“Everybody dies. Just trying to make sure that when we die, we stay dead.”
-Charles Gunn, Angel S1E20: “War Zone”
Brief synopsis: Angel helps a millionaire with a blackmailing case, and winds up in the middle of a war between a nest of vampires and a group of street kids fighting for their lives.
Title significance: The meat of this episode occurs once Angel wanders into the midst of a battle between Gunn’s crew and a nest of local vampires. If he hadn’t have happened to come around that location, he would have never discovered what’s happening. As Wesley said, twenty minutes away from the rich and famous, no one would have imagined these kids were fighting for their lives. The location, the “War Zone,” is therefore a huge part of the episode’s theme.
It literally is a war. There’s tactics being used, inspirational speeches, casualties, weapons. The kids are hiding in a warehouse, digging in like a foxhole, eating stolen rations, dealing with cold, hunger, and a very real threat. They are only children, and they are in the midst of a war with a powerful foe.
Questions of morality: I don’t think this episode really deals with questions of morality on the level that we’re used to. I think the morality questioning this episode comes mostly from Gunn, who is forced to question Angel’s morality as a vampire who saved his sister’s life and who tries to protect his crew. Gunn repays these actions not through trust, but through mercy.
Then comes the true test. Alonna, his beloved little sister that he swore to protect, comes to him as a vampire. She still acts like herself, she tells him memories and stories only the two of them would know. She offers to turn him, so that the two of them could always be together, so that he can rid himself of the guilt. In the end, he chooses the hard thing, and kills his little sister again.
Intrigue of moral ambiguity: It’s nice to see outside characters experiencing the moral conundrum that is Angel.
What “War Zone” does right:
- Introduction of Gunn – I love the introduction of Gunn. It’s set up to make the first-time viewer expect Angel. Instead, we get Gunn, with a big sword and a long coat. It screams badass. It gets me excited to know more about him. His interactions with others throughout the episode, especially the scene where he tells Alonna that she bugs him most. He’s likeable, badass, and frustrating at the same time when he won’t let Angel help him.
- David Nabbit – David Nabbit was absolutely adorable. I found his awkwardness and fish-out-water attitude to be believable, and it made his portion of the episode quite charming despite being related to demon brothels. His excitement at having someone be kind to him was actually rather touching as well.
- Alonna’s death – Alonna’s death is fantastic. We see how much the entire scene pains Gunn, and the first time viewing, one may wonder if she will convince Gunn to let her turn him. She plays on his memories, his love for her, his hatred, his guilt. It’s an incredibly beautiful, emotional scene (up until the very end).
What “War Zone” could have done better:
- Alonna – Watching Alonna alone in the van with the vampires destroy her was not nearly as emotional as it should have been. There wasn’t the initial joy at seeing her alive as there should have been either. The emotional heart came entirely from Gunn, but I felt like in a plot like this, there should have been more from Alonna.
- Disconnect – I felt like the two different plots of the episode felt very disconnected. The quest to stop the man blackmailing David Nabbit and Gunn’s fight against the vampires just didn’t really compliment each other very well (I know, I complain when things are two connected, I complain when things aren’t connected enough. I’m just a malcontent). They try to connect it with the idea that Gunn is starving so close to where Nabbit is living the life of a millionaire, but that just served to make it more awkward and feel forced.
- Brothel – You know, I found both of the women Angel encountered at the brothel were both so stereotypical. The no-nonsense business woman as the owner and the flirty, sassy demoness who worked there didn’t do anything new, and it made the scene quite boring and predictable.
Overall: A cute episode that I liked better than I remember liking.