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4x14: "Release"
Review by Mikelangelo Marinaro (MikeJer)
Posted on November 13, 2011
Writer: Steven S. DeKnight, Sarah Fain, and Elizabeth Craft | Director: James A. Contner | Air Date: 03/12/2003

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This is a retrospective review and may contain spoilers from anywhere in the series. Read at your own peril.
Review

Oh Angel Season 4, how you toy with me. A moment here to make me celebrate; a moment there to make me weep. If I were to summarize what I thought of "Release" without actually getting into any details, it would go something like this: Faith yay, Angelus nay, and Cordelia yawn. How we can go from a crackerjack scene involving Faith 'waking up' in a shower after her beat down in "Salvage" [4x13] to Angelus impotently posturing to a crowd of demons, while getting some moustache-twirling Cordelia in his head, is beyond my understanding. "Release" just can't stop oscillating back and forth, from interesting to irrelevant, like a ball bouncing between two walls until eventually there's no energy left and everything just stops.

So I think it's safe to say that this one's a bit of a mixed bag. On the up side it sure starts out well. Faith got pummeled by the Beast in "Salvage" [4x13] and, at first, shows little emotion when returning to Wesley's place -- she's numb; beaten. This feeling originates from a place of confusion about who exactly she is as a person now. Before his demise the Beast looked down on Faith, physically broken, and said, "This is all you are." In a way, he was right. We had previously discovered that once you stripped away the 'bad girl' identity -- built from her introduction in Season 3 of Buffy and exhausted in "Sanctuary" [1x19] -- Faith becomes directionless, still, and confused. When Wesley asks her if she's okay, her response -- "I'm sticky" -- confirms this confusion. While Faith may be right in claiming no permanent physical trauma, the same cannot be said for her identity.

Being in prison for three years has certainly given Faith plenty of time to do some heavy self-reflecting, but it's not until she's really gotten out in the world again that all this soul-searching has been put to the test. It's all too easy to fall back into old patterns and habits. In "Salvage" [4x13] Faith tried to just slip into the fray of things with an air of confidence. Unfortunately, the Beast strips all of that away. This forces her to begin the long process of figuring out just what she's made of in the world outside her head, and to face just how much she's really grown.

When Faith shakes off that numbness in Wesley's shower with a torrent of screams and punches, it provides a very necessary dose of catharsis for her -- it reawakens this very sense of self, even though she still has a ways to go to find out what's next. The scene is not only important, but it's also able to get some real emotion out of me. It's the kind of raw, intimate moment that I feel Buffy reaches more often than Angel, but is well done here in "Release." It really brings together great directing, acting that Eliza Dushku can be really proud of, music that weaves from blocked out tranquility to silence to the harsher sound of reality, and character insight. This is actually one of my very favorite smaller scenes of Angel altogether, believe it or not; I absolutely love it.

Considering how much I love the opening scene, imagine how deflating it is to see the scene that comes after it. In everything I know of Angelus I never got the impression that he was the type to go talking up a storm about his deeds to a random audience, let alone talking up something as wholly unimpressive as stabbing a walking rock in the back. In Buffy's "Fool for Love" (5x07) we see a flashback where Angelus says, "a real kill, a good kill: it takes pure artistry. Without that, we're just animals." He didn't need anyone's approval or applause for his actions and he never killed because "destruction is its own reward," as the Beastmaster implies, but rather to satiate his desire for creative torture, both physical and psychological. At least he still doesn't like being yanked around, even if that's exactly what happens to him.

Where the Angelus of Buffy was simultaneously charismatic, depraved, and scary, the Angelus of Angel is pretentious, fluffy, and impotent in comparison, not to mention excessively cartoony. This does a great disservice to an altered character that was once quite the spectacle to behold. For what was a long time coming on Angel (outside of flashbacks), Angelus really couldn't have been much more of a disappointment. The fake charm he shows Fred says it all: "Made in China," just like Angelus seems to be -- a product that looks real from a distance but on close inspection is much shallower and far less functional than the real thing.

Putting aside Angelus not being Angelus for a moment, much like Cordelia isn't Cordelia this season, the Beastmaster's fake booming voice having conversations in his head isn't exactly thrilling either. Since all of the Beastmaster's scheming adds up to a big pile of nothing, and we never even really find out why it has any interest in Angelus in the first place, all of the voice-in-head stuff rubs off as annoying and ultimately pointless.

