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3x14: "Couplet"
Review by Ryan Bovay (Ryan-R.B.)
Posted on May 27, 2007
Writer: Tim Minear and Jeffrey Bell | Director: Tim Minear | Air Date: 02/18/2002

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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

"Couplet" is a decent episode with some important, worthwhile character progressions that inform the upcoming episodes quite a bit. There's enough stuff here to enjoy, from the zesty, fun dialogue to the character's thoroughly enjoyable performances, which elevate some unengaging moments to truly funny. And what we get here is important setup for the next few episodes to come, which get significantly heavier and have a profound impact on the rest of the series. The overall quality of the episode is severely hurt, however, by a few seriously nagging inadequacies in the characterization; important details and the impact of past experiences are forgotten in order to serve the comedy and drama of the plot.

The most important thing for the natural evolution of a story is to let the character find the story him or her self, so when plot twists and story directions are generated to move a character through certain motions, one can tell the difference between that type of story and a freer flowing one. The Groosalug has returned to Los Angeles from Pylea, and just as he was ready to admit feelings for Cordelia, Angel has lost her to him and now must deal with his romantic insecurities. As a setup it is intriguing and seems tailored for the characters, but what the writers seem to want out of it to get us ready for the next few episodes conflicts with what has already happened.

Many critics of S3 say that Angel's behaviour in the season is largely out of character; too happy, snappy and upbeat. For the most part, I think his new human connection to the world that he earned in the wake of "Epiphany" [2x16] and the Pylea arc earned him his right to be happy and snappy. However, this is one of the few instances where Angel really does feel too over the top, too talky, and too immature considering all his most recent experiences, especially in relation to Cordelia. His childish jealousy over the Groosalug simply goes too far.

As a device, it asks us to forget that he has conquered his image issues, knows his worth on an existential level and has forged a mutual bond of respect with Cordelia following the events of "Billy" [3x06] and "Birthday" [3x11]. Those two episodes addressed Angel's condescending-in-practice need to save everyone around him quite directly, and twice Cordelia proved she was more than capable on her own. Angel is not so thick skulled as to miss the message twice, which he proved in "Waiting in the Wings" [3x13] in which he openly admired her for her growth. In fact, this deep bond of trust and respect is the starting point for their romantic interest in one another.

The same way Buffy and Angel were drawn together in S2 of Buffy by their new beginnings as warriors against evil and people with a clean emotional slate, Cordelia and Angel are drawn together by their new beginnings as mature, burdened, but ultimately good people. So Angel's emotional journey in this episode rests on something that contradicts the foundations of that which the writers require him to be emotional about in the first place. Ow, my head. This one major flaw aside, "Couplet" is a fun and funny enough ride. Many fans hate the Groosalug, but I enjoyed Mark Lutz's performance; he plays the fish-out-of-water character with conviction and a good comedic sense of timing.

The makeup on the demon that Groo and Angel slay was very impressive, and the visit to the demon Brothel was hilarious fun and a wonderfully shot sequence all around. Besides the issue with Angel, the character development we see in all the other major players is also solid and well earned. Cordelia in particular has an interesting revelation that goes unknown only to her: she truly does care for Angel over the Groosalug. Though they seem to have a genuine connection at the start, the issue that spurned her to leave Pylea in "There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb" [2x22] quickly comes up again: That place, and that role, was nothing but a fantasy. Cordelia is not a princess; she is a complex, mature person.

And the Groosalug, who loves her only because all warriors 'love' their princesses, is a fanciful, fun person to be around, but not someone to spend eternity with. Cordelia knows this deep down, but is so moved by his affection for her that she accepts the fantasy, for after all the harsh reality she's suffered through she feels entitled to it. And why shouldn't she? But the truth is its not real love, and after some time she does realize that ("Tomorrow" [3x22]). For now, she's in her fantasy. She wants carefree romance and utter devotion, and to have lots and lots of sex. The only downside is her ignorance of Angel's true affection, which clearly wounds him.

