Monday, July 30, 2012

Angel: Lineage (5.7)

The first episode in season five that doesn't feel regressive in its sensibilities or alternatively plain terrible, Lineage wonderfully depicts the contradictions between your private self and your public self, and what happens when the barriers between both personas are torn down. Wesley has always been a character of two extremes. When he arrived on Buffy, he was this bumbling butt-nugget that made Hugh Grant seem like the pinnacle of manliness. But after experiencing torture and pain and emotional devastation, he's wound up this brusied anti-hero -- a complete 180 to what he once was and a testament to the Whedonverse's dedication to the art of character growth.

What Drew Goddard does so masterfully here is by exposing what happens when a figure from Wesley's former life suddenly appears in the world of the 'new Wesley', and the trauma that comes along with it. It's heartbreaking to see Wesley turn from this cold badass into an uncomfortable, under-confident cypher within minutes. So strong and macho in that teaser sequence, he's transformed into somebody who struggles to work as efficiently as normal, and who unexpectedly bumps into others and practically overdoses on apologies. He's suddenly so shifty and nervous, and Alexis Denisof spectacularly portrays the rapid emotional swings that come as a result of parental abuse.

Roger Wyndam-Pryce had always been described as a distant monster who casually undermines his son at every turn, and he doesn't disappoint here. Events seem professionally conspired to hurt Wesley, humiliation lying at every turn. It's also the calculation of that final twist that proves so gut-wrenching -- whoever was responsible for the events of the episode using Roger to get to Wesley, since it's so obvious that that's the key to ruffling his feathers. It's a painful story, played with so much subtlety by everyone involved, and a masterclass in sustained discomfort. Even when Roger isn't present, there are those crushing moments in which Wes recognizes a bond between Fred and Knox, and later watches as he comforts her and takes her home. The poor guy just can't catch a break.

Throughout his tenure over on Buffy
Drew Goddard was always an expert at pulling from continuity and tying up old loose ends, and he does the same here. References are made to the familial fatalities that litter the histories of much of the Angel cast, Spike's sexual history with robots, as well as a host of bits and pieces from the past. What makes all of this so impactful is that it doesn't merely come across as fan-fiction, and Goddard continues to wring ridiculously perceptive humor from it all. Despite the pain and heartbreak that covers Lineage, it's also far, far funnier than the so-called 'comedy episodes' that preceded it this season.

I haven't even started on the cool, showy premise of the hour, full of ninja robot assassins and scenes bathed in that gorgeous yellow tint. It feels like a distinctively comic book episode, pulpy enough to engage on a superficial level, while remaining horribly resonant on an emotional level when it comes to the pain of absent parents and the sinking realization of what you're capable of when those you really love are threatened. This is a masterpiece, and one of the more underrated of its type. A+

Guest stars
Sarah Thompson (Eve); Jonathan Woodward (Knox); Treva Etienne (Emil); Roy Dotrice (Roger Wyndam-Pryce)
Writer Drew Goddard Director Jefferson Kibbee

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