Written by Steven S. DeKnight
Directed by Steven S. DeKnight
We pick off with Illyria getting used to its/her new body while a devastated Wesley realizes what’s controlling Fred’s body now. Illyria finds him impertinent. She doesn’t wish to waste her time on an insect like this grieving human before her. When she turns away, he attacks her with an axe, but the blade shatters on impact, and she appears to not have even felt it. She remembers she’s in the body of Winifred Burkle, but she is supremely unconcerned. Wes tries to convince her she’ll be miserable in this human world overflowing in emotion, so she should go back to her coffin and leave Fred. Illyria doesn’t fall for it, and also she isn’t capable of leaving Fred’s body. Which is dead anyway. She throws Wes across the room. She’s decided to do something about all those pesky humans.
Spike is trying and failing to get drunk on tiny airplane drinks. He and Angel are extremely bummed, so much so that they aren’t even arguing. Angel is struggling to comprehend the idea of Fred being gone. He wonders if there might be a way to get Fred back, because death isn’t always the end when you live in an urban fantasy.
Gunn has brought an unconscious, bloody Knox to Angel’s office. Harmony wants to help torture information about of him because she considered Fred a friend and—what the, did Harmony freaking Kendall just make a Shakespeare reference? Wait, maybe she only remembered that part of Merchant of Venice because it was the part Cordelia talked about in class. “[Shylock] acts like it justice, him getting a pound of Antonio’s flesh. It’s not justice, it’s yicky!” That was before Marcie shoved Harmony down the stairs, so she would’ve been there in class, and I imagine she listened to Cordelia more than she listened to Mrs. Miller.
Anyway. Wes joins Gunn and Harmony, and Knox wakes up in time to subtly implicate Gunn, which Gunn makes less subtle by getting angry. Wes breaks the news that Fred is dead. Knox starts laughing. He wants Wes to tell them how beautiful and amazing Illyria is. Wes tells them what happened to Fred. Gunn wants to believe Fred might still be in there, but Wes saw Fred die. Knox waxes poetic on how wonderful Fred was, which is why he chose her. Wes pulls out a gun and cocks it. Gunn stops him, and then Wes breaks down a little as he remembers Fred’s death and it hits him all over again that she’s gone. Enter Angel and Spike, who are keen to try getting Fred back.
Cut to the penthouse, after Angel and Spike have explained what happened at the Deeper Well. Lorne is beating himself up for having failed to read the threat in Knox. Angel doesn’t want anyone to blame themselves too hard because a) they need to focus on getting Fred back and b) if Illyria’s return was preordained, then it was going to happen one way or another. Gunn isn’t convinced. He tells them how the coffin got stuck in customs until “someone” got it through. Wes is firmly in pessimism mode, but Angel and Spike think there has to be a way to get Fred’s soul back.
Okay, pause. while I do agree with them that Fred’s soul is “out there, somewhere,” aren’t they doing the same thing the Scoobies did, and assuming that Fred’s soul isn’t now in heaven and that she might not appreciate getting yanked out? They’re just going to stuff her back in her body so she can share it with an Eldritch abomination? Or were they also planning to kick Illyria out? Wouldn’t that leave the body a corpse unfit to house a human soul? Also, other possibility, since they all signed on at W&H, does that mean W&H owns their souls like it does Lilah’s? Shouldn’t they be reading the fine print of Fred’s contract to see if Fred’s soul is actually in W&H’s clutches now? These ideas they’re tossing around are just so vague.
They want to get Willow on board to perform any necessary soul magic. Also, they need to keep Illyria contained. Yeeeeah, that’ll be easier said than done. Downstairs, Illyria busts through the glass wall of Angel’s office (dang, that thing gets broken like every other episode) to retrieve Knox. Then she smacks Harmony across the lobby. Knox turns into a groveling toady. Illyria appreciates the deference. The two of them go to the lab where Illyria’s coffin is still sitting. Knox tells her how he came to be one of her acolytes when he was a teenager. Illyria realizes that he’s her Qwa’ha Xahn (her priest). He stuck something that represents Illyria under the skin of his torso, evidently in much the same way the Joker stitched a phone into that one dude’s gut in The Dark Knight. While Illyria does appreciate deference, she tires of obsequiousness. She moves on to the next stage of reclaiming the world she remembers, which involves…ripping her clothes off?
Angel is having an angry conversation with Giles about Willow, who is apparently on the astral plane and therefore unavailable. Even if she wasn’t, Giles doesn’t seem to be interested in the conversation anyway. Dang, why’s Giles being such a jerk? He’s the first one who explained about Old Ones in the Buffyverse, all the way back in “The Harvest,” and he’s just going to blow Angel off when he comes to him about an Old One busting out of its prison and infecting an innocent woman? Are we honestly expected to believe that he would do this? It feels ridiculously contrived. Couldn’t Willow have just been in mortal danger herself or something, and therefore unavailable to help them against her will? Angel ends up throwing the phone against the wall in anger.
