Angel 5×02: Just Rewards

[Review by Jeremy Grayson]

[Writer: Ben Edlund (Story) and David Fury (Story and Teleplay) | Director: James A. Contner | Aired: 10/08/2003]

Where do you begin when talking about Spike? Introduced as a temporary villain in Buffy’s second season, he went on to become one of the show’s most interesting and well-developed characters. At times evil, tragic, and hilarious, Spike went through more changes than any of the others around him, and became a fan favorite along the way.

So it comes as little of a surprise that when Buffy completed its seven-year run, network heads requested that Spike be brought over to Angel. Who wouldn’t want to see more of our favorite platinum-haired vampire? There was just one problem, though: Spike had been killed off in the series finale of Buffy.

Well, I suppose it’s not such an issue. In the last scene of “Conviction” [5×01], just as Angel finishes telling his friends to be prepared for anything Wolfram & Hart may throw at them, Spike is suddenly resurrected before their very eyes. A dead character is reborn. And fans… rejoice?

Well, it’s hard to say. Spike’s story, for all purposes, reached a sense of closure with the Buffy finale. “Just Rewards” needs to come up with a heck of a reason to justify bringing him back for another round. Furthermore, for the sake of character continuity, it needs to follow up on his story arc from Buffy. Difficult tasks, to be sure. And unfortunately, the episode doesn’t fully succeed at either of them.

Before I really sink my teeth into this episode (pun not intended), I should probably clarify a point that you may have guessed from this review’s opening paragraph: I love Spike. He may be my all-time favorite Buffyverse character, with the possible exceptions of Anya and Wesley. His struggle for redemption, his undying love for Buffy, and his often painfully hilarious dialogue — all this and more add up to one truly amazing character, who became more and more fascinating as the show progressed.

But as soon as he moves over to Angel, Spike hits a wall.

For the last four seasons, Angel has been following its own path, and has been almost completely unrelated to its parent show. The occasional Buffy crossovers were primarily confined to single episodes, and served to progress the story and characters on Angel. So to suddenly bring a former Buffy character aboard, and to focus the entire episode almost exclusively on him, feels forced and at odds with what the show has given us in its earlier years. It doesn’t feel like Spike was brought in for the sake of the storyline – it just feels like he was brought in for the sake of Spike.

Furthermore, it appears the writers thought that Spike’s character arc was too large and complicated to carry over to Angel and explain to viewers. Although the basic facts of his past and recent history are stated up front, the prime goal here is not to utilize Spike for drama, but for comedy. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the comedy wasn’t used to deconstruct his actions in Buffy’s “Chosen” [7×22] and so obviously set him up as a foil for Angel.

The closest thing to an emotional issue the episode gives Spike to cope with is the sudden revelation that he has returned to life as a ghost. This unexpected twist gives us a brief shock, but within a few minutes, it is affirmed as a mere gimmick. Suddenly, Spike has a new problem to deal with. All the fascinating developments that we have watched him go through over six seasons of Buffy now become obsolete, giving way to the new problem of restoring Spike’s corporeality.

The most interesting moment in the show’s first act occurs during the verbal spat between Spike and Angel. Angel chose not to tell Gunn, Fred, and Wesley that Spike was given a soul. It’s easy to understand why they’re apprehensive of him. Already, Angel has made the questionable move of taking over Wolfram & Hart. Now, he’s held off crucial information from them about a presumably deadly vampire. He will only grow more secluded from his friends as the season progresses, especially after Fred’s death in “A Hole in the World” [5×15].

It’s no secret that Angel hated Spike when he was evil, but times have now changed, and Spike must be looked at from a considerably different perspective. Now, he does not need physical restraint, but merely tolerance. And tolerated he must be, because, thanks to one of the episode’s many gimmicks, he can’t leave Los Angeles. This detail only emphasizes the point that Spike is being forced into the show.

And soon Gunn, Fred, and Wesley – much like the viewers – are beginning to question whether Spike’s being around will do more harm than good, voicing their opinions to each other in hushed tones. As he was during much of the later seasons of Buffy, Spike is an outcast, with no allies to confide in. Harmony may offer sympathy and a chance to open up – clearly, she still has feelings for him – but Spike merely waves her off in annoyance. What little attraction he still has toward her is only physical, and he has no chance of acting upon it now.

