It is no secret that I love Joss Whedon (shows, characters, movies, etc) and am a huge fan of Amy Acker as well. So, of course, one of my absolute favorite characters in any Joss show is Fred Burkle. My brother jokes that I have seen the major Fred episodes of Angel way too often and comments that it is rather sad (seeing as I can quote most of these episodes from memory, I suppose that I can see where he is coming from in that). I probably watch at least 1 Joss episode a week and can relate scenarios in various shows to my life, more often than not. I tell you this as a qualifying preamble to this sudden realization (which did occur at 1:30am while cruising through Pinterest due to insomnia) so that you understand how often I think about Joss' plots and characters.
Now, this morning/night, going through various memes on Pinterest (because that is what it is really meant for) I came across this picture of Spike and Angel:
and I suddenly had an epiphany. I always knew that there was something greater with that seemingly random plot in the episode. I knew that it was important (especially when Fred, on her deathbed mourns to Wesley that the "cavemen always win") but I could never come up with an adequate explanation as to why it was important. This morning I finally understood: the debate as to whether the caveman or astronaut would win in combat is a representation to the audience of the fight between Fred and Illyria. Now, once I came to that realization I began beating myself up because it is so obvious. How could I have missed this before? (I realize that I probably missed it because every time I watch "A Whole in the World" I just cry and both praise and curse Joss.)
This insomnia driven realization now makes the plot of this episode more cohesive, depressing, and beautiful (and thus it continues to be nearly perfect, despite its sadness). Looking now at the plot and dialogue, it becomes so clear that Fred was the astronaut. she was the brainy scientist who was fighting for her life against the caveman, Illyria. This just makes Fred's scene in the lab that much more empowering and her scene in the bedroom that much more depressing. In the former, she is fighting for her life, battling Illyria (which at the time they all think is some weird demon sickness), determined to win. In the latter, where she admits that "cavemen always win," she is admitting defeat, essentially giving up the fight, giving in, admitting defeat, the astronaut stripped of all resources and bowing down to the caveman for death.
Thank you, Joss, for writing such breathtaking characters and plots where I can always find something new to make me love the story even more. I will now have to rewatch the episode (again) to pick up all the mentions of the not-quite-a-sub-plot sub-plot. Perhaps later today... after I've gotten some sleep.
(Disclaimer: pictures and compilation aren't mine.)