“Reprise” and “Epiphany” form one of my favourite Angel stories as I find them as definitive for the series as season one’s powerhouse two-parter in “Five by Five”/”Sanctuary.” It’s a near thing, but I’ll call this season’s outing superior if only because it’s able to build on what came before. Where “Five by Five” and “Sanctuary” crystallized Angel’s character, “Reprise” and “Epiphany” do the same for his opponents. The genius of this story is in
acknowledging embracing the futility of Angel’s mission while still finding the hope within it. These two episodes form such a complete package that I thought it would be difficult to limit my review to just the first; instead, I find myself almost entirely focused on one scene. There’s plenty to love about this hour, and I’ll get to it in the Final Thoughts, but, for now, I want to talk about Holland Manners.
It’s great to see the former head of Special Projects in general, and Sam Anderson delivers his best performance as the character but, beyond that, Holland finally articulates just what it is Wolfram and Hart is up to and, alarmingly, he’s got a point. A bleak, soul-crushing, indisputable point. I can’t really summarize it any better myself, so I’ll just quote his response to Angel’s question in its entirety:
That’s really the question you should be asking yourself, isn’t it? See, for us, there is no fight. Which is why winning doesn’t enter into it. We – go on -no matter what. Our firm has always been here. In one form or another. The Inquisition. The Khmer Rouge. We were there when the first cave man clubbed his neighbour. See, we’re in the hearts and minds of every single living being. And that – friend – is what’s making things so difficult for you. See, the world doesn’t work in spite of evil, Angel. I works with us. It works because of us.
With that, Angel’s long elevator ride to hell ends. With his arrival back on earth.
Holland’s giving us Wolfram & Hart’s core mission statement. They aren’t trying to destroy the world, or even to rule it. They’ve simply acknowledged that greed, cruelty, and violence are a fundamental part of everyday life and have resolved to be on the giving rather than receiving end of these things. Demon worship and ritual sacrifice aside, its an attitude in no way limited to fiction; the world is a ruthless place and in order to get by in it you’d better be prepared to be ruthless yourself. In order to thrive in it you’d better be on the most ruthless team of all.
This isn’t just some effort to corrupt Angel or deter him from his mission. Holland genuinely believes what he’s saying; it’s why he tolerated Lindsay’s betrayals and why he doesn’t seem to particularly mind his service beyond the grave. It’s also why Angel can’t win. He could kill every demon and lawyer associated with the firm and it wouldn’t help. The Senior Partners aren’t things, they’re ideals. Ideals so old and fundamental that they’re never going to go away.
Angel’s fighting a war that can’t be won and it’s the frustration with this that’s caused his recent downfall. The firm isn’t particularly invested in any of the evil it perpetuates; it’s clients, the things it steals, the people it kills, what it did to Darla, they’re all just a part of the natural order of things. If Holland & co. weren’t pulling the strings, they someone else would be. Hell isn’t manipulating the human world, it’s a part of it. It’s too much for Angel to take and Holland’s answer to his empty denial is, again, phrased far better than anything I could write:
Well, you know it is. You know that better than anyone. Things you’ve seen. Things you’ve, well – done. You see, if there wasn’t evil in every single one of them out there why, they wouldn’t be people.
They’d all be angels.
Of course, Whedon has an answer for Holland, but we’ll save that for next week.
The non-Holland parts of this episode are also pretty great as we learn that Lindsay’s been helping Darla, that she’s still gunning for vengeance on W&H, that Kate’s obsession is finally coming back to bite her, that (despite their success) the AI team still isn’t quite happy, and that, amidst all of this, Angel remains a bit of an asshole.
Oh, and Lilah and Lindsay are also top form here. So’s Lorne for that matter.
I particularly like the scene with Angel coming the new office to take a book as it drills home just how isolated he’s become.
I also particularly like the reappearance of Denver. It’s another small touch that makes this world seem lived in and his surprise death is just icing.
We never saw much of Virginia, but I still felt bad for Wes.