The end result of the episode is one of surprising potency. The demonic tree which, in parallel to Gunn and the Groosalug, steals hearts away from those with deeper affection, tries to sap Angel's heart and cannot because there's nothing there. But the message isn't that his heart is empty, it is that the physical aspect is irrelevant next to the emotional one. The Groosalug can dress and fight like Angel and can even do a few things he can't, but it's Angel that's brought together this great group to fight demons, and it's Angel whose mission has inspired their lives and given them to chance be together and know one another. That's worth far more.

It's a bit cliche to be sure, but the affinity for the characters the show shares with us earns the resolution. But really, the best material of the hour takes place on the periphery, where we deal with Gunn and Fred and towards the end, Wesley. Despite many fans also saying that Fred and Gunn were a poor pairing, in this episode they seem to have something. No grand love of the ages, to be sure, but a real connection that's worth exploring. Unlike the Cordy/Groo pairing, there is substance here, and actors J. August Richards and Amy Acker sell the scenario to sweet and believable effect in their scenes. What's most interesting though, and haters should take note, are the hints for the future.

The relationship, in parallel to Cordy and Groo's, seems doomed to failure in the future as well. In retrospect of the entire series it's quite clear, as Fred and Gunn are torn apart by Wesley and their work here. This becomes literally true in S4, in which the pressure of fighting The Beast and Angelus, as well as contending with Wes' return to the group, eventually causes them to implode. Other factors exacerbate, but it seems that "Couplet" is a neat little microcosm detailing the factors for their demise. The last few minutes of the episode, however, trump anything else here in terms of quality; setting us up for the upcoming closing chapters to the main arc of the season. Angel sends Cordelia away, and Wesley discovers the prophecy.

The rule is that one should always stick around until the very end of a work to see if a show or a movie can redeem any flaws, and this is very true here. What does the false prophecy Sahjahn has constructed mean? At this time, it means nothing specifically. It is an effective cliffhanger in promising us Connor being torn away from Angel just as he has realized, following his loss of Cordelia, that some forms of love themselves are fantasy; Angel will never be alone so long as he has his son, he now believes. Wesley's translation of this new verse is a shocking way to promise us that big, ugly things are coming, which we know they are.

If we consider AtS a three-act show, "City of" [1x01] to "Reprise" [2x15] would be considered Act One. "Epiphany" [2x16] right up until "Sleep Tight" [3x16] would be considered Act Two, and everything from "Forgiving" [3x17] on would be considered Act Three. Each act is defined by Angel's mission, and how he approaches it emotionally. Notice how the one in the middle, the happiest one, is the shortest? In retrospect, one almost appreciates this episode for its place in the series: the last hurrah of happiness in the world of Angel Investigations. After "Sleep Tight" [3x16] things are never alright again, so we should enjoy it while it lasts.

Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+Connor vs the Groosalug on being short and tall.
+Angel trying to compare his height to Groo.
+Cordy, Groo and Angel all waving to one another.
+Groosalug: "Angel, your coat is singing."
+The Groosalug's Pylean identification of the demon.
+Cordelia's verbage: "Com-shucking like bunnies."
Foreshadowing
  • The Fred and Gunn relationship already seems interrupted by Wesley and their job. In "Soulless" [4x11] Wes and Gunn actually come to blows over Fred, and the mission against The Beast and Angelus breaks the pair up before the end of S4.
  • Wesley, throughout this episode, becomes increasingly isolated as he works on the translation. In "Loyalty" [3x15] and "Sleep Tight" [3x16] this deepens, as he is wracked by what to do about Connor, eventually going off on his own and stealing the baby from Angel.
70/100C+
N/A

DEPTH
N/A

EMOTION
N/A

CHARACTER
N/A

PLOT
Quotes
LORNE:(about Connor) They don't actually get smaller until they're very, very old.
ANGEL:I didn't mean the baby.
LORNE:I know you didn't.
ANGEL:I meant the Groosalug.
LORNE:I know you did.
ANGEL:Did he seem, ah, - I don't know - short?
LORNE:Oh, absolutely. Clearly the guy shrank - all over, probably. (Lorne helps Angel out of his tux jacket) Why, he's nothing but a muscley midget. I'm sure once Cordelia gets him home, she'll just pop him into a smallish drawer, and that will be that.

ANGEL:And what makes you think this other woman is a witch, Ms - Frakes?
MS. FRAKES:Why else would Jerry cheat on me? We've been engaged for eight years!

