Angel 5×04: Hell Bound

[Review by Mike Marinaro]

[Writer: Steven S. DeKnight | Director: Steven S. DeKnight | Aired: 10/22/2003]

If the past has been any indication, most of the episodes of Buffy and Angel that I remembered being kind of awesome remained kind of awesome after I looked closer – in some cases, they became even more awesome. This was the setup going into “Hell Bound,” arguably (see [“5×02]) the very first Spike-centered Angel episode. Sadly, it didn’t end well. I still maintain that this is a generally entertaining and creepy little episode, but what I’ve come to realize is that there’s not much more going on beyond this. A struggle to survive under the analyst’s knife is now the life it faces.

I think the root problem of “Hell Bound” boils down to the fact that in an episode entirely about Spike, we really learn nothing new about him. Spike had a ridiculously glorious run over on Buffy, and by the end of it was a very complex multi-faceted character. Bringing such a rich character onto a new show is bound to have its challenges, but early in Season 5 I can’t help but feel Angel fails at not only picking up where Buffy left off, but even more so at moving Spike forward. I absolutely loved the character of Spike by the time “Chosen” rolled around (although I had always enjoyed his presence), but let me be frank: he should have stayed dead. Those of you that have been following my reviews for years know very well I tend to frown upon the resurrection of dead characters. If you’re going to do it, then you’re going to have work damn hard to earn it or it comes across as a cheap fake-out and/or a ratings grab. Whereas Season 6 of Buffy earned what happened, Angel Season 5 does not – Spike being stuck as a ghost for a while is not much of a price for freaking body/soul reconstruction. At best Spike’s resurrection on Angel is a desperate ratings grab, and at worst it’s artistic sloppiness.

Now, with my distaste out of the way, I will point out that Spike’s presence throughout the season is generally an entertaining addition; although, it’s only rarely one that does the character much justice. In theory, Spike fits into the whole core of redemptive themes swirling around the show quite well. In practice, though, not nearly enough use is made of him outside of (admittedly hilarious “wee little puppet man” type) comic relief. “Hell Bound” is one of the worst offenders in avoiding Spike’s inherent complexity, instead parading the Cliff Notes version of his story to us for what the writers seem to precariously think is a ‘new audience’ for the character. I’m sure Spike would come off better here had I not seen much or any of Buffy, but as it stands, everything feels overly simplified.

The result of this over-simplification is that “Hell Bound” is more intent on telling us things about Spike we already know rather than offering new insight into his state of being, or evolving him into something new. This is not to say that “Hell Bound” is an awful episode – it’s not. I still enjoyed it quite a bit, albeit from a more from a casual, disengaged perspective. Yet despite its passing pleasures, it never actually satisfies. It does have at least a few revealing moments that pertain to the season as a whole, but these moments all center on Angel.

Angel has a talk with Fred about quarterly projections, which works its way to being a discussion about the value of saving Spike. First off, it’s interesting how quickly the good-times vibe Angel seemed to have in “Unleashed” [5×03] has disappeared. This is the first episode in Season 5 where he really felt like a corporate shill. I know he has absolutely no fondness for Spike and couldn’t care less about his future, but his tone to Fred was notably stern and a little condescending. It was nice to see her stand up for herself and show that, even if she might be having a little fun with Spike’s charms, she’s not crushing over him like a crazed fangir… err… schoolgirl – she simply knows it is right to help him.

This growing lack of motivation reflects Angel’s blasé attitude towards redemption and damnation, which is certainly a seedling for “Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco” [5×06] and, of course, his arc throughout the season. The one slightly meaty scene in the episode takes place between him and Spike on this very issue, in which he answers Spike’s question of “then why even bother?” with “what else are we gonna do?” Inspiring stuff, huh?

Spike’s so desperate for a connection in this new environment that he actually turns to Angel for a little casual conversation. It’s interesting that Angel still isn’t quite sure how he got out of the hell Buffy sent him to in Buffy‘s “Becoming Pt. 2.” Is this comment maybe a little nod to fans who have wondered about that? In “Amends” it was implied that the First Evil brought him back so that he could kill Buffy, but maybe it was just taking credit for whatever did (Powers That Be? Patrick Swayze?). It would have actually been nice if a bigger deal was made about that at the time, actually, and it’s interesting it’s brought up again here.

