Angel 2×15: Reprise

[Review by Ryan Bovay]

[Writer: Tim Minear | Director: James Whitmore Jr | Aired: 02/20/2001]

“Reprise,” the first episode of the two part conclusion to Season Two’s main arc, begins in a dark place and ends even darker. Save for “Release” [4×14], this is quite possibly the darkest episode of the show and it’s an extremely close second at that. Despite the hope for change the last two episodes presented, this one takes that inkling and shoots it to pieces in a glorious culmination of all the character developments that have, let’s face it, befouled the major players since “Reunion” [2×10]. Each scene is dimmer and dimmer lit as time goes on and as each sequence gets more intense, writer Tim Minear ratchets the tension to unbearable levels only to let it all untwist in the most shocking and unpredictable of ways through the return of a character thought dead; brought back to deliver Wolfram and Hart’s true message in what is one of the single finest scenes written for television that I’ve ever witnessed.

Holland Manners has been complex and nearly as terrifying a villain as Angelus since he first appeared in “Blind Date” [1×21]. He’s been a human symbol of the philosophy of Wolfram and Hart since that time, and his ruminations here allow the Senior Partners’ plans to exceed beyond their wildest dreams. Like his particular scene, all of “Reprise” is carefully crafted and meticulously scripted; every single word counts. Listen closely, or you may miss the most important things this series has to say yet (as you may be able to gleam, episodes of this manner are to my liking). Even aside from the flawless final act, there’s a lot to appreciate and dissect.

The director finds the big, dark cloud in every silver lining and puts it firmly atop the show’s head, and the foreboding in the first half of the episode matches as the whispers of reviews, partners and claynachs slowly build suspense and wonder. On the writing side there’s a whole lot going on as well: the Gang begins to sink after their last two episodes of big success (gunshot wounds aside) and Angel’s unsettling progression from suicide warrior to an all out soul-destroyed being is attentively mapped out, all of it falling under Holland’s vision of the true home office and ending in bleak, utter despair for everyone. This is not a field of happy, bouncing bunnies (unless you’re Anya, in which case that imagery is perfect).

Originally, I thought I might begin with the Fang Gang, but in full evaluation it’s best to go to the end and examine what that means concerning how we got there. Holland Manners, sent as an emissary from hell on behalf of the Senior Partners has a simple and disarming piece of wisdom to impart: Evil endures. It endures because it must. It endures because it’s an idea, and ideas are bulletproof. ‘Evil’ as a concept that humans understand is, like anything, entirely subjective and is more like a spectrum with which we can judge actions, not a large net to be cast over all unsavoury acts. But what Holland speaks of is not ‘evil’ in the sense that we typically judge things. We might call marketing or advertising evil, but that’s on the spectrum, isn’t it?

What he’s getting at is something far more primal: The darkest urges of human existence, from wherever they may originate (our sociology, psychology or biology), that spawn actions of selfishness, destruction; an undeniable form of evil that only causes pain and contributes to the world’s system of entropy. It has no reason and needs no reason, it simply is suffering, malice and greed, all ideas we have words for, yes, but all things we know exist in some form outside subjectivity and the words that we associate them with. Whether or not this evil is intentional is irrelevant, because it’s in all of us, according to Holland. And that’s what Wolfram and Hart is: Evil for evil’s sake. It is the formal organization and physical representation of the worst things humanity has to offer, made of those who choose to actualize their dark ambitions.

Its exemplary employees, like Lindsey, are brought into the fold by the human desires they have and the destructive human sins they commit to fulfill them and are kept there by the promise of either the consolidation of power being for a greater good, or simply by their greed/power lust. All of those are purely human things. And yet, who knows? Perhaps it is all for a greater purpose; without our understanding of evil, there could not be what we define as good. In “Power Play” [5×21] Angel hypothesizes that evil exists so that human beings can oppose it, and that that’s what makes them truly great. As an avatar and practical organization of the inevitable evil that humanity generates in its worst of intentions, W&H can’t be destroyed further than its physical appearance because of the ideas behind it.

