Angel Investigated – 5.14 Smile Time
5.14 Smile Time
Writer: Ben Edlund and Joss Whedon
Director: Ben Edlund
Mike Gorman has the full review!
The problem with “Smile Time” is it is hard as a reviewer and a fan to determine under which context this episode is best examined. Is it best to take a straightforward view of this twisted “Sesame Street” inspired tale? Or perhaps it should be looked at knowing this is the first episode to air after the WB announced this would indeed be the final season of Angel? Can I even attempt to unpack this piece without identifying the impact each decision made in this episode impacts the rest of the season? I suppose I will have to do my best to incorporate all three angles because truly, in many ways, this is the most important episode of Angel to date, whether we realized it or not at the time.
The episode’s main plot kick’s off as we see a boy watching a puppet show on television. The puppets’ singing stops as one steps forward and tells the boy that he should put his hands on the TV. Just then the boy’s mom enters the room and finds the boy is lifeless, frozen with a creepy smile on his face. It would seem that all of our paranoia and fear about the Muppets being agents of evil could indeed be true! Back at Wolfram and Hart it soon becomes clear that missed signals and misinterpreted feelings will be our running subplot of the week. Knox brings Fred files on several children that have fallen under the same “smile” spell and also attempts to give her a valentine. Fred politely declines his advances, it would seem her heart is elsewhere. A quick interlude with Harmony and Gunn reveals that Gunn’s mental deterioration continues, he is losing the big brain the big bad gave him. Werewolf Nina has arrived for her monthly 3 night of the full moon stay and before she is placed in her cell she makes it clear to Angel she wants to be more than friends. Angel is not so sure about this and confesses his confusion and fears about becoming Angelus if he achieves true happiness again. Wesley points out that Nina has been sending Angel these signals for quite some time and in what I consider one of Wesley’s wisest moments he tells Angel that most people settle for “acceptable happiness” and do ok with it. Wesley will do well to take his own advice this week.
Fred arrives to tell Angel and Wesley about the children. With Lorne’s help they connect the happenings to the show “Smile Time.” As Angel heads to the studio to investigate. Fred tries to express her interest in Wesley but he misses her cues. Which is bad, but things are worse for Angel when he finds a door marked “Don’t” at the Smile Time studio. Behind this door he discovers a man with a towel wrapped around his head sitting under a giant egg, which proceeds to open revealing a glowing smile and blasts Angel with some kind of energy. This blast turns Angel into a puppet. Yes all of these things truly happen and will make sense.. eventually.
Angel makes his way back to the firm and explains to his team what is happening. They snap into action investigating the show and it’s creator Gregor Framkin. Angel hides when Nina arrives playing her off so she will not discover his condition. He is successful keeping it from her but not from Spike which leads to a hilarious battle between puppet and vampire. They crash through walls and end up in an elevator. When it opens, Puppet Angel stands victorious. At the same time Gunn and Lorne confront Framkin back at the studio. They fail to intimidate him when once again Gunn’s noggin comes up dry. They leave defeated and we are left to think Framkin victorious for the moment, until he turns around and we see that there is a hole in his back and he is being controlled by one of the puppets. Turns out they are indeed the evil ones and with their plot close to discovery they must step up their plans to steal the life force of all their children viewers. They are twisted and delight in their continued torture of Framkin.
Back at Wolfram and Hart, puppet and people drama continues. Angel goes to visit Nina in her cage, to explain why he hid and to ask her forgiveness. As he is explaining how he is a hero and must not be afraid of what people think of him, she wolfs out and attacks him. The returning Lorne and Gunn discover the mutilated Angel. Lorne seeks aid for him while Gunn approaches one of the W&H scientists for some help of his own. The scientist, Dr. Sparrow, tells Gunn that he can fix his brain if Gunn will just clear up a little problem he is having getting something through customs. (At this point I want to travel back in time and scream at Gunn not to agree but then I realize this is television and I move on…). Gunn agrees. Fred and Wesley discover that when you mute the singing on Smile Time, that you can see the evil puppets directing the children to touch the screen. Apparently their singing is a spell that covers up their true intentions, parents beware!
Angel and the gang rush to the studio leading to an epic puppet battle. Yes, again, this happens. Angel and Gunn take on the puppets while Wesley and Fred make their way to the egg room where Fred is able to perform a counter spell ending the puppets reign just as Angel reveals his vamp puppet face defeating the lead puppet. The next day, Nina wakes in her cage to find herself surrounded by fabric and stuffing. She believes she ate him but he walks in to reveal she is mistaken. Angel tells her that he will revert to normal in a few days and they agree to have breakfast together, a first step. Up in Wesley’s office, Fred again tries to subtly tell him of her interest but realizes that it won’t work and simply kisses him.
Feels like a happy ending, no? Sadly, the cliched tagline of “And things were never the same again…” has never applied more. The episode is truly fantastic and not just because of Puppet Angel and the Smile Time antics. This week we were treated to many moments that we had been long awaiting, including Angel cracking open his shell, Gunn adressing his intellect downgrade, and the long awaited kiss between Wesley and Fred. This is a Whedon a show, though, so we should all be prepared for what is to come in the next few weeks. Hold on tight to the good feelings we’re left with as Smile Time draws to a close as they will sadly be fleeting. I will not spoil what is to come if this is your first time through the series but I will say, study this episode, and note many of the things that seem unimportant. Those details will be back to bite us all in the ass soon. This episode again demonstrates one of the things I love the most about Whedon’s work on both Angel and Buffy. The production’s ability to take a seemingly “monster of the week” story that could clearly stand out on its own and interweave with some of the season’s most important character development moments. It is why the show is so memorable. As I said earlier, this was the first episode to air after the announcement that the show would be ending and I believe in many ways it was the perfect moment to mark the tone of the series where it was so that it could head towards an inevitable finale. This is one of my favorite episodes of Angel of all time, yet regardless of the title, looking back at it now it really leaves me little to actually smile about.
The 411: Angel becomes a puppet to fight evil puppets. Do I really need to say more to draw you into this one? Lots of subtle innuendo is finally brought to light and love blossoms for more than one couple... including a kiss we have been awaiting for years. Things are gonna change quick so come get your smile time in while you can!
|Final Score: 10.0 [ Virtually Perfect ] legend|