Also, while he’s having that unhelpful phone conversation, Wes admits he’s been unreasonable and apologizes for taking it out on Gunn. His tone suggests he knows Gunn is hiding something. Gunn does not take this opportunity to come clean. Harmony comes out of the elevator, bruised from Illyria’s punch, to tell them who just showed up.
In the lab, Illyria is drawing some kind of energy from her coffin. Before Knox can ask questions, she slams her hand down on it and a fancy leather battle outfit grows onto her body. Now that she’s got her spiffy duds, she’s ready for world domination. Except she’s going to have to go through the A.I. team, Spike, and W&H’s heavily armed special ops guys first. Angel tries to threaten her into a truce, with the force of all the guns pointed at her. She is neither impressed nor intimidated. She shoves Angel through the inner lab window and the outer window, sending him tumbling all the way down from whatever upper floor the lab’s on to the pavement below. Then, before anyone else can move, she waves her arm and causes time to slow down for all of them. She grabs Knox and walks between the slow-mo team and out. Angel is still falling through the air in slow motion when she and Knox leave the building.
Time resumes. Angel hits the ground. Owwwwwwww. But hey, he’s okay enough to get to his feet and stagger back inside. So that’s something. None of the others saw where Illyria went or managed to get a lead on her. They try to figure out how she disappeared. Teleportation? Gunn suggests she might be like the Flash, only he foolishly says Barry Allen instead of his much more widely known superhero name, so no one gets it. Wes thinks Illyria might not be moving quickly, but rather, altering time. Well that’s going to be fun to fight against. Angel has Wes look through Knox’s stuff and the lab for anything useful. Harmony accompanies him. Gunn volunteers to try his contacts. Angel and Spike go back to Angel’s office. Angel grabs a weapon, and Spike marvels somberly that Illyria didn’t have any scent at all. It seems like that was sensory confirmation that Fred is gone. He admits he’s not sure anymore that they can bring her back. But Angel is still hell-bent on trying, particularly after losing Cordelia to a supernatural parasite.
Harmony is pretty much indiscriminately ransacking the lab, not really looking for anything as she creates wreckage while ranting about Knox. Wes is standing by the coffin. He’s guessed that Fred triggered Illyria’s release because she was too curious for her own good. He loved her fascination for the world, but hates it a bit now, because it was part of what got her killed. Harmony is surprisingly consoling, but Wes will not be consoled. He takes Harmony’s crowbar and attacks the coffin. It doesn’t do any damage at all, but it does make it possible for him to pry one of the crystals free from the lid. It’s hard to tell if he knows what he’s going to do with it, though. Harmony found Knox’s cell phone. She’s too ditzy to realize why it’s important, but she does think to check for missed calls, since Knox erased all the rest. Thanks to that, Wes finds a lead.
It’s the doctor who gave Gunn his upgrade. Gunn gets there first. The doctor is pretty smug, so Gunn gets violent until he tells him it’s impossible to bring Fred back. Gunn offers to have the doctor take the upgrade back, even leave him a vegetable if he’ll just bring Fred back. The doctor elaborates: it’s impossible to bring Fred back because there’s nothing left of her. Her soul was destroyed by Illyria’s resurrection.
Okay, side note here: I don’t believe that for a second. In fact, I refuse to believe that a soul can be destroyed. I’m a very religious person. The human soul is immortal and indestructible, and that’s that. My mind automatically balks so hard at the idea of oblivion that I can’t even accept it as a possibility for a fictional character in a fictional world I didn’t create. But none of that is the point. What is the point is that this doctor is one of Illyria’s followers. As such, he wouldn’t want the A.I. team even attempting to squash Illyria down beneath Fred’s soul. What better way prevent them from trying it than by claiming Fred’s soul no longer exists? Besides, as far as we know, this is the first time an Old One has ever infected and taken over a human host body (because Drogyn didn’t mention anything about a previous escape attempt by one of the other Old Ones), so the doctor couldn’t possibly have any empirical proof that the process of Old One resurrection destroys the host body’s soul. Which means he’s either lying or assuming, and there’s no reason we should take his word for it. All of this has been my line of reasoning ever since the first time I watched the episode, but the canonical comics that serve as additional seasons of both Buffyverse shows have brought Fred back for real. So there.
