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On TV Today's Date:

Just Rewards
original air-date: 10-08-03

Forget the unified field theory or string-based dimensional models. Theoretical physicists should instead tackle the question of why ghosts, demi-ghosts (meaning both those part ghost and the marital Patrick Swayze role), and even out-of-phase Star Fleet officers pass through walls, desks, and ficus trees, yet never fall through the floor.

Here the demi-ghost in question is Spike. Apparently the same amulet that enabled him to stave off the ubervamp army stored him as property of Wolfram and Hart (kind of like magic Tupperware).

A well intended flashback shows us Spike's final moments in the Hellmouth. But the scene is pointless because it doesn't add any information (except perhaps to show that for Spike, no time has passed; he has not been vacationing in Hell, Quartoth, or Cabo). Even for the two or three Angel fans who didn't watch Buffy, it doesn't provide any of the Buffy back-story (though some Lorne exposition later might help the clueless viewer). At the least the scene is interesting in that it may be the only time in the Whedonverse when the writers specifically define a period of elapsed time.

Upon release from the amulet, Spike immediately vamps out and lunges at Angel. This makes no sense given Spike's change of heart, er, soul on Buffy. Sure he's disoriented. But there's enough of a pause so that there's no way Spike should mistake a plush office full of Fang Gang for a Hellmouth cavern full of Ubervamps. And sure, Spike and Angel have always been rivals. But to attack Angel? At least the upside was a funny shot with a desk.

Throughout the episode fans learn a few key facts about Spike's return. He's not a ghost per se, he's bound to Wolfram & Hart (and thus can't leave L.A.), and he may be "slipping" towards that place "where heroes don't go."

Fans also learn that James Marsters continues to shine in the role as Spike continues to evolve. Here some of the best work is subtle, e.g., how the good Spike ignores Harmony, or playfully self-referential to the show itself, e.g., Spike playing the role of the concerned fan wondering if Angel will now fight via the IRS or if he himself will be the annoying comical sidekick ghost.

Meanwhile, it's also fun to see Angel on the defensive. As is often the case, characters are most entertaining when forced out of their comfort zone.

While binctering (bantering + bickering = binctering) with Spike, Angel must deal with another unhappy client, the necromancer Magnus Hainsley, who has power over the dead (and likes to remind people of that fact). Unlike Hauser or last week's villain, this bad guy has enough personality (as well as a creepy showroom and power over the dead) to be entertaining.

Perhaps the difference is casting a seasoned sitcom character actor; among many minor roles, this guy once tormented Pete as a fire chief on ABC's underappreciated Two Guys and A Girl.

Hainsley, who has power over the dead, is unhappy that Angel wants to put the kibosh on W&H's cadaver procurement program (dead people are useful to Hainsley because he has power over the dead).

Though there is a twist most fans will see a mile away, the simple plot works well enough. Overall, the episode is solid with a few minor exceptions. One weak spot is the low quality costuming for the Groxlar demon (Angel's client) and the recurring mail clerk (in contrast, the costume for Hainsley's demon client is excellent).

The other weak spot is potentially more serious: Pushing aside Wes and Lorne as key characters (ironic that Andy Hallet finally made the opening credits). Harmony is on the cusp: Sure she's fun, bet hopefully the writers will continue to throttle back her involvement lest the fans seek a stake. Sometimes less is more.

Oh, and Hainsley has power over the dead.

Chris Crotty

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