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Hell is Other People

Angel Episode 5.4 Hellbound
AirDate: 22nd Oct 03

This week’s review doesn’t take its title from a song or movie, but from a quote by Mr. Jean-Paul Sartre. I won’t claim to have actually read much Sartre – let’s say I’ve mainly just read ABOUT him, but in trying to come up with a title that touched on the concept of Hell, I remembered this quote and went looking to see who originally said it. It falls into the same category of bang-on cynical quotes that I used for Angel 5.1, Morrissey’s ‘We Hate it When Our Friends Become Successful’. I do love the bitter geniuses.

Okay, we’re here to talk about episode four of this fifth season of Angel, scripted by Steven S. DeKnight, who may or may not be bitter and/or a genius, and it was appropriately titled ‘Hellbound’. I liked some elements of this tale, but it’s still not the home run I’m waiting for, and the one that I know this staff is capable of. There’s a killer episode on the way – I can FEEL it! We just have to stick around long enough for it to get here.

Back when I first started watching Angel (season 3), I was immediately taken by the idea that their principal rivals were an evil law firm that had been around since mankind was a twinkle in the universe’s eye. Buffy had her demons and vamps and the occasional lab-built Frankenstein super-cyborg, and the L.A. team had a bunch of suits meddling in Angel’s affairs and one-upping him at every turn.

As Lilah became more of a sympathetic character (well she DID!) and we got a closer look into the inner workings of the firm, it started to seem like more of a real place -- almost a Bizarro World version of Angel Investigations. One had no money, one had limitless funds. One struggled to save the world whenever possible, one slyly manufactured its eventual end. One operated on a basis of loyalty and mutual admiration, and the other arranged its executive hierarchy through bullying, double-dealing, and internal assassinations.

Sorry, can I just say “Lilah” again?

Lilah. Wherever she is, a huge part of the show’s former tension, humour and intrigue also resides. As has been said a million times over the last month, Eve isn’t fit to polish Lilah Morgan’s stilettos. I ask for Merlot and you give me Kool-Aid.

But hold on – I didn’t intend to just bitch about Lilah’s absence, I was talking about Wolfram & Hart’s slow ascension into the spotlight. By season four, the W&H crew was an integral part of the ongoing saga -- an association that was intensified with Wesley & Lilah’s physical relationship and the tenuous alliance between camps when the sky began raining fire. I got so caught up in the idea that Wes & Lilah were lovers on opposite sides of the war, and the lines got very blurry when you could no longer tell who was playing who, or who was in love and who was just in it for the headboard-breaking sex. What really breaks my heart is that I believe they were both falling in love, but circumstances prevented either of them from showing their hands, and then with one slash of EvilCordy’s knife, it was too late.

I don’t need to recount the order of events from last season. Most of you were there, and you remember our introduction to the White Room, the little girl and her big black kitty, Lilah’s posthumous reappearance, and a very surprising offer on behalf of the Senior Partners. What a great twist in the tale of Angel & Co!! A chance to get inside the big scary machine to survey the inner workings and to utilize their resources for the last thing anyone ever expected – helping the helpless. As the gang hopped in that limo, it was a chance to see just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

So here we are in the, um… hole.

‘Hellbound’ revealed some more of the Wolfram & Hart backstory. It seems that when the Senior Partners opened the L.A. office, they needed to consecrate the ground in a completely unholy fashion, so they used the blood of a very evil doctor named Pavayne (it was either that or Martha Stewart’s lobster bisque). Now, nearly two hundred years later, Pavayne’s essence has hung around, and he’s figured out how to keep shoving the souls of dead W&H employees into Hell’s hungry maw to prevent his own descent into eternal damnation. Nice work if you can get it.

Pavayne also kept a few nasty spectral attorneys around as harbingers and minions, and you know what would have been really cool? If a couple of familiar faces made cameo appearances. What if Linwood or Gavin were the first spooks that spoke to Spike (stop that –Ed.)? It isn’t even something that would have to be explained to the new viewers, it would have just been a classic M.E. nudge for the faithful.

