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5x19: "Time Bomb"
Review by Mikelangelo Marinaro (MikeJer)
Posted on August 3, 2013 / Last Updated on October 8, 2014
Writer: Ben Edlund | Director: Vern Gillum | Air Date: 04/28/2004

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Spoiler Warning!
This is a retrospective review and may contain spoilers from anywhere in the series. Read at your own peril.
Review

Amy Acker. Incredible. Review, done.

But seriously, just how great is Amy Acker? In "Time Bomb" we get to see Illyria be the focal point of a solid, intriguing, and entertaining episode. It's such a shame Fred was such an underdeveloped character, because Illyria gives Acker far more to do from an acting standpoint and is much more exciting to watch -- and I even liked Fred a lot in early Season 3!

In some ways Illyria reminds me of Drusilla. They're both characters that seem a little unhinged and kooky, like half of their consciousness is in another dimension. On the surface they both appear to be spouting inane, albeit highly amusing, ramblings, but there is far more meaning to it all than initially meets the eye. In the case of Illyria, she speaks as a former ruler with a position of ultimate power. The fact that the Senior Partners are terrified of her -- Hamilton expresses an awful lot of transparent concern to Wesley -- speaks volumes. It's not Illyria's intent, but her ramblings reveal a lot of insight into what's required to use and maintain that amount of power.

When Angel gets caught up in Illyria's wake later in the episode she is confounded by how this has happened. This allows Angel to change the outcome of their deaths. While Illyria is equivocating about how all of this is possible -- which is against her own words ("I didn't give you a chance, that you learn when you become a king!") -- Wesley is afforded the time to suck the power out of her, effectively defeating her. The limitations of humanity simply couldn't contain her power, to which she blames as a weakness of the species (ha). This thematically reminds us of the larger stakes at play. It's probably a good thing, too, and serves as a metaphor for what ultimate power does to a human; it eventually breaks containment and destroys everything in its orbit. We're at our best when we accomplish things the hard way and voluntarily share our power with others to do even greater things.

Illyria confronts Wesley about his attempt to change her back into Fred by shattering the Orlon Window in "Origin" [5x18]. This "betrayal" is why she assumes Wesley is trying to kill her with the energy dampening device later. But Wesley can't bring himself to do it, so he nonchalantly lies to Angel -- partly as a jab for meddling with his memory -- while he finds a way to contain Illyria. It's interesting how Illyria says, "Betrayal was a neutral word in my day. As unjudged a word as 'water', or 'breeze'. No. Perhaps I only bothered because I am bothered." Whether it's a residue from being in Fred's body or genuine affection for Wesley, Illyria is already becoming humanized by not being able to live up to her own words of being completely dispassionate. This scene hints at the fact the she will be becoming even further humanized by the end of the episode.

Although Acker gives a tremendous performance, "Time Bomb" really sets the stage for the last arc of the show and serves to help Angel formulate a plan against the Senior Partners that they'll least expect. Thematically, "Time Bomb" is about how the powerful maintain their power and how it is possible -- if it is possible -- to beat them. Even among the powerful, though, there are two contrasting yet successful methods on display: Wolfram and Hart with the 'long-term sneaky' game and Illyria with the 'overwhelming power and dispassion' game. While Illyria was locked away in the Deeper Well, Wolfram and Hart -- who had no power in her day -- rose to the top and now wield the kind of power and influence that she wants back. Wesley wonders why she is even staying at Wolfram and Hart, but Angel's answer is right on the money: "because this place reeks of influence. She had everything, Wes. Everything. You think she's not looking to get that back?"

Looking to get that influence back is exactly what Illyria works towards until time begins becoming undone. Angel asks Wesley, "Why would she take on any risk for us?" He aptly responds, "I doubt this poses a risk to her. She has the power of a god," and he's right. Illyria does the gang a favor in rescuing Gunn as a play for power over them, and of Wolfram and Hart -- they now owe her. One might even call it a "Power Play" [5x21]. Throughout "Time Bomb" Angel is trying to work out his next move but the Illyria threat forces him to pay attention to her every move. In this process he picks up some interesting ideas about how she sees the world, which helps him think of how to deal a blow to Wolfram and Hart that they won't see coming. This is why Illyria's intentions in "Time Bomb" will be mirrored by Angel in the final two episodes.

