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Angel: Season Five Essay

Season Five: Saving the Best for Last

Angel, always good, hit a creative high in its final season. The cast was seasoned, the writers were outstanding and knew what they were doing, and the addition of popular character Spike (James Marsters) from Buffy was the icing on the cake.

There were so many outstanding episodes in season five that I ran out of superlatives. "Lineage" blew us away as we finally met Wesley's poisonous father; "Damage," where Spike encountered a homicidal, demented Slayer; "You're Welcome," their hundredth episode, was a moving farewell to long running character Cordelia; "Destiny" was the ultimate exploration of the dysfunctional Angel/Spike relationship; "Smile Time," the funniest episode they've ever done, saw our hero Angel turned into a puppet; and "A Hole in the World" gave us Fred's heartbreaking demise.

How do you fight evil when you're a part of it? It certainly wasn't easy for Angel to run Wolfram & Hart, with his own employees monitoring his every move, carrying out evil plans behind his back, and even trying to kill him. The fact that Angel had to find a devious way to carry out his mission added an interesting layer of complexity to the series.

The new sets were cool. And vampires in daylight were shiny and new. I bet the actors were thrilled to film during the day for a change. And the creativity was at an all-time high. Vampires in a submarine during World War II? Mexican wrestlers fighting evil?

After years of fan-wanking it to death, the Shanshu prophecy became a major part of the final season. I particularly loved "Destiny," the episode where Angel and Spike fought for the Shanshu; it was my favorite episode of the entire series. The fact that Angel and Spike are both vampires with souls could have been a weak point when Spike was added to the cast; instead, the writers played it up, stayed true to both characters, and made it a significant strength. I loved every minute of season five when Angel and Spike were on screen together.

I have to go on a little more about "Smile Time," the funniest and probably most unique episode they ever did. The Angel-puppet was simply perfect: the hair, the brows, the deep-set eyes, the frown, the broodiness. And the puppet's interactions with the human cast were all done so well: wrestling with Spike ("You're a wee little puppet man!"), facing down his employees, trying to use a remote, and especially the long shot of the gang walking out ready to confront evil, panning down to Angel-puppet in the lead with the sword -- very, very funny. When Angel-puppet vamped out, I laughed so hard I scared my cat.

The return of Blondie Bear

Angel: "I'm from Wolfram and Hart."
Spike: "I'm his date."

When Spike was returned as a ghost, courtesy of his Elizabeth Taylor pendant, I was thrilled. Spike is damned funny, and he makes Angel crazy; it's a match made in heaven. Bringing him back as a ghost gave our two favorite vampires some emotional breathing room; a chance to begin working together without beating the crap out of each other. We had "my soul's better than your soul" debates, and Angel's confession that he actually liked Spike's poetry (Spike: "You liked Barry Manilow").

In truth, Angel was his old self with Spike, and there was so much juicy dysfunction to explore in that relationship. William, as a human, had no father. As a vampire, he looked up to Angelus and tried to emulate him. It was Oedipus again, with Drusilla as Mommy. But it didn't work. William was a lover, not a fighter, while Angelus very much wanted an acolyte, another monster like himself to pal around with. As Spike said during the fight scene, "You never knew the real me. Too busy trying to see your own reflection." This reconciled the division in Spike's vampire personality -- the Spike who was a monster with Drusilla, and the Spike who reformed for Buffy. It all finally made sense. What terrific writing.

Angel envied Spike on a level that he could not acknowledge, not just because of Spike's affair with Buffy, but because Spike actually wanted a soul and fought for it. And in "Destiny," Spike finally beat Angel; he wanted the Shanshu more than Angel did, and Angel knew it. Spike truly became a hero, while Angel got entangled in the moral ambiguity of running Wolfram & Hart.

The slashbunnies certainly got enough material to keep them going for years with that two men wanting each other who sublimate by going after the same women all the time thing. And there's cause. Drusilla and Buffy? Could there be two more different women? (There was also Spike saying, "Angel and me have never been intimate. Except that once.") (Although I honestly never believed Angel had sexual feelings for Spike, or vice versa.)

I think that, deep down, they both wanted each other's respect. They even wanted each other's friendship, but they would never admit it. Angel and Spike are family, when you come right down to it, and Boreanaz and Marsters are simply wonderful together. They bounce dialogue off each other like... well, like Spike and almost anyone, come to think of it, but with a special zing because of their shared past and all they have in common.

The Ascendance of Gunn

Gunn's surprising new arena in season five was as a top flight lawyer, making him the season's biggest question mark. This was a wise choice by the writers; the character he used to be would have been lost in this new situation.

