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Once again, we're tackling another show in TV Blend's weekly series "___'s Best Episode." Each week a different writer will pick out a different episode of a TV show and argue why it is definitively, absolutely the best thing the show ever did. Arguments will be started, tears may be shed, but we're here to start some conversations and make some arguments for really, really good TV. This week Kelly takes on Angel by making a case for Season 5’s “A Hole in the World.” Read below, argue with us in the comments.
Judging by the few (two) Joss Whedon series that were kept around longer than a couple of seasons, it’s probably fair to say that his shows only get better with age. When I began my recent re-watch of Angel for the purposes of finding its best episode, I knew fairly early on that I was going to end up picking something from the later seasons.
There are some really great episodes early on in the series, but the drama doesn’t really begin to access its full potential until about Season 3, once the core group is firmly established, and they’ve shared enough experiences together to fully develop as characters as well as an ensemble. After that, it was just a matter of finding the most perfect of all Angel episodes. The best episode should be a start-to-finish gem of great writing and acting that encapsulates the greatness of the series and demonstrates everything that made Angel stand out, not merely as a solid spin-off, but also fantastic drama series. “A Hole in the World” does that beautifully, while at the same time, using the series’ own formula against us, creating what may very well be the most effective, gut-wrenching death scene in the series, if not the entire Whedonverse.
“A Hole in the World” begins with a flashback of a young Fred, about to leave the farm and her parents, to head off to California to start school. She has aspirations of studying science and discovering new things. This Fred has absolutely no idea that some day she’ll be sucked into a demon dimension, where she’ll spend years suffering and constantly trying to avoid being captured and enslaved. She doesn’t know that some day she’ll be rescued by, and join the ranks of a soul-having vampire, and that she'll use her brains to help fight the forces of evil. And she has no idea, that at some point, her curiosity is going to be the death of her. One day, while working for an evil law firm, she’s going to peer down at an old sarcophagus, and it’s going to breath a bunch of mummy dust in her face, which will eventually cause her organs to liquify and her body to become the host of an ancient demon named Illyria.
“You make me happy...”
The mood among the crew is on an uptick all around as the episode gets going. Fred and Wes are making googly eyes at one another, as they’re at the very start of their long overdue romance. Gunn is in his office singing, and later has a little fun with Wes as a way to let him know he’s cool with Wesley’s relationship with Fred. Angel and Spike are busy bickering over who would win in a fight, astronauts or cavemen, which is a mark of their newfound sort-of friendship. Things are good... for about five minutes.
And then Fred gets “sick” after breathing in a bunch of mummy air. The troops are rallied, and everyone begins to work on the problem. No, big, right? We’ve been down this road plenty of times before. Someone’s life is in danger, and the heroes work round the clock to find a solution.
“I am not gonna be cut down by some monster flu. I am better than that.”
The same humor-cutting tension is present throughout the episode, as Wesley shoots an attorney in the leg for not working on Fred’s case, while Lorne later punches Eve, and explains his affection for Fred by saying, ““Winifred Burkle once told me after a sinful amount of Chinese food and in lieu of absolutely nothing, 'I think a lot of people would choose to be green, your shade, if they had the choice.'” They aren’t the only ones who love Fred. Gunn visits the white room and offers his own life in exchange for Fred’s. And Angel and Spike jet off to England to visit “the Deeper Well,” believing it to hold the secret to saving Fred. And it does. But they soon learn that saving Fred would costs as many as hundreds of thousands of lives. They can’t make that choice. So it isn’t that they fail to find a solution in time. It’s that the only solution is one they can’t choose to use.
Fred dies in pain and terrified. The only mercy is that Wesley is there with her, holding her until she utters her final, desperate words (“Why can’t I stay?”) with her last breath. To add insult to brutal death, we soon learn that Knox, the man who supposedly cared about Fred, was responsible for what’s happened to her. And Gunn also unintentionally played a role, having gotten the sarcophagus through customs in exchange for receiving another brain-boost.
“A Hole in the World” leaves a hole in the show as Fred makes her departure from the world (and existence), leaving her body behind for Illyria to inhabit in the final moments of the episode. The only thing that’s really missing from the episode is Cordelia, though the loss of Cordy is fittingly referenced.
“This will do.”
Fred wasn’t the first beloved character in the Whedonverse to be offed without much warning, nor would she be the last. And she certainly wasn't the first character to die in Angel. What makes “A Hole in the World” stand out above the rest is the way it uses the familiar, standard formula of problem and solution to guide us through the episode without any real sense of just how bad the situation is until it’s over. Because, we’ve seen this situation before, and after more than four seasons, we’ve come to trust that these characters will find a way to sort out the problem. And they do. They get all the answers. But in this particular episode, the answers aren’t enough, and success would come at the cost of too many lives. The handsome men can’t save Fred from the monster. Her death was as heartbreaking for the characters as it was for the viewers, and her loss was felt as the series drew to a close. It was a big price to be paid for such a great episode, but it truly was the finest Angel had to offer.