Monday, September 3, 2012

Angel: Underneath (5.17)

Underneath spends a long time sifting through the various plot strands that have appeared over the last couple of weeks. There's sometimes little of a uniting theme between the dueling subplots, which means it's no classic, but each individual story is so successful as a standalone piece that you can forget some of the weaker elements here. It only makes Angel's cancellation sadder, the show finally having hit this moment in time where all the cogs that make up the series are cohesive and working like crazy, every character granted an incredible sense of purpose, and a tone that feels just as familiar as it does fresh and exciting. Rest in peace, show.

You can roll your eyes at yet another apocalypse (or, as stated, the apocalypse), but positioning Lindsey as the bearer of the bad news only helps increase the episode's power. Lindsey's presence has recently given Angel this truly mythological quality, the show pulling from its own history in such a way that generic proclamations are granted additional effect by proxy. There's nothing new to the idea of hell lurking beneath suburbia, but Lindsey's picture-perfect prison fits wonderfully with Wolfram & Hart's sensibilities, no more so than when it all devolves into body-mutilating, 'gun-toting kids' action. Lindsey and Eve work so well as these lovestruck bolts in an enormously powerful machine, and his last declaration that Angel has been sitting back distracted by papers and documents while the real bad shit occurs right under him is chilling. Sure, we've heard all of this before, but the writers are making sure this is a very "on-brand" deal, not with a demon or a tangible threat, but via moral degradation of the laziest kind. It's the end of the world as we know it, and we're the cause.

Terminator-ish chase sequences never fail to grab my attention, so I naturally adored the introduction of Hamilton and his relentless pursuit of Eve. It's aggressive and intense and filled with minor dashes of threat (how many times has Harmony been thrown around this season?), before culminating in an inevitably nutty Wolfram & Hart closer. Turns out it's merely an elaborate contract thing, only given the perception of being sadistic and terrifying. God, this show was fantastic.

There's a lot of action here, but the script still allows for moments of character-driven drama. Gunn's guilt plays a major part here, sending him on that familiar road to redemption that curses every one of the Angel team at some point. It's not hard to excuse what he did, particularly as so many of the cast has been seduced by grandeur at one time or another, but it's one of those things where you feel like you can't move on unless you experience some form of punishment. So he journeys into Lindsey's hell, determining that the only way he can forgive himself is if he experiences that same horror over and over and over again. Everybody has their own form of forgiveness, and this is his.

Wesley and Illyria are on their own this week, but the disquieting tone is unsurprisingly effective. Wesley is all about the devastation and moments of anger, while Illyria is all questions and confusion. They make such a challenging pair, particularly Wesley's inherent hatred of her mixing with this compassion that he's trying to understand. Both actors are wonderful here, but I particularly loved Amy Acker's moment where she's literally trying to get under her own skin, trying to operate it and move inside of it. And then there's that wonderful shrimp gag, which never, ever gets old.

It's hard to articulate, but there's a true sense of renewal here, something carried over from the last three episodes, characters finding their place again and everybody imbued with a new sense of direction. It feels so much like a new, stronger series right now. In retrospect it's crushing, but man did this show go out on a high. A

Guest stars
Christian Kane (Lindsey McDonald); Sarah Thompson (Eve); Adam Baldwin (Marcus Hamilton)
Writers Sarah Fain, Elizabeth Craft Director Skip Schoolnik

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