Cultural Catchup Project: “Dead End” (Angel)

“Dead End”

September 29th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

I remember way back when I started writing about Angel, and made some comments regarding Wolfram & Hart; as usual, the comments couldn’t help but hint at future developments, noting that there was much to come from this particular organization (a fact which was not really a spoiler, since I was aware the series had some legal elements in its future).

What makes Wolfram & Hart work is that they are simultaneously omnipresent and marginal: while they always seem to have a hand in things, their background role in the majority of threats against Angel keeps them one degree away from pure evil. We know that the firm is certainly capable of evil, and their facilitation of evil activities is certainly something we would consider to be fairly evil, but there is always that sense that the firm as a whole is not truly evil in the sense that we may want them to be. It’s why Angel’s decision to allow Darla and Drusilla to kill the room full of lawyers and their spouses was so problematic: while some of those people, like Holland, deserved to die, the rest seem relatively innocent, and that relativity makes the firm’s position complicated.

It also helps that Lindsey McDonald, central to “Dead End,” has wavered (along with his colleague, Lilah Morgan) as it relates to their connection to the evil at the heart of the company. While Lindsey ultimately chose against leaving the company during those past conflicts, the tension allowed him to seem separate from, perhaps even a victim of, the company’s grasp. It’s a separation which finally comes to its logical conclusion in “Dead End,” although in a way which places Wolfram & Hart into a slightly more direct definition of evil.

There are no surprises in “Dead End”: of course Lindsey’s hand is evil, of course Angel’s case connects with it, and of course the first thing Lindsey does after getting his new hand is play the guitar he looked at longingly earlier in the episode. Greenwalt’s script really doesn’t take any surprise turns, but Christian Kane has been doing interesting work as Lindsey for pretty much the entire series’ run, and so to see him take a starring role overcomes any of my concerns over the lack of legitimate surprise the episode’s storytelling.

What strikes me as interesting, though, is how Wolfram & Hart is really the unquestionable villain in this story: instead of facilitating villainy, they are basically murdering people in order to assist their employees (and their friends/clients) in receiving new limbs, organs, or whatever else they may desire. On the one hand, it seems very Wolfram & Hart-esque, in that it reads as humanitarian (helping employees like Lindsey retain a quality of life) but has magical (the demon who heals the wound) and evil (the whole erasing people and stealing their limbs situation) elements. However, on the other hand, by going to the building where the bodies were held, the villain in the story shifts: because Lindsey is more anti-hero than villain, and because he is the person who Wolfram & Hart acted on behalf of (without his knowledge), this leaves Wolfram & Hart as the single pillar of evil in the hour, which doesn’t happen too often (I’m sure there have been other examples, but none are coming to me immediately).

The effect is that Lindsey seems more heroic than ever, especially with the way the episode gives Christian Kane an opportunity to have some fun (letting the hand take control in his final scenes), play some music (well, sing some music at least, according to Wikipedia), and get what seems like an exit but isn’t likely completely final. And while the show runs the risk of making Wolfram & Hart out to be too evil, it smartly leaves Lilah (who, though perhaps less conflicted than Lindsey throughout the series, remains an intriguing figure) in the position she and Lindsey were fighting for. We still have an inside view of Wolfram & Hart, which is what keeps them from being a shadowy organization of unknown, and unquestionably evil, origin. It helps that this episode had some levity with the Host bringing Angel and Lindsey together, and in that final scene as Angel sends Lindsey off with kind words and a guaranteed speeding ticket once he gets on the highway.

This is clearly not the end of Wolfram & Hart, but I sort of like the idea that Lindsey is passing the torch onto Lilah in terms of serving as our eyes and ears: there is the sense that Wolfram & Hart is an unchanging force in this world, and these characters have humanized its impact on the people involved in a really effective fashion. “Dead End” doesn’t change any of this, but it does represent a change of the guard, which shows how Angel is committed to this sort of long-form antagonism: instead of introducing a new character, or a new source of evil, Wolfram & Hart is simply adjusted ever so slightly and a character story is built around it which allows it to continue on facilitating evil.

It’s the true sign of a valuable “villain” when centering an entire episode around them is similarly compelling to the series’ more typical episodic structure, so “Dead End” is a nice little diversion before the season-ending arc starts.

Cultural Observations

  • It’s been a few weeks since I watched this, so no really specific observations here.
  • However, we do see some concerns over Cordelia and her visions, which will likely be a recurring development in the future.
  • I’ve seen “Belonging,” but considering the cliffhanger I’m going to wait to write about it when I’ve seen “Over the Rainbow” (which might be a little while, as I’ve got other things to watch during my week-ending travel).
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20 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

20 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: “Dead End” (Angel)

  1. Susan

    No real comment yet on your analysis (other than it’s as good as always), but a quick note re: your viewing schedule. YOU SIMPLY MUST finish Buffy S5 before you move on to the final arc of Angel S2 (or at least before you watch “There’s No Place Like . . .”). There’s what might well be a pretty damn massive Buffy spoiler in the Angel season finale.