ANGEL:You saw what happened this afternoon. If Groo hadn't been there...
WESLEY:Then the rest of us would have. - Angel, - you're the reason we've all come together. It's your mission which animates us. We each contribute, it's true, but you - you're unique. (Indicates the shelves) You're like one of these rare volumes. One of a kind.
PROPRIETER:(carrying books) I've got three of them!

MAN:(at Brothel, manacled to a wall) Oh, hello.
GROOSALUG:Fear not, friend! We are here to save you! (he rushes to him)
MAN:Hey, get off!
ANGEL:(stops Groo) Groo! Groo, I think he's happy here.
GROOSALUG:As a slave?
MAN:Don't judge me.

ANGEL:Really? - I'd say more like magnificently stupid. Because him with the beer tap in his chest and me with the, you know, just walking around (Angel walks up to Groo) And I'm really getting tired of the 'Groosa-worship' thing. (Slugs Groo in the face. The root-demon lets out a roar) Nothing personal, champ. Oh! Everyone makes such a big deal about the Groosalug. (Slugs Groo. The root-demon roars.) He's such a champion. (Slug. Roar.) He's so rugged. (Slug. Roar.) He's so emotionally available. (Slug. Roar.) Look at him in the daylight. (Slug. Roar.) But you know what? I'm smarter, and I'm stronger, and I pick out my own clothes!


Comments (10)
All Comments | Link1 | DingdongalisticJul 24, 2007
"“Couplet” is a decent episode with some important, worthwhile character progressions that inform the upcoming episodes quite a bit."

What!?

"There’s enough stuff here to enjoy, from the zesty, fun dialogue to the character’s thoroughly enjoyable performances, which elevate some unengaging moments to truly funny."

What!!??

"And what we get here is important setup for the next few episodes to come, which get significantly heavier and have a profound impact on the rest of the series."

To be honest, I only remember one important setup moment. Certainly not enough to warrant such an episode of sheer unfunny vapidity.

"The overall quality of the episode is severely hurt, however, by a few seriously nagging inadequacies in the characterization; "

You're telling me. I wasn't even sure the episode had characterisation, not credible characterisation anyway.

"important details and the impact of past experiences are forgotten in order to serve the comedy and drama of the plot."

If you remove 'drama' I'm in agreement, as I don't think the episode has any drama worth speaking off beyond the discovery of the prophecy.

"The most important thing for the natural evolution of a story is to let the character find the story him or her self, so when plot twists and story directions are generated to move a character through certain motions, one can tell the difference between that type of story and a freer flowing one."

What you're saying is that character motivation and interaction should be credible and natural, and drive the plot as much as the plot drives them. At least I hope you are, because that's my own view, as well. People talk about 'plot driven characters' but that's actually a meaningless and vague criticism that's rarely understood: In reality, plot is simply the effects of other characters we don't see, and therefore resembles the impersonal and cold events that drive the characters through their everyday life. And as every character has an influence on these events, characters drive plot as much as plot drives characters. So the phrase 'plot driven character' is fairly meaningless criticism. (This certainly isn't aimed at you, I'm just describing my approach to both plot and characterisation.)

In Couplet, there doesn't appear to be any characterisation, just stationary excuses to tell vapid, hollow jokes; over and over again. The difference between this and Provider is only that Provider was funny, and this was just lazy and stupid.

"His childish jealousy over the Groosalug simply goes too far."

That is a mastery of understatement. I wouldn't be so kind, myself.

"As a setup it is intriguing and seems tailored for the characters"

It seemed to me to be one of those false and extremely convenient set-up that's manipulated around the characters to put them in the most entertaining and unlikely situations - a bit like your common plot twist from Eastenders. There wasn't really any solid thematic reason to bring back Groo, this time, it was just a lame sit-com trick.
All Comments | Link2 | buffyholicMar 10, 2008
This turns out to be a very funny episode. I also like Groo, although I don´t see a lot of chemistry between him and Cordy. Like Ryan said, this episode also shows us how happy they are here and that will never happen again.
All Comments | Link3 | Nathan.TaurusFeb 4, 2010 @ 4:39pm
Poor, poor Groo. Doesn't even know what Cordelia thinks of him. (The hair cutting scene)
The brothel scene and the guy chained to the wall. "Don't judge me."
And notice how the camera pans from one of the red Wolf, Ram and Hart books that the gang got from Pylea (The Wolf) in the book place.
All Comments | Link4 | RossyFeb 11, 2010 @ 2:20am
Surely the prophecy should make the foreshadowing section on this or the following few eps?