The bitter comedy between Angel and Spike this season is definitely a highlight, as we can see on display already here. At times it almost makes me think it was worth bringing Spike back, even though I know it wasn’t. I also love how, in the beginning of the episode, most of the ‘evil manifestations’ that appear to Spike seem to be pulling him down to the basement, which quite fittingly represents a place of fairly recent insanity for Spike and a nice little nod to Season 7 of Buffy. It’s just a shame that all the barbs Pavayne throws at Spike about his past self-discoveries aren’t anything we don’t already know, and even sillier is that they’re all things Spike already knows! So beyond enjoying the fun ghost fight, what’s in it for the viewer?

Even despite all my character qualms with “Hell Bound,” I still get quite a thrill when Spike takes control of the ghostly plane and starts beating on Pavayne. Although Spike’s choice to re-materialize Pavayne instead of himself is no surprise to those of us who watched Season 7 of Buffy, it’s still a nice re-affirmation of what this soulful Spike is all about. This is also an important realization for the rest of the characters, particularly Angel; the realization that, hey, this Spike guy really does give a #### nowadays.

To wrap this one up I’ll just say that I casually enjoyed most of “Hell Bound,” but its simplistic character display and occasionally sluggish pace just guts any staying power it has for me. Of the themes that are briefly touched on, none of them are exactly new or revelatory – not even within the confines of the first three episodes of Season 5. This is definitely filler material at work, but at least it is palatable filler.


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Fred not being remotely scared by Spike’s attempt to give her a little spook. This reminds me of his attempt to scare Anya into giving him money in Season 4 of Buffy.
+ The finger sawing scene in the basement: definitely creepy.
+ Eve actually scaring Fred from behind. I can understand the sentiment.
+ The lady with her arms chopped off begging Spike to hold her is yet another genuinely creepy image.
+ The mystic spitting blood onto Fred (see the Foreshadowing section) is yet another creepy image the episode can add to its list.
+ The shower scene where Spike figures out he can touch things if he concentrates hard enough. It’s just kind of fun while maintaining that creepy vibe.
+ Fred running out of whiteboard space. Oh how I know the feeling.
+ That final chilling shot of Pavayne being locked up in stasis for eternity. That might be worse than hell itself.

– If Spike can’t touch anything, how can he sit on a couch? I suppose I can hand-wave it as just ‘appearing’ to sit on a couch, except for the fact that the couch itself is clearly moving. Gotta love ghost logic!
– The third ‘evil manifestation’ in the basement is far less effective. The silly singing with the glass in the eye strikes me as cheesy rather than creepy. From this point on, they overuse a couple of the stock manifestations too.
– I’m not remotely aware of why the Conduit would so casually help Gunn and Angel. I don’t see any particularly reason why it would want Spike re-corporealized, or care at all. Maybe they knew Pavayne would be the one, not Spike?


* While Fred passes Lorne in the hallway you hear him saying if he can’t straighten out an entertainment deal, he’ll take the pills meant for a client himself. This subtly hints at his impending breakdown in “Life of the Party” [5×05].
* Fred takes Wesley’s comment, “dinner,” as if he were asking her out. Her hesitation really hints at a complete disinterest in him romantically. Yet, come “Smile Time” [5×14], all that abruptly changes for no reason. Can I call this anti-foreshadowing?
* The mystic spitting blood onto Fred’s face is a (likely very unintentional) hint of the fact that she will die this season, as Fred does the same later in the season (onto Wesley… who also dies this season. Hmm… I’m sensing a pattern involving spat blood. Yay?).



19 thoughts on “Angel 5×04: Hell Bound”

  1. [Note: StakeandCheese posted this comment on April 24, 2012.]

    I don’t mind this episode for one reason:

    You’ll never take me to hell Pevane!

    That’s just something I say when it gets dark


  2. [Note: smallprint84 posted this comment on April 25, 2012.]

    A little spelling correction: It’s Pavayne.

    I did find this a creepy and entertaining ep. but nothing more.

    Especially the finger chopping scene.


  3. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on April 25, 2012.]