That is why Angel can’t ‘win;’ it’s why Holland so delightfully calls the very thought of winning ‘prosaic.’ Wolfram and Hart can’t win or lose, because as long as there are people, there will be evil, and there will be Wolfram and Hart, even if the Senior Partners aren’t the ones pulling the strings. They are the evil, and the name W&H is just the title humans have given them to represent it.

This means everything for Angel. Following “To Shanshu in LA” [1×22] he became more or less human in how he interacted with people, worked, lived and operated due to having a probable future to work towards and friends to help him get there. His entire character arc of season two up to this point has been about the highs and lows of human existence; human triumph, but mostly human fallacy (Joss Whedon shows usually aren’t happy). Even in his worst moments where he was actively trying to transform himself into a soul-dead machine of destruction, he had resurging moments of humanity: Helping Anne in “Blood Money” [2×12], showing remorse for firing the gang in “Happy Anniversary” [2×13] and trying to reach out to them in “The Thin Dead Line” [2×14].

However, none of that would’ve mattered until Darla became dust; his inability to save her destroyed and redefined his mission. As The Host put it, he went “from helping the helpless to hunting down the guilty.” For Angel, redemption has no longer held meaning in helping people, but in destroying what he believes hurts them the most and because of W&H’s involvement in destroying Darla’s redemption, he has pegged them as that agent. His entire mission for redemption, for sacrificing his ‘human’ life and committing horrible and reprehensible acts became destroying that evil. That became the key to the Shanshu prophecy and to preventing the apocalypse. When Holland illuminates the truth for Angel it utterly destroys him for many reasons.

That truth means he can’t win, or beat them, it means he can’t ever save the world from evil, it means he fired his friends and did terrible things in the name of good for nothing and that inevitably and no matter how hard he tries to deny it, he is human. And as a human, he is as bound to do things as terrible as anyone else and nothing can stop that so long as his humanity exists. Angel gives into perfect despair at this, dropping the glove for which he was ready to give his life to use like it was nothing and wandering hopelessly home where he finds Darla. Giving into her advances he believes Holland is entirely right; how couldn’t he be after all he’s seen and done?

Evil can’t be defeated and people can’t be saved from it. Darla, his friends, Kate (who will be discussed in great detail in the next review) and Denver the old shopkeeper were all symbols of the impact of his noble mission and their hope and bravery did nothing to save them and nor could he. Even Angel’s one grand attempt to save the world from that forever yielded only more pain. Terrified and hopeless he gives into Darla with every intention of losing his soul because after all this, Angelus seems the better option. Angel has finally hit rock bottom in the most tragic of ways; this is where Wolfram and Hart has truly succeeded. They don’t need to beat their enemies, they need to convince them that they’re right, which is tremendously worse for the world.

To wind down a little, I’ll talk about Lindsey and the gang, who are also prey to the cycle of evil. I explained in my review of “Reunion” [2×10] that the Darla/Lindsey relationship would never work for one simple reason: They’re both about power (see “Blind Date” [1×21] and “Darla” [2×07] ). Lindsey was attracted to her because of her human helplessness and need for his power and after she became a vampire again, he was only further endeared by her unmatched hunger for it. But as a vampire concerned with power, she would have no concern for him and resorts to entirely using him; for shelter and to get into Wolfram and Hart, interested in going to the Home Office but for a very different reason than Angel. But there is something surprising to her here and to the viewer as well:

Lindsey’s power-lust has been dulled by Wolfram and Hart’s inaction against Angel and their constant mind games with him. He’s clearly still interested in his personal advancement, but is beginning to realize that they are not the way to go. Due to this and his misplaced affection for Darla he helps her in spite of her betrayal, an immoral act committed with noble, affectionate intention which spins Darla’s compass completely off balance. She’s become a vampire again to rid herself of a soul and live immorally to gain power; true, selfless actions from someone who shows love for her is so incomprehensible that all she can do is run to Angel and hope he’s Angelus again; her lucky night.

