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3x07: "Offspring"
Review by Ryan Bovay (Ryan-R.B.)
Posted on April 5, 2007
Writer: David Greenwalt | Director: Turi Meyer | Air Date: 11/05/2001

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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

"Offspring" is an hour of television that mirrors its theme of duality by being two things at once. On one hand, it is a sober human drama in the tradition of the Whedonverse, mixing its characters into some difficult situations with no easy moral resolutions to be seen. On the other, it's a mystical "what the hell?" and embraces the fantastical side of the show; this is the episode that kicks off S3's main arc both in terms of plot and theme and does so with forebodings and promises of big uglies about to rear their heads. The bother is that neither half of the episode works exceptionally well. It's all good, as good episodes go, but it's not much more. A far cry from last season's arc-starter "Dear Boy" [2x05], this episode shares an unfortunate characteristic with all of S3 as a whole: It's just not enough.

I mentioned in my first review of the season ("Heartthrob" [3x01]) that one of S3's major flaws was that it lost something from S2. While it definitely improved in its ability to deliver effective, hearbreaking drama, it sacrificed a lot of its intelligence along the way. With a few exceptions ("That Old Gang of Mine" [3x03], "Lullaby" [3x09], "Benediction" [3x21]), Angel's third season got deeper in focus on the character development and mythology but put its social commentaries bluntly up front. There's not as much effort in blending intelligent messages in with the stories. They stick out, if they're there at all. And with "Offspring" and the launch of the main arc, the story begins hanging on the importance of the mystical aspect which tries to pass itself off for vast and intimidating, when really it's little more than hyped.

But the characters acting afraid and speaking in humbled tones about certain "forthcoming events" feels disingenuous. The writers are telling us to 'beware' more than they're showing us why we should. It's a blunt, intrusive narrative form in place of S2's subtle, complex style and I'm not a fan of it. We have on the one hand: Darla, pregnant with an ensouled, human child. And on the other, we have Holtz, brought back by the demon Sahjahn to hunt Angelus. Both are interesting events with dire implications. But much of what we get here are mere implications; talking about how big the events are and how bad things could get, with character elements sprinkled inbetween. As I said: It's not enough.

At least the character events are worthy enough. The episode is about the dualities of heroes and villains. We get a lot of classic role reversal: Holtz, a human man who hunts the vampires that murdered his family, is cast as the villain while Angel, the vampire with a horrific past is our hero. Darla, despite still being a soulless monster who slaughters innocents even before the intro rolls, is painted as a helpless victim driven uncontrollably to her terrible hunger. No one is innocent, and everyone has been hurt. Holtz has had his family destroyed, Darla has been 'infected' (in her mind at least) and now Angel will have to deal with having caused all of it. But what does it mean?

Well, it's how we deal with it. Holtz tragically goes from noble to vengeful. And Angel has gone from a monster to a good man, attempting to deal with his mistakes. The age old question of whether or not Angel is really responsible for the crimes of Angelus stretches back to "The Prodigal" [1x15] in which we found out that Liam was made Angelus by Darla because of his drunken, stupid lifestyle. This then led Angel to feel responsible for the crimes of Angelus, for his ignorance led him to a far worse fate than he could've ever imagined. The punishment isn't really proportionate to the offence, but some responsibility must still be assumed. Just as Liam could scarcely have imagined what following Darla entailed, Angel couldn't possibly have expected this.

But what's painted as the worst part is that Angel lied about it not only to his friends but to himself; a consequence he could never have thought he'd have to deal with. So why bother fessing up to sleeping with Darla, right? But by so doing he shirked his responsibility in the whole affair, one that could've been even more disastrous (much like the situation in which he became a vampire), and retroactively hurt the new bond that he'd built with his friends since rejoining them in "Epiphany" [2x16]. The worry, humiliation and panic of the situation is a lesson in humbleness and honesty that Angel won't soon forget. With Holtz rising, that message is only going to get louder.

