That's way too strong a word, but I've got a streak going, so who am I to break it. Seriously, Shells was okay. The acting was, again, top notch, and Amy Acker was able to carry off Illyria very well, primarily by her movements and subtle changes in her voice (though her makeup continues to remind me of a Final Fantasy character). And who can't help but appreciate Wesley, this close to going over the edge, his manner calm, but very like a spring pulled taut. Actually, what impressed me most about this episode was how much it was still about Wesley and Fred (with Spike, Angel and Gunn contributing in the background), and how much it still worked. But something still struck me as off-key.
Please be aware that spoilers follow.
There weren't the logic breakdowns of A Hole in the World (see the comments), but there were instances of plotting convenience, where the characters just accept at face value what others tell them, primarily to move the story along. There's no reason why I would believe that Fred's soul had been "consumed" (theologically unsound, in my opinion, but that's another matter entirely) just on somebody else's sayso. The scene between Gunn and the doctor lacked that credibility and was only made up for by Wesley's sudden appearance, Gunn's obvious grief and remorse and Wesley's (somewhat predictable -- I mean, they focus on the medical equipment right from the start of the scene) use of a scalpel to stab Gunn.
On the level of authorial fiat and general performance and direction, I'd have to rate Shells higher than A Hole in the World, but I was less attracted to the former story. And I think this is the fault of the ending. It was a nice twist to have Illyria fight her way through the gate and into her temple, only to find everything, including her minions, vanished into dust. There were nice touches on the theme of finding one's place in the world. Despite all this, it still stretches things way beyond my suspension of disbelief to accept that Illyria can come back to Wesley, lost and (somewhat) remorseful and that (more importantly) Wesley would accept her.
Sorry, not buying that. Not for one second, even though author and director Stephen McKnight made sure that Illyria didn't actually kill anyone other than Fred in this episode.
Maybe it's hypocritical of me to see her as a murderer when Angel and Spike have killed far more people and have been redeemed. Maybe my viewpoint may be a visceral reaction at having lost Fred, instead of a faceless flunky, but my reaction is still a part of me, and one which marrs my enjoyment of this episode. I also believe that, given that Angel had a century to redeem himself, and Spike had three seasons, that Illyria can't be redeemed during the same episode wherein she kills a major and very likable character.
There are a lot of good things about Illyria and Amy Acker's performance of her, but I think that A Hole in the World would have been a better episode if it had included the teaser to Shells and had ended with Wesley taking the axe to Illyria and killing her. If they had pulled the trigger on the Illyria plotline in such a fashion, A Hole in the World would have been sent into the stratosphere. But, instead, we're left with the sense that Fred is dead... but not. Something has replaced her, and the moral ambiguity of the character will leave us uncertain about her and the rest of the show for episodes to come.
Not the way I would have entered the final six-part arc.
Delayed Blogging Dues
I've been remiss to mention that the twelfth installment of the Carnival of the Canucks has been up and running for two days, now, over at Just in from Cowtown. Lots of linky-goodness here well worth your attention.
And also, as this is the beginning of March, there are a new set of top blogs over at Blogs Canada. Once again, Jim Elve, Jay Currie and Briana Doyle have collected the best and brightest lights of the Canadian blogosphere. Check it out.