An entertaining episode, even if its narrative is frustratingly obvious -- Angelus is back, locked in a cage, and desperate to mess with everybody's heads. Angelus himself straddles that thin line between being genuinely perceptive and devious... and acting like a tenth-grade brat with the meanness. He seems a lot more forthcoming with the quips and snarkiness than his Buffy season two incarnation, but you can't help but enjoy his easy victory over the Angel team, exposing secrets like some puppy-killing Nancy Drew.
Sarah Fain and Elizabeth Craft's script is sometimes annoyingly cyclical, each character working their way down to the Hyperion basement for a little banter with the big bad -- and it goes without saying that some of these scenes work better than others. Wesley in particular has a strong moment with Angelus, but that may be because Angelus has a lot more pain to work with. He brings up his abusive father, his inadequacies as a Watcher, his unrequited love for Fred, his kidnapping of Connor -- there's a lot of material there, and Angelus works best when he's insidiously burrowing into the subconscious of his victims. Mental terror is always what he did best, something that leaves his more visual attacks this episode (like the contrived one on Fred) a little underwhelming. But it's a story twist that adds another additional layer to this whirlwind of a season.
Sure, the internal logic is still lacking, especially when you question what the team were thinking with bringing Angelus back in the first place (with absolutely no leverage to hand), but the big shock moments remain, and that pumps up the adrenalin despite the various faults that are plaguing the season.
Elsewhere, I really feel for Connor. While he is sometimes written like a pouty, man-shaped Dawn Summers, most of his angst at least comes from a sincere place. His entire life has been pretty horrible, and his experience with the dead Svea family leaves him rattled enough that you can't help but feel terrible for the guy. He doesn't really have anyone to support him, his allegiances have always been fractured, and everybody he's ever trusted has changed for the worst in one way or another. Poor guy, despite the occasional whine parties he partakes in.
Soulless is an interesting bottle show that only really works as a result of the strength of the Angel universe and the emotional intricacies of its cast. There are parts of the hour that do admittedly feel a little generic, but the individual dialogue-driven sucker-punch moments more than make up for some of the flaws. B
Guest stars Andy Hallett (Lorne); Vladimir Kulich (The Beast)
Writers Sarah Fain, Elizabeth Craft Director Sean Astin