If the previous episode covered the character introduction aspect of preparing for the second season arc, then this episode covers the plot aspect. Not only does it bring Wolfram and Hart back as a primary antagonist, something missing from much of the first season, it sets the stage for the plot elements that drive Angel’s conflict. This is especially true in terms of Angel’s growing frustration with the struggle against evil.
This episode also goes a long way towards demonstrating why Angel’s decision to support Faith’s turnaround was so important. Angel showed a great deal of patience and fortitude to stand against several threats (and Buffy, for that matter) to protect someone who tried, hours earlier, to kill him and his friends. Yet, in the end, did it bring him any closer to a sense of accomplishment?
Angel wearies of the battle, because as he notes in this episode, there’s more of the enemy than him. He has allies, he has purpose, but so do they. And he can fight one head of the Hydra, but there’s always more, and they tend to grow back. So what is there for him to look forward to? What hope does he have in staying the course, when he’s not even sure why he’s still fighting?
Enter the Prophecies of Aberjian, which almost immediately suggest to him a sense of purpose and context. This, of course, becoming a bit more specific in the next episode (and then subsequently a lot more complex in the fifth season), but the point is that Angel no longer has the luxury of wondering if his actions are just a waste of time and energy. He sees that there is a purpose, a grand design.
When Angel doesn’t have that sense of direction and purpose, he can let despair eat away at his moral resolve. And in a way, that is exactly what happens in this episode. Angel had the perfect opportunity to stake claim on the enemy, to steal away one of their own. And Lindsey was on the fence, ready to make a change. If Angel had seen the same potential in Lindsey that he had seen in Faith, it might have made a difference. It might have prevented much of what happens later (though the fourth season suggests it was all engineered by an outside agency).
As much as this episode appears to be about Vanessa, a very attractive blind assassin, it’s really about Angel, Lindsey, and Wolfram and Hart. Vanessa is just an example of what Wolfram and Hart, represented by Holland, will happily foster in the name of bringing about the apocalyptic vision of the Senior Partners. Holland is more than happy to set aside his conscience for personal gain and the appearance of power; Lindsey is far less certain.
Lindsey can set aside ethics and align himself with the corporate vision statements so long as the consequences on perceived innocents are kept carefully out of view. Lilah, at one point, notes that Lindsey has taken to avoiding a lot of the grunt work, as if he prefers to keep his attention on the big picture and away from the details. Once forced to see the details, to know the consequences, Lindsey runs up against his own internal moral barriers.
The problem is that Angel has convinced himself, not unlike Buffy in regards to Faith, that those who work for Wolfram and Hart are unable or unwilling to consider the consequences. So he doesn’t take it seriously when Lindsey comes to him with a desire to change things. He says a lot of the same things he said to Faith, but without the supportive promises that came with the stern moral assessments. In short, Angel doesn’t have the faith in Lindsey that he had in Faith, and in turn, Angel loses sight of what he should be doing, above and beyond preventing the assassination.
The infiltration of Wolfram and Hart, beyond giving Angel a chance to grab the Scrolls of Aberjian, also serves as a follow-up on the previous episode. Angel told Gunn that he might need help, and sure enough, now’s the time. Gunn’s scene was completely unexpected, and it puts on display a racial edge to the character that would disappear rather quickly over the course of the second season. Even so, it’s one more step towards making him a regular, which is entirely the point.
The “interrogation” scene clearly indicates the message of the episode: Wolfram and Hart will no longer be a simple shadow in the background of the series. The writers take their time to expose the depth of the cutthroat self-interest that permeates the organization. Holland isn’t simply giving the staff a demonstration when Lee is killed; he’s showing Lindsey what happens to someone who isn’t of use to him and his personal designs.
Holland may speak in terms of potential, in this case, Lindsey’s, but the fact is that Holland needs someone under him who has a reason to deliver. Lindsey has demonstrated what he can do when he stops letting morals get in the way; Holland just needs to make him even more reliant on his good graces. It frames things for Lindsey: if he plays his cards right within the organization, Holland will protect him for as long as it’s in his interests…and success fits the bill.
So Angel is placed in a position to counter that offer, whether he knows it or not. Angel does a good enough job of countering the assassination (a great action scene, with lots of beautiful shots of Vanessa), but beyond that, he doesn’t put on the full press sales pitch that he gave to Faith. He leaves it all up to Lindsey, and in this case, Holland has all the influence. Lindsey knows how he can survive with Wolfram and Hart; he has no evidence to how he might survive or thrive on his own or with Angel.
Angel also creates an even more fervent enemy in the process. Lindsey is a man searching for direction and meaning. Holland seems to give it to him, but the lingering doubts remain. Lindsey has and will have plenty of reasons to hate himself for what he does and allows. All of that anger needs to be applied to something, and it’s easy to transfer his self-hatred onto Angel. Of course, that level of self-deception can only last so long.
This episode is the perfect prologue to the season finale, which takes “Angel” into a completely different direction and sets the stage for more epic storytelling. The first season began as something of an experiment: could Angel be used as the centerpiece of a televised “comic book” hero, ala Batman, complete with relatively self-contained adventures? To a certain extent, the answer is “yes”, but eventually, an audience hungers for something more substantial. This episode is the end of the process of transformation; from this point, the series would return to the epic storytelling format that worked so well for “Buffy”.