Maybe if Restless didn't cast such a huge shadow over Soul Purpose, it may have worked better. But both represent the two extremes of dream episodes, one being insightful and revealing while balancing out the absurdity and humor, the other feeling like an excuse for wacky dream shenanigans. Before anybody accuses me of selling the episode short, there's still a lot to like about it, but it can't help but pail in comparison to how the Whedonverse has used the dream device in the past.
As it's scripted, Soul Purpose is very slight. Angel's screwy visions come about as a result of a sluggy parasite that Eve attaches to his chest, rendering him distracted by hallucinations. The hallucinations themselves range from intriguing to clunky, the highs being Angel's walnut-heart and the bear, the lows being the movie-theater apocalypse and Spike's subsequent humanity. Whatever the effect, though, everything feels a little on-the-nose, nothing happening that reads as particularly surprising. It's also never entirely explained what Lindsey and Eve's intentions were with this, unless they just wanted to make Angel feel crappier about himself. Even so, the weird artifact thing and Lindsey's general detachment from the scheme render it all sort of moot.
As directed by David Boreanaz, there's naturally a ton of showy visuals -- as if the show gave him the dream episode intentionally to allow him to go all out. It all looks stylistically impressive, notably the use of light and shade. The slo-mo Spike fight is horrible, but that's been a recurring annoyance since the start of season four, something that can hardly be pinned on Mr. Boreanaz. But, still... lame.
The more successful moments this week occur in Lindsey's interaction with Spike, while his master-plan (calling himself Doyle, having 'visions' in order to spur Spike on as a 'champion') is mightily intriguing at this point. It's also a strong decision to have Spike separated from Wolfram & Hart for the time being, giving him his own base of operations and his own story removed from Angel. Naturally, though, Angel's presence weighs in heavily, but I loved Spike's repeated undermining of Angel's own compassion, especially in that great scene where he saves a desperate woman in an alley before berating her for even being there so late at night.
So the A-plot here is annoyingly weak, the stop-start effect of the dreams giving the episode a frustratingly repetitive quality, but it's welcome to see an actual story arc at work in the background, even if it's all pretty vague at this point. It's standalone in nature, but you can at least sense that something big is lurking underneath it all... C
Guest stars Sarah Thompson (Eve); Mercedes McNab (Harmony Kendall)
Writer Brent Fletcher Director David Boreanaz