After Alias last night I flipped the channel to watch Angel on the local syndication run, and they were showing one of my favorite eps from third season, “Billy.” I remember when this was first aired, I seemed to be the only person on this one list I was on who enjoyed it. They all disliked it intensely, calling it overly stated, broad, dumbed down, you name it. And I could understand that, I mean, it’s so overtly allegorical, and less about the supernatural than about the worst of the natural instincts in people. But I think that’s precisely why I love this episode so much.
I was about ready to give up on Angel in S3. I wasn’t sold on Fred as an addition to the cast, Gunn bored me silly, I’d never liked Cordy all that much, but didn’t dislike her, but she really became blurry and annoying in 3 for me, and by the time Darla arrived with the baby story, I was just about ready to leave. I have always disliked Darla, I often find Julie Benz insanely annoying, and the way they turned Angel into the cooing comic relief dad just about killed my interest. It was really “Billy,” in the early eps, and then after the development of the story with Holtz and that aftermath, that grabbed my interest back in a big way. What I liked best about “Billy” was that it was horror based on the things inside us as human beings that we want to keep from getting out — I’ve always found what people do to other people to be far more terrifying than spooks and monsters. In fact, I’ve never been scared by traditional horror stuff; it’s the way humans torture, terrorize, and manipulate other humans that I find scary. Which is another reason the Jossverse vampires are more effectively creepy to me, because they often embody the worst examples of human behavior on a far more evil scale.
And of course, men are scarier. Even though we’re taught that the female of any species is the one you have to watch out for, I don’t think most human women ever feel that way when it comes to facing down human men. There’s that mindset we’re raised with that all men are potential rapists (whether that’s true or not isn’t the point, it’s a message we hear over and over), and we know our culture of violence, degradation, and cruelty towards women. We realize that the enlightened, caring male could always be a false front, and know that we can never really understand what possibly lurks in the depths of a seemingly civilized exterior. “Billy” brings this home to us with terrifying clarity, especially in the scenes with Gavin and Lilah, and Wes and Fred. And Cordelia, of all people, becomes the one real voice of strength and action, the one person who understands just where this evil comes from and its true potential for destruction, and the one who takes the most decisive action until the end, when Lilah shifts back.
And I suppose if you’re not inclined towards allegorical tales of the psyche gone wild, this wouldn’t seem like a great ep, but I’m more disposed toward those, actually. I found the whole concept of the most hidden parts of these men coming out in sick ways to be incredibly creepy, particularly Gavin, who’d seemed less than effectual before, and Wes, the one person we thought of as the most tender, reasonable, and the most civilized. His emotional agony at the end isn’t that far from what an audience would feel — we’ve seen this part of him that he didn’t know existed, that he couldn’t control, something he didn’t want to believe could
exist inside him, come out with deadly force, and it preys enough on him that it becomes one of many emotional breaks that lead him toward Lilah at the end of the season. I also like that brief moment of fear when Billy touches Angel, because Cordelia knows just how terrifying that part of Angel can be; the thought that it could manifest itself with even more violence is a nice scary touch.
What really struck home with me, though, was the scene with Cordy and Lilah. I love that it starts out with this argument of how tough Lilah is — or not, segues into a fashion discussion, and then Cordy giving Lilah the what’s what. Because it not only shows how much Cordy’s grown in emotional maturity due to the toll the visions take on her, but also just what Lilah actually fears. Cordy understands that Lilah is largely fearless and empowered, but that this beating and letting Billy get away has hurt her at a far deeper level than her bruises and cuts hint at. She knows that Lilah may be in service to her firm and her clients and thus has cut off any sense of morality or human feelings, but that she is not enslaved to them, and that Gavin’s beating and the destruction Billy causes have made Lilah nothing more than a slave to someone else’s will and evil nature. It’s this concept of being beneath, forced, that finally motivates Lilah to take action — she will not live in fear, or be subject to any man’s hatred, or bow down to someone else’s will because they have more physical power. And it’s after that that Lilah’s machinations take a different turn in terms of her involvement with W&H’s agenda, and of course, with Wesley.
And frankly, despite all the cries of “it’s a Shining ripoff” with Wes chasing Fred down hallways with an axe, I found that whole sequence extremely disturbing. Until then, we’ve seen a slightly ... greyer version of Wes. Not dark, precisely, but growing more embittered, cynical, and into the deeper tones that he’ll develop once he figures out that prophecy. To watch his veneer of civilization and gentleness and intelligence slide away and slither and twist into such malicious cruelty is, for me, much scarier than any monster, or something such as Hellbound’s finger chopping guy. The way he called to Fred, taunting and threatening her, just gave me chills the first time I saw it, and again last night. Because you know that if it can happen to Wes, if it can make him become that man who’s trying to punish Fred for having and being the very things he wants, then no man is safe from Billy’s evil, and no woman is, either.
And when he cries at the end, when he sits so forlornly in front of that window, and he cannot forgive himself even when Fred does, to me, that’s a much more effective horror aftermath than just throwing a bad guy to the wolves, so to speak, or dusting them. He has to live with that, Lilah now has to live with the conflict of how far she debased herself for W&H, and it’s going to scar them deeply. And despite Fred’s forgiveness, it could very well be one of many things that drove her to Gunn instead of Wes, even subconsciously. He’ll be left to wonder if what he did contributed, but will never know completely, sending him on the way to the darker paths he chose later in the season. What happens to Wes chills me to the bone, because he becomes that man we hear about as we grow up, that man who seems nice at first but hates women, who may just be a rapist or wife-beater or serial killer and torturer. And Wes is not the man we ever expect it from. Angel is immune to Billy’s poison, the one with the greatest evil inside him, yet it’s the outwardly civilized and quiet characters we know, Wes and Gavin, who show the true faces of the men we’re raised to believe exist deep down inside every human male. To me, that’s the scariest thing they could do.( Alias, The Nemesis -- Dixon rocks, but not much else )