Spoke too soon. "My sweet" is not a very satisfying tip-off that Cordelia is the beastmaster when it could have been Wesley reading it in the book Angel was trying to recreate from memory, for example. Or finding evidence of Cordelia's spellcasting or link to the beast or something tangible. I suppose on second thought, possibly Angel wouldn't have reacted well to Wesley interpreting prophecies in a way he didn't like, all that history considered, but he could have been a grown-up and decided to test it. That would have been cool and interesting.
But seriously. Angel decides Cordelia, who he loves, is evil based on the beastmaster sounding "girly"?
As for the rest, where to start?
Okay, big picture: I am dubious about the pacing here. At the beginning of the episode, when Connor saves Cordelia when she's surrounded by Angel & co. who all know she's evil, I was like please no, let's not drag this out any more. Just when it looked like things were starting to resolve, don't pull Cordelia away... And then...suddenly I felt like they went from dragging to fast forward.
That detective recap I was talking about wanting earlier so it would clarify things...I think it took maybe two minutes, tops. Look, here's what happened, okay let's get going now.
It's like...you know, it's actually sort of weird, that they don't deal with the emotional repercussions of anything in the episode, because usually it's all about the emotions in the Buffy-verse, but this episode -- the episode where the past is supposed to come clear -- is not about the past. It's about the future, about Cordelia's octopus-woman baby being born, about Connor making a choice...
The revelations get a bit buried.
Things we don't even get to see:
1) Angel figuring out that Cordelia is the beastmaster. We know he did figure this out (probably not the instant she said "my sweet"?), and was sure enough to set a fairly complicated trap for her; we don't see it.
2) Connor reacting to Cordelia asking him to kill an innocent. We know he decides to go out and find a virgin to bring back, we don't know how he actually reacted.
3) Any specific rethinking of the past because Cordelia is evil. (Arguing about whether or not it's actually Cordelia doesn't count...but like, for example, did Cordelia have sex with Connor when she was confused, or when she was evil? Is there supposed to be a difference between those two states? It whirled by so quickly I missed it, and I don't remember the exact sequence of the beginning of the season. I guess it doesn't matter?)
And speaking of revelations -- so, everything that has ever happened ever to anyone on the show was all a part of some big evil plan? Sorry, I don't buy it. I liked Gunn's speech about how you have to act as if your actions count, because even if they don't always, you never know when they will...but if your big revelation can be so easily dismissed, it's not a very big revelation, is it? If you really want to do "It was all a plan" (and I think that would be super-cool, actually) then you have to provide a little support to your argument. A lot of support, characters fighting and losing the battle to not believe it would be better.
I don't know, maybe the point is that it's a stupid revelation, and you're supposed to ignore it as the random word-spewage of evil demon Skip who was just trying to throw Angel & co. by saying that. And they're better than to be distracted by that. Okay, I can live with that.
But getting back to revelations again...the first time I watched this, I was absolutely livid about the revelation that Cordelia hadn't ascended to a higher plane because she was worthy, but rather because it was all an evil plan. I hadn't really liked that Cordelia became a higher being stuff, but eventually I figured that in order to watch the show, I had to accept it, because that's what they were doing with this show. So I did. I WORKED at suspending my disbelief over that. And then, seventeen episodes in, they say "What, you believed that load of shit? Stupid you." Well, you know, it's not my fault I believed it, you're the one who forced it on me and didn't give me anywhere else to go.
This time around...you know, I still think it was stupid storytelling and very dismissive of the viewer, but whatever. That specific revelation is not actually the biggest thing they're doing here, and it's pretty clear that at this point, trying to understand the past is not actually where they're going with this story, so ... whatever. Go with it.
One more objection, and then I'll talk about what I like.
So. Connor. Last episode he was questioning Cordelia about her sending him to kill Angelus. Who he's always sorta wanted to kill anyway, who he was brought up to hate, etc. This episode, he goes off to get an innocent to kill, no questions asked. I sort of get it in terms of storytelling -- they wanted to have the Darla scene, with the high stakes of the girl already being there, and then have "Cordelia" vs. "Darla" showdown in which Cordelia wins by appealing to Connor's desire to belong and be special and have a special family and everything will be okay if only we kill this girl.
I just think it's too much too quickly. That one step -- Cordelia says "Go get me a girl to kill" and Connor does it, no questions asked (that we see, at least) -- that's the step that breaks my suspension of disbelief.
I don't like that Connor ends up being part of killing the girl, but I can see all the steps from getting a girl to kill and then killing her. It's like...once he fetches the girl, he's already sort of committed. He could still back away, but he's taken the first step. Darla has to convince him to turn around, to negate what he's already done, and she almost got there, but not quite. But if Connor is really conflicted (and I do think he is, he's not completely lost to evil Cordelia's lies), then Cordelia should have faced a similar reluctance to get him to act in the first place, to go out to get the girl with the purpose of killing her...and apparently she didn't. I think that is a flaw in the narrative. A convenient flaw, one that makes the way things turned out seem practically inevitable, because it shapes the argument and Connor's direction to make it seem more believable. But still, a flaw.
Now, onward to what I like about this episode.
Speaking of Connor's dilemma, I thought it was a neat trick that somehow the reality of "Darla" became more important to the argument about what Connor should do than the actual question about whether or not killing is wrong. I sort of feel like he did it because he didn't trust "Darla" (and who can blame him, because however right she was, I certainly have no idea who that actually was or whether she's trustworthy) and because he felt he has to trust Cordelia...because he has to protect Cordelia and his child.
Connor's best is turned against him, his impulse to protect...along with his worst, his desire to be special, his desire to hate and distrust.
I like how the idea of the champion comes up again, Connor is called Cordelia's champion...
Cordelia says that Angel has been telling Connor "Lies meant to keep you in your place so he can control you" -- which is, of course, more precisely what she has been doing. It's hard to even keep track of all the lies that she's been telling.
I do not know what to think about Angel going off to kill Cordelia alone. I feel like this has all kinds of echoes from stuff that's happened earlier...I mean, back in Buffy, Buffy faced a similar situation with Angel, destroying the person she loved to save the world...and she came with a sword too, in fact. And there's been a lot about Angel and being alone this season...and Conner being alone, for that matter. And you know, everyone being alone when you come right down to it.
I suppose the other big thematic element here is choices (and possibly deception). "We make our own choices," Gunn said. And choices are brought into question, choices are manipulated, choices are stated to be all part of some big plan. "It has to be your choice," Darla tells Connor. Angel has a big choice to make about Cordelia (but he comes too late).
So yeah. The way to my heart is through my head, and this episode didn't make it very far through my head, but it's got its good points.