Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Angel (TV)

Grade : A+ Year : 1999-2004 Director : Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt (Creators) Running Time : 4884min Genre : , , ,
Movie review score

Snooch to the Nooch!

Angel: “Faith, listen to me. You saw me drink. It doesn’t get much lower than that. And I thought I could make up for it by disappearing.”
Faith: “I did my time.”
Angel: “Our time, is never up Faith. We pay for everything.”
Faith: “It hurts.”
Angel: “I know. I know.”
-“Angel,” Episode 4.15 (“Orpheus”)

When it debuted in 1999, “Angel,” created by “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” mastermind Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt, was intended as a story of redemption for its’ main character, a brooding, 240-plus years old vampire with a soul, cursed by gypsys to suffer for enternity with the memories of everyone he killed. One moment of pure happiness, and he reverts to Angelus, the vicious killer vampire he was before he was resouled over 100 years ago. In Sunnydale, California, he had that moment when he made love with the love of his life, Buffy Summers, a vampire slayer who was later forced to kill him to save the world, just as he became soulful Angel again. Resurrected later, he continued in Sunnydale until it became clear he couldn’t continue on with his life there, so he left town, and went to go fight the good fight in Los Angeles.

After firmly placing himself as a dark vigilante for the people against the forces of darkness in L.A., Angel (David Boreanaz) is confronted by Doyle (the late Glenn Quinn), a half demon-human who comes bearing “visions” from the Powers That Be of people in need or places where people may need help. With the help of Doyle and fellow Sunnydale alum Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter), Angel fights the good fight, helping whoever- or in some cases, whatever- may be in need. But it’s not long before Doyle sacrifices his own life for the greater good, and in a stolen kiss, passes his visions onto Cordy so that Angel will continue fighting. With the help of Cordy, former Sunnydale Watcher Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (Alexis Denisof), who enters the fray again shortly after Doyle dies, and a gang that- in time- includes Charles Gunn (J. August Richards), the leader of a gang that fights demons on their own; Lorne (Andy Hallett, who brings surprising gravity when he needs to, balancing out his role as the go-to one-liner guy nicely), a green-faced empath demon capable of reading people’s futures when they sing; and Fred (Amy Acker, even more adorable as the main girl on the show), a brainy beauty the group saves from the demon dimension Lorne called home, Angel continues that fight through adversity and unbelievable odds that sometime seemed too far to come back from.

Somewhere along the line, however, the original mission- both on part of Angel Investigations and the show’s writing staff- got lost. Somewhere along the line, redemption- which was a strong theme throughout Season One and the start of Season Two- took a backseat to mere survival as fate and circumstance intervened to throw Angel Inc. for a loop in the form of turgid supernatural melodrama (see Seasons Three and Four), a far-from-healthy lure over to the dark side by Angel’s archenemies over at lawfirm Wolfram & Hart (Season Two), and of course, the occasional apocalypse that needed to be averted (Season Four had two).

But that started to change, as you could see atonement for past sins begin to creep back into the storylines of the Fourth and particularly Fifth Seasons, the latter of which found Angel Inc. in charge of Wolfram & Hart, which they were offered- and Angel accepted- at the end of Season Four. When Angelus returned in Season Four, Angel Inc. recruits jailed slayer Faith (Eliza Dushku) to catch him before she made her way to Sunnydale to help Buffy and co., and in her darkest hour, Angel gives her a much-needed pep talk- quoted above- about how redemption is fought for, over time, and not in one big action.

This is the prevailing theme of Season Five, as Angel, Wes, Gunn, Fred, and Lorne have taken the reins of the multi-dimensional lawfirm they have called their enemy since the first episode of Season One to try and fight evil from within the belly of the beast. But as Gunn says at one point in the season, “You know, when you say it outloud, it sounds really naive.” He couldn’t be more right. Their first charge, in the Whedon written and directed opener “Conviction,” is to find a way to acquit a knowingly-guilty slimeball to avoid an “Outbreak” like virus from spreading if the jury finds him, correctly, guilty. And the moral tightrope- one Angel has treated for 2-plus centuries- just gets tougher and tougher to walk, especially when Gunn is given a mind upgrade by the never-seen “Senior Partners” that gives him an encyclopedic knowledge of laws both human and demon. The arrival of Eve, the gang’s liasion to the Senior Partners- played by the sexy and sassy Sarah Thompson, who also has a few secrets of her own- doesn’t help, but Team Angel gets some unexpected help in the form of Harmony, the lovably airheaded Sunnydale alum-turned-vampire (delightfully played by Mercedes McNabb, who finally gets the spotlight in a humorous- if completely throwaway- episode) who becomes Angel’s assistant, and Spike, the other vampire-with-a-soul who loved Buffy (played by the incomperable James Marsters, who continues to mine layers of pathos from this Brit vampire in an earned spot on “Angel’s” cast roster), who returns to Earth after being incinerated in a blaze of glory saving the world in the last episode of “Buffy.” For what reason, however, I will leave to you to find out.

