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"Angel" Tv Series - 5x04 "Hellbound" - Soulful Spike Society Review

Sunday 26 October 2003, by xanderbnd

5.4 Hellbound written by Steven S. DeKnight ; directed by Steven S. DeKnight

What in Hell ?

We knew Spike was being sucked into Hell. We didn’t know that Hell had help.

Hell’s little helper is one Matthias Pavayne, M.D., Dark Soul #182 (of some 3,200 listed) : per Wolfram & Hart’s enviable collection of research materials, an 18th century European aristocrat and Dark Mage who gained the nickname "the Reaper" for performing unnecessary surgery on his patients—the kind you don’t recover from and leaves parts of you in magically significant positions.

But Spike’s situation actually gets better once Pavayne actually manifests himself. Because then he has a chance to understand what’s been going on, what the rules are, and how to fight back. Until then, he’s completely at sea, and nobody but Fred apparently has the least interest in offering him a paddle.

Fred, who’s rapidly becoming the conscience of the new, improved Fang Gang, has thrown herself into the project of rescuing Spike from his deteriorating semi-ghost condition full throttle, with all guns (and requisition sheets) blazing, to the tune of $800,000 spent beyond what was allotted in her quarterly budget, according to the aloof Eve, who has apparently brought the matter to Angel’s attention and prompted a call-Fred-on-the-carpet meeting that doesn’t go the way any of the participants expected. Fred starts out thinking that, like Wes, Angel is concerned for her health, since she hasn’t been eating or sleeping properly for some considerable time, absorbed in her project. Clearly uncomfortable to have to criticize one of his own people in front of Eve and at Eve’s behest, Angel mentions the overrun, which Fred justifies on the grounds that it’s an expensive proposition to do something that’s never been done before : trying to make Spike corporeal again, "as you asked." Taken aback, Angel protests that what he actually asked for was for Fred to find a way to get Spike out of Wolfram & Hart.

Fred wants to solve Spike’s problem whereas Angel wants his own problem—Spike—to go away. Quite different purposes, to the tune of nearly a million dollar overrun.

Since Angel is Fred’s boss, and Fred has clearly misinterpreted his marching orders, the scene should end with Fred backing down and Angel insisting that the save-a-Spike project ends as of now. Instead, Fred bravely holds her ground because Fred doesn’t live in the corporate Hell of W&H : she lives on enemy territory, trying to do the right thing—which was why they agreed to take W&H over in the first place. Against Angel’s charge that Spike cares for no one but himself, Fred drops the B word—Buffy—and Angel has to admit that Spike does care for Buffy. Against Angel’s charge that were he made corporeal, Spike would immediately go after Buffy, not be hanging around to help at W & H, Fred scornfully responds, "Is that what this is about ? You’re afraid he’s going to come back and try to get with your ex again ?" And although that clearly is what this is about, Angel doesn’t have the brass-bound gall to actually say so. To the charge that Spike has charmed her into doing this, Fred retorts that although she’s quite aware of Spike’s charming ways and attributes, "…what do you think I am : stupid ? I know he’s been playing me with the looks and the smiles, but I’m not some idiot schoolgirl with a crush !" When Angel asks blankly what the inducement is, Fred replies, "It’s about doing what’s right. Remember ?"

Fred shames Angel with Spike’s worthiness of rescue and with what a good potential ally he is, considering that his credentials are virtually identical to Angel’s own. She implicitly asks Angel to put himself in Spike’s place, which Angel is immensely unwilling to do. The meeting ends in Angel declaring that it’s her department and therefore her call—passively allowing the project to go forward but not endorsing it in any positive way. He simply fails to oppose it, leaving it up to Fred’s conscience and determination how it will all turn out. Personally, however, he makes it clear that he thinks it’s no use : "Some people can’t be saved."

What he doesn’t add is that he believes himself one of them. But more of that in a moment.

Apparently, Spike has done little to endear himself to the Fang Gang. He’s been trying, unsuccessfully, to frighten Fred with sudden appearances. In this episode, Fred is frightened by no less than two sudden appearances and an invisible attack, none of them Spike’s. He’s also been appearing in the bathroom and making disparaging comments about Gunn’s…anatomy. When it comes to frightening people, Spike is a very unsuccessful ghost. He knows all the schlocky horror conventions that nobody finds frightening anymore. (Spike : Is this the part where I say "Who’s there" and something creepy happens ?) And when Fred reveals to Wes and Gunn Spike’s horrifying situation—that he’s being dragged into a literal Hell—their reactions are laughably blasť :

Gunn : Kinda figured. Wes : Of course. Gunn : Where else would he be headed ?

And Fred is left gaping, realizing no help is apt to come from that quarter, either.

