There aren't many pastimes that can cause throbbing headaches, but the theoretically simple task of moving from A to B is one such pain. Beyond the tangled web of deposits, agreements and pet allowances, there's vans full of pain to deal with. Endless amounts of stuff to box and pack up. Lugging said boxes back and forth while beery removal men puff on fags and talk about the football game the night before. And let's not forget the endless admin once you're safely ensconced in your new abode. Changes of address, telephone numbers and details won't be made by themselves, you know.
All things considered, Cordelia gets a pretty easy press when moving into a swanky new apartment. Rm w/a Vu admittedly pits Cordy against a crabby old ghost, but let's look at the up side. There's hardly any personal possessions to move by the looks of things. The apartment comes with all mod cons. And it's undeniably an improvement on her old place which had been taken over by the local cockroach brigade.
But the ghostly presences in Cordy's new pad are making merry with a little too much gusto. Blank faces are pressing themselves through walls. A clichéd, bloody message of “Die” drips down the main wall. Even the usual ghostly trappings of moving furniture and switched on stereos are making Cordy think twice about her deposit. Incidentally, that deposit and the first month's rent must have been cheap, given that Angel Investigations has only had one paying client.
Rm w/a Vu sees Cordelia at a crossroads. It's the story that sees her claw back her self-confidence from the wreckage of recent life events. She's been cheated on by Xander. Her dad's been busted for tax dodging. She's seen her acting career crash and burn from the confines of an apartment so rank, even Barney Gumble from The Simpsons would turn his nose up at it. In the days before this run of bad luck, Cordelia would have dismissed the ghostly form of Maude Pearson as a pathetic old shrew. But with her self-confidence at a low ebb, she's reduced to weeping and wailing at Maude's lengthy sermons of how she's no more than failed trash.
The mystery of Maude's ghost twists and turns through Rm w/a Vu well. It's initially unclear as to whether the ghostly faces are Maude's or whether something else is going on. It's also unclear as to why Maude has such a beef with Cordelia, other than that she's invaded her territory. It's only in the final, somewhat disturbing pay-off that all is revealed. Turns out that in order to stop her cuckoo from flying the nest to be with a girl, Maude tied up her son Dennis, and then sealed him up in a bricked-off wall where he would suffocate/starve to death. It's a chilling flashback scene in that it's so mundane. Maude, decked out in typical suburban housewife gear carries out the deed with such breezy nonchalance, she may as well be hanging out the washing. Perhaps her subsequent collapse and death is suitable just desserts for her unfeeling murder.
Cordelia, somehow possessed by the ghost of Dennis, manages to break down the wall to reveal his tied-up skeleton. Maude's ghost, naturally isn't best pleased, especially when Dennis's skeleton grows larger and consumes her phantom self whole. If you're a fan of metaphor, then Dennis' ghost finally lays his demons to rest just like Cordelia finally lays hers to bed. Cordelia feels like she's been punished in the past for being this shallow control freak. “This apartment - I could be me again,” she explains to Angel. “Punishment over - welcome back to your life! Like, like I couldn't be that awful if I get to have a place like that?”
It's fitting that Cordelia's pitted against the ghost of a woman who resembles her own former self in personality, constantly wanting things her own way and possessed of her own self-entitlement. Maude's ghost does nearly get the upper hand, even convincing Cordy to put her head in a makeshift noose (just like previous tenants had). It's only when Cordelia goes all Elton John on Maude that she rediscovers her inner self again: “Get ready to haul your wrinkly translucent ass out of this place, because lady, the bitch is back!”
After revealing Dennis' ghost, it's as if Cordy is exorcising her own ghost of who she used to be. From the end of the episode, we see Cordelia grow as a character, whether it's through her taste in guys, her more calm and measured approach to solving problems or her more relaxed, approachable personality. She'll still be prone to shallow, over-confident moments, but Cordelia undeniably turns a corner by the time she's chinwagging on the phone to her old friend Aura.
Unsurprisingly, Charisma Carpenter has cited this episode as a favourite. Angel is already showing that it can devote ample time to its supporting cast of characters. Rm w/a Vu is the first but by no means the least instance of a Cordy-centric episode, and it gives Carpenter plenty to do. She's given the opportunity to play it deadly straight or with pitch-perfect comic timing, and it's Charisma's show all the way in Rm w/a Vu.
Rm w/a Vu is interesting in that Angel's character tends to be pushed to the shadows a little. Instead, the episode deals with two sub-plots – the haunting of Cordelia and also, Doyle's debt problems with a demon called Griff. Sometimes, the B plot tends to be a weak attempt at filling up an episode, but this one affords a greater insight into Doyle's back story. Angel, in particular, can't figure out why Doyle lives a life of lowly means. “Guess, it’s the kind of life that keeps your expectations from getting too high,” is Doyle's enigmatic answer, which still leaves his boss none the wiser. It's a story that's crying out to be told, as Angel almost demands in the closing moments of this story. While not quite a tale full of “ribald adventures and beautiful damsels with loose morals” there's still clearly more to Doyle than meets the eye. Glenn Quinn's ever-charismatic performance keeps the viewers wanting to know more, and over the course of the next few episodes, we'll get to see more of the real Doyle.
Following on from the dark themes of the first quartet of episodes, Rm w/a Vu is notably lighter in tone. The revelation of Dennis' fate aside, this episode plays out more as a light comedy. Jane Espenson again proves that she's cornered the market in writing funny and entertaining teleplays, and she once again comes up trumps with this mini-masterpiece. There's plenty of comedic moments, most notably Angel's exasperation with Cordy wreaking havoc in his home, and the disastrous visits to prospective landlords, including a sweaty old sleaze and a clean-cut, squeaky clean cult type. There's also plenty of good character stuff for both Cordelia and Doyle, and while Angel tends to take a back seat this time around, he still gets to be the champion. Having saved strangers, he's managed to save both his friends from their respective crises. Helping the helpless can sometimes begin closer to home, as Angel discovers. The original trio continue to have a great rapport with each other, thanks to both good scripting and excellent performances from the regulars.
Rm w/a Vu is something of a gamble. With four dark, intense stories under the bridge, there was the risk that a lighter script may not have gone down so well with this show's growing army of fans. In hindsight, it's generally received a warm reception, which is testament to Espenson's writing skills, Charisma Carpenter's fine performance and Scott McGinnis' well-judged direction. McGinnis comes up with some perfectly executed set-pieces such as the climatic maelstrom in Cordy's apartment, Dennis' face pressing through the wall and the confrontation between Angel and Griff (“My name's Angel! What's yours?”).
On the subject of Griff, the character works well, thanks to an excellent mask (which still manages to blend in with his gangster-type attire) and a strong performance from Markus Redmond (who evidently impressed enough to grant him a second shot in The Ring). Rm w/a Vu's guest cast is fairly small in size, although Beth Grant pitches in with a memorable turn as the alarmingly single-minded Maude (great make-up effects for her ghostly form add to the end result too).
Landing itself another classic so early on its run, Angel has clearly become something more than “Just that show starring Buffy's mopey ex”. The show is just as willing as Buffy The Vampire Slayer to take the time and trouble to invest in its lead characters. Rm w/a Vu works as both a good character piece for Cordy and also a snappy, frequently comical adventure. It lays some ghosts to rest while setting up some future avenues to explore. A very strong episode and one that's highly recommended.
And it also introduces the Phantom Dennis running gag!