In the scene with the shopkeeper, which features more cartoony posturing from Angelus, the Beastmaster tells something to him -- which he appears to agree with -- that really bothers me. The Beastmaster implies that Angelus is a conscious entity always awake and living inside Angel, but simply not in control of his body. Can I just say that this explanation is, to borrow a term from England, bollocks? Not only does it not make very much sense, and not only does it not track with what we've previously seen of both Angel and Angelus, but it's also just a whole lot less interesting than having to really explore what it means to have, and not have, a soul.

What I've always felt Angelus to be is Angel himself, but without any conscious and with an additional primal demonic impulse for evil. This is precisely why Angelus was infinitely more interesting in his stint on Buffy: even after losing his soul, he clearly still had a warped sense of love for Buffy, but instead of wanting to share that love and sacrifice for her, he used it as a weapon to get into her head and almost destroy her psychologically. He didn't lose the love he felt for Buffy after losing his soul, but rather felt a little shame in retaining those feelings, even wanting to punish Buffy for making him feel them. This is a much more complex exploration of Angelus and what he's capable of.

Angel Season 4 tries to sell this notion that, yeah, Angelus has Angel's memories, but he's really this entirely separate consciousness that is just forced to put up with Angel when the soul exists. The idea that Angelus is awake while Angel exists is ridiculous. This is not only less interesting, but it's also a colossal letdown over the personalized fireworks Angelus has given us in the past. Here, I never get the feeling that any part of Angel is actually in there – Angelus feels like a random vampire with a book of facts about the gang accessible to him.

Swinging the pendulum back to interesting is the duo of Wesley and Faith as they appear at the hotel. When Angelus appears and briefly takes Wesley hostage, Wesley is dead serious about Faith taking her shot regardless of the consequences to him. Faith shows hesitancy in pulling the trigger. While it's understandable, considering that Faith has spent the last three years trying to control her violent impulses and come to some kind of peace with herself and what she's done, Wesley's not wrong in needing to push her into regaining at least a little bit of that fire so she can beat Angelus. With that said, being "just as vicious as he is" probably isn't strictly necessary or right. Also, while I know the stakes seem high for the characters, the fact I know Angelus doesn't (and hasn't) accomplish(ed) anything kind of lowers my emotional investment in Faith's choices. Angel Season 4 really badly needed a "Passion" (Buffy, 2x17) of its own.

Faith's struggles spill over into a later part of the episode when she does a make-shift interrogation of a girl drugged out in the back of the bar Angelus was boasting in earlier. Not pushing the girl hard enough to get information, Wesley takes over and shocks Faith in just how detached from others he's become. The death of Lilah has pushed Wesley to be even more ruthless than he even was coming into the season. I find it fascinating to see Wesley and Faith in very different places than they were in back in Season 1. Wesley has become quite the lost one and Faith is the one speaking restraint. I particularly enjoy Wesley being quick to remind Faith of how she tortured him and using that to access her inner anger. Does she really need that anger in order to beat Angelus though? Not really, but I understand why Wesley thinks she does. And I like that Faith now has enough self-awareness to say no to Wesley's assertion. Faith says, "I'm not going to kill Angel, not after what he's done for me. There's got to be another way." Glad to hear it, Faith!

The huge fight sequence at the end of the episode is entertaining, for the most part, although I think it goes over the top a bit with the extreme jumps through the air and the loud 'swoosh' sound constantly playing. I guess it takes a shotgun to make Angelus a little bit scary now, because having it makes him the most dangerous he's felt the whole season. It's also great to know that all those reflective years in prison have, indeed, lead to some growth for Faith – she doesn't want to die anymore, which is obviously a big improvement for her! Sadly, this insight just leads Angelus to some more posturing and even some token maniacal laughter.

The one big problem of Angelus' taunting of Faith is that it isn't entirely viable information anymore. His jabs would have likely cut a lot deeper had this been a few years ago, but Faith is clearly a different person now. Instead of being insightful or cutting, Angelus is just repeating what we already know. The dialogue isn't clunky as much as it's just kind of pointless, which I can't help but feel is yet another waste of what Angelus is capable of and causes the episode to fizzle out a bit at the end. The actual ending, with Angelus biting Faith, is a somewhat surprising moment, but we quickly find out in the next episode that it's all part of a plan. That kind of takes some of the fun out of the moment in retrospect.

