“A Hole in the World”
Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by Joss Whedon
We open on a flashback to when Fred was getting ready to head to UCLA for her grad program. Her wonderful Texan parents are there, a bit grumbly about parting with her. Aww. Fred, on the other hand, is ready to take L.A. by storm. She has a very ragged stuffed rabbit named Fiegenbaum. She promises her mom she’ll be very safe and boring.
Cut to Fred doing an excellent impersonation of Ripley (I assume, having never seen any of the Alien movies), roasting freaky bug demons with a flamethrower while yelling. Wes helps her out by blowing some of them away with his shotgun. Fred’s fascinated by the demon bugs, and Wes flirts with her. They kiss, until Angel and Spike walk into the tunnel, Angel with a sword through him because Spike thought the best way to kill the bug on his back was to impale him. Still, they’re arguing in a rather more amicable way than pre-“Damage.” Fred wants the bug on Angel’s back for her lab.
Cut to her lab, where a large old sarcophagus is getting wheeled in. Knox is rather bemused, but the delivery man says it’s already been signed for. Slow pan to this swirly thing on top of the sarcophagus. Well that’s not ominous at all.
Gunn is being unusually chipper in his office, singing “Three Little Maids.” Until Wes walks in, at which point, he hastily tries to switch to rap. He tells Wes the reason he’s so cheerful is that he and Fred are back together! Wes wilts, but Gunn is just teasing. Wes wants to know if Gunn is okay with him dating Fred. He is. Also, the reason he called Wes to his office is that he’s found out where Lindsey was living. However, he doesn’t want to go tell Angel.
Because Angel and Spike are shouting at each other about...something. Wes tentatively interrupts, and it turns out they were arguing about whether cavemen or astronauts would win in a fight. Wes is incredulous...but now can’t help working through this hypothetical himself.
Fred is looking at the sarcophagus, about which Knox has no info. None of their equipment has been able to see inside it. Also, Knox wants to talk about Fred/Wes. Fred feels very awkward, but Knox assures her he’s okay with it. He’s just happy he gets to work with her. He offers to go get some hazmat people for the sarcophagus, then leaves her alone. The same slow, ominous, tinkly music from when the sarcophagus was first wheeled in starts playing again, the camera angle goes a bit wonky, and Fred seems mesmerized by the sarcophagus. Particularly the crystal bit at the top, near the swirly bit. This part of the episode strongly resembles the part in Sleeping Beauty where Aurora pricks her finger (hence my review title).
When she touches the crystal, the swirly bit opens and releases some kind of dust, which she inhales. It makes her cough. Knox runs back in to see what happened. She thinks it was weird, but not serious.
Angel calls Spike in to his office. Spike’s got the entire accounting department on Team Caveman. Angel is tired of having Spike around, so he wants to send him out as a traveling agent or something. Spike denies being attached to Los Angeles, and he agrees this might be a good plan.
Fred and Wes are discussing cavemen vs. astronauts. Fred doesn’t think it’s fair that the cavemen get to use fire if the astronauts can’t have weapons. Wes runs into them, keen to hear if Fred got a clean bill of health from the medical department. She did! They start making plans for their next date, and it’s very cute and romantic. Lorne rolls eyes affectionately and heads downstairs, singing “You Are My Sunshine.” Fred continues the song, and Lorne instantly whirls around, horrified, just in time for Fred to cough blood on Wesley and collapse down the stairs, convulsing wildly. Wes yells for medical help.
Fred is lying on a cot in the medical department. She looks rather fragile. Angel, Spike, Lorne, Gunn, Wes, and Knox are all arrayed at her bedside in concern. She knows it must be bad if they’re all this worried, but they act like they have it under control. She repeats her first line to Angel in Pylea. “Handsome man saves me.” Then everyone but Wes heads out to keep working on the problem. She makes scared jokes about her impending death. Wes kisses her. Angel and Spike are out in the hall. Angel didn’t know about Wes/Fred until now. Haha, he’s just generally bad at picking up on Fred’s relationships, isn’t he?
The guys discuss Fred as they head down to the lobby. None of W&H’s departments has ever seen anything like that sarcophagus. All they know is that Fred won’t survive another day if they don’t solve it. Some kind of parasite is working through her system. Very quickly. The camera revolves around the guys as they toss ideas around for what to do. More than anything, the part that really drives home the seriousness of the situation is the way Angel and Spike are agreeing completely effortlessly. They head out to divide and conquer.
