In the sixteenth episode of the fifth season of Angel, the team mourns as others take drastic actions to get back a friend. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.
This really is some stunning writing for this show, and I hate it at the same time. I hate it for entirely selfish reasons: I miss Fred, and I want her back. I hate being reminded of the mortality of everyone around me. I hate knowing that I can’t bring back those I love. And it’s these very issues that “Shells” brings up in a way to make Fred’s surviving friends contemplate what it means to be alive.
This feels like one of those big episodes in a long series, the one where absolutely no one holds back. The writing, acting, and cinematography all come together in haunting, emotional ways, and I’m just so impressed with “Shells.” I think part of that is because (as you’ll see me say in my video) I had eight days to heal from “A Hole in the World.” I don’t know that I could have jumped immediately into the next episode. Putting some distance between the two stories allowed me to see them as separate entities and – let’s be real – accept the fact that Fred was dead. Oh god.
I picked up on some really fascinating and touching bits in this episode, which I do think is one of the best written stories for the whole show.
First, I must acknowledge what an incredible thing it is to see Amy Acker portray Illyria. It’s so utterly unlike Fred or Dr. Saunders, and how do you act Amy. Illyria is largely a detached character who speaks in direct statements, and Acker plays her almost like a cat who is taken to a new home for the first time. (I realize that makes Illyria seem way more cute and adorable than I probably intended, but for real, my cats act exactly like Illyria whenever I move into a new apartment. Well, wait, they don’t bend time and throw able-bodied men clear across a room, and they’re certainly not Old Ones. Actually, I take that back. The larger of my two Siamese cats, Lolita, is pretty much a cat version of a creepy stalker? And she sees things I can’t see, and she also will imitate other animals and people in order to get attention, so she’s fairly manipulative and evil. It’s entirely possible she’s a resurrected Old God. What the fuck, why did I go on this tangent?)
So yeah, Amy Acker rules.
I’ve always liked when television shows give their individual episodes interesting names, and Whedon is a big proponent of that. While it’s clear that “Shells” refers to Illyria’s comment that Fred’s body is merely the “shell” that she exists in, I noticed that the title of this episode was pluralized. So what shells were the writers referring to? I can’t presume to know the intentions of the writers, but I noticed that Wesley, Lorne, Gunn, and Angel all for a moment became “shells” of the people they once were. In the wake of Fred’s death, they all react differently in ways that are atypical of their personalities. Well, somewhat. Of those all, Wesley has the most drastic change in behavior, and Dark Wesley seems to come out of hiding. Which raises a fascinating scenario: Is this Dark Wesley coming back? Since Angel’s deal with the Senior Partners wiped away Wesley’s history, does that mean some of it still remains? Regardless, it was clear that his emotional breakdown led straight into his detached, violent side, which is what we saw a whole lot of at the end of season three and in the beginning of season four. He’s determined, but more than ever before, he’s misguided about what to do. He wants Fred back, sure, but does stabbing Gunn and shooting Knox solve that? No, though I imagine it provided a whole lot of necessary catharsis at the expense of other people.
Honestly, though, I’m just heartbroken for Wesley. I couldn’t help but think of “Lineage,” where Wesley didn’t even hesitate to kill his own father for threatening to hurt Fred. And now, Fred has been fatally hurt, so I knew that it was only a matter of time before he lashed out. Oh god, HE STABBED GUNN. And then he shot Knox right in front of everyone!
Lorne completely gives up in this episode, and I was hoping for a more in-depth portrayal of his sadness. He hasn’t been featured all that much this season, but you can see that chirpy happiness get sucked right out of him. And then we’ve got Gunn. I’m a little confused about his story and the attention he receives for his mistake. I understand that Gunn’s approval of the Customs issue sent the sarcophagus to Fred’s lab, and I even get that it was terrible of him not to immediately tell everyone what he’d done when he had the chance. But Wesley states that Gunn “let her die.” That I don’t get, and I don’t get why Gunn has turned into the team’s scapegoat for what happened to Fred. Am I missing something? Gunn figured out that Knox had something to do with it, and he and Harmony set out to try to torture Knox to get information out of him to save Fred. To me, that sounds like the opposite of not doing anything. If anything, Gunn tried as hard as he could to find out how he could save Fred.
Regardless, his actions were careless, and he should have realized, as Wesley said, that nothing at Wolfram & Hart is free. For that, it appears Gunn was fired. Oh god, does he not work at the law firm anymore? Jesus, you know, this is reminiscent of Wesley’s story in season three, isn’t it? Now Gunn’s going to be the one left out of the group, which is only going to exacerbate the very problems he was having in the first place. Gunn did what he did to find a place for him to fit in, and it has ironically pushed him even further away from the people he cared about.
Angel (and even Spike to a degree) is understandably torn up about being unable to save his best friend, and that scene on the plane really typifies how Angel grieves. He becomes distant, more so than he already is, and then he gets dedicated. He latches on to whatever makes him feel like he’s in control. In this case, he believes that he can rescue Fred’s soul, but he never stops to make sure that this is even possible. And that’s something we’ve seen from him time and time again. Angel wants to save the world, and he’s more likely to just jump in to make it happen rather than plan anything out. It’s why he takes it so hard when Wesley reveals they can’t do anything about Fred anymore.
UGH THERE IS SO MUCH SADNESS IN THIS EPISODE.
I admit to being endlessly entertained by Angel and Spike fighting. There’s something about it that’s appealing to me, and I think it stems from the fact that these two extremely aggressive men can undo one another by arguing over cavemen and astronauts. But how long could this last? Weren’t they eventually going to get sick of… well, being sick of one another?
I enjoyed, then, that Spike finally made a decision about his place at Wolfram & Hart. Fred would have wanted him here, yes, but he realizes that he wants to be there, too. It’s a rad moment for his character because it really affirms that him getting a soul means he can choose to do good. And I think that’s what he is doing here. I’m eager to see what role he’s going to play in the upcoming episodes. Which, by the way, now that Illyria isn’t an antagonist, who’s left to fight???
The biggest twist for me in this emotional, complicated episode was that Illyria’s army was long destroyed. Where does that leave her? Strangely, this is another fascinating parallel to the other characters’ stories. In particular, both Gunn and Illyria are left without any sense of belonging, which they both ironically were seeking in the first place. So Illyria approaches Wesley, and gets him to agree to help her adjust to this new world. Like, never in a million years would I think that Illyria would be WORKING WITH ANYONE. I assumed that this was going to take up the remainder of season five, which scares me. THAT MEANS I AM UNPREPARED FOR SOMETHING ELSE.
I’ll wait to comment on the whole Illyria/Wesley thing because I don’t know how it’s going to work. But I was left feeling empty and sad for Wesley, who agrees to help Illyria because she looks like Fred. Is he ever going to find a way to move on if Illyria is still around him?
Ugh, too many feelings, y’all.
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