"Shiny Happy People" [4x18]
Review by Alexandra Jones
Posted by MikeJer on September 28, 2011 @ 7:58pm PDT (Updated: October 1, 2011)Writer: Sarah Fain and Elizabeth Craft
Director: Marita Grabiak
This is a retrospective review and may contain spoilers from anywhere in the series. Read at your own peril.
Well, here she is at last. The Big Bad. Angel (AtS) doesn't quite follow the per-season arch-villain pattern of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I think it's still fair to say that Jasmine (or the 'Beastmaster,' to use her terrible nickname from previous episodes) has been the 'Big Bad' of Season Four. It's taken her eighteen episodes, and a lot of rather meandering plot, to show herself, but now she's finally here and Team Angel can get on with kicking some Big-Bad butt. Except that with only five episodes left until the end of this season, and only four of those devoted to the 'Jasmine arc,' we're unfortunately going to have to rush pretty quickly through to the conclusion of this story.
And because time's so scarce overall, once Jasmine arrives we only have a single episode available -- "Shiny Happy People" – to set the stage for the remainder of the season. Jasmine's only just appeared, in the very final moments of the previous episode, yet in only a few minutes into "Shiny Happy People" she's already met (and bewitched) the whole gang. Just twenty minutes of episode-time later, her power over Fred is broken, we've seen her creepy 'maggot-face' for the first time, and we've had our first hint at the blood-cure which will become the 'Magic Bullet' of the next episode. And by the end of the episode, she's already enslaving the entire population of LA. That's a heck of a lot of set-up to get through in a single episode. So, if the purpose of the episode is to set up the events of the following ones, then the big question is this: does it do a good job?
The first important plot point is obviously Jasmine's glamouring power, or whatever you want to call it, which we saw take hold of Angel and (supposedly) Connor at the very end of the last episode. I do find it fun to watch how each member of the gang is affected slightly differently, and how everyone still manages to be more or less him/herself even when under Jasmine's influence. Lorne expressing his love through interior design, Wesley suggesting lofty classical names for the as-yet-unnamed deity, Fred's single-minded obsession with solving the shirt problem - all of these actions seem completely in-character, and allow us to see that Jasmine's power doesn't simply turn everyone into mindless robots (compare the pod-people-students of Buffy's "Bad Eggs") but instead allows her to play on their existing strengths and weaknesses to accomplish her goals.
Unfortunately, though, Angel himself is the exception to this rule. It's partly the writing, and partly the acting, but I find David Boreanaz almost unwatchable here, particularly in the garden scene with Jasmine. The 'Jasmined' Angel is just - to quote the BuffyBot – "lame." I especially cringe every time I hear the line "you... have faith... in me?" because the way it's delivered is totally insincere and unconvincing, and the only way Boreanaz seems to show any emotion is by repeatedly narrowing and widening his eyes. And since this is my first review for this site, let me be clear that I usually have no problem with Boreanaz, or with Angel as a character, but I think he did a pretty poor job here. I actually get the impression throughout this episode that he's trying not to laugh, which kind of worked in "Spin The Bottle" [4x06] but is totally out of place here. Yes, the 'brainwashing' of the characters is played for laughs a few times (the completely deadpan Clorox discussion being my favourite of these), but ultimately it's incredibly sinister, and Angel shouldn't be smirking his way through the episode.
Thankfully, though, we're given a possible explanation for Angel's gormless behaviour, when he indicates to Jasmine that he's feeling overwhelmed and scared by how happy he suddenly is. I don't think it completely justifies the way his character is portrayed in this episode, but it's something, at least, so let's try to go along with it for now. This is a plot-heavy episode which is pretty light on character development, but there are still a couple of interesting moments for our eponymous hero. Angel is a character who's always been defined by his guilt and his quest for atonement, and now he's just... happy. Just like that. So what does he do now? His conversation with Fred at Cordelia's bedside is particularly noteworthy. Jasmine's told him to forget about all his anger and guilt, and now he seems to have done just that. He says to Fred, "isn't it a relief? The constant questioning? It's finally over." Of course, this is Shiny Happy Angel talking, and the 'real' Angel would never have let go that easily, but there's still something very telling about his comments here.
