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Angel: Season One Essay

Season One: A Rocky Start (Pun Intended)

Angel: "Why would a woman I've never met even talk to me?"
Doyle: "Have you looked into a mirror lately? No, I guess you really haven't."

Spun off after what many consider the strongest season of its parent show, Angel started its un-life on the WB on October 5, 1999.

Could Angel make it without his girlfriend, Buffy? Absolutely. The show defined itself quickly as darker, gloomier, and more adult, a detective with fangs instead of the Chosen One, big city instead of small town. But just like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel had the same Buffyverse monsters, the same biting wit, and didn't take itself too seriously.

Although season one wasn't as strong as later seasons (in my opinion), it did successfully define Angel as a stand-alone character. One of the advantages of a spin-off is that the actors and writers are usually already comfortable with their characters. David Boreanaz really knew his character by the time he got his own show, and Angel, in my opinion, worked much better as a dark hero in L.A. than he did as a teenager's love interest in the sticks. Boreanaz was more than capable of carrying the lead role – and the writers and producers allowed Angel to stay in touch with his inner monster, which was key to keeping him interesting.

We learned more about Angel's past in one of my favorite season one episodes, "The Prodigal," where we saw Liam's parental baggage re-enacted in flashback. We also got a synthetically induced visit from Angelus ("Eternity"), a brief glimpse that only had us hungry for more.

One thing kept bothering me throughout season one. We were told that Angel could never have sex, because if he "achieved perfect happiness" (which I took as a euphemism for orgasm), he would change into Angelus. I didn't like the idea that our hero could never get it on with anyone, ever, and I was relieved when Wesley reinterpreted the situation ("Eternity"), saying that he thought Angel turned because he had a moment of perfect happiness with Buffy, the only woman he'd ever loved.

In season one, we learned that Angel doesn't eat, lounge, hum, or dance. He wore black, and he suffered. He was also probably the only sympathetic male character on television who could get away with hitting his ex. (What's with that, the way Buffy and Angel used to beat the crap out of each other?)

How do you spell comic relief? C-O-R-D-E-L-I-A

Cordelia: "I'm not a sniveling whiny little Cry-Buffy. I'm the nastiest girl in Sunnydale history. I take crap from no one."

I always liked Cordelia. Her shallow materialism and uninhibited narcissism were a great complement to Angel's angst and depression. Angel and Cordelia (at least in season one) were such total opposites and played off each other so well; all of the Angel/Cordelia scenes were deliciously in character. Charisma Carpenter has great comic timing and delivery. David Boreanaz also has a light, deft touch with his comic lines; how many vampires do you know who can get yogurt on their noses and make it work?

Throughout the series, Cordelia developed a more serious and heroic side, and I could see the start of it in "Parting Gifts" after Doyle passed his gift on to her. And in "Somnambulist," we finally saw Cordelia standing up for Angel, and bonding with him (although I suspect that scene was originally intended for Doyle).

First, there was Doyle...

Doyle: "Pen. Paper. Single malt scotch."

Doyle (Glenn Quinn), Angel's redemption liaison, was a huge favorite with the fans right from the beginning. I liked his eyes; I liked his accent; I liked the chemistry he had with Angel and Cordelia. He seemed to have a great line about Angel in every episode; like, "But no, handsome, brooding vampire guy has to swoop in, all sensitive mouth and overhanging forehead." Maybe it was the brogue that made the lines sound so good. Well, no, it was more than that; it was Quinn's delivery that made it work. Doyle's tragic and unexpected death in episode nine, "Hero," was a blow that could have spelled the end of the series.

Oddly enough, as much as I liked the character, I realized fairly early that the two Doyle-centered episodes, "Bachelor Party" and "Hero," were not that strong. I could never pin down what the problem was. Was it that the character wasn't well defined? Was it that they weren't writing for him? Even though I liked Doyle, the whole half-demon thing never worked for me. How is half-demon defined? As a half-breed like Doyle? A changed human like Angel? How can a whole group of related demons (as in "Hero") be half-breeds?

The tragic death of actor Glenn Quinn adds poignancy to Doyle's death in "Hero." I can't watch it without crying like a baby.

And then there was Wesley

Wesley: "Fools rush in..."
Cordelia: "No, he wants you to stay here."

Okay, I admit it. When Wesley was first introduced in season three of Buffy, I didn't like him in the worst, worst way. Perhaps it was because his character was intended to piss us off. (Hey, it worked.) When Alexis Denisof was brought on board in episode ten of Angel to replace Glenn Quinn, I was not thrilled. I thought that Angel and Wesley had no chemistry together as characters.

Wow, was I wrong. Wesley slowly won me over, and eventually became my favorite character. I think it started with the Bavarian fighting adz in "Expecting." Or maybe it was the dance sequence with Angel at the end of "She." Perhaps it was our first glimpse of Wesley's childhood in "I've Got You Under My Skin" with that bit about a father not needing to be possessed to terrorize his children, which was very effective and explained a lot about Wesley's sometimes silly bravado and overboard need to achieve.

