While Wesley shows off the newest addition in his collection of arcane weaponry to Angel, Cordelia's dubious-smelling brownies finish baking. Enjoying the homey spectacle of Cordy and Wes bickering, Angel nevertheless tries to make peaceand achieves total silence by inadvertently calling Wesley 'Doyle.' Elsewhere, real children squabble over toys until their mother tells them it is bedtime. The kids protest until sternly admonished by their father. After the parents tuck their children in, the father stonily bids the heartbroken mother to padlock their daughter's door. Behind them, another door, labeled "Ryan," is already padlocked for the night.
Inviting herself to have a seat in his office that evening, Cordelia insists that Angel talk with her about the friend they both miss so much. Just as Angel begins to express the guilt he carries over the manner of Doyle's death, Cordelia is wracked by a vision. Angel and Wesley stake out the envisioned house in the suburbs, but all seems quiet. The Angel Investigations pair is about to leave, when Wesley spots a young boy walking across the yard in his pajamas. Down the street, a car revs its engine and speeds toward them. Angel leaps from the Plymouth, grabs the boy and rolls onto the grass with him, just as the vehicle rushes by. Noticing the bloody scrape on Angel's shoulder, the boy, who seems completely unconcerned about his near brush with death, asks Angel if he's going to cry. Angel jokingly pretends to consider it, finally deciding that he doesn't think he will. At that moment, the boy's father emerges swiftly from the house and roughly begins to berate the child. The boy's mother also rushes up, near panic, and effusively thanks Angel for saving their son, Ryan. Despite her husband's obvious reluctance, she invites Angel inside with an offer to tend his wound. Of course, he accepts. While her husband, Seth, puts Ryan back to bed, Paige tends to the scrape on Angel's arm. Shocked at one point to notice that it seems to be healing with miraculous rapidity, Paige is distracted when Angel returns to the subject of her family. Paige seems too chronically anxious to be truly forthcoming, and stops talking altogether when Seth returns to the living room. Learning that the Andersons have recently moved to the area, Angel begins to probe more deeply for information, such as how their son got out of his room, as well as where he was likely to be going, and why. Decidedly hostile, Seth sits opposite their guest and pointedly reminds him that he hasn't told them his name. Angel introduces himself as "Angel... Jones, Angel Jones." Seeming not to notice his hesitation, Paige rather too delightedly reveals, again over her husband's muttered objection, that she collects angels. To Angel's discomfort, she is instantly convinced that he has been sent to help them, especially since he refuses all offer of payment or recompense. However, when Paige insists on inviting him to supper the following night to thank him, which Seth openly disapproves, Angel uses her enthusiasm to his advantage. After a dramatic pause, Angel brings a glow to Paige's face by asking her, "What can I bring?" before squarely meeting Seth's furious glare.
While Angel is inside, Wesley pokes around outside and finds glowing goo called "Plakticine" (similar to ectoplasm) oozing from the foundation all around the house. Comparing notes back in the Plymouth, Angel and Wesley conclude that someone in the family is possessed by a demon and, though he doesn't express it until later, Angel strongly suspects the father. He might have changed his mind, however, had he noticed the Andersons' daughter, Stephanie, watching expressionlessly from her window as they drive away. Back at the office, Angel and Wes bring Cordelia up to speed. Further research, including a background check on the Anderson family, determines that they are dealing with a powerful, fully developed, mass-murdering Ethros demon. Despite Angel's suspicions about the father, the only way to be sure which family member is possessed is to have each ingest Psylis Eucalipsis Powder, which will force the demon to manifest. They mix the powder with Cordelia's brownies, a plateful of which Angel brings as a hostess gift when he arrives at the Andersons for dinner. After a mildly uncomfortable meal, Paige brings out the brownies for dessert and Seth tells the protesting kids that this will replace their hot cocoa treat tonight. As the Andersons each take a bite, Angel watches Seth so closely that it isn't until Stephanie screams that he sees the demon horrifically manifesting in Ryan. The boy spasms and partially transforms, and his frantic mother accuses Angel of poisoning her son. Unexpectedly, Seth comes to Angel's support, urging Paige to admit that something has been truly wrong with the boy since long before Angel's advent. Eventually, although his face remains disfigured, Ryan grows somnolent and Paige and Seth agree to try an exorcism. Taking an opportunity to speak aside to Angel, Seth expresses his gratitude for this chance at hope and healing for his son and his family.