As for Darla, who I don't think is as blameless in this as she feels she is, she's still in a pretty poor situation. Like last season, the writers do a convincing job of making her plights sympathetic even as she's ravaging soullessly. Julie Benz sells her desperation well, and given what we know of Darla and her need to be in power, a pregnancy is a much a humiliating debilitation to her as it as something of worry for Angel. The fact that it is a human child, and indeed has a soul, is a good twist and is played out in the best scene of the episode; one that saves it from being an 'all setup, no payoff' deal.

One other flaw to note, one that exists in the character 'part' of the episode is in Cordelia, who takes her sympathy for Darla to too much of an extreme. I believe her concern, her feeling of betrayal over Angel's lie, but I don't for one moment believe that she would be as easy on Darla as she is after everything she put them and Angel through in S2. It's good she saw the light, but it was too little too late. It's an unusually glaring character blunder for the series and hurts the episode overall. Not only is it out of character, but it lessens our sympathies for her betrayed sensitivities because, honestly, she's just downright annoying at some points.

But in spite of all this, the show works. Holtz doesn't prove to be the series' most compelling character, but he's definitely an effective villain and he's been built up well enough by this point that the image of his return at the end is a good, scary portent. I also liked Fred's little speech about telling destiny to take a hike; very fitting for the show. Even if we're determined by a higher plan or prior causal forces imposed upon us by the environments that influence us, putting faith in our ability to choose is the only thing that can motivate us to meaningful action. It's a nice, bold statement for the previously meek Fred to be making now.

Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+Cordy actually hurting Angel.
+Wesley being lamely stealthy and Gunn being surprisingly practical. Who knew he could juggle?
+The "I love you" fest.
+Fred being naively nice to Darla.
+Lorne's reaction to Darla's "surprise."
+Julie Benz as Darla. Wonderful performance as always.
+Everyone telling Fred to can it.
  
-Cordelia being so protective of Darla. I don't buy this at all.
Foreshadowing
  • The themes of duality and responsibility will be touched upon frequently throughout the season. The nobility/evil of both Angel and Holtz is a major moral subject, and how responsible Angel truly is for his past is dealt with directly.
70/100C+
N/A

DEPTH
N/A

EMOTION
N/A

CHARACTER
N/A

PLOT
Quotes
HOLTZ:You're a demon. It is your nature to maim and kill. But you were also once a man. If we beat and burn the demon out of your living flesh, will there be anything left? (Holtz digs the claw in again and Angelus groans in pain) Anything at all? I doubt it. But I'm willing to spend the next fortnight of my life finding out.

ANGELUS:Shouldn't we be killing Holtz now?
DARLA:I know, but it's just so much fun ruining his life. He's like family now.

WESLEY:And I'm not sure on the translation. Ruination may in fact mean purification.
GUNN:Purification? So this Tro-clan is a good thing?
WESLEY:I doubt that. But it's purification in Aramaic, ruination in ancient Greek and in the lost Ga-shundi language it means both.
CORDELIA:And you don't want to make the same mistake twice.

FRED:Who's Darla?
GUNN:Angel's old flame from way back.
FRED:Not the one that died?
GUNN:Yeah. No, not that one. The other one that died and came back to life. She's a vampire.
FRED:Y'all have a chart or something?
GUNN:In the files. I'll get it for you later.

FRED:Can I say something about destiny? Screw destiny! If this evil thing comes we'll fight it, and we'll keep fighting it until we whoop it. 'Cause destiny is just another word for inevitable and nothing's inevitable as long as you stand up, look it in the eye, and say 'you're evitable!' - Well, you- you catch my drift.
LORNE:I like her so much.

DARLA:Make it stop! Make it stop.
ANGEL:The child. The child has a heartbeat. It has a soul.
DARLA:No! Not my child! No!
ANGEL:Our child. Our child. Our child. That's why you've been craving purer and purer blood. That's why it's been driving you out of your mind. It has a soul.


Comments (20)
All Comments | Link1 | elimApr 6, 2007
I mostly agree with this review. I'd place a bit less emphasis on the anticipation aspect and a bit more on Cordelia's inexplicable fondness for Darla. Pretty much in agreement, though.