By the time we got to Faith's two-parter ("Five by Five," "Sanctuary"), Wesley had moved way past the pratfalls. We saw depth and vulnerability, impressive bravery under torture, and unshakable loyalty toward Angel. I started wanting to hug him. I still want to hug him.

The law firm Johnny Cochran is too ethical to join

I wasn't impressed with Wolfram & Hart at first, although the idea of an evil law firm with a connection to Hell was a creative choice on the part of the writers. Wolfram & Hart started to click for me in episode six ("Sense & Sensitivity"): villains who use sensitivity training to disarm the cops? How droll. But Wolfram & Hart really took off in "Five by Five" when they hired Faith to take out Angel – and then they hit a home run with Lindsey McDonald.

I don't know what inspired the writers to start developing Lindsey as a character, but I'm glad they did. He injected true villainy and tension into the show, and he played well off Angel. No, wait – let me clarify. Christian Kane played extremely well off David Boreanaz, and vice versa; the air practically crackled between them when they were in the same room. I liked Lindsey's unlawyer-like uncombed hair, his cool blue eyes, and his amazing sangfroid, which he managed to maintain even with sang all over him. Giving Lindsey moral boundaries – like when he found it impossible to go along with the assassination of children – made him even more interesting.

So I was immediately on board with Lindsey, but bummed when Angel cut off Lindsey's hand. Why mutilate him? He was turning into a great villain without any additional motivation. Just a bit of overdoing the resemblance to Krycek on The X-Files, don't you think?

Regrets, I have a few

So season one wasn't entirely what it could have been. Slave women from Dimension X? The Demon Wrestling Federation? Neurosurgeons with detachable body parts? Hey, every new show tends to explore blind alleys and introduce characters that don't work out, especially in their first season.

Speaking of Kate Lockley, did we hate her because it was too soon for Angel to have a love interest other than Buffy? Or was it just because she wore so much mascara that she actually got her hair caught on it? (Let me add that the way an actress is presented usually isn't up to her; she might have been unhappy with the Police Officer Barbie look.) Whatever it was, despite the wonderful work that Elisabeth Rohm did in "Sense & Sensitivity" and "The Prodigal," I was never ready to see her smooching with Angel. She had better potential as a possible villain, but that remained unexplored when she left for another series in season two.

I was also unhappy with "Hero" (even though Glenn Quinn's performance in the Angel Investigations commercial still makes me cry). The lack of set-up in a show that had done so well with plot up until that point made it reek of a forced write-out; it was like a bad episode of Sliders, complete with Cro-Mag demons and machines that dissolve the good guys. The demon refugees didn't work for me, either; maybe I have a problem putting "demon" and "helpless" together. And wouldn't a troop of Nazi demons stand out, even in L.A.?

I also wasn't wild about the Oracles under the post office. Maybe it was the blue and gold wallpaper look.

The good stuff

Spike: "Evil's still afoot! And I'm almost out of that Nancy-boy hair-gel that I like so much. Quickly, to the Angel-mobile, away!"

Crossovers. Yum.

There were several in season one – Oz, Spike, Buffy, Faith – and they were all soooooo good. In fact, shades of season five, I said in my original review of "In the Dark" that Spike played better off Angel than he did off Buffy ("And now I'm just a big, fluffy puppy with bad teeth...no! not the hair! Never the hair!") and that they should move Spike to L.A. I'm sure that's where Joss got the idea. (Just kidding.) I just have one complaint about "In the Dark." I've never understood why Angel couldn't wear the Gem of Amarra on his toe.

There were several other excellent stand-alone episodes. I was impressed with the unexpected twist in "I've Got You Under My Skin;" Penn, Angel's evil acolyte, in "Somnambulist;" and our glimpse into Angel's past as Liam in "The Prodigal." I loved the fight scene in "Blind Date," where Angel realized that his opponent couldn't see him when he wasn't moving because, hey, room temperature.

"Rm w/a Vu" was a hoot. I loved Phantom Dennis, God rest his soul, wherever he is. And I loved David Boreanaz half-naked in "I Will Remember You," and in a tank top in "The Ring." Enough said.

Set-ups for later seasons

Along with the development of Lindsey and the introduction of Lilah, the last three episodes of season one introduced J. August Richards as Charles Gunn, the homeless, gang-banger vampire fighter. His debut in "War Zone" was so strong that I said in my initial review that I wanted more, and I was pleased when he became a popular and enduring permanent character on show.

After the Faith two-parter, Whedon put Faith back in a coma (jail, coma, what's the difference) with her loyalties and the state of her mental health still uncertain, which would allow her to re-enter either series at any time and under any circumstances and it would be believable as well as an audience draw. I have to take my hat off to him.

Of course, the big set-up for season two was the resurrection of Darla (Julie Benz), who has almost certainly died and been resurrected more than any other character in the Buffyverse. This was a great move; the Darla arc in season two was outstanding.

The final episode also introduced the Shanshu prophecy (the vampire with a soul will someday become human). The Prophecy, of course, became a big deal later on in the series.

On to season two,

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

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