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"Power Play" is the twenty-first episode of the fifth season of Angel and the 109th episode in the series. Written by David Fury and directed by James A. Contner, it was originally broadcast on May 12, 2004, on The WB network.


The gang starts to have doubts about Angel's loyalties when he appears to have become very close with the Circle of the Black Thorn, an evil secret demon society. When Drogyn, the guardian of the deep well, makes a startling revelation, the gangs' fears that Angel has become evil seem to be validated.[1]


In a dark room, a shackled man with a bag over his head is being beaten with sticks by robed attackers. A roaring fire blocks the doorway before him. Angel is on the other side of the fire, and he jumps across. The attackers leave the shackled man. Angel helps the man to his feet and takes the bag off the man's face. The man is bloody, and he thanks Angel. Angel vamps out and bites the man's neck.

Nineteen hours earlier, in Angel's apartment, Angel and Nina are lying naked in bed together after having sex the night before. Both are happy, and Nina teasingly asks Angel if he's perfectly happy and if he's thinking about his "Roman friend." Angel says he can't exactly form a thought at the moment, and Nina notices that Angel is concerned with something going on at work. Angel hints that they are close to something.

In a hallway at Wolfram & Hart, Spike notices that nobody fears Illyria anymore. Illyria voices her fear of weakness, since the partial loss of her powers. Illyria also mentions that Wesley will not talk to her ever since she pretended to be Fred.

As Angel and Gunn leave Angel's office, Hamilton introduces them to Senator Helen Brucker and her vampire aide, Ernesto. Harmony denies Ernesto's request of human blood, and Hamilton suggests to Angel that they should make an exception this time. Angel agrees and winks at Hamilton, and Gunn glares at him.

Wesley walks over, and informs Angel that a Boretz demon living in a downtown amusement park has killed three people in three days, the last of which was Stacey Bluth. Wesley points out that the victims are killed violently. After receiving this news, Angel shrugs it off and leaves. Spike offers to take on the demon for Wesley. After Wesley leaves, Illyria notes that Wesley did not even notice her. Spike invites Illyria to go hunting for the Boretz demon.

In Angel's office, Angel, Gunn, Ernesto, and the Senator are watching a political ad of her rival, Mike Conley. The ad is very patriotic and Mike seems family-oriented. The Senator, afraid of losing the election to Conley, wants Wolfram & Hart to brainwash him and make him believe that he is a pedophile. Gunn is furious at the Senator's request, but Angel agrees to help her out. The Senator tells Angel that he has just made a very loyal ally in Washington.

In Wesley's office, Wesley is researching Boretz demons. Instead of finding information, his book tells him that he is looking in the wrong place, and a strange circular symbol with eight spurs appears. Gunn walks in on the confused Wesley, whose book had just returned to normal.

At a racquetball court, Angel is sparring against Izzy, the devil. Izzy mentions that the leader of the Fell Brethren is very happy over the sacrificial baby Angel helped the Brethren to acquire. Angel asks when will he get an answer, and Izzy tells him that it will be soon.

At an abandoned amusement park, Spike and Illyria are searching for the Boretz demon. Illyria tells Spike that Angel has become corrupted through power, does not notice the small battles to which there is no gain, and now ignores his close counsel. Spike disagrees about Angel being corrupt. Illyria suggests that Angel will murder one of his inner circle. Drogyn the Battlebrand appears and claims Angel has already committed a murder. Illyria looks unhappy to be confronted by her previous jailer. The Boretz appears and fights Spike, throwing him away. Illyria fights the Boretz and kills it with a forceful kick. Drogyn says that he has come to warn Spike, then he falls over. Illyria notices that Drogyn is bleeding, and he says it is because of Angel.

Back at Wolfram & Hart, Wesley stops at Harmony's desk and draws the strange symbol from his book. Harmony sees the symbol and says that it would look good as a tattoo on his calf. Ignoring her, Wesley walks into Angel's office, where he finds Angel talking with Hamilton, and they ask Wesley to come back later.

Outside Angel's office, Lorne tells Wesley that Angel dropped six of his celebrity clients, without warning or asking Lorne. Inside Wesley's office, Gunn, Lorne, and Wesley all agree that Angel is not acting like himself at all. Spike calls, and the three leave for Spike's apartment.

Gathered inside Spike's apartment, they listen to Drogyn's tale of being attacked by a Sathari demon at the Deeper Well. Drogyn beat the Sathari, tortured it, and learned that Angel hired it to kill Drogyn. Drogyn thinks that Angel feared that he might find some incriminating evidence in the Deeper Well and wanted Drogyn dead. This would cover-up Angel's involvement in helping Illyria's sarcophagus escape from the Deeper Well. Angel needed Illyria so that she could help him to sacrifice someone trusted and dear, such as Fred. Lorne and Gunn take the news angrily, but Spike tells them that Drogyn cannot speak lies. Wesley notes that Angel has been acting unusual lately, and Illyria assumes Angel is ready to make his move. Wesley shows them the mysterious symbol of a back circle with eight spurs on it which he found and thinks there's a connection to Angel's behavior. But none of them, including Drogyn, claim to have ever seen it before. Gunn, Lorne, Spike, and Wesley leave to confront Angel, while Illyria watches over Drogyn.

