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Angel: Season Four Essay

Season Four: You're Soaking In It

Gunn: "Listen, I spent most of this year trapped in what I can only describe as a turgid supernatural soap opera."

This season was way over the top. It was riveting. It was outrageous. I absolutely loved it.

I mean, what's not to love? Faith escaped from prison and returned for a fabulous run of episodes. We had a hijacked apocalypse. We had a huge, horned Beast. We had the Five Totems of Ra-Tet, which would be a good name for a rock group. We had the entire cast go back to being teenagers.

And we had the multi-episode return of Darth Vampire, a.k.a. Angelus, the master manipulator and button-pusher. David Boreanaz as Angelus delivered his lines with vicious glee, and the writers didn't pull any punches whatsoever.

I particularly loved the episode "Awakening," where it took a lot more for Angel to achieve a moment of perfect happiness; i.e., he had to save the world, destroy the Beast, re-bond with Wesley, work through all of his myriad conflicts and competition with Connor, and receive an abject apology and a declaration of love from Cordelia.

We even got Angel fighting Angelus. What incredible fun.

Love interests for everybody

During the initial seasons, no one on this show was even close to getting laid; this season, there were couples all over the place. Gunn and Fred acted more like a real couple this season instead of the ebony and ivory Bobbsey twins; Wesley and Lilah had passionate sex all over the place before Wesley began to seriously turn his attention to Fred; and then there was the incredible weirdness of Connor and Cordelia.

The Angel Powers That Be attempted to introduce a love interest for Angel with Gwen, Miss Defibrillator-Hands. Unfortunately, the romantic sparks just didn't fly, pun intended, and she ended up briefly with Gunn.

Oedipus Rex

Angelus: "Doing your mom and trying to kill your dad? There should be a play."

One fascinating plot element that was almost universally despised by fans was Cordelia's evil turn and her affair with Angel's supernatural son, Connor. It moved into the area of Oedipus complex when we take into account Connor's attempt to sink Daddy to the bottom of the sea.

I always loved the original Cordelia, dark hair, smart mouth, and all. (We even got a wonderful glimpse this season of sixteen-year-old Cordelia in "Spin the Bottle," which just made me miss her more.) What went wrong? I honestly believe that trying to make Angel and Cordelia a couple was a mistake on the part of the writers. I also believe that Cordelia being possessed and turning evil was done way too subtly in the beginning; if we had realized something was wrong early on, fan sentiment wouldn't have turned so strongly against Cordelia.

As it was, the Angel/Cordelia love story was over before it began. We all thought she had Angel's heart, and then we believed she was cheating on him with his son. It didn't make sense, and it deep-sixed our love for the character. Going blond didn't help the situation, either, since most fans felt that Cordelia had been assaulted by a hair stylist. At one point, I believed that Cordelia was pregnant with Angel's grandchild, too. An annual mystical pregnancy plot? No, no, no! Why don't supernatural characters believe in safe sex?

Poor Connor's character suffered from being stuck in this season's major plotline, too. Certainly, he was a teenaged hormone bomb with a crush on Cordelia, and couldn't be blamed; after all, he was only sixteen. (No, wait -- he magically became eighteen in less than a year so that Cordelia wouldn't be robbing the cradle.) And then he became a mystical Daddy, after trying to kill his own mystical Daddy. All of this completely blew away any chance for the fans to grow to love Connor, and accept him as part of Angel Investigations.

The one thing that the Cordelia/Connor relationship did for me was, it made me truly care about Angel again. Seeing him injured so badly by the Beast was painful for me to watch. And then, watching him watch Connor boinking Cordelia? It just made my heart bleed for him. Geez, Buffy caused him pain and killed him, but at least she never cheated on him.

Jasmine and the Apocalypse

Lorne on the phone: "Well, it might take a couple of days; you're fifth on the bleeding-walls list. Spritz it with a little 409, we'll get back to you."