  2. carpe

    My problems with Wolfram and Hart is that the company is whatever the writers need it to be each episode. If the writers need someone to try kill Angel, there’s W&H. If they need someone to try to make Angel crazy, there’s W&H. If they need someone to X (spoilers removed) there’s W&H. Wolfram and Hart is for the most part a giant plot device for the writers, which not only brings down the concept of W&H, but also every character relating to it. It makes those characters feel very vague as their motivations change at a whim because W&H is very vague.

    Luckily this does improve, however. But only in the last season.

    • Eleanor (undeadgoat)

      W&H is a lot of things, because their ultimate motives of profit and [spoiler] may be relatively far-removed from the situation at hand and create perverse incentives and so forth.

      • Susan

        Yeah, I think what’s interesting about W&H is that it is a diverse enterprise peopled with individuals with competing interests (though those interests definitely tend to converge on the side of evil). Lindsey wants Angel dead; the Senior Partners certainly do not. Lilah, I think, mainly enjoys the gamesmanship, though she wouldn’t weep at Angel’s funeral. And so on.

        W&H isn’t serving as a convenient “plot device” when it acts against Angel in ways that seem inconsistent. It acts inconsistently because there are various players in the game, and those players, who are all human (we have not met any who aren’t), are inconsistent and flawed in the way that humans are.

        • Karen

          I have always loved W&H as a framing device for the evil in LA. It reinforced (as did the Trio) that evil is many faceted…banal, unfocused, and random sometimes; petty and irrelevant sometimes; acting without discipline sometimes, acting counter to its own interest sometimes… Evil isn’t always (or even usually) some Big Bad with that comic-book-style evil genius with coherent plans to rule the world…..

  3. tjbw

    @carpe: To each his/her own, but W&H being all of those things is what leads to the epiphany Angel eventually has. I say this only because the phrase ‘plot device’ has an ‘arbitrary’ connotation, and I don’t think that what W&H is from week to week is arbitrary at all. Deliberation = specific realization.

    Myles said:

    “…Angel’s decision to allow Darla and Drusilla to kill the room full of lawyers and their spouses…”

    A great moment in television history. And does this decision imply that the line between Angel and Angelus is thinner than once thought? Maybe yes? Maybe no? Perhaps Twilight isn’t out of character after all.

    • I’m not sure that he knows who Twilight is. And isn’t that considered a HUGE spoiler?

    • Aeryl

      BUFFY SEASON 8 SPOILERS!! Plus FUTURE ANGEL SPOILERS!!

      Actually, Twilight looks to me, to be doing what he always has done, which is take the word of some big and powerful being that claims to be some sort of higher power or have a connection to one(Whistler, Doyle, The Oracles, Cordelia, Jasmine, Lilah…)

      That’s what that Riley One shot was so awesome at telegraphing, when both men, offered the choice between Buffy & the World, made different choices, but I think it will show by the end, that the one that chose Buffy, over the World, will be the one that does more to help save it, while the one that picked the World, is the one that helps to destroy it(b/c the Frayverse is getting closer).

  4. Christopher

    Nice review, Myles.

    I too like Lindsey’s story and the work of Christian Kane.

    And Susan is right about the final arcs of Buffy and Angel. If you are watching a disc at a time, Buffy’s final S5 disc should definitely come first.

    • Jack_Kay

      You know I’m really not sure that that is imperative – Buffy’s Season 5 finishing first – and I actually wrote and strange little (large) message to Myles about basically this… 🙂
      All it really hints at in the Angel finale is that something has happened, there are no specifics, and as Noal Murray from AV Club said in his recent review of the final 2 episodes of both B5 and A2 – watching it in reverse airing order meant that it was like watching something that jumps ahead for dramatic effect and then fills in the story later, making it all that more poignant.
      So I think this could be an interesting viewing experience for Myles. Plus it means that the last bit of the Buffy/Angel-verse he sees for a while (before starting B6/A3) will be the rather tremendous “The Gift”, instead of the different, out-there and fun “There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb”, which isn’t quite
      as affecting and/or effective a way to leave these respective seasons in my opinion – if that all makes sense!

      But maybe I’m completely wrong and blinded by seeing the series’ many Many times and it would actually be a massive spoiler… 🙂 but part of me thinks not.

  5. Morda

    Yep…Watch Buffy first. Unless you want to be majorly spoiled.

    I must say I was started to get worried that you might be slowly giving up with this project of yours. I know you’ve had a ton of shit going on in your life lately but the lack of Buffy/Angel posts was pretty disconcerting. I very much hope you’re not losing enthusiasm/momentum/drive/intrigue for the saga since there really is so much great still to come.

    Yeah, anyway, great review and can’t wait to hear what you have to say about the closing two arcs of this Buffyverse year.