We know Angel better than to think he'd ever willingly turn his back on his mission. But at the same time, he's been at the forefront of a seemingly endless battle for a long time now, being the one who makes all the tough decisions and deals with the consequences. Now Jasmine's come along and completely taken over: there are no more grey areas, and he gets to fight the good fight by simply following her orders. It's no wonder he's so relieved here, and I think this ties in to his actions in Season 5, where he becomes more frustrated with the decisions and moral grey areas that he has to face alone whilst seemingly making no actual progress in the good fight.
Another interesting moment for Angel is a scene which doesn't actually feature Angel himself at all. When Connor comes to talk to Jasmine, Connor says that he doesn't believe himself to be a champion, because that's Angel's role. Jasmine replies "everything has its season: it's your time now, Connor." This has some direct relevance for the events of the next few episodes, as it is Connor, not Angel, who'll eventually stop Jasmine. But the idea that Angel might already have had his 'season,' and could now be becoming irrelevant, is one which increasingly bothers him in the next season once the ensouled Spike shows up to threaten his 'champion' status.
The second half of the episode gives us the next major plot point about Jasmine. Her power doesn't just make everyone worship her and love each other - it's actually making them see her as the beautiful mocha goddess that we've seen so far, and the reality is more than a little disgusting. Although the maggot-head puppet is, I think, a little silly if you look at it for too long, it works in this context because it's just so unexpected. Suddenly seeing this horrible, rotting, wriggling face speaking to Fred in such a gentle voice, sounding genuinely loving and concerned, is absurd, horrifying, and also a little funny (in a grotesque kind of way). It perfectly sets up Fred's struggle for the next episode-and-a-half.
I won't spend too long talking about Fred here, because although she has a few significant scenes I think her real character development comes in the next episode, "The Magic Bullet" [4x19], which Patrick's already done a great job of reviewing. I do have to agree with Patrick, though, that with so much focus on Fred being all alone, sneaking around trying not to get caught, it's absolutely shocking that we don't get even one mention of the five years she spent doing the same thing in Pylea. Fred's ditzy behaviour in this episode irritates me - this just isn't the Fred we've come to know and love. I like to think the genius who outsmarted Wesley in "Billy" [3x06] would come up with something cleverer than just trying to shoot Jasmine with a crossbow while surrounded by hundreds of people. I think the fact that she's still suffering from a Jasmine hangover is supposed to explain why she's behaving so oddly, but I still get angry when she says "I don't get called... I'm not the called type... I, you know, take messages..." Is that really what Fred's been doing for the past two seasons? Taking messages?
I'm also not really convinced by either of the scenes with John Stoler, the man who apparently first sees Jasmine's true face. We know virtually nothing about John, which means we can't tell whether or not he's behaving 'normally' for his character. All his ranting and raving in the hospital has me confused. For starters, why does he insist that "you've been called to the mission" and why does he say "don't trust her?" Sure, he's seen something very frightening and he's still reacting to that, but his words make it sound like he knows more than he ought to, having only seen Jasmine once. Maybe this was something the writers wanted to expand upon in later episodes that ended up being scrapped, or maybe John was already crazy to begin with, but we've really no way of knowing because we have absolutely no back story for the guy, and won't see him again after Fred leaves the hospital.
This is disappointing, because the only new thing we really learn from this scene is that Jasmine's touch can apparently rot human flesh; something which is never shown or mentioned again, despite the fact that she touches plenty of other people. Yes, I went back and watched carefully for scenes of Jasmine touching people, and it happens several times. So, did she deliberately do this to poor John's face? And if so, why? Or is it an accident? We find out later she's unaware of the effects of her own blood, so perhaps she also doesn't know about the effects of her touch. But we'll never know, because the writers have just set something up which is never put to any use or paid off in any meaningful way.
This brings me to my biggest problem with the episode. Yes, it sets up most of the major plot points well enough, but there are some important details which are completely missed. With a four-episode arc, there is no excuse for not having a completely watertight plot, yet even at this late stage it feels like the writers are still flapping around trying to make up their minds about where to go next. We get some set-up which is never paid off, such as the aforementioned flesh-rotting touch and John's deranged ranting, while some things which really should have been mentioned are simply missed. The major downfall, for me, is the treatment of Connor.