Where Illyria has a clear purpose, Angel finds himself confused. This can be summed up in an exchange where Wesley asks Gunn what he's looking for now that he's back. Gunn's response, "a compass," is quite reflective of not only his current state, but also Angel's. Wolfram and Hart have lost their only real power over Angel ("what you owe me") thanks to the events of "Origin" [5x18] and Connor getting his memories back. When you throw in Cordelia's death, Fred's death, and the utter lack of a dent he's made in the silent apocalypse, Angel's frustrated by what he has to show for all of these losses.

Thus far Angel has simply kept the corporate machine moving. Sure the gang has made minor changes in the corporate culture and occasionally done good on small terms, but they've also been compromised -- by necessity -- to keep the business running. The Senior Partners know Angel's moral reservations, thus his limitations, which is why they're comfortable with him running the show in the first place. "Time Bomb", and Illyria, ends up playing a pivotal role in leading Angel to make a decision of which direction to go in, even if it's a dangerous one that could have consequences that outweigh the benefits. This makes the episode an important one for Angel's development.

The training scene between Illyria and Spike is key to understanding Angel's actions at the end of the episode (with the baby and the Fell Brethren). Even though Spike lands a couple successful hits on Illyria due to his adaptation, Illyria's argument is that "adaptation is compromise" and will eventually be the losing technique -- somewhat proven when she slaughters everyone. This is a notion Angel will soon take to heart after Illyria elaborates in what is some delightful dialogue: "You learn to destroy everything that's not utterly yours. All that matters is victory. That's how your reign persists. You're a slave to an insane construct. You are moral. A true ruler is as moral as a hurricane, empty but for the force of his gale. But you... trapped in the web of the Wolf, the Ram, the Hart. So much power here, and you quibble at its price. If you want to win a war, you must serve no master but your ambition."

The situation with the woman and her baby that is always in the background of "Time Bomb" is there to give Angel yet another ambiguous situation. Does he continue to walk that fine line like he has all season, or does he put all his eggs in one basket and go for the big prize no matter the cost? Gunn verbalizes the dilemma using his experience in the holding dimension: "Do you know what the worst part of that place was? Wasn't the basement. At least there, you knew where you stood. Demon was gonna cut your heart out and show it to you. Nah. It was the fake life they gave you upstairs. The wife, kids, all the icing on the family cake. But somewhere underneath it, there was the nagging certainty that it was all lies, that all the smiles and the birthday candles and the homework were just there to hide the horror. Is that all we're doing here -- just hiding the horror?"

At the end of the "Time Bomb" there are two options presented as possible directions the characters can go regarding the ambiguous situation they're in at Wolfram and Hart. Either they can begin fighting the good fight again and work as a team to help individuals again -- running Wolfram and Hart be damned -- or they can completely buy into Wolfram and Hart -- go all-in -- and try to knock them down from the inside, even if only for a moment, by playing their game. Gunn obviously represents the former of these options and encourages the mother to not sign the contract with the Fell Brethren. Angel represents the latter option as he shuts the door on Gunn and gets the mother to sign the contract while Hamilton watches. Angel's plan of subterfuge comes to a head in "Not Fade Away" [5x22], but I'm skeptical of its validity. It's ballsy, no doubt, but it also brings on considerable collateral damage.

At the end of the day I'm reminded of Holland Manners' speech to Angel in "Reprise" [2x15] about the Home Office: it's the battle for human souls here on Earth. If Angel wants to beat the Senior Partners for good, that is where he needs to make an impact. Killing all the players of the apocalypse is, to steal a Breaking Bad phrase, a half-measure. These demons will be replaced and the wheels of evil will continue to spin, conspiring in the corruption of humanity. To beat the mechanisms of evil, change has to happen on a societal level, but that can only start by inspiring one human soul at a time. This is best done through, to quote what Angel has forgotten, living "as though the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be."

