The Replacement
Written by: Jane Espenson
Directed by: James A. Contner
Air Date: October 10, 2000


AKA: The episode where Xander starts growing up. Wherein Xander gets an apartment, a better job, a bit of confidence, a chick’s phone number (one that isn’t a demon!), and also almost gets into a three-way with himself and Anya. Its also the episode where Xander gets to re-fill his time-worn role of “guy who sees” – as in, the guy people turn to with major problems, like Riley at the end of the final scene. All in all, its a great episode with our main nerd at the center. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, here. And I’m also not talking about Toth, one of my all-time favorite looking demons on the show, or the spectacular effects (practical and special) throughout. Let’s go!

Cliche as it is, the sequence in the basement at the start of the episode is a great bit of easy set-up with some solid comedy thrown in for good measure, as well as helping to show the downfall of Buffy’s “normal” life – she studies, ignoring the poorly-dubbed action movie and only giving in to another normal thing: a PDA in the form of a shoulder rub from her too-good-for-her boyfriend, Lord Edmond von Doofington III, Riley. This is awesome for building the character up as someone who can successfully juggle it all, and as we see for the next few episodes, it continues to blossom as she dedicated herself to both school and Slaying. It will all come down around her soon enough. But this is also telling, because the episode features a LITERAL plot device meant to split Buffy into two halves: Primal Slayer and normal Girl. That it gets used on Xander instead is nothing to sneeze at, though, because the message is still clear. But we’ll get there.


Speaking of Toth, can we talk about how badass that dude is? His vocal patterns, his skin and coloration, and his awesome cloak effects are standout. And I love that he uses a cauldron even though the joke about “no one using them anymore” is predictable and easy. I read somewhere, once, that he was named Toth simply for the joke about it being “British slang” could be used and even if that’s true it doesn’t detract from the imposing nature of the entire character. He is “sophisticated” and even taunts Giles when he pulls out a fertility goddess statue as a weapon. Everything about him is either cool, interesting, or even hilarious. Spike is on his side until he blasts a lamp he was going to take from the dump. Just a good “monster-of-the-week” that has no bearing on the overall narrative of the season or series but is still fully realized within the context of his one-off episode.

The meat of the story, though, is the two Xanders: one who is clumsy, wears awful clothing, is awkward and whiney, and doesn’t do anything right; the other wears the right things, says the right things, and gets ahead in life. The comedy between these two is awesome but subtle most of the time. And the episode plays up the possibility that the “Suave Xander” is a demon in all the right ways: hitting on chicks, using a shinny object to get people to do what he wants, and calmly convincing Anya to sleep with him. And the Snoopy dance moment between the “real” Xander and Willow is cute (and an awesome callback to “Passion”), as is both his pleading to her being real, him getting a gun, and Willow and Buffy trying to figure it all out at Giles’ place. It all culminates with a reveal that is well-earned, as is the tension in the scene that follows, with the fight over a gun and the chance that both Xanders may die by the end of the episode.


The climax of the episode – convincing Xander(s) that they are two parts of a whole – is mixed in with one final confrontation with Toth. This sequence is a bit on the drab side, however. The fight is largely uninspired, the scenes where Xander is beside himself are OK (its Nicholas Brendan’s own twin playing the other role and acting as body double throughout the episode – feel like this whole episode was writing around this fact) but really the best part of that encounter is the finale with them acting goofy together before being put back together. I don’t know, the whole thing resolves so quickly and cleanly. I get that the lesson was “Xander, you’re a big boy and actually successful” but it just seems so lazily put together at the end. And I doubly get that it is supposed to raise more questions about Buffy’s life (with Riley and as a Slayer) per her conversation with Riley on the drive to Xander’s new apartment. And this part of the episode works at the foreshadowing I’d mentioned earlier. I just wish the episode had used more of its time to devote to things like this.

However, everything else in the episode is either good enough or not insultingly stupid enough to warrant a bad score, and it continues to make its sudden inclusion of Dawn not stick out by having her show up briefly here and there, and it also shows the first signs of Joyce’s poor, poor head. And it also begins to showcase the growing and complex feelings Spike is developing for Buffy, what with his stupid mannequin. Anya is helping in the shop, Tara is further integrating, and Giles is less comfortable with kids tromping around his home. And then that ending: Riley’s admission that Buffy doesn’t love him, at least not like he loves her. I didn’t use to like Riley all that much, felt he was bland and one-note. And maybe that’s the point. He’s the “average guy” in Buffy’s life. There’s a charm there, one I hadn’t really noticed much before. His time on the show is running out and we’ll see how right he is.