Having asked Seth to arrange care for Stephanie, Angel takes the rest of the Anderson family to his place, where his team has made preparations. Wesley carries the still-sleeping Ryan and gently deposits him in Angel's bed. Cordelia establishes a magic circle of protection around the bed with a granular mixture she pours from a large flask. Stressing that Ryan is not himself anymore, Angel warns Seth and Paige, particularly Paige, that they risk being killed if they break the barrier or go anywhere near the boy. Leaving Cordelia in charge, Angel and Wesley try to make contact with the priest reputed to be professionally trained to perform exorcisms. Upon arriving at his parish, an aged nun, wise and discerning, informs them that Father Fredericks died during his last exorcism attempt. She warns that an Ethros, more powerful than the demon that killed the Father, is even more dangerous than Angel. As Wesley dips holy water from the font, Angel argues that the former Watcher is physically, emotionally and spiritually unprepared to conduct Ryan's exorcism. Wesley makes his own case by the simple expedient of tossing a cross at Angel, who reflexively catches it, then, just as reflexively, drops it. Shaking scorched fingers, Angel pronounces Wes vulgar, but concedes the point. Meanwhile, Ryan has seemingly regained consciousness and commences tormenting Paige with guilt at leaving him abandoned and alone in the dark. Just as Paige's resolve breaks and she rushes to her son's side, Angel and Wesley return. The demon telekinetically prevents them from coming to Paige's rescue while he tries to throttle her with Ryan's small hands.
After a tense few minutes, Wesley and Angel rush into the bedroom and manage to pull Paige from Ryan's choke hold, but their efforts send the demon deeper, and the boy again lapses into unconsciousness. Angel emphatically repeats his warnings to Paige, and she and Seth sit recovering on the sofa while Wesley prepares himself for the coming ordeal. Angel checks on Cordelia's progress with further research and learns that once the Ethros is expelled, it will automatically possess the nearest "warm body." The only way to prevent this is by obtaining a rare and singularly constructed Ethros Box. Angel gives Cordelia the address of a shop he knows downtown, Rick's Magick & Stuff, and she leaves immediately. Angel stays behind to keep an eye on things and help Wesley prepare for the ritual. Rick's, however, does not have an Ethros Box carved by "blind Tibetan monks," so Cordy instead buys a Shorshack box made by "mute Chinese nuns." This box is intended for another type of demon, and Rick warns her it might be "tight across the shoulders" for the larger Ethros. While Cordelia shops, Wesley begins the exorcism. He manages to raise the demon far enough to animate the boy once more, and intones the opening lines of the Latinate ritual. Sturdily enduring the Ethros' cruel taunts about his inadequacies as a youth and as a Watcher, Wesley nevertheless grows visibly more distracted and vulnerable as the exchange continues. When Angel intervenes, the Ethros viciously twists Wesley's new-found devotion toward the vampire and reveals that he is actually planning to kill Angel, causing Wesley's control to abruptly break. He furiously blasts the demon in Ryan, focusing his righteous wrath through the cross he brandishes. The Ethros, using Wesley's own fury against him, suddenly forces Wes to stab himself in the neck with the heavy cross. Angel rushes to Wesley's side, extracts the cross and presses a cloth to the wound, then helps him from the room. Cordelia returns and the five adults regroup in the kitchen while Wesley rests. Suddenly, the room begins to tremble and shake, and everyone backs away as the disturbance localizes at the kitchen table. Amidst the other toys being rattled and moved telekinetically, all the marbles spill from their bag and arrange themselves into words on the tabletop. Someone has written the pleading message, "Save me."