The battles Angel and his crew have to fight from without- and mostly within- don’t get easier from that first one. A long-time client makes Spike- who is incoporial- an offer he may not be able to refuse when Angel threatens to cutoff his supply of dead bodies. A young, hottie art student has to deal with the changes that go with being a werewolf, usually meaning going into Wolfram & Hart so that Angel- whom she clearly has the hots for (even when he’s turned into a puppet by a demonic children’s show in one particularly funny episode)- can lock her in a cage for three evenings. Angel has to question his commitment to the good fight in several episodes, in particular an underrated one when he enlists the aid of a retired champion (one of five Mexican wrestler brothers)- now working in the mailroom of Wolfram & Hart- to defeat a demon taking the hearts of champions, and later when Spike and Angel are pitted against each other by a duplicitous Wolfram & Hart employee in fulfilling the Shanshu Prophecy, the prophecy introduced at the end of Season One stating that the vampire with a soul will play a major role in the apocolypse and- after a series of battles- become human as a reward; with two soulful vamps (whom have helped save the world), the picture gets muddied as to who gets to become human. A run-in with a slayer whose childhood traumas have mentally scarred her opens up old hurts for both Spike and Angel (and also has the first of two great guest spots by Tom Lenk as Sunnydale’s belovedly annoying nerd Andrew). And the return of an old foe- former Wolfram & Hart golden boy Lindsay McDonald (Christian Kane, a welcome and surprising return for a fan-favorite baddie)- throws the crew for a loop only an old friend- the comatose Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter)- can get them out of by putting Angel’s priorities back in focus in the unforgettable 100th episode.

The show’s best episodes in its’ final season, however, focused on the tough moral and emotional questions the characters were forced to deal with, and allowed the actors to reveal depths of guilt and pain we’ve rarely seen before. Wes- who, as played by Denisof, had become one of the most intriguing characters in Whedon’s Buffyverse after coming to L.A.- gets an unexpected and not-very-welcome visitor in the form of his father, which opens up deep cuts in confidence for the failed Watcher. Angel is forced to confront the truth about the price of taking over Wolfram & Hart when his son Connor- who has no memory of Angel and all that happened- walks through the front door (bringing that arc to an immensely satisfying conclusion). The above-mentioned 100th was a powerful and cathartic tribute to the character Carpenter’s beloved Cordy had become on “Angel” (with a final scene that brings you to tears and ends up having tremendous significance in the long run). The puppet Angel episode- while deviously clever- also acted as an exploration of Angel’s growing insecurities about himself, in particular when it comes to wolfgirl Nina (the episode is a showcase for the levels of feeling and funny the underrated Boreanaz- who’s rarely onscreen in the episode- has brought to this initially one-note character). The de facto two-parter “A Hole in the World”- by Whedon, and arguably the show’s highpoint in its’ five-year run- and “Shells” watched a series of events unfold (facilitated by a choice of Gunn’s; J. August Richards never got enough credit for how palpable his character’s changes from streetwise fighter and worldweary champion were in 4-plus seasons on the show) that would turn Fred into Ilyria, a demonic monarch of the old world who’s surprised to learn how the world has changed since her day. In “The Girl in Question,” Spike and Angel travel to Italy to recover an important demon, well, head (literally) and also “rescue” Buffy from a fate worse than death when their past nemesis “The Immortal” comes into her life; this comic masterpiece is ingenious in not only how it concludes the love triangle between Buffy and the two vampires without even showing Buffy (Gellar was filming “The Grudge” at the time), but also plays up what made Season Five so damn enjoyable to watch- the irrepressible hate-hate back-and-forth between Spike and Angel (just wait until you hear their ludicrous one-upmanship in whose saved the world most). “Power Play” is the culmination of all of this year’s events when Angel- now obsessed with power- makes a startling and disturbing move to sit with Hell’s worst- and W&H’s unseen Senior Partners’ right-hand- in the Circle of the Black Thorn, leading up to the astonishing final episode- “Not Fade Away”- when we see such unforgettable moments as when the question of Angel and the Shanshu Prophecy is answered, a father and son reunite for one final fight with W&H liasion Hamilton (“Firefly’s” Adam Baldwin in a great, deadpan Whedon villain role), Lindsay gets what was coming to him from an unlikely source, Fred and Wes have a long-overdue moment of grace together (the show’s most powerful scene), and Angel, Spike, Gunn, and Ilyria prepare to fight another day. If it sounds like I’ve given too much away, you don’t know what surprises Whedon has in store.

