Derek’s Review – 3.11 “Birthday”

The Good:

On paper this should be my perfect episode but while I liked this, I didn’t love it. Obviously I appreciate the focused look on Cordelia and no one can argue this is her episode. Unlike “That Vision Thing” this doesn’t split the focus straight down the middle between Angel and Cordelia so no one wins. Charisma Carpenter is asked  to carry the episode and she does a wonderful job.

I really love how this episode is staged. It’s for technical reasons but when Cordelia is her “ghost” form we rarely see her with anyone else. When she is the alternate famous actress dimension time freezes when she is talking to Skip. It gives the episode a very intimate feel. We are closely tied into Cordelia emotions and are able to feel exactly what she is feeling.

The Bad:

I’ve grown tired with Cordelia being in trouble and Angel going into reckless hero mode. It’s being to become very repetitive and formulaic. I know how scenes are going to play out before they even happen and I’m bored. I can’t connect to Angel emotionally venting at Cordelia’s bedside because I’ve seen it all before. Something needs to change. Angel needs to come clean with his feelings for her or Cordelia needs to recognize how she feels about him. Or better yet put Angel in the unresponsive coma and have Cordelia save him. Just stop putting Cordelia in unnecessary danger basically.

This really jams the premises of two different episodes into one episode. One where Cordelia is a ghost or an astral projection and the other where she is an alternate reality. Either of these would be a fine episode but together it feels disjointed. The alternate reality is personally more interesting to me and that is where the important stuff happens. So the astral projection period of the episode feels like it is dragging its feet. “Birthday” would be much stronger if Cordelia met Skip at the end of the first act or beginning of the first. As it exists we blow through the alternate reality stuff in about ten minutes.

Cordelia immediately senses something is wrong and the whole storyline feels transitory. There is no sense that Cordelia is going to disappear from the show or the universe is going to completely change but the alternate reality is never given time to breathe. There’s no time to invest it because Cordelia is trying to get back to her time right away.

The Unknown:

On rewatch, I couldn’t help but notice how suspicious Skip is in his interactions with Cordelia. I don’t get the sense that Cordelia is a real universe when she gets her dreams realized to be a famous actress. It is more like Skip has put in her shoddily made delusion. I suppose you could argue that Skip wants Cordelia to make the choice to return to Angel. This is why her “dream” world is so clumsy but on rewatch I didn’t feel that way. I felt that Skip was very purposefully removing Cordelia and Angel from the Powers That Be game and that robs Cordelia of some her choice. Cordelia casually telling Skip to demonize her is a perfect Cordelia moment but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the whole thing was a manipulation by Skip.

Favorite Moment

I really love that Cordelia’s idealized form is herself. I suppose it’s fairly obvious to anyone following this rewatch but Cordelia is by far my favorite character. I enjoyed Cordelia on Buffy but I love how Angel has continued to develop her. This isn’t a different character but it’s a natural progression. Cordelia was confident in high school but arrogant. As she progressed into an adult she is still as confident as ever but she doesn’t lord it over others. It’s a good thing that Cordelia is this confident and she is probably the strongest member of Angel Investigations mentally.

Bottom Line:

I want to love this episode but I can’t shake the numerous problems I have with it. I appreciate it but I am not sure I like it. There are so many things holding this episode back despite the several scenes I really enjoy.

61 out of 100

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