4x09: "Long Day's Journey"
Review by Robert Taylor
Posted on September 26, 2012Writer: Mere Smith | Director: Terrence O Hara | Air Date: 01/22/2003
This is a retrospective review and may contain spoilers from anywhere in the series. Read at your own peril.
"Long Day's Journey" represents the tipping point for "Angel's" fourth season, setting up the multi-episode Angelus arc while meticulously teasing viewers with new mysteries (in this case a literal locked-room mystery). But more than anything, what crystallizes here for viewers is the impression that the show's writers are now fully working without a net. Much has been written (both on this site and elsewhere) about the creative difficulties the staff had in mapping out the Season 4 overall storyline (multiple showrunner exits, Charisma Carpenter's pregnancy, etc.), and while the "making it up as we go along" aspect to storytelling can (and, elsewhere, does) result in plot holes and viewer annoyance, in this episode and the other great ones of Season 4 there's a real excitement to the ride. You don't know if the writers know where they are going, but for the moment it's too enjoyable to matter.
The show's title, "Long Day's Journey," apes on the Eugene O'Neill classic play "Long Day's Journey Into Night." And though it works on a literal level (the Beast is planning on throwing Los Angeles into eternal night), it also tips its hat to O'Neill's characters—a family whose mistakes, hidden motives and inability to control emotion results in their eventual implosion. Sound familiar? As the episode opens, we wonder if Angel's "family" unit can become any more divided than it already is (those who have watched the remainder of the season will answer with a resounding "Um, duh!"). Cordelia (or should I say "Cordelia") has boinked Connor. Angel, uh, watched the whole thing unfold and told Cordelia he knows everything. Gunn still hates Wesley, who still loves Fred, and as a result Fred is pulling away from Gunn. And Lorne's desperate attempts to bring the group together seem just that: desperate.
The episode opens with us revisiting the character of Gwen Raiden, cat-thief extraordinaire. This installment's writer, Mere Smith, also penned Gwen's introduction in "Ground State" [4x02]. Upon first glance, Gwen had all the hallmarks of one of Joss Whedon's signature strong female creations, but she didn't seem to click with viewers or the writers and only made three appearances before disappearing into the ether. Perhaps it was that her powers (the touch of her skin creates an electric shock) were too explicit. Perhaps it was that her character was introduced right before what is essentially a supernatural season-long mirror of "24," and she's not a puzzle piece that easily fits into that tone. Perhaps it was that her character is cut from the same cloth as Lilah, but thirty percent less evil and therefore less engaging. Perhaps it was the spandex. Whatever the case, she's not a bad character, just one who didn't catch on. She functions well within the episode itself on several levels: She is a romantic foil Angel uses to make Cordelia jealous, she serves as a suspect in the locked-room mystery, and she is an outside voice in an ever-more-claustrophobic series.
Speaking of Cordy, viewers were still in the process of picking their jaws off the floor two episodes after she slept with Connor. While the previous episode, the pun-ily titled "Habeas Corpses" [4x08], focused almost exclusively on the emotional slap-to-the-face the sex was to Angel, "Long Day's Journey" seems more interested in exploring Cordelia's point-of-view. Of course, in retrospect, we know that it's not the "real" Cordelia in her scenes, but I think this is probably the first episode that plays fair with both her classic characterization and her ulterior motives. The entire idea of Connor having sex with his surrogate mother is the definition of an Oedipal complex, but writer Smith rightly goes to extremes to downplay that here (later episodes, most notably "Orpheus" [4x15] and "Inside Out" [4x17] would go to extremes to exploit it) in an attempt to get viewers to feel some sort of attachment to Cordelia once more. Her dialogue "sounds" more like Cordelia than any episode since the Smith-penned "Birthday" (yes, "Spin The Bottle" [4x06] featured a heavy dose of high-school-brand Cordy, but it was imposed by a spell). And her blunt accusations of Gwen after she was apparently drugged feel like something the Cordelia of old would do. Angel is again hostile with her in almost every scene they share, rightfully so, and her short moment of entering the hotel and not even knowing how to begin a conversation with the rest of the gang underlines how isolated she must feel because of her mistakes. Once more, in retrospect we understand that she was accusing Gwen to shift the focus onto someone other than herself and her single-mindedness in the hotel was to plant the Angelus seeds into Angel, but the writing is smart enough for them to work on both levels. I would venture so far to write that that "Long Day's Journey" holds up best among the first thirteen episodes of the season to repeat viewings with the entire arc in mind.
Connor is still just as detestable here as he is in most other episodes. I understand how hurt he is and confused after being deceived for most of his life and blah blah blah. He's theoretically as complex a character as Angel, but his personality and readiness to become evil at the drop of a hat remains the most frustrating part of the season to this viewer. A touchtone of the season is that characters keep comparing him to Angel and talking about how similar they are (Cordelia and Fred here, Willow in "Orpheus" [4x15]), but that seems to be the writers almost insisting that his actions and motivations are legitimate, even though they mostly serve as nothing more than functions of the plot and to create false suspense that he'll murder his father. Also, it doesn't help that every single decision he makes as a character is the wrong one. As the episode opens, he's showing off like a schoolboy to Cordelia ("I have super-hearing!") and the moment she brings up Angel he becomes aggressive and tries to challenge her for her affection, all but saying: "Tell me you love me more than him," something Cordelia is unwilling to do because it would alleviate some of her power over him. Finally, she leaves while sighing, "I trust you, Connor." I'll admit that I smiled widely when he gets his ass handed to him at the climax of the episode, but more on that later.