We learn in "Home" [4x22] that Connor was never really affected by Jasmine's power, and that he never actually experienced the bliss which everyone else was feeling when under her influence. It's a heart-breaking revelation for a character that's always been set apart from everyone around him, and I can well believe that this further alienation would be enough to tip this troubled teen over the edge. Except, watching these earlier Jasmine episodes, I just don't buy it. For starters, he falls to his knees almost as soon as he sees Jasmine. Okay, Angel's on his knees first, so it's conceivable that Connor's just going along with what his father's doing, but why would Connor feel the need to do that? If he's not under Jasmine's control, then why would he start acting all chummy with Team Angel, when in the previous episode he was convinced that they were all trying to kill Cordelia?
We do see a slightly troubled Connor telling Jasmine that he doesn't deserve to be so happy, but as far as I can tell there are no hints that he's got any doubts about Jasmine herself. For example, during the scene where Fred sees Jasmine's 'real' face, she's seeing what Connor's apparently been seeing the entire time. Connor is watching Fred's odd behaviour, and I feel that surely there should be some tiny flicker of understanding in his face - something which you'd miss on a first viewing, perhaps, but which you might spot on a re-watch. But there's nothing. This all makes me think that the writers still hadn't quite decided where the Connor part of the story was going to go, even while writing this, the 18th episode of the season.
While I find Connor's immunity to Jasmine to be the most gaping hole in this episode, I also feel that there are a few other things which should have been given even the tiniest bit of attention in an episode full of set-up for what follows. We are given a nice big clue about Jasmine's weak spot when she's unable to choose her own name, but the 'Spider Demons' who make it possible for Angel to exploit this weakness don't even appear until two episodes later ("Sacrifice" [4x20]). Although it may not have made sense to show us the actual demons just yet, it might have been nice to have some small hint that Jasmine's tried this plan before, on other worlds. And since we later learn that Cordelia has some kind of power-connection to Jasmine, perhaps we could have seen Jasmine giving her 'mother' a little more attention, beyond having the others light a lot of candles in her room.
On that subject, if you'll allow me to go just a little off-topic, I feel that we need to take a moment here to bid farewell to Cordelia - or more accurately, to Charisma Carpenter. From now on (except for her fabulous, fleeting, return in "You're Welcome" [5x12]) we'll only ever see her lying around in a coma, and in my opinion that doesn't count. Of course, since Cordelia's spent the whole of Season Four either suffering from amnesia or being possessed by the Beastmaster, we actually said goodbye to the 'real' Cordelia at the end of Season 3. But now Charisma's gone, too. I shouldn't dwell on this too much, because it's not really appropriate for a review of this particular episode, but I do feel compelled to mention how much I hate the way things went with Cordelia's character, and how it almost all seemed to come down to the writers not knowing how to handle Charisma's pregnancy. This all makes me very glad that the filming of AtS ended before Amy Acker's first pregnancy in 2004, because I dread to think how the writers would have tried to explain Illyria with a baby bump, let alone how they would have fitted a pregnant Amy into all that figure-hugging leather. But I digress...
To sum things up, "Shiny Happy People" does a decent job of getting us from A to B, which is a good thing, because B is where we need to be before the rest of this season can happen. It packs an impressive amount of plot development into a single episode, and that serves an important purpose, but some more attention to the little details could really have enhanced the whole Jasmine arc. And once the important plot set-up is out of the way, this episode unfortunately doesn't do a whole lot else. It's essential viewing when watching AtS for the first time, because without it, the rest of Season 4 wouldn't make any sense. But, beyond that, there isn't a great deal which makes it worth re-watching.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
QuotesFRED:Drop it, Junior!
LORNE:Fred, don't get too close!
FRED:You heard me. Drop the knife.
CONNOR:But... you're always after me to clean up after myself. I was just going to put it away.
FRED:Uh... are you still evil-ish? Cos I'm confused.
GUNN:OK, so what are we dealing with?
FRED:Eight legs, three heads, horns?
CONNOR:Two legs. One head. No horns.
LORNE:Let me guess. Green?
ANGEL:No. Kind of... mocha.
CONNOR:She's amazing. You'll go nuts.
GUNN:Yeah, that'll definitely help us relate better.
JASMINE:People keep saying that.
GUNN (TO JASMINE):You're a power that... was?
JASMINE:No one born to this earth can choose their own name. They're named by those who love them. There are some rules even I must follow.
WESLEY:What about -
GUNN:Clorox. She bleaches away the hate.
WESLEY:Probably best we avoid brand names.
ANGEL:I know what you're thinking
ANGEL:Sometimes, when I look in her eyes, I've seen it too. It's overwhelming. The lies, the deceit... it just melts away. Nothing left but the beauty.
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