Finally, there is the Fang Gang, who experience human evil in a much pettier and more annoying form: the Sharps. Clients who refuse to pay because, clearly, demons don’t exist and Angel Investigations is a scam. It’s a slap in the face after all the progress Wes, Cordy and Gunn have made that fighting demons isn’t their biggest worry, it’s dealing with the humans in the process. Gunn is disheartened, leaving to go back to his old neighbourhood and Wesley goes home to the arms of Virginia, only to be abandoned because of her fear of human violence and her weaknesses. And Cordelia, because of her human greed (however justified) is lured into what appears to be certain death by the Skilosh demon tribe whom they cured the Sharps’ daughter of.

In closing, perhaps my favourite thing here is how the curtain is pulled back to show the grand crusade against evil a waste and the true enemy living right at home in our hearts and minds. Few shows would have the courage or the intelligence to so frighteningly portray evil this accurately; these aren’t the black-clad overlords that Star Wars or Narnia or a thousand other simple-man’s stories tell. These are the people who work in our office towers, whose children go to our schools and the people who run our countries and live next door.

For this statement alone it is profound, and that it works on every level (as a human drama, as great character development and a cautionary tale) is just a huge bonus. This is one of the very best episodes of the series, and perhaps its very most important to real life. Its counterpart, “Epiphany” [2×16], acknowledges the truths learned here but offers hope in the wake of discovering them.

Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Goats. So many goats.
+ Kate finally making the connection between Angel and the wine cellar.
+ The re-use of Denver the shopkeeper. Writer Tim Minear also wrote “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?” [2×02] and it’s nice to see he remembered that character.
+ Darla playing Lindsey so deviously, and her ‘appearance’ at Denver’s shop. Ow.
+ Angel’s heated conflict with Wes and Cordy.
+ The fight at Wolfram and Hart. The frightening Claynach, both Angel and Darla charging the place and Angel’s legendary leap through the office window to the ground below.
+ Holland Manners. One of my favourite Whedonverse villains; dead, and kicking, and with one of the best written single scenes this show’s ever seen. Great to have him back one last time.
+ Angel appearing to ‘lose’ his soul. Knowing what comes next in 2×16: “Epiphany” [2×16] makes this all the more interesting.


* Having learned the truth of Wolfram and Hart’s M.O. here, Angel realizes many years down the line in Season Five and particularly in “Power Play” [5×21], that the purpose of all the horror they exist to represent is so that humans can fight back, and that that’s what makes humanity ‘remarkably strong;’ better than the demons Holland makes them sound like here.



17 thoughts on “Angel 2×15: Reprise”

  1. [Note: Rick posted this comment on January 15, 2007.]

    Ryan, I must commend you for your wonderfully succinct and comprehensive review of Reprise. Your commentary on the existential underpinnings that spring forth from this episode and its successor and permeate the rest of the series is excellently written. I, myself, am giving a lecture on the implications of a godless world to a philosophy class this week and it is astounding how much of my hour speach resembles your review and the themes of Reprise and Epiphany. I’m not going to mention specifics because I think it has been clear to us both what these episodes are about for a long time now.

    However, I have two minor disagreements with you on Reprise:
    a) I cannot fathom this episode as less dark than Release. In fact, this episode is one of the most nauseating television experiences one can endure for the reason you listed. While Release may be a dark endeavor, it lacks the lamenting philosophical cries that echo from the core of Reprise and the series.
    b) Just a matter of opinion, but I feel Reprise is superior to “To Shanshu in L.A,” mostly because it demolishes most of the former’s themes. While Epiphany pries the series from the rubble somewhat, the impact of Reprise is so much more intense. I also must argue, to the awe of even myself, that Tim Minear is a better Angel writer than Whedon. While Whedon’s work is utterly stunning at time, Minear creates, imo, absolute masterpieces which are, at the same time, unapologetic and piercing.

    Also, Epiphany scores a perfect in terms of Theme for me, but is far from a perfect episode. In fact, it is rather flawed. I’m to tired to get into details, but plotwise and pace wise, it ranks in the 80s for me.

