed too little too late. As is true of the whole story, there seemed to be patches of thin shallowness between the scenes of entertaining interaction and real progress, especially in the second half."

I can't really remember the sewer action scenes well enough to comment on this, but I do seem to remember that it was the character insights that made the story for me, not the action plot, so you may well be right. However, it doesn't bug me personally a great deal.

"The other major issue is the simple and lazy insertion of James and Elisabeth conveniently into Angel’s past. Considering we’ve never seen or heard of these two before, the group can’t have been together long; it’s unnecessary ret-con."

I don't believe they were together long, so I don't believe it was a retcon, but I think things may have panned out differently due to the sudden change in network on Buffy. I may be wrong on this, however.

"Beyond this, there’s not much to discuss, an issue prevalent with much of S3. There’s always a great deal of drama, foreboding and long scenes of tension, but not as much substance as the average episodes of previous years. Even the season’s best episodes, with very few exceptions, boast more of a visceral gut punch than smart, intelligent social examination."

I do agree a lot here, that's one of the flaws that does make season three inferior to two (although not the greatest, IMO) in that it has considerable emotional content, but less thematic complexity, but it does suit season three's themes more to a certain extent, on the other hand. However, I'm not sure whether emotional depth rather than thematic complexity = less to discuss - that's probably an entirely different debate, which I shouldn't be starting.buffyholic
All Comments | Link2 | buffyholicMar 4, 2008
This episode is great in addressing the themes of the coming season.
All Comments | Link3 | EmilyJun 3, 2009
Is it just me, or was I the only one who understood Angel's reaction to Buffy as *not* being okay?



You said:



"But the truth is that Angel has moved on, and the show defies our expectations by making it clear just how far he’s come. Buffy’s memory, dragged up by the confrontation with James, pains him, but he’s above obsessing over it, while James isn’t."



I don't think this is all necessarily true. I think that Angel, like Buffy, sometimes keeps things to himself, and doesn't let other people in. When he says to Cordelia, "I am okay," he's not saying that he's okay about Buffy's death. "I am okay"="I am alive and Buffy isn't and it hurts." He's saying that he's physically okay, while Buffy is dead. Yes, unlike James, he's able to deal with it healthily, but that doesn't mean that he's moved on and that it doesn't bother him. When Cordelia talks *at* him because it's a one-sided conversation, I interpreted that as Angel still being too hurt to really listen to the logical reasoning of why he shouldn't feel too bad about not being there for Buffy.



Furthermore, he says "The problem is that I'm okay. That losing Buffy didn't kill me, that I can deal with it." Like I said, he can deal with it, but can't you read the pain in Angel's eyes as he says, "In all those years, no one ever mattered. Not like she did. And now she's gone. Forever." Then Cordy says, "And you're still here." He feels like he's betraying her somehow by living on, and Cordy says that he's not- that he's honoring her by continuing to fight. But what I saw in this scene was what was left unsaid. When Cordy says "You're still here," I see the word "Forever" hanging in the air.



Angel is in the world forever. Without Buffy, who's gone. Forever. I think that's what he's not saying, the pain that he's keeping to himself- maybe what Greenwalt wanted the audience to look for in between the lines.



Am I reading too much into it?
All Comments | Link4 | Nathan.TaurusJan 30, 2010 @ 7:22pm
Emily: I agree that Cordelia wasn't seeing the whole side to Angel's responses and of course he could never get over it if his one true love died. Even though we know how it ends.

I didn't like the injection of James and Elizabeth into the story, only because they were with Angelus and Darla only 14 years after Liam was sired and remained 'alive' for so long together, even though Angel is said to be cunning and lucky to survive for 250 years as a vampire. Remember the guy in 'The Trial', sired in '92.......1992.
If they had of been around in the 1870's I wouldn't have minded as much.

