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4x20: "Sacrifice"
Review by Sue Carter
Posted on October 9, 2012
Writer: Ben Edlund | Director: David Straiton | Air Date: 04/23/2003

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

Lines are drawn and difficult choices are made in "Sacrifice," as the Angel Investigations team goes on the run to escape Jasmine. There are a few compelling scenes and some interesting dynamics, but the heavy-handed themes, continuity errors and overused tropes undermine it all.

"Sacrifice" does successfully move the season's plot forward towards resolution. Team Angel, minus Connor and Cordelia, are now united and have a clear purpose for the first time this year. Against all odds, they need to stop Jasmine from spreading her mind-control mojo and taking over the world. They have no weapons, technology, leads, supplies or gas but by the end of the episode they have a chance for success. To get to that point, however, requires an unambiguous deus ex machina in the form of an insectoid true believer who has the key to bringing down Jasmine. It's not unreasonable that Jasmine might have tried world domination elsewhere; it's not unreasonable that her followers would feel bereft and try to find her. What is unreasonable is that the sole alien trying to get her attention is in the very same sewer system the fugitives stumble across. And the alien conveniently lets slip that Jasmine's power is broken by speaking her true name. He also provides the means to obtain that true name. It's clumsy at best, and appears to be a massive shortcut.

Another shortcut is the paint-by-numbers trope usage. The "I Know Your True Name" solution is an overused trope. It's almost as if the writers boxed themselves into a corner, and then just pulled out a bag of tropes to get to the end of the season. Other tropes used are "You Will Be Assimilated" and "Refuge with the Scrappy Survivors" used in so many dystopian future stories. We can forgive the use of the "Blood is the Key" trope, as this is basic to the Buffyverse and to be expected. They lampshade themselves with Gunn yelling "time for the big fight scene!" as Connor and the National Guard start to break down the door, so at least they recognize that they are doing a paint-by-numbers plot. What's disappointing, however, is that after a compelling and massive arc through all of Season 4, which has been arguably building all the way back from Darla's resurrection in "To Shanshu in LA" [1x22], they leave the mechanics of the solution to Tropes 101.

It's not hard to see the root cause of the problems in this episode. The writer is Ben Edlund, one of several Firefly refugees used on Angel in the months immediately following Firefly's cancellation. Although he goes on to write more Angel episodes, this is his first for the series. The director is David Straiton who had two previous Angel episodes under his belt a few years prior, but feels more like freelance support than a member of the Mutant Enemy team. With all the behind the scenes disruptions in the Mutant Enemy productions, "Sacrifice" seems to have gotten very little attention from long-term players. This is also evident in the very heavy handed use of the "sacrifice" theme. Watching the episode, we see Edlund use the drumbeat of "sacrifice" for most of the major players over and over again, almost as if he was given a brief outline of the show, told to write a thesis paper on the concept of sacrifice, and given only a few days to do it. It's a little obvious. Still, it's not a complete failure. There are some interesting insights to be pulled out and, with the exception of one debatable continuity issue, Edlund gets the point across that to beat Jasmine they must all be prepared to sacrifice something.

Running through the characters, in order, we see this sacrifice theme hammered home. First up is Connor. He sacrifices his dysfunctional and often hostile family to cling to the sense of belonging with Jasmine and Cordelia. We don't find out until the next episode that he already knows it's a lie, but this choice to sacrifice his connection to Angel for a more comfortable lie is pretty significant in retrospect. Angel, of course, first offers to sacrifice himself so the others can escape. More important is his decision to sacrifice Connor and Cordelia to the Jasmaniacs. Angel didn't understand that Connor wasn't under the same influence that the rest were.

The decision to leave Connor behind is debatable from a continuity perspective. Angel moved "heaven and targna" to get Connor back, stormed the zombie infested Wolfram and Hart to rescue him, and now he leaves him with Jasmine? Angel is not a very good father from a practical perspective; he appears to focus on physical safety with no clue about preventing the emotional damage being done. But there is no doubt that Angel is utterly devoted to Connor, even when he fumbles in some of his decision making. Furthermore, when he leaves Connor behind, he brutally pummels him until he's unconscious, and then unceremoniously throws his body out of the window and drags it off the hood of his car.

