Review by Patrick Pricken
Posted on August 1, 2010Writer: Sarah Fain and Elizabeth Craft | Director: Bill Norton | Air Date: 11/03/2002
This is a retrospective review and may contain spoilers from anywhere in the series. Read at your own peril.
[EDITOR'S NOTE] Ryan will no longer be reviewing Angel from this episode onward. In his place will be you: the community. This is why you will notice varying review styles from this point on. This is being referred to as the 'Angel Completion Project' and can be specifically tracked here.
When I asked MikeJer to review "Supersymmetry," it wasn't because it is one of my favorite episodes, or one of my least favorite ones, but because I think I have something to say about it. And also because this episode is a great example of the effect mikejer's reviews had on me.
There's a difference between valid interpretations of a work of art, and fanwank. Analysis can provide deeper meaning to an episode, and watching "Supersymmetry" closely made me appreciate what I first thought were flaws. I just hope I'm not fanwanking. Part of what attracts me to Joss Whedon's work is his feminism, shaky and problematic though it may be. Those problems are bigger in Angel than in Buffy – Cordelia has two mystical pregnancies and more or less dies giving birth, as do Fred and Darla. And until know, I lumped this episode in with the problems, when in fact, it just might be the opposite.
In the previouslies, we hear Fred's reaction to Angel in Pylea again: "Handsome man saved me from the monsters." This sets up the final confrontation when Gunn saves Fred from killing Seidel, but also serves as a thematic tuning fork for this episode. It's that sometimes, the women are better off not being saved by handsome men, but saving themselves.
Consider Cordelia, who is at Connor's apartment (or whatever that is where he lives). She's got her clothes – even her fuzzy slipper; she's got pictures of her friends, but something's still missing, and it's not her memory. Connor rightly surmises it's the fighting, something Cordelia realizes as well: she tells Angel at the end that she doesn't need protecting. Note also that Connor lets Cordelia go back to Angel: Cordelia, even without her memory, gets to decide for herself. And later on, will return to Connor freely.
Consider Professor Seidel and his eternal TA Laurie. Laurie doesn't get sent into a hell dimension because she's safe, she doesn't threaten his power. Whereas Fred does. Aside from opening up portals around her, Seidel also tries to get Fred back under his power by offering to teach her – though what would he teach Fred, who names the dimensions he is only vaguely aware of? Teachers are supposed to facilitate emancipation, to enable their students to do their own thing and, yes, surpass the teachers even. Seidel can't bring himself to do that, and that's why he gets punished.
And of course, consider Fred. What a long way she's come, from not being able to leave her room in "Heartthrob" [3x01] to now wanting to be seen, holding a public lecture. Her publishing the science article means she's fully back to herself, and as Seidel rightly notes, it's time for her to choose her own life, not live the life that "kind of chose [her]". It's telling that, Seidel's betrayal or not, Fred stays with Angel Investigations. She is not forced to stay – she could become a physics star – she chooses to.
This episode is the beginning of the end for Gunn and Fred's relationship, and at least part of that is due to Gunn's decision to kill Seidel and not let Fred do it. It is a decidedly patronizing decision: Fred chooses to send Seidel into another dimension, and Gunn simply disregards that choice. Compare this to how Wesley makes sure Fred knows there's a price for murder, and how he offers to tag along, but in the end lets Fred go do what she thinks she must. This is part of why Fred and Wesley make a better match than her and Gunn.
The episode also gives us another reason. Fred is a science nerd, and Gunn has no idea about science. It's not that this automatically endangers the relationship – and even Wesley is just a layman, after all – but Gunn's reaction to it does. Fred is right that Gunn doesn't have to read her article, and note how she throws herself at him for even trying. But we know that despite his mannerisms, Gunn has self-esteem issues. Gunn thinks he's stupid for not following the quantum physics discussion between Fred and Seidel. He isn't – even quantum physicists have problems understanding quantum physics. But he thinks he is, and by extension he feels he's not good enough for Fred. And that feeling is another reason for the two to fall apart.
A third reason is Fred's naiveté about the men she falls in love with. At the beginning, Angel was the superhero who could do no wrong to her. And here, in conversation with Wesley, she shows how she misunderstands Gunn, as well: she claims Gunn wouldn't have it in him to kill Seidel, and that's part of why she loves him. When Gunn quite clearly does have it in him to do just that, Fred has to face that maybe he isn't the man she thinks he is.
