Fox // 2002 // 990 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 6th, 2004
S -- -, meet fan.
Vampires + Apocalypses = Fun for everybody!
Judge's Note: Angel -- especially in this fourth season, and the season preceding it -- has developed an ever-growing narrative arc. With seasons three and four, the writers have weaved together a two season-long story, which will be difficult to fully appreciate if one jumps right into the middle of it. Because of the nature of this season, it is impossible to discuss it with any substance without treading into spoiler territory. As such, if you've never seen the show, and are partially interested in immersing yourself in one of the funniest, coolest, most creative series ever developed, pick up the season one set and start your adventure there. For those who have surfed through the first three seasons and are eager to check this out: stop reading this, know that it's worth your dineros, and prepare for an onslaught of twists and general kick-assness. On with the review!
* Angel: David Boreanaz
* Cordelia: Charisma Carpenter
* Wesley: Alexis Denisof
* Fred: Amy Acker
* Lorne: Andy Hallett
* Connor: Vincent Kartheiser
The story so far...
Way back in the 19th century there was this drunken sot of an Irish kid named Liam. One day, he meets an exotic beauty named Darla, who happens to be a vampire, and she turns him into Angelus, the most vicious bloodsucker in history. After a century and a half of rampaging through Europe, committing unspeakable horrors, he munches on a gypsy family, is cursed with a soul, and becomes Angel. Now burdened by a conscience, he sees the devastation he's caused, and must begin the long process of atonement. He screws around for a while, eats rats and stuff, and is then brought to a small town called Sunnydale to help fight the forces of evil with a plucky vampire slayer. A bunch more crap happens there, and he eventually heads off to L.A., buys an old hotel to live in, and faces the evils of the City of Angels. With his cronies Cordelia (a shallow, wise-cracking wanna-be actress with a big heart and a big set of...uh...responsibilities), Wesley (a former Watcher (slayer-sponsor) who started out as a klutz and became a supreme bad-ass), Gunn (a street-savvy young vampire slayer), Fred (a farm girl rescued by Angel from another dimension), and Lorne (a green-skinned demon that can read people's destinies if they sing karaoke for him), Angel wages war against a slew of enemies, not the least of which is the malevolent law firm Wolfram and Hart. Through some dark magic and the like, Darla is brought back to emotionally mind-screw Angel. She ends up physically body-screwing him as well, and amazingly the two have a child -- Connor. Following some unfortunate circumstances and misunderstandings -- Wesley misreads a prophecy, kidnaps the baby, gets his throat slit, loses him to Angel's arch-enemy, who then takes the boy to a hell-dimension, only to have Connor return fully grown -- Angel now grapples with reality of being a father to a troubled teen, with superpowers, who hates him. At the end of season three, we are left with Cordelia being chosen to ascend into a heavenly realm and become a higher power, Wesley ostracized from his friends, Lorne vacating the premises, Angel boxed up by his son and sunk into the Pacific, and Gunn and Fred standing alone in the hotel.
Season four opens with Angel being plucked from the watery depths by the last person he would expect. Barry Manilow? Okay, the second-to-last person he'd expect -- Wesley, the man he had cast out of the crew so long ago. Wesley nurses the emaciated vampire back to health. Angel then sojourns back to the hotel to confront his son, the source of his deep-sea incarceration, and kicks him out of the house. Wesley's return is met with tension; the group is unwilling to welcome him back into the fold, though Angel later tells him "we're square."
Meanwhile, Cordelia is bored out of her mind in the upper planes of existence, and miraculously returns to Earth, stripped of her memory. The gang tries to unravel the mystery. When Cordelia (who is growing closer to Connor) rebounds from her enigmatic amnesia, she sees a vision of the apocalypse. This is Angel, remember, so these visions must not be taken for granted. Out from the depths of Hell, The Beast arises, a surly bastard made of rock who likes killing people. The Fang Gang tries their best to prevent The Beast from achieving his goal of blotting out the son, but they fail, despite some sweet dual-fisted gunplay by Wesley. Alas, all goes dark, fire falls from the sky, and -- to add yecchy insult to injury -- Angel witnesses Connor and Cordelia (the woman he loved) get it on.
From this cringe-worthy event, the rest of the season's arc is plotted. The Gang, impotent in defeating The Beast, unleashes Angelus, the only being to have faced off with stone-boy -- who, of course, ends up running amok. Renegade slayer Faith (Eliza Dushku) is recruited to bring the vampire in, and Willow (Alyson Hannigan) takes a break from Sunnydale to "re-ensoul" Angelus. But all of this craziness is only the precursor to the main event -- the revelation of the true mastermind behind The Beast; his plot; the manipulation of Angel, his crew, and his son; and an apocalypse that cannot be stopped.
Angel is my all-time favorite show. From Season One to Season Five, when it was cruelly canceled well