Angel - Underneath

Summary

Angel is alone in his office. He asks Harmony where the others are and why they haven't come to the meeting. She says Wesley is babysitting Illyria, Gunn is in the hospital, and Lorne is MIA. Spike arrives with a briefcase, upset at the lack of attendance since this is an important meeting - his first. He asks what they call themselves and says he hopes it's not Scoobies. Angel says they don't have a name. Spike says it's for the best, they'd probably be Angel's Avengers. A look of interest crosses Angel's face. Angel starts the meeting as Spike pulls a beer out of his case. Angel gives up on the meeting. Spike looks at Angel's notes and complains about his assignment. Angel starts remembering the first time he met Fred in Pylea. Angel blames himself for bringing Fred back and precipitating the events leading to her death. Spike says it was her choice. He realizes Angel is going to do something stupid. Angel says he already has, he came to Wolfram & Hart. He says he's been lying to himself. He says the senior partners have a plan and he's tired of operating in the dark. Spike says how can they get information. Cut to Angel and Spike confronting Eve, still hiding in her apartment. She says her connection with the senior partners is severed and she won't and can't help them. She says he already took the only thing she cared about. Angel says he'll tell the senior partners where to find her if she doesn't cooperate. The room starts shaking and the mystic symbols on the walls start disappearing. Eve panics, Angel says it isn't him. She offers to help if they save her. The door bursts open and a well dressed man enters. But Angel, Spike, and Eve are long gone.

Lorne is in a bar where the demon bartender is pouring him Sea Breezes and singing so he can get his future read. He wants to know if his girlfriend will marry him and if they'll have children. Lorne starts talking about how tired he is of performing. He says he started drinking when he learnt a girl he loved was going to die, but it isn't working. So he's going to go back. Angel, Spike, and Eve arrive at the office. Angel orders a lock down, even though Harmony points out that never works. He tells Spike to protect Eve while he goes to see Gunn.

Gunn is in his hospital bed. Angel enters and asks how he can protect Eve. Gunn says he doesn't know. Angel takes the tabloid Gunn is reading and tells him he paid a high price for his brain upgrade and he should use it. Gunn tells him about a clause he can use. Angel says he knows Gunn feels bad and he should. That for the rest of his life he'll wake up in the middle of the night over it. Because he's a good man. He says Gunn just signed a piece of paper. Gunn says he knew what he was doing, even if he didn't know the specifics. He tells Gunn you always have chances for atonement, you just have to take them. He tells him he can't hide in a hospital room and pretend it will go away.

Wesley is with Fred. The real Fred. He says he thought he was in isolation. She asks whose fault is that. She asks him to tell her a joke, but he tells a story about a man who suffers horrible pain because of a memory. She says this is only the first layer. Wesley wakens and Illyria is with him. She says he drank a lot and fell asleep. He called her names. He said he had a nightmare. She says in her time nightmares walked among them. She says now they are trapped inside the heads of humans, a shadow of their former selves. She wonders who they angered to merit that fate. He says the world must be a great disappointment to her. He says he's not impressed with it himself. She asks why he doesn't leave.

Eve tells Spike she's going to die. Angel says she's under his protection. She says she can't tell them anything. She may know lots, but she doesn't have access to it. He realizes she's an immortal and she says she's a creation of the senior partners. She says Lindsey could have answered his questions, that he knew more about the senior partners and Angel than anyone. They realize that's why the partners took him. She says he must be in some awful hell. Cut to Lindsey waking up in bed with a beautiful blonde. A little boy, their son, rushes into the room. Lindsey goes out to pick up the newspaper. It's a bright, sunny day. Everyone else is getting the paper as well. It's like a stepford dimension.

Spike says there are thousands of kinds of hell. He thinks Eve is lying. But Lorne is there and he read her and says she's telling the truth. Gunn enters and says he can get them to where Lindsey is. Lindsey is tutoring his son about the composition of the Earth. His wife says she needs a light bulb for the oven and asks him to get one from the cellar. He's reluctant, but she says she needs it. Gunn, Angel, and Spike are in the garage. Gunn says he found a precedent, a guy in the Tokyo division the partners had a problem with. He says Lindsey got the tattoo idea from that guy. He says it isn't a hell, but a holding dimension. He says the Camaro will get them there. It drives itself, it's designed to take them to the other dimension. He says when they get there, they have to find the Wrath to get out. They enter the dimension which is bright and shiny and suburban.

Wesley tells Illyria she can leave, but she says it's not possible. She says as her former self she crossed dimensions, including one with nothing but shrimp. He asks why she stays. She doesn't answer but complains about how everything is too small and she's trapped in the walls and in this body which isn't hers. He tells her to come with him.