Concerning the Fred/Gunn romance, the only real trace of it left is one quickly spoken "baby" by Gunn early in the episode and his going out of his way to touch Fred when Wesley is nearby, more like an animal keeping one paw on his prey than a lover reaching out to his beloved. By this point each episode had the same small arc for the triangle of Gunn, Fred and Wesley: Fred and Gunn speak more like friends than lovers, there is a small inkling of romance between then, then Wesley enters the room and Gunn pushes up against every sentence that comes out of his mouth, even the logical ones. When Fred ultimately agrees with anything Wesley says, this compounds Gunn's anger. These beats have been repeated in some form or another since "Spin The Bottle" [4x06]. Ah well, at least Gunn gets a nice scene with Gwen in the episode to talk about something other than…oh wait never mind that scene was all about Fred. Whedon's shows, in general, seem afraid of allowing a couple any amount of happiness for fear of boredom (later seasons of Buffy and Angel especially underline this), but Whedon's solution usually involves killing off one of the two.
In Buffy Season 6, Tara got 40 minutes of screen time to be with her true love before she was shot to death in "Seeing Red" [6x19], and in Angel Season 5 Fred gets about ten minutes of happiness with Wesley before she begins dying in "A Hole in the World" [5x15]. Here, Whedon does something more interesting: He removes almost every trace of romance between Fred and Gunn yet keeps them in a "relationship," slowly letting it die before our eyes by repeating this same cycle until the characters cannot take it anymore. I should also mention that, if the aforementioned jealousy cycle happened multiple times in a series of standalone episodes like the ones from the first three seasons, it would have quickly become unbearable for viewers. But because of the tension, overstuffing and fast pacing of Season 4, the love triangle becomes such a background element that viewers are more willing to see the same beat over and over because it is such a small part of any given episode.
The storyline involves Angel Investigations attempting to protect the final member of the Ra-tet. The Beast is removing a piece from each one of their bodies in order to create a device that will plunge Los Angeles into darkness. Angel gets his hands on the last member, named Manny as short for Man-jit, who dresses a lot like Doyle used to dress. This is probably the only tip-of-the-hat to the just-deceased Glenn Quinn, who the episode is dedicated in loving memory to. In order to keep Manny safe, Gwen offers up her hideout, which is a really cool piece of real estate. On the outside it looks like an abandoned warehouse, but once you go through a door it looks like Downton Abbey. There's even a panic room you access through pulling the correct book off a shelf ("Never pass up a good cliché," Gwen smiles as she opens the room). It's here that Angel and Cordelia are drugged through their evening beverages and, when they awaken, Manny has been murdered and mutilated. Of course we ultimately know it's Cordelia who did the deed, but Smith does a wonderful job of planting red herrings with Gwen, Connor and finally implying that Angelus somehow took over Angel and killed Manny.
At the center of it is Angel, who is a live wire of emotion. Lorne tries to snap him out of it at the beginning of the episode, but it doesn't work. Rightly incensed that his second true love slept with his son, he continues to take it almost exclusively out on Cordelia, though one would imagine he would also be at least a little cross with Connor about it. Ah well, after all the crap his son has pulled and all the excuses Connor found to try and kill his dad, sleeping with Cordy must have seemed like par for the course. There's a beautiful moment at the midpoint where Angel tries to give a motivational speech to the troops about fighting the Beast, and what comes out is the motivational equivalent of a loud burp in church. It's brilliant, and Boreanaz pulls off the moment beautifully instead of allowing it to turn cheestastic. The hero is probably as lost as he ever has been in the series, rivaled only by sleeping with Darla in "Reprise" [2x15], and his friends are too lost and divided themselves to prop him up. Even after spending the summer on the bottom of the ocean he could turn on the hero button quickly, but not here. Not now. And we fully understand why, which makes it all the more tragic.
If the characterization and episode pacing make this episode transcendent, I have to admit that the final five minutes are a bit of a repeat beat from "Apocalypse, Nowish" [4x07]. In both, the gang just wail away on the Beast while not actually doing any damage, and both end with an apocalyptic event (fire raining from the sky in the first, the sun being blotted out in the second). I have no problem with the first part, because it's always a joy to see "tough" Connor getting thrown around, but on a story level because it's important for the writers to underline just how out of their depth team Angel really is. It also shows how divided the team is at this point in the story, unable to work together well even when sharing the field of battle together. Multiple lost battles are fine, but the sun being blotted out is too repetitious, especially considering that, while it's a really cool visual, it has little to no emotional effect on our heroes. I should also note that the stunts and wire work in this sequence (aside from the stunt of Connor being thrown out of the window, which is aces) are some of the worst in series history, with the Beast's final exit apparently so bad that they cut it down to four frames. What we can see of it looks like something out of a Godzilla movie.
This is probably the closest thing we have to a "filler" episode through this entire Beast/Angelus/Jasmine arc, but what a filler episode it is! Smack dab between the epic shenanigans over at Wolfram & Hart and Angelus being awakened, there is room for contemplation here. While watching the episode, you feel the writers trying to figure out the story as much as we are, and there's something very exciting about that. The episode is evenly paced and has some great dialogue from almost every character. It's also one that is genuinely easy to re-watch considering evil Cordelia's involvement in the whole shebang, and seeing Connor pummeled is just a bonus.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
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