Well, short on character insight “Just Rewards” may be, but as I’ve said before, it is certainly not devoid of comedy. In most situations, Spike would happily work his way out of a problem by beating something up. Here, though, he can only just walk around and make dry, sarcastic remarks. I’ll admit, some of these lines are pretty funny – particularly the ones he shares with a harried, hard-working Angel. It’s a nice, light-hearted change of pace for a show that often felt too dark and serious during its previous season.

Had “Just Rewards” kept this light, carefree tone for the duration of this run, then I could easily end this review by calling it a “fun little episode that’s short on depth but long on laughs”, and probably give it a decent, if unremarkable, score. Unfortunately, “Just Rewards” wants more than to be just a simplistic episode of “The Vampire Brothers Comedy Hour”, and halfway through, it takes an abruptly serious – and critical – turn.

Magnus Hainsley is not a terribly engaging villain, but his ability to transfer demon souls into human bodies has an eerie feel. Demons are easily recognized, and thus easily avoided, due to their strange colors and pointed horns, and taking away that recognition factor will present some fearful and imminent dangers. The problem lies with the concept’s development. Put simply, there is none. Instead, his operations are defeated rather quickly (albeit humorously; see “Pros” below) so that we can shift the focus onto – surprise! — more Spike. And here’s where the episode makes its biggest mistake.

Does Spike hate Angel? Sure. Does he enjoy tormenting him? Definitely. Does he hate being incorporeal? Signs point to yes. Would he be willing to kill Angel just to regain his corporeal form?

Hold on there. The evil, murderous Spike we once knew is a thing of the past. We saw what he went through over the course of Buffy. We saw him change from a fanged menace into a soulful hero. We even saw him save the world!

And don’t forget: By agreeing to Hainsley’s plan, Spike would be forced to spend the rest of his immortal life in Angel’s body. I doubt he’d be a big fan of that.

For much of its second half, “Just Rewards” toys with the idea of Spike returning to evil, before finally revealing that he in fact has been squeaky-clean all along. It’s not a very surprising twist, especially given the context. Why are we led to believe – twice – that Spike is faking someone out? We see his loyalties switch from Hainsley to Angel to Hainsley to Angel. The episode needlessly complicates itself and tries to pull the rug out from under us one too many times. Consequently, the final reveal comes off as weak.

Furthermore, it’s downright frustrating. Spike is faced with a moral crisis here, and we are cheated out of the chance to see it from his perspective. At several points, the episode wants us to buy into his inner conflict, but it keeps his genuine motives in the dark right up until the end. You can’t have it both ways, guys. I’m not a fan of Angelus’ return in Buffy’s “Enemies” , mostly because of the aggravating fake-out. That episode would have benefited from being told from Angel’s point of view; “Just Rewards” would have likewise been better off told from Spike’s.

In fact, the one scene where “Just Rewards” excels is the one which finally gives us a genuine glimpse into Spike’s inner turmoil. Realizing that his incorporeal existence is only temporary, and that he will soon cease to exist forever, would surely be enough to shock Spike out of his sarcastic demeanor. But even more shocking than this is the realization that he is being pulled not toward Heaven, but to Hell.

Spike has committed a number of minor heroic actions in the past, all leading up to his greatest act at the end of “Chosen”. His resurrection, one would assume, was a reprieve, granted by the Powers That Be as a reward for his heroism. But fate cruelly reminds us that Spike’s two or three years as a champion in no way compensate for the many, many decades he spent reveling in torture and slaughtering innocent victims. Now, he faces eternal punishment. Here, the episode does not lie to us. It tells us exactly what we don’t want to – and must – hear: Spike deserves to die.

Faced with this realization, we genuinely feel for Spike when he appears at Fred’s lab, begging, “Help me”. We’ve seen that he can change, and that he is willing to do so. Once he overcomes his incorporeal obstacle in “Destiny” [5×08], Spike’s story can truly begin.