Lindsey comes out and gets the paper just as we saw before. As he reenters the house the car pulls up. Gunn opens the door and the sun has no effect - it's alternate dimension rules just as in Pylea. The blonde opens the door and invites them in, calling Lindsey. He doesn't recognize them. Angel realizes he has no memory of them. They tell him about this being an alternate dimension. He thinks it's a joke. Eve is worried about how long it is taking them. Lorne says she's safe, nothing can get in. The alarms go off. The well dressed man comes up the hall. A security guard tries to stop him and he punches right through the guard. Lorne, Eve, and Harmony scream. Lindsey tells the guys to get out. Angel grabs him and sees he's wearing a medallion. He rips it off. Lindsey remembers. The wife returns with a machine gun and starts shooting at them. They rush out to the car, but it's gone. Machine gun wielding guys attack them in the street and they go back in the house. Angel knocks out the wife. The son appears with a machine gun. They knock out the boy and head down to the cellar over Lindsey's protests. The well dressed man enters the office. Harmony, in vampire mode, jumps him but he knocks her aside. Lorne and Eve flee down the elevator. The cellar is a torture chamber. There is a pile of body parts on the floor, Spike picks up a heart, and Lindsey says it is his. They find a furnace and figure it's the Wrath. Gunn says the lock is mystical. Lindsey says he's coming. In walks a demon torturer. Spike and Angel fight him, but without much success. It stops fighting as Gunn puts on the medallion. The furnace door opens. Gunn says if one leaves one has to stay. Angel realizes Gunn knew. Gunn says it's the thing about atonement. He says when he starts to forget, the door will close. They go.

Lorne and Eve get in a car and start driving off. Angel, Lindsey, and Spike drop onto the hood of the car. As they get up and ready to go back in the well dressed man arrives. He pulls out a pen and a contract for Eve to sign. He says he's Marcus Hamilton the new liaison. He says Eve is giving up her immortality and signing over her responsibilities to him. He says he's eager to talk to Angel about his ideas. He welcomes Spike to the team and walks off.

Illyria and Wesley are standing on a roof. She says she can breathe easier but she's still trapped. She says he doesn't worship her at all. He says she really can't leave. She says she doesn't know, that in this form she's afraid she'd be prey in another dimension. She says the world is so small yet they box themselves in rooms. He says there are things worse than walls. Truths they could not bear every day.

Lorne is removing bullet fragments from Spike. Lindsey says the torture only affects you as much as you feel it should. He wonders how Gunn is doing. Angel wants to know about the senior partners. Lindsey says the apocalypse is already happening. That by accepting the world the way it is, they are becoming less and less heroes and more on the side of evil. It's all a distraction to keep them from looking beneath the surface.

Gunn is with his wife and child, doing exactly the same routine Lindsey did, heading to the cellar.

Analysis

With such a long break between episodes and with only six left in the series (unless something unexpected happens) I wasn't sure how my response to this final set of episodes would go. Would they be stunning and a fitting conclusion or a weak and a sad coda to the Buffyverse? If this first of the final six is anything to go by, the former is way more likely than the latter. The episode worked well in terms of plot twists, character development, and philosophical statement. It didn't reach the emotional highs of the very best episodes, but it had everything else. Thematically, I think everyone has come out of a metaphorical (and in some cases literal) fugue state. They've awakened from a dream to reality. An enforced dream in the case of Lindsey, a literal dream for Wesley, and a wishful dream for most of the others. In some cases they've been pushed into reality, in others they've sought it out. The key is that they are all getting there. They may, as Lindsey says, be two soldiers down, but at least now they know what war they are fighting.

I'll start with Gunn, largely because I liked the surprise of what happened to him. I don't know if this is the end of his character or if he'll get out of the penalty box before the series ends. But if it is the last we see of him it's a good way to go. He starts the episode moping in his hospital bed. More because of his sense of guilt than the injury he suffered. And Angel gives him some tough talk. He points out Gunn is suffering because he deserves it. But he also points out redemption is possible. That's what Angel is all about. And he makes Gunn use his dearly bought brains to help them. He reminds Gunn that he cannot even begin to atone for what he did if he remains hidden in his hospital bed. That he must engage the world and seek an opportunity for atonement. Gunn has tried to shrink his world, to hide himself away from all reminders of the evil he did. But the biggest reminder is carried within himself, in his brain and his heart. And he can't escape that. Angel makes that truth self evident and Gunn begins to return to action. First with words (his advice to Angel), later with actions (going with them to get Lindsey), and finally with a true act of atonement (accepting Lindsey's punishment as his own recognizing that he deserves it). Angel told him he had to grab at the chance of atonement, and he did.

Fred's death wasn't meaningless. It inspired Gunn to his sacrifice, which may save the world, and it also woke Angel from his Wolfram & Hart dreamworld. As he thinks about his first meeting with the mad Fred in Pylea, he finally admits that his coming to Wolfram & Hart was a mistake and that he has been lying to himself all this time. He realizes the senior partners have a plan and he has to learn more about them and it. He starts taking real action by seeking out Eve starting the chain of events leading to Lindsey's rescue and Gunn's sacrifice. And starting his battle against the real evil. When he talks to Lindsey, he learns something he already knew, that heroes don't accept the world the way it is. That's pretty much what he said to Connor in Deep Down. But he needed to be reminded.

