So, I’ve been re-watching Angel. If you somehow missed out on this darker, sexier spin-off from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, get out there and get the box set immediately, because it will teach you a ton of valuable stuff about writing characters and sustaining season-long story arcs. But then, you’d expect to learn a few things from a show with Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, Tim Minear and Shawn Ryan on the staff!
So here’s something that struck me while watching the second season episode “Epiphany”, written by Tim Minear.
Supporting character Lindsey McDonald is a junior lawyer at the esteemed and powerful firm of Wolfram & Hart – a law firm so evil that their unseen “senior partners” are actual demons from the lowest circles of hell. (Yup, the old jokes are the best!) He’s a smart kid from a dirt-poor background who’s made something of himself. Nice suits, exquisite apartment, flash car. A career on the up. He’s somebody.
He’s had a complicated relationship with our hero, Angel, from the start. A lurch away from the Dark Side, which he then regretted; a tragic infatuation with the evil vampire Darla, who only has eyes for Angel. And in this episode, all that complex history that comes to a head. Lindsey wants Angel dead, and he wants him to suffer in the process.
Now, this is a man with the power to cover up, control and command almost anything he wants. Wolfram & Hart have police, judges and politicians in their pockets, supernatural assassins on retainer, limitless occult power at their fingertips.
So what does Lindsey do?
None of the above. He goes to the closet, pushes aside all the beautifully tailored suits, and takes out the box hidden away on the closet floor. His box of secrets.
The next time we see him – surprising and comprehensively beating Angel – this is a Lindsey we’ve never seen before. A Lindsey wearing jeans and a check shirt, swinging a lump hammer, driving a beat-up red pick-up truck with Oklahoma plates.
This is the Lindsey that was, the Okie kid that drove to LA in his crappy pick-up truck, in search of the flash car and the designer suits. The Lindsey angry and self-reliant enough to beat the crap out of a vampire with a lump hammer, rather than use the more civilized, arms-length means at his disposal. This is the core of his character revealed – both a surprise to the audience, and yet somehow inevitable.
And all it is, in the end, is some clothes and a little red pick-up truck.
So, what’s in the box of secrets at the bottom of your character’s closet? What’s their equivalent of the pick-up truck sat unused in a garage somewhere? What symbol of their inner self can they turn to, use, put on or dust off to show that, finally, we’re seeing the real them?