The Ethros, who has made Ryan sit up again, continues to taunt Angel. When the demon seems to channel Doyle, playing on Angel's deep sense of (misplaced) guilt about letting his friend die, Angel resolves to have an end to the proceedings. Wrapping his hand with a length of cloth, Angel grabs the cross, grabs Wesley's small volume of incantations, and strides into the bedroom. Holding the cross pressed to Ryan's chest, Angel ignores the pain of his hand sizzling through the protective layers and begins to chant. Ryan twists and convulses as the Ethros struggles inside him. Angel's voice grows louder and more commanding as he repeats the ritual phrases until, finally, he shouts, "Now get the hell out!" With an invisible rush, the demon is expelled from the boy, but the Shorshack Box, held at the ready by Cordelia and Wesley standing in the bedroom doorway, is wholly unable to contain the demon's energy, and shatters into shards. With a roar, the Ethros, still in invisible energy form, flees the basement, leaving everyone staring at each other in stunned shock. Some time later, after sending the Andersons home, the AI team tries to determine the demon's current whereabouts. Although there is a fair amount of plakticine to be found in the building, Wesley concurs with Angel's guess that the demon is long gone and will need to take corporeal form to recharge itself after expending so much energy to escape. Leaving Cordelia behind, the two demon hunters soon track the Ethros to primordial basalt sea caves nearby. As they penetrate deeper into the rocky blackness, Wesley takes a moment to try to assure Angel of his loyalty, no matter the Ethros' earlier taunts. Angel, trying to keep it light, reassures Wes, in turn, that he knows the former Watcher isn't planning to kill him. Also aware, however, that Wesley is willing to kill him should it become necessary, Angel concludes, "And that's good. Now, come on." With nothing more needing to be said, Wesley, deeply gratified, follows Angel into the dark. Shortly, they hear quiet moaning from up ahead, and come face to face with the terrifying Ethros demon. Oddly calm, the Ethros explains that in millennia of tormenting innocent souls, he has never before encountered a being that frightened him as much as did the Andersons' son, Ryan. He reveals that the boy is not pure or innocent, but totally chaotic, amoral and soulless inside. The boy had been the true Box imprisoning Ethros (who didn't even manifest until Angel exposed Ryan to the eucalipsis powder), and the demon sought escape at any cost, even that of his own existence. Angel realizes that the message, "Save me" was, in fact, the demon's plea, and that the Ethros, on the first night he encountered the Anderson family, was actually the one sleep-walking Ryan into the street to effect his own fatal escape from bondage. Angel and Wesley now understand that the Andersons, believing themselves safe at last, are still in mortal danger from the monster undetected in their midst. With pitiless swiftness, Angel dispatches the ancient evil.
In the Andersons' suburban home, Paige gives Ryan and Stephanie their accustomed hot cocoa before bed, but Ryan is dissatisfied when he counts two fewer mini-marshmallows in his cup than in his sister's. That night after everyone is asleep, Ryan, unsecured for the first time in a long time, steals matches from Seth's bedstand, then locks his parents' door shut with a toy box. Entering Stephanie's room, the boy sloshes gasoline over his sister's toys and furniture, then lights a match and tosses it down. The room ignites with a whoosh and Stephanie, cut off from the door by a wall of flame, wakes up screaming. As her brother stares entranced at the roaring flames, Angel suddenly crashes through the window opposite and scoops Stephanie into his arms. Despite the open flame, he pauses a split second to see Wesley hustle Ryan and his parents down the hall to safety, then leaps back through the window with his small burden. A little while later, Angel and Seth stand in the strobing dark, while firemen contain the blaze, and other emergency vehicles stand at the ready around the yard. Behind Seth, Paige and Stephanie huddle together near the front door. Detective Kate Lockley comes over to inform Seth that Social Services is taking custody of Ryan, and that they can see him in the morning, but that there won't be anything to report until after the evaluation. Angel catches her glance and says, "Thanks for coming by, Kate." Staring at him for a moment, Kate merely nods, then turns away and climbs in the squad car that drives Ryan away. Angel redirects Seth's attention from the son he cannot save to the wife and daughter he has already protected. Almost imperceptibly nodding his thanks, Seth turns to embrace his welcoming family. Angel makes his own way out to the sidewalk, where Cordelia and Wesley stand near the Plymouth, waiting for him.
Tropes in this episode include:
- And I Must Scream: The Ethros demon is unable to control Ryan, except while asleep, and is trapped in his body until Angel and Wesley exorcise him, as the boy has no soul to corrupt.
- Actually Pretty Funny: When Angel is adamant that Wesley cannot do the ritual, Wes tosses a crucifix at him and suggests that he do it himself. Despite the cross burning him, Angel's reaction is along the lines of, "Yeah, that was cool enough for me to think of."
- Awesome, but Impractical: Wesley's knife for killing a species of demon that is now extinct. Cordy uses it to cut up her brownies.
- Ax-Crazy: Ryan is one disturbed little kid.
- Badass Boast: The Ethros demon gives one to Angel and Wes, right before he reveals that he's a Death Seeker and Ryan is the true monster.Ethros demon: You are a fool. You think to destroy me? Youre dealing with forces beyond your comprehension. [...] I am Ethros. I corrupted the spirits of men before they had speech to name me. The child was but the last among tens of thousands, one more pure heart to corrupt, one more soul to suck dry.
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Wesley mentions Lizzie Borden, the famous Massachusetts woman accused of butchering her parents with an axe. She, too, was possessed by an Ethros demon. Angel notes ominously that the demon possessing Borden was only an adolescent.
- Big Damn Heroes: Angel crashes through the window to save Stephanie as her room burns.
- Buffy Speak: When Seth says the roast was a little dry, Angel assures him it was full of "roasty goodness."
- Cat Scare: Involving an actual cat.
- Creepy Child: The child is already psychotic, and the demon is trapped inside as he has no soul to corrupt.