    This review exemplifies my thoughts exactly. Good episode and a bit creepy, but nothing else. Although I like this episode more with each rewatch, I find it to be a very weak episode in this season.


  4. [Note: Brachen Man posted this comment on April 25, 2012.]

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen “Hell Bound”, but I remember liking it quite a bit. It had the inventive Wolfram & Hart ghost story, Spike being selfless when he re-materializes Pavayne, and the brilliant conversation he has with Angel, which is one of my favorite moment of the season. It’s possible that it won’t fare as well upon rewatch though.

    One thing I do have to outright disagree with you on is the resurrection of Spike being a bad thing. It wasn’t just a ratings stunt. His presence is more than justified by episodes like “Destiny”, “Soul Purpose”, and “Damage”, which give him a genuine character arc that felt like a natural progression from “Chosen”.


  5. [Note: Alex posted this comment on April 25, 2012.]

    Good job, Mike!

    I agree with your overall impression of the episode, although like Brachen Man I disagree about Spike’s resurrection being a bad thing. I have a much bigger problem with his actual death-by-amulet than with his resurrection. If the amulet had been introduced properly rather than thrown in as a bit of deus ex machina, then I think his resurrection could have made much more sense. I guess the writers were simultaneously trying to give him a worthy death on BtVS while simultaneously trying to set up a new spot on AtS, which was never going to work particularly well.

    I also think that you’re reviewing the episode from the perspective of a seasoned BtVS fan, which of course many of its viewers will be, but I think it’s a little unfair to look at it purely from that perspective. Yes, they tell us a lot of stuff that BtVS viewers already know, but this isn’t BtVS and it wouldn’t be fair to assume that everyone watching this is already familiar with Spike as a character. By Season 5 I think the show had really moved away from just being a spin-off and become a series in its own right, and just bringing in Spike and saying ‘hey look everyone, it’s Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer! You all remember Spike, right?’ would have been a bit of an insult, both to the audience and to the show itself.

    I also think part of the reason for moving the gang to W&H was to try and draw in some new viewers, and as part of that they’re going to need to make people care about Spike all over again. I’m not sure if this episode actually succeeds at that, but I also don’t think they should have gone diving in with some brand new character development without first introducing him properly here.

    Basically, I think the writers had an extremely difficult job to do here, and although I don’t think the execution’s perfect, I think they did pretty well.


  6. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on April 25, 2012.]

    From what I remember reading on the matter, moving Spike over to Angel largely stemmed from the network as a condition — along with a pay cut — to getting a fifth season. They wanted to bring Spike’s popularity over to Angel to increase ratings. Between that motive for the move and the general sloppiness and cheapness in everything surrounding the amulet, it all leaves a pretty bitter taste in my mouth.

    I agree with Brachen that Spike gets some decent stuff to do in the middle of the season, and I do enjoy those moments, but he’s not remotely an important cog in the season and mostly feels there for comic relief. It’s all not nearly enough to justify resurrection. Either they shouldn’t have killed him in “Chosen” or they shouldn’t have resurrected him here. I don’t mind the fact that he plays a back seat to the established Angel characters in of itself; it’s more that they resurrected the guy just to have him take a back seat. It’s the latter part that makes it frustrating for me.

    Just let the character rest, and do something useful with your underutilized existing cast, like poor Lorne!


  7. [Note: Iguana-on-a-stick posted this comment on April 25, 2012.]

    I’m of two minds on the Spike question. I do not think his presence in season 5 of “Angel” was without merit, but I’m not sure said merit is enough to justify his return.

    Let’s start with the good bits. Firstly, season 5 explored his relationship with Angel, who had always been a very important part of his character make-up and a formative influence in his early years. This was established as early as “School Hard” and stressed again in “Fool for Love” and mentioned at plenty other points in the series, but we’d never seen them interact much after season 2. It was definitely a part of his character-arc that needed more closure than “you have Angel-breath.” (Have I ever mentioned how much I detest that particular crossover?)

    In season 2 both were soulless and Spike at least remembered Angel with some fondness, yet their relationship quickly broke down completely to the point where Spike betrayed Angel. (And rightfully so, I might add. I love that scene where he smacks Angel with that crowbar.)