Episode Rating: 79

Additional Notes:
-Quote of the episode: “Sandlewoody?” “Um. Not even remotely.”
-Buffy always wears the grossest collection of rings
-The construction crew is ending a job… but what were they building? Still looks like a dusty ol’ empty lot to me
-Anya’s launguage usage is still awesome, from mangling words to bluntly “tellin’ it like it is”
-Slowly turning into a pro-W+T fan
-Didn’t that realtor lady remember Xander came in with a girlfriend? Or did she just not care that she came off as disgusting and desperate?
-Xander’s self-awareness of his “old factory” joke is appreciated

Real Me
Written by: David Fury
Directed by: David Grossman
Air Date: October 3, 2000


Dawn’s real first episode is so snappy and fun in the front half… or two-thirds, really, that it makes up for the dusty ol’ fart of an ending which just kinda peters out. I remember hating Dawn and Michelle Trachtenberg by association simply because she is a whiner, a helpless sod, and lowers my overall interest in some of the characters because her voice can get so immediately annoying. And I’ve watched this series a few times, through and through, so this time I decided to step back and view it with more ‘lore-building’ in mind, and in that regard, this episode works from the very credits featuring her as a top-billed actress. And the way that characters interact with and speak of her. Its fantastic.

There is just so much to enjoy in this episode, right down to the stupid “narrating diary” trope. Pair this with the kitchen sequence, where Buffy, Dawn, and Joyce dance around each other prepping for the day. Examine the bit where Dawn says “underline – exclamation point – exclamation point” etc. Or when Xander sees her “as a woman” with ice cream dribbling down her chin. Or when Joyce gets really quiet when mistaking Willow+Tara magic talk for lesbian activities. Even the ending – which doesn’t really make much sense contextually – works. If SMG plays a lot of her emotions in her eyes, her “sister” plays a ton of it in her expressions. And it works.


What else works? How about the snappy-as-fuck dialogue? The wit, the play-offs, and the sarcasm work expertly. Compare the sequence of them driving in Giles’ new car and walking to the magic shop to the beach scene in “Buffy vs Dracula” – its apples and oranges. “To hell with Giles!” “I’m right here.” I just smiled a lot. Even during the stupid thumb-wrestle scene or the conversations about how frequently people get attacked or straight up murdered in that magic shop, it all works so well. Delivery and timing are everything in this episode, down to the obvious yet hilarious reveal that the unicorn was stolen to give to Harmony, who runs her own vampire gang now (it goes as well as you’d expect).

Likewise, the new cast members from last season are much more prominent now; Tara is wanting to be included more in the Scooby stuff and is emotionally distant about it, but at the same time is starting to have more confidence. Look at how she dresses now vs how she used to dress last season. And she interacts more frequently with everyone, despite Willow thinking they are opposed to her (even Giles, because he’s British!). And Anya starts to shine, here, too. “Ooh! The game of Life!” and her reactions to playing it an winning (and wanting to trade her kids in for money!) are highlights of the whole episode. Emma Caulfield plays this role so well and rolls out the bizarre linguistic choices like they are natural things she would honestly say. Maybe I’m alone in putting her on my Top 5 list of Buffyverse characters, but even if I am, I’d defend that choice to the end of my days.


If the plot of the episode is about Dawn’s arrival and the odd normalcy of it all, then the subplot is Harmony and Mort and friends (one of whom is played by future Andrew, Tom Lenk, no less!) and this is where the episode falters. The “planning” and everything up to the first attempt on Buffy’s life (complete with smiley-faced note on a brick) works well, and their interaction with Spike and Harmony’s reveal of stealing his lame plan are comical. But once Dawn is captured (after falling for the other old TV trope of overhearing the bad stuff but leaving before the good stuff can be said – gag me) its a quick downhill into predictable cliches. And the fight scene between Buffy and the giant Mort goes on for way too long before she cleverly kills him with a unicorn. Sigh. And yawn.

Season Five is my all-time favorite. A huge part of that is Glory. Another huge part of that is Spike becoming a real character and not just comic relief (although he almost certainly retains that aspect for the rest of his time on television). But the major reason is that all the characters become adults. And this is the first episode where we see this come to form: Willow and Tara are more open and comfortable about their relationship, Buffy is making Slaying more important in her life, Giles is going to own the Magic Box, and Joyce, well, she gets to do stuff again (she’s in the next episode, too! Must have been a great feeling, having her back). Xander gets his moment to shine next time, but everyone is getting older, wiser, and ready for new challenges.

And also Dawn shows up.