    Also (yes another one)…I’ve been wondering why you decided not to include Lullably in your top 25. …

    One last thing I wanted to mention…I’m going to sound crazy, but I’ve studied very closely Season 5 of Angel and I must say that “Shells” is as perfect, if not more so than “A Hole in the World.” I’ll bang out some reasons why later, but it echoes many of the same thmes of its predecessor and of Not Fade Away. I’d also like to know your opinion on which is better: 2×05-2×16 or 5×12-5×22 (excluding Why We Fight). Sorry to demand a book from you! lol

    I also just want to reiterate that I support fully (and have been wanting you to do so forever now) your decision to bump Reprise ahead of Epiphany in your standings.


  2. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on January 15, 2007.]

    Rick, I pretty much agree with everything you just said, although “A Hole in the World” hits me harder than “Shells” does. It’s really satisfying to see someone else who sees the brilliance in “Shells” though, as this seems to be a really underrated episode.

    I look forward to seeing where this discussion goes.


  3. [Note: Ryan-R.B. posted this comment on January 15, 2007.]

    Re: Rick’s disagreements: I guess that boils down to opinion. Release, and most of S4, just feels darker to me. You have Faith who was once evil, Wesley who’s willing to do evil, Cordelia who we don’t know why the fuck she’s evil and Angelus who is really goddamn evil and they’re caught in a huge maelstrom; fighting their former friend and ally who’s the puppet of a mysterious God that’s put the city in a terror for weeks. Wes willingly tortures people and Faith gets bitten half to death by Angelus. It just has the dark for me, even if not as heavily in the theme department. But you’re right about Reprise. It always leaves me breathless. I have to watch something else quickly after otherwise I’ll stay depressed.

    Also: What has always endeared Shanshu to me so strongly is how well it’s written. Unlike any other episode (even NFA), every single line of dialogue has relevance. From Wes and Angel chatting at the start or David Nabbit hanging out, to the Vocah’s chant in the mausoleum, to Kate and Angel arguing, to…well, everything. Every single moment is so well constructed and laid out within the theme of the episode that you can glimpse some small insight from every line and every action in a way I’ve seen in few other episodes of TV anywhere.

    As for Tim: I definitely agree with you. He’s a darker, more cerebral writer and it’s my secret fantasy that he’ll wind up as co-executive producer on Battlestar Galactica. Alas, it won’t, because he has own show coming out this spring starring Nathan Fillion! Very Happy Is that even better or what? I’d say when it comes to Angel that, yes, Tim is the best writer and he’s probably the only TV writer who matches up to Joss.

    As for Lullaby:It’s probably a 95, I just didn’t feel it was strong enough to jump on to the list. Maybe when I review it i’ll change my mind. As for Epiphany, I feel the review justified my feelings on it; the potent drama, deep themes and philosophy, plus its long term importance to the series.

    As for AHIW vs Shells, AHIW gets a perfect the same reason Epiphany does: Its importance and themes. The cavemen vs astronaut debate is deep and relevant to so many things in our world in the same way that the philosophies of Reprise/Epiphany are and it’s well constructed dialogue-wise the way Shanshu is.And on 2×05-2×16 vs 5×14-5×22 (not 5×12, sorry), I can’t answer. Tie.


  4. [Note: fryrish posted this comment on January 15, 2007.]

    Great work on both reviews Ryan, they go right to the core of these episodes. I’m also glad you brought up the significance of the philosophy of Reprise/Epiphany to season 5 because I think a lot of people miss the parallels. Definately agree with your decision to push Reprise up in the top 25 too.

    I don’t think Release comes close in darkness to Reprise. Even in S4 there are episodes that strike me as darker, but I don’t think there are any episodes from that season that aren’t dark. While I agree Release contains some incredibly dark aspects and the Wesley/Faith dynamic works well (wish there’d been more of that), but I don’t think it quite reaches its potential.