There are a couple other character threads that are slipped into the episode: the ending of Fred and Gunn's relationship 'drama' and Fred feeling pathetic letting Angelus intimidate her. In my review of "Habeas Corpses" [4x08] I made it clear how uninteresting I find Fred and Gunn together, and it just boils down to the fact that their relationship hasn't shown us anything new about these people. As for Fred's concern over being mousey, well, I can understand a little bit of this, but the writing has Fred go overboard with it. How did Angel "let" her live, for example? He had a fake charm and couldn't touch her. I do like Gunn's advice though: "look, if you really think you did something wrong, don't do it again."

To wrap this one up, "Release" has a few great character moments but is sadly bogged down by an underwhelming Angelus and a sluggish plot yanking the characters around like toys. Faith's presence is incredibly refreshing and welcome, and it provides the platform for some nice character development and insight. Angelus, on the other hand, is a posturing cartoon for most of the episode and never even comes close to the frightening figure he once was. In the background of all this we have a cardboard Cordelia-as-Beastmaster pulling all the strings while 'thrillingly' sitting on a bed for most of the episode. In the end, Wesley (per usual) and Faith salvage an otherwise fairly mundane episode.

Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+Gunn slipping in that no one's getting the 'warm and fuzzies' lately.
+Fred accidentally hitting Lorne with a tranquilizer dart, but then correcting herself by almost getting Angelus spot-on.
+Connor checking himself for fangs in the mirror, after getting rejected by the sanctuary spell.
+The show remembering that Faith really likes her knives.
  
-Speaking of cartoony villains, how about Cordelia in this episode? If only she had a moustache to twirl. And her relationship with Connor is still gallons of yuck.
74/100C+
Medium

DEPTH
Medium

EMOTION
Medium

CHARACTER
Low

PLOT
Quotes
LORNE:(frowning, staring at the gun) Did I mention that the only shots I'm good at involve Tequila?

CONNOR:Thought you were more of a Taser girl.

FAITH:Squeaky clean. Let's blow. (Wesley just stares at her; Faith shrugs) Right. Uh, sorry about your bathroom. Come on, let's do it.
WESLEY:I'm not worried about the bathroom. Although I'm fairly sure my security deposit's a complete loss.

ANGELUS:(throwing glasses away) These aren't helping. (stands, walks toward the shopkeeper) Half of this crap is written in some archaic proto-demon-cuneiform, and I don't want to be rude, but I think the other half they just doodled.

ANGELUS:Gotta do better than that, Wes. Come on, I'll give you one more… Strike three! Uh-oh. Vampire with a gun! I can see why he likes this thing.

FAITH:Screw you.
ANGELUS:Maybe after. I like my girls to lie still. (calls over to Wes) Hey, buddy, how's it goin' in there? Good old Wes. Always count on him to tackle a bad situation and make it worse. I mean, hey, look how you turned out. But then again, I guess he really didn't have much to work with now.


Comments (15)
All Comments | Link1 | Iguana-on-a-stickNov 14, 2011 @ 1:55am
Excellent review. I feel you really caught the essence of this episode in a relatively short description. The good, the bad, the boring.

Faith and Wesley are amazing. This must be -the- most messed up relationship on either show. (I think they beat out even Illyria and Wesley because here the screwed-upness is more of a two-way street.) It's both the watcher-slayer relationship at its very best (Have we ever seen a slayer and her Watcher more in sync than in this episode?)and the greatest deconstruction thereof because we know what these two are to each other and what they have done to each other.

It's one of those times where the Whedonverse demonstrates that continuity done well adds so very much to a story. Taken as a snap shot these two wouldn't be too far out of place in a dark buddy-cop movie. What elevates their interaction beyond that is that we've seen both their histories play out over the years and know just why they relate the way they do.

And at the same time this contrast makes all the more clear why Angel's arc fails. I hadn't realised it until I read this review but I think you're right: he feels like a generic vampire with a taunt-book.

Even the Ezros demon in "I've got you under my skin" did the psychological mind-games so much better. And that -was- a complete stranger. The biggest disappointment of the season.
All Comments | Link2 | AlexNov 14, 2011 @ 2:28am
Great review Mike (of course) and it's lovely to see the ACP rolling along with two new reviews in the space of a week! Always nice to have something fun to read on a Monday morning.

I agree with absolutely everything you've said here - except maybe for the part about Gunn and Fred being uninteresting, but that's not important. In fact I think the good/bad point of this episode pretty much encapsulate good/bad of the entire season for me. Wesley and Faith: both amazing. Angelus and Cordelia: utter bollocks (great choice of word, by the way).