I liked Gunn as a legal eagle; he was just like the old Gunn, only more so, and he looked terrific in a three-piece suit. For quite awhile, I thought he was a spy for the Senior Partners, but that was just skillful misdirection. Gunn also got a "Flowers for Algernon" subplot, and sold his soul to stay smart. In bargaining away Fred's life as well as his own, Gunn became a tragic figure, much as Wesley was at the end of season three; essentially, he and Wesley traded places. Gunn was hollowed out by guilt, embodied by the knife Wesley put through him, which must have been nearly as emotionally painful as it was physically painful. After suffering a terrible "vacation in hell," Gunn was almost his old self again, bald and back in sweatshirts.

The Death of Fred

Fred: "Cavemen win. Of course the cavemen win."

This was a great season for Fred even before she died and became somebody else.

Fred began by fulfilling her potential as a "fetching mad scientist," and I enjoyed her developing friendship with Spike. But I couldn't understand where her head was. Wesley adored her, Spike was constantly flirting with her, and Fred was interested in Knox? In the middle of the season, she finally woke up and smelled the hottie. Fred and Wesley were finally a couple, although it wasn't for long. It was too late for her, and too late for Wesley.

Fred was once again a reluctant damsel in distress, her men all around her sickbed, Angel saying meaningfully, "Winifred Burkle," Wesley actually shooting that guy in the leg ... all very touching. Whedon's moving script and the sheer Buffy-ness of the dialogue were all quite satisfying. But to be honest, I felt manipulated; this is ground we had covered before. Wesley and Fred finally got together, and one of them died? Fred's body was possessed and went wildly evil with a striking change of appearance? There was even the parallel of Fred spitting blood on Wesley and passing out, very much like Tara's blood splattering Willow. We're "Seeing Red," except this time, Illyria's icy makeup made it more like seeing blue.

That last flashback of Fred in Texas leaving her parents and driving toward a new life evoked even more emotion in me than her death in Wesley's arms. I always liked Fred, and I hated to see her go -- especially when we learned that her soul was destroyed, as well as her body.

I didn't like Illyria at first; I didn't think she had potential as a permanent character. She was too pompous, too powerful, and too grim, a total antithesis of Fred; the only time she made me smile was when she said she wanted to keep Spike as a pet. But then she grew on me. It was fun seeing Amy Acker in leather and very cool makeup finally getting to chew the furniture.

Illyria grew as a character; i.e., her willingness to join the battle, her concern for Gunn, her tenderness and grief for Wesley ("Would you like me to lie to you now?") But I'm still sad that there was no resurrection for Fred. Illyria told Wesley that he was going to be with Fred; I would like to believe that Illyria knew something we didn't, that something of Fred's soul survived after all. I would like to believe that Fred went to the same heavenly dimension Buffy once occupied, and that Wesley joined her there.

The Death of Wesley

Alexis Denisof already had my heart, and season five just made me love him more.

For the first four seasons, Wesley made occasional offhand comments about his father, the man who put the "D" in Dysfunctional. I often thought that Wesley's father should guest star some day and die a suitably gruesome death at the hands of some skanky demon. I must admit I never expected Wesley to empty an entire clip into him. (One of my favorite scenes in the series was Angel and Spike both trying to comfort Wesley by describing their own parent-killing experiences.)

And then tragedy truly struck. Wesley was on the verge of attaining true happiness, and he lost everything; he was emotionally hollowed out. His rage and despair alternated throughout with an almost inhuman calm as he stabbed Gunn, his former best friend, and outright killed Knox. Big gold acting stars to Alexis Denisof; Wesley ran the emotional gamut in the final episodes of season five. He even had to face the doppelganger of his beloved Fred and the happy ignorance of Fred's lovely parents.

I was devastated by Wesley's death. Five years ago, when he debuted as Buffy's new, prissy Watcher, I couldn't stand Wesley; but for the past two years, he's been my favorite character. Too much, dammit. Too much.

Lorne, the survivor

There was a noticeable lack of quality screen time with Lorne in season five, but at least we came away at the end knowing he was one of the few that definitely survived.

One of my favorite relationships on this show is Angel's relationship with Lorne. Angel is always gentle with Lorne, and Lorne continually flirts with Angel; it's very sweet. I'm not implying that it's a romantic, slashy thing, but when Lorne was unconscious on the couch and Angel was pulling the covers up over him, I thought Angel was about to kiss Lorne's left horn.

It was nice to see Lorne flirting with Angel again. I've missed it. ("Your wish, dreamboat, my command." and "Angel, baby, muppet, pumpkin...") I especially loved Lorne carrying the wounded Angel-puppet in his arms, yelling, "Medic! Doctor! Is there a Gepetto in the house?" I loved the simple way he explained his love for Fred: "Winifred Burkle once told me, after a sinful amount of Chinese food and in lieu of absolutely nothing, I think a lot of people would choose to be green. Your shade, if they had a choice."

