[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: David Greenwalt | Director: David Greenwalt | Aired: 05/22/2001]
“There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb” is a fun and worthy finale to the Pylea arc, all of it functioning as a comparably light thematic coda to the rest of this dark and intense season. Series creator David Greenwalt writes and directs for the first time in forever, though it’s not quite his best outing. “Plrtz Glrb” lacks something that “Through the Looking Glass” [2×21] had. We’ve gotten over the wonder and enchantment of this new world and now we actually have to crawl around in it. That’s not to say it’s stopped being interesting, but it should imply to you that this installment is not quite as good as the previous one, and is a bit of a let down after the promises it made.
While it develops the characters in good and important ways, it feels like a perfunctory follow up rather than a genuine continuation. The philosophical and metaphorical depth is also lacking in comparison. But the key issue here is that the episode is something of a coward. It conceives epic battles and hellish situations, but is unwilling to follow the characters into them. The toughest moral dilemmas and character developments are downplayed and dispatched easier than they should be, such as with Lorne, who we were made to think was killed last episode. The writers instead give us a shameless ret-con about Lorne’s entire species; they can survive with their heads off as long as their bodies aren’t mutilated.
As entertaining as I found Lorne, I thought that given what Aggie said of him in “Over the Rainbow” [2×20], this would be a perfect thematic end for him. Despite his charms, he’s not all that useful in his ongoing role in S3, S4 and S5. What’s more is that his death was an impressive cliffhanger and smart story move that made Silas and The Covenant seem like a real and potent threat to the characters in a way only the best villains can be. I admit they’re still adequately villainous, but the episode’s unwillingness to let go of Lorne to serve a more compelling story instantly showed me that Pylea would not have the courage to follow through, and that The Covenant would be dispatched as monsters-of-the-week.
As for the main characters, Angel’s had the most and most interesting development this season, and he finally gets a nice clean finish for it. We find him recovering from the events of “Through the Looking Glass” [2×21], which shook him to the core when he saw this dimension’s literal interpretation of what the vampiric traits of his personality look like when he changes. His conflict in the episode is how to deal with this. Unlike most people, his darker urges can physically manifest and his greatest fear after the Darla arc (“Dear Boy” [2×05] to “Epiphany” [2×16]) is giving into those impulses again, however justifiable the circumstances. We saw it bother him in “Disharmony” [2×17] when Harmony spoke of human blood, and he realized this wasn’t just going away.
You can clearly see, though, the difference in the writers’ opinions about Angel’s true nature in some episodes; whether or not he’s a split between a man and a vampire, or a person with the capabilities of both. The main arc, and thankfully, this episode, argues the latter. No matter how he sees himself, Fred, whom he has saved, sees that he’s a good man. She was saved by him in a boisterous, classically heroic way, but then also saw his vampire side. What she sees now is what Angel needs to see: he’s both, and neither; a good man, who has terrible thoughts like any other, but can do what’s right by fighting and acting against them.
The battle with the Groosalug, who too is conceived of by the Pylean people to be a romanticized hero as well, is proof of this. Angel, with everything on the line, holds back his worst abilities in contrast to the Groosalug, who too has something important at stake and gives in completely to ugliness. Angel doesn’t want any of it. He’s a good man who can fight evil in better ways and he knows this now. However, if Wesley had his way, he may not have made that decision. His finish to the season isn’t quite as underscored, but in light of the series is very important. The new traits that he employs here are critical to his developments next season.
Since “Disharmony” [2×17] it’s been clear that he’s had trouble with the more difficult parts of leadership, but after allowing the Drachen to get away, Cordelia to get lost and he and Gunn almost killed, he summons everything he has to step up. Wesley, right from his start in S3 of Buffy, has been intelligent and useful, but due to his upbringing in an overly critical household he’s always had confidence issues and has had to gain competence in the field to be at his best. Even then, when in the shadow of those he felt he had to impress (like Angel), he could often be reduced to buffoonery by his anxieties.
Now, with much at stake for him as well, he’s realized that his own issues may have very well nearly gotten people hurt, and is done taking chances. “You try not to get anybody killed you wind up getting everybody killed.” To save Cordelia and the human population of Pylea, he’s willing to employ Angel’s “beast” and the lives of the rebels as disposable weapons. Wes’ smarts, augmented by fearless leadership, make for a tremendous plan that succeeds fantastically; without him, the gang would’ve never gotten home. And yet, we’re left wondering if that’s really all that ‘good.’ It raises an interesting question about tactics in war, and if the win is always worth the moral sacrifice.
Wisely, the episode leaves us to answer the question for ourselves, and it’s one that’ll be brought up again as part of Wesley’s tragedy, which occurs by the same new traits in “Sleep Tight” [3×16]. On that note, Gunn has started to go in the opposite direction. Where he began in “War Zone” [1×20] as the same man Wesley is becoming, he’s starting to become more cerebral and moral, which is interesting considering he was himself a general in a “war” just a year before these events. Having followed his instincts, often blindly into all of Angel Investigations terrible situations this season, he’s come to realize the value of foresight and expresses it quite honestly this episode; a part of why his ‘belonging’ dilemma has been tough.
If his and Wes’ stories are left wide open for possibilities, Cordy’s and Lorne’s join Angel’s, confidently closing chapters in their lives to ready for new ones. Last episode, like Angel, Cordy quickly saw the terrible drawbacks of life as a princess. The hammerstroke falls hardest here with the discovery that the role of the princess is to pass on her visions, leaving her a monarch and nothing more. In spite of her endless suffering, she sees the visions as part of her now; she’s a champion, chosen for duty to help the helpless no matter the cost and the pain. Riches, prestige and power are empty pursuits when they do so little. Cordelia has finally grown up.
As for Lorne, who probably should’ve died (sorry…): He’s used to say what everyone is finally feeling: coming to Pylea has made everyone realize where they belong (except for Gunn, who is now leaning to one side, but is not entirely sure). After all, that was the whole point of Pylea wasn’t it? His speech says it all for his character, and makes a nice point about L.A. too. It’s the perfect place for people who don’t belong anywhere and therefore ideal for a bunch of demon hunters and their nice-demon friends. Like with last season’s ender, “To Shanshu in LA” [1×22], the pieces of a new season have been set while wrapping up the movements of the current one. It’s been quite a good one, too. See you in Season Three.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Cordy’s scream fest.
+ Let’s play: find the mutilated body!
+ Wesley explaining guerilla warfare.
+ Everyone freaking out at Lorne’s head-in-a-basket, except for Fred who really doesn’t care.
+ The whole gang being together and actually happy for once. Until….
* Gunn, despite beginning to choose Angel Investigations as his place, still feels regret at his abandonment of his neighbourhood gang, and is still wary about working for a vampire in general. This issue is addressed once and for all in “That Old Gang of Mine” [3×03], where he makes his final choice.
* Wesley shows shades of his Season Three character arc here. His time in Pylea has made him understand the importance of direct and unapologetic leadership and started to add to his hero complex, which is the vital key to his tragic flaw.
* Cordelia accepts her visions and finally acknowledges that she indeed has a divine mission from the PTB’s. In Season Three she embraces this fully and in “Tomorrow” [3×22] actually becomes a higher being.