In other words, the solution lies in living life by example to inspire others to raise their hopes and standards, and then trying to create positive change one day at a time. Not an easy thing to do! But it remains the most powerful tool against societal degradation, and "evil", that we have. And it's a constant process. So it's safe to say that I'm with Gunn on this one (and Anne in "Not Fade Away" [5x22]). I can sympathize with Angel's desperation to directly hurt the Senior Partners, but that doesn't make it worth the cost. If anything, it feels like a return of the Angel in Season 2 who fired all of his friends so he could take down the Senior Partners. His motive may be different now, and he eventually brings his colleagues into the dive off the deep end, but the end result won't be all that different. It all comes back to that elevator ride with Holland.

By the end of "Time Bomb" Angel has a clarity of purpose that he was previously lacking, and in large part thanks to Illyria's journey through fractured time. This is why Angel's changed his tune on whether Illyria might make the team -- he realizes that he need not trust her to think she might be useful to him in the future. This is also a great episode for Illyria who becomes much more defined as a character. When all the dust settles, she's yet further humanized, which will provide her plenty to wrestle with in the future thus making her an even more interesting character.

"Time Bomb" is a fun and structurally solid outing that smoothly transitions the show into the final leg of its journey. It's lacking a little on the emotional side and isn't the deepest episode out there, but it's got a really nice blend of elements to make for yet another welcome outing. After the blip that is "The Girl in Question" [5x20], it's go time for the Angel finale! Oh, and one more thing…

Amy Acker. Incredible. Review, done.

Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+Illyria's solution for getting Gunn out of the holding dimension is hilarious.
+Wesley being suitably scatterbrained after getting his memories back in "Origin" [5x18]. He has to adjust to himself all over again.
+Illyria informing Spike he has permission to leave her presence.
+Wesley subtly tipping off his small betrayal of Angel later in the episode by being not-so convinced that Illyria needs to die in the meeting room.
+I love Adam Baldwin's portrayal of the just slightly too transparent business man.
+Lorne's jab at Eve. Ha.
+The ease at which Illyria demolishes the entire group. That is a cool scene.
+The consistency in the Buffyverse regarding beings that are all-powerful. They can't exist in our reality for very long without having a weakness or coming apart at the seams. I'm reminded of how, in Buffy Season 5, Glory could only exist with that kind of power by sharing her body with a mortal, Ben.
+Poor Wesley. He knows Illyria isn't Fred, but he "needs" the image of her to keep going nonetheless. Tragic.
  
-I really don't like how Lorne is made out to be a complete clown this episode
Foreshadowing
  • The title, "Time Bomb", refers to the plot, but also to Angel, who will effectively 'go off' in "Not Fade Away" [5x22].
93/100A-
Medium

DEPTH
Medium

EMOTION
High

CHARACTER
High

PLOT
Quotes
WESLEY:I stabbed you. I should apologize for that. But I'm honestly not sure how. I think it'll just be awkward.

WESLEY:You can't... look at her without seeing... her body's previous owner. But then, what comes out of her mouth, pure unadulterated vertigo. We look so tiny to her.

WESLEY:She's monumentally self-possessed. She still thinks she's the god-king of the universe.
GUNN:So she's like a TV star.
WESLEY:No, nothing that bad. Bit more violent, though.

ILLYRIA:To never die, and to conquer all. That is winning.

GUNN:Yeah, I was just in his office…
LORNE:Oh god, don't go in there! That's where he keeps his full strength crazy.

HAMILTON:Oh, no, don't think about us, Angel. Think about profits. It's profits that let you keep this plucky little boatload of good above water. It's a business, boys, not a bat cave.
LORNE:Well, I'll tell you what -- still like him better than Eve.

ILLYRIA:Odd. It doesn't exist until it cracks apart.
WESLEY:What's that?
ILLYRIA:Time.

HARMONY:Believe me, Angel will take care of everything. That's what he does. Yep. I'm sure he's in there, you know, getting into her head, sowing the seeds of fear. Don't you worry. He will snap her like a pregnant twig.
FELL:(Whisper to each other) We'll try an organic cola.

HAMILTON:Curing cancer, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce?
WESLEY:Wouldn't be cost-effective. I'm sure we make a lot from cancer.
HAMILTON:Heh, yes. The patent holder is a client.