A lawyer comes to Wesley’s office for help on a case that isn’t Fred’s. He’s rather obstinate about it, so Wes kneecaps him! He will do the same to anyone else who doesn’t feel like working Fred’s case.
Gunn is in the White Room, trying to get help from the conduit. But first it’s not there, and then it socks him in the jaw. It’s no longer a black panther, it’s Gunn. A much angrier and colder version of Gunn. It keeps shoving Gunn around whenever Gunn tries to ask it for help. It’s not his friend, and it doesn’t do favors. Gunn is even willing to trade his life for Fred’s. The conduit laughs; it already owns Gunn. More punching.
Angel, Spike, and Lorne go to the address on Lindsey’s lease, and they find Eve there! She looks like hasn’t showered in days and she’s curled up on the bed, wearing Lindsey’s shirt. She retreats when they enter, and she says she has no idea what’s happening to Fred. She’s definitely lost every ounce of the cool she had in the first half of the season. She swears she’s telling the truth, and also she really wants to know what happened to Lindsey. The guys are still skeptical. She tries a new angle: she and Lindsey didn’t even care about Fred, so why would they hurt her? This gets her a big punch in the face from Lorne. I’m struggling to recall him even using violence, let alone losing his temper. That was awesome. Lorne adores Fred, so Eve had better get singing. If he reads something he doesn’t like from her, he’ll kill her before Angel and Spike can get to her. Wow.
Eve reluctantly sings a couple lines of Lindsey’s song from “Dead End.” Fantastic call-back. Lorne can tell she’s not the cause of what’s happening to Fred, but boy does she have a sucky future ahead of her. The guys turn to leave, but Eve is willing to offer information as long as they don’t rat her out to the Senior Partners. She tells them to use Wesley’s omnibooks to search for the oldest scrolls, because those books can access everything, not just W&H’s archives. She thinks this might have something to do with the Old Ones. They need to find the Deeper Well.
Impending tragedy music, areal shot of L.A., and now Wes is doing exposition on Illyria, a ruler of the demon age. It was murdered and its remains entombed in the Deeper Well. It’s now trying to come back by using Fred as a vessel. Which will kill her. The Deeper Well is in the Cotswalds in England. Wes is confident that they’ll be able to draw Illyria out of Fred from the Deeper Well. Angel and Spike head off to take a jet to England.
Fred wakes up in her bed. She looks much worse. Wes finds her stumbling around in her lab, trying to work on her cure. She can barely stay upright, but she hates the idea of being a victim so much that she refuses to stop working. But she’s terrified. Wes promises her they’ll solve this, but she needs to rest. She still doesn’t want to. She collapses. He catches her. She seems to accept that she can’t keep working, but she wants Wes to take her home and research his omnibook from her apartment.
Fred’s apartment is full of warm colors, and there are pictures stuffed into the frame of her mirror. Wes lays her on her bed very gently.
Angel and Spike are on the jet. Neither of them likes flying, and this is their first time in a plane. Spike displays some possibly forced optimism about what they’ll do after they save Fred. Angel is too worried to think happy thoughts. It hasn’t even been a month since Cordy died, and now he might lose Fred too.
Gunn is back in his office, trying to bust some butts to get help for Fred. It doesn’t work. The guy on the other end of the line hangs up. Knox comes in. He has an idea. Cryo! Maybe they can freeze Fred until they come up with a way to save her. They go to the lab to test the theory.
Fred wakes up, having slept an hour. She regrets it. She wants Wes to keep her awake for the rest of the time she has. Wes tells her what Angel and Spike are up to in England. She sits up, suddenly panicking because she wants to find Fiegenbaum, but she can’t remember who he is. She starts crying. Wes holds her, trying not to show how devastated he is. (In case you were wondering, yes, I’m crying now.) She thinks she must look terrible. He tells her she’s beautiful. She asks him to read to her. She has him conjure A Little Princess in his omnibook. Great! An episode that’s making me cry is now referencing a book, the film adaptation of which makes me cry harder than any other movie every time I watch it.
Wesley’s reading slips into voiceover as Angel and Spike approach the Deeper Well, right on the line “she felt she had lived a long, long time.” Nice. Buffyverse scene transitions are so on point. The Deeper Well’s entrance is a big hollow tree. Spike references Nightmare Before Christmas. Angel holds out his hand. Spike shrugs and takes it, and they stretch out a wire between them, garroting the first two demons to come swinging at them.
Knox’s cryo idea doesn’t pan out. He’s kicking himself, deeply upset. He tells Gunn how much he cares about Fred, but then creepily uses the pronoun “it” instead of “her.” Wait a second...
