This episode marks the transition point between the introduction of the season arc and the massive complications to come. Wolfram and Hart had been letting Darla mess with Angel’s head, slowly but surely wearing him down to the point where he would be confused and obsessed with her. Now the time comes to let Darla’s restored humanity rip Angel apart, and it’s not a pretty sight.
Angel has been trying to come to terms with his obsession, and the rest of the team has been trying to keep him from stepping too far out of bounds. As this episode unfolds, it becomes clear that Angel sees Darla’s redemption as a reflection of his own. If he can convince Darla to see the light so she can live a normal life, then he might feel better about his progress towards his own redemption. Like the woman in “Judgment”, Darla becomes a symbol for Angel’s chances of success.
Darla’s humanity, of course, has been catching up with her. In this episode, she seems to make the assumption that her problems are related to the restoration of her soul. She longs for the ability to be evil without guilt again. This says quite a bit about the woman Darla was before The Master came along. The human Darla is very close in personality to the demonic Darla, which is usually not the case. The vampire is usually a darker, exaggerated aspect of the original human personality. Perhaps the demonic vampire took Darla’s wicked sexuality and took it to a higher level; after all, Darla seems to have a natural sensuality.
Of course, it is later revealed that Darla’s growing instability is not just the result of her soul’s restoration. When she came back as a human, she came back with all the health issues present in her body at the time of death. As Holland says in this episode, it was just a matter of time, and apparently the syphilis was a known and anticipated quantity. Syphilis causes madness, and Darla’s mental state is visibly fractured in this episode.
That had to be part of the plan for Wolfram and Hart, because it puts pressure on Angel to find a solution to Darla’s apparent problem. Angel is already consumed by his obsession, and Darla’s fragile state feeds into it. As a result, Angel pulls further away from the rest of the team. His memories of his time with Darla become a sort of tunnel vision, as he looks back on the centuries.
In an interesting twist, Lindsey is led down a dark path, driven towards a deep and forbidden attraction for the former vampire. Darla plays that for all it’s worth, which is precisely the point. Holland wants Darla to believe that Wolfram and Hart holds no answers for her, and Lindsey becomes the symbol of that in Darla’s eyes. Lindsey would never do what had to be done, from Darla’s point of view, and so her only choice is to run into Angel’s arms.
While Holland’s deviousness has never been in question, this episode brings his clever mind into sharp focus. Holland has clearly been manipulating Lindsey from the moment Darla returned to the world, and Lindsey is smart enough to know that it doesn’t work to his benefit. Either he will look bad in the eyes of the Senior Partners for his apparent weakness, or Holland will use this as leverage to keep Lindsey under his thumb. This would, of course, drive Lindsey’s choices over the course of the season.
Following up on the character evolution in the previous episode, Wesley is more assertive, doing everything possible to keep Angel focused. This is the evidence of Wesley’s leadership, a subtle plot point that would become far more important as the season progresses. The writers recognize that Wesley’s later assumption of control over the team must make sense, and that is facilitated in this episode.
This episode is also notable for its connections to the “Buffy” episode that aired on the same night. “Fool for Love”, like “Darla”, focused on character development of a critical villain in the Buffyverse. More than that, both episodes represent an important turning point for the central characters for each series. In this case, Angel becomes utterly consumed by the desire to save Darla from herself, thus distracting him from the effects of that obsession.
The two episodes also covered the same events during the Boxer Rebellion, focusing on different sides of the story. “Fool for Love” gave the details on Spike’s killing of the Slayer, and “Darla” delved into Angel’s struggle for identity and purpose after the restoration of his soul. Angel’s struggle provides an important counterpoint to Darla’s rejection of her humanity.
While that parallel between past and present doesn’t always come together, and it’s always grating to hear David Boreanaz attempt an Irish accent, Darla’s history is fascinating and revealing. The events of this episode cascade into the series of complications that will help Angel understand more about Wolfram and Hart’s nature.