Lorne was actually scary when he took down Lindsey, which was a new look for him.

We got one last tune from Lorne, "If I Ruled the World." I wish we'd gotten one from Lindsey, too. A duet would have been fun.

The Return of Lindsey

At the end of "Destiny," being spoiler-free paid off for me in a big way. Having Lindsey McDonald show up at the end, in bed with Eve and covered with very large and interesting tatts, had me yelling "Woohoo!" He was his usual diabolical self; it was so wonderful to have him back. I particularly loved Spike and Lindsey essentially recreating the Angel pilot as Angel and Doyle, right down to the double staking and basement apartment.

I saw Lindsey's assassination coming, and it really ticked me off -- especially because (1) he could have been on the path to redemption, and (2) he was killed in cold blood by our own sweet green Lorne, who didn't need that death on his conscience. Lindsey's last word was "Angel." I find that touching. I think Lindsey really did love Angel, in his own twisted way.

Harmony

One of the longest running fringe Buffyverse characters, Harmony didn't change much in eight years, even after becoming undead. She was still remarkably shallow and self-centered, as well as being a few tacos short of a combination plate, right up until the end. She was hilarious comic relief, fitting in perfectly both as Angel's assistant and as Spike's pain-in-the-ass ex. She even got her own episode, although the character was more fun in smaller doses.

I did think, though, that Harmony's constant presence introduced some philosophical issues. She was often very sympathetic; her behavior blurred the lines between good and evil. Are vamps evil, or aren't they? Can they learn compassion? If soulless vamps are just regular guys with long teeth that hold down jobs and drink pig's blood, they're sort of not monsters any more, are they? (As Gunn said in "Disharmony," "Don't we kill them any more?") Doesn't that make Buffy a serial killer?

Harmony's last good scene was reminiscing about high school and her death on graduation night, which was appropriate for the character. I wasn't surprised that she betrayed Angel.

And other characters along the way

Frankly, as far as liaisons to the Senior Partners went, I vastly preferred Lilah to Eve. Although when Lindsey showed up, it was just better; I thought that if Eve has the complexity and good taste to be involved with Lindsey, it added a lot of dimension to her character. (And I finally understood why they didn't cast Lilah; she and Lindsey despised each other.)

By the end, I felt sorry for poor Eve, crouching in Lindsey's apartment, hiding from the senior partners, heading for a bad end, according to Lorne.

I laughed out loud through most of "The Girl in Question," but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I didn't like the thought of Buffy, or perhaps more appropriately, the writers, treating these two incredibly hot vampires who have gone through so much for Buffy like a couple of Shemps. I kept thinking of the words "impotent" and "ridiculous" and "we get no respect." The episode really needed Sarah Michelle Gellar, along with some scenes with the three of them and some genuine emotion. Yes, as Andrew said, it was time for Angel and Spike to leave Buffy behind and move on. But did it have to be like this? I might have liked this episode a lot better if there was another season coming, but having it so close to the end made it feel like a waste of time.

Nina the werewolf was a convenient girlfriend for Angel (a supernatural blonde teenager, certainly his type) but something of a throwaway character. It's funny how the only love interests that ever worked for Angel were the ones he took with him from the original series -- Buffy and Darla.

There was one final appearance of Anne, a.k.a. Lily, a.k.a. Chanterelle, our lady of the homeless shelter, still using Buffy's middle name. We never did find out what her real name was.

We never learned what happened to Phantom Dennis. Was he just abandoned in Cordy's rent-controlled apartment, ready to haunt the next tenant?

Adam Baldwin's turn as Hamilton was very effective, although it made me wonder if every season of Joss Whedon's shows would have a Firefly cast member in the last few episodes. Hamilton was scary in a way that Eve just... wasn't. And that's not because she's female, either. Lilah and Drusilla could be plenty scary.

Touching returns, and touching ends

It was wonderful seeing the old "I take crap from no one" Cordelia again in "You're Welcome," the Cordelia we didn't see enough of in seasons three and four. They gave her an outstanding farewell episode, one of the best in the series. All of her scenes rang true, and the current of emotion between Cordelia and Angel was just perfect. Loved the kiss at the end; it was definitely their best, the first Angel/Cordelia smooch that actually moved me. Too bad they didn't get a chance to have astral sex.

It was fun to see a very British, 82% more manly Andrew, and of course, the Andrew/Spike scenes were as good as they always were. I wasn't as wild about "Damage" as many others were, though. Part of me hated seeing a vicious, homicidal slayer running around attacking people with a bone saw.

