Fixing Angel Season 4

Content Note: Includes discussion of consent issues and the rape of fictional characters

So I’ve now watched Angel through the end of Season 4, and wow was it ever frustrating. There was so much potential, and a few episodes (especially near the end) were wonderful, but it just kept misfiring, and it all comes down to one basic problem: for a season ostensibly about free will and agency in the face of well-meaning attempts to erase that agency in the name of peace and harmony, the writers seemed to consistently flub issues of consent, which is rather central to having any agency.

The two main areas where they drop the ball on consent are the horrifically squicky, quasi-incestuous Connor/Cordelia “relationship” and the final resolution of Connor’s story (at least, not having seen Season 5, I’m assuming this is the final resolution).

We’ll start with the infinitely awful ConCord arc. Incestuous overtones aside, Cordelia (who, in the show’s grossest recurring motif, is CONSTANTLY being threatened with or subjected to various magical rapes) is mind-controlled by Jasmine into sleeping with Connor. Jasmine is thus guilty of raping both of them: her magic is functioning as a date-rape drug on Cordelia and she’s committing rape by fraud of Connor, since he believes he’s sleeping with a free-willed Cordelia that wants to be with him. This is compounded when the mind-controlled Cordelia becomes pregnant and carries it to term, without ever being able to consent to the pregnancy–mystical complications of which ultimately leave her in a coma, in which state her blood is then used (again, without her consent) to fight against Jasmine.

This is fairly straightforward to fix: Drop the mind-control aspect (and, preferably, Cordelia’s involvement) and just make it that Connor’s child is a mystical pregnancy, which the mother chooses of her own will to keep, and then once Jasmine is born she starts working the mind-control mojo, rather than in squicky rape scenarios before.

The other major problem is the end of the season, where Angel wishes Connor into a happier life. Unfortunately, since this entails erasing all of Connor’s memories (as well as the memories of everyone who knew him except Angel) and replacing them with new ones, it is effectively murdering Connor and replacing him with a completely different person who looks like him. This is a ridiculously easy fix: just have Angel consult with Connor before doing this!

Now, it’s possible that these issues, especially the latter, are intentional sour notes to provoke further discussion about issues of agency and consent. Unfortunately, there’s nothing to suggest that in the text–unless Angel gets called out for what he did to Connor (and, to a lesser extent, his friends) in the fifth season, we’re left with it being presented as a happy ending for Connor, and any suggestion that the ConCord plotline is supposed to be a serious examination of consent issues and rape culture runs smack into the problem that this isn’t the first time Cordelia has been raped and impregnated via mystical means.

4 thoughts on “Fixing Angel Season 4

  1. The Conner stuff comes up in Season Five, “Angel: After the Fall”, and the “Angel and Faith” comic series. People give Angel some shit for it, but generally I don't predict you're going to be satisfied.

  2. The problem here, though, is that this season was running concurrently with the last televised season of Buffy and the woefully short existence of Firefly. Granted, the resolution of Angel's under the sea imprisonment and Cordy's return from her higher-plane existence was a bit hackneyed to say the least. Also, the extended Los Angeles in darkness and the temporary loss of Angel's soul was clearly a big continuity goof. I almost kept thinking sooner or later we'd get Willow waking up from some bad season-long nightmare and she'd see Amber Benson step out of the shower–oops, wrong show! 🙂

    Anyway, the last-minute writing out of characters by season Four's end as a setup for the new status quo at Wolfram and Hart seemed like a good idea on paper. And the original tease of James Marsters' Spike character playing off of David's Angel was probably the best concept heading into season five.

    Season 5 was a bit of improvement and return to form for Joss Whedon somewhat considering this dismal flop for Angel.

  3. Yeah, now that I've seen Season 5… eh on the way that addresses the whole thing. I mean, Connor saying he's glad it happened somewhat helps–consent after the fact is better than no consent–but it still doesn't change the original violation, and Angel should not be forgiven so easily for that.

  4. Season 5 was mostly excellent, though it fell down somewhat in having YET ANOTHER mystical nonconsensual pregnancy, and a lethal one to boot this time. Still, overall a solid ending for the show.

    I do like how, between Dollhouse, Angel, and Buffy, all of the Firefly crew except Simon, Kaylee, and Book got to be villains in other Whedon shows. It's to the point where every time I saw someone I recognized from Firefly, I'd assume they were evil.

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