Episode Rating: 93

Additional Notes:
-The lighthearted music throughout the episode is a nice touch and never intrusive
-Same damned coffee shop as always
-Brad abstained
-Best line? Talking about how bored he was last year, Giles says “I watched Passions with Spike.”
-Spinal Tap reference
-Dawn’s true nature hinted at by crazy bum that is well played but slightly “too much”
-Let’s see if my opinion of Dawn changes, overall, this watch-through! I’m ‘excited’!
-Buffy’s response to Harmony having a gang is priceless

  Buffy vs Dracula
Written by: Marti Noxon
Directed by: David Solomon
Air Date: Sept. 26, 2000


I’ll just open by saying Rudolph Martin kills it as Dracula. This episode did not require Dracula to work, narratively – any old vampire with knowledge of the series’ lore would have worked. But Martin just takes the role and runs with it, never coming off as too cheesy or ham-fisted but still having a ball with the character, his mystery and his overall charm and appeal. You believe Buffy and Xander (and Joyce!) would become his thrall just from his vocal patterns, his looks, and his language choices. It any one device works in this episode about exploring more of Buffy’s darkness post-“Restless”, its Dracula. Thankfully, so much more works, too.

The episode – and thus the season – starts out strong. The cast is getting bigger, with Emma and Amber showing up in the credits a little more prominently, now. But then its on to the aforementioned darkness. See, Buffy’s run in with the First Slayer has brought forth a bit of the dark side within her, so now when she can’t sleep she doesn’t patrol: she hunts. The chase sequence that opens the episode paired with the slaying of that no-name vamp is brutal and efficient. This is immediately undercut however by the episodes worst scene, a beach sequence, complete with football, chicks in swimsuits lounging, and Riley asking for a hamburger by saying “cow me.” its as embarrassing as it sounds. It has one cool bit, though: Willow’s magically created fire stays lit during the rainstorm. Because its magic. Nice.


I’ll skip talking about the majority of the Dracula-related stuff: his arrival is classic, his castle is classic, his ability to transform into animals and smoke is classic, and his enthralling Xander who then eats bugs is classic. As are the Three Sisters. Its all done as classic because, hey, the legends are true! Again, Drac is just a device, and he works well. No, the real story is Buffy’s changes and Giles’ feelings of uselessness and inadequacy. The latter tells Willow that he’s skipping town and now he’s suddenly OK with scanning ancient texts into a computer (what a difference a few years makes, huh?) so they have everything they need, when they need it. She spends the rest of the episode trying not to tell anyone and also trying to convince Giles to stay. Its cute and true to character.

Dracula appears (and disappears! and turns into a bat!) and it changes everything. Buffy’s hilarious “Get out!” and Anya treating him like a celeb she once rubbed shoulders with is funny, but the most telling reaction is Buffy’s and – by extension – Riley’s. She’s drawn to the darkness that Dracula exhibits, much like she was drawn to Angel, The Master, and eventually Spike, all in different ways (don’t think she’d sleep with The Master, is all I’m saying). Riley sees this immediately, is the first one to notice her acting differently after his late-night visit and bite session with her later on in the episode. Riley isn’t getting the drugs from the military anymore and he is going to feel less and less influential in the Scooby Gang’s fight as the season progresses, but even more so, he’s already starting to feel like he’s been placed on the back-burner, and its good character stuff. Blucas doesn’t get much credit for his role on this show, but he plays an honest, decent guy with heart and deserves a bit of praise. Good job, man!


See, Dracula has control over Buffy due to their shared origins within the darkness. Here, he can be seen as a metaphor, the darkness that could (and sometimes will) control her. She can’t resist it, even though she “ignored” it last season. And when he bites her, you know its partially because of mind control, but also because she wants him to. Its why she goes to his castle after Xander tricks her into separating from the group. Its why she puts the stake down and listens, and eventually sucks the blood of Dracula. The darkness within her awoke last season and she can either let it go or continue to resist it. But once she tastes that blood, she gains the other option: the power to let it in and use it rather than succumb to it. Dracula is of-put by this, but Buffy uses the opportunity to kick the ever living shit out of him. I love, though, that in this fight, Dracula exhibits strength no other vampire has had. When Angel punched Buffy back in “Sanctuary”, she didn’t fly across the room. Dracula IS a different animal.

The episode ends with Xander refusing to be a “butt-monkey” anymore (seriously, they say it twice), Buffy needing Giles’ help to be a better Slayer, Giles feeling useful again, and Riley feeling vindicated. The end scene with Giles and Buffy is made all the better when you realize that she is asking for his help and to be her Watcher again in part to Dracula repeating the line Tara/The First Slayer said at the end of the finale last year, about her thinking she knows what she is and not even beginning to really understand it. Its a powerful callback that sets the tone for the rest of the season and, in many ways, the rest of the series.

And then Dawn shows up.