However, I still don't get this "bluntness" criticism that you make for the season. When I think of being blunt in terms of social commentary, I think of the "Beer Bad"-style PSA episodes where they take some issue and crudely transform it into a mystical plot device. Season 2 had a few of those scattered about and Season 1 was littered with them, but the only such episodes in Season 3 are "Billy" and, to some extent, "Provider".

I could also see you meaning something like in Season 7 of Buffy, where every other line was "It's about power" but, with the exception of the "High school's over" thing in Season 1, I've never noticed anything like that on AtS.
All Comments | Link2 | Ryan-R.B. | WRITERApr 11, 2007
Glad you liked my review! Thanks for reading.

What I mean when I say bluntness is just that: "Bluntness." S7 of Buffy (at least the latter half) is a good comparison to S3 of Angel in how blunt its themes are. Where episodes like "The Prodigal" or "Reprise" used intelligent character developments and their metaphor-strengthened plots to make their points, a lot of S3 episodes tend to trot the theme right out in dialogue and repeated discussion.

It's either an insult to the viewer's intelligence ("Provider"), or it shows a lack of faith in the episode's ability to convey the themes properly on its own ("Birthday"). That, and it's just lazy writing. It also tends to reduce episodes to single themes and leave implication or deeper interpretation in the dust, because one theme is hogging the spotlight. And, as a result of that, the character actions often all fall in line under this one theme lest they risk seeming out of place.

Sort of a vicious cycle. I suppose what bugs me the most is that it's unambitious. Aside from genuine insight into something human, I believe what makes art is courage and honesty. "Reprise" was a work of art because it boldly made intelligent points that it believed in without flinching. Cowardice, simplicity and limitations like the ones I discussed make an episode, on its own right, lesser or even just mere entertainment. That's not to say S3 isn't challenging to its audience ever or isn't a work of art, I just find it more simple and blunt than other seasons, which have higher episode consistency, intelligence and episode quality.
All Comments | Link3 | billyApr 20, 2007
I have to agree with elim I find your opinion of the season as a whole to be quite baffling, particularly as you list The Old Gang of Mine as an example of an episode that is the exception. I find that rather funny to be honest
All Comments | Link4 | MikeJer | CREATOR/WRITERApr 20, 2007
I just wanted to chime in and say that I actually agree with Ryan on his stance of S3 AtS. Although I also feel "That Old Gang of Mine" was scored overly high, S3 simply isn't nearly as compelling intellectually or character-wise (Wesley aside) as other seasons. S3 of AtS is my least favorite season, right behind S1, and I honestly feel Ryan's nailing both its strengths and very apparent weaknesses.
All Comments | Link5 | DingdongalisticJul 24, 2007
"I just find it more simple and blunt than other seasons"



I'd personally use simplistic, shallower and less subtle and complex. Yep, they're review jargon terms as well, but I feel they fit there. I do feel, though, that the character drama is still as raw and powerful as ever in S3, even slightly more so in the first half of the season to S2.
All Comments | Link6 | buffyholicMar 6, 2008
I completely agree with you, Ryan. IMO, it feels like this episode and the next are holding back and it isn´t enough. It´s good material but it has the potential to do more, but that doesn´t happen.
All Comments | Link7 | Nathan.TaurusJan 31, 2010 @ 7:10pm
Cordelia taking care of Darla and making her feel comfortable was more to do with the baby than Darla, her motherly instincts kicking in, but she did come off as way too out of character because she did still partly care for Darla aswell.

Darlas (My least liked vampire foursome member) outburst to Angel in the gamesroom was to similar to Faiths in 'Five By Five', although no where near as good.

The only thing to save this boring episode was Fred's "Inevitable" speech and Gunn trying to teach her the history when Darla arrives. Still agree with your score.
All Comments | Link8 | Nathan.TaurusJan 31, 2010 @ 7:15pm
Forgot: How did Darla kill those few people on the bus without the bus driver knowing until she got off? It's like the half a dozen dead people on the train that Drusilla killed in 'Crush'. Were they all sleeping? It just doesn't work.
All Comments | Link9 | JammyJuMar 30, 2010 @ 1:22pm
I enjoyed this more on second viewing.
I appreciated the togetherness of the characters more so, and Gunn was pretty hilarious in this episode.

