Angel 3×21: Benediction

[Review by Ryan Bovay]

[Writer: Tim Minear | Director: Tim Minear | Aired: 05/13/2002]

“Benediction” is another one of those excellent character pieces that often gets overlooked because of episodes with more bang or plot focus. Not that some of them aren’t deserving of the attention – such as with barnstormers like “Reprise” [2×15] – but it’s disappointing how forgotten episodes like this or “Through the Looking Glass” [2×21] can be despite their many superb qualities. Yet another Tim Minear classic (and the second last episode he would ever write on the show), it’s emotional, shocking, and at times almost perverse. There are layers upon layers at work throughout the episode and as the true intentions of Holtz become clear in the final scene, I found myself riveted and gasping. This is everything the season finale “Tomorrow” [3×22] should’ve been.

In fact, the cliffhanger this hour leaves us on only hurt the finale’s performance, as I went in with high expectations. I would’ve been perfectly happy if season three had ended right here, even if this isn’t quite 100-level material. We start relatively close to where we left off at the end of “A New World” [3×20], with Holtz and Connor now back in our dimension. We learn that the slusk demons from “The Price” [3×19] were from Quor’toth, and apparently came here because Connor had scared them when he forced them to let him through the dimensional tear. Nice continuity touch. More importantly, we learn that Connor came back to kill Angel on behalf of Holtz and his long dead wife and daughter.

But Holtz followed him, and instead of guiding Connor to vengeance, he instead tells him to go to Angel and to learn from him about our dimension. He says that Quor’toth was never their home, and appears to want Connor to find a new and happy place in LA. Keith Szarabajka plays this new Holtz as an old sage, his rough edges worn down by the passage of time. As the episode goes on we learn what he claims has changed him so over these years: he loves his son, a thing he didn’t expect to happen after he stole Connor from Angel in “Sleep Tight” [3×16]. Because of this he seems to want Connor to find peace and let go of the pain of Quor’toth.

As the central character of the episode Connor is a maelstrom: fierce, unrelenting, and eventually revealed as empty. Though he may seem idiotic and hard-headed, the more we look into him the more we see a boy poisoned by the place he was forced to grow up in. The writers quickly establish a dichotomy within him, with the two worlds represented by each of his ‘fathers.’ With Holtz he was in a place of constant fear, anger, pain and hatred. Like that father he lived only for vengeance because it was all that could keep him going through the literal hell around him. In a quiet moment they rationalize their lives by claiming God has guided them, and it’s unsettling to see just how warped Connor has become.

This is Holtz’s doing as much as Quor’toth’s as Holtz took him there and had only hatred to raise him with. Yet he claims to love his son, and throughout the episode acts like a man ready to send his child off into the world by giving him to his sworn enemy. After “Stephen” returns to the Hotel, the moments of bonding he has with Angel are so genuine and so utterly sweet that we the audience become convinced Holtz has good intentions. With all the pain and suffering Angel’s endured since “Sleep Tight” [3×16], watching him be truly and absolutely content once again is deeply affecting all on its own, and it’s been fully earned. It melts the heart.

But Connor remains torn, and even refuses Holtz’s implication that Angel is not Angelus. His own father rejecting the hatred on which he was brought up drives him to such a frayed rage that he tries to kill Cordelia, leading to another heartbreaking moment in which her powers somehow wash away some of the pain of Quor’toth. Though he’s left empty and still can’t call Angel his father, he’s calmer and more accepting of what’s happening around him. It leaves him with no sense of a home, but with a chance to start over in LA with Angel. And this is where the turning point for all three characters emerges so sharply and horribly.

He has every chance in the world now to have a happy life and Holtz uses the opportunity – and his ‘son’s’ new bond with Angel – to poison the well in one last, evil act. As a relativist I’m loathe to use the terms good or evil as they tend to be blinds to the deeper complexity of human situations, but Holtz’s final vengeance is so perverse, so deeply devoid of anything loving that I can’t see it as anything but evil. He’s honest in only one thing: his admission to Justine that hate keeps you alive when nothing else does. Her words, but a shared sentiment nonetheless.

