Thursday, 12 February 2015

Angel: Billy

"No woman should ever have to go through that."

About a week ago there was a lot of talk amongst the commentariat concerning a "manifesto" by a group of burqa-clad female recruits to the so-called Islamic State. Amongst stupidities too numerous to account was the insistence, shared by misogynists and social conservatives of all faiths and none, that women should dress "modestly" (in this case very "modestly") because, well, men helps themselves. The burqa is, in effect, slut-shaming to the nth degree.

If I could be a bit more feminist for a moment (which wouldn't be difficult), there's the risk of something like this with fictional portrayals of domestic violence; if all men are just misoginistic, violent monsters who will inevitably be that way, with no agency or free will to do otherwise, you are half way to endorsing the burqa. Not to mention gender essentialism. The older I get, the more sceptical I get about "innate" gender characteristics. I've been a feminist with a Y chromosome for some times, and the fact that I'm going to be father to a daughter very, very soon only concentrates my thoughts. My daughter is not growing up to think that doctors are men and nurses are women, to pick an obvious stereotype. She can be whatever she wants to be.

Anyway, this episode of Angel. Let's talk about it, shall we? Because this episode is not only excellent, its most definitely about something.

Well, we see Fred established as a proper part of the gang for the first time, and she's a fantastic addition to the team. And she really shows her character when comforting a devastated Wesley at the end. That's about it for the main season arc. 

The eponymous Billy, of course, is the bloke whom Angel rescued from Hell, at Lilah's bidding. He's untouchable, from one of America's senatorial aristocratic families, and has the demonic superpower to awaken the latent misogynistic violence in other men, including Gavin, Gunn and (terrifyingly, shockingly, and with an extraordinary performance from Alexis Denisof) Wesley. Ironically, Lilah is the first to be horribly beaten up and, fittingly, it is the chat between her and Cordy that is the thematic heart of the episode. Equally appropriate is that Wes is defeated by a resourceful Fred, while it is Lilah who finally kils Billy. Women are the ones, ultimately, with agency here.

And yet... I love the fact that Billy's powers don't work on Angel. And this isn't because he has any superpowers, but because he has a choice. Like all other men, Angel can choose not to be a misogynistic prick. 

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