...well I said "there's a hole in the donut too!"
shave and a hair cut! Two bits!
Much as I enjoyed :Angel:'s latest episode (entitled A Hole in the World), I couldn't help but feel that something was missing. Everything seemed to be there: the stellar acting, Joss Whedon's crisp script and tight direction, and the actors' profound grief. I appreciated the control over the tone and the sudden shift from the humourous to the horrible. The first half hour is key because we see all of the characters at rest, comfortable with themselves and with each other. We see Spike and Angel having worked out their major differences and squabbling like family. But the moment that Fred sings, and Lorne reacts with horror, the story turns on a dime and all hell breaks loose. The comfortable world of Wolfram & Hart (which didn't seem so comfortable a couple of weeks ago) crumbles into dust and the characters get progressively more desperate. That's good. That's what we've come to expect from Joss.
But this story wasn't close to the written-and-directed-by-Joss Whedon :Buffy:/:Angel: classics of yore, like The Body, Once More With Feeling or Hush. It was even a step back from this season's best episodes, Conviction and You're Welcome. So, what went wrong?
Please note that some major, major spoilers follow. This story is a significant turning point in the season, so if you don't want to be spoiled, don't read on or (if applicable) click on the link below. I mean it!
Then it hit me: when Angel and Spike go to the well of souls, they are met by Drogyn, a being whom Angel knows, and who can't lie. Despite being the source of considerable amusement when Spike gets sick of the man's little problem ("What's your favourite colour? Who's the goaltender of Manchester United? And how many fingers am I holding up?" [flashes an "up-yours" sign]), Drogyn serves one purpose, and one purpose alone: to tell Angel that there is no hope, and to have Angel believe it without question.
If it were any other being, Angel and Spike would be punching the guy's lights out, not taking "I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do" for an answer. Drogyn, Angel's foreknowledge of him and the fact that he can't lie are all pure authorial fiat and are, frankly, a bit of a cop out. In total, this portion of the episode ends up as a dramatic failure amounting to this:
Angel: So, how can we save Fred?
Drogyn: You can't
Angel: shrugs Oh, well; I tried.
Drogyn: Actually, you didn't.
It's not the presence of the unable-to-lie Drogyn that is a problem, either; it's Angel's willingness to give up. Despite the fact that saving Fred means condemning hundreds of thousands to her fate in her stead, simply giving up was dramatic suicide. I thought that we were in for a good, dramatic climax when Angel stepped forward saying "to hell with the world!" If Angel had tried to go through with the spell to save Fred, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of people, and if Spike had been forced to intervene (why else would you bring him there, otherwise?), that would have been the exceptional drama needed to propel this story into the stratosphere. But that didn't happen and the result, while nicely tragic, still falls flat.
All that being said, the grief on all of the characters' part was profound. It was good to see Angel cry, but it was Wesley who really saved this episode. If anybody didn't sympathize with Wesley's horror at having gained Fred's love and then losing her entirely, such people are jaded beyond belief. The performance was almost equalled by Gunn's horror when he realized that he'd signed the papers that got the sarcophagus into America and that he was inadvertantly responsible for Fred's death. Even Lorne got in a good performance (we've missed him these past few episodes), and his pressuring of Eve being a delight to watch.
In terms of the mythos, there's a lot of stuff being thrown around, here. We're suddenly introduced to a threat that predates Wolfram & Hart. Given that the Senior Partners are clearly afraid and others are working under Wolfram & Hart noses in support of Illyria, it's more than possible that the demon "old ones", including Illyria, aren't evil in the strictest sense; just ancient beyond all reasoning, very, very powerful and prone to stifling order or unmitigated chaos. It's a new wrinkle on the demons versus angels world of :Buffy: and :Angel:, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out -- if indeed it does.
Whatever happens, the future of this arc rides on Amy Acker's shoulders. Fred may be dead, but the actress still has her contract to the end of the season. She'll be the force behind Illyria, and that bodes well. Ms. Acker's performance was equally important to the success of the incredible scenes where Wesley grieves over her while she dies. The initial appearance of Illyria at the end (a good make-up job) is all Amy. That Texas accent is gone, and the new voice sounds suitably menacing.
For this episode's flaws, we can at least have the satisfaction that this episode promises better things to come.
Could somebody explain the significance of Spike's "there's a hole in the world" speech at the end of this episode? I didn't quite get it. And I certainly don't see why it stopped Angel in his tracks.
Also, let me mention again that Gunn's scenes with Knox were stellar. Do you think Knox is dead? I'm pretty sure he is.