Moving on! (Man, I have a lot of side notes in this one.) The fight goes out of Gunn after the doctor makes his absurd claim. The doctor advises Gunn to learn to live with the part he played in Fred’s death. In comes Wes, who knocks the doctor out with the butt of his shotgun, which he then points at Gunn. It’s time for an explanation. Wes asks Gunn if it’s true Fred’s soul is gone. Why the crap would Gunn have more info about that than the doctor? Gunn tells Wes what he did. He just signed a piece of paper to get his permanent brain upgrade. He didn’t think one of them would get hurt. Wes sets his shotgun down. He can forgive Gunn for not wanting to be what he was before, but he cannot forgive him for hiding his knowledge from the rest of them. So he stabs him in the gut with one of the doctor’s tools.
Angel throws Wes up against the wall in his office for stabbing Gunn. Angel still wants to try getting Fred back, but now Wes believes the line about her soul being destroyed. Angel lets him go while he reels from this blow. Wes doesn’t think anything matters anymore; there’s nothing he can do but be impotently furious at Gunn for letting Fred die. Angel says he let her die too. He tells Wes about the option Drogyn offered at the Well. Angel tells Wes to bury his pain for the moment, because they need to focus on stopping Illyria. Spike turns up, wiping the doctor’s blood off his hands. He succeeded in torturing a lead out of the man. It’s enough for them to find records of Illyria’s original kingdom and army, which were located in what is now Los Angeles. No one can see it because it’s out of sync with the timeline. Illyria can get in with her time control powers.
And she’s almost there. She and Knox have arrived at the right spot. She wonders how humans gained control of this world. Knox offers his opinion, that humans used innovation and skullduggery to achieve dominance. He doesn’t consider himself part of the species now that he’s at Illyria’s side. He keeps yammering until Illyria tells him to shut up. She reaches in to try opening the gateway, but it doesn’t work. W&H put a lock on it. Knox has the key! Illyria remembers the Wolf, Ram, and Hart being barely above vampires. Yeah, they’ve leveled up a lot since then.
Harmony brings some papers for Gunn to sign. He’s in the infirmary. The papers are to make sure he can’t cause the same damage ever again. Harmony asks if he really did what he did. He doesn’t need Wesley’s stab wound to be utterly broken and miserable for what he did.
Knox’s key works, but before Illyria can open the gateway, Angel, Spike, and Wes arrive, prepared to die stopping Illyria. She points out the futility of their actions. They don’t care. She asks Angel if he would fight for the life of any human, even Knox. He isn’t happy about it, but yeah, he’d protect Knox, if it was a choice between Knox and Illyria. He’s getting all speechy about nobility, but Wes interrupts by fatally shooting Knox.
Illyria comments that Wes killed her priest, but she’s less offended by that than she is by the thought that they think she’s offended by his death. They’re all beneath her, including Knox. Angel jumps in to attack. She fends him off easily. Then does the same for Spike. She dances out of the way of Wesley’s bullets. Angel and Spike can’t touch her with their swords. She eventually grabs both by the blades and throws them across the room. Then she slows down time. The camera shows all three of the guys moving in slow motion again, but then Angel appears right behind her. He’s holding the gem Wes took from the coffin. It gives him immunity to her time powers. He punches her and time resumes its normal flow. Well, she can still beat him the normal way. She opens the doorway and strides through it. Wes dives in after her, just before it closes.
She walks up the steps of her old temple ready to take her army and reconquer the world, but she finds that everything inside has turned to dust. Her army is gone. Wes points his gun at her head. But she looks at him with Fred’s face, and he hesitates long enough for her to slow time and escape to the regular timestream again.
Angel, Wes, and Spike are in the former’s office. Angel wants to permanently close the gate to Illyria’s temple, just in case. They’ll figure out what to do about Illyria herself as well. Wes heads off to go to the lab. Spike asks if Angel’s offer to send him around the world as a roving agent is still good. It is, but Spike thinks it might be better spent on Gunn. He figures Fred would’ve wanted him to stay and keep helping with this important work. He wants it too. It’s a quietly noble moment. He and Angel can both sense that a big battle is coming.
Wes is packing up some of Fred’s things. Illyria finds him, confused by his continued grief for just one person. He asks why she’s here. She doesn’t know. She recognizes Fred’s possessions. She’s been referring to Fred as “the shell.” Wes hates that. She seems interested in learning from Wes. She reveals that there are fragments of Fred in her own psyche. She repeats Fred’s dying words, which horrifies Wes. She asks Wes for his help because this world is baffling and overwhelming. Wes doesn’t care; Illyria should be dead with the rest of her people. She points out that she isn’t, so she has to learn to adjust. He might be willing to help her, but only if she’s willing to try to be good. What, like him, who killed Knox even as Angel was explaining why Knox’s life was worth saving? He admits he’s a sucky example of moral uprightness. But he’ll help her. Because she’s all that’s left of Fred. Illyria wonders if there’s anything but grief in life. Wes says there’s hope and love and the chance of finding joy and being surprised. He doesn’t sound like he still believes it.
