Angel 5×10: Soul Purpose

[Review by Jeremy Grayson]

[Writer: Brent Fletcher | Director: David Boreanaz | Aired: 01/21/2004]

Eyeing the numerous cryptic dream sequences scattered throughout “Soul Purpose”, one could hardly be faulted for thinking of the classic Buffy episode “Restless”. Nevertheless, “Soul Purpose” is most distinctly an Angel episode, one which fits well with the stretch of episodes that preceded it. This is not to say that it’s a great episode, but rather to note that it fits into its niche, containing many of the merits – as well as the flaws – that can be seen throughout much of the first half of Season Five.

The episode can be seen as an inauguration of sorts, as it’s the first television script Brent Fletcher ever wrote. It’s also the first TV episode that David Boreanaz ever directed (though I think he may have been involved with the show beforehand). I’m tempted to cut this episode a bit of slack for that reason, since initial attempts are usually hard to come by. Then again, Whedon’s writers are usually able to hit the ground running – look at the amazing job Drew Goddard did on his first-ever TV episode, “Selfless”.

And “Soul Purpose” is not unworthy of commendation. There is, for one thing, the clever way in which it succeeds in developing Spike. Now once again corporeal, free of the Initiative’s chip, and no longer suffering from the effects of his soul, Spike is finally capable of being his own man. But that quickly changes when he’s approached by a newly-returned Lindsey.

The driving force of the Spike storyline clearly parallels Angel’s story in “City of” [1×01]. A vampire alone in L.A., having recently left the Slayer he loved dearly, is now fearful of returning to her. He’s approached by a man introduced as Doyle, who receives head-splitting “visions” of people in danger, with a proposal to become a helper of the helpless.

It’s an intriguing step for the writers to take with Spike, whose acts of heroism in the past were primarily borne out of his love for Buffy. But Buffy is nowhere to be seen in this episode. (Well, except for a brief moment where… you know, I’d rather not talk about it.) So the question lingers: Can Spike fight evil… purely for good?

Given how much Spike changed over the course of Buffy, another shift in his moral outlook doesn’t come as too surprising. And his decision to become a defender of the night is helped along by the prospect that by doing so, he’s in fact flaunting his goodwill in the face his arch-rival. Angel is now running what Spike feels to be an unchangeably evil law firm, so why not take the opportunity to give the nancy-boy vampire a lesson in heroism? (The effects of “Destiny” [5×08] can’t be ignored here, either. Although the Cup of Perpetual Torment was ultimately a fake-out, Spike’s physical victory has still left him feeling morally superior to Angel.)

Angel, meanwhile, has his own issues to cope with this episode. Troubled by the prospect that he may not in fact be the ensouled vampire the Prophecy is referring to, Angel has begun to have serious doubts about his current position at Wolfram & Hart. When Wesley and Gunn bring a group of warlocks to his attention, Angel brushes past the legal ramifications involved in the situation and simply states, “Let’s kill ‘em all.” His frustrations, compounded with the sudden fear that he lacks a higher purpose, have made him long for the simple days of yesteryear when fighting evil didn’t involve filing paperwork.

Such troubles will be more directly addressed in later episodes of the season. “Soul Purpose” concentrates more on Angel’s personal concern that he is no longer “relevant”. Having been beaten – in his mind, decisively – by Spike in their fight from “Destiny” [5×08], Angel is subconsciously concerned that he has no purpose in the grand scheme of things. These concerns manifest themselves in the form of haunting, cryptic dream sequences which plague him throughout the episode. And it’s these dream sequences that present “Soul Purpose” with its biggest hurdle.

Enigmatic dream sequences are tricky narrative devices. If handled well, they can impart information to the viewer, subtly and informally, without actually spoiling any future developments of the series. More cleverly, they can give us a glimpse into the mind of the dreamer, providing us with a rich milieu of suppressed thoughts and unspoken desires, drawing upon the character’s past experiences without actually invoking them. If not handled well, they can serve as convenient plot devices for the writers to unburden some information while side-stepping the need for actual exposition, or – in the worst of cases – they can just come off as muddled psychobabble.

