City Of
Written by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt
Directed by Joss Whedon
Air Date: Oct. 5, 1999

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Well here we are at last, the first episode of Angel’s spinoff show, following the events of Graduation Day and what a kickass start to the show it is. All of my fear related to Angel acting as a leading man would have been washed away with this initial episode, had it not been for the fact that I started watching this show halfway through its fifth season and, thus, seen him as a further developed character than he is, here. Having said that, its pretty cool to get back into this whole “review writing” business at this point during the chronology because it gives me a chance to see where these characters have gone since they left their old lives. A ton of great development happens from here on in, particularly in this show, let’s just stop the pleasantries and jump right in.

“City Of” has the unenviable task of reestablishing the character, rules, world, and canon of the Buffyverse for both people that are following over from Buffy and, also, for those people that are coming in fresh with this first episode. This is all managed beautifully in both the opening scrape Angel finds himself in, dealing with some thug-like vamps that wanna have some “real fun” (i.e., biting skanks in the neck to death) and then his first encounter with Doyle, a half-demon with visions given to him by “The Powers that Be”, a benevolent force more than a group of people or entities that will guide much of Angel’s actions for the next five years. These two sequences are great for two reasons, one each. The first scene brings to light the drive, focus, and fight Angel brings the dark underbelly of L.A. every night in one quick game of follow-and-stab. We don’t need any more info, like how many nights he’s been doing this or why. We understand in one fight. We also get a chance to see the universe’s first filmed depiction of wrist-mounted stakes. Which is badass.

THIS guy

The second sequence does a very, very admirable job of delivering rapid-fire flashbacks and quick character set-up without wasting time retreading to a fault for any viewer that might have seen all of these various elements play themselves out over the first three years of Buffy. But if you’ve never seen anything like it before, you’d get a real solid idea of what Angel is all about from stories of vampires, souls, gypsies, and the like. Doyle even does it with enough whimsy to make me immediately sad that Glenn Quinn won’t be around too much for this series. His dedication to playing a wacky half-demon is perfect, from his dry witticisms to his referring to getting a Colt 45 as a “Billy Dee” and slamming Angel one minute for not giving a damn about the people he saves, then shutting up a homeless woman asking for a help by telling her to get a job the next. Its a subtle character played with absolutely no subtlety and I love it.

More to the point, though, Angel has been saving these countless, nameless people for so long that he’s starting to disconnect from the human race and, well, that doesn’t make for a very good show. So Doyle gets visions and gives the info to Angel so that he can save one person an episo… I mean at a time, thus getting to know individuals rather than masses and, thus connecting. Of course, this goes poorly for a first attempt, much like Angel’s attempts at using pick-up lines and hitting on Tina, the first girl Doyle sends him to. He tries valiantly to save her but her corrupted trust of men leads her away from him and into the arms of the man pictured above, Russel Winters, who is – SHOCK! – a vampire who then eats her. Its an awesome reversal of fortune for the first episode of a show about a man trying to help that it should end this way, particularly since he helped so much on his show of origin. It allows for new depths to be explored that suddenly he is helping new, nameless people, rather than Buffy.

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The end goal was to keep Angel from seeing that his quest for redemption is pointless, something we’ll see him struggle with time and again throughout the series. And here, we get to see a bit of that darkness in his sudden and unyielding desire to see Russel die for his actions. Its pure vengeance. And he doesn’t care who gets in his way, punching through guards and prepping to do the deed by any means necessary. We’ve seen this level of darkness before but never in our main character. Buffy will sometimes mistreat the ever living hell out of characters to get what she wants, even if that means torture. But this was always minimalist and toward the benefit of character development. Here, we have these aspects as a part of the character, and it showcases, instantly, the greater darkness “Angel” will bring to the table, week after week. You have to consider that to someone that might not know, Angel appears to have walked into a business meeting, pushed the CEO out of a top-floor window to his death, and then casually strolled out like its just another Tuesday. Respect.

Aside from these things, the episode starts world-building right away with the inclusion of references to things that will be ever-present on this show, such as our first on-screen reference to Wolfram & Hart, a law firm that will likely be run by demons or the devil or something. I dunno, we’ll have to wait and see. And it also shows us the world is larger than just Sunnydale, something we’ve learned from BtVS before, but never like this. Here we see an underbelly and also a chance for redemption. We also see that while Sunnydale might have a Hellmouth, L.A. has Cordelia chase who, might I add, immediately starts getting better character development than anything she was getting in Buffy. And I won’t lie, that show laid the groundwork for her character down there. But she really finally gets a chance to shine, here. And its nice to see the Charisma Carpenter get to do some new things, for once.

So, “Angel” starts off with a bang. I’m excited to be back and excited to be doing these episodes in a sort of “chronological” order. I’ll be using THIS website as a guide, for future reference. But I am glad to be back. Can’t wait to keep on keepin’ on.

Episode Rating: 89

Additional Notes:
-Cordelia’s immediate realization that Russel is a vampire would be the best line of the episode, had it not been for guest star Vyto Ruginis delivery of “no I’m not”
-Angel jumping into the wrong car is both stupid as hell and funny
-Solid makeup and effects on Doyle changing into his half-demon state… shitty effects on vampire transformations and Russel’s final makeup is atrocious
-Lindsay!
-The use of Angel’s theme throughout is a standout musical decision
-We finally see the other side of the phone call from The Freshman
-Russel falling is sometimes an awesome set of camera shots and sometimes a garbage set of camera shots…
-…but Angel’s doofy smile on top of the building at the end of the episode is the real worst shot of the episode.
-………..also Sawyer!

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