Angel has its fair share of brooding, tragic figures populating the DVD cases. That's appropriate, given that its main man can't ever have a proper relationship and worse still, has had to give up the one girl who might just have had a shot at being Mrs Angel. Oh, the long list of ballads you could write about this one. But then we also have Wesley and his troubled childhood, Fred and her slightly-longer-than-intended camp dimension vacation – and of course, creeping back to the première season, there's Doyle.
So far, Doyle's been something of a closed book. Episodes such as Rm w/a Vu have implied haunted pasts, but they've never got to the root of the problem. Along comes The Bachelor Party, which starts to fill in the gaps.
After the mixed Sense And Sensitivity, this episode gets the series back on form with a tale that mixes fun entertainment with a wee tinge of melancholy.
It's good to see Doyle get his own episode at last. In a sense, it's the preceding bookend of Hero in that the story of Doyle's demon side is looked at from two angles. If Hero sees Doyle finally embrace his demon heritage, then The Bachelor Party looks at how Doyle never quite came to terms with this shock. It uses the canny trick of introducing his wife, Harry – herself not a demon or monster or alien, but just an everyday, reasonable human being who just happens to have an interest in the demon world. Harry happens to be in town with a view to getting Doyle to sign divorce papers, since she's looking to get hitched again.
The new guy in question happens to be a goofy slimeball called Richard. The marriage package includes a bad 1990s curtain haircut, Miami Vice-style power suits and a bad case of foot-in-mouth syndrome. Being in Angel's world, there's still more to Richard than meets the eye – but because this is Angel's world, the fact that he turns out to be a reddy-pink demon isn't quite as simple as it seems. Richard's demonic side, on the surface, seems to be quite harmless. There's a clever scene in which Richard morphs into his demon self – complete with knife, but it turns out that he's only using it to cut box strings.
The strength of Tracy Stern's excellent script lies in its many twists when we later find out that Richard and his bachelor party entourage need to chow down on Doyle's brain in order to ritually accept Harry as Richard's wife. The Bachelor Party never lets you mentally sit still, since it's steadily throwing twist after twist your way – which is one of its key selling points.
Another notable twist is the background as to why Doyle's and Harry's marriage broke up in the first place. At first, it's easy to assume that Harry got freaked out by Doyle's revelation – in fact it was Doyle who freaked out about the discovery of his demonic side. “I even tried to get him to go out - meet other demons,” explains Harry. “At least go to one mixer, you know? But he couldn't accept himself - or them. So then he was just angry, and pretty much a bitch to live with.” In the end, Doyle's human side was the one that did the damage: “Harry didn't leave because of the demon in me, - she left because of me,” he confesses to Angel.
There's a nicely downbeat side to this story, and also to Doyle's character. Far from being the happy-go-lucky sidekick always keen to get into downtown sports bars, the Doyle of this episode is notably more subdued. At the party itself, his forlorn facial expression tells the tale – and Angel is quick to notice that his friend is having difficulties letting go of the woman that he once loved.
Both The Bachelor Party and the hen do go through every cliché in the book. There's copious amounts of booze for the men to swill and paper plates of village fete-style food for the girls to munch on. There's a stripper for Richard to get uncomfortable with, and there's tacky party games ahoy for Harry to cringe at. Hey, there's even the obligatory bar-room brawl, as Angel rolls with the punches to save his friend from getting a headful of knife. It's all good fun, and the bit in which Cordelia unwittingly thwacks Doyle repeatedly over the head with a silver tray is especially amusing.
This is also a strong episode for Cordelia in which she not only discovers that there's more to Doyle than meets the eye, she also finds that her own personal dating requirements are changing. Having agreed to a date in a swanky restaurant with a gormless banking type called Pierce, she finds that money and status just aren't enough any more. After the opening credits have rolled, we immediately cut to Pierce looking straight at Cordelia, whose blank face clearly tells us that she's bored out of her mind. As Cordy later explains to Angel, she's looking for substance, and while Pierce can give her the ultimate lowdown on trading options, he can't provide the things that really matter to her.
Later, when attacked by a rogue vampire, the first thing he does is to babble in terror and whizz off home in his swanky wagon. It turns out that Doyle's her knight in cheap clothing armour, and it's now left her with a conundrum. “All of a sudden rich and handsome isn't enough for me,” she complains to Angel. “Now I expect a guy to be all brave and interesting.” A subsequent chinwag with Harry leaves her reeling at the discovery that Doyle used to be a teacher and a charity volunteer. Cordy's own preconceptions about Doyle have stopped her from getting to know the real half man/half demon – but by the end of the episode, there could be a glimmer of hope for the pair: “Nice guys don't always finish last,” she tells Doyle with a twinkle in her eye.
One of the big strengths of The Bachelor Party is the acting. Out of the guest stars, Carlos Jacott and Kristin Dattilo make the most notable impressions. Jacott demonstrates the versatility of his range, given that the last time we'd seen him in the Buffyworld was as a talking spud in a hell dimension. Jacott does very well as the smarmy if socially inept Richard, and makes him a fun (but ultimately clueless) villain. Richard never was destined to get the girl.
Aerosmith fans will instantly recognise Dattilo as the eponymous character from 1989's Janie's Got A Gun video promo, while Friends fans will know her better as the pizza delivery girl Caitlin, who's the target of Ross' bungling attempts at flirting. As Harry, Dattilo gives a nicely down-to-earth performance, which makes it a bit of a shame that she never turned up in the wake of the events of Hero.
Having taken centre stage in Sense And Sensitivity, David Boreanaz takes a bit of a back seat this week. As a result, Glenn Quinn gets to steal the episode, providing equal amounts of humour (such as the moment when he's stuck in the cabinet) and pathos. It's the first episode in which we see the more vulnerable side of Doyle – in this case, the very human fallacy of reacting with baffled rage at something that he couldn't quite comprehend led to the breakdown of his marriage. We'll be returning to Doyle's demon heritage story pretty soon though, and that's one hell of a story to tell.
Charisma Carpenter also subtly steers the character of Cordy into more grown up avenues, making her a far more likeable and warmer character than the days of Sunnydale High. That's the great thing about this show – there's the time and the opportunity to mould your lead characters into interesting and maturing people. And thanks to both the quality scripts and acting, it all comes together brilliantly.
The Bachelor Party is a fine example of why the stand-alone stories of Angel's first season worked magnificently. It tells a good old-fashioned story in its own right, leaving room to get to know the leads a little better. The Bachelor Party uses the well-worn stag do motifs to assemble a story that redefines Doyle's character and past, and does so in exciting and witty style. The season's back on track again, and judging by the cliffhanger, there's a special crossover episode to be had in the very near future...