Angel and Spike keep fighting until they succeed in killing all the demon guards. Then a very Aragorn-esque dude strolls out of the tree. He and Angel have met before. His name is Drogyn, and he fiercely threatens to kill Spike if he asks him a question. *snort* It’s because he isn’t capable of lying. So no questions. He already knows they’re there about Illyria.
Gunn starts beating Knox up for information. He thinks Knox did this out of spite because Fred chose Wes. Actually, Knox chose Fred because he thinks she’s the only one worthy of being the vessel for his god. Yeah, that makes it so much better. Illyria’s return was set in motion eons ago, and Angel won’t save Fred. He will choose not to save her.
Wes is holding Fred on her bed. She wants him to keep reading. The light hurts her eyes, but she doesn’t want it off. She hurts all over. Also, she’s decided the caveman would win.
Drogyn leads Angel and Spike into the Well, explaining about the Old Ones. They warred endlessly, and the ones that were killed were interred in the Deeper Well. Illyria went missing a month ago. Drogyn didn’t notice because he has thousands, possibly millions of sarcophagi in his charge. He shows them the main part of the well. It’s a hole that goes all the way through the earth, and it’s full of Old One coffins.
Knox is one of the few modern acolytes of Illyria. He needed to bring Illyria to L.A. because that’s where its kingdom was back in its day. Funnily enough, he got the coffin almost all the way to W&H before it got stuck in customs. And then Gunn got it out. That’s what the price for his permanent brain upgrade was. Gunn looks ill with denial. He tries to cling to hope that Angel will still save Fred. Knox doubts it. Gunn attacks him with some kind of metal container. A lot.
Fred is convulsing in pain. Wes tries to give her a syringe, but the needle breaks against her sin. She’s incoherent, talking about being punished for sinning and getting a B-. When he tries to hold her, she flinches away in agony. Wes can’t take this. There’s nothing he can do.
Spike keeps accidentally asking Drogyn questions, and when Drogyn tries to get in his face, he gets defiant, concluding by flipping him the English bird and asking how many fingers he’s holding up. Bahaha. Sure enough, it is possible to draw Illyria out of Fred. Having traveled from where Illyria is to the Well, Angel and Spike are both eligible to perform the ritual. However, they’re too late. It only would’ve been safe to do the ritual before Illyria got out of its coffin. Now that it’s in Fred, it’ll infect every single person between her and the Well if they do the ritual. (Whoa, so does that mean Illyria would have like ten thousand bodies connected like a hive mind?) Drogyn goes to prepare the spell and waits for them to decide what they’re going to do.
Fred laments the team’s decision to go to W&H. It’s evil, and they can’t beat it. They were fools. Then she starts freaking out like she’s being attacked. She begs Wes not to leave her. She struggles and manages to get a grip on herself. Wes promises he’ll never leave her. She’s proud to associate with so many wonderful people. He tells her she’s as much of a hero as the rest of them. She tries to will herself to have the power to not be taken.
Angel and Spike are still standing on the bridge of the Deeper Well. Spike is speculating about how there must be a guy in New Zealand somewhere, staring all the way back down at them. There’s a kind of tragic childlike wonder to his little speech. Angel is crying silently.
Fred asks Wes to kiss her. He does. She asks if he’d have loved her. He says he’s loved her since he’s known her. Maybe longer. She apologizes, but he doesn’t want her to think that way. She starts coughing. She asks him to tell her parents she was brave and it was quick. She says “I’m not scared” over and over, then “Please, Wesley, why can’t I stay?” Then she’s gone. It’s an incredibly harrowing scene to watch. The whole freaking episode is harrowing to watch. Wesley sobs against her. But then her open eyes glaze over with icy blue, and she convulses again, tossing Wes off the bed one way and her off the other. Then she stands up. She isn’t Fred anymore. This is Illyria.