- Death Seeker: The Ethros demon, after being trapped in Ryan's body for so long, unable to control it.
- Description Cut: Wesley says that if a possessed person eats eucalipsis powder, the demon within is forced to reveal himself. Cordy asks how Angel is supposed to get the Anderson family to eat the powder. Cut to Angel knocking on the Andersons' door with a plate of brownies.
- Demonic Possession: Ryan, the Andersons' son, is possessed by a type of demon known for such activity— but that's not his biggest problem.
- Detect Evil: The elderly nun is able to sense Angel's true nature, though she stays fairly calm about it.Nun: How can I... [sees Angel] You would come into a place of worship?Angel: ...I'm not what you think.Nun: No? [tries to touch Angel's hand with her rosary; he pulls away]Angel: Okay, yeah, I am.
- Disability Immunity: Played for Horror. Turns out that Ryan, being a sociopath, was completely immune to being possessed by a demon. The non-supernatural atrocities that happen around him throughout the episode are completely his fault.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Ryan tries to burn his sister alive because she got two more marshmallows than him.
- Diving Save: Angel, saving Ryan from being overrun by a car.
- Enfant Terrible: Ryan is possessed by a demon and doing horrible things. They exorcise the demon but find out from the demon (who begged to be killed) that it was Ryan himself who didn't have a soul to begin with, and that the demon had been trapped.
- Even Evil Has Standards: The Ethros demon was terrified of Ryan, so much that he was willing to kill himself just to escape from him.
- Evil All Along: :Ryan himself, possessing demon or no.
- Evil Is Petty: Played for Horror, mundane and supernatural. Ryan eventually managed (unknown to him) to terrify the Ethros demon to the point that he tries to kill Ryan (alongside himself) because Ryan has "no reason at all" to commit his atrocities. The climax involves Angel saving Ryan's family from being immolated by the kid in retaliation for his sister getting two more marshmallows in her cocoa.
- Eviler Than Thou: Ryan, being a sociopath, not only was immune to the Ethros possessing him, but eventually came to horrify the demon because unlike the demon Ryan commits atrocities just for the hell of it.
- Evil Sounds Deep: The Ethros demon after he is exposed.
- Face Death with Dignity: The Ethros demon, newly corporealized, doesn't try and fight Angel and Wes when they find him. He explains that Ryan is evil, and when Angel declares that they need to stop him, the demon quietly agrees and allows Angel to kill him without complaint.
- Freudian Slip: When Wes and Cordy start bickering, Angel accidentally tells "Cordelia, Doyle" to stop.
- Fridge Logic: If the Ethros demon wanted out of Ryan, why did it fight against the exorcism ritual? Since it's revealed that the demon never even manifested until Angel forced him to, Ryan presumably never had access to all the Ethros's mind-reading and psychic abilities, not to mention that he would have had no reason to fight to continue the possession.
- Ghost Butler: The demon slams the door on Cordy and Seth from across the room so it can strangle Paige.
- Hannibal Lecture: The demon uses Wesley's feeling of inadequacy to distract him from the exorcism ritual.Ethros demon: All those hours locked up under the stairs and you still werent good enough. Not good enough for Daddy, not good enough for the Council.
- Healing Factor: Paige is shocked to find Angel's cut has healed since she went to get bandages.
- Holy Burns Evil: Angel can't carry out the exorcism as he can't hold holy objects, but when Wes is unable to do so, he wraps up his hand, grabs the required items, and completes the ritual despite the pain.
- Honest John's Dealership: The only way to contain an Ethros demon is to trap it in a rare Ethros Box. Angel gives Cordelia the address of a shop he knows downtown, Rick's Magick & Stuff; Rick, however, does not have a box carved by "blind Tibetan monks," so Cordy instead buys a cheaper Shorshack Box made by "mute Chinese nuns." Rick warns her it might be a little "tight across the shoulders" for the Ethros (oh boy, this'll be fun). Predictably, the box bursts into splinters when Angel and Wesley exorcise the demon into it.
- Horrifying the Horror: The demon possessing Ryan has become suicidal by the time the episode takes place because Ryan, as a sociopath, not only trapped him within his body but is also vile beyond the demon's comprehension.
- A House Divided: The demon tells Angel that Wesley is planning to kill him. Later Wesley tries to assure Angel that it isn't true, but Angel says it's OK; he knows Wesley is prepared to kill him, which is a good thing if Angelus returns.
- Hyper-Awareness: The nun is somehow able to sense that Angel isn't human.
- Layman's Terms: Angel describes where they might find an embodied Ethros demon. Wesley translates.Angel: Hell be looking for a hostile environment—somewhere damp. Probably returning to primordial volcanic basalt for his regeneration.