Buffy succeeded wildly at creating a “dream-sequence” episode with the ingeniously crafted “Restless”. That episode worked not only due to the way in which it quietly laid groundwork for several of the developments the later seasons would herald, but because it immersed its characters in a vivid dreamlike reality, so tangible within its extremities that watching it felt like an otherworldly experience. Although very little of the episode featured the real-world characters interacting with one another, their subconscious conversations spoke immeasurable volumes.

“Soul Purpose” doesn’t have nearly the same depth or ingenuity that “Restless” did. (Though in its defense, what does?) Its dream sequences are lucid and more concrete, which means the goings-on are not as immersive, but which gives them a sense of likability and fun. Angel’s dreams are pretty amusing to watch, as they throw a refreshing light on some rather dark material.

The problem is that they don’t tell us much of anything that we don’t already know about him. Much of the hallucinatory material stems from Angel’s own feelings of inferiority towards Spike. This issue was brought to the surface at the end of “Destiny” [5×08], and “Soul Purpose” only restates Angel’s problem, albeit with greater emphasis. Unfortunately, nothing that occurs in this episode’s dream sequences is quite as affecting as the moment two episodes ago when Angel asked, “What if it means that… I’m not the one?”

Take, for example, the fantasy which occurs at the start of the third act, in which Spike is rewarded for averting the Apocalypse by being turned into a human, while Angel can only watch the celebration dejectedly from the sidelines. The scene plays out as parody, lampooning many aspects of the Prophecy as it was first established in “To Shanshu in LA” [1×22]: the world is depicted as a crystalline, Disneyfied utopia, and Spike receives his gift through the magical dust of a Blue Fairy. It’s amusing stuff, but it’s not especially relevant, although Angel shown pushing a mail cart draws a nice parallel to the titular has-been hero from “Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco” [5×06].

The other issue with the dream sequences is that at times, their strangeness serves as nothing more than pure strangeness. The segment where Fred cuts open Angel’s chest and begins removing his innards is pretty creepy and discomforting, and some humorous callbacks are made regarding some of the things she pulls out. (“There’s your heart! Hey, whaddaya know? It is a dried-up little walnut.”) But pretty soon, the scene tips entirely into bizarre territory, as Fred starts pulling out beads, raisins, and a rusty old license plate. And to top it all off, she hands Angel’s “soul” (a bowl with a dead goldfish) to a friggin’ bear. At this point, I half-expected the Cheese Man to pop out of Angel’s chest.

So the dream sequences are more than a little redundant, and there’s not a whole lot to explore in them. They are, however, quite entertaining, thanks to clever visuals and some good humor on the part of the actors. (I crack up every single time Wesley points emphatically at Spike and proclaims, “Yes! Your reward!”) I only wish, though, that they had been instilled with a little more seriousness, the better to heighten the suspense. Unfortunately, some of the suspense actually seems to slacken in the later acts – the quick cutaway the episode does after Lorne (or “Honky-Tonk”) does a spit take strikes me as a sign that even the show itself was getting tired of the tongue-in-cheek fantasies.

So it’s a relief – and a pleasant surprise – when Spike tears the vision-inducing parasite off Angel’s chest and returns things to normal. What would normally be a happy ending is turned uncomfortable as Angel sees his worst fear throughout the episode come true – he was the victim in this instance, and it was Spike, of all people, who ended up rescuing him. Adding insult to his internal injury is Spike’s follow-up statement, which echoes a sentiment of Angel’s past: “No need to thank me. Just helping the helpless.”

The conflict between Angel and Spike is far from over, but this episode marks a turning point in their relationship: For the first time, Angel sees Spike do something truly noble, and, though he’ll refuse to admit it, gains a bit of respect for his greatest rival. As for Spike, he will continue to forge a heroic path for himself in later episodes, and I’m willing to overlook his mildly amusing but overall meaningless stint as Wolfram & Hart’s resident ghost.

Despite its promising premise and some good development on Spike’s part, “Soul Purpose” doesn’t leave the impression it should. Plotwise, it functions mainly as a bridge between the advancements in “Destiny” [5×08] and “You’re Welcome” [5×12]. Throughout this episode, Lindsey and Eve are shown pulling the strings, hatching their own behind-the-scenes plan to take down Wolfram & Hart. The scenes between the two of them are among the episode’s least compelling, mostly because their romance feels completely contrived. And kind of boring, for that matter.

