Remember a few weeks ago when I said that Holtz had won? Well, “Benediction” demonstrates that victory wasn’t enough for him. Having stripped Angel of his moral high ground, Holtz now assumes it by doing what Angel never can, returning the son he took. It’s a powerful moment for the series, with the virtues of love and forgiveness being what give Angel a happy ending even as they underscore the fact that he may not actually deserve one. It’s a completely satisfying conclusion to the Holtz storyline, and then, in typical Whedon fashion, they pull the rug out from under us.
What Holtz does here is made all the more monstrous by the fact that there’s such a well defined alternative. He really could have given Connor up, not just for the boy’s sake or for Angel’s but for his own. Being “the bigger man” may seem pretty trite considering how he lost his family but, given all the evil his quest for vengeance has wrought, it’s his only route to redemption. Instead, he can’t resist one last twist of the knife, and pitting Angel’s newly returned son against him is one hell of a twist.
The worst part about this is that many of the redemptive things that Holtz says are true and he knows it. He recognizes that Angel’s now a good enough man to feel guilty for what’s he’s done and that he’ll be eternally troubled by the fact that he can never return the son he took. What’s more, he also recognizes how empty such vengeance is and that both he and Angel would be better off if their relationship to Stephen/Connor wasn’t coloured by tragedy. His hate’s grown old and tried and is well past the point of providing any satisfaction.
But, more important than any of that, I think that he actually does love his adopted son and appreciates the redemptive power of that love. Think about that for a moment. Holtz’s hatred is so strong that he’s willing to betray the son he loves, the son who presents his one genuine chance to be a good man again. Instead, he uses that son to further punish an already defeated foe. And he does all this in full knowledge that it won’t change anything. Not only will he be dead and unable to see the fruits of his labour, he also knows that it won’t fill the emptiness inside of him. This is beyond vengeance. It’s beyond hatred. It’s an addiction.
Addiction imagery’s a big part of this series and, in retrospect, has always been there for Holtz. Not only has he thoroughly debased himself in his quest for vengeance, he’s passed up multiple opportunities to get clean. He could’ve accepted the realities of time and lived for something other than revenge, instead he made a deal with a demon. He could’ve simply killed Angel when he had the chance, instead he chose to use his son for far worse. He could’ve built a new life with Justine, instead he journeyed into hell. And he could’ve let the son he’d come to love go, instead he twisted him into a weapon to use against his enemy. There’s a clear pattern of escalation here with Holtz consistently seeking a bigger high even as the cost to himself continues to increase.
There’s been a lot of mirroring between Angel and Holtz all season, but this may be the best piece. Angel may be ensouled/clean now, but he still understands that unstoppable need (see his recently obsessive foray into getting his son back). It’s this connection that makes Holtz such an incredible villain. Even here, as the remorse Angel feels for his crimes is underscored and Holtz elevates his crimes to something epically monstrous, there’s the sense that these two aren’t so far apart; that, under slightly different circumstances, their positions may well be reversed.
Again, this episode does a great job nursing the Wesley subplot along. While Connor’s return may not warrant forgiveness, it at least should’ve been worth a “hey, that baby you thought you killed is still alive” phone call. The universe really seems to be driving home the point that nobody cares about him… except Lilah.
What Holtz does to Stephen and Angel take centre stage, but the effects on Justine are also pretty horrific. The man really was a complete bastard.
So, Cordy gives Connor a soul conolic… ok? Cordelia’s demon powers have really been too much of an afterthought all season. To have them manifest here just feels superfluous.
More Groo-goodness this week. I really do feel bad for the guy.