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The Ghost in You

Angel Episode 5.2 Just Rewards
AirDate: 8th Oct 03

Last week was a fun return to the schedule of “watch the episode, write the review, and observe the response.” For the most part, everyone seemed reasonably accepting of what I had to say on the subject of the season premiere, and even those of you who disagreed didn’t fire off any harpoons marked “Dear Idiot”. It was usually just calm suggestions to cut Mutant Enemy some slack and sit tight for the better days ahead. One of the criticisms that stand out in my memory came from my own pal Kitty B, who thought the piece was “whiny”. Okay, fair enough – I was disappointed in the episode, and maybe that dominated the review and I became one of those people who bitch about how Joss has let me down by not delivering the kind of episode I was hoping for, as if he and his people are my employees.

So if it does anything to counter this notion, I enjoyed 5.2 ‘Just Rewards’ a good bit more than its predecessor. I know, judging by opinions I read all over the internet last week, that I’m not the only one who’s feeling a bit uncertain about the tone set so far and the apparent direction of the season (yeah, after two whole episodes), but ‘Just Rewards’ was a turn toward something that has the potential to draw me in the way the last couple of seasons have. It comes back to what I’ve said time and time again – special effects are cool and elaborate fight sequences can be entertaining, but the main thing about Buffy and Angel that’s always won me over is rich, believable characters who struggle within their relationships and gradually grow in fascinating ways. You have but to look at the character arcs of Willow, Spike & Wesley to see what I’m talking about. Admittedly, a lot of their power comes from the performances of some fine actors, but that only means that one big requirement for this season to blow my mind is already accounted for. Two out of those three actors are signed on for the whole season (accepting, of course, that anyone’s character could die at any time), and I have the highest praise for the rest of the Angel cast. It now falls on Joss and his writers to deliver compelling scripts for these actors to turn into magic.

‘Just Rewards’ was our first chance to see Spike really dig into the Wolfram & Hart environment and for James Marsters to rub noses with the majority of this cast. It appears that Spike remains as multi-faceted as ever – his longstanding resentment of Angel will still drive a lot of tension and conflict between the world’s only two ensouled vampires, but the vulnerability and humanity that broke our hearts in the last couple of seasons of Buffy (go watch the church scene from ‘Beneath You’ again. Do it. You know you want to) is still just below his alabaster skin. The callous way he abuses his ghostly status provided some welcome humour (“Oh, I’m sorry – I didn’t care.”), but his episode-ending confession to Fred that he’s being pulled into Hell and he’s terrified is exactly the sort of stuff that gives me lumpy-throat.

It’s an interesting angle – that despite saving the world with one bugger of an impressive sacrifice, the same evil past that’s tormented Spike ever since he got his soul still won’t let him go. Now that he’s gone from undead to almost-entirely-dead, Hell still feels Spike deserves to burn eternally. Maybe for guys like Spike and Angel, there’s really no penance, punishment or good deed that will ever cancel out the sins they committed in their pre-soul days. When Buffy skewered Angel to stop Acathla’s destruction of the world at the end of season two, the good deeds he’d done and the long years of maddening remorse he’d suffered weren’t enough to even land him in Purgatory – it was straight to Hell for our boy. What would happen if Angel died now? We’d like to think, as he would, that as a champion of the Powers That Be, he’s earned his fluffy little wings and an eternity of floating on a cloud listening to the complete works of Barry Manilow (one man’s Heaven is another’s Hell, they say). But maybe not, as Spike just gave up what was left of his life in the purest act of heroism ever seen on either show, and Hell seems to still have him under contract.

Hmmmm… contract. Maybe he’s come to the right place if he needs someone to argue his case for release. That might make for an interesting and Faustian storyline in the weeks to come – Wolfram & Hart’s top attorneys trying to convince ‘The Powers That Be Hellish’ to let Spike rest in peace.

It was satisfying seeing Angel & Spike working together as a vamp & ghost Starsky & Hutch, and it appears that Spike will be serving as the unofficial voice of the viewer. My first thought when Angel took out the Necromancer’s butler with a teaspoon was “Give me a BREAK!!”, and there was good old William to sneer “A SPOON?!?” in complete disbelief. Thanks. That was just a little too goofy for my tastes, and I attribute it to Ben Edlund’s residual Tick-silliness (“Spooooooooon!”).

All in all, though, Edlund’s script, from a story by David Fury, did a good job of positioning Spike in the Fang Gang line-up as someone who, since he seems to be stuck there for the time being, will inevitably end up helping whenever an incorporeal ensouled vampire can be useful. This doesn’t change the fact that he and Angel have a lot of old beef to sort out, and I’m excited about watching the fireworks. Still, I have to agree with an opinion I’ve heard expressed elsewhere, that Ben didn’t always have Spike’s voice nailed down perfectly. He threw in so many buggers, prats, nackereds, and gits that it started to sound like he was out to lampoon Spike’s use of Brit slang. If anyone bumps into Mr. Edlund, can you please ask him to dial back the bloody ‘ell a bit? Cheers, mate.

The Necromancer was an interesting villain, excellently portrayed by Victor Raider-Wexler. In fact, it’s too bad that he’s already met his end, because he’s the sort of character I’d like to see stick around as an ongoing thorn in their sides. Maybe they needed to bump him off because he’s too powerful – anyone who can dust Angel with a look and a gesture might not make for a villain that should be written in too often. Or maybe it comes back to the announcement that season five will be one of shorter arcs and many one-off episodes. Kit tells me that the writers on the Angel panel at the San Diego Comic Con admitted this summer that the network told them “multi-episode stories don’t syndicate well.” My theory last week that some elements of the show’s new game plan are motivated by network directives seems to be more accurate than I initially wanted to believe.