At the office, Angel is speaking with Harmony when Gunn, Lorne, Spike, and Wesley tell him they need to speak.

In Angel's office, Spike tells Angel that Drogyn's in town, after being attacked, and asks if Angel knew about the attack. Angel acts surprised at the news. Wesley asks what kind of business they're in, and Angel explains that it doesn't matter what kind of business they're in; it's all about the game and winning. Gunn suggests that maybe Angel has lost his soul, and Angel points out that most of them would be dead by now if that were the case. Spike points out that Fred is dead already. Angel explains that he's lost his sense of morality, and he wants global power, through any means necessary. Lorne suggests that getting more power will just corrupt Angel further. Harmony interrupts, telling Angel about an important phone call. Wesley asks if Angel was willing to use Fred in his efforts to obtain more power, and Angel says he loved Fred, but refuses to give a straight answer.

In an interrogation room, Lorne and Wesley discuss Angel's strange actions. Wesley questions whether or not Angel was capable of hurting Fred. Then, Gunn and Spike drag a shackled Lindsey from his holding cell into the room.

Outside a building at dusk, Nina is approached by Angel. Angel gives Nina three plane tickets and tells her to leave with her sister and niece. Nina asks why, and Angel tells her it's not safe to be near him. An angry Nina takes the tickets and promises to leave.

At Spike's apartment, Illyria and Drogyn are playing video games when Hamilton breaks in the door. Drogyn recognizes Hamilton, and Hamilton throws Drogyn into a wall, knocking him out. Illyria fights briefly with Hamilton, but she is not strong enough, and Hamilton proceeds to beat her unconscious.

In the interrogation room, Lindsey is also baffled by Angel's recent actions, but he is familiar with Wesley's symbol. Lindsey tells them that the symbol represents a small but powerful, secret society of the elite evil, called the Circle of the Black Thorn, who are actually responsible for making sure the Apocalypse goes off without any problems. Lindsey explains that Wolfram & Hart is like a well-oiled machine, and the Black Thorn runs it. The Senior Partners of Wolfram & Hart live on a different plane of existence while, on Earth, the Black Thorn runs the actives of Wolfram & Hart through powerful worldwide connections. When Lindsey returned to Los Angeles, he hoped that, by killing Angel, the Black Thorn would accept him as a member. Angel's team realize that Angel has been turning evil by degrees, and Wesley thinks that there's still a chance to bring him back.

In a dark room, a shackled man with a bag over his head is being beaten with sticks by robed attackers. A roaring fire blocks the doorway before him. Angel is on the other side of the fire, and he jumps across. The attackers leave the shackled man. Angel helps the man to his feet and takes the bag off the man's face: Drogyn. His face bloody, and he thanks Angel. Angel vamps out and bites Drogyn's neck. After drinking his blood, Angel breaks Drogyn's neck and lets him fall to the ground.

Angel is branded with the symbol for the Circle of the Black Thorn, and all the robed attackers reveal themselves. Among them are Senator Brucker, Izzy the devil, Archduke Sebassis, Cyvus Vail, and a few others demons. They begin to drink champagne and celebrate Angel's acceptance into the fold.

The next day at Wolfram & Hart, Angel walks off the elevator, rubbing the spot where he was branded. Once in his office, Angel is knocked to the floor and attacked by Gunn, Lorne, Spike, and Wesley, each armed with different weapons. Gunn tells Angel that they know all about the Black Thorn and why Angel has been acting strangely. Angel attacks and manages to disarm everybody, while only suffering a crossbow wound to the shoulder, and he takes Lorne hostage. Angel pulls a crystal out of his jacket, which he activates with the word "involvere."

Angel explains the glamour will conceal events in the room for six minutes. He then reveals that everything is a lie, and that Angel was the one who sent Wesley the message and the symbol through the demon research book. Angel also admits to sending the assassin after Drogyn. Knowing full well that Drogyn was capable of defending himself, Angel predicted exactly that Drogyn would beat the assassin and be led to believe from it that Angel had killed Fred. Once Drogyn showed up and convinced everybody that Angel had killed Fred, the Black Thorn would accept Angel as evil, and their new recruit.