So Spike ran around for a while, playing Haley Joel Osment (or maybe Bruce Willis, since… never mind) and engaging in some cat & mouse with Pavayne, as Fred went above, beyond, and fairly CRAZY, to make good on her promise to bring Spikey back to a state of fleshiness.

This brings us to something else that I want to address. Eve returned in ‘Hellbound’, and enlisted Angel’s help in dragging Fred onto the carpet for the way she’s been burning W&H’s money like it’s paper (wait…). Angel’s been struggling with that mantle of responsibility where he wants to be loyal to his friends, but he’s committed to running Wolfram & Hart as a business. So instead of being able to say “Fred, do whatever you need to do and be careful”, he suddenly finds himself speaking as The CEO and busting one of his closest friends for going over budget. His willingness to side with W&H on a matter as black and white as this is probably a precursor to how he’ll handle himself in the more complex situations down the road. What happens when someone like Fred or Wesley’s operations are REALLY going against the best interests of the firm? Will Angel have the stones to fire them?

I love the theory that’s been kicked around the net lately (just a theory – not a spoiler at all) that a day might be coming where some members of the team finally get disgusted with the way they’ve been fighting evil – all the budget meetings, company memorandums, filing everything in triplicate, etc, and leave the firm to go back to their roots. But will everyone go, or will half the Fang Gang be too deep into the W&H way of doing things? Will each faction end up with their own ensouled vampire? It’s an interesting concept, and when contemplating how far they could take something like that, the mind reels.

If anything major was accomplished in this episode (aside from the eventual fate of Dr. Matthias Pavayne), it was the lessons learned.

Maybe Angel hasn’t completely figured out how to balance his new responsibilities with his ultimate goal of helping the helpless, but his conversation with Fred in this episode at least provided a noticeable knock-knock-knock on his thick vampire skull. Now that they’re operating on such a massive scale, it’s easy to forget that an individual condemned to a fate he doesn’t deserve should be aided, budget constraints be damned (Fred: “It’s about helping people. Remember?”).

Spike and Angel’s chat on the couch about their shady past and the merits of redemption was great because these two have such chemistry together, but Angel’s pessimistic tone brings us back to the idea that no matter what these two have done since choosing a more honourable path, it will never measure up to the horrors they committed previously. Two former monsters, doing the best they can before their rap sheets eventually sink them forever. Poetic, isn’t it? And speaking of poetry, I feel like Angel’s compliment about Spike’s poetry was icky – they didn’t even know each other until Spike was a vampire, and was he even still writing them then?

Spike actually learned a valuable lesson from Pavayne -- that being a spectre, trapped between the living world and Hell, doesn’t have to mean you’re powerless. As the Reaper told him, it was sheer force of will that allowed him to stave off eternal torment. I think Spike has proven that he can handle just about anything (except maybe missing Passions), and he only needed this reminder to stop playing ‘Poor Ghostly Me’ and to take charge – first in materializing his clothes after Pavayne stripped them away, and then in his three instances of physical contact with Fred (the zappy touch on the arm, the word spelled out in her shower, and finally moving the coffee cup). If anyone’s going to just will themselves back to a corporeal state, it’s the guy who faced all those trials to get his soul back, who suffered and endured such unspeakable mental torture at the hands of the First, and who eventually sacrificed his life, complete with burning flesh, melting eyeballs and disintegrating bones, to save the world.

Additionally, Angel and the others who remained skeptical about Spike’s motivation also learned the measure of this man (err… vampire. I mean ghost). Spike could have very easily jumped into Fred’s one-shot recorporializer (can you believe MS Word doesn’t recognize “recorporializer”?), gotten his flesh & blood back, and headed off to Europe to find Buffy. But once again, he did the right thing – he gave up what looked like his only chance and saved Fred, helping to defeat Pavayne in the process. Game, set & match in the honour game goes to William the Bloody. Hopefully now the boys club will see him as a soul worth saving.