ANGEL:Illyria's blown all of her gaskets, man. She's out of her mind.
SPIKE:How can you tell? Yesterday she spent two hours mind-melding with a potted fern.

ANGEL:And I'm next?
ILLYRIA:No, vampire. You were last.

ILLYRIA:You ask me to allow you to murder me.
SPIKE:It's not murder if you say yes.


Comments (12)
All Comments | Link1 | WCRobinsonAug 3, 2013 @ 4:24pm
Love the screencap. It shocked the life out of me on the home page, I'm so used to the darker colours XD

I wish there was another episode like this next instead of the lightweight "The Girl in Question".It breaks the momentum ever so slightly.

Awesome review, Mike; can't wait for Iguana to finish up (then how are the Series Reviews being done though?).
All Comments | Link2 | MikeJer | CREATOR/WRITERAug 3, 2013 @ 6:25pm
Replying to WCRobinson (#1)
The two season reviews will also be done by the community. I will likely construct the Introduction, Overview, and Conclusion, but for the rest I will elicit volunteers to write for a particular section. Another option would be to get everyone to send in their thoughts on the Pros/Cons/Characters to which I could compile an overall consensus of what people thought -- this may work best for the Pros/Cons.

Regardless, we'll get those done together just like the reviews. I already know Iguana will want the Wesley sections. :)
All Comments | Link3 | buffyholicAug 7, 2013 @ 2:35am
Really great review, Mike. This is actually an episode that grows on me with repeated viewings. And yes, Amy Acker is amazing!
All Comments | Link4 | J-ShapAug 8, 2013 @ 12:26pm
Great review, and ditto on Amy Acker being incredible. The greatest loss of Season 6 is not getting more of Illyria.

On your thoughts about Angel vs. Gunn argument - yeah, I'd be lying if I said I didn't see somewhat of a thematic regression to Season 2, but I think it's rather justified here. Now that they're inside Wolfram & Hart, the next few episodes really play out on a different philosophy: corruption. It's what everyone's been fighting with this season (Gunn sold his soul, Wesley betrayed Angel yet again, Fred was swallowed by an ancient demon) and the going-out-in-a-blaze-of-glory method is less about revoking the "redemption as a progressive act" and more about a bold act of defiance. I see it as a method of proving to the Senior Partners that their mission - robbing the PTB of their champions - failed, and the acceptance of never winning, but still fighting. Yeah, the Black Thorn is just going to get replaced and the wheels keep on turning, but as Angel says in Power Play "We can show them for one bright, shining moment that they don't own us." I'll admit the two philosophies trip over each other, and that's a problem the writers can't overcome, but hey, it works for me on a gut level. Just my two cents, and yeah I really should've saved this post for Power Play now that I think about it.
All Comments | Link5 | MikeJer | CREATOR/WRITERAug 8, 2013 @ 3:08pm
Replying to J-Shap (#4)
I can totally sympathize with Angel's approach feeling right on a "gut level." But is that momentary defiance really worth all the collateral damage caused by their actions? I can't in good conscience say it is, which makes the final episodes simultaneously satisfying and problematic for me. I'm very curious how Iguana will approach it all in his reviews of the final two episodes.

Both the Buffy and Angel finales leave me with conflicted feelings on their final thematic solutions. The former is a triumph, but it also opens up a can of worms regarding whether Buffy is doing to a bunch of girls what was done to her. It can be read in a way that looks less problematic, but the text leaves things a little ambiguous. With the latter, the defiance is exciting and satisfying, but the collateral/cost ends up making it all somewhat self-serving.

In both cases, though, there's a lot of fertile ground for exploration. They combine to inspire important discussions about power, war, control, and collateral damage (i.e. consequences). It's great stuff! :D

Thanks for the comment!
All Comments | Link6 | J-ShapAug 13, 2013 @ 12:01pm
Replying to MikeJer (#5)
Very true, especially once you see the follow-up in both of the comic continuations (Buffy Season 8 has a crazy new world order and girls getting recruited into an army of slayers, and Angel: After the Fall has all of LA get sent to hell as punishment for Angel's actions). To be perfectly honest, I have way more problems with the ending of Buffy than Angel for those precise reasons.

