Monday, July 16, 2012

Angel: Hell-Bound (5.4)

I recently wrote about a particularly underwhelming episode of The X-Files, in which the script quickly dovetailed into random bouts of spookiness, characters facing various bursts of nastiness purely to fill time before the inevitable showdown. Hell-Bound, unfortunately, follows the same track as Unleashed in that it's mostly showy and flat, only mildly intriguing due to some strong character work. But it's still generally pretty tiresome, another reminder that it takes a long while for season five to go anywhere interesting.

Hell-Bound is the first of a bunch of episodes designed to cut costs, season five's budget being so reduced that there are various stories this year that never leave the Wolfram & Hart offices. But, unlike a couple of future episodes, Hell-Bound spends far too much time having Spike literally wander around the building, encountering one grisly apparition after another. There's obviously some vacuous fun to be had seeing a bunch of people horrifically deformed via glass through eyes or scarred faces, but it feels like Steven S. DeKnight is merely biding time for the big closer, the aforementioned 'inevitable showdown' between Spike and an antagonist.

Unsurprisingly, the bits of interest are derived from the character moments. Angel himself has changed for the worst this year, becoming so unreliable and unsympathetic that he no longer seems to care all that much about saving the world anymore. It's an intriguing development, potentially guided by his new position at Wolfram & Hart, or his loss of Connor -- but arguably cemented by Spike's arrival. Because Spike is, essentially, Angel. They both have souls, they both love the same woman. That uniqueness that Angel used to have isn't so special anymore. It's been played as comedy before, notably in the Buffy series finale, but here we've reached that tipping point where it becomes full of genuine resentment. It's an interesting development, and Angel's insistence that he's doomed to experience hell promises some fascinating avenues of storytelling for the year.

But Hell-Bound struggles in its standalone story. There's a lot of coolness every once in a while, like the set pieces of Spike's torture, the possessed medium, and then Fred's shower scene -- but it rarely becomes anything deeper than that. Even worse, there are times when the hour plain drags. C-

Guest stars Sarah Thompson (Eve); Simon Templeman (Matthias Pavayne); Dorie Barton (Claire)
Writer Steven S. DeKnight Director Steven S. DeKnight

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