Fans of the Buffy/Angel franchises got a double helping of crossover episodes in late November 1999. With Angel skulking in the shadows in Sunnydale for Pangs, Buffy repaid the compliment by going to LA to yell at her former squeeze. If the lacklustre Pangs kept the two apart, then I Will Remember You sees them finally achieve their goal of being a regular, loved-up couple. At least for 20-ish minutes, any road. This is Angel, don't forget. The man doesn't brood without good reason, given that he's a walking bad luck magnet.
I Will Remember You sums up Angel's hapless existence in that he has to give up the one thing that he's ever wanted in order to be the champion for good. For the more weepy of Angel fans, be warned: you may flood your own lounge by crying rivers in the last five minutes of this episode.
The success of I Will Remember You largely depends on what angle you approach it. Reviewing various sci-fi and fantasy episodes, I've got used to looking at telly from character, dialogue and plotting angles. The central idea of Angel becoming human is a good one, but the way in which this comes about takes convenient plot devicing to the limit. With a Mohra Demon on the loose, it just so happens that when its blood mixes with Angel's, the vampire becomes a human being. Handy, eh?
It's also way too convenient that Angel the Human thinks he can go it alone when he finds out that the Mohra Demon has somehow regenerated itself. It's set up purely to establish that Angel can't have his cake and eat it.
And let's not forget the good old reset switch, a pet hate of mine. Angel's whole human existence will be wiped out by two huffy godlike beings called Oracles, meaning that everyone but Angel will forget the whole experience. While it's not quite as bad as the Season Four Awakening episode, I've never been keen on the reset trick, since it always strikes me as a last resort method of wrapping up a story. So all in all, I Will Remember You, from a nitpicking angle, doesn't stand up to much scrutiny.
On the other hand, if you try and approach I Will Remember You as a doomed love story, then there's more mileage to be had. On the surface, I Will Remember You follows the tried and tested romcom structure. You know the drill. Woman shouts at man for a long period of time before finding out that she was in lurve with him all along. It's the template for practically every Sandra Bullock romantic comedy ever made.
Buffy naturally fills the shoes of our furious heroine. Having discovered that Angel's been secretly snooping around for the sake of one of the lamest villains ever seen in her show, Buffy is not best pleased. With a spluttering Angel lost for words – particularly at the point where Buffy declares “So, then let's just stick to the plan. Keep our distance until a lot of time has passed...” (pay careful attention here!), it's left to the Mohra Demon to move the bickering battle to the sewers. Rule one in the Buffy World – a sewer's always the perfect backdrop for angsty break-up talk. You can even hear the rats playing the violins.
The sewer scene ricochets back and forth between the two players, who lob heartfelt reconciliation hopes and shattered dreams at each other like two lovestruck tennis players. It's romcom heaven, with the viewer wondering whether the two actually may end up waltzing off into the sunset – with one of them covered by a protective woollen blanket. So it's only natural that the Mohra Demon's human-inducing blood twists the story into a bona fide 'What if...' scenario. Angel's finally got what he wants – the mysterious Oracles confirm that it's all on the level.
So what's the first thing that Angel does? Eat.
The man eats more than a burger-hungry J Wellington Wimpy. Angel's gob suddenly becomes a massive portal to a dimension where the moon is made of cheese, the rivers flow in chocolate waves and the trees are made of cookie dough. Angel Investigations is now looking at a very unappetising supermarket bill, given that its boss is now looking to eat his way through LA. Better still, Angel is now faced with the prospect of getting his very own happy ending in big, surround sound widescreen. His beloved Buffy is all too willing to throw out romantic prospects with a squeaky clean army loser to also get the guy that she's been swooning over for three-odd years.
The neat thing about I Will Remember You is that it twists the knife in the old romcom formula by ensuring that this happy ending can never be. As Cordelia points out to her old sparring partner: “You can't have Angel AND save the world.” While Buffy pitches in to help Angel defeat the Mohra Demon, it's left Angel in a quandary, especially after its proclamation of a great darkness preparing to swamp LA. So having mulled it over, there's only one course left to him. As he points out to Buffy, “You take chances to protect me, and that's not just bad for you, it's bad for the people we were meant to help.” While the reset button isn't a favourite solution of mine, here at least it has the melancholic fall-out of Angel still remembering everything that happened. “You alone will carry the memory of this day,” says the female Oracle. “Can you carry that burden?”
It's the ultimate expression of this series' mantra: Fighting the good fight at personal cost. Angel isn't someone who's looking to take the easy route. He knows that he's taken countless lives in the past, and so feels that he has to work hard to earn some kind of reward. We saw this in Into The Dark, but it's dealt again with even more personal tragedy for Angel this time around. Everything he ever wanted has been snatched away from him for the sake of helping to save those in need. If ever there were an award for rotten luck, Angel would scoop the trophy. Which he'd probably drop on his foot, leading to a painful tumble down the steps leading away from the ceremony dais.
If the plot contains its share of handy plot contrivances and get-out clauses, at least I Will Remember You affords great scope for its leading man and guest star. David Boreanaz gets to run the whole gamut here, from spurned lover through to excitable human. He gets some great comedy moments – particularly in the scenes where he raids the contents of the office fridge. But there's always room for balance, since he underplays the closing scenes very well. Sarah Michelle Gellar is also outstanding in the last scene before the clock counts down to the end of their brief romance. Gellar always provides good value when it comes to Buffy's weepy moments, and she doesn't disappoint here. The story even goes that the crying's for real, given that you can audibly hear Boreanaz break the fourth wall by whispering Sarah's real name in her ear as the pair embrace for one last time. Ironically, this story provides far better material for Gellar and Boreanaz than the preceding Pangs, and they both turn in fantastic performances.
It's also nice to see the old Cordy/Buffy rivalry rear its head again. While Cordelia has notably matured and mellowed, she still wasn't exactly swapping telephone numbers with Buffy at the end of Graduation Day. So that old tension comes into play again: “Maybe it's time that YOU grew up and realised that you can't have everything,” she whinges at her old sparring partner. It's a nice reminder of the days of the Sunnydale classrooms in which Homecoming contests and cheerleading tryouts reigned supreme.
Doyle also gets his fair share of action, helping Angel to confront the Mohra Demon and introducing him to the enigmatic Oracles. The Oracles themselves are a smart addition to the series' mythology – a pair of golden snobs looking down on us mere mortals and proclaiming judgement. It won't be the last time you see them this season – kudos to Randall Slavin and Carey Cannon, who provide very entertaining performances.
And so, Angel's earlier frown that can't be turned upside down is given greater meaning as time is turned back. Very smart link to earlier nods to the plot such as Angel winding the clock and giving the gift of time to the Oracles.
On the whole, I enjoyed this one better than I did Pangs (having turned off the Mr Picky default setting on my greying, balding bonce). The script from David Greenwalt and Jeanne Renshaw is entertaining and very poignant in places, especially in the latter stages of the story. It's also a very good showcase for David Boreanaz and Sarah Michelle Gellar who no doubt broke a few hearts by the time the episode was through.
But believe it or not, the heartbreak's not quite over yet. The Mohra Demon sure wasn't kidding when he said that the days of darkness were on their way – and it's a few days that will ensure that things won't ever be quite the same for the current team at Angel Investigations...