September 29th, 2010
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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.
- 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).