Also, James is distressed about his lover, Elizabeth dying. The name Buffy is dirived from Elizabeth.
All Comments | Link5 | Nathan.TaurusJan 30, 2010 @ 7:27pm
Forgot my favourite quote:
James: Let's give 'em a row, what do you say Angelus?
Angelus: I'd say you're an idiot, but I'd just be repeating myself.
All Comments | Link6 | Miss EdithAug 14, 2010 @ 11:55am
Did anyone else notice Angel's clothes in this episode? He starts out wearing white at the monastery, light clothes when he arrives back at the Hyperion, then middle-shade colours, and then black by the end. I'm guessing it symbolises something?
All Comments | Link7 | DarthMarionAug 14, 2010 @ 3:47pm
Ah I didn't notice! But I noticed that new season=new wardrobe ^^
All Comments | Link8 | ThedancingslayerAug 22, 2010 @ 4:19am
Hey, couldn't help but notice - Buffy's name is actualy in the episode, but it was only mentioned once by cordy :)
All Comments | Link9 | debisibNov 26, 2010 @ 11:16am
ya know... i just wanted to say that i think Angel's reactions to Cordelia prying about his feelings, towards the death of buffy, was a little shotty. I mean, I understand he had 3 months to get over it, but its the premise of the first 3 seasons of BTVS. And in all honesty, as much as a genius as Joss is... I think that this was all a cop out. I get the feeling Joss didn't even want to incorporate Buffy's death into Angel ( the show ), but he felt that he had to in order to keep the timeline going... So instead of taking the appropriate time to have Angel get over the death, they touched upon it. Just enough so that we know it is acknowledged, and we know Angel had to take measures to help himself get over it, but only enough for that. It seems obvious they didnt want that to be a big part of Angel, and while i undetrstand why, I think it is one of the few things Joss did that doesnt fall in with his usual deep plotlines and character progressions. It felt like... he felt like... he was forced to incorporate it, although he didnt really want to.
All Comments | Link10 | WvethMar 23, 2011 @ 9:06pm
Um, I'm pretty sure those "quick cuts" you mentioned as the only "con" were deliberate. I mean I really don't think they were meant to slip by unnoticed. I thought they made for a neat effect.
All Comments | Link11 | sarahMar 20, 2012 @ 4:12am
horrible way to deal with Buffy's death
Angel was out of character , i didn't recognize him , to be honest , i was in shock the whole episode
Angel left because of buffy , he became a better man because of buffy , he has a purpose in his life because of buffy , he sees a future as a human because of buffy , i mean HIS WHOLE LIFE involve buffy and that's how they make him grief ? bringing gift to his friends , making Angel smile more times than in any other episodes and focus the episode on cordy/angel ?
i wanted to throw up , i've never been more disapointed by Joss before.
about your review , i certainly do not agree about the whole " Angel moved on" , if you lose someone you love , are you just going to move on after 3 months and be all "happy" again ?
All Comments | Link12 | DaveNov 13, 2012 @ 2:37pm
I liked how the guys in the team didn't hesitate to throw a hug around Angel. Really does show how far they've come.
All Comments | Link13 | ArachneaApr 7, 2013 @ 11:21pm
Hmmm. We can't really know and never will know how James would have dealt with it if he had a soul.
The parallel is interesting but it's not really the same story. James' lover has been killed by Angel, Buffy has given her life to save the world. For the first, there's despair and vengeance, for the other grief over a meaningful death. For James, his love story (200 years ?) ended with her girl's death. Angel's love story (2 1/2 years) ended two years ago and he had already moved on with his life. We don't know for certain what Angel would have done if Buffy had been murdered while they were together, when she was his only purpose in life, not unlike James' relation.

That doesn't belittle Angel's courage through this ordeal. It's absolutely right for him to go on and honor Buffy by continuing his mission and his life: she is the reason why he started fighting the good fight. I also agree With Emily's comment: Angel's still in pain, but it's a healthy grieving.

To Sarah: when you lose someone that close, you can be driven to do many stupid things, directly after or months after. When I lost my fiancé in a car accident, he was everything to me and I went into depression. But after some months, I started to smile and show everyone that I was ok even if I was still torn inside. Then, I went on with my life, met someone else, had children. It was a long time ago, but sometimes, I can still feel the pain. What I mean is, moving on with your life doesn't mean that you forget or betray the one you lost; losing yourself and the rest of your dearest friends would be an insult to the memory of the one you lost. In the same spirit, remembering doesn't mean that you're betraying what's new in your life, it's all about balance.
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