But that's not all there is to "Supersymmetry." In season four, the writers really overextended themselves, and even in such an early episode, you can see the ambition, you can see how many different things they try to juggle. There's the main plot to consider with Lorne fresh out from a minor lobotomy. We know that evil is coming, and we get a few short scenes to remind us of that.
There's Cordelia – well, maybe there is, and maybe there is just something that pretends to be Cordelia. As a side note and perhaps fodder for discussion, I think it would have been much better to clue the viewers in to Cordelia's scheming much earlier (whilst still revealing it for Angel and gang when they did). Anyway: is this Cordelia (albeit without her memory)? Or is she already influenced by Jasmine?
I think both could be argued. Note how Cordy pins the photos on the board at Connor's. Sure, they're photos of her friends, but that's also how in crime shows, the detectives put up photos of the suspects and the victims. The pictures could remind her of Jasmine's plan. And when Cordy kisses Connor, is that because of the fight? Because she really grew to care for Connor? Or because Jasmine needs a father? (The same for her bending down and almost revealing a nipple – could be accidental, could be on purpose.) Either way, these scenes set up what will later happen between these two, as do Lorne's comment about Cordy shacking up with Angel's hellspawn, and Connor's complaint that Cordy's always stealing the blanket.
The episode ends with Cordy asking Angel whether they were in love, and I'd prefer Angel not to answer – ever – because while I don't dislike Connor that much, I have a strong dislike for the Angel / Cordelia love affair. That these two maybe hop under the blankets? Okay. That they fall in love to the extent they do? No. I just can't make myself believe it. Of course, casual sex is not something network television likes to do with its heroes. I mean, pretty much every kind of unconventional sex is likely to be relegated for the evil or at least morally grey characters.
Which brings us to Wesley and Lilah. This episode is free of either dirty phone sex or role-playing – something I doubt Wes would have done with Fred, had they had more time together. In "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" [4x04], Lilah used Wesley to lure Angel away from Lorne – and really, Wesley shouldn't blame her for that, but himself –, and now she brings a present to make up for it. I love Lilah, she's such a survivor, and it's getting more and more obvious that she's falling for Wesley. That's why she follows him to Fred's talk, out of jealousy, and that's what makes her order the outfit she'll wear next episode. I'm guessing that's what she's doing on the phone when she leaves the lecture hall.
This episode also touches on an issue I think Mutant Enemy constantly screws up: morals. Basically, Angel (and Buffy) often show us how violence helps solve problems, but at the same time, Angel (and Buffy) lecture others that it doesn't. Angel has no problems killing psychics who make Cordelia's visions more dangerous, or doctors who can dissolve into separate body parts to stalk their girlfriends, or anyone (except for recurring characters). I get why they don't want Fred to kill Seidel, but I don't buy it. It's not like they can throw him into prison for conjuring portals into hell dimensions, unless the public is much more informed about the supernatural than I recognized. And it's not like they'll be able to convince Seidel to stop what he's doing. Right or wrong, in the confines of the series, Seidel has to die. Or receive a suitably poetic punishment.
Finally, did I enjoy this episode? I respect it for all that it does or tries to do, but I don't really enjoy it. I prefer the episodes later in the season when the major arc has taken off. I'm also not a big fan of Fred and how almost anybody she meets falls in love with her and her microskirts (I think the writers even considered having Spike develop a crush on her later on), how she's like a science plot device who can do anything (medicine, maths, physics, chemistry, ...), and how she'll suddenly fall in love with Wesley just in time to die dramatically. I also don't enjoy Cordelia in this season because, no matter the writers' intent, she doesn't act like the Cordy I have grown to love in the previous years. Fred and Cordelia take up major parts of "Supersymmetry," and the episode is neither funny nor tense enough to make up for that. Despite all the balls it's juggling, it's also in a holding pattern, setting up a lot of things that happen later on without much happening here.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
QuotesGUNN:The girl kept me up all night. She is un-stoppable.
ANGEL:More than I need to know.
FRED:Did Charles tell you?
ANGEL:He-he didn't describe it.
LILAH:You know Angel, coming from you, idle threats are so, well, idle.
ANGEL:You remember when I ripped your car in half?
LILAH:Yeah, yeah. Hulk smash.
ANGEL:Come on! I'm holding your head.
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