    Now in “Angel” season 5 they start out at a place of mutual disgust and annoyance, fuelled once again in part by rivalry over a woman, yet by the end of the season they manage to re-build their relationship on a much more equal basis with genuine mutual respect, recognising that for all their differences they’re in it for the same reasons and fighting for the same side. Full circle. I appreciate things like that. It definitely adds to Spike’s long-term arc.

    Secondly, the season allows Spike to define himself and his newly souled stature without it being in relation to Buffy. He first went in search of it to give Buffy “what she deserved.” Season 7 saw him trying to make good on that, and I think he succeeded. But it wasn’t the whole story. He also needed to figure out who he was in a vacuum. “Angel” gave him that. A clean slate as it were. For the first time in his life Spike wasn’t defining himself as someone’s lover or protector.

    Now, all that said… I’m not sure this amounts to sufficient justification for bringing him back. Mostly because season 5 spent a lot of wasted screen-time on Spike. The development I outlined above in many ways came too little, too late. First he spent a dozen or more episodes snarking pointlessly and making silly jokes. In many ways it felt like the “Angel” writers had a hard time figuring out what to do with him.

    I agree that it would have been better to leave out the amulet nonsense altogether. Maybe it was a thematically fitting end to his arc on “Buffy,” but it didn’t make much sense plot-wise and if you take his immediate resurrection into account the thematic value evaporates anyway.

    But anyway, good review. You put the finger on what annoys me in this episode: it doesn’t do anything new. I mean, even in the context of “Angel” this one is largely re-treading “Just Rewards.” We’d already seen Spike sacrifice his chance at re-corporealisation in the name of doing the right thing at the end of that one. Season 5 actually suffers from this a lot. “Soul Purpose” and “Cautionary Tale” and “You’re Welcome” pretty much all have the same message. The rivalry between Angel and Spike was explored very well in “Destiny” but then made a very unwelcome return-visit in “The Girl in Question.” Have I missed anything?

    Oh, and thanks for the anti-Fred&Wes foreshadowing. I was rather blind-sided by how that developed and I knew there was a reason I had this distinct impression Fred wasn’t interested this season, but I’d forgotten why.


  8. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on April 26, 2012.]

    I also have mixed feelings on Spike this season. I just feel he´s wasted mostly in the first half of the season but I like to watch him with Angel even though they sometimes act like brats.


  9. [Note: VeloxMortis posted this comment on April 26, 2012.]

    I hate the early season 5 Angel, with this entire theme on redemption, why does he insist on hating on Spike, not just hating him, condemning him, it just seems out of character. He helped and forgave Faith, even though he knew how bad she was, and she tried to kill Buffy, why does he hang onto Spike like this when he knows he saved the world?


  10. [Note: Alex posted this comment on April 27, 2012.]

    Iguana, I think you’ve summed up my exact feelings on this. I like Spike being there, and I’m glad he’s there because I enjoy watching him, but a character’s popularity shouldn’t be the only reason for their continued presence and/or resurrection on a show. Some of my favourite shows have been ones which killed off very popular characters, despite protests from the viewers, because those deaths were important for the story.

    Of course a character’s popularity will always partially influence how long they get to stick around, and it’s great to see minor characters work their way up the ladder and get invited back when they prove popular with viewers. But when starts influencing the really big plot points then it’s always a little disappointing, and usually makes me think less of the show. I guess I’d sum it up by saying I like Spike being there, but I don’t like that he’s there… if that makes any kind of sense.

    You make a very good point about Season 5 repeating itself, too. I hadn’t really thought about how many episodes rake over the same points, but it’s very true. That kind of explains why I always feel like so many of the other characters were neglected in this season, but can’t figure out what was so important that it pushed them out of the limelight.

    Mike, you’re so right about poor Lorne. Even in his kind-of-centric episode, Life of the Party, he’s not really the centre of attention. As I remember it, that episode spends a lot more time focussing on his affect on the other characters than actually doing anything meaningful with Lorne himself. Much as I like Lorne, I do find myself wishing he’d left before this season. If Whedon could justify losing Fred by saying that he didn’t know what else to do with her character, then I don’t know why the same didn’t apply to Lorne.