Lorne is trying to drink himself to oblivion, trying to forget what has happened. He also tries to falsify the future - he says he tells people what they want to hear rather than the truth. But his attempt to create a dream reality is a failure. It isn't making him feel any better. He realizes he has to confront the harshest of realities and that running from it won't work. Now, I've read some comments from people who think Lorne's comment about starting to drink when he learnt a girl he loved was going to die is a reference to someone other than Fred, to a lover or potential lover. I can see why people might think that, since Lorne has always drunk. But I think he's not being literal here. He's talking about drinking heavily, not just drinking. And it's Fred's death which has led to that. Of course, maybe there is the extra layer here, but I'd be surprised if there is. Pleasantly surprised, because Lorne is one of the shallowest of the characters on the show.

Wesley also seeks refuge from reality in alcohol, drinking himself into a stupor and dreaming of Fred. It's interesting that his first words are "I thought I was in isolation." He's seeking to seal himself off from the world. Fred asks whose fault is that, reminding him that he is hurting himself by the self imposed exile from reality. But he keeps awakening to the reality of Illyria. She complains about being closed in, about how small the world is. But his world is even smaller. He's trapped in the narrow confines of his mind and his memory of his love and his pain. He challenges her to leave the world and she says she can't or maybe simply won't. That she's afraid. He's afraid, too. If he moves on, he may lose the shred of Fred that remains to him. At the same time, that memory plagues him. When dream Fred asks for a joke, he tells her about a man in agony over a memory. The joke is Wesley is drinking to forget and the drinking is isolating him in the memory that causes him pain but is also his only source of pleasure. It's not that funny. Fred says this is only the first layer and asks if he wants to see how deep she goes. It's a reference to the depths of his memory and his pain. The analogy in the joke is the man falling into the Earth. How far will he fall? Maybe all the way through and out the other end to a new life in a new land. Of course, the joke's on Illyria, too. She can't stand the small world she's trapped in, but she's too afraid to leave it. She is also in a self imposed isolation.

Lindsey's hell is a really interesting dream world. At first it looks great - beautiful wife, nice kid, lovely home. But it's a stepford reality - preprogrammed, unchanging, and bereft of real feelings or emotions. Except for dread. The fear of the cellar and what happens there. The daily respite from the nightly horrors make the horrors all the worse. Lindsey alternates between a dream of potential but not real happiness and real nightmare. It's all unreal, but the combination is way more horrific than either alone would be. He has the physical suffering of the torture, the anticipation of the torture, and a vague sense that he can somehow escape it when he really can't. It differs from the hell Gunn is in. Gunn chose his punishment and it's a true act of atonement. It has meaning. It's leading to a spiritual purification. But Lindsey didn't believe he deserved to be tortured. This lessened the pain (although clearly his fear was genuine and significant), but it also meant he gained nothing from all that suffering. Gunn may be in hell, but his atonement can get him to heaven. That would never have happened to Lindsey and by rescuing him they have at least given him the chance to seek atonement for his sins.

Some quick final thoughts. The shrimp dimension is a reference to Buffy. Anya once mentioned a dimension without shrimp and another with nothing but shrimp. I often feel humour is misplaced or over used. But it was wonderfully used in this episode. Especially in the opening scene with the Scoobies, Angel's Avengers, and beer drinking moments. Not to mention Harmony noting how grouchy Angel is when he asks why he's alone. In the opening scene, Spike complains that he never gets to save the girl. So it must be gratifying when Angel assigns him to guard Eve when he goes to see Gunn. It's important that Illyria says "we are so weak". She's identifying with Wesley in particular and humanity in general. She's changing. Harmony is right, security at Wolfram & Hart is pathetic.

Lines of the week:

"Tell me we're not Scoobies." - Spike on names.

"You'd want to be Angel's Avengers." - Spike with a name Angel likes too much.

"I'm listening. With beer." - Spike being perfectly Spike.

"Handsome man. Save me from the monsters." - Angel remembering Fred.

"Bad things always happen everywhere." - Spike being realistic.

"I think I'm tired." - Lorne actually really telling Carlos what he thinks.

"You paid a high price for what's in that brain. So use it." - Angel with some tough talk to Gunn.

"For the rest of your life." - Angel on how long Gunn will feel bad.

"Because you're a good man." - Angel on why Gunn feels guilt.

"The thing about atonement is you never run out of chances. But you gotta take 'em." - Angel with advice Gunn will take to heart.

"I thought I was in isolation." - Wesley on his failings.

"Now nightmares are trapped inside the heads of humans." - Illyria on the sad fate of nightmares.

"You never heard of Knight Rider?" - Spike proving once again that vampires watch a lot of tv.

"That thing about atonement." - Gunn taking responsibility.

"You'll like Canada. Lots of deserters." - Lorne with an antiCanadian moment.

"He is well dressed." - Angel on Marcus.

"I reek of humanity." - Illyria on the human condition.

"We are so weak." - Illyria identifying.

"Heroes don't accept the world the way it is." - Lindsey saying something Angel already knows.

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