To close this final essay on Joss Whedon’s “Buffiverse,” I’ll Whedon himself in talking about Season Five, and “Angel,” both the show, and the character. “The last thing you will see of Angel is the last thing you should see. Angel is about redemption, and redemption is ongoing.”

For me, Angel earned redemption a long time ago. But to see him- in his final shot- continuing to fight for it- and continuing to fight in general- is as fitting a tribute to the spirit of the “Buffiverse’s” champions- Buffy, Angel, Spike, the Scooby gang, Angel Investigations- and one of Joss Whedon’s most profound themes in this visionary universe- that of finding the moral center within even the most vicious monsters- as I can think of.

Final grade for the series: A+

“Angel”: The Seasons, Best-to-Worst
1. “Angel”: Season Four (’02-’03)- A+
*“Angel: Season Four” DVD Box Set- A+ (The best season “Angel’s” run- if not the most entertaining (see Season Five)- is also the show’s best on DVD (well, that’s kind of close with Season Five as well). Entertaining commentaries- particularly one with Whedon and Alexis Denisof (Wesley)- and interesting featurettes- not to mention some pretty brilliant episodes- make this the most satisfying “Angel” box yet.)
2. “Angel”: Season Five (’03-’04)- A+
*“Angel: Season Five” DVD Box Set- A+ (Season Five- both the episodes and the box set- is a perfect way to send “Angel” out. Great featurettes, loaded commentaries with the likes of Whedon, Denisof, David Boreanaz, Amy Acker, and Christian Kane (though Whedon, Denisof, and Acker’s commentary is a disappointment to listen to), and of course, the best possible-looking episodes you could ask for, Season Five is the perfect closure to the Buffiverse on DVD…thus far.)
3. “Angel”: Season Three (’01-’02)- A
*“Angel: Season Three” DVD Box Set- A (These box sets really do get better in the passing of each season, don’t they? More commentaries (including a great one by Whedon on “Waiting in the Wings”), more behind-the-scenes, and more inspired extras as the show starts to finally hit its’ groove creatively and more fluidly.)
4. “Angel”: Season Two (’00-’01)- A-
*“Angel: Season Two” DVD Box Set- A- (As happened with Season Two of “Buffy,” the box sets start getting really good with featurettes, commentaries, and other treats. Bonus points for getting the cast to sit down a little more on this series’ DVDs.)
5. “Angel”: Season One (’99-’00)- B+
*“Angel: Season One” DVD Box Set- B+ (The featurettes- coupled with two good commentaries- put this set a cut above “Buffy’s” First Season set, but one still longs for better things for “Angel’s” DVD sets. All in good time.)

“Angel”: The Essential Episodes
**In Order of When They Aired**
1. “City of…” (Episode 1.1)
2. “Five By Five”/”Sanctuary” (Episodes 1.18, 1.19)
3. “To Shanshu in L.A.” (Episode 1.22)
4. “Darla” (Episode 2.7)
5. “Reunion” (Episode 2.10)
6. “Epiphany” (Episode 2.16)
7. “Over the Rainbow”/”Through the Looking Glass”/”There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb” (Episodes 2.20, 2.21, 2.22)
8. “Lullaby” (Episode 3.9)
9. “Birthday” (Episode 3.11)
10. “Sleep Tight” (Episode 3.16)
11. “Benediction”/”Tomorrow” (Episodes 3.21, 3.22)
12. “Soulless” (Episode 4.11)
13. “Orpheus” (Episode 4.15)
14. “Shiny Happy People” (Episode 4.18)
15. “Home” (Episode 4.22)
16. “Conviction” (Episode 5.1)
17. “Destiny” (Episode 5.8)
18. “Damage” (Episode 5.11)
19. “You’re Welcome” (Episode 5.12)
20. “A Hole in the World”/”Shells” (Episodes 5.15, 5.16)
21. “The Girl in Question” (Episode 5.20)
22. “Power Play”/”Not Fade Away” (Episodes 5.21, 5.22)

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