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.
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.