It's likely Edlund was trying to portray Angel's brutality as a sign of how traumatic this was for him, but to the casual observer it simply looks brutal, and probably contributes to Connor's disbelief that Angel loves him. So while the decision makes sense from a practical perspective, Angel has shown in the past that he's willing to sacrifice the world, and all his morals, for both Connor and Cordelia. Although Angel somewhat explains his rationale later, it seems like either having dialog specifically saying he made the choice to put the world ahead of those he loves, or that this is the best chance his loved ones have, would have synched up better with previous episodes. It's similar to Buffy's inexplicable comment in Season 7 that she would now sacrifice Dawn to save the world. If the main protagonist is going to change their primary motivation, we need a little more rationale.

A more interesting sacrifice is what Fred and Gunn experience as they go after Matthew. They actually hunt down and knock an innocent kid unconscious in an effort to protect the team. Furthermore, when Angel said that they might have to kill innocents, Gunn responds with "Believe me, I'm there." This is some cold-hearted decision making that, while understandable, nudge the characters further down a dark path in terms of what they are willing to do. The action thankfully causes Fred and Gunn to take a moment to evaluate these doubts. They also effectively link the dilemma they're facing to guilt regarding Professor Seidel in "Supersymmetry" [4x05]. It was about time that was brought up again, and Fred's statement that she'd take gnawing guilt over being an uncaring shell is the right counter argument to Angel's "shut down your emotions" plan. Ultimately they drag Matthew back, but at least they know what they are doing is fundamentally not what the good guys are supposed to be doing. Angel gets that it's wrong but seems to have accepted that he does wrong things for the right reasons. In fact, Angel proves this again as he later mind-rapes everyone in "Home" [4x22] to save Connor.

The insect creature's sacrifice, however, is more literal. It is also extremely reductive, but still a somewhat sly parody of a central Christian religious belief. We first have to endure the broken English alien ranting about missing Jasmine and trying to get her back. Wes, no stranger to the broken English trope, is able to successfully engage the creature to reveal his secret regarding the significance of Jasmine's true name. The gory vampire torture in the background is fairly humorous under the circumstances (as the vampire is not screaming in pain and just seems mostly annoyed), and it breaks up an exposition heavy scene. It's also showing a literal sacrifice, just in case we forgot the title of the episode. Once again it's all about blood. Blood magic is much more powerful than "talky word magic."

That's Buffyverse canon and Wesley is quick to see how this may support finding a solution to their problem. The parody comes with the insects' final words, "Devourer this meat I give unto thee." That's pretty close to the intent and words of the Last Supper, and having an insect perform the same function seems designed to trivialize central Christian beliefs. It plays well in the overall theme of Season 4, which has Jasmine icons being put up in Catholic Churches and the Jasmaniacs being mindless worshippers to a god walking among them. Whedon rarely directly confronts religion, and in Buffy Season 7, when Holden asks if there's proof God exists, Buffy says "nothing solid." The Jasmine arc clearly uses parody to suggest that people are looking for something divine to make their lives more meaningful, and are easily led. Sure he puts the characters under mind control, but the message seems reasonably clear. Accepting or rejecting the parody is left as an exercise for the audience again.

Despite the overused tropes, deus ex machina solution, and constant hammering of the episode's theme, there are some excellent character insights in this episode along with the usual funny gems of dialog. All of Team Angel stumbles through "Sacrifice" still suffering from the loss of Jasmine's love. Wesley states it best: "I miss the warmth and knowing what's right." These characters have all had too much misery, and giving up those good feelings and taking back their misery is very difficult. Conversely, Connor's plight is that he can't give up his misery in the first place. When Jasmine senses this, it's obvious Connor is sincere in his desire to give up all his pain and just be happy with Jasmine. This is a kid so dead inside he barely flinches when she gouges her nails into him. It seems for a moment that she succeeds when he later speaks with her voice, but we find out next episode that this is not the case. It's also confusing when he seems to respond to the glowy Jasmine effect. It's almost as if he feels something, but yet not enough for it to take away his reality. Connor also shows how alone he is when his main source of comfort is to sit next to a comatose Cordelia. This is his family now: Jasmine who is busy taking over the planet and Coma Cordy. He doesn't seem to have much use for the rest of the Jasmaniacs.