The whole Jasmine arc reminded me of that old joke about God where the punchline is, "In the first place, she's black." Exceptionally good casting there; Gina Torres is extremely beautiful with her own unique look, and Jasmine was sweet, wonderful, and ultimately chilling, because you wanted her to be as wonderful as she appeared to be.

Jasmine was sincere about bringing love to the world, along with her salt and pepper. She was actually almost pitiable at the end... well, almost. I particularly liked the scene on the bridge. Jasmine said, "No, Angel. There are no absolutes. No right and wrong. Haven't you learned anything, working for the Powers? There are only choices."

The Jasmine arc made me feel a lot of empathy toward Connor. He had more in common with Dawn than I originally thought; he was created specifically to bring forth Jasmine, just as Dawn was created to camouflage the Key. He spent his childhood in a hell dimension manipulated by Holtz, and supernatural forces and misunderstandings consistently kept him from the only person who truly loved and wanted him -- Angel. Connor desperately needed love and needed to give love, which explained his actions toward Cordelia and Jasmine.

There was never a chance for Angel to have a relationship with Connor; like the love affair with Cordelia, it was over before it truly began. The resolution of Connor's story in "Home" was beautiful, unexpected, and very touching; it made me cry. Connor so clearly needed what Angel finally gave him; mom, dad, sisters, college, a girlfriend named Tracy, a family full of love, and no hell dimension childhood with Holtz. And interestingly enough, no Angel. Vincent Kartheiser was excellent. David Boreanaz did wonderfully, too, showing understated grief and pain in the store scene, and later as he was watching Connor through the window, a certain amount of acceptance.

Even better, Cordelia and Connor were both written out in a way that would allow them to be written back in. Very good writing there.

Wesley

Wesley: "Sorry to disappoint, Lilah, but I'm not waiting at the door with a scowl and burnt pot roast."

Wesley, beautifully played by Alexis Denisof, just got sexier and more devious in season four. Right at the beginning, he somehow captured Justine (I wonder what he did to get information out of her?), figured out what happened, acquired a boat, found and rescued Angel. He carried on a torrid affair with Lilah through much of season four; I wondered often if Wesley was planning to infiltrate and take down Wolfram & Hart all by himself, because I never doubted he was still on the side of good.

We got a wonderful return to Wesley as the prissy, clumsy head boy watcher-in-training in "Spin the Bottle." (I just loved the accidental emergence of his concealed, um, weapons in particular.) It occurred to me early in the season that Wesley had actually become what he was pretending to be three years ago -- a sexy rogue demon hunter. Who would have thought it?

It was also wonderful of the writers to give Alexis and his real-life honey Alyson Hannigan a long, one-on-one scene together in "Orpheus," with the two of them trying to out-evil each other.

Lorne

Lorne: "Speaking of moot, what about us? Anyone else feel like the last feisty wife in Stepford?"

As much as I loved season four, there wasn't much there for one of my favorite characters, Lorne. Yes, he got to sing in Vegas, and he still flirted outrageously with Angel (and I always loved the gentle way Angel treated Lorne in return).

But then, Lorne just kept getting victimized. He was hit over the head more often than Giles. Not good.

The Fred and Gunn show

Fred: "You know what they say about payback? Well, I'm the bitch."

Fred was given some added depth this season. She showed remarkable courage and intelligence figuring out how to defeat Jasmine. Her uncharacteristic homicidal rage directed at the man who sent her to Pylea was effective; Fred had never shown that level of hatred for anyone or anything before, and I found it disconcerting as well as believable. We also got the fun side; my favorite Fred scene this season was her in green make-up and bustier yelling about laser beams shooting out of Lorne's horns. Her bonding with Willow in "Orpheus" with the yammering and the research was also simply delightful.

Gunn, who has an inferiority complex about just being "the muscle," got a little ego boost from the wild and crazy Gwen. (And did he look gorgeous in that suit Gwen put him in, or what?)

