Angel, “Underneath”

Kickin’ ass in the burbs (originally posted – 4/14/04)

By Anthony Karcz
September 16, 2004

When I realized that Fain and Craft (of “Harm’s Way” infamy) were behind this evening’s episode, I was less than thrilled. Have to say, I’m glad that, for once, they gave me a reason to take off the critic’s hat and geek out.

We start out, as we have so many times this season, with Angel in the boardroom, contemplating the fancy black chairs and pretty reports spread out in front of him…and that’s it. The rest of the gang, still reeling from Fred’s death, is nowhere to be found. While his question “Why am I alone?” is one that has resonated throughout the entire series (and is so obvious at this point, it barely needs voicing), it’s the perfect way to kick off the final six eps ofAngel. Of course, who answers Angel’s cry for companionship but the eternal thorn in his side, Spike. Mocking the system in typical Spike fashion (“Angel’s Avengers” — Love it!), he serves as a reminder of what’s outside, what’s beyond the walls of Wolfrham and Hart (bringing beer to the meeting and mocking of bullet points poke all kinds of holes in Angel’s corporate veneer). After some ubiquitous soul-searching and inevitable “Fred was here because of me” ramblings, Angel’s decided that he’s fed up being in the dark about Wolfram & Hart’s true plans (again) and is going to get some answers (again). Who to turn to then? Our lady Eve, of course. To make things more interesting, though, the Sr. Partners send Adam Baldwin (Jayne from Firefly — doing his best Agent Smith impression) crashing in, sending the kids out the window and on the run.

Back at the office, it’s time for lockdown and lawyers as Angel goes to pick Gunn’s beefed-up brain. What I like here is that Angel doesn’t go after Gunn, nor does he pity him. He speaks to him of atonement, something that he has been dealing with himself for centuries. He knows that it will haunt Gunn, but only because he is a good man. I love that he doesn’t see him as unredeemable. He made a mistake — a horrible mistake, but still a very human slip. There’s a lot of Angel in Gunn, something that’s been apparent from the beginning. That being the case, Angel also knows what buttons to push to get results (“You paid a high price for what’s in that head…”). Cut to Wes, who looks like he’s been staring out the window for days. The shocker is that Fred comes to try and break him out of his reverie. It’s telling how permanent Fred’s death really is when, in Angel, I’m actually shocked that a character pops back up. One telling of the saddest joke in the world later, and Fred is gone. Replaced by the waking world where Illyria chides Wes for drinking and calling her names. I still can’t get over how completely Amy Acker has transformed herself. There really is nothing left of Fred in Illyria. Her mannerisms, her speech — I suppose that’s why Fred’s death seems so final, because everything we knew is gone. Things are set to a slow boil while Her Frostiness laments the trapping of Nightmares in human heads and she and Wes discuss their distaste for this world.

Meanwhile, Angel & Co. try to figure out what exactly Eve is and knows (she’s immortal and “She knows nuthink!”). Eve plays her hand and lets them know that the one person that could help them is the one that Angel let get sucked up by the Sr. Partners — none other than Lindsey…who’s currently trapped in a nice suburban hell…literally. Seems that he of the shaggy hair is busy snuggling up with his pretty blond wife and quizzing his tow-headed yungun on the layers of the earth for his Science quiz. It’s only when the Missus asks him to head down to the cellar does the façade shatter. There is genuine fear in Lindsey’s eyes as he heads down, staring at his wife and child as if he’ll never see them again. But, with a tip from Gunn, Angel’s Avengers ride out in their bitchin’ Camaro and, a few Knight Rider references later, pull up to rescue Lindsey from his own private purgatory.

But before our knights go riding in, we get an interlude with our favorite moribund pair. Wes alternates between helping and tormenting as he tries to convince Illyria to leave this realm, take the shell that she wears and take away the reminder of what he’s lost. She returns in kind, wanting to kill Wes, but unable to cope with the crush of confinement. We find out that Illyria has traveled many worlds, but she’s trapped in this one, in this form. We also find that she may or may not have a deep-seated fear of shrimp.

Back in fantasy land, Angel tries to convince Lindsey (who’s had his mind conveniently wiped) that everything that’s going on, the house, the family, are there only for Lindsey. The entire universe that he’s in is a pocket purgatory built by Wolfrham & Hart. When reasoning fails, Angel rips off Lindsey’s medallion. Memories rush back in and everyone around our gang starts packing automatic weapons. While, in the real world, Lorne and Fred unsuccessfully try to convince Eve that Bossman Angel has got things covered. Which is even harder to do when Agent Smith shows up and starts punching holes in security guards, tossing Harmony around the room, and doing that whole slow-walking, Terminator thing.

Quick cut to the ‘Burbs, where plush couches block bullets, kids pack heat, and everyone has an S&M torture chamber with a pile of slightly used hearts in their basement. Turns out that Lindsey gets the pleasure of having his ripped out each day. The crew quickly find the door, but it’s guarded by a mystical lock and a huge Gimp demon that’s into chains, maces, and wholesale punishment. Things are quickly falling apart when Gunn makes the sacrifice and puts Lindsey’s amulet on. Turns out that there are rules you’ve got to follow — if you want to take someone out, you’ve got to leave someone in their place. The cynic in me thinks that Gunn’s taking the easy way out, that this way he gets to forget about everything he did to Fred; but at the same time, knowing what he’s going to be going through (possibly for eternity), it makes his atonement speech to Angel that much more poignant. And it’s into the fire our heroes go.

Luckily they land on the hood of the magical SS before Lorne and Eve can take a one-way trip to la-la land. Unluckily, tall, dark, and sharply-dressed finally catches up with Eve and…makes her sign papers. The Sr. Partners are taking her out of play and giving her job (and immortality) to Mr. Marcus Hamilton — new liaison and lapdog for the big demons downstairs. Baldwin plays the part with smarmy goodness — he’s even more transparent than Eve ever was. I can’t wait to see what he’s got up his sleeve (and why is it that the ex-Fireflyers make the best villains?).

Up on the rooftop the old god breathes in the night air and tries to wrap her mind around the human condition. It’s a great scene that touches on questions that the best of philosophers have not cracked. Why do we box ourselves in with rooms and routines when the world is already such a small place? Wes’ answer that there are worse things than walls is a great reminder that anything unbridled, pain or pleasure, has the potential to rip us apart. At the same time, Lindsey is doing his best to make Angel aware of his condition. When pressed about The Apocalypse (not just the flavor-of-the-month variety that they’ve been tossing about with each season), his answer is as elegant as it is obvious. The battle is already being fought, has been for years. We are sliding towards entropy and Angel has been given a corporate routine to occupy himself with so that he could forget that. It’s easy to say that your fighting the good fight. But as long as you accept that things are the way they are and you can only do a small part, your helping the process wind down even faster.

I have to say that everyone just seems dead on in this ep — Harmony’s not-so-subtle reminder that a full lockdown where no one gets in our out has never worked, is a perfect example of exactly the right note at the right time. After “Hole in the World” and “Shells,” Angel has been taken about as low as it can go. The quick humor and cast-away geeky references lighten things up enough without detracting from the punch of the ep. And punch there is aplenty. The idea of the entropic universe is something that’s fascinated me since college. It’s a common theme in post-modern literature and it’s refreshing to see it taken on so boldly here. They’re playing with some big ideas here — bigger than Angel or Buffy has taken on in the past. And despite myself, despite the voices in my head telling me there’s no way they can pull it off, I’m suddenly excited about the rest of the season.

Let’s just hope that the Moppet’s return doesn’t cock it all up.