“Soul Purpose” is an interesting experimental episode which, unfortunately, fails to fully deliver on its potential. For what it’s worth, though, it does succeed in advancing Spike’s arc, and while its fantasy scenes don’t always hold up, they do provide the episode with some genuine laughs. While it pales in comparison to some of Season Five’s later offerings, it has enough good material to make it a pretty entertaining experience.


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ The nod to the first scene from “City of” [1×01] when Spike fights a pair of vamps in an alley and uses wrist-stakes to dust them.
+ I love how Harmony is extra vain and unabashed in this episode. She’s clearly picked up a thing or two about self-image from her little adventure in “Harm’s Way” [5×09].
+ The final scene, where Angel uses keen observation to deduce that Eve coming into his room was, in fact, not a hallucination. It’s a nice throwback to his detective image from the early days of the series.
+ Okay, I concede – the bear is awesome.

– The… “thing”… which Eve gives the Fang Gang to decipher so that they’ll be too distracted to help Angel. Plain lazy writing.
– That awful fantasy sequence featuring Spike and “Buffy”. The blatant SMG double is bad enough, but the painfully obviously looped dialogue from “The Prom” at first made me think the scene was actually a joke. Upon closer inspection, I’m convinced that it was meant to be a serious scene. Oh, dear.


* Given what will happen to her in just a few episodes from now, it’s kind of depressing to see Fred look into Angel’s chest cavity after removing all his innards and remark that all that’s left is “just a shell”.



13 thoughts on “Angel 5×10: Soul Purpose”

  1. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on August 8, 2013.]

    Good review and like you, I always felt that the episode could have been better than it is.

    Oh and that scene with Spike and SMG double is really odd and cringe-worthy.


  2. [Note: Biogirl posted this comment on August 20, 2013.]

    Two of my favorite scenes, just because they make me laugh *every* time

    1) Spike telling the gal off after he rescues her.
    2) In the candy mountain dream, Wes blowing the party favor, then later waving it in victorious glee doing hip hip hooray.

    Great review, I especially like what your take on dream sequences in the Buffyverse, and specifically with this episode. You hit the nail on the head when you said “It’s dream sequences are lucid and more concrete, which means the goings-on are not as immersive, but which gives them a sense of likability and fun. Angel’s dreams are pretty amusing to watch, as they throw a refreshing light on some rather dark material. The problem is that they don’t tell us much of anything that we don’t already know about him.”


  3. [Note: Charlotte Heloise posted this comment on November 16, 2013.]

    Hey, thanks for the review and nice on on nailing all the themes and main issues. I have to say, my main problem with this episode was that I thought some of the acting and/or dialogue was pretty terrible, and I’m saying this as a BtVS and AtS devotee (although as you noted, perhaps it can be forgiven as due to being DB’s first directing experience).

    For example, the early scenes between Lindsey and Spike were pretty much total exposition dross that rang really false, IMHO. It felt like watching a bad soap opera. Worse than that; it was like they were doing some parody skit.

    ‘Hey Spike, get any interesting mail lately?’
    ‘Who the bloody hell are you?’
    ‘Your new best friend.’
    Continues awkwardly after the credits with…
    ‘You? You say you’re responsible for me being back? Sent that package with the de-ghosting mojo? [And] the amulet? You mailed that thing to Wolfram and Hart?’.

    It just felt really stilted and obviously trying to recap on information for the viewer and it just didn’t work at all. For me, anyway, YMMV and all that… 🙂


  4. [Note: Ari posted this comment on May 29, 2014.]

    Good review. However I was watching this episode again recently, and I wonder why they decided to use those 2 lquotes specifically from Buffy:

    1. “Every time I say prom you get grouchy”.
    2. “Hello, can you say jumping the gun? I killed my goldfish”

    About the first one, I remember it was from the prom episode (duh) which is when Angel actually tells Buffy he’s going to leave Sunnydale, and ending his relationship with her. Could it be that he feels this was a mistake? Coming to LA to find himself, and distance himself from human connection? Now in season 5 he’s lost touch completely it seems.

    The second quote is a bit more interesting to me. As just earlier in the scene Fred pulled out a fish bowl with what seems to be a dead (gold?)fish. She says it’s Angel’s soul….does this quote by Buffy in this context take on a new meaning now? Like Buffy killed Angel’s soul (in a sense, after having sex with Buffy, he loses his soul). And even after he got re-ensouled, Buffy still had to kill him to save the world.

