_20151118_102924

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.

Angel1cast

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.

Behind-the-Scenes-season-1-angel-and-cordelia-3018143-1002-674

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.

Wolfram_and_Hart_Building

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.

250px-Kate(angel)

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.

Cordelia_Chase_001-1-

Advertisements