If I had to make a list of most gut-wrenching Buffyverse episodes, I think “A Hole in the World” would be second only to “The Body.” “Seeing Red” might be third. Then “Passion,” and “The Trial” comes in fifth. Honorable mention to “Sleep Tight” and “Forgiving,” combined. Where “The Body” is about the sudden death of a loved one and the immediate aftermath, “A Hole in the World” is about the madness of watching helplessly as a loved one goes from rapidly and inexplicably goes from happy and healthy to dead. The hopelessness, the despair, the frantic attempts to fight the inevitable, and particularly the reaction of the person dying to what’s happening to them...having it be caused by a resurrecting Old One inside an evil law firm doesn’t make what Fred and the people who love her go through as she dies feel any less genuine. It covers so many sides of it. Peaceful people becoming violent because of love (Lorne). The guilt of not being able to act because the consequences would be worse (that’s probably rare in real life, but I suppose if someone was dying in quarantine, maybe it would feel like that?), like Angel and Spike. The guilt of knowing you did something that contributed, if only in a small way, to your loved one’s death (Gunn). The anguish of trying to comfort the one who’s dying when the last thing you want to do is be strong because you feel like you’re dying too (Wes). The general sense of doom pervading the whole episode. Brutal, but so very genuine. This episode is brilliant, but emotionally excruciating. Structurally, it’s not unlike “Becoming,” what with the flashbacks to Fred before she came to California and the ominous ancient artifact. And the reason Joss decided this was a thing he wanted to do to Winifred Burkle is that several of his actors (including Amy Acker) liked to hang out at his house and do Shakespeare scenes. Joss was so impressed by Amy’s performances of those characters that he wanted to give her the chance to do it in the show. Thus, Illyria (whose name is definitely a reference to Twelfth Night, although that seems like an odd play to choose—maybe it was just the most believable Old One name amongst the character and setting names in Shakespeare’s plays) was born. Also, it occurred to me as I watched it this time that even the cavemen vs. astronauts thing actually ties into the plot of the episode. Illyria, the Old One, long dead, is the caveman. Fred, the genius scientist with a multi-million dollar lab and, is the astronaut. As Fred says herself, the caveman wins.
Well, this season has given Angel quite the one-two punch to the feels. First Cordy, now Fred. The choice Drogyn gave him at the end has got to be one of the more ruthless tests of his heroism. On a lesser show, like The Vampire Diaries, I’m pretty sure the “hero” would have chosen to let Illyria infect all those nameless offscreen people, because that show is so infested with protagonist-centered morality that they barely blink before making choices like that. But Angel is a show about sacrifice and selflessness. The hero can’t have what he wants if that comes at the expense of innocents. And so, devastatingly, Angel cannot save Fred. (But if I’m going to be really annoying, then I would point out that Angel could have called Wes the second Drogyn told him the deal, and had Wes bring Fred and the coffin on another jet to England. Maybe Fred didn’t have enough time left by then to make it there, but they could have tried. Or, they could have established with just one line of dialogue that the coffin is now impossible to move.) Why does he think astronauts would win, though? I mean, I know he values intelligence more than brute strength, but of all the modern professions, why did he pick astronauts to pit against cavemen? Why not a Navy Seal or something? Astronauts might be at peak physical fitness, but they aren’t traditionally known for their fighting skills. Did it start out as an argument over whether cavemen were better than our modern, technologically advanced society, and then devolved into a “who would win in a fight” argument? Seems likely.
Fred, as I’ve said before, was Spike’s first genuine platonic female friend. Now she’s gone. He’s had some of the best character development of his entire run on either show this season, so I wonder how this loss will impact him.
Gunn, so far, is not handling his portion of responsibility well. He really looked like he might have been trying to kill Knox so he couldn’t tell anyone about his part in Fred’s death. I think he should have been the one to try moving the coffin, only to discover it was impossible to move. That would have cemented the damage he did by signing that customs form.
I do think there must have been some kind of inevitability to Illyria’s return. Fred being drawn to the crystal on the coffin wouldn’t make any sense otherwise. It’s horrible. She’s been through so much. She survived Pylea, she survived and thrived in A.I. for two and a half years, and she’s the reason the team survived and stopped Jasmine in S4. But now this demonic parasite can just demolish her from the inside out, and there’s nothing she can do. It’s particularly heartbreaking how sorry she is for Wes, that he has to go through this. To the last, she’s remarkably selfless and good-hearted. Dangit I’m making myself cry thinking about how wonderful Fred is.
Lorne getting violent and threatening with Eve was an incredibly effective way of showing how deeply he cares for Fred and what he’s willing to do for her. I love that moment. I’d forgotten about it.
Oh, Wes. He’s been put repeatedly through the wringer for pretty much his entire character arc. He always managed to eventually come out on top, stronger and more badass for the crap he endured. But this is easily the worst thing he’s ever been through. It just might break him.
“I slept in a drawer until I was three. Didn’t stunt me none.”
“This goes all the way through. To the other side. So I figure, there’s a bloke somewhere around...New Zealand, standing on a bridge like this one, looking back down at us. All the way down. There’s a hole in the world. Feels like we ought to have known.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.