    “I also must argue, to the awe of even myself, that Tim Minear is a better Angel writer than Whedon. While Whedon’s work is utterly stunning at time, Minear creates, imo, absolute masterpieces which are, at the same time, unapologetic and piercing.”

    I agree to an extent, but looking at the episodes each has written and based on what their episodes set out to achieve it’s quite difficult to compare. I can’t speak for Whedon’s contributions to the story behind the scenes, but if you take a look at their credits for Angel, other than the pilot and season five he didn’t do much that had long-term ramifications for the series. While Minear wrote more episodes for Angel than any other writer (someone correct me if I’m wrong) and over the first three seasons Minear wrote many of the best and most important episodes of the series. I’ve read elsewhere than Whedon didn’t have a lot of involvement in Angel S2 and was more concerned with S5 of Buffy, leaving Minear and Greenwalt to do their own thing.

    “I must say that “Shells” is as perfect, if not more so than “A Hole in the World.” I’ll bang out some reasons why later, but it echoes many of the same thmes of its predecessor and of Not Fade Away.”

    A Hole in the World and Shells, really it’s impossible for me to separate them. I’ve been trying to write up a top 20 list for Angel and I have them both in my top 10. I have a more emotional reaction to A Hole in the World so I’d go with that I had to choose. It has been criticized from the use of melodrama, but I think that level works perfectly. The rawness of some of the performances, the thematic resonance, the direction, cinematography and music all standout to me and mark it as one of Joss Whedon’s finest hours. Shells works quite differently and uses a brilliant mix of drama and dark humour in expressing the reactions of each character to Fred’s death and the presence of Illyria raises all sorts of philosophical questions. Last time I watched it I was surprised at just how funny it actually is. Come to think of it, I think it is much closer in darkness to Reprise than something like Release.

    “I’d also like to know your opinion on which is better: 2×05-2×16 or 5×12-5×22 (excluding Why We Fight).”

    Too close to call, I’m not sure I want to choose. The season 2 run works better as single story and is possibly more thematically consistent. Those episodes from season five I’m not sure I’d say are better overall, but they strike me as much more risky, perhaps brought on by the fact that the writer’s knew Angel wasn’t going to be renewed.

    “Unlike any other episode (even NFA), every single line of dialogue has relevance.”

    To be honest, I’m not sure I understand entirely what you mean by this.


  5. [Note: Rick posted this comment on January 15, 2007.]

    Back to the issue of “To Shanshu” I must confess that when I see it, I love it. But ask me what happens in it (and I’ve seen it a million times) I always have trouble answering. Nothing really sticks in it for me. I guess that explains my lack of passion for it.


  6. [Note: Ryan-R.B. posted this comment on January 15, 2007.]

    Re: fryrish and Shanshu. Relevance to the main theme of the episode, I should say. Shanshu is so well constructed that there’s a hardly a single line of dialogue in it that can’t be deconstructed or analyzed in some way to offer some small insight into the characters or the story while in lesser (even if great) episodes, some dialogue is simply there to be funny, expositionary, dramatic or to convey a message. In every frame of Shanshu this kind of dialogue exists, but there’s also a deeper meaning that can be plumbed from almost everything in it and I find something new to look at every time I watch it, which I is why I like it so much.

    “Great work on both reviews Ryan, they go right to the core of these episodes. I’m also glad you brought up the significance of the philosophy of Reprise/Epiphany to season 5 because I think a lot of people miss the parallels.”

    Angel’s most brilliant creation as a series was Wolfram and Hart and for the reasons discussed in the review, is at its best when the focus is on it. Season Five’s analysis of power and the nature of evil (especially in the forms of compromise and ignorance) really make episodes like Reprise seem like a microcosm of a preview for that year.


  7. [Note: fryrish posted this comment on January 15, 2007.]

    Re: Shanshu. That clears it up. I don’t disagree, I just wasn’t sure where you were coming from with that comment.buffyholic


  8. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on February 21, 2008.]

    This episode is a perfect gem in every way. Perfect and dark. The speech Holland gives to Angel is just so chilling but true.