Maybe then he saw it as an act of love; his son could live on in this world only so long as he hated Angel, he may have thought. Regardless, what transpires on screen is another tragedy of Shakespearian proportions like “Sleep Tight” [3×16]’s, brought to its full dramatic potential by Angel’s own hatred for Holtz, which makes him willing to lie to Connor. This mistake is what will have him sunk to the bottom of the ocean at the end of “Tomorrow” [3×22]; Angel should’ve listened to Cordelia. Connor is left in despair, Justine without the leader and friend she desperately needs and Angel as a marked man. Holtz’s ‘suicide’ poisons these people.

For all he lacked in complexity, I must admit that the writers have done a fantastic job in this and a couple of other episodes of making him evil in a profound and uncommon way. The voice-over-reading of the letter he gives to Angel is a masterfully written sequence as the scenes of horror and tragedy play against words of love and sacrifice. It’s sad, happy, desperate, resolute and haunting all at once; just watch as Connor nimbly dodges fleets of cars running through the streets, where last episode he could barely even navigate his way across a two lane road. Meanwhile, Angel sits, unburdened at last, with no awareness of how much pain is yet to come.

If I must, before I wrap up, harangue this episode for one small thing it is the continual under-use of cast regulars. Throughout all of S3, Lorne, Fred and Gunn have been playing decreasingly important roles in the main story and it’s getting more apparent than ever. Even Lorne’s one powerful scene with Connor didn’t justify his appearance, and Fred and Gunn could’ve been written out of the episode with little or no effort, as all they really did was report back on Holtz’ location to Angel; an A-to-B thing that could’ve easily been done another way. This has been a problem all throughout the season and it’s not getting any better. Say what you will of S4’s flaws, but it succeeds where S3 fails, and where it fails it does so in more interesting ways. And these failures result only from the huge risks it takes. For that alone I respect it more, which you’ll see in my upcoming S4 reviews.

So, as a precipitating character event for the major players of that upcoming season, this episode is wildly successful. Its portrayal of characters motivated by hatred is not only convincing, but damning and revealing. Do we act as we would like to be, or in spite of how we feel we shouldn’t be? Angel, who again apologizes to the man who terrorized his family, is the only one who acts out of love.

Best is that Connor works as a complex character and carries the story and the people around him with great ease. Anyone who’s seen S4 knows that this is something that doesn’t last, so I appreciate it a great deal while it’s here. We need only suffer through the season finale now to get to a better place.


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Vincent Kartheiser as Connor. His equal parts anger and desperation play seamlessly thanks to Kartheiser’s work here.
+ Fred noting just how many people around the office have actually been in a hell dimension.
+ The Groosalug’s depressing double entendre.
+ Lorne’s utter disgust with Connor, and how it turns to complete empathy as Cordy ‘heals’ him.
+ Cordy being so tight with Angel that she totally knows she can skip the arguing with him now.
+ Cordelia encouraging Angel to kill Holtz.
+ Connor ‘hearing’ Fred and Gunn. One word: cool.
+ Angel’s final line: “Connor.”


Foreshadowing

* The dichotomy between Quor’toth and LA that Holtz permanently installs in Connor is one that will drive his character for entire his duration on the show, until Angel finally ‘sacrifices’ him for a better life in “Home” [4×22].


[Score]

95/100

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17 thoughts on “Angel 3×21: Benediction”

  1. [Note: rick posted this comment on September 7, 2007.]

    Good review and fair score. Underuse of several principal characters does in fact preclude a P, as you rightly acknowledge. But what’s a dichotomy?

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  2. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on March 12, 2008.]

    Too bad the finale isn´t like this ep. This episode is very strong emotionally and I found myself riveted by it.
    btw, is it just me or do I find Cordelia very boring since she became a demon?

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  3. [Note: Kyarorin posted this comment on June 27, 2008.]

    I agree with everything, but I was just watching this today and wanted to add something that’s always bugged me about this episode. Connor was closer to Angel, Cordelia and Lorne as they were discussing how Angel was going to confront Holtz than he was to Fred and Gunn as they were discussing the same thing on the beach, so why could he overhear them and not Angel himself in the first place? Cool, yes, though somewhat inconsistent. Unless I missed something.

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  4. [Note: Nathan.Taurus posted this comment on February 5, 2010.]

    Holtz wanted to die this way to make sure that Stephen would love him forever as he knew he would have to leave town without facing his son and that could make Stephen come to hate him for it. (The reason on the DVD extras)

    Congratulations to Gunn and Fred for introducing Connor to the ocean. There’s a whole other world underneath and now he has an idea.

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  5. [Note: G1000 posted this comment on August 28, 2010.]