Spike is problematic. Not only is he dead, not only is he a deteriorating ghost with a falling ambient temperature, he’s babbling to phantoms and reporting having obscene, violent visions in the basement. Sound familiar ? How about Ensouled, Crazy Spike haunted by the First in the basement of Sunnydale High School, in the beginning episodes of Season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ? Spike really has been crazy in the recent past. It’s to Spike’s credit that in the present episode, he never once doubts himself or his perceptions. He’s the paranoid who’s right : they are out to get him ! But to everybody else (except Fred), he’s a nuisance, a babbling loony, or both.

But Spike, having once grasped the puzzle of himself and his sanity back on BtVS, never once lets go, and apparently Fred is strong enough to have caught the conviction from him. If the house mediums (media ?) declare there are no ghosts at W & H, the mediums are wrong, and they need to check again, that’s all. In the face of Fred’s intransigence, Eve produces what apparently is W & H’s champ spook-finder, a woman vaguely reminiscent of Glory in appearance, who’s concerned about being late for her early-morning body-shaping (pilates) session. In a breezy sťance, she contacts a spirit, all right—which proceed to choke her to death as she gasps about the presence of a "Dark Soul"…that everybody assumes is Spike. Then she spits blood all over Fred.

But here the tide begins to turn. Wes and Gunn realize Spike—who’s disappeared, from their point of view but not his own—would have no reason to kill a woman who was trying to help locate him…and who contradicted their previous reports of no ghosts at W&H by getting herself strangled by an invisible assailant. Something’s fishy at W & H…and for that reason, Angel and the FG unite to investigate and defeat it. Spike’s rescue is, at first, only an incidental by-product. The FG (sans Fred) are fighting against forces at Wolfram & Hart attempting to deceive them, not for Spike. Because they believe all efforts in that direction will ultimately be useless. He’s Hellbound no matter what they do.

Angel thinks so. This comes out in the alternatively melancholy and hilarious scene between him and Spike in Angel’s penthouse. Rattled by encounters with Pavayne’s imaginary minions and shaken worse by the realization that they can, in fact, hurt him (Eyeglass Woman has just slashed his face with the large shard of glass she normally keeps handy in her right eyesocket), Spike has come to Angel, not for help, but simply "to hang." He’s come for company and reassurance while he assimilates the nastier aspects of his problem that he’s just discovered, none of which he confides to Angel. Angel’s response is to raise his eyes to heaven and intone, "And yet, he’s still here." Then Angel reveals why he’s been so resistant to the notion of helping Spike : he believes no help is to be had—they’re both damned to Hell. Angel has no faith in the Shan-shu prophecy that says "a vampire with a soul" (which both of them apparently think means Angel) will become human after sufficient good deeds and world saveage. Angel was given a parole from Hell for no reason that he knows and believes he’s going back there, no matter what good deeds he may do in the meantime. This is a shock to Spike’s basic optimism. Spike always assumes that his fate lies in his own hands, that his choices matter. Being faced with such convinced gloom and doom clearly disheartens him. When Angel comments bitterly, "You think any of it matters ? The things we did…the lives we destroyed…that’s all that’s ever going to count. So, yeah—surprise ! You’re going to Hell. We both are." More bewildered than angry, Spike asks, "Then why even bother ? Try to do the right thing. Make a difference." Angel replies glumly, "What else are we going to do ?" Souled, they can’t help wanting to do the right thing, even if there’s to be no ultimate reward for it. But none of it really matters. And Spike contrives to find something positive even in this : at least they’re in the same boat. Wherever they’re going, however hopeless their situation is, each has the immensely annoying other as company. And finally, even Angel is forced to take some slight solace in this, enough to admit that as much as he detests Spike, he really did like Spike’s "bloody awful" poetry. And Spike considers that compliment tantamount to an insult, considering that Angel also likes Barry Manilow. They sit on Angel’s couch and sulk.

When Pavayne considers Spike sufficiently softened up by the unnerving appearances and attentions of his "minions"—projections that Pavayne can will into being—to appear in person, the situation becomes more clear. Pavayne is the self-appointed guardian of this particular "Hellmouth," feeding into it W & H ghosts gibbering in terror on the threshold whenever it opens to consume him. He can keep souls captive, boot them into Hell, and then counterfeit them whenever he wants…because he wants. It is, he gradually reveals to Spike, the force of wanting and of will, together with his knowledge of the Black Arts, that makes him God in this nether-realm he inhabits in death, having served W & H as an sacrifice sufficiently evil to de-consecrate a parcel of hallowed ground on the block upon which the L.A. branch was constructed.