Episode Rating: 87

Additional Notes:
-“Dark Master….bator…” and “Unholy Prince…bator….” are the best lines of the episode, easily.
-More Joyce is always good Joyce.
-The music all episode is solid and well used
-Dracula owes Spike money
-I love that Dracula can’t be killed. And I love that Buffy watches him try to reform a second time and he just goes vapor
-I also love that Dracula gets used in the eighth season comics, later
-Riley never noticed a “big honkin’ castle” before
-Giles in the “chick pit”!


Similar to my “BtVS” review for Season 4, I started by Angel reviews a long time ago (over two years!) so it might be a bit all over the place, too. Having said that? I like “Angel” and its first season. I really do. It lacks a clear, running arc through most of its first half (due to a strong reliance on ‘monster-of-the-week’ episodes) and while its themes are consistent, so too are the narrative choices and storytelling methods used throughout. It starts strong and, while it doesn’t finish quite as strong, it still wraps itself up nicely and leaves a lot dangling for future seasons to come.

It helps that half the cast (at first, then the whole main cast by the end) were pre-established characters existing within the rule set of a pre-existing world. This allows Angel to come into his own show with a mission and a yearning to see it through that will carry him through his five seasons on television, faltering along the way, rising to meet challenges at the same time. Doyle explains it to him early in “City Of”, the very first episode, that his mission is bunk if he doesn’t have the human connection. He can save lives all day, but will he be redeemed? And by whom? While the season arc never really shows up, these questions are central to every episode that follows. And that human connection is what gets him work, gets him a team of allies, and gets him into trouble with the law. Literally, in a few regards.


Early on, Angel struggles to make that human connection, but his ability to do so grows. Look at his interactions with his clients (who are usually women, mind you) in “I Fall to Pieces” or “Eternity” – two women who need his help and Angel gets the right side and the wrong side of that connection, respectively, but its more of a connection that he would have made if he’d just shown up, stabbed a bad guy, and taken off. And, per his treatment of Faith and Lindsey, as we’ll investigate further a bit later on, we see that its about the end result; even if bad things happen, Angel knows the mission is about saving souls, and he puts forth the effort time and again, putting himself at risk in more than a few different ways. Remember, drugs and alcohol don’t mix, kids. You lose your soul, temporarily!

While Angel has a ton to atone for, the rest of the main cast has their own arcs to go through. Cordelia is redeeming herself as a human being, so to speak. She appears trying to make a star of herself early on, and then in “Room w/a Vu” we see her start to pull herself together. She doesn’t have the glamourous life she wishes she had and she slowly is putting it together that she doesn’t need it. She can be a productive member of society and a helpful part of her team. Compare her early on to her ability and desire to help by “To Shanshu in L.A.” – she is starting to change and, honestly, its the most natural development of any of the character. Charisma Carpenter nails this role this season, finally able to do something with a bit more meat to it than the same character on “BtVS”. Its awesome.


Doyle, who was supposed to be Whistler, that odd guy back in “Becoming, Part 1” is an OK character, but due to ‘circumstances’ he is outed and Wesley joins the cast to take his place. The former gets a pretty solid development despite its truncation, however, going from douchey demon out for himself to a full fledged “Hero” by the end of his run. He’s redeeming himself, too. Wesley shows up as a rogue demon hunter and is redeeming himself for his lack of care and attention to his former Watcher duties and his failure with Faith. While he gets more episodes, Wesley is mostly played for comic relief, with a bit of bad-assness coming through eventually. Never before would Wesley have taken out a gang of goons like he does in “The Ring”, but here we see him start to develop. Like Giles before him, he is starting to have some kickass rub off on him.

But if the major theme is redemption, than the core story goes to fighting the good fight, no matter the odds. And though they show up in the very first episode, Wolfram & Hart – the evil law firm – doesn’t really start to make its presence known until he final act of the season, chiefly “Five by Five” and the spectacularly awfully titled “Blind Date” – here we see their inner workings, the powers and resources they have, and the lengths they are willing to go. In the latter episode, it gives Angel cause for pause as he sees what he is up against. By the end of the series, we learn with Angel that its just about the fight, standing against evil. But here, he starts to doubt himself and whether or not he can ever really make a difference, ever really gain redemption. Its heady stuff and Boreanaz plays scenes of doubt well, wearing it on his face and carrying it on his shoulders. And this weight wouldn’t mean much of anything, but the people we meet that represent “evil” (two meanings of ‘represent’, by the way. I’m such a word-smith) are delightful: Lilah is snarky, Lindsey is arrogant, and their boss, Holland Manners, is just creepy and icky.