‘Hellbound’ closed with one of the creepier scenes in recent memory. In all this talk of redemption & rewards, Pavayne has now been damned to a fate worse than death. That touch of claustrophobia I carry around was jumping like a nervous kitten as Angel and Eve locked Pavayne away forever – bound tightly with nothing but an endless view of a long, dusty hallway and the memory of his crimes. I’m sure the double irony of Pavayne’s fate, both as a reminder of Angel’s watery prison at the end of season three and the reflective life of an immortal with so much blood on his hands, was not lost on the boss.

Take care, everybody. Sorry it’s a shorter review this time, but I have to try and cover episode 5.5 before the next one airs, and writing time is at a premium these days.


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Latest Comments

I've found thus far this season is very excruciating. The plots aren't as strong as last year. To make things worse, characters that make this show so interesting last season are either not featured prominently like Wesley, or completely off screen (Lilah, Cordelia, etc).

I think the writers and Joss made the mistake of jumping the Shark with the show. They have turned what was mostly noir show into a BTVS wannabe which just doesn't work at all because the mood of the show isn't as cheery as BTVS. I hope they have the sense of changing it before it's too late. I also hope they'll start giving Wes some interesting story because it's a waste of AD's talent to have Wes just standing around doing nothing.

Posted by: Catherine on November 9, 2003 07:51 PM

A reply to anon about JM's Spike. Something is off. I'm not so sure that I would say "forced, " but the Spike on Angel is nowhere near as enjoyable to watch as he was on "Buffy" Maybe JM's idea of a smart mouth vampire with a soul?

Posted by: Stan on November 7, 2003 02:32 PM

Hey Michelle. Someone else brought up the comment about how they miss the gothic qualities of the Angel of season's past. Your post about how they aren't used to corporate life really brought it home. That's another reason things are "off". Everybody is getting tired of the I'm running a major corporation and I'm so confussed meladrama we're getting from Angel. We know that, get over it, start dealing instead of whining. You already made the point about his age so I'm not going to repeat it. Spike's ghost phase is a problem and quite honestly is getting tiresome and annoying. I want Spike in the mix, not wandering around aimlessly. ENOUGH. I seriously doubt they'll have another season if this keeps up.

Posted by: Janine on November 6, 2003 07:18 PM

I liked the Hellbound episode although the big tease about "partial nudity" was a let down. I've never been one to like thin sinewy guys. I love JM, but he is not my type.

Someone mentioned the Halloween Party episode, which, to me started off very lightly and lowered my expectations. But by the end of it I liked it. I liked the humor. I liked the marking territory thing and the line about sex with Angel and Eve. I thought the premise of Lorne losing his sleep was a bit weak, but in the end I enjoyed the offbeat humor.

I do wish they would stop belaboring the point that Angel and the others aren't used to corporate life yadda yadda. Joss has always tended (in my opinion) to belabor things and it ceases the action and forward movement of the characters. We don't need/want to be mired in Angel's problems dealing with the business world- we get it, move on already.

No one has an action plan, they're just firefighting and I wish they would develop a cohesive approach to dealing with the situation they are in. Of course, it's easier to leave the characters mired in confusion but I don't want Joss to take the easy way out. I don't want the challenge of this season to be that no one knows how to cope with the situation-come on Angel is 200+ years old and corporate America is going to kick his a**? He doesn't have the experience, people skills, or insight to do anything other than wander in circles saying "I don't know what to do" ? I don't buy it and I think this will ultimately kill the show.

Posted by: Michelle on November 6, 2003 11:38 AM

I stand corrected. While this wasn't the killer episode I'm waiting for it wasn't boring. It didn't go unnoticed. Angel "The father will kill the son" Wesley "What are you talking about?" Finally, an inkling of the events of last season. Maybe the inner conflict we've been waiting for. Maybe the memory erase will start to wear off and who knows, Wesley may start to remember things. FINALLY. I'm taking it week by week. "

Posted by: Janine on November 5, 2003 10:34 PM
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