The Angelus of AtS really is just a cartoon villain. There's no finesse or intelligence to him whatsoever. He seems so far removed from the Angelus who carefully orchestrated Jenny's death in 'Passion' and knew exactly how to torment Buffy throughout the second half of BtVS Season 2. It's so disappointing. The best bad guys of the Buffyverse, or indeed of any story, will always have some charisma, some intelligence, perhaps even some shades of grey in their characters. This Angelus has none of these. My favourite Buffyverse villain will always be The Mayor, for those reasons - he's actually interesting to watch and not just 'a monster' like the Master, for example. But I digress.

And I could talk at length about Evil Cordy, but it just feels like a waste of breath to be honest, as I imagine we all feel pretty much the same way about her. Lorne pretty much sums it up for me when he says 'Cordy just mua-ha-ha-ed at us'. Yeah, exactly.

By the way, that screencap of Faith in the shower is excellent. Really harrowing to look at.
All Comments | Link3 | buffyholicNov 14, 2011 @ 8:01am
Really good review, mike. And I also need to express my disappointment over Angelus not only on this episode but in the season.
And what a nice surprise it is to read another Angel review! Great way to start the week.
All Comments | Link4 | MikeJer | CREATOR/WRITERNov 14, 2011 @ 11:29am
Thanks for the comments, all.

Iguana: Totally agree with your comparison to the Ezros demon and the contrast between Wesley/Faith and Angelus in terms of the use of continuity.

Alex: Angelus' lack of finesse shown here is sad. It's just such a waste.

On the up side, I think I'll finally have a better episode to review next time in "Home." :)
All Comments | Link5 | BenNov 14, 2011 @ 2:12pm
Excellent review, Mike! I agree with your view of the episode. The Faith/Wesley stuff is an absolute joy to watch and those scenes are some of the best of the series, but the Angelus stuff is just such a huge disappointment and also the biggest disappointment of the season, for me. He's a completely different character here. I like Jasdelia a bit more than you do but all in all, I agree that she's mostly a waste and boring here.

I'd probably rate the episode a little bit higher if only because I think the last five to ten minutes are exceptional. I honestly think that the huge fight scene at the end is one of Angel's best and it's just so exciting and one of the only times in season 4 where I think Angelus is an actual threat (the only other times being some parts of "Soulless" and the end of "Calvary"). I actually think Angelus' taunting here works really well because Faith may have changed, but she still has that darkness in her and I don't know if she's really made that final step to fight for good yet. Her screaming "NO!" at Angelus' question, "Do you still want to die?" is a really powerful moment, in my opinion, and Eliza Dushku acts the hell out of it. I love that moment almost as much as the shower scene and think that's a real turning point for her. Of course, the rest of the fight is incredibly tense and exciting, and the cliffhanger literally made me gasp the first time I saw it. So, I'd probably give it a few more points (maybe an 80) because even though the Angelus and Jasdelia stuff is not good at all, the Wesley and Faith stuff is really some of the best of the series.
All Comments | Link6 | fray-adjacentNov 26, 2011 @ 11:16am
Great review! I pretty much completely agree with your take on the episode, as well as Iguana and Alex's comments. This must have been a tough episode to score, given the top-notch Faith and Wes scenes and the boring/hokey Angelus and Cordy scenes.
All Comments | Link7 | KristenJan 23, 2012 @ 10:13am
First thoughts on this episode: "Yay! Andy Hallet made the opening credits!" Followed immediately by: "Oh no, Lorne must get killed this episode."

Thankfully, ME didn't follow their own cruel history there, and Lorne made it out alive.

Unfortunately, the plot didn't.

Mike, your account of what happened with Faith in the shower is so much more than I realized was going on. I just thought it was her frustrations finally coming to a head. Nuff said. But you really found a far more compelling way to read the meaning in the scene. Would that you were writing this season of Angel.

I really can't stress enough how confused I am about Angelus. There's no way that the writers, show runners, heck even the actors, don't understand the character better than this! A huge mistake like "Angelus is always there inside you" can almost be fanwanked away: Cordelia/Beastmaster doesn't necessarily know what the deal is, and Angelus has more important things to do than set the voice in his head straight. (Although, the way these episodes are being written, no, he really doesn't.)

But the rest of his behavior...?? Drinking in a cheap demon bar. Wha?!?! Angelus HATES other idiot vampires! Is he EVER going to kill anyone?! Is he ever gonna shut up?!?!

The writing on the Fred and Gunn moments of the past five or six episodes have been confusing for me, too. I thought that the Cordelia/Gru breakup was handled very well. Cordelia had no idea what message she was sending Gru. But we got to repeatedly see him get disappointed when she repeatedly chose Angel over him. When he decides to leave, it makes sense, seems right, and still stings with emotion. We really feel like Cordy is hurt, even if she is actually in love with Angel instead of Gru.