Despite that great final scene, “Just Rewards” is glaringly flawed. It’s a character drama that doesn’t invest much drama into its character. It diverts all available attention from Spike to Angel, and even he can’t sustain interest throughout the episode, being played as the butt of Spike’s numerous wisecracks, and then as the butt of his plan to fool Hainsley. Angel’s best moments in the episode (apart from the aforementioned humorous banter with Spike) involve his stoic refusal to abide by Wolfram & Hart’s former policies. His adjustments to the firm’s policies are expected and unsurprising, but they get us wondering: Will the Senior Partners tolerate his changes to the firm? Or did they hire him with the full knowledge that he would begin making changes? Just what are they up to, anyway?

Season Five is only starting, so it’s no surprise that “Just Rewards” leaves these questions unanswered. A shame it couldn’t be a good enough episode on its own to compensate.


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Spike standing in middle of Angel’s desk.
+ Harmony’s disgusted reaction to learning that Spike was involved with Buffy.
+ Angel finding Spike inside his car. “I knew you’d choose the Viper.”
+ Angel defeating Hainsley through “legal” means.
+ Spike disappearing in middle of his mock phone call.
+ Spike continuing to beat Angel up even after Hainsley is killed.

– The inclusion of Spike’s death scene in “Chosen” is unnecessary. Plus, its emotional effect is cheapened by the sudden cut to his return.
– How does Spike sit in Angel’s chair? And prop his feet up on the desk? Something isn’t right there.
– Angel killing the butler with a spoon. Funny on paper, awkward on screen.


* Angel begins shutting down Wolfram & Hart’s more questionable divisions as a way of enforcing his new policy. He will soon take this a step further, as we see in “Harm’s Way” [5×09].
* Spike’s ignorance of Harmony will only last until he regains his corporeality in “Destiny” [5×08], when they will briefly renew their relationship.



18 thoughts on “Angel 5×02: Just Rewards”

  1. [Note: Iguana-on-a-stick posted this comment on October 13, 2012.]

    I remember that when I first watched this the fake-outs mostly made me concerned that the writers were going to completely ignore Spike’s character development over on Buffy and make him evil again. I doubt that was what they were going for.It can’t have been pleasant for them to get the character forced on them by the network, but you do a very good job of concisely pointing out just why this episode doesn’t work.


  2. [Note: fray-adjacent posted this comment on October 13, 2012.]

    Great review! I pretty much agree with everything you said and don’t have anything to add, so … great review! Also, I liked your point comparing this to “Enemies”. I think the “Enemies” fake-out works better than it does here, but it’s an interesting idea. This one defitely would have been better served to be from Spike POV.Your point about Spike spending eternity in Angel’s body made me laugh.


  3. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on October 14, 2012.]

    Good review. This is one of my least favorite episodes and one that I sometimes skip because I find it boring. It has its relevance(little) like you pointed out but I just find it boring to watch.


  4. [Note: Jeremy posted this comment on October 14, 2012.]

    Thanks for the feedback, all.

    Iguana: I think the writers thought we would think of Angel as an exception for Spike’s moral compass, since the two of them have always hated one another. I don’t accept this because, aside from the reasons I mentioned in the review, Spike’s attitude toward the situation is far too flippant and lighthearted (“I go in, and you go PHHHT!”). A serious situation needs a serious characterization, and that’s not what we get here. It just felt too harsh and out of character.

    I actually do enjoy Spike’s presence in this season beginning with “Destiny”. Before that, he just comes off as forced and unnecesary.(Well, except in “Hell Bound”.)


  5. [Note: Alex posted this comment on October 15, 2012.]

    Great work, Jeremy. I also agree with everything you say here. I’ve always said that I enjoy Spike’s presence on this show, but I don’t really like the fact that he’s there in the first place, if that makes sense.You make a very good point about Spike’s ‘ghosties’ being used as a distraction from all the development he went through in Buffy Season 7. If he hadn’t come back as a ghost, then we would have had to seriously consider the fallout from “Chosen” and what it means for Spike as a character – probably a pretty daunting task for the writers. But because he has all these restrictions imposed upon him as a ghost, he’s just relegated to making amusing quips and annoying Angel all the time while vaguely hoping to get his body back.And then once he’s got his body back… well, by then he’s an established part of the group and we’ve all forgotten about all that Buffy nonsense. It hadn’t really occurred to me that that’s what the writers were doing here, but now you’ve pointed it out it seems so very obvious.


