Hey, Salty Goodness.
When it comes to Angel's looks,
Cordy's got it right.
Okay, so I'm officially BACK with Buffy, She Bloggo, and... I wish I'd left off with another episode other than "Angel." It's not that I don't like "Angel" (or Angel, for that matter) -- I just... it's all about a Buffy love interest and teen romance feelings, and that's rarely what I find most interesting about any narrative. More still, "Angel" brings the Master and the Anointed One to the villainous forefront again, which basically feels like a whole lot of wasted screentime (especially knowing how underwhelmingly their opposition plays out). It's really Darla who does anything of value to create external conflict in the episode, which helps to bring out the real issues in a Buffy-Angel romance.
In fact, "Angel" effectively manifests an idea that isn't quite so overt until later episodes: feelings are bad. Feelings are complicated! Relationships will never be easy on a Joss Whedon show, and "Angel" demonstrates the stirrings of that truth. Where "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date" showed the difficulty for Buffy to have a normal dating life, "Angel" really solidifies the idea that feelings are pretty much nothing but trouble for these characters in their heightened supernatural circumstances. Or rather, it signals to the audience that the big sources of conflict will always be tangled up with complicated emotions.
For example: Buffy's feelings for Angel complicate her duty to stake him, and she shoulders the guilt about Joyce's bite. Angel's feelings for Buffy complicate his ability to protect her from a distance. And, notably, Darla's feelings for Angel complicate her evil plan, as she's not anticipating that he's going to, well, stake her. "Angel" also serves up clear reminders that Willow's feelings for Xander and Xander's feelings for Buffy are still simmering beneath the surface, bound to have negative consequences. Feelings, feelings everywhere! And they're all doomed.
Speaking of doomed, "Angel" also reveals that Angel is a 240-year-old vampire cursed by gypsies to have his soul intact, left to turmoil between his desire to hunt and his will to keep humanity. Obviously, this is setup for a huge source of conflict, for Angel himself, as well as Buffy's relationship with him. Since they have gooey doomed feelings for one another, this can't end well. Like Willow said - think of the kids! So, naturally, by the end of the episode, Angel endures a burning cross on his chest, simply because he gets to be close to Buffy. And the question stands: will they get closer yet, or will the inherent complications in their roles as vampire and Slayer keep them apart? After all, "Angel" finds Buffy and Angel both making out and physically sparring. It's not gonna be simple.
Of course, Buffy represents, to Angel, another dichotomy. It's not just Slayer vs. vampire, it's human vs. demon. Angel is trapped between worlds; he walks like a man, but he isn't one. It's a smart device to introduce Darla as an important figure from Angel's past, as she represents his vampire self trying to pull him back from the light. (Or burn him with it, as it were.) The core conflict for Angel is on full display in this episode, and it will fuel his existence as long as he's cursed. Will he stand by his human soul or his demon impulses? And so, "Angel" externalizes that conflict as Buffy and Darla face off, blonde v. blonde, human v. demon, two women pulling Angel in opposite directions. But it has to be Angel that stakes Darla, thereby signalling to Buffy and the audience that he's made his choice. It's Buffy, it's light, it's humanity. Now kiss!
Something that's jarring about "Angel," having watched the complete series, is the fact that Darla uses guns to go after Buffy. We don't often see guns on Buffy; the weaponry tends to trade in stakes and crossbows and the occasional hacking device. Guns don't quite fit in on a supernatural show, and when guns are used, it's done so with an underscore on this point. Yet Darla uses two guns with seemingly endless ammunition, intending to blow Buffy to pieces and claim Angel as her own again. Honestly, I don't read too much into it, as "Angel" is still early in the series and the show is still defining its rules and boundaries. Hell, the episode kills Darla off before she's made completely useful in the narrative, and (spoiler alert) they have to bring her back for story fodder on Angel. (The series, not the character. Or episode. This is confusing.) So the use of guns appears to be a glitch in the pattern, since the pattern hasn't even been established yet.
To be honest, "Angel" plays now as a somewhat dull episode, thanks to hindsight. It sets up a lot of future conflict with Angel's backstory, and continues the season 1 arc with the Master and the Anointed, but since we know where these things go, it's not quite entertaining enough to be of rewatching interest. But it's an important episode in showing the early stirrings of how emotions will always complicate on this show, and further demonstrating that things aren't going to be easy for the inevitable feelings that will happen in a supernatural narrative.