When Connor was so beautifully written out of the show, several good-sized loose ends remained: (1) the possibility that Connor still had powers; (2) whether or not he would eventually remember who he was; and (3) the unfulfilled prophecy that Connor would kill Sahjhan. "Origin" took all of those loose ends, along with the unresolved emotional issues between Angel and Connor, and tied them up in the most satisfying way possible. It was perfect.

Connor Lite was also a lot of fun; he rarely got the funny lines before with the raging psychopath thing and all, but he got in some good ones here. It's interesting that even in his gosh gee incarnation, Connor was still Angel's son on the inside, retaining his taste for older women, and not even hesitating to say he'd kill Sahjhan to ensure his family's safety. Connor finally accepted Angel's gift of love, and he was kind enough to let Angel know it. ("You gotta do what you can to protect your family. I learned that from my father.") This episode left me wondering what sort of future Connor will have. There should be a comic book or something.

I was less happy with how we left two of my favorite characters, Darla and Drusilla. The flashbacks in "The Girl in Question" felt like a cheat because they were basically just used to establish the character of the Immortal, not to tell more about our perverted and beloved vampire family. How could we say goodbye to Darla and Drusilla that way? Cheating on their guys and sighing over some character we've never met?

The finale

Angel: "This may come out a little pretentious, but one of you will betray me."
Spike: "Can I deny you three times?"

I know Joss loves to break our hearts, but this was ridiculous. How like him to end the series in such a controversial way.

Don't get me wrong. Most of the episode was absolutely terrific. The "what would you do if it were your last day" thing was poignant and beautifully in character: Angel spending time with Connor; Lorne singing on stage; Lindsey making love with Eve; Spike getting drunk in a bar and performing his poetry; and Gunn going back to see his old friends in the neighborhood. Wesley made the most touching choice, spending his last day mending Fred's soulless ghost of flesh.

But I hated the end. Hated it, hated it, hated it. We've been hearing about the Shanshu prophecy since the end of season one, and Angel just signed it away. Yes, technically Spike could still fulfill the Shanshu prophecy, and Angel and Spike (as well as Gunn and Illyria) could have survived the onslaught somehow, but clearly, we're not meant to believe that they did. We were left thinking that they were all going to die, fighting the good fight. And yes, in a karmic sense, that may be just what should happen.

But we may never have another series set in the Buffyverse. We'll never know what happened to these characters we've loved for so many years. Angel did not fulfill the Shanshu prophecy, the five-year promise made to his character, and now he never will. Would it have been so hard for them to leave our heroes alive and fighting evil, to have one of our ensouled vampires receive the big Reward, and to leave Lindsey in charge of Wolfram & Hart?

It was the best of seasons, and a sad and poignant close to a marvelous series.

More, please?

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

4 comments:

Cesar said...

Hey Billie, just want to say again how wonderful your reviews are (and thanks for all the 'Buffy propaganda' in your other reviews, I probably wouldn't have started watching this otherwise :D).

However, I'll have to disagree with you on the Angel finale. I understand what has bothered you, but for me this was an excellent episode right to the last scene, despite (or maybe because of) the "facing certain doom" scenario, (although the fact that I know about Buffy season 8 and Angel After the Fall may have influenced my opinion... Don't know how I'd cope if this were the last Buffyverse episode ever)

Although I didn't like Angel's first season, the show really improved, reaching an outstanding fifth season and stepping out of Buffy's shadow (despite the occasional - and excellent - post-Buffy crossovers in this last season).

By the way, the Firefly cast member in every finale theory is certainly proving to be right after Dollhouse (although DOLLHOUSE SPOILER..... Alan Tudyk got to reprise his role in the second season and I'm not sure if Summer Glau applies, since wasn't so much of a villain in it like Caleb, Jasmine or Alpha and her appearence in the finale was only a cameo .....DOLLHOUSE SPOILER END). And now I'm trying to imagine Jewel Staite bringing forth the apocalipse on whatever the next Joss Whedon Project may be :)

Okay, so what next Featured Show here haven't I seen yet?

PS: Minor correction, I think you meant Nina the werewolf

Gus Brunetti said...

I really love season 5. It's my favorite.

Billie, I really liked these season-long essays. Any chance we see some like them for Buffy, LOST and Supernatural as well?

Billie Doux said...

Hi, Gus:

I wrote these essays for a book someone was putting together. And the book was never published. That's the only reason they exist. I put them up on the site because I wrote them and it seemed like the thing to do. But I probably won't ever do it for other shows.

Anonymous said...

I guess this is a little old, but I had an idea while watching "Not Fade Away": Angel did achieve Shanshu.

He's still a vamp, but he's working side by side with his family, both by blood and by choice. He's accepting life as it comes and understanding that he can't control everything. He's become human in every way but physical.

Anyway, just a thought.