Fred and Gunn started down that path in the post-Professor-killing episode. Awkwardness around one another, a lack of connecting. But then Gunn just got pissy and aggressively unemotive. (And most of his angry/upset comments have been about them not having sex...which makes him just seem like a real macho ass.) Then the weird unnecessary Wesley kiss (what would have prompted him to do that? He's always wanted to protect Fred more than anything) and then...well, I don't understand Fred's behavior at all. Are we supposed to think that she doesn't want to be with Gunn? Did I miss some conversation where she actually said that she minds that he killed the prof? We got the one line before it all happened with "Charles could never do that, and that's why I love him." But...is that really all we're gonna get to convince us that his actions cause her to stop loving him? Because, really, it seemed at the time of the killing that she was actually more upset with him for stealing her thunder.

As for this episode being the real end of their relationship, I didn't grok that at all! Xander and Anya with the one-last-time in the basement; that I got. This one just seemed like Fred trying to sort of awkwardly seduce Gunn, and Gunn wimping out and closing off his emotions. Neither of them seemed to be acting true to character. So...where in that was the obvious end?

Anyhow, I think it's safe to say that I just really don't like this episode. I finally stopped even paying attention during the umpteenth impotent Angelus fight scene at the end. Who cares anymore? If the writers and staff don't care about these characters, why should I?
All Comments | Link8 | DaveNov 21, 2012 @ 11:12pm
Replying to Kristen (#7)
- QUOTE -
- QUOTE -
"Yay! Andy Hallet made the opening credits!" Followed immediately by: "Oh no, Lorne must get killed this episode."


Exactly what I thought.
All Comments | Link9 | Ryan ONeilNov 22, 2012 @ 7:53am
Kristen, your shirt...
All Comments | Link10 | Miss JayFeb 15, 2013 @ 1:00pm
In response to Kristen who will probably never read this, we get a line in one of last few the episodes about how Gunn took the choice away from Fred by doing it himself. Still not great, but it's what they give us. I tend to think both of them are so uncomfortable with what they did, (or were prepared to do in Fred's case) they can't be comfortable with each other or intimate in any sense of the word. They see the other person and they see guilt and shame of their own actions. Gunn can't find forgiveness from Fred because she hasn't forgiven herself and so has none to offer. And vice versa. Instead of the shared experience bringing them together, it drives them apart. None of this is really explicitly shown in any dialogue of course . . . just my personal take on what it could be.

Surprised no one mentioned Angelus's one intelligent observation. When he has Wes hostage he says "All about choices, Faith. The ones we make and the ones we don't. Oh and the consequences. Those are always fun. Hmmm?" This flat out states a HUGE recurring theme in both BtVS & AtS. I especially like how he puts it, not just the choices we make, but also the ones we don't.
All Comments | Link11 | MikeJer | CREATOR/WRITERFeb 15, 2013 @ 3:36pm
Replying to Miss Jay (#10)
The cheese in which it's said kind of spoils any attempt at a point for me.
All Comments | Link12 | Miss JayFeb 16, 2013 @ 8:13am
It may eliminate any serious impact, but I don't think it automaticaly negates the value or truth of the statement.
All Comments | Link13 | BirthJun 16, 2013 @ 2:31am
Wes + Faith: Great

Angel + Faith (Ending): Exciting and I liked his taunting. Finding out Faith had finally accepted herself as simply a lost soul who is inherently good when you find out it was all an act was satisfying imo.

Angel + possessed Cordelia: ...why? Just plain why. Like someone said, how not one of the writers, directors, actors, or even Joss himself (as I'm sure he took a look at the script) did not see how awkward and out of character it was for Angelus is beyond me. Then... the cheesy voice in his head. I digress.

Probably an 80-85 for me. The great scenes elevate it enough to a higher score for me despite some of the worst in either series.
All Comments | Link14 | nathan.taurusNov 9, 2014 @ 4:55pm
About the Angel/Angelus thing. In 'The Dark Age' it was shown that the demon in Liam is still awake even though Angel has the soul as it killed Eyghon the Sleepwalker. The demon takes over Liam's body and then he gets his soul back but the demon is still inside, it cannot go away as he is still a vampire.

Love all the Wesley and Faith bits and the great fight between the three.
All Comments | Link15 | UniAug 31, 2016 @ 5:19pm
When Wes is scarier than Angelus, you just know that they messed up somewhere during the writing process.
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