All in all, in order to fully appreciate them as they are intended to be, I feel it's important to examine them more on an emotional level than a pure logistical level. Buffy is no longer alone in the world, and Angel never gets to see the end of the battle because it is never ending. It also helps that "Not Fade Away" is just an amazingly well-written and well-directed piece of television as you're ever gonna get, whereas "Chosen" really has to rely on one's prior emotional investment to overlook some of the more glaring flaws. At the end of the day, they serve as good discussion sparkers and satisfying endings (even though the both continued) and it just makes the fact that we're still contemplating this a decade after the fact that much more meaningful.
All Comments | Link7 | Ryan ONeilAug 13, 2013 @ 2:49pm
Replying to MikeJer (#5)
Well, in the Angel case at least, I've read here that it's fairly in character for Angel to start out fighting for good, then get burned out and start fighting against evil more than for good, then decide that even that is pointless and trying to get it over with as dramatically as possible. Even when he sees that dramatically giving up is even more pointless than fighting a losing fight, he only comes to his senses and fights the good fight for a short time before starting the cycle of giving up all over again.

Amends (giving up) -> meeting the LA characters (fighting for good) -> watching Dru and W/H re-corrupt Darla (fighting against evil) -> tries to storm the W/H Home Offices (deciding that the fight is pointless) -> sleeping with Darla (giving up) -> having an Epiphany (fighting for good) -> being seduced into working W/H from the inside (fighting against evil) -> getting tired of all of the compromises they've made to keep their jobs (deciding that the fight is pointless) -> orchestrating a kamikaze against the W/H Earth managers (giving up)
All Comments | Link8 | Iguana-on-a-stickAug 17, 2013 @ 9:22am
Excellent review, Mike!

I obviously have my own thoughts on the finale plot and why Angel does what he does... but you'll have to wait for the Power Play review to see them. Another few days, I think.
All Comments | Link9 | WCRobinsonAug 17, 2013 @ 10:58am
This week? Awesome, can't wait!

I think I know what score Not Fade Away might get... but Power Play should be interesting. The ending can be seen two ways... seeing them try to do the "big gesture" seems to contradict the mission statement of retribution taking a long time, but in another way Angel signing away his hopes of being human and then keep fighting against the seemingly unbeatable is just, well, pretty much flawless.

The whole idea of this explosive gesture to send a signal to the Senior Partners is just awesome to me.
All Comments | Link10 | SeeleAug 17, 2013 @ 3:05pm
Replying to MikeJer (#5)
I didn't have a problem with Buffy "doing to the other girls what was done to her," because what was done "to" her was more being forced into the fight and being isolated due to the fight rather than just the power to do the fight.

Just because thousands of girls have been given the power to battle demons doesn't mean that they will be forced to, and even if only 1 girl in 10 chooses to use her Slayer power to battle demons, that still leaves hundreds of Slayers that chose to fight instead of just 1 that was forced, and that fact itself will make it more acceptable for the majority to choose not to join the fight (or to leave if it gets too much for them).

More importantly, not only will they not be isolated the way Buffy had to be, but they will also be better fighters because they could've reasonably chosen not to fight without putting the world in danger in the way that Buffy would've had she, the only Slayer in the world, chosen to do nothing.

And if most of the girls choose to say Yes to joining the fight instead of No, then having thousands of Slayers instead of "just" hundreds is merely a happy bonus.

And if the Season 8+ Comics contradict any of this, then I refuse to hear it ;)

As for "Not Fade Away": the argument that it was "in-character" aside, I still think that it should've been handled better.
All Comments | Link11 | FaithFanaticFeb 11, 2014 @ 10:42am
Replying to Seele (#10)
I've never heard anyone say anything negative about 'Not Fade Away' (except the idiots who whine about it not getting a proper ending - no disrespect intended.) What do you mean by 'should've been handled better?'
All Comments | Link12 | nathan.taurusApr 13, 2014 @ 11:13pm
Illyria: When the world met me it shuddered, groaned. It knelt at my feet.
Spike: Dear Penthouse, I don't normally write letters like this but-

The more you see of Illyria, the more upset you get when you realise she does not get another season.
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