Since this episode was primarily about Angel & Spike with a dash of monster-of-the-week, we didn’t get much time to explore how the other characters are dealing with their new digs. One thing I’m noticing, though, is that everyone might be getting too big for his or her britches, as the saying goes. Lorne is having the best time of all, living out his dreams (which apparently include Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom) of being a big wheel in the entertainment industry. If anyone’s in line to be corrupted by Wolfram & Hart, my money’s on the Emerald Fog. Fred, Gunn & Wesley are all enjoying thrilling new power to varying degrees, and while Gunn may well have changed the most in this short amount of time (19 or 20 days, assuming the Fang Gang got the keys to W&H around the same date that Sunnydale sunk into the earth), it seems apparent that Wesley is very quick to answer to the name “Boss”, when people mean Angel. Maybe a power struggle is just the thing to plunge this group back into chaos where they belong.

In any case, episode 5.2 had a lot more to sink my teeth into, and I feel a little better about what’s in store -- especially since there’s a Fain & Craft tale on deck (rejoice!), and 5.7 is 100% Ultimate Drew, baby!!

Big thanks to those who sent me emails this week, but unfortunately I need to warn everyone that I’m juggling a lot of different projects these days and my time is rarely my own. Please don’t take offense if I don’t get back to you -- I read everything I get, and I’m grateful for all of it. By all means, keep writing.

Take care, everybody.


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Latest Comments

Also, while I adore all things Buffy (and, well, Joss really), I wasn't as satisfied with the last season, so I used that reasoning to try to console myself with the show's end: let's have it off the air before it gets HORRIBLE. But, let's face it, it wouldn't get horrible - ever - and even though I would never have cited Buffy has my favorite chraracter, I really miss watching her. And Giles WAS one of my faves, so I definitely miss him ... and Willow ... the point of this is ... is anyone else really miss Buffy the Vampire Slayer?! And we'll never see Anya again. Although, when is death ever really permanent ... save for the case of yet ANOTHER one of my loves ... Doyle. But that's REALLY sad, so ...

Posted by: Lauren on October 23, 2003 08:24 AM

I haven't been a Spike fan for a long while - pretty much since he fell madly in love with Buffy, became completely boring, and turned into (in my opinion) a watered down version of Angel. Conequently, I was more or less dreading his appearance on the show; he's just annoying now. HOWEVER, the show has made everything too easy for Angel. He's just a businessman. He's boring. Where's the inner struggle between good and evil? Now he has unlimited resources. For heaven's sake, the vampire can have an office with windows. What happened to the heartfelt decision to destroy the Gem of Amara, because the people in the dark need help? It's ridiculous. I know the show needed to evolve in order to stay on the air, but as a Buffy viewer since the beginning, and one of the most devoted fans of Angel-the-character as well, I'm having a difficult time reconciling these changes ... I'm not liking my hero anymore. He's losing his virtues, and with that, my respect. And I'm finding myself liking his "watered down" protegee more and more, to my great dismay ... (And, yeah, I know it's just a TV show ... but I've been watching for nearly seven years now ... since Welcome to the Hellmouth, and I'm allowed to overanalyze!)

Posted by: Lauren on October 22, 2003 12:35 AM

Hey everyone! I've only posted once before a LONG time ago, but here it goes...
I think it's only been 3 episodes so far so we shouldn't be too harsh, yet, but so far I think they are trying to just set the characters and situation w/ Wolfram and Hart. Spike is great, ofcourtse! I think things will definetly get ibnteresting when Buffy comes on. I do sense a tad of selling-out on Joss's behalf, semi-so, but I'm not sure yet, the direction of the season hasn't been set tey, it's just the begining. Fred I personally don't care much for. I think they need to either take her in a new direction or nicely show her the door. It's kinda cheesy they matrix-style downloaded lawyer knowledge into Gunn's head, not to mention quite a few of the stunts have been Matrixed up. Here's a thinker-Wesley got all broody and ruggedly handsome when the whole Connor-thing happened and was cut off from everyone, and hence the relationship w/ Lilah, so if Conor is only a memory to Angel why is Wesley still brooding and hot and will they continue the Lilah/Wesley plot of former lovers if the only reason they hooked up is cuz he was cut off from the gang, but w/ no Conor he wouldn't have been cut off? Werewolf girl? POtential Angel relationship? I hope not. I just want to see B & A together, she's cookie dough! Also about those people that eat werewolfs in the most recent episode-just a thought..we HAVEN'T seen OZ in a while (shriek!) J/K He'd be an excellent addition to the Angel investigations! Come on Seth- leaving Buffy for Greg the Bunny! Come back! Well my damage here is done. Write me back and tell me what you think of my banter.

Posted by: SaRaH on October 20, 2003 10:08 PM

Another person that has noticed the dialogue and audio problems. Spike Me !! makes a good point on the end scene Angel didn't solve anything for Nina. Spike's she's in the kill or be killed club comment comes to mind. Indeed.

Posted by: Janine on October 20, 2003 12:35 AM

I am very afraid that Angel has succumbed to the commercialism in all shows nowadays. The dialogue seemed forced, and definitely TOTALLY not synced togeter well. The end scene is what sealed this opinion for me. The "happy, all is solved" banter. "Do you think you have a shot?" I felt like I was watching the end of the Brady Bunch or something. Now, don't get me wrong I am a HUGE fan of the Buffyverse and Joss but I think he had to "sell out" make everything more marketable to everyone. One of the things I have always loved about Whedon's shows is that he is unpredictible, unusual, and unique. I haven't felt that way this season yet. I will keep watching because ya know its my show. I'll keep my fingers crossed that it gets better.

Posted by: Spike Me!! on October 19, 2003 11:29 PM
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