Speaking of Lindsey, the show’s major themes take place between him and Faith, who runs afoul of the Angel Investigations crew after ditching Sunnydale back in “Who Are You?” – these two characters represent the opposite sides of a coin; people doing bad things that have souls screaming to be saved. Faith wants it, even needs it. She doesn’t like what she’s done, who she is. She knows she is a bad person and asks Angel to kill her, even. And Lindsey doesn’t mind some dirty work, but really doesn’t want to deal with killing kids. These two characters steal their episodes, with Faith having her greatest content to date (seriously, that torture of Wesley and the helicopter/rooftop brawl with Buffy? Sweet stuff). But while Angel’s message gets through to her, in the end, Lindsey makes his own choice and takes the power, even if he loses a hand in the process. Oh well.

There’s some weaker stuff in here, too, but seemingly less than on its parent show’s fourth season. While a dude that falls apart and can control those parts would be home on either show, the way its handled is much better here than “BtVS” would – and that’s because the stories are simply darker. “Buffy” is about life after high school being hell, while “Angel” is just about LIFE being hell. And it works in its favor. There are some weaker bad guys (blind lady, I’m looking at you – even if you can’t look at me…) but even if there is bad costuming, bad make-up, or some simply weak concepts, the handling is just that much better. It even makes vampires scary again, when Kate has to learn about them and deal with them killing her father in “The Prodigal”. Speaking of Kate, she’s an interesting reversal. Someone Angel tries to help who gets less and less noble and good about fighting the good fight as time goes on. Its a shame she vanishes from the show so quickly… Alas! She and Gunn represent the ‘street-level’ demon fighting and we’ll get more from both in seasons to come.


The first season of “Angel” is a winner. It might be the best season of the Buffyverse at this point (strong ‘might’) but it is certainly one of the best, most even seasons of its own show. With the themes cemented in place, the message coming through crystal clear, and the characters developing and becoming stronger version of themselves, its all going well. The series has a lot – and I mean a LOT – of speed bumps between here and the incredible fifth season, but we’ll see them through within a minute. We have to try. We’ll pay the price… It’s… wait, wrong series!

Average Episode Rating: 84.8
Season Rating: 92

Favorite Episode: Sanctuary
Best Episode: Somnambulist
Worst Episode: Blind Date

Favorite Character: Cordelia Chase – as mentioned previously in the review, this character and Charisma Carpenter get to play a much bigger role and the acting chops brought to the table are far and away above anything displayed on the parent show. Her growth from ditzy wannabe actress to helpful team-player is solid and continues to expand, but never so quickly and never too abruptly to make it unbelievable. The restraint shown in developing ALL the characters this season is fantastic but it is never better exemplified in anyone other than Cordy. Solid.






This “Season Four” review is going to seem all over the place – and it is – for two reason: First, the season itself was all over the place tonally, thematically, and from a quality standpoint. Second, It took me four years to get through the season, which ain’t great for the ol’ memory databanks, if you know what I mean. So if it seems disjointed or lacking, sue me – I’m a human being. ANYway!

“Buffy: The College Years” is exactly like any high schooler entering college’s life; full of change, reflection, self-discovery, new challenges, and obtaining independence. All of the major players from last season (minus Angel and Cordelia for obvious reason) go through a ton this season. Change for Buffy comes out swinging in the very first episode, “The Freshman” when a low-level vampire takes her out due to her own self-inflated ego, and then in “Living Conditions” when having to deal with the inclusion of someone else into her life that doesn’t fit, namely her roommate, Cathy. Xander deal with not going to college by having a multitude of jobs (bartender, ice cream truck driver, construction guy, candy bar salesman, etc.) and also having the most stable relationship of his core friends with ex-demon Anya. Giles is no longer employed or a Watcher, Willow gets a chance to just stop being the nerd and change her image entirely, and even smaller players like Oz and Spike have major changes.


Many of these changes bring newfound obstacles or complications, such as Oz cheating, Willow becoming a lesbian, Buffy dating someone and sleeping with them like a stupid girl, or Joyce Summers fading into the background. These are all analogous to the daunting reality of “college preparing you for ‘real life'” – this is a theme Season 4 tries to hammer home very early and struggles with very quickly. “Living Conditions” and “Harsh Light of Day” do a solid job of this, showing various darker aspects to adjusting to ‘adult’ life. But then “Beer Bad” happens and its all so over-the-head. And its not just the early episodes, either: “Where the Wild Things Are” is an episode completely dedicated to the topic of having too much young, college sex and letting it ruin your life. This could be handled well, but, well, it isn’t. At all. This kind of back-and-forth is rampant all season long.