  9. [Note: llinnae posted this comment on September 2, 2008.]

    I think you covered pretty much everything in that episode, so all thats left to say is great review! I admire how youre able to combine thematic issues whist still mentioning plot- oriented points. Congrats!


  10. [Note: Neil posted this comment on April 11, 2011.]

    Curse you Law and Order for taking officer Kate from us!!

    This and the next episode were without doubt the high water mark of Angel, although still very good the series never reached these heights again.


  11. [Note: nitramneek posted this comment on December 25, 2011.]

    You mean to tell me that everyone (you, me and everyone else on the planet) is a senior partner at Wolfram and Hart? That we are all responsible for the evils in this world? That there really is such a thing as original sin, and we are all born with it? Questions that Tim Minear so eloquently brought up with this episode. Questions mankind has been asking since the dawn of time and frankly, I don’t have the answers to. Buffy had the answer when she said we all have choices, not good easy choices, but choices when talking to Billy Fordham in the episode “Lie To Me”(2×07). That tells me that choices really do define us (good or evil?) Do we all have to be employed at Wolfram and Hart or do we look for employment elswhere. Like Angel we all have choices to make standing at the crossroad.

    I hate Joss Whedon and Tim Minear. After watching BtVS and AtS it’s gotten me to thinking after all these years. Such evil, evil men.


  12. [Note: smallprint84 posted this comment on January 25, 2012.]

    Little error here:

    + Angel appearing to ‘lose’ his soul. Knowing what comes next in 2×16: [“2×16”] makes this all the more interesting.

    This is of course the ep. “Epiphany” [2×16]


  13. [Note: Ryan ONeil posted this comment on October 31, 2012.]

    Short answer: Yes. We may not be the “senior partners,” the unholy trinity that represents all of the evil we are capable of, but if any of us contributed no evil to the world, (s)he wouldn’t be a person, they’d be an Angel (stealth punny goodness).How about this: since the Wolf, Ram, and Hart are representations of the evil inherent in “impure” creatures like humans or Pyleans, and since the Old Ones such as Illyria that ruled the world before us were embodiments of pure Good or Evil, of course Illyria would remember them being worms back then, because the world wasn’t ruled by impure creatures that could change sides with the right prodding, therefore neither did their choices.And of course they would ally themselves with creatures that, despite being pure evil themselves and not technically “contributing” to the unholy trinity’s power directly, are weak enough that they would need the impures that WRH worksto corrupt.


  14. [Note: Luvtennis posted this comment on September 21, 2013.]

    Not to be rude, but Cordy is brutally honest because it is her nature. She has always been that way. Big clue – she is named after Shakespeare’s King Lear’s youngest daughter. Cordelia is a truth teller. She tells her father the truth and banishes her. Only later does he discover that she was the only one of his daughter’s who loved him.

    The only two major adult character’s in the buffyverse who commit no major sin are Cordy and Buffy. They along with Willow are the main protagonists of the overarching story. The undergo tremendous change as characters. By contrast, the male characters are mostly foils. Even Angel who goes back and forth between the two poles of his nature, never really changes.


  15. [Note: Sandra posted this comment on May 21, 2015.]

    Thanks Ryan, I’m enjoying rewatching Angel and reading your reviews. One issue here though – I think you’re misreading Angel and Darla getting sexual at the end. I’m not sure how you can read this as Angel giving in to Darla’s advances. Every part of them being sexual is led by Angel. Darla stops him, several times, unsure what’s going on, asking if he’s playing games etc. He keeps trying to be sexual – and she decides that’s ok because absolutely it’s what she wants – because he WANTS to lose himself. Not noting his agency here, that he’s driving this, is a problem I think.


  16. [Note: JohnathanLevinson posted this comment on February 3, 2016.]

    None of you seemed to notice that David Fury, co-executive producer for Buffy and Angel, was an actor at the beginning of this episode. He appeared for just a few moments as an actor in “Once More, With Feeling” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog”


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