In the second episode of the fifth season of Angel, the team copes with Spike’s appearance and a stubborn client who refuses to leave. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.
YES. I AM SO INTO THIS.
There are two plots within “Just Rewards” that work in tandem with one another to give us a better idea how this Wolfram & Hart storyline will work. Before I get to THE BEST PART OF THIS EPISODE, I wanted to talk about how the writers continue to extrapolate on the implications of the end of season four. God, there are SO MANY WAYS they can take this story! Now that Angel and company are in charge of this law firm, they’re discovering just how complicated their job is. Hell, they knew this wouldn’t be easy, but how do you turn an organization so wholly committed to the dark side over to the side of the good guys? Simply put, “Just Rewards” further addresses the fact that there are some folks who work with Wolfram & Hart who won’t go away.
We saw a bit of that with Agent Hauser in “Conviction,” but the writers expand on this conflict with Hainsley, who is BRILLIANTLY PLAYED by Victor Raider-Wexler. Gunn’s had to fire over 40 people, Angel nearly screws up a meeting with a Groxlar Beast, and then everything goes to hell when Gunn closes the Internment Acquisitions Department. Things that are so blatantly “evil” seem easy to solve on the surface, but the group learns they can’t just trim the fat and hope everything goes well. We’ve seen how intertwined the law firm is with Los Angeles society at large, so Gunn’s actions have a larger consequence. This episode shows that the team, while good-intentioned, doesn’t really understand what they’re doing. In a way, it’s a sign of their continued näiveté, but one that’s purposeful. They want to believe in doing good so badly that they create these shitstorms to begin with.
In the case of Hainsley, the closure of the GRAVEROBBING DEPARTMENT (oh my god I love this show and I love the euphemisms at this company) affects the team negatively almost instantly. Turns out that the firm had an ongoing contract with Hainsley to provide the very rich and very powerful necromancer with dead bodies. Dead bodies that he puts demons into. Oh, and he also sends the lawyer who is the messenger for Angel back to the firm. IN BUCKETS. ha. HAHA. HA. Oh god.
So how does the team deal with this? I was fascinated with how quickly Gunn was able to adapt to working at Wolfram & Hart and come up with a solution that they’d never had access to before. He jumps right into fighting with the law, to beat these people at their own game. Granted, it’s only a temporary solution, given that Hainsley had another way to go after Angel, but it’s so awesome that the writers are showing us how the characters can use their newly-acquired resources to do good. Well, sort of good? No, I would say getting a necromancer to stop using dead bodies for demon implants is a good thing, so there!
Of course, it’s sort of impossible to talk about all of this in-depth without addressing the best part of this episode:
HAHAHA OH MY GOD, SO THAT’S WHY I COULDN’T WATCH THE OPENING CREDITS. OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD SPIKE IS BACK. And this show utilizes him brilliantly. Hell, right off the bat, he’s fighting with Angel and IT IS SO ENTERTAINING. Why am I so in love with watching Spike and Angel make fun of one another??? It’s endlessly fun, and this episode does not disappoint. But this isn’t about my entertainment. Thankfully, “Just Rewards” cleverly analyzes the implications of Spike’s return, especially since it basically interrupts the sacrifice he made at the end of “Chosen.” (Also, SPIKE IS BACK EVERYONE AND I DIDN’T KNOW THIS HELP H E L P) I can’t ignore the similarities between his predicament and what happened to Buffy at the beginning of season six. Spike was done, and now he’s suddenly back on Earth, and he’s in L.A., and he’s stuck with Angel and his crew. I MEAN COME ON, IT’S TOTALLY A COSMIC JOKE. It’s the worst thing possible for him! But it’s interesting to me that the writers give Spike the space to explore what this means for him. Sure, the whole “I’m going to haunt Angel every waking hour” thing is a goddamn treat to watch, but I think “Just Rewards” is such a good episode because of the way Spike vocalizes his terror at what his life has become.
It’s pretty much spelled out for us that Spike is deeply unhappy with this situation because he feels like his reward for his sacrifice is anything but a reward. Again, we see how Spike, even with a soul, still views the world in this sort of binary. It’s one of his character flaws that was first developed on Buffy in season six, and he’s still holding on to it here. That being said, I don’t necessarily think his interpretation of events is all that flawed. After giving up his life to save Sunnydale and sink the Hellmouth, it is rather fucked up that he returns to the world as an incorporeal spirit, unable to do anything but talk to other people. Even worse, he’s sent back to a world where it appears that Angel is living a life of luxury. He’s got a huge office, he’s running a massive company, he has friends, and what is Spike left with? Nothing. Nothing at all. Is this his destiny? And while I wouldn’t personally say that Angel’s situation is a gift, it’s certainly in glaring contrast to what Spike has.
And that’s the idea behind this episode’s title. Spike is certainly sassy and irritated through most of this episode, taking every chance he can get to knock Angel down a notch, as he says. But in that final scene with Fred, it’s clear that he’s been masking his pain with snarky commentary. What is Spike’s just reward for saving the world? Apparently, he’s sent back to Earth to constantly be teased with the fact that when he does pass on, he’ll be going to HELL. Yeah, apparently Spike’s path to redemption wasn’t good enough for the Powers That Be or whoever control’s this mess. But on a logistical level, I’m happy the show is going to address this. Spike’s story in season seven of Buffy was about atonement in a way, even if Spike says he’s not into it. It was about examining his faults and approaching them with a concerned effort to change them. By bringing him on to Angel at this point, this fictional universe has to acknowledge what a tough situation this is for this character. If his sacrifice at the end of Buffy meant anything, then I need the writers to address the implications of bringing him back.
So far, I’m liking what I see. It was clever to have Spike double cross Hainsley because it didn’t ignore that Spike wasn’t interested in being evil anymore. For a moment, right after Angel got tricked, I was, admittedly, a little concerned that the writers had ignored this part of his characterization for season seven of Buffy. While Spike is still the one to provide snotty commentary (OH MY GOD, I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE HIM VERBALLY SPAR WITH EVE), his role in this season isn’t going to be based solely on this dynamic. His confession to Fred is sad and vulnerable, and I know it takes a lot for Spike to ask for help. But what can Fred do? How can she use science to cure Spike?
Yeah, so I’m really liking season five after these two episodes. Having Harmony around is a highlight as well, and I don’t want to ignore how great it is that she’s here, too. My only complaint is that it now seems obvious that Cordelia is just going to be in an off-screen coma, which SUCKS. She’s not even in the opening credits anymore! Ugh, my Cordy, what have they done to you?
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