The new players, though, offer a mixed bag as well. Riley, Maggie Walsh, and the Initiative – as well as “Big Bad” Adam – are hit-or-miss. Conceptually, all of these new factors are engaging. WAAAAY back in “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” we saw that the government had knowledge of the supernatural and though Marcie has yet to show up (still not in the comics, I don’t think) here we see further reaching implications of that knowledge. And again, whether it works or not is mostly episode-to-episode, with Riley and the boys being effective plot points or otherwise being a joke. The other characters, aside from Riley (who, while being a huge doof, is still mostly a fun, human character and a good opposing side of the ‘Buffy’s Boyfriend’ coin from Angel), are mostly blah. Forrest sucks. His boner for Riley gets in the way of compelling characterization. Walsh is OK until right before she dies when the plot needs Adam to show up and she just becomes a stock mad scientist/super villain. The General that shows up is OK, but one-note. And Adam? What to say about Adam?


Adam first shows up in “The I In Team” but really arrived in “Goodbye, Iowa” — and then he’s not really seen doing much but monologue-ing and standing around in bad makeup for the rest of the season, until “The Yoko Effect” when we first get a whiff of his plan. Compare this to The Master, The Mayor, or Spike & Dru who are menacing throughout their respective seasons, or at least seen doing stuff. Adam is mostly talked about while off camera and then dispatched with relative ease thanks to a spell that CHANGED EVERYTHING FOREVER YOU GUYS. Its a missed opportunity because we learn a bit this season but more later that a Slayer in the fusion of “man and demon” and the parallel between him and Buffy could have made for interesting TV. Instead, we got what we go. Oh well.

There’s some fantastic comedy (“A New Man”, for example) and some damned good heartbreak (“Wild at Heart”) and the lore building, particularly in the epic, multi-faceted finale “Restless”, is beyond a doubt the best the series has had to offer thus far, and in some ways, ever will offer. Its long-lasting stuff that effects the remainder of the television show for years to come, most notably in the following season. And the character growth all feels natural. As a long-time supporter of Willow+Oz, watching the relationship with Tara start coming into fruition was a treat and an interesting moment of revelation. It never feels forced and feels completely earned. Ditto with Xander’s building feelings of worthlessness and Giles’ sense of self-worth diminishing. Its all natural and never against character. Even if things get tied up too neatly by the end of “Primeval” in that elevator shaft.


The fights are more brutal (check Faith vs Buffy in “This Year’s Girl” or the massive beating Spike gives Buffy in “The Harsh Light of Day”), the effects are getting really good (spells have lighting and transformations are smoother) and aside from Adam, the make-up work is much better, such as Giles’ demon form. Hell, even the music is getting better. “Hush” has a soundtrack that is through the roof. Also, that episode is amazing, but I don’t have to tell you that. You know that its a great episode. Its why I haven’t mentioned it much, here. There is no reason.

Despite this, the overall feeling of the season is one of lackluster emotion and blah-blah narratives. I just don’t care about much of this season. It has some real good stuff going for it, and the show’s overall quality is increasing in various ways throughout the 22 episodes. But the main bad guy is lame, the Initiative is lame, keeping Buffy’s mom off screen is lame, some unexplained plots (where does Giles get the money to maintain his lifestyle?) are lame, its themes are lame, and even the crossovers – minus Angel beating and taunting Riley in “The Yoko Factor” – are lame. Its all… it’s all lame. You could argue that the letdown is harsh and cruel, just like life can be, but shut up. This is a TV show. I escape the shitty life I have with TV. I don’t need to be reminded of it, there. Season 4 is the roughest the series gets, not counting the first (since it was getting its legs and displayed so much joyous innocense). But it wasn’t all bad and, hey, its over! Wahoo! On to Glory and… and…



Average Episode Rating: 84.5
Season Rating: 78

Favorite Episode: “Restless”
Best Episode: Tie: “Restless” and “Who Are You”
Worst Episode: “Where the Wild Things Are”

Best Character: Last three seasons it was the “Big Bad” – not gonna happen here. Here, I’m going to go ahead and give it to Buffy. It IS her show, but the way they display her changes and her acceptance of her new, ‘adult’ life are well done and she gets the most growth of all the characters without becoming completely new people: Willow and Xander change dramatically, Buffy is more subtle. I can dig it.


To Shanshu in L.A.
Written and Directed by: David Greenwalt
Air Date: May 23, 2000


The final episode of the first season of “Angel” ties up the major themes of “redemption” and “connection” quite nicely. Although sometimes in ways that are a bit much, admittedly. It also moves the show forward, past its initial baby steps and running full speed at bigger, better things. Its a solid wrap-up and open-up that still feels like its missing something. It includes all the major players; the Angel Investigations team, W&H folk, some surprise guests, and even a few demons. But it feels kinda lackluster as a finale. Let’s investigate why.