Wesley: Sea caves.
Cordy: Why didnt he just say that?
- Lethal Chef: Cordy's brownies. In a Funny Background Event, the Anderson daughter hides hers under her napkin after trying it.
- Mr. Smith: Angel introduces himself to the Andersons, realizes he has to make up a last name, and says his name is "Angel Jones."
- Mundane Utility: Wesley shows Angel a Kek dagger, which is the only weapon capable of killing a Kek demon. Angel informs him that Kek demons are in fact extinct. Then Cordelia grabs the dagger to cut brownies.
- My Greatest Second Chance: According to Tim Minear, Angel saving Wesley is him atoning for Doyle's death.
- Neurodiversity Is Supernatural: Subverted. Ryan was psychotic before the demon possessed him and in fact wasn't at all affected by it, but the demon does say that Ryan has no soul.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Angel saving Ryan, who has no soul, and the Ethros demon inside him, from being hit by a car.
- Nothing Is Scarier: The Ethros demon was utterly terrified of Ryan because of his lack of a soul.
- Now You Tell Me: Wesley brings a vial of green glowing liquid back to the office. Cordelia can't help but admire it.Cordy: [picks up the vial] What is this stuff anyway? Kind of pretty!
Wesley: Uh, its the bodily excretion of an Ethros demon.
Cordy: [puts the vial down and folds her hands] No one could have said "demon poo" before I touched it?
- Oh, Crap!: When Angel and Wes find that the only priest qualified to do the exorcism has been killed performing that exact ritual. When the Ethros destroys the box meant to hold him when exorcised. When Angel and Wes realise Ryan is the evil one, and is now alone with his family.
- Parents as People: Tragic version. It's revealed near the end of the episode that the father knew something was wrong with his son and didn't want to turn him into the authorities because Ryan, sociopath or not, is still his son. The father and mother, reasonably, believed it was the demon possessing him; but after the final incident, the man must come to terms with the fact that the child is lost.
- Pity the Kidnapper: After discovering that Ryan is possessed by a demon, Angel Investigations exorcises it and then tracks its physical form down to kill it... a fate the demon welcomes, as Ryan was so evil by himself that the demon found himself trapped in a hellish mindscape for years.
- Psychic-Assisted Suicide: The demon-possessed Ryan "sleepwalks" into the middle of traffic, almost getting killed before Angel tackles him out of a car's path. The demon later confesses that he would have also died had the car struck. By leaping into a body of a remorseless child, the Ethros had unwittingly trapped itself forever, with death as the only escape.
- Red Herring: The opening half has Angel suspecting the wrong man of being possessed. In the end the demon reveals that the child was born with no soul, and the demon had been the boy's prisoner while the child did the horrible things.
- Saying Too Much: Wes says that a father doesn't have to be possessed by a demon to terrorize his children, then realises he's given away too much about himself.
- So Much for Stealth: Wesley accidentally pokes a talking doll while looking through the Andersons' garbage bin. Fortunately, he's not caught.
- Super Window Jump: Angel pulling a Big Damn Heroes at the end.
- The Sociopath: Ryan, due to the fact that he is The Soulless.
- Taking You with Me: The demon is intent on killing its host, even if it means that he'll die as well.
- Titled After the Song
- To Absent Friends: Angel inadvertently calls Wesley "Doyle" when he starts bickering with Cordy. Realising he is still grieving, Cordy gets Angel to open up about his feelings. Later the demon tries to use these feelings of guilt against Angel.
- Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth: Only after taking possession of Ryan does the Ethros demon realize the child "has no soul." The demon is trapped inside Ryan and despairs at the feeling of "nothing" in the boy.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Ryan Anderson's reaction to Angel shoving him out of the path of a speeding car. Noticing the bloody scrape on Angel's shoulder, Ryan, who seems completely unfazed by his brush with death, asks Angel if he's going to cry. This is an early sign that this kid belongs in a padded room.
- Voice Changeling: The Ethros demon possessing Ryan displays this ability. It taunts Wesley in a voice identical to his own, reminding him of his unceremonious sacking from the Watcher's Council; then it strikes out at Angel by channeling Doyle's voice, playing on Angel's guilt.
- Weak-Willed: Angel tells Wes he can't carry out the ritual as he's too open to suggestion. "How many Thighmasters do you own?"
- Weapon Twirling: Angel twirls the axe he uses on the Ethros demon.
- Wham Line: When Angel and Wesley prepare to kill the demon.Wesley: You didnt get that boys soul
Ethros: Hmpf, what soul?