It Still Stings: Kate Lockley’s Quiet Departure from Angel

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It Still Stings: Kate Lockley’s Quiet Departure from Angel

Editor’s Note: TV moves on, but we haven’t. In our feature series It Still Stings, we relive emotional TV moments that we just can’t get over. You know the ones, where months, years, or even decades later, it still provokes a reaction? We’re here for you. We rant because we love. Or, once loved. And obviously, when discussing finales in particular, there will be spoilers:

Angel is often viewed as second fiddle to its flagship series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and often for good reason. It’s messy and unorganized, featuring stand-out episodes but sometimes unable to truly weave its pieces together in ways that are satisfying for its overarching storylines and characters. Frequently, Angel just absolutely knocks it out of the park—until it stumbles on the dismount. 

There’s so much to be said about the treatment of female characters on Angel, from the fact that almost none of them make it out alive to the torture inflicted on them when they were among the living. Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), Fred (Amy Acker), Darla (Julie Benz), Lilah (Stephanie Romanov), and so many more found themselves on the unforgiving end of an often gruesome or self-sacrificial death, cut down for shock value and the casual cruelty of female anguish. And while those deaths certainly still sting, one of the most disappointing disappearances from Angel didn’t actually come from this character meeting an untimely demise, but was simply a quiet exit in the middle of one of the show’s most poignant arcs. I’m, of course, talking about the scarred detective Kate Lockley (Elisabeth Röhm), whose journey from flirtatious ally to mortal enemy to reluctant mirror is one of the series’ most thorough examinations of destructive grief and the power of connection and redemption—only for her to exit the series after her most powerful episode. 

From the very beginning, the relationship between Kate and Angel (David Boreanaz) was a true highlight. Where Cordelia and Doyle (Glenn Quinn) tried to coax some levity out of Angel and ultimately tethered him to his humanity during that first season, it was Kate who pushed him to become a better savior to those struggling within Los Angeles, working side-by-side to solve the toughest cases. But when Kate’s father is killed by a vengeful vampire as Angel is forced to stand at the door and watch (no one invited him in, unfortunately), their relationship quickly fractures. Kate becomes unstable, controlled by grief and anger, completely dismissing Angel and his kind while becoming hell-bent on taking down those who killed her father. It’s a destructive path that looks all too familiar to Angel, whose own tumultuous past sent him down more than one warpath in his very long life. He knows the pain of losing a loved one, especially so violently, and he knows the guilt that comes along with not being able to save them. It’s that shared connection that keeps him coming back to Kate, even when she insists he stay away.

Kate’s storyline continues in the background of Angel through the sixteenth episode of Season 2 (one of the series’ strongest outings, titled “Epiphany”), when her path of self-destruction comes to a head. After a half-season spent on a destructive, rage-fueled bender, Angel wakes from a night of love-making with Darla to find that he didn’t lose his soul in the process (unlike when he slept with Buffy in Season 2 of the original series). Still ensouled and now embarrassed and ashamed, Angel realizes that his single-minded quest to end Drusilla (Juliet Landau) and Darla isn’t actually making up for his sins at all, but has instead only driven a wedge between himself, his mission, and those closest to him, including Kate. When Darla tells Angel that she made her believe in something better, in them, Angel recalls a voicemail he received from Kate that very night, where she mumbles out: “You made me trust you. You made me believe.” 

Angel shows up at Kate’s door and busts through—somehow able to swoop in and save the day this time—as he finds Kate lying lifeless, surrounded by empty pill and alcohol bottles. Angel manages to revive her, holding her limp body in the shower before she coughs and sputters back to life. Her response once she’s conscious? “Thanks. Now get out.” 

While Kate’s stubborn streak and lingering grudge make for excellent drama in Angel’s grand rescue, it’s their final conversation on the steps of the Hyperion that cements this episode as one of Angel’s greatest, and Kate as one of the series’ most underrated moving parts. Kate is making peace with the fact that her future does not lie with the police force like she originally thought it would, and she confesses to Angel that she feels like nothing she does matters if it’s not behind the badge. Angel’s response is the perfect summation of the series’ themes, and is one of the greatest quotes ever uttered on the show: “If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do… Because if there’s no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.” 

The conversation between Kate and Angel is that of two broken people finally coming to terms with not only their own role in the grander scheme of the universe (Kate never invited Angel in, after all; the Powers That Be were clearly looking after her), but also the value of just being alive to try to make the world a better place. Kate and Angel were two broken mirrors during their comparatively brief time together on the series, and their parallel storylines surrounding faith, redemption, grief, anger, and acceptance allowed Angel to tell one of its most grounded and heartfelt stories. 

When we leave Angel and Kate on the steps of the Hyperion, it feels like a new beginning. So when Kate is never seen again on screen (only mentioned in passing a few times throughout the rest of its run), Angel allows one of its most powerful storylines to just fall out of existence, a mere footnote in Angel’s larger journey when it could have instead been another grounding force within the show. Of course, it must be noted that Röhm left the series of her own volition (she would go on to become a series regular on Law & Order), but that doesn’t make Kate’s departure any less sudden and shocking. While the storyline remains a beautiful exit in the time it was given, it still feels like the beginning of something larger that the series just never finished, no matter the reason. 

I can’t help but imagine a world in which Kate joined Team Angel, where she moves away from police work but follows in Angel’s steps to continue to help those in need, because that is what her divine calling seems to be. While that may have resulted in an overabundance of brood on the team, especially in comparison to third-season addition Fred, the continuation of Kate’s recovery and progression beyond her grief and anger would have been an incredible parallel to Angel’s own redemption, as they continue to work alongside each other to make Los Angeles a better place. Because healing isn’t instantaneous; Angel saving Kate that night was only step one in a long, long road, and to leave that development to the imagination of the viewer (and to the comic continuations that would come years later) still feels like a missed opportunity. 

Angel proved that, more than anything, redemption is a never-ending path, and for all the souls that Angel saved throughout the course of his series, Kate’s open-ended non-ending was underserved and underdone. But it does remain one of Angel’s most powerful character arcs, delivering one of the series’ best episodes—even if its ending still stings. 

Anna Govert is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and her unshakable love of complicated female villains, you can follow her @annagovert.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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