Just as the Fred and Gunn relationship was becoming more adult, when we saw them cohabiting in the hotel and actually having sex and everything, it all fell to pieces when Gunn killed the Professor in order to keep Fred from doing it herself. Gunn had come such a long way from the angry, violent, gangbanging vampire hunter he used to be, and he chose to give up the progress he's made for Fred's sake. Did he just feel that when it came right down to karmic terms, he had less to lose than Fred did?

Whatever the reason, that act eventually split them apart, and made room for Wesley.

A fabulous season for Lilah

Lilah: "Look, Angel, I know you've been out of the loop for a while, but I'm still evil. I don't do errands unless they're evil errands."

Lilah Morgan (Stephanie Romanov) carried the evil for Wolfram & Hart in season four while having a raucous affair with Wesley. She was the last cool Wolfram & Hart villain; she managed to be evil and sexy, and still evoke our compassion at the same time. That final scene with Wesley trying to burn Lilah's contract showed that at some level, she could even be sweet. She even complimented Wesley subtly on his skill as a lover ("but then, you always did like to take your time."), which was a lovely way to say goodbye to him. Maybe it wasn't just dying; maybe the affair with Wesley changed her.

Wolfram & Hart went for a fall early in season four. "Habeas Corpses," which wins my vote for the cleverest Angel episode title of all, reminded me of the old joke: What do you call a hundred lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? (A good start.) Could even the strongest of diabolical law firms with connections to powers in Hell survive having all its employees turn into zombies? (Of course, the Wolfram & Hart element went in a whole new direction in season five.)

The Faith-based initiative

Faith: "It's like riding a biker."

One of the highlights of season four was the return of Eliza Dushku as the Faith.

A few years in prison and an honest attempt at making amends was just the beginning for Faith. She stayed in touch with her inner monster, just as Angel did (openly referring to herself as a murderer), but she also learned that dying was easier than redemption. And it was Angel that took her to that place. It was her need to rescue him that made her accept herself as a Slayer, as a person who wanted to do good and make amends.

Faith's advent just made everything better. Her interactions with the other characters were wonderful fun; she got to rescue Angel from Angelus, beat up Connor, flirt with Gunn, bond with Wesley. Faith is such a strong character. She needs a series.

The huge set-up for season five

We have met the enemy, and he is us. Or whatever.

"Home," the final episode of season four, had to be two things: a possible series finale, and a major change in direction for next season. It succeeded admirably on both counts. The re-staffed and zombie-free Wolfram & Hart, a turn-key, state of the art, multi-tasking operation, became Angel's "reward" for ending world peace.

Lorne got the entertainment division; Fred the science division; Wesley got a lot of magical books; and interestingly enough, Gunn got a trip in the funky elevator and an odd communion with a black leopard.

Angel was the only one who wasn't seduced into accepting the Wolfram & Hart deal; he gave in, for Connor's sake. Angel was born to suffer. He's the only one who remembers that day of being human with Buffy, and at the end of season four, he was the only one to remember that he ever had a son at all.

Intriguing as it was, I was only partially on board with the Wolfram & Hart takeover. I just wasn't sure it would work. Although I loved the thought of Angel in a three-piece grey pin-striped suit and power tie, riding around in a limo or any other of his twelve new cars, or lounging about in the office's necro-tempered sunlight. And I must admit that it left the story possibilities wildly open-ended.

On to season five,

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

1 comment:

  1. Just finished a rewatch and found myself enjoying series 4 a lot more than I thought I would.
    I remembered this series as being "the miserable one," maybe it was my feelings about Season 6 & 7 bleeding over.
    You said it, this series was big, bold, hugely dramatic and mostly, enjoyable. Angelus, the beast, Jasmine and her faithful hordes, an alternate dimension, lost memories.
    That said, Cordelia & Connor were still awful. That can't change.
    But then, even as I warmed to season 5 of Buffy, it never changed the fact that Dawn was the worst written character in, like, ever.

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