Jasmine's characterization really suffers in this episode. The dissolve from mullet-head laughing to Gina Torres cackling like Snidely Whiplash is all wrong. It's a clever turn of events to have the apocalypse be a world takeover plot which brings world peace. The cleverness is ruined when the Big Bad does an insane laugh for 30 seconds. This is repeated at the end when Jasmine takes on and heals the wounds of her followers while once again laughing maniacally. Character continuity is lost from "The Magic Bullet" [4x19] as Jasmine looks petty, not powerful. Except for the knowledge that Jasmine can remotely heal her followers, there's no value-added to this scene.

The dialog gems will be covered below but this episode is another example of why Lorne is vital to the show. Without Lorne's constant bon mots to give us a chuckle, the Sturm und Drang is overpowering in Season 4. And Andy Hallet does so well in this role. We understand Lorne is neither a fool, a drunk nor naturally bubbly. Lorne is an entertainer and keeps everyone going, but also lets us know he's feeling some pain. If any crew needed a cruise director, it's Team Angel.

The production value of this episode is not up to par with much of the rest of the season. Most of the episode takes place in an improbable cavernous sewer. The insect creature is very well done but the final shot of the alien world is 1950's B-movie horror film bad. And it's not a scene meant to illicit laughter. Team Angel has made the final sacrifice in the episode to hold off an overwhelming force, while Angel leaps to this place that only he can go to. Like Buffy's big reveal of the massive army under the Hellmouth, this shot is supposed to inspire awe. Instead it takes the viewer out of the action because it's just so cheesy. This is one of those directing/editing choices that was a misstep. If you can't pull off the CGI, use a different approach. Take Angel out of the shot and use a matt painting or end it with a look of horror on his part and push it to the next episode's reveal. It undermines the ending of the episode to have an obvious green screen fuzzy alien landscape with CGI monsters be the big cliffhanger.

Ultimately the episode services the season long plot by providing the solution to defeating the Big Bad. The team-on-the-run story is not particularly engaging nor is the hammered home theme-du-jour. This episode looks like it was handed off to people generally not involved in the show, and they did their best with the notes provided. It lacks the finesse of many of the previous episodes, but still provides the setup for the major events in "Peace Out" [4x21]. A few character insights are supplied, but in general this is not an episode that warrants multiple re-watches for entertainment value.

Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+The Fred and Gunn conversation regarding Professor Seidel, and the morality they are struggling with, is excellent. After the difficult-to-watch love triangle, this feels like a better resolution to their love story. They are back to supporting each other on a personal level as friends and doing what is required for the mission.
+Jasmine as Oprah continues, along with the some relationship moments with Connor. She's wooing him with words and ideals, not just mojo.
+Everyone speaking with Jasmine's voice is a very nicely done creepy touch, especially when it comes out of the mouths of children.
+Having a group of people still suffering from permanent midnight and unaware of the regime change was a nice continuity nod that reminds us how rapidly this season progresses.
+Although somewhat out of character, the brutality of Angel beating Connor unconscious and the way his body just splats onto the roof of the car is effectively shocking. It neatly sets up Angel going stone cold for the rest of the episode.
  
-The gas station visit is irritating. The dystopian future trope playbook says you siphon gas from other cars, not make a splashy move to get gas from a gas station and thus draw the attention of the enemy. It's annoying when Team Angel is dumb.
-Of all the sewers in all of L.A., Gunn runs into someone he knows?
-With all their blood lore, they didn't see Connor being unaffected as a likely outcome? They seem to ignore that he's Jasmine's father. And why didn't it occur to them to tie him up and take him in the trunk, since obviously there was something different about Connor's blood? Team Angel is pretty slow on the uptake here.
Foreshadowing
  • This foreshadows Lorne's self-appointed role as permanent cruise director in "Life of the Party" [5x05].
  • Connor's different relationship with Jasmine is foreshadowed here as he noticeably hesitates to follow her direction, debates her strategy and struggles with giving her his pain. Connor also tells Angel "You're wrong Dad" after Angel says Jasmine is controlling him. Team Angel is clueless.
  • Given the events of "Shells" [5x16], listening to Fred talk about not wanting to be an empty shell is painful.
  • Team Angel against the world, making the hard calls and sacrifices to save the world from overwhelming evil, sets the stage for them later deciding they can take over Wolfram and Hart in Season 5. They think they've walked this moral grey line before, based on "Sacrifice," and that they are qualified to make these decisions.
70/100C+
Medium

DEPTH
Low

EMOTION
Medium

CHARACTER
Low

PLOT
Quotes
LORNE:Anyone else feel like the last feisty wife in Stepford?

