What Else Are We Gonna Do?

More Cowbell

More Cowbell

Dark as Angel could be, it seldom strayed into the realm of straight horror and “Hellbound” comes a very pleasant surprise.  Not only do we get some great creepy visuals and a satisfyingly sadistic villain, but the story gains a lot of weight by the fact the Spike actually deserves the abyss that seems to be pulling him in.  The episode wisely avoids the pitfalls of delivering an unearned redemption narrative; this isn’t about Spike dealing with his past sins, it’s about him being punished for them.  Much as we may not want Spike to go to Hell, this story won’t really let us pretend he’s not going there.

Great as the bickering between Angel and Spike is, my favourite moments (excepting one) are actually the ones where they manage to get along and I completely love the scene where they talk about going to Hell.  Both Masters and Boreanaz do some great work in both wanting and not wanting to discuss it as Spike comes to Angel looking for some sort of comfort and finds only shared damnation.  Angel’s “escape” from Hell was nothing more than an unearned reprieve and the Shanshu prophecy offers nothing but empty promises.  Both of the ensouled vampires are damned and while Spike may not share Angel’s propensity to brood about that fact, but he does need to contend with it.

It’s an interesting Hell that Spike seems to be heading toward.  I’d initially assumed that the shades Spike sees were representative of his victims, come to torment him “Amends” style, but they’re actually more concerned with the broad strokes of taunting and torture than any sort of ironic punishment.  There’s plenty of talk about the “dirty things” he’s done, but the particulars don’t matter.  I actually really like this take on Hell.  Spike’s not given any specific crimes he can beg forgiveness for, the only relevant fact is that he’s damned.  End of story.

Of course, this isn’t actually Spike’s special place in Hell we’re seeing, its just a bit of sadistic fun for the Reaper before he sends another surrogate soul on its way.  As MoWs go, Pavane’s pretty great.  The problem with most unseen villains is that nothing the creators could come up with can match what our own imagination conjures, and this creep show is more than enough to stimulate the imagination.  Fortunately, the Pavane reveal doesn’t disappoint.  The character design, filthy/old-timey, trumps any dark cloak and scythe and he takes just the right amount of enjoyment in torturing Spike.

Most importantly, Pavane’s power is a product of what he wants.  The villain being undone by gloating is a bit of a cliché, but it works here as that undoing doesn’t take the form we expect. Spike discovers the power of will and, naturally, uses it to lay the smack down.  But it’s not enough.  Spike’s able to surprise Pavane, but he’s still badly outclassed.  Pavane’s real mistake isn’t in revealing the power of desire to Spike, it’s in misjudging what Spike actually wants.  The flesh might be the way for Spike to sidestep today’s trip to Hell, but it won’t actually save him.  He knows he’s damned, and letting Fred die won’t change that.  Saving her might not either, but it’s the difference between fighting his damnation and embracing it.  Simply not going to Hell isn’t enough; what Spike wants is to be saved and he’ll fight for that even if is out of reach.

Final Thoughts

Angel not believing in the Shanshu prophecy anymore is an elegant way to deal with it.  Angel becoming human always struck me as one of those season one ideas, much like the visions or the PtB, that didn’t really fit the series Angel grew into.  Having any sort of reward on offer undermines Angel’s selflessnes and doesn’t align with the “all that matters is what we do” messaging.

Props to the FX/Makeup departments for the gore on the Reaper’s victims.  Some of this stuff was pretty grisly, more props to the network for letting it air.

One of the best parts of season five is the parade of one-shot characters W&H had to offer.  Add the medium to this list, just quirky enough to be entertaining and die.

I love how nonchalant Wes and Gunn are about Spike going to Hell. Of course that’s where he’s going.

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2 responses to “What Else Are We Gonna Do?

  1. I love the “more cowbell” – while many may not get the SNL reference, I loved that.

    I notice a theme in Whedon’s “horror” episodes, they follow his belief that it should never be “torture porn” and this episode is an example of his belief that horror movies have mistaken gore for quality. This episode was scary with very little graphic violence even by the standards of 10 years ago, let alone today.

    I find Whedon’s show’s have interesting takes on hell, from “earth itself is hell” in Angel season 2 to the stereotypical fire and brimstone of Angle’s hell in Buffy season 2-3 to more psychological ones / metaphorical ones like Buffy’s depression in season 6, This one was interesting too and I find them just fascinating.

    Though I disagree with your assessment that Spike deserves the hell he is bring dragged too. Unlike Angel, I don’t think they can “never undo the harm” caused and in fact at episode 8 of this season “destiny” Spike tells Angel openly that while he did do horrible things in the past – there is nothing he can do about it so he might as well move on – and in that episode he is trying to become THE champion. Spike had a better attitude about his past crimes in episode 8 – it was wrong, he changed, now he does better. It doesn’t ignore or trivialize the past crimes but knows he can’t change it but can change today and that IMO justifies him not going to hell – real or imaged.

    • Without getting into any real world morality, I will say that Angel may be correct with his assessment. While I’ll reserve judgement on whether or not Angel et all can be saved for the finale, almost everything about the show’s cosmology points to the fact nothing can balance out the scales; nothing you do matters so the only thing that matters is what toy do. The one exception is the prophecy, a flaw in the show’s moral that they manage to do some interesting things with this season.
      Spikes attitude is more mature only in that he doesn’t let it get him down. The episode you’re thinking of is actually this one, where Spike says he’s not going to spend years moaning about the fact that he was evil, but her never actually claims to be saved. Never once do you hear him say he doesn’t deserve his torment. The only one to defend him is Fred and even she never talks about absolution. Spike’s ears perk up at word of the Shanshu because he knows what Angel does, he can’t be saved without a miracle. And even if he might not really believe in it, he still wants it.

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