“A Place Called Home” plays over a montage of the sad A.I. team (and Spike and Harmony). And yeah, I’m crying again. Gunn is staring at nothing in his infirmary bed. Harmony is staring at nothing at her desk. Lorne is staring at nothing while having a drink in his office. Spike is staring at nothing while sitting on the steps in the lobby. Angel is staring at nothing sitting at his desk. Wes is packing up more of Fred’s things. He finds Fiegenbaum, the dilapidated stuffed rabbit. Illyria is standing by her coffin. Flashback to Fred hugging her mom and waving to her dad before getting in her car and driving off for California.
“Shells” is a very effective second half to the story begun in “A Hole in the World.” Some might call it anticlimactic that Illyria’s army happens to be dust, so she can’t really be a massive threat, but I think it’s perfect. It mirrors the emptiness the team feels at the loss of Fred. There was pretty much no other way for Illyria to end up on their side than through this kind of emotional connection. I like that this episode continues to deal with the protagonist-centered morality issues raised in “A Hole in the World,” particularly through the contrast between Angel’s actions and Gunn’s. As much as I love Fred, I also really like Illyria as a character, for a lot of the same reasons that I like Castiel in Supernatural. More on that in the analysis section. Spike’s character development continues to hold solid, which is fantastic. And Wes. I feel so beyond sorry for him. Stabbing Gunn and shooting Knox were pretty awesome moments, though. And that coda with “A Place Called Home” is just so heartwrenching. As upsetting as this arc is, it’s certainly well-crafted.
Angel insisting that even Knox’s life is worth saving is interesting. It shows how much he’s changed since the dark days of mid-S2, and it ties in with how he chose to let Fred die instead of the tens of thousands who would’ve taken her place. A hero doesn’t get to decide who deserves to be saved, and he certainly doesn’t have the right to sacrifice lives that aren’t in danger in order to save one that is. Despite the loss of Fred, I think Angel still feels more assured about his purpose than he did before “You’re Welcome.” I’m actually impressed that he doesn’t let feelings of guilt stop him from doing what he thinks he has to. Maybe it’s just that he’s so used to getting things done under an enormous burden of guilt that it doesn’t really slow him down anymore. Unlike Gunn, who spent all of S4 dealing with the psychological fallout of killing Professor Seidel, and who will likely spend the rest of S5 dealing with the fallout of smoothing the way for Illyria to take over Fred’s body.
Spike continues to be a surprisingly useful ally. The loss of Fred, the person he liked most on the team, has kind of made him part of the team in a way nothing else has all season. This is the first time he chooses to fight for Angel’s cause. Even though they were screaming at each other about cavemen vs. astronauts just a day earlier, they can now have a very calm and reasonable discussion about purpose. Spike is far more mature now than he ever was in Buffy. This is a Spike I could actually start liking. He’s definitely a Spike I respect.
Gunn’s fatal mistake, it turns out, was assuming he lived in a protagonist-centered morality show, rather than one that punishes protagonist-centered morality thinking. He had a strong inkling that someone would pay a major price for that little piece of paper he signed, but he didn’t care because he was confident it wouldn’t affect him. Now that the consequences have landed and he was horribly wrong about them, nothing he gained from W&H matters to him anymore. He was reminded of what truly does matter, but too late to hold onto it.
Illyria is fascinating. The reason she reminds me of Castiel is that they’re both vulnerable in the same ways. Illyria is definitely more hostile and haughty than Cas, but Illyria as an Old One and Castiel as an angel both have no understanding of humans and how they think and feel, but they’re both intrigued, if at first against their will. And what’s particularly remarkable about Illyria is how quickly she accepts that she won’t be able to take over the world. Unlike Jasmine, who decided she’d be content with wreaking havoc if she couldn’t have the unconditional love and obedience of billions, Illyria immediately turns to a human for help. She’s devastated to have lost her own world, but she’s prepared to do what’s necessary to find her place in this world ruled by humans.
Lorne only gets a tiny part of this episode (AGAIN, dangit), but it’s a poignant one. He thinks it’s his fault Knox was able to do this to Fred, so he’s almost as miserable as Gunn. The idea that his own failure to see through Knox helped Knox accomplish his goal has wiped all the enthusiasm and optimism right out of him. Will he get it back? I guess we’ll see.
Wesley has been completely shattered by Fred’s death and the alleged destruction of her soul. He’s still in the good fight, but his heart isn’t in it. He cares more about revenge than principles. He’ll stab his former best friend for playing a small role in something that was probably inevitable, and he’ll murder a man who posed no threat because why should that man live after arranging Fred’s destruction, and he’ll help the creature that killed Fred just because she happens to have Fred’s face. Can someone hug Wes?
“…But if her organs have been liquefied?”
[points at himself] “Flash-fried in a pillar of fire. I got better.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.