Must applaud the light comedic touches, they were great.
All Comments | Link10 | Lunatic on a pogotsickJul 21, 2010 @ 12:41am
I think cordelias out of character reaction was more motivated by her being angry at angel for lying about sleeping with darla,without her realising it plus the obvious fact there was a child involved.
All Comments | Link11 | SeánNov 25, 2010 @ 4:18pm
I thought it was funny when Fred asked Gunn "Is that the girl who died and was resurrected?" in reference to Darla. It's funny - both Angel's love interests, Darla and Buffy have died and being resurrected.
All Comments | Link12 | KeatonOct 2, 2011 @ 11:39am
One of the best episodes this far, finally Jodd Whedon seems to have found his humor back.
They could have done so much wrong with this episode, for example make some overblown drama out of that silly Darly pregnancy theme, but contrary to most of S01 and S02 they didn't fall into that habit this time. Instead they made it light and playful. Good decision!
And all that wonderful, wonderful comedy around Fred!
For me, she saved the show and now I even start to sympathise with Angel and Gunn, two characters I couldn't care less about in the last seasons. And Cordy really has grown on me too. She is a far more complex character than she was in the beginning.
Holtz's appearance seems a bit forced to me but I'll give him a chance.
All Comments | Link13 | KeatonOct 2, 2011 @ 11:43am
Mistype, Joss whedon of course. *gg*
All Comments | Link14 | KeatonOct 2, 2011 @ 11:48am
Btw, what some of the more "intellectual" people are too "deep" to get is that most of the interaction between Darla and Cordy was OOC and just there for the fun, a very common comedy approach we all know from Buffy. As I said, this episode is playful, but if you're too "intellectual" you won't appreciate that though. ;)
All Comments | Link15 | KeatonOct 2, 2011 @ 12:06pm
But maybe that's the problem.
If you're all "deep" and "intellectual" (*gg*) you won't immediately recognize OOC moments and think about all that goofy stuff like it was meant seriously. Sry to disappoint you but character consistency might be important in the Whedonverse but for a guy like Joss Whedon humor is much much more important (as for all intelligent people I know). And if there is a way to implement some funny clichés and make puns, I don't give a damn about character consistency. They can save that for later, when there isn't a situation thay just crys for comedy exploitation. :)
All Comments | Link16 | DaveNov 13, 2012 @ 5:21pm
Haha, that was a truly almost drunken "I love you, man!"
All Comments | Link17 | GekiMar 13, 2013 @ 11:04pm
Cordelia's characterisation doesn't bother me too much in this episode. She forgets what Darla is when her maternal instincts kick in. Angel is suddenly a lying, chauvinist pig who has betrayed her, and Darla is a woman who's been used and cast aside, and then left to deal with the consequences of casual, irresponsible sex alone. I can buy her reaction, especially since it lasts only as long as Darla hasn't reverted to form.
All Comments | Link18 | MonicaFeb 3, 2014 @ 5:52pm
I didn't enjoy Angel's condescending attitude toward Cordelia, nor did I care for her taking it without saying anything back. Same goes for Fred.
All Comments | Link19 | JahnAug 5, 2014 @ 5:01am
Cordelia was either jaw droppingly stupid or simply written way out of character. Maternal instinct isn't a wooden mallet that knocks every last shred of sense out of a woman. There's no way anyone who knows Darla, let alone the core group that's witnessed her atrocities, would be nice to her for any reason. Once more, I'm left with utter frustration that she wasn't staked on the spot.

I'm also left unaffected by these pleas for sympathy for the character, given the condition. She's a mass murderer, period. Sympathy for her is out of the question. The most satisfying scene involving Darla was the one where Angel set her and Dru on fire.

All in all, kind of a boring episode made worse by frustrating character choices.
All Comments | Link20 | SimonApr 11, 2015 @ 11:33am
The kind of stupidity in this is what annoyed me most in BtVS - characters acting on the most superficial moral impulses, consequences be damned. The ethical treatment of sadistic, soulless mass-murderers does seem to be staking them on sight, and any mercy for them must be considered weakness that results inevitably in people dying horrible deaths (even Harmony).
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