Angel adds that, two months earlier, Cordelia gave Angel a one-shot vision from their kiss. The vision involved the Black Thorn and the apocalypse. He explains that, after Fred was killed, he used her death to his advantage, to join the Black Thorn. Finally, Angel reveals his plan of killing all the members of the Black Thorn and, for a single moment, stopping the apocalypse and getting the Senior Partners really angry. Angel also assumes that, once the Black Thorn is eliminated, the Senior Partners won't stop until all of them are dead too.

Spike grimly refers to Angel's plan as a suicidal, "burn the house down, while we're still in it" strategy. Gunn, Lorne, Spike, and Wesley agree to help. Meanwhile, Hamilton watch the group from the window outside the office; however, he can only see them still fighting with each other.


  • Angel has sex with Nina, proving that he can – as suggested by Wesley in "Smile Time" – have sex and not risk breaking the Ritual of Restoration, in contrast to his post-sex "perfect happiness" in "Surprise" and the sexual moment of "perfect despair" with Darla in "Reprise"/"Epiphany."
  • Nina developed feelings for Angel after they first met in "Unleashed", they planned their first date in "Smile Time" and, in "The Girl in Question", Angel told Spike she was his girlfriend.
  • Spike says he and Angel were "intimate" only once; in Last Gleaming, Part Four, when Buffy comments on a dream where Angel and Spike kiss, Spike replies he's "fairly certain [he] never mentioned..."
  • Senator Brucker says she's had dealings with the firm since the time of Holland Manners. Manners was a high-ranking lawyer of Wolfram & Hart until "Reunion", when Angel allowed Darla to kill him. He was featured in "Blood Money", in a promotional video shot while he was alive, then reappeared in "Reprise", undead, to deliver a message from the Senior Partners to Angel.
  • Brucker comments that she climbed her way out of hell and installed herself in a new human body. In "Just Rewards," Wolfram & Hart supplied Magnus Hainsley with human bodies to put demons inside.
  • For her plan of brainwashing her opponent into becoming a pedophile, Brucker suggests using Sparrow, who was responsible for both of Gunn's mental enhancements, in "Conviction" and "Smile Time".
  • Spike calls Wesley "Percy" for a second time, after teasing him for being a "head boy" in "Lineage."
  • Gunn and Spike take Lindsey out of his holding cell. Angel put him there in "Underneath", using his privileges as head of the LA branch of Wolfram & Hart.
  • Hamilton suggests the reason Illyria can't beat him is the power drain from the Mutari generator with which Wesley shot her in "Time Bomb".
  • Cordelia is shown in a flashback to "You're Welcome," where she gave Angel a vision that revealed the true powers behind the apocalypse.
  • Drogyn dies in this episode. He was introduced in "A Hole in the World".
  • Members of the Circle of the Black Thorn seen or mentioned in this episode include:
    • Archduke Sebassis, first seen in "Life of the Party".
    • Izzerial, featured in "You're Welcome".
    • Cyvus Vail, introduced in "Origin".
    • Ed, leader of the Fell Brethren, who first appeared in "Time Bomb".
  • When talking to Angel, Cyvus mentions Connor. He was responsible for giving Connor his new life, as revealed in "Origin".
  • Angel mentions Fred and how their actions will bring significance to her untimely death ("A Hole in the World").



Organizations and titles[]




Rituals and spells[]

Death count[]

  • Three humans, killed by a Boretz demon (only mentioned).
  • A Boretz demon, killed by Illyria.
  • Drogyn, blood drained and neck snapped by Angel.

Behind the scenes[]


  • Sarah Michelle Gellar was invited to return for this episode, but she couldn't make it because she was in Japan shooting The Grudge at the time.[2] David Fury said: "We did think she might be in the second last episode, just like Angel appeared in the second last episode of Buffy's finale ['End of Days']. We thought we'd do that but wound up not."[3]

Pop culture references[]


International titles[]

  • Czech: "Hra mocných" (Game of the Powerful)
  • Finnish: "Valtapeliä" (Power Play)
  • French: "Jeu de pouvoir" (Power Play)
  • German: "Machthunger" (Power Hungry)
  • Hungarian: "Hatalmi játszma" (Power Play)
  • Italian: "Giochi di potere" (Power Games)
  • Portuguese (Brazil): "Jogo de Poder" (Power Play)
  • Russian: "Силовая игра" (Power Play)
  • Spanish (Latin America): "La jugada maestra" (The Master Move)
  • Spanish (Spain): "La jugada maestra" (The Master Move)
  • Turkish: "Güç Oyunu" (Power Play)


Promotional stills[]


  1. "angel: Power Play." TheWB.com. Archived from the original on October 18, 2004.
  2. Lia Haberman, "Angel-Buffy Reunion Spiked." E! Online, March 25, 2004.
  3. Mike Jozic, "BtVS: Post Mortem Week 6: David Fury." Meanwhile..., September 2004.