    VeloxMortis, I think that Angel is pretty unlikeable for most of this season, and I’m not sure whether or not it’s deliberate. I feel the same way about the way he treats Harmony. It really annoys me that he never gives her any credit for all the effort she’s made to be one of the good guys, and that he generally just treats her with contempt. Angel is a crappy boss!


  11. [Note: wytchcroft posted this comment on June 1, 2012.]

    I’ve been catching up on your reviews for S5; i would like to know how you rate Damage because the episode here (hellbound) works for me as part of the Spike arc – which kinda peaks in Damage and Destiny.

    All in all, I’d score it higher but, as so often, you present such a fine and detailed review that i have no interest in trying to refute your opinions. Just keep them coming! :))


  12. [Note: alfridito017 posted this comment on June 3, 2012.]

    This doesn’t relate to the review but I hope there are more reviews soon. I’m itching for more and good job on the review.


  13. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on June 3, 2012.]

    Thanks! There should be some more reviews, both by me and others, popping up over the next few months. I know it’s a bit of a wait, but they will eventually show up. 😀


  14. [Note: wytchcroft posted this comment on June 10, 2012.]

    i don’t think Spike is superfluous to the season nor is this episode which is the first real exploration of Spike & Angel eventually going to Hell (to burn). This is an explicit theme that is crucial to the season and its climax; the knowledge that their death will not take them to the happy palace shades their heroism and renders their actions as even more selfless. Atonement over forgiveness.

    Spike (who does not spend ‘over a dozen'(!) episodes doing nothing) mirrors Angel darkly and they both learn from each other; first Angel, (Soul purpose, destiny, you’re welcome) and then Spike (from Damage to You’re Welcome and on till Hole in the World) whose mini arc ‘on the streets’ (ala Angel S1) is hilarious but also serves the characters. Even episode two shows how he and Angel can team effectively as ‘white hats’, and this a new element for their relationship. Spike snark never harmed Buffy 4 and his insights are generally accurate in Angel as elsewhere.

    While i strongly agree that Lorne and Gunn are at times underused (esp. Lorne) it is more the fault of the W&H setting than the development of Spike.

    Lastly, as Whedon points out, Marsters forces DB to come up on his game which, frankly, season 4…? So it’s a good thing Spike came along as, in consequence, DB gives some of his best performances during the final season..


  15. [Note: wytchcroft posted this comment on June 10, 2012.]

    apologies – not my best editing job. hope it made sense!

    and i sound more dogmatic than i meant to as well. 😦


  16. [Note: Sue-bob posted this comment on September 16, 2012.]

    Although Spike is easily one of my favourite characters in the Angel & Buffy universe, I would have preferred he’d stayed dead at the end of BtVS.

    – When I watched these Angel eps I really felt the lack of warmth and/or connection between the other regular characters. It’s only been through these review that I’ve realised how little the other characters are given to do this season. I don’t think that Spike took up valuable time, instead I think that having him distracted the writers from delving into the others (and therefore making more for them to constructively do).

    -On Angel, I felt Spike was sometimes portrayed very out of character (with the writers seeing him as glib-funny-guy and disregarding other aspects of his character).

    – As someone who also watched BtVS, I couldn’t buy the reasons Ats gave us as to why Spike would hang around once corporealised. His character as shown on BtVS would have just relentlessly pursued Buffy to wherever she was. I know they just wanted to have Spike on the show and that was the real reason he stuck around but they could have shown real character growth by demonstrating a believable reason why he’d stay. (The Fred metamorphosis almost does it for me and could have with more depth, but the not wanting to spoil the going-out-in-a-blaze-of-glory-thing really doesn’t).

    (That I don’t find him staying to be beliveable, slightly damages my enjoyment of BtvS season 7)


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

    HUGE plus for me was Spike freaking out at the ghosts. Chillingly reminiscent of his talking to the first evil.


  18. [Note: Doyden posted this comment on June 11, 2016.]

    I have only recently watched series 5 of Angel ,and that was because of spikes presence.I was disappointed with how the character was used but can’t say I am sorry he was resurected.I am glad he still exists out there in the buffyverse.


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