We begin our episode with a fake-out reveal of David Nabbit, the nerd with the demon brothel issue from a while back. He’s lonely and wants to “hang” – he’s supposed to be analgous to our heroes, particularly Angel; could have everything, but has nothing. Alone, without real connection to the world. This is driven home further by the reveal of the titular Shanshu prophecy and the reveal that it means Angel will die. Which is a pretty stupid prophecy to be worried about, of course he’ll die, eventually. But Wes and Cordy feel distraught because Angel doesn’t seem to care. Wesley posits that this is because Angel has nothing to care about in this world, that he feels empty. Possibly due to his self-revelation that everything he does to stop Wolfram & Hart is meaningless, per his rant back in “Blind Date”?


Boreanaz plays his way through this episode like a soulless puppet (not a reference!) and that may be the reason for my lack of overall feeling for this episode as a whole. I get that he’s down at the moment – and nothing here is going to help that, from finding out about a demon summoning, that Lindsay turned his back on redemption, hilariously accidental references to puppies, or a billion dollars worth of art supplies – and that he’s always been moody, but it just seems so… “blah” the whole way through. Like a depressed teenager, rather than a hundreds-of-years-old vampire with a lot on his mind. This changes once the demon W&H summon to bring for… another summoning(?) goes after his friends. And its this moment that brings Angel back into caring: his connections. But this is weak as a plot device because Angel always cared about his friends and his ‘family’ up until this episode. It is like he forgot he had feelings for these people for two minutes and it cheapens the turn he makes halfway through the episode.

It isn’t all bad, however. The acting of everyone else is spot-on. Wesley – sporting the first signs of a beard – is caring, loyal, and dedicated to finding out the true translation of the scroll, while Cordelia is bubbly and concerned. And don’t get me started on everyone over with Wolfram & Hart – Lilah’s signature snark, Linday’s over-confidence, and Holland Manners’ level of creepy seniority and knowledge are all on-point. Even the bad guy, some dark robed, mask wearing mother is well done, despite his heavy breathing in most scenes (seriously, go back to the part where he takes the scroll from the weapons case… its so loud). And the Oracles, who haven’t been seen for quite some time, show back up and are promptly massacred to death. All these players are on point and help move the compelling aspects of the story forward. But the title character just can’t get it in his head to do anything about anything until Cordelia is in the hospital (after quite the splitting headache) and Angel Investigations is blown the hell up with Wesley inside.


But now its game on. And also, go show Gunn for half a second. OK? OK. And he also visits the ghost of an Oracle who tells him the scoop. But then its the good stuff. The action. And it doesn’t disappoint. At all. No sarcasm. Despite the setting being dumb (a cemetery oooooh boy), this sequence is thrilling, slightly unsettling, and has some good choreography, as well as some damn fine character moments. The five vamps chained to the box, the chanting, the matter-of-fact way the bad guy stops and waits for Angel to bust in, followed by Lindsay taking charge to impress his boss? It all clicks and is smooth as hell. And that brawl between Angel and Vocha (the robed dude) is awesome, as is the final moment when Angel rips his mask off and you see the grossness underneath. Angel then asks for the scroll and Lindsay, attempting to be a badass, threatens to burn it. So Angel just tosses a blade and chops Lindsay’s hand off in a great middle finger moment with a powerful music beat to match. Its fantastic.

The ending, though, all boils down to the final minutes: Cordelia is saved by magic words, Holland tells Lindsay that the Senior Partners are impressed, Wesley reinterprets the scroll to reveal that Angel doesn’t “die” but instead earns a soul, and he smiles. This is all well and good, but the big ending for Angel just doesn’t feel earned. I said it before, but I’ll restate it here at my conclusion: Angel cared about the world and his place in it, the good fight, all season. Its what helped Faith, its what he tried to teach Kate (before she just become awful), and its what he was hoping Lindsay would learn. For him to forget all of that in the first half of the episode doesn’t make his realizations or his acceptance of a possible future reward very, well, rewarding to watch. It feels forced and rushed. The whole season could have built to this, but it faltered in the execution. Its not horrible, but it is a missed opportunity. Oh well, Darla’s back.

Episode Rating: 80

Additional Notes:
-Kate’s arc all season was masterful
-As was Angel finally tearing her down. Rough stuff, mister!
-Gunn’s inclusion was just to remind you about Gunn
-The “lore-building” in this episode is incredible, however, and really sets the stage
-Cordelia really went overboard on those art supplies
-Solid visual effects with the ritual
-That homeless person is afraid of the ‘dental association’

Angel – “Little Lost Girl”
Dark Horse Comics – Dec. 13, 2000
Writer(s): Christopher Golden and Tom Sniegoski
Artist(s): Eric Powell, Jason Moore, Lee Loughridge
Editor: Scott Allie


Any points Eric Powell and Christopher Golden may have earned are quickly swept aside because Angel busts into someone’s house through the front door without being invited in, ignoring one of the key rules for the Buffyverse. This lack of care to remember a simple aspect of lore just goes to show that no matter how many times they churn out a good or “ok” story, you’re always going to get something that goes so hard against the very fabric of its making and undoes any good graces mustered.