  6. [Note: SueB posted this comment on October 16, 2012.]

    “Hi my name is SueB and I’m a pushover for snarky Spike.” “Hi SueB”**says the snarky Spike support group** So, yeah, this episode has issues but snarky Spike is like M&Ms for me. I just keep wanting more. It allows me to ignore logic issues. And while I like Spike a great deal, he’s not my favorite character so I’m not protective of him. So, using him for comic relief doesn’t bother me too much. Bottom line: I laughed a lot in this episode so I found it more enjoyable than the D+ score. But I can absolutely appreciate that my tastes in this subject are not everyone’s as, again, this is a favorite candy of mine.


  7. [Note: Jeremy posted this comment on October 16, 2012.]

    SueB: I kind of liked this episode the first time I saw it, mostly because of snarky Spike. Actually, I went into this review with the hope of giving it a higher score. (Maybe something in the “C” range.) But my critical side just got the best of me.

    Alex said:”I’ve always said that I enjoy Spike’s presence on this show, but I don’t really like the fact that he’s there in the first place, if that makes sense.”

    It makes perfect sense. I should know — I feel the same way. Spike has some entertaining moments later in the season, but I don’t think he works very well as comic relief, what with Harmony already filling that position.


  8. [Note: Dave posted this comment on November 9, 2012.]

    Agreed on all counts with Spike appearing on the show. It’s forced, but also welcome. Really — and note, I place intense emphasis on this — REALLY should have shown so much more emotional detachment, or typical Spike-fashion determination to find Buffy. I mean, she’s just told him she loved him.And that is why I feel Spike is completely forced. It’s as though his character progression is halted. It’s addressed later, I know, but Spike, even after gaining his soul, is the definition of impulsive.


  9. [Note: Dave posted this comment on November 22, 2012.]

    Also wanted to note how much I loved Hainsley. He had that freaky way of switching from a friendly, sympathetic attitude to being cold and hard with a second’s notice.


  10. [Note: Biogirl posted this comment on August 13, 2013.]

    Minor pros I’d have to add:

    – The Mexican wrester guy casually wheeling the mail cart.
    – I love the scene where Angel & Spike idealize the other person’s life while ignoring all the crappy parts.

    Angel “What is your problem?”

    Spike “You are, you ponce. You’re my problem, you got it too good” “You’re king of a 30 floor castle with all the cars, comfort, power and glory you could ever want. And here, I save the world. Throw myself on the proverbial hand grenade for love honor and all the right reasons and what do I get? Bloody well toasted and ghosted is what I get, isn’t it. It’s just not fair.”

    Angel “Fair? You asked for a soul. I didn’t It almost killed me. I spend a hundred years tryin’ to come to terms with infinite remorse. You spent three weeks moaning in a basement, and then you were fine. What’s fair about that?”

    DB’s delivery is so great.


  11. [Note: Blondie Bear posted this comment on April 3, 2014.]

    Okay so as someone else mentioned above, Spike–but not only Spike, Spangel–the two of them together, are like M&Ms to me. I just love the whole dynamic and all the tension that these 2 characters have, Angel and Spike are extremely different, but they have this one thing that’s similar–an understanding of what it means, having a soul. They both went from evil to good, it’s interesting, not to mention utterly hilarious and just pure character gold to watch the whole Spike-Angel dynamic, considering all the history that they have. It just makes for great scenes and storylines, don’t you think?