As Angel kills Connor at the end of S.4.
All Comments | Link5 | JasonFeb 24, 2011 @ 5:41pm
I was blown away by the first 2 seasons of Angel- and while I feel season 3 is an overall winner bursting with fantastic episodes and incredible interplay with everybody in the team- its episodes like this, along with the shoddy "Proivider" that drag the quality to the ground. Totally outta charachter behaviour from Angel at times- I agree that Angel does not have to feel the need to brood at the horrors he commited in his past life as angelus. Since season 2, his life has taken a different turn- and the overall feelings of trust and love in his life from the gang and connor are all part of a natural charachter development. Its terrific seeing him go from the 'Dark Avenger" to the glowing champion he is now- Yet the various posts attacking out of charachter moments in the season are justified. His school boy antics in this one, along with what I considered selfish money driven motives in Provider annoyed me. Another thing I miss from this season is the absence of Kate Lockley, and the police in general. There was an almost XFiles feel to some of the earlier episodes, especially Lonely Hearts and Sumnabullist,that gave the show a more realisic feel to it. I loved the idea of a dark demonic underbelly brewing up a bile of danger amidst and underneath the glam-bam of LA, and Angel being one step ahead of the police who happend to be investigating the goings on aswell. By season 3
thats gone,and we have demons happily strolling around the place in front of everybody, and stupid tree monsters in this episode that are far more suited in the Buffy world. I love Buffy-dont get me wrong- but I always preferred the more adult,serious approach Angel took. And episodes like this undermine that. That said, its only a bump in the winding road that is season 3,and the final scene provides an appitizer for what brilliance is to come.
All Comments | Link6 | JohnJul 29, 2011 @ 1:01am
I have to say, Wesley and Angel's joint misery (and habitual sulkiness thereof) sells this episode for me. It's nothing fantastic, but there's some great humor.

Favorite moment would definitely have to be Wesley sending Gunn out on even the flimsiest leads.
All Comments | Link7 | KeatonOct 4, 2011 @ 8:51am
Nice, but not overly meaningful episode (except the prophecy at the end).
I liked that running gag where everybody wanted to comfort Angel and whatever they said was instantly contradicted by the things happening in the background ("You're unique, like one of those rare books." - "I got three of them."). And I liked the way Angel and Wesley were sucking up their jealousy. Don't know what everybody here is talking about, Angel didn't really behave obsessed or jealous, the script just hurled the Groo-Cordy romance in his face over and over again. Cheap way to make jokes, granted, but it worked for me.

And finally I have not the slightest clue what Ryan is writing about when he claimed that some kind of demise in the Fred-Gunn relationship was foreboded here. They were just sweet, the whole episode, nothing threatening to see anywhere except Wesley's jealousy.

One more thing, I loved how you could interpret Wesleys reaction to Gunn at the end of the episode without the prophecy about Connor. Gave it an ambiguous touch, even if that might be misleading. First he seemed to just sit there alone and depressed, even Angel had someone to love. Then it's revealed that he made that face because of the prophecy, not just self-pity. But it still remains ambiguous.
All Comments | Link8 | KeatonOct 4, 2011 @ 9:28am
Correction: It isn't really a running gag about Angel being comforted but more about everything happening refering to Groo and him in a weird way. Like constantly rubbing salt in his wound. Hilarious!
Yeah, I know I'm cruel.
All Comments | Link9 | KeatonOct 4, 2011 @ 9:31am
"One more thing, I loved how you could interpret Wesleys reaction to Gunn"
meant towards Angel, not Gunn
All Comments | Link10 | KeatonOct 4, 2011 @ 11:25am
Call me crazy but I just had a strange doubt.
"The father will kill the son."
This isn't as clear as it sounds. Whose father? Whose son? Why doesn't it say about a father killing "his son"? Weird...
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