    Loved this episode, though not as much as “Sleep Tight” or “Lullaby”. I don’t see Holtz as evil, frankly. He is what Angel made him, which makes him even more interesting and chilling as a “villain”.

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  6. [Note: Jonny posted this comment on December 12, 2010.]

    I have a problem re-watching all the teenage Connor episodes, part of it is the actor’s inability to convey the complexities of emotion he needs to show. I wish he could have pulled it off because his inability to act makes this and the season final less compelling for me. I’m also finding Cordelia much less interesting this season.

    I don’t have a problem with Connor overhearing Gunn and Fred on the beach – he HAS to overhear them for the story to move forward. What I have a problem with is the way Holtz sets it up (his death and Connor’s belief Angel killed him), not simply the mechanics of it but also the reasons behind it. Holtz already has his revenge on Angel, Connor loves him as his father. Isn’t this what Holtz wanted? To deprive Angel of Connor’s love as he was deprived of his son’s?

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  7. [Note: Wveth posted this comment on April 14, 2011.]

    Um, I always thought Holtz’s death looking like Angel bit him wasn’t his plan, but rather Justine’s who did it all on her own.

    Actually it all makes a lot more sense this way, and changes the view of Holtz… utterly.

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  8. [Note: Jared posted this comment on May 2, 2011.]

    I’m a bit confused by the ending of this episode, to be honest. I don’t understand why Holtz or Justine would pretend Angel attacked Holtz…?

    If it was Holtz’s idea, then why? It was his decision to let Connor go back to Angel because he learnt to love him like a real son and wanted what was best for him. He even said he already had revenge on Angel.

    So that leaves me assuming it was Justine’s doing… In which case, once again, why? She said she’d do anything for Holtz, isn’t going against his dying wishes the direct opposite of that? Plus, she doesn’t have any personal grudge against Angel anyway. Also, if it was her idea, then I don’t really undestand why Holtz wanted her to kill him by puncturing his neck… lol. But that can just be a case of plot convenience even if it is a bit odd.

    I hope all of this is addressed because at the moment I’m just slightly lost as to what the writers were trying to convey with this plot development. Just seems sloppy and like nobody thought it through.

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  9. [Note: Jared posted this comment on May 6, 2011.]

    Okay, well, ‘Deep Down’ clears my above questions up as everybody puts the blame on Holtz. Weak plot development there, and really makes Holtz an ultimately one dimensional character. A shame.

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  10. [Note: Keaton posted this comment on October 10, 2011.]

    Nice review indeed and I agree with most of it.

    But like G1000 I disagree on Holtz being evil, he is just a bitter old man who lost everything and has that obsession to free the world of Angelus. Angel could never make him believe that he wasn’t Angelus, he was convinced that he would turn evil again (quite reasonable as we all know) and he wasn’t able to just forgive him.

    It may be disturbing to see him welcoming the news that Angelus has a soul now as a chance to torture him back. But let’s be honest, do you really believe anyone can just accept that nobody was to blame for the horrible murders of his whole family and that the monster that did it was completely different to the man looking exactly like it.

    It’s easy for us to accept that but if I was in Holtz’s position I doubt that I could accept that as a fact.

    @ buffyholic:

    “btw, is it just me or do I find Cordelia very boring since she became a demon?”

    It’s not just you, everything about that was disappointing, they didn’t even know how to depict that “higher plane” she was in or what she was doing there. And all that glowing like a lamp, that was unimpressive too.

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  11. [Note: Keaton posted this comment on October 10, 2011.]

    Btw, I loved Holtz, best villain this far on Angel and not even evil. Reminds me of Willow in season 6 of Buffy.

    Too bad he is gone now. ;(

    Like

  12. [Note: SueB posted this comment on December 6, 2011.]

    I love your review. I now have to go read all of them! IA this is one of the best Angel episodes and I think VK does a fabulous job.

    The pain, the innocence, the anger…all wrapped up together in confusion. An epic episode IMO.

    Like

  13. [Note: Wveth posted this comment on July 22, 2013.]

    Holtz definitely set up his death to look like Angel did it. He wanted Connor to believe that he (Holtz) believed that he gave Angel his blessing as a father. He wanted Connor to think that Angel had deceived him.

    You can hear him say “again” to Justine after she stabs him the first time. Listen closely. Everything he did with Connor led up to this unbelievably perverse mind-screw.

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