Monday, March 19, 2012

Angel: Sleep Tight (3.16)

This is exhausting -- a remarkable exercise in double crosses, shock cliffhangers and game-changing plot twists. Much of the episode involves Wesley attempting to remove Connor from Angel, leading to that stunning moment in which Lorne realizes what Wesley is about to do, leading Wesley to brutally knock him out and take the baby. It's yet another scenario which throws your allegiances for a loop, tying in neatly with the continued ambiguity of Holtz. We support Wesley for wanting to save Connor from imminent death, especially when Angel begins to act irrational and volatile, but quickly we see how irrational Wesley is becoming, too. He's so wrapped up in what he believes to be right that he begins to sacrifice any shred of forward-planning. It's a kick-ass episode.

Regular readers know that I'm a huge Lilah fan, and she gets a wonderful scene with Angel here. Bending genre rules, she isn't at all sorry for swapping Angel's pig's blood for the blood of his own son, and confesses that she threw out her conscience a long time ago. It's a scene that truly reflects how strong a character she is, a whip-smart badass with few redeeming qualities, but an abject professional who believes in what she does and has a lot of fun doing it.

The various factions at work create some sparkage, too. Wolfram & Hart are actively involved in the drama, but it's the strange relationship between Wesley and Holtz that creates the back-bone for a lot of the hour. They both, initially, appear to want the same thing, but have radical different means of getting hold of it. Wesley just wants to protect Connor and sees the potential for a kind of partnership with the enemy, while Holtz and Justine appear almost intrigued by his offer. That is until, in one of the greatest Buffyverse cliffhangers, Justine double-crosses Wes and cuts his throat to get hold of Connor. As if the convoluted craziness of this arc couldn't get any better, here comes a cliffhanger that once again makes the Angel universe a whole lot messier.

The finale to all of this intrigue involves an unsurprisingly show-altering move, in which Holtz kidnaps Connor and jumps with him into another dimension. It's a blistering closer, everybody unable to stop the inevitable. In terms of the show, it's a welcome development. The last couple of weeks had become a little too bogged down in baby drama, and I like that they've finally removed Connor from the equation, even if he'll obviously stick around as a plot device for several episodes to come.

Sleep Tight is almost distractingly standalone-ish at the beginning, with a monster-of-the-week set-up and a lot of fun banter. But the way the script gradually builds in horror as Wesley gets deeper and deeper into anarchy, finally culminating in a literal trip to hell, is worthy of considerable acclaim. It's dark, brooding and ambitious, and one of the strongest statement pieces the series ever made. A+

Guest stars Andy Hallett (Lorne); Stephanie Romanov (Lilah Morgan); Laurel Holloman (Justine Cooper); Jack Conley (Sahjhan); Marina Benedict (Kim); Keith Szarabajka (Daniel Holtz)
Writer David Greenwalt Director Terrence O'Hara

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