    Just wondering what your thoughts are on these quotes. 🙂


  5. [Note: Kahlan posted this comment on June 10, 2014.]

    I have lurked on here for ages – this is the first time I have posted! Thanks so much for all your reviews – I have been re-watching Buffy and Angel recently and I love reading your reviews along with watching the episodes to see what nuances you have picked up and whether I agree with you (and other posters)…

    I have just watched this episode and confess to being confused. Lindsey and Eve are in the background pulling all the strings and putting those weird hallucinatory parasites on Angel. Why then does Lindsey have a vision and tell Spike that he is going to ‘want to jump on this’ vision – which then results in Spike going to Angel’s place and removing the parasite? Why, if Lindsey wants Angel to be under the influence of the parasite, would he give Spike information that would result in Spike removing the parasite?

    By the way, I love the closing camera shot – Angel in front in focus looking all stern as per usual and the team grouped behind him – the separation between Angel and the others, which has been growing along the way, is so clearly shown here.


  6. [Note: Jeremy G. posted this comment on June 10, 2014.]

    Kahlan: I believe the parasite was Lindsey and Eve’s way of messing with Angel’s mind, and freeing him of its effects was part of their plan – a means of revealing some painful information to Angel, then pulling back and leaving him set him on edge (similar to what W&H tried doing – more successfully – in Season Two).

    Ari: Interesting take on the goldfish quote. I may have attempted to analyze that scene more myself, if I wasn’t cringing in sheer horror from watching it.


  7. [Note: August posted this comment on August 10, 2014.]

    I just watched the episode and the quotes used in the episode got me thinking as well. Both quotes were used in the sewer conversation between Angel and Buffy. When I heard about the dead goldfish, the last I remembered was when Angelus killed Willow’s goldfish. (drew a picture and left it on Willow’s bed)

    I think for the #2 quote taken from the ep. The Prom might have meant his dismay or confusion with Buffy having sex with Spike as Spike can’t give her children and that was one of the reasons why Angel left because he can’t give her a normal life. Although the word children was omitted in the quote, it might have meant Angel feeling another defeat from Spike who got what he gave up on.

    Dialogue from ep. The Prom

    Angel: You deserve more. You deserve something outside of demons and darkness. You should be with someone who can take you into the light. Someone who can make love to you.
    Buffy: I don’t care about that.
    Angel: You will. And children.
    Buffy: Children? Can you say jumping the gun? I kill my goldfish.


  8. [Note: Lana posted this comment on September 7, 2016.]

    I pretty much agree with the majority of your points negative opinions included. Personally though, none of those things that brought your score down really bothered me. This episode reminded me of BtVS’s “Restless” too. I agree that the theme of Angel’s dreams was something we were already made aware of, but to be fair as far as Giles’ and Xander’s dreams in “Restless” go, they don’t tell anything we don’t already know either. Xander’s fear of getting left behind by his friends and Giles’ loss of purpose after no longer being Buffy’s Watcher, are things the entire season 4 had already explored for those characters. I would say that the main difference is that the dream sequences in Restless have a more serious tone to them, which is what makes it just a little more engaging.


  9. [Note: Flamepillar112 posted this comment on September 7, 2016.]

    Hi Lana,

    I also really like this episode, more than most people actually. I’d give it like an 83. But what separates it for me from Restless is the sheer amount of depth and complexity. You can decrypt almost every single line. “Soul Purpose” doesn’t really have all that much to say. Still a very enjoyable episode on the whole.


  10. [Note: Lana posted this comment on September 7, 2016.]

    Hi Flamepillar112

    I think it has plenty to say, just not anything we don’t already have an idea of. Like I said, it’s not like everything we got in Restless was new information either, but what gives it depth, to me, is that it takes itself more seriously. The themes in Soul Purpose are serious too, but they’re presented in a humorous way.


  11. [Note: Flamepillar112 posted this comment on September 13, 2016.]

    Fred ripping Angel’s intestines out was really funny, but doesn’t have anything to say really about Fred. (Just one example). If it did, “Soul Purpose” might be on the level of “Restless”. Sadly though, I don’t think most of the side characters on Angel are well defined enough to do a “Restless” type episode, although a dream episode secretly showing their desires and/or fears could have been a great starting point had it taken place much earlier in the series. It’s far too late for that at this point.


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