  6. diane

    I’ll add my voice encouraging Myles to keep the series going, even at a much reduced pace. There’s much outstanding television to come in these series, and graduate school does require an occasional sanity break.

    I’ll also strongly encourage watching Buffy s5 to conclusion before Angel s2.

    Other than that… Continuing good reviews, but this gap between Epihany and Belonging doesn’t have a lot to say to me. Yes, Lindsey’s gone, and may he long savor those traffic tickets. Harmony is still a parody of a vampire. Joss has said at some time or another that he did often try to balance between Buffy and Angel, with a heavy episode in one balanced by a lighter episode in the other. We’re certainly seeing that here.

    The main season 2 Angel story arc was cut short by Julie Benz not being available through the end of the season. But that’s okay; the shortened arc concentrated the conflict nicely, and at least some of those open questions will be back.

  7. Eleanor (undeadgoat)

    Do you know the purpose of W&H yet? I forget when that first comes up.

    And yes that Buffy spoiler sure is massive, I concur with all the above comments in that respect.

    If you have to watch TV for school, does that make watching TV for fun less fun? I know that for example if I have a heavy course load that is light on reading I will read much more “weighty” of books but I don’t have any experience with other forms of media. (Every class that lets you watch TV for credit has too many prerequisites and fulfills none of my degree requirements, so I have as yet been unable to perform this experiment upon myself.)

  8. Denita

    I have to agree with Jack_Kay. I don’t think that watching the finale for Buffy season 5 is imperative before viewing “There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb”.

    But that’s just my two cents.

  9. skittledog

    I don’t think it’s imperative, but I do think that Buffy and Angel should be kept separate from here to the end of the season. Watch them whichever way round, probably doesn’t matter, but I’m sure interspersing them just would not work at all; they’re about to go to opposite ends of their storyboards. And if Myles thought that the end of Belonging meant he needed to continue to Over The Rainbow, then well – that arc doesn’t conclude until Pltz Grb. (I’d also say, incidentally, that continuing on will leave nothing really to be said about Belonging, since it doesn’t exactly belong (hah) with those last three. But then, it is basically set-up, so I won’t weep over a lack of commentary.)

    Adding my voice to the chorus of ‘please continue with the Cultural Catchup, however intermittently.’ Hopefully you will get space when the tv season eases off a bit and shows start to go on hiatus; although that may well coincide with the craziest part of a college term. If not, then there’s always Christmas holidays, right? 🙂

    I like Dead End as a little standalone story. I also like Lindsey at this point for one of the few times ever (stop it, evil hand!). I kind of hate Angel for sticking that notice on the back of his car… such an immature twerp sometimes.

    I may not be remembering correctly, but did W&H actually own/run the body donation business, or just supply it with customers and body parts? W&H, overall, are probably my favourite evil thing in the whole Buffyverse, just because they’re not one individual with a master plan or some description (or even one entity without one, hi Buffy 7): they’re a group of people/demons trying to interpret the orders of another layer of people/demons above them, who are mostly aiming for ends which would mostly be counted as evil. That leads to a lot of variability in how those ends can be achieved and what may or may not count as ‘success’ for Angel.

    *VAGUE SPOILER*
    I always remember Lilah, at the end of Sleep Tight, just sort of shrugging and going ‘eh, good enough’ about the way things turned out, even though they didn’t follow her plan. That’s W&H to me in a nutshell: chaos, pain, destruction: all good, even if they weren’t quite what you intended.

  10. Bob Kat

    C an this particualr leopard change its spots.

    And, to me, moving towards the Frayverse is an absolutely horrible idea. I only know it from the S-8 crossovers but sorry, not soemthing I can stomach.

    • skittledog

      I love the Frayverse (in its original form, maybe less so in the s8 crossovers) but would still rather not see how the world got there, I think. Part of the reason I’ve given up on s8, really – I don’t have the necessary confidence to believe they can pull off what they seem to be trying to do.

      • Aeryl

        I do now that we are into the final arc(FINALLY!!) I know Retreat was kind of all over the place(it helped getting the TPB, and reading it all at once, not having the delay between issue, IMO) and that people are ticked at the Twilight arc(with good reason), but how thing’s have been set up in the first issue of Last Gleaming has got me excited!

        **Season 8 Speculation, Buffy Show SPOILERS**

        The story is starting to come together, and you are starting to get peeks(like in Season 5) of how it’s all gonna end. Plus, somebody major is gonna buy it, that’s from Joss himself I think. And don’t believe speculation that it CAN’T be Angel, cuz Dark Horse did just get his license back, and that may have been the sole reason why, IMO. I think all the talk about Angel in S9 is a big misdirect.

        My personal speculation is that all magical beings will have to leave our dimension(leading to the Frayverse) and the Season 9 will continue in this new dimension. But of course that leaves Xander toast, cuz he has no magic, so he gets left behind in our dimension.

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