    However, I find myself seriously debating whether it was a good move of them to force Spike onto Angel S5, not that I don’t love me some Snarky Spike, but… I really felt like we got closure for his character on BTVS S7, especially with him saving the world and whatnot, we got closure and we got an, amazing, well rounded character. By bringing him onto Angel, and threatening to steal the spotlight from our beloved Angel, we began to wonder whether this puts all his character development that he had on Buffy in danger? I just would hate to see such a well done character get spoiled on another show–just for the sake of ratings and popularity. Okay, don’t start throwing tomatoes at me, I don’t know why or for what’s sake they both Spike onto the show–and I don’t even necessarily have a problem with it–I love Spike, if it isn’t obvious, and I know it works out by the end of the season (everyone keeps telling me the last few episodes of AtS S5 are great), but does it bother me a little? Yes.
    Also, I hate to admit, but a whole lot of Spike’s development as a character was because of Buffy, and now, him being alive and well, talking about hitting on Fred, and even having sex with Harmony later, it all just feels wrong in some way, and also disappointing. She just told him she loved him! And once he gets his body back he just forgets about all that? Hard to believe, that’s all. Still, I think JM was a great addition to the show, AtS needed that little swing, and some relief from the extreme blunder that was Season 4.


  12. [Note: LouisLittForEmperor posted this comment on January 7, 2016.]

    I wonder if anyone is aware of when exactly the decision was made to have Spike on Angel. A part of me wants to say it was after Season 7 wrapped up since they might have ended it differently otherwise but the Angel scene in Chosen really alludes to the situation the two find themselves in here (it’s probably the best reason for Angel to be in Buffy this late in the game actually even if I don’t mind it as much as some others do).


  13. [Note: LouisLittForEmperor posted this comment on January 7, 2016.]

    I can see that that would have been the idea at some point but I’m curious whether they knew that Charisma was leaving before or after the Spike decision.


  14. [Note: OffHandComment posted this comment on January 26, 2016.]


    A cool site 😉 I am bit late only catching the Whedonverse on Netflix.

    The review of this episode is quite good, but I would like to offer a counter to the Spike “forced” entry.

    The fact that Angels team were not aware that Spike a) was ensouled b) was a hero c) dated Buffy, sets up a nice dynamic. Everyone else remember Angel as “dark and brooding”. Well Spike is “Light and Cynically Optimistic”.

    Spike irritates Angel to make some very funny interactions. Angel comes off as taking himself entirely too seriously. Spike (correctly) points out that Angel has been seduced as a “chairman of the boring”, and “what would a certain slayer think?”.

    The whole adventure with the necromancer was perhaps just a plot device to give Angel some reflection. For example, Angel mentions “they gave me the amulet…”, and so who was supposed to have it? Wesley begins to say “and maybe he is…” and gets interrupted.

    And Spike calling Angel “Captain Forehead” – Priceless!!!

    One more quote:
    Angel “I’m from Wolfram and Hart”.
    Spike “I’m his date.”.


  15. [Note: Jeremy G. posted this comment on January 26, 2016.]

    Thanks for the (offhand!) comment. And I agree, there are some very funny moments in this episode, thanks to the Spike/Angel interaction. In the long run, I’m glad they brought him onto the show, despite my problems with his introduction.

    This was actually my very first review for this site, and I’ve since written about a hundred more. It feels strange to look back on it now and see how my critical approach has changed over the last few years.


  16. [Note: Flamepillar112 posted this comment on August 14, 2016.]

    It’s funny that you reviewed this Jeremy, because the shot in which Gunn informs Wesley of Magnus Hainsley looks ripped right out of the west wing.

    Anyway I enjoyed this episode just like I do most episodes in the first half of season five, but as you stated, there’s very little under the surface. Honestly in a full series watching context, I just needed a break from the unrelenting darkness of season four.


  17. “And soon Gunn, Fred, and Wesley – much like the viewers – are beginning to question whether Spike’s being around will do more harm than good, ”

    Not this viewer. It’s very simple for me. Me like Spike. Spike on show now. Me happy. Very simple.

    Spike doesn’t deserve to die or go to Hell. He committed all of his atrocities while soulless. Now he has a soul.

    It makes me question whether Angel and Spike are really even responsible for their past wrongs. They didn’t want to become vampires, and in this universe, once you’re a vampire, you simply don’t know right or wrong. How are ensouled Angel and ensouled Spike culpable?

    Eve told Angel last episode that he could shut down the LA branch of W & H if he wanted, so apparently the Senior Partners aren’t concerned about whatever Angel might do. Although I do have to wonder about maintaining the company’s income. Hainsley was said to be a big client. You can’t keep throwing big-paying clients away without replacing the income somehow.


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