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You can picture the slick but snotty marketing types at Wolfram and Hart working their hardest to try and make their latest nefarious scheme sound half plausible. Cartoon mobster Tony Papazian is in the slammer and he ain't happy. Cue a phone call to no one's favourite LA legal eagles, and the problem could be solved very soon...
A healing stick doesn't sound like the most promising premise, and maybe that's why, for me, Sense And Sensitivity sees the first chink in this series' armour. At best, it's an experiment that doesn't quite come off. In its favour is the way in which the story looks at the theme of emotional reaction. Not enough sensitivity means alienating your friends and family. On the other hand, too much sensitivity results in amok – as seen in the moment when the blubbing police officers (having been converted by a sensitivity stick) release both the minions of and Little Tony himself.
So the moral of the story is get the right balance of sensitivity. Have enough feelings to be a compassionate, decent human being – but don't let your heart rule your head to the point where logic goes AWOL. It makes sense for the stick to affect two of the show's most emotionally stunted characters – Kate Lockley (in whiny overdrive again) and Angel himself.
Angel generally has the emotional capacity of a digital calculator – as Cordy points out: “It's like you don't have a pulse”. The fun of this episode lies in bringing out Angel's supposedly non-existent emotional side – with inevitably hilarious results.
Having already acquired a reputation for providing dark, uncompromising mini-thrillers, Angel can prove that there's still a place for the comedic touch. Sense And Sensitivity does at least provide many moments of comedy gold for its leading man. David Boreanaz is given the chance to prove that his sense of comic timing is impeccable, and he rises to the challenge very well. Whether under the influence of the dreaded stick or posing as a flashy, loudmouth tourist, Boreanaz is moulding Angel into something far more interesting than the taciturn vampire of Buffy The Vampire Slayer's early days. He gets the monopoly of killer lines such as the deadpan note on his parents tasting like chicken or the cheesy “You know Anthony, you could be a rainbow and not a – painbow!” moral of the week.
It's also funny to see Angel reacting with such incredulity at his friends' annoyance. Cordelia especially fails to grasp why Angel can't even recognise her new shoes, while it's the first thing that Doyle notices that morning. There's not even a thank you for Cordy and Doyle dealing with a slimy sewer monster, never mind a greetings card each. Angel's still coming to terms with how to fit in with the world, never mind dabbling in social etiquette.
The comedy of Sense And Sensitivity is otherwise a bit half-and-half. While it's funny seeing the usual tough police force turn into crybaby weaklings, Papazian himself is an OTT caricature - the sort of goonish token bad guy who'd turn up in an episode of a dated 1970s comedy. The majority of Angel baddies at least have some small grain of truth about them, but Papazian's Beano material all the way, right down to his great big bushy moustache.
There's a feeling that Sense And Sensitivity is throwing a whole lot of ideas into the pot, and for me personally, they don't quite come together. There's the Goodfellas vibe from Papazian and his cronies. There's the sensitivity angle. The only mystical gubbins this week comes from a nerdy guy called Allen Lloyd employed by Wolfram And Hart to somehow imbue the cops with good vibrations. Quite who or what Lloyd and the talking stick are or where they come from are never properly explained – he says that he worships a whole bunch of demons, but beyond that, Lloyd's motivations and background are a bit murky. Maybe it's just one of those mysteries that was best left unanswered. Chalk up the first major failing to Wolfram And Hart, although Thomas Burr's quietly creepy Lee Mercer makes an immediate impression.
Another main aspect of Sense And Sensitivity is the background of Kate Lockley. Maybe this is why I've never really taken much notice of this episode, given that Kate's self-regarding mood swings and surly attitude manage to be both tedious and annoying. It turns out that the root of Kate's grumpy face is her equally nondescript father, Trevor Lockley, a man who has a piece of damp cardboard where his heart should be. Perhaps this accounts for the fact that there never seems to be any emotion in his eyes: two minute black pixels, gateways to another chilly dimension of stone cold granite.
The story goes that after Kate's mum passed away, Lockley Sr devoted all his time to the police force, leaving Kate high and dry. He never once commented on her appearance or paid her a compliment, and this all comes out in Kate's confessional speech at her father's leaving do. Actually, Elisabeth Rohm plays this scene very well – full of genuine, spluttering emotion, which flows like a river from her blubbing eyes, nose and lips. But that's the problem with Kate: the character's so self-absorbed and miserable that it's impossible to care about her.
At least we get some insight into why Kate is the way she is. With a cold, unfeeling father figure, inevitably this became a case of 'Like father, like daughter'. The further blow to the gut is that Lockley Sr can't or won't acknowledge his part in Kate's deep-rooted problems. His final rebuke to Kate has left him embarrassed and humiliated – while it's tempting to say that Lockley Sr puts the focus on himself rather than his daughter, his later actions in The Prodigal bely this. It's more a case of Lockley Sr being incapable of showing real emotion. He's of that old school in which real men don't show their feelings and put on a stiff upper lip – which unfortunately doesn't translate well to a father-child relationship. He cares about Kate and loves her deep down, but both his wife's death and his old-school upbringing have left him unable to show this.
They say that a journey begins with a small step, and Sense And Sensitivity is that prologue to The Prodigal in which we'll see greater parallels between Kate and Angel than we first realised. Angel and Kate are not so good at showing their true feelings, either hiding behind a smokescreen of dark brooding or cynical sarcasm. It's only in The Prodigal that we see that there's more to Angel's stunted emotions than meets the eye.
For now, though, it's these two emotionally repressed people who are affected the most by the magic stick. And Cordelia and Doyle are left baffled and alarmed by this sudden change – in particular, Doyle's left embarrassed by Kate's school-yard “Someone's got a cru-ush” while her eyes dart back and forth between him and Cordy – Cordy still can't see the possibilities of this, although in the next episode, the relationship between the two will take a surprising new twist.
Tim Minear's script contains some nice moments of humour to be fair, and the cast mostly give it their best shot – particularly David Boreanaz and Elisabeth Rohm (although the guy playing Little Tony is a little bit hammy). The direction from James A Contner is typically quick-fire and stylish.
I guess I'll return to my earlier verdict of it being a brave but flawed experiment. Angel is evidently a show that doesn't want to rely on seen-it-all-before coasting, and is willing to try out new styles of storytelling. It doesn't quite come off this time, but it at least paves the way for future experimental episodes.