This is the last week of my vacation which means this is also the last week of this little detour away from comics. I’ve been discussing the best episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. In the previous column, I looked at seasons one through three of Angel. Now it’s time to wrap things up with seasons four and five.
Spin the Bottle: In an attempt to restore Cordelia’s memory, Lorne obtains a memory spell that unfortunately backfires, making everyone think they’re high school students on a vampire hunt. If you’ve been reading the previous columns, then you know that I love these episodes in which some spell or enchantment forces all of the characters into different roles. This episode is one of my favorites of this type, right up there with Tabula Rasa from season six of Buffy. Spin the Bottle is simply so much fun. It’s hilarious to see Wesley as the ineffective head boy. It’s great to see roles reversed for Connor and Angel as for once, Connor knows more than Angel. It’s just a fun, little romp and an episode that I could watch again and again.
Apocalypse, Nowish: As Fred ponders her relationship with Gunn, the Beast that Cordelia saw in a vision returns setting in motion events that ultimately affect her relationship with Connor. There are so many great moments in this episode. There’s the huge battle with the Beast on the rooftop restaurant. There’s the rain of fire (which I keep thinking should have been the title of the episode). And there’s Cordelia going to bed with Connor because it may be the last night on earth. Then, there are the little moments like Lilah watching the rain of fire and Angel watching Connor and Cordelia. And as has been the case for several seasons of Angel, this episode kicks off the big mid-season storyline. Wow.
Calvary: Lilah’s attempt to persuade Angelus to kill the Beast proves fatal, and Angelus reveals that the Beast is taking orders from a boss who is even more powerful and dangerous. This is another big episode. Lilah sneaks into the hotel and tries to make a deal with Angelus. Angelus escapes. He chases Cordelia and Lilah through the hotel. The others chase Angelus out of the hotel but he doubles back to get another shot at Cordelia. Then, Cordelia kills Lilah, revealing that she’s been the Beast’s master all along. Oh no! The death of Lilah is one of the most shocking in Angel, especially for Wesley who had a relationship with her.
Release: As Faith and Wesley search Los Angeles for Angelus, Cordelia draws her web of deception tighter around both Angelus and Connor. Once again, I really like Faith’s appearance in Angel. Staring with Salvage and continuing with Release, Faith brings a great attitude to the series. This time around, she also makes for a couple of great fight scenes. She fights The Beast in Salvage, but it’s her fight with Angelus in Release that’s truly memorable.
Orpheus: When the final confrontation between Faith and Angelus leaves them both near death, Fred makes a desperate call to Sunnydale, and Cordelia finally reveals her pregnancy. This is another episode that I’d pick twice. I’d pick it for the surprise visit for Willow. And I’d pick it for the dream sequences with Angelus and Faith. The fact that they’re both in the same episode makes it that much better. Also, I’ve long since tired of the comic book clichés of having the hero fight himself yet I have to admit that the battle between Angelus and Angel really works. I guess it’s the exception that proves the rule.
Peace Out: As Connor confronts Jasmine about Cordelia’s whereabouts, Angel searches the other dimension for the Keeper of the Name, ‘the only creature who knows Jasmine’s true name.’ I wasn’t a huge fan of the Jasmine story. It was pretty slow to develop and definitely could have been dealt with in fewer episodes than it was. But I have no complaints with the conclusion. There are two things that really stand out as worth mentioning. The first is the Connor’s crisis when he learns that he may have lost Cordelia. The other is the theological debate between Angel and Jasmine, while they’re fighting of course. I’ve always appreciated how Angel has looked at the problem of evil but I was surprised that this episode provided the basic Christian rationale for the existence of evil: free will. I know a lot of people who like the deride TV in general and imaginative fiction in particular, but this episode of Angel shows that a television show, and a horror one to boot, is just as capable of dealing with deep issues.
Conviction: As the Angel Investigations team moves into the L.A. law offices of Wolfram & Hart, two old friends from Sunnydale come back into their lives: Harmony and Spike. It was hard to choose between Conviction, the opening episode of season five and Home, the closing episode of season four. Home had the great return of Lilah and it introduced us to so many cool things: the science lab, the library and the panther. But I chose Conviction for mostly a personal reason. It’s the first episode I ever saw. And as with Buffy’s Innocence, it was the episode that convinced me Angel might be a pretty good show to watch. Plus, Conviction has all of the same neat stuff that was in Home as well as Harmony as a new, hilariously perky yet evil secretary and the return of Spike.