Will is the key. Wanting. And it’s will and wanting that allows Spike to touch Fred, sparking her with energy they both feel, frantic to encourage her when she seems to be giving up her task as impossible and Spike himself as irrevocably gone. It’s what gives him the idea, and the determination, to use his finger to write the crucial word "Reaper" (what the "minions" have been calling what’s coming for him) in the condensation on the window where Fred is showering off the medium’s blood. That word, in turn, is what allows the FG to identify Pavayne among the 3,199 other possible Dark Souls (including four mentions of Angel/Angelus), understand his history and therefore his present mode of operation, and to prioritize : Angel determines they should corporealize Spike first, then go after Pavayne. This is the first positive action Angel has taken in the matter.

To power Fred’s device, Angel and Gunn go to the holy of holies : the White Room that technically doesn’t exist, where resides the conduit—the connection, here specified as "to the other dimensions" but established, in previous Angel-lore, as the direct pipeline to the demonic Senior Partners. Although Angel confesses himself nervously "more of a dog person," Gunn summons the conduit, which manifests as a panther or black jaguar, and is allowed to collect a sample of its substance—a one-time personal favor that represents evil energy of nuclear proportions.

"Reaper" is one key word. When the key word "deserve" comes again (it came up in 5 :2), from Pavayne’s mouth this time, Spike responds, "You’re right. I deserve to go to Hell. But not today !" And from the nakedness that symbolizes his helplessness and hopelessness, he manifests clothing and his particular armor, the duster, and goes at Pavayne with every ounce of joyous ferocity that is quintessentially Spike, fists and fangs. Faced with despair, even accepting despair, Spike fights back because that’s what Spike does. Always.

Fighting back against despair is what Angel has been unable to do until now and perhaps what he can learn from Spike, just as trying to do the right thing for its own sake, even without hope of any final acknowledgement from the Powers That Be, is perhaps what Spike can learn from Angel.

But will alone is not enough to defeat Pavayne. Spike needs a little help from his friends, in the form of Fred’s machine, blasting out perceptible power sufficient to make a ghost solid again. Arriving first, Pavayne threatens to strangle Fred as he strangled the medium. He presents Spike with the choice of rescuing Fred or regaining physical form. And to the credit of Spike’s endless protestations of being evil, the Big Bad, in BtVS, he does think about it for a moment, then startles Pavayne into freeing Fred and shoves him into the "materializer," giving Angel and Co. a shot at him. Spike warns that Pavayne must not be killed : then they’d never get rid of him. Instead, he’s imprisoned in a specially prepared "coffin" in the bowels of W & H. Angel informs him that "You get to live forever. Unable to move, to touch, or to feel...or to affect anything in the world around you. But don’t worry : I had ’em give you a window." Slamming the metal door shut, revealing a small slit in the door at Pavayne’s eye level, and locking the door, Angel tells him, "Welcome to Hell"…mirroring not only what Pavayne was doing—consigning people to Hell—but very nearly duplicating Angel’s own situation, trapped in a welded-shut, windowed coffin at the bottom of the Pacific…entombed there by son Connor…at the opening of Season Four. If Angel says this is Hell, he should know.

Although rusty, the Fang Gang functions as an effective team in this episode, and everyone gets a moment to shine, except Lorne, who may have taken some pills. It’s a complex episode, with multiple resonances and connections, and a number of very strong individual scenes where home truths are stated and lines drawn. It’s got a splendid Spike/Pavayne fight through walls and furniture. Each episode has gotten better and better. If this keeps on, the series may explode.

Nan Dibble 10/23/03 Acknowledgement : As always, I am indebted for the gladly shared insights, wit, and general snarkiness of my fellow S’cubies : the members of the Soulful Spike Society