LORNE:Soccer Mom, 12 o'clock!

ANGEL:You know what, I don't know what we're going to do Gunn. I don't have a plan. Now I guess this whole Jasmine world order thing kinda took me by surprise.
GUNN:Well I ain't eating no rats.
ANGEL:Good. Neither am I.
GUNN:Alright then, plan's coming together.

ANGEL:Glad to see you're on board.

ANGEL:If we don't gut ourselves and burn out everything inside that gave her power over us, then we're lost.
LORNE:Jawohl (responding to Angel)


Comments (16)
All Comments | Link1 | buffyholicOct 10, 2012 @ 2:04am
Good review, Sue. You underlined all that needed to be said about the episode. I have to say that this is one of my least favorite and I actually feel unnecessary to season four.
All Comments | Link2 | Iguana-on-a-stickOct 10, 2012 @ 5:01am
Unfortunately I remember very little about this episode. I vaguely recall not wanting to see it again and skipping it on rewatching. Now at least I remember why.

I have to say though, that you write "they use the so-and-so-trope, and then the this-and-that trope, but the characters fail to recognise the which-and-what trope" a -lot-. Most of the time I can figure out what you're referring to, but it's a bit off-putting.

And what is "Targna?" Is it a word used in the episode? I can't find it in the Buffyverse Dialogue Database.

Still, I like your thoughts on Lorne and your statement about this episode featuring in the gang's decision to joing W&H kind of makes me want to watch it again to see if I can see it too.
All Comments | Link3 | fray-adjacentOct 10, 2012 @ 9:27am
Nice review! It's funny to see how different people react to elements of television and movies. I seem to notice character and theme tropes much more readily than plot tropes (it's rare for me to figure out the plot ahead of time, even for so-called "predictable" episodes). So I hadn't noticed the tropes you point out. But you make good points. Like Buffyholic and Iguana, I didn't remember this episode favorably, and you spelled out why.

For me, the most tiresome trope in this part of the series is the theme that the only way to world peace is through extreme authoritarian social control. It's one of the things I dislike most about the Jasmine arc, though there are plenty of other things to dislike as well.

Totally agree with you on Lorne. The guy's key to the (re)-watchability of this show in S4.
All Comments | Link4 | SueBOct 10, 2012 @ 10:51am
"move heaven and targna" was what Groo said in Benediction.

Sorry the tropes put you off. If you want to waste 8 hrs, hit the TV Tropes and Idioms website if you haven't seen these used before and are curious. The point I was trying to make is that plot devices like the name is power is a very often used device. Most of the plot twists and turns were very common ones.

The connection to the gang and S5 is how high the stakes are and how they are willing to sacrifice innocents for the greater good. Wesley and Angel have made these calls before but not Fred and Gunn. And putting them all as the sole defenders of the city sort of gives them an unintended ego boost --- like they've made the decision for the city what is best for them before, they do it over and over again in S5. I hope that makes sense.
All Comments | Link5 | SueBOct 10, 2012 @ 10:55am
Replying to buffyholic (#1)
"I have to say that this is one of my least favorite and I actually feel unnecessary to season four."

Perhaps that's why it was the last one to be picked up for review! Thanks for the feedback.

@fray-adjacent:
And I always miss the character tropes. And yes, this episode is a plodder, you have to trudge your way through it on a S4 re-watch.
All Comments | Link6 | AlexOct 15, 2012 @ 2:30am
Very nice review, Sue. I really like the way you write, and it's interesting that you examined some of the behind-the-scenes stuff for this episode. I very rarely pay attention to who's writing or directing a particular episode; I can probably tell you which ones Joss wrote or directed, but that's about it. It's interesting to hear that this episode was handled by relative newcomers, and I think you're write to make the connection between that fact and the overuse of cliches and tropes. It does have a rather paint-by-numbers feel.

I do agree with Iguana about the references to various tropes, though. I know that we have a lot of people on this site who are regulars on the TV tropes website, and as someone who isn't really that familiar with those things I find it really interesting to hear how different tropes apply to this show, and how they compare to other TV shows or films. But because we're not all very familiar with the tropes or their particular names, I think you need to be a bit careful about just saying "the Such-and-Such trope", without expanding on what that actually means. I didn't find it too distracting though, as there's only one paragraph where you really make a lot of those references.

