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

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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”?

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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.

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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’
-I LEFT MY WALET IN EL SEGUNDO!
-I GOTTA GET IT I GOTS GOTS TA GET IT!

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