MISCELLANEOUS

During the whole fight with Pavayne, Spike does not go to game face. Shouldn’t the condensation from Fred’s shower be on the inside of the window ? Also note : most uncharacteristically, Spike is so focused on communicating what he’s discovered to Fred that there’s no least indication of his taking a peek at her. Moreover, there’s no reason he couldn’t have been inside the shower room (what co-ed business establishment has a shower facility with clear glass walls ?), and Fred wouldn’t have been able to detect his presence. So for this one, give Spike restraint points. Gunn is a lot chummier with the conduit than Angel is. It talks with Gunn, but Angel can’t hear it. If I were Angel, I’d be saying Hmmmm and not in a good way. Where is the masked mail guy ? This is the first episode he’s missed. Mirroring. In 5.1, Angel out-special-ops’ed the special ops team. In 5.2, Angel killed the messenger of a business connection—his 3 o’clock ; so did the Big Bad, the Necromancer, returning Novak in buckets. In 5.3, Angel provided a substitute werewolf to the dinner club—just like the werewolf captured and prepared for their dining pleasure during the episode. True, the supper club was apparently ended…but not by Angel. And now he seals this week’s Big Bad into a coffin not unlike the one he himself occupied, and was rescued from, in 4.1, thereby sending Pavayne to what Angel describes as "Hell"—exactly what Pavayne was trying to do to Spike. Somehow, I think we’ll be seeing more of this in future episodes…. Wesley’s department is identified in this episode as Research and Intelligence. When Wesley suggests dinner, Fred is obviously uncomfortable until Wesley clarifies that he means she should eat dinner…and rest. They don’t seem destined for couplehood at this point. Fred assumes without question that the Shan-shu prophecy refers to Angel. Therefore so, apparently, does Spike at this point. It seems contradictory that Angel believes he’s damned and yet is affronted to learn 4 of the 3,200 references to Dark Souls refer to him. It doesn’t specify whether the references are to Angel, Angelus, or Angel’s soul, specifically. Reading the references, he protests, "That’s not fair : I didn’t even have a soul when I did that !" Angel is allowed to be contradictory, but it’s still worth noticing. Spike isn’t the least bit shy about being naked. Armless Woman and Eyeglass Woman are both there, and it doesn’t appear to bother him a bit. Of course he’s realized they’re not real, but all the same…. It’s nice to see someone so comfortable with himself. There aren’t any ghosts at Wolfram & Hart…and there should be. Angel says, "That’s what I mean. High-risk employment : people die here all the time. This place should be full of spooks. So what happened to them ?" The answer is that Pavayne was banking them, so he could toss one in anytime Hell opened…for him. So W & H’s spook-detectors were mostly right…except that Pavayne had the power to conceal his own presence from the hourly sweeps to detect "incorporeal intrusion." We still have no clue why Spike is at W&H or who/what sent him. In this episode, although the Senior Partners knew about the First Evil in Sunnydale (Lilah gave Angel the amulet) and about Jasmine (one of the Powers That Be that had an interesting plan for mankind living in harmony, last season), they didn’t know about Pavayne, in their own building ? Capturing W & H defunct employees with life+ contracts, then booting them into Hell for his own convenience ? That’s a little hard to swallow. If they knew, they apparently weren’t telling Eve or Angel…. Spike’s present disappearances in this episode—when he can see the FG but they can’t see/hear him—are apparently due to Pavayne’s manipulations. However, there’s no indication that the basic situation—Spike slipping into Hell—is, as well. That appears to be real, and independent of any plans Pavayne had. So it presumably continues. At one point, Fred is caught writing on the window because she ran out of whiteboard. A good reason. Nevertheless, writing on the walls was the way she controlled her insanity after being rescued by Angel from years of captivity in the demon realm of Pylea. It’s a reminder that Fred, too, has been crazy and alone and reliant on the kindness and patience of the Fang Gang…

Spike went to Fred to thank her for her efforts, even though he knew she couldn’t hear him and wouldn’t know. And Fred helped Spike despite his continually flirting with her. At the end, Spike finds solace in his situation. He tells Fred : "Don’t have it so bad, really. Lots of room, good company. Even picked up a few new tricks." Then he picks up a cup : he can now, with sufficient concentration, interact with the living world. "I guess there’s worse things than being a ghost." Pavayne now is experiencing one of them. Memorable lines :

Pavayne (to Spike) : The soul that blesses you, damns you to suffer forever.

Eve (about Spike) : "He IS quite the dish. With those eyes and the… Fred : "…hair and the cheeks. And what do you think I am : stupid ? I know he’s been playing me with the looks and the smiles, but I’m not some idiot schoolgirl with a crush !

Fred (to Angel, about helping Spike) : It’s about doing what’s right. Remember ?

Angel (about Spike’s hair) : What color is that ? Radioactive ?

Spike (of himself) : …the almost dearly-departed.

Angel : Some people can’t be saved.

Spike (seeing lights going out) : Right : vampire ghost here, you sod. Bloody well invented afraid of the dark.

Spike (in Angel’s penthouse) : So : what’s on the agenda—rousting a nest of venomous retirement plans ?

Spike : Oh, put your martyr away, mahatma. Fred told me all about your great shining prophecy. Pile up all your good deeds and get the big brass ring handed to you—like everything else. Angel : Except for one small catch : the prophecy’s a bunch of bull. They all are. Nothing’s written in stone or fated to happen, Spike. You save the world, you end up running an evil law firm. Spike : Or playing Casper with one foot in the fire. Angel : You think any of it matters ? The things we did…the lives we destroyed…that’s all that’s ever going to count. So, yeah—surprise ! You’re going to Hell. We both are.

Medium : I have pilates at the crack of ’Why am I awake," so let’s move this right along.

Fred (starting sťance) : Should we hold hands ? Medium : Only if you’re lonely.

Gunn (of the conduit) : Actually, it’s not that bad…if you like cats. Angel : I’m kind of a dog person. Gunn (after growl from conduit) : Ix-nay on the og-day.

The whole dialogue on the couch is priceless. In it, Spike calls Angel "Liam"—which he’s never, ever done before.