This is the episode that ruins the Jasmine story for me. I really liked the way it started out and felt that it was a brave move to have Angel and co. battling 'world peace'. But that idea was over too quickly - there was never really any question of them not trying to defeat Jasmine. I wanted more moral ambiguity. I wanted it to be a really tough choice for them to go up against Jasmine, knowing that some people really were better off under Jasmine's regime. But by the time this episode rolls around, she's just another Big Bad, cackling maniacally like a lunatic and not really retaining any of her former charisma. She improves again once her spell is broken in the next episode and I almost feel sorry for her, but it's too little, too late.
All Comments | Link7 | SueBOct 15, 2012 @ 3:23pm
Replying to Alex (#6)
Thanks for the feedback.

This episode was so...off, I felt something had to be driving it. As soon as I looked at the freelance director combined with newbie writer it made more sense to me.

If you look at Whedonworld at this time (presumably late winter/early spring), they are reeling from the dramarama at Firefly, trying to wrap their first love (Buffy) and trying to save Angel from the network ax. The distraction really shows IMO.
All Comments | Link8 | DomMar 13, 2014 @ 5:40am
I actually though that Jasmine laughs were very creepy and scary. I disagree here with your review and think this is important for the viewers to see just how evil she is...this is what the scenes are for. Also I disagree that they could have stolen the gas easier than on a gas station. Really? How? Taking gas from another car is also not so easy and quickly done, I think the gas station is the quicker solution. I loved the scene at the gas station, it was different, had something from a road movie.
I agree with you that the scene, where Angel is in the parallel world in the end is too cheesy and technically not well done. It would have been better to let this be open to imagination, also I agree that it is a bit funny and strange that Gunn happens to know people everywhere (esp if they are black).
All Comments | Link9 | Freudian Vampire Mar 13, 2014 @ 10:46am
Replying to Dom (#8)
Surely you can establish a character is evil without them having to do the corny cackle of doom, though. There's quite a few legitimately scary villains in the Buffyverse, and not once did they have to resort to those kind of measures to get the point across.
All Comments | Link10 | DobianAug 27, 2014 @ 10:38am
"Soccer mom, 12 o'clock" just might be my favorite line of the whole series. I burst out laughing. And this episode again reaffirms why I hate Connor so much.
All Comments | Link11 | naossFeb 25, 2015 @ 9:35am
From what i read, i don't get why this episode has a better score than the two previous one...
All Comments | Link12 | LouisLittForEmperorFeb 25, 2015 @ 10:00am
These reviews were written by different people at different times so obviously there are going to be different standards.
All Comments | Link13 | naossFeb 25, 2015 @ 3:22pm
Maybe, but for the scores to make sense, it has to be taken into account with the same standards. Someone should probably check those score and correct them according to the review. Here, the review seems to empaphis a loss of quality compared to the two previous ones. Yet, the score is higher. If it stays like that, the score lose all its meaning.
All Comments | Link14 | KyleFeb 25, 2015 @ 6:16pm
Replying to naoss (#13)
I think you'll find that the reviewers on this site place only a very small emphasis on the score. What matters to them (and to me) is the analysis.

Also the scoring is too subjective for there to be any standard, in my opinion.
All Comments | Link15 | MikeJer | CREATOR/WRITERFeb 25, 2015 @ 6:55pm
Replying to naoss (#13)
The Angel reviews from 1x01 to 4x04 were written by the same person. Unfortunately, he quit reviewing. So all the reviews after 4x04 were written by contributors from this community. This method of completing the reviews was certainly not ideal, but remained the only feasible solution. It was about making the best out of a bad situation.

Your annoyance with the inconsistency in analysis and grading from episode-to-episode is understandable, but the problem is unique to only these late Angel reviews. Personally, I think the reviews came out quite good considering the circumstances. At the end of the day, like Kyle suggested, scores are just scores -- the analysis is what matters.
All Comments | Link16 | PaigeAug 19, 2015 @ 5:54pm
Why on earth were the National Guard at the end fighting with sticks and swords? The first shot of them shows them coming down the hall with guns, then in the fight at the episode close they seem to be attacking the remaining Angel gang with staves. It really is bizarre and frankly comical.
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