Destiny: Spike opens a package that makes him corporeal again, turns the firm’s employees into bloody-eyed monsters, and pits him against Angel in a race to drink out of the Cup of Perpetual Torment. There have been some great fights in Buffy and Angel. Buffy vs. Angel. Buffy vs. Faith. Spike vs. Wood. Angel vs. Faith. The fight in Destiny might just be the best of them all. Once again, there’s great personal emotion behind the fight. Plus, there’s some great images as Spike hits Angel with a cross and as Spike drinks what he thinks is the Cup only to discover that it’s a fake filled with Mountain Dew.
Damage: When Angel and Spike try to help a young woman who escaped from an asylum, they discover she’s actually a potential slayer empowered by the spell Willow cast back at the Hellmouth in Sunnydale. There’s a fun reason to like this episode, and a chilling one. The fun reason is the guest appearance of Andrew, who is now Giles’ assistant in gathering and training new slayers. The Buffy guest stars have generally made for great episodes from Oz and Buffy in season one to Willow in season four. The chilling reason has to do with the insane slayer herself. We’re misled to believe that Spike had tortured her, but the truth is even more chilling. She was the victim of a human killer, reminding us of a theme that’s been around since I’ve Got You Under My Skin and the human side of evil.
You’re Welcome: Cordelia returns to help her friends one last time after an old nemesis shows up determined to defeat Angel by overriding a secret failsafe created by The Powers That Be. It was tough not to pick all of the character-centric episodes from the scary Spike episode Hellbound to the funny Lorne episode Life of the Party to the heart-wrenching Wes episode Lineage. They were all so good for different reasons. But I only have room for so many episodes and this Cordelia-centric episode absolutely has to make the list. This episode brings back Cordelia for a brief moment, reintroduces Lindsey as a returning nemesis, features a great fight between Angel and Lindsey, and sets Angel back on his right path as a champion. Plus, it has that bittersweet ending in which we learn that Cordelia didn’t really come back but died.
Smile Time: While Wesley and Fred’s relationship heats up, Gunn makes a deal to ensure his mental powers are made permanent, and Angel gets turned into a little felt-covered puppet. Angel gets turned into a puppet. How cool is that? I think this episode would rank highly on a lot of lists of people’s favorites. Let me say that again: Angel gets turned into a puppet. Angel gets to be funny. Puppets get to be scary. And the team gets to fight with abandon.
A Hole in the World: After breathing in the air from an ancient sarcophagus, Fred falls deathly ill and the rest of the gang races to find a cure before it’s too late. This is what I love about a Joss Whedon show, whether it’s Buffy or Firefly or Angel. The show bounces from extremes, yet does each of them so well. Smile Time was one of the funniest episodes in the entire series, yet it’s followed up with this tear-jerker of a tale in which Fred falls ill and all of the guys vow to save her. Yet, despite their vows and their many skills, none of them is able to save Fred. She dies in Wesley’s arms. Other deaths have been shocking as was the case with Lilah but few have been as heart-wrenching.
Power Play/Not Fade Away: Angel’s strange behavior convinces the gang that he’s joined an elite group of evildoers called the Circle of the Black Thorn a group he could have only joined by killing one of his own. The gang prepares to attack the true powers of evil by attempting to take down the Circle of the Black Thorn in battle none of them expect to survive. I have a few problems with the season structure at this point. I didn’t feel that the finale had the necessary build-up, especially after one-shot tales featuring Connor and a search for Buffy. But I have no problems with the episodes individually. And I certainly have no problems with the finale. While I still think it would have been interesting to end with Power Play and start a sixth season by taking out the Circle of the Black Thorn (an option that wasn’t available), I can’t be upset with these episodes. They’re both packed full with great turns, great scenes, great moments and great lines. Angel’s speech at the end of Power Play is powerful and effective. The death of Wes is truly moving, especially as he dies in Fred’s arms just as she had died in his. I felt so forlorn for Lorne as he did his one last job before getting out. And I loved Lindsey’s reaction, being more upset that he had been done in by a flunky than that he was going to die.
And that’s it for Angel. I had a great time watching these two series over the past two years or so. And I hope you’ve had a good time reading my reminisces.
Join the Discussion either in Fluit Notes: The Best of Buffy and Angel discussion thread or read what other Superflous Heros have to say about the whole Whedonverse at That Whedonverse Thread in the Captain Comics Message Board !
One last time, all synopsis quotations are taken from the liner notes found in the Angel: The Complete Season Four and Five.
(Originally Published at CaptainComics.us on May 4, 2007, The Best of Angel, Part Two)