“Sleep Tight” is one of those episodes that requires a leap. It’s not inconceivable that Wes would work with Holtz, but his reasons for doing so don’t effectively make it onto the screen. But then, that development’s not really the point and we need to simply accept it if we’re to enjoy the meat of the episode. And what delicious meat it is. I’ve always said that it’s alright for fiction to ask us to make a logical leap so long as we land somewhere worthwhile. This one lands us in a world of escalating dread that culminates in a huge degree of pain for our protagonist. In other words, one great episode of Angel.
“Working with” is probably too strong to describe Wesley’s relationship with Holtz. “Cooperating with” is probably better, and I think that I understand why. Wes “knows” what he has to do, he’s simply having trouble going through with it. He goes to Holtz because Holtz also “knows” that Angel will kill his son. Wes is looking for someone, anyone, to support him in what he believes to be necessary and that’s why he ends up conspiring with Angel’s sworn enemy. It’s all there in their scene together, it’s just not enough on it’s own to be entirely convincing. Still, the episode is pretty packed and any additional time spent on Wesley’s decision would’ve necessarily taken away from some goodness elsewhere.
I really wouldn’t want to sacrifice any part of this story. Quibbles about Wesley’s thought process aside, it’s pretty perfect. After stalling for far too much of the season, this episode manages to payoff Wes, Holtz, Sahjhan, and Wolfram & Hart simultaneously without feeling bloated. We’ve seen multiple groups playing “get the baby” before with mediocre results, but it works here because these groups are known rather than random quantities and present a credible threat.
It’s not just the fact that the villains aren’t random that makes them credible, it’s the fact that consequences start piling up early. Wes beating up Lorne doesn’t just take him past the point of no return, it does that for the entire episode. Lopsided and brutal, this fight isn’t some giant misunderstanding that can simply be forgotten once this story wraps, and that fact lends both tension and weight to Wesley’s farewell to the group. It’s not the smooth getaway he wanted or we might have expected, and he hasn’t even gotten his throat slashed yet.
In any other episode, this would’ve been the climax; here it’s used to ratchet the tension up even further. There’s a growing sense of doom here as we start to entertain the notion that Angel may not get his son back. There’s never any real worry about infanticide on network television, but Holtz’s declaration that he and Justine will raise “Stephen” themselves is far more plausible and therefore more frightening.
Again, this is another potential climax passed over so that what comes next can be elevated as Angel seems to arrive just in time to save his son. The standoff between him, Holtz, and Wolfram & Hart is plenty tense on its own, but Sahjhan’s appearance really pushes it into greatness. After spending the whole episode essentially telling us that something bad was going to happen, the payoff is intensely satisfying. Yes, anyone who disappears on a fantasy series tends to reappear later, but there’s still a sense of finality to Connor vanishing through the portal with Holtz. Angel’s left broken, defeated, suffering; a situation that works because of how thoroughly earned it feels.
My jaw dropped the first time I watched Wes get slashed. It’s still a fantastic moment and the look on Denisof’s face really sells it.
Holtz’s denial that having a soul absolves Angel of his crimes is a difficult thing to answer as there’s more too it than a blind lust for revenge. Angel himself still feels responsible for the things he did as Angelus aand, if he’s correct, then isn’t Holtz right to continue to seek his revenge?
There was a bit too much done this week to make Holtz seem evil in the implication that he’d kill Justine for questioning him. This character works best when as one good guy who’s determined to destroy another.