Once again, our teaser reestablishes what's been happening on Angel, and I have to say that I'm tired of it. I do have a memory, thank you very much. Granted this is/was part of the producers' attempts to make Angel more accessable, but since the show's been canned, I hope the final episodes throw the rule book out and go whole-hog with whatever they want, provided that it makes sense.
What's beginning to be a thorn in my side is how the Buffy/Angelverse would recycle basic premises and spin them in new ways. The spinning can be enjoyable storytelling that proves the creative staff at work, but I don't like recycling when it comes to plots. "Underneath" provides two such examples.
Wesley's isolation from the core group has been a highly overused one. This was something that started in Buffy circa mid-season 3 and carried over into Angel season 1 with his prissy, uptight GeekWatcher mode on all the time. Mid-season 3 Angel had him kidnapping Connor and on the outs with the whole until season 4's "Apocalypse, Nowish." Now he's off the deep end with Fred's death in "A Hole in the World" and obsessed with a Lilah-free darker side with Illyria. While it's a self-imposed isolation that functions as part of the larger whole on the theme of disconnect from this season (the creativeness at hand), it boils down to Wesley's general exclusion from the group.
Spike's inclusion into the main group has been another overused one. "Becoming, Part 2" was a temporary one, as was most of season 4 and latter-half season 5 Buffy. For the third time, he feels a "loose affilation" with the good guys and is ready to jump into the fray with them. Again, the storytelling and build up to this point have been creative, but the boiled down result is a worn tume that hints at the burnout factor of the writers.
"Underneath"'s plot, as a result, was a mixed bag to me. The Lindsey/Gunn switch in suburban hell was a nice satire on encoraching comfortity in current society and a false assumption of a happy life with the picturequse house, wife, and kid. The out-of-left-field violence with a wife-touting Uzi and S & M inspired demon guardian was the typical Angel shock that pleases me. Its partner story (Terminator!Liason's hunt for Eve and Lindsey's foreboding warnings) worked well to establish the seeds for the final 5 episodes and gave guidance to what we should have looked for in the past and where Angel's going from here.
On the other hand, the Wesley-Illyria story didn't fit for me. It was a shallow extension of the "everything has layers" metaphor that resounded through "Underneath" with a deafening tone.
Other than Wesley and Spike, I thought the characters were the biggest highlight. Angel & Gunn's reconiliation moment in the hospital spoke to atonement, the premise this whole show is based on. We may commit awful things, but we cannot be rendered inable by what's in our past and instead work to make other things better. Do I think that Gunn took the easy way out by replacing Lindsey? Well, he does at some point remember his reason for being there by going to the basement, and is tortured by whatever form his mind thinks of. Judgment's going to be reserved until after we see how Gunn feels about his Illyria-shaping role when he leaves. (Please, you think he's going to be stuck there? Someone's gonna have to get him out.)
Amy Acker deserves an Emmy nod as her Illyria is a radical departure from Fred. She hasn't missed a step in convincing the audience that our Fred is dead and this being has consumed her shell. All of Acker's mechanics (tone of voice, mannerisms, posture) are spot on in telling us that she's a new character, making me like this subplot all the better.
Hamilton, Lindsey, and Eve are obviously the biggest wildcards. Well, not so much Hamilton as Angel doesn't trust anyone working for/with the Senior Partners anymore anyway. But he's got that charming invincibility going for him, so I think we could have our Big Bad for the end. Lindsey and Eve are much more the gray area as they are willing to help our gang out, but have proven to stick knives in everyone else's backs. Their true intentions haven't been shuffled out yet, providing great tension to what their roles will be in the end.
And as usual, Lorne's brief moments pop out. His escalating depression and rant about his loss of the mission is just so poignant. There's another layer to him: he was willing to fight the good fight, but has now lost too much and is feeling handicapped as to how he can help if he even wants to. This should be built upon also.
"Underneath" is rusty on MotW plot, but a well-oiled machine with arc-like characterization.