Everything else was easily forgettable here: pyrokenetic girl, drunk step-dad, blah blah. I’m just furious that they can’t figure out how to consistently make things of greater quality. Ugh.

This?: Just forget it.

Angel – “Vermin”
Dark Horse Comics – Oct.-Nov. 2000
Writter: Christopher Golden
Artist(s): Christian Zanier, Andrew Pepoy, Mark Heinki, Clayton Brown, and Lee Loughridge
Editor: Scott Allie


Aw, rats (pun!)! – I was prepping for doing a finale review for the first season of “Angel” and was thumbing through the Dark Horse Omnibus and saw that they are still operating out of the old Angel Investigations building. This is problematic as said building goes up in flames by the end of the first season, so I had to do what I had to do and read this to review it fast (turns out there’s one more comic for sure, too). This one is… insanely skipable. It isn’t horrible but it isn’t really great.

Cordelia discovers some demon rats through a vision and Angel heads there to save a kidnaped little girl from rapists and thugs. We get some history of the rats and the amusement park (horribly named “Dream-a-Dreamland”) and Angel’s personal history with rodents. Its all too on-the-nose as Cordelia also discovers rats in the office. Its OK and the characters are fine. Its just not that interesting.


The art is where it really gets dragged down. In the opening, when the rats are summoned, they tear through the fabric of a tent. As well as a table and crystal ball. In one swipe. Not break through the later, mind you, but tear through. It makes no sense. And Angel’s proportions, as shown, are all off. And every last background, as show, are bland and lifeless.


I dunno. It still isn’t horrible and has some decent – yet gruesome as hell – action. So it gets a pass on a pass fail scale, from me.

Pass/Fail: Pass

Angel – “Strange Bedfellows”
Dark Horse Comics – Aug-Sept 2000
Writer: Christopher Golden
Artist(s): Christian Zanier, Andy Owens, Derek Fridolfs, Lee Loughridge
Editor: Scott Allie


Its Angel vs the vampire hookers. Seriously. That’s the plot. Its pretty well told, though, and could actually be an episode of the show, its that good. Christopher Golden, somewhere along the way, has gotten a touch better at writing, and the “Angel” line of comics never felt forced to use that stupid “feral, bat-like” vampire look its parent comic adhered to for far too long, so when this series attempts to tell a down-to-earth and within-the-feel-of-the-show type of narrative, it really works.

First things first, the plot is actually not too cheesy or dumb, and the new characters introduced – namely the mistress of the vampire brothel, are fully realized and interesting. The way they play against the main characters is natural and fluid and the conclusion seems just and earned. Even Kate’s inclusion feels like part of her progression from the show. Its real solid.


It is also funny; the sequence at the brothel with Angel and Wesley stands out as accurate and to the point, and though there are some superfluous story beats (looking at you, Cordelia) the story holds up and never feels forced or like it is treading water in any parts. And that moment with the bad guy(girl) chomping on that rat in the shadow is a legitimately unsettling image, drawn very well. Kudos.

The action is well drawn and the characters more or less look like their real-life counterparts. If I have to nitpick, the hooker vampires are drawn so sluty its almost juvenile. I get that they are prostitutes so skimpy clothing is a must, but the poses, the features, and the curvature of the bodies is drawn mostly as wank material for Jr. High readers. It’s OK, but it is definitely not something you’re going to want to be seen reading in a pediatric clinic waiting room. Don’t ask me why I know that.

It is alarming, just as an aside, how much better these comics are on average than the “BtVS” issues I’ve read thus far. Just alarming.

Is This Comic Good?: Yes. Yes it is.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “One Small Promise”
Dark Horse Comics – Feb. 7, 2001
Writer(s): Tom Fassbender, Jim Pascoe
Artist(s): Cliff Richards, Guy Major, P. Craig Russel, Clem Robbins
Editor: Scott Allie


Noooooo! Right after that Giles comic?


Buffy looks evil as hell, gives Riley a gift of a necklace. They get in a verbal fight over the gift and Riley is all “I have a weener” and Buffy is all “don’t be one” and then some vampires show up and they murder them.

Then they kiss the end.


The art is bad. The story is so stupid. It could have never been a thing and the universe would have been the same, save my suffering. And thats its biggest sin: it is so offensively non-offensive. It is a fart with no smell; you heard it, you know that something awful is there, and despite the fact that it doesn’t stink, you still taste it. This comic is a weak fart. This comic is your grandma only having butterscotch candies at her house when you visit. This comic is someone sneezing into a tissue then opening it up to look at it right in front of you.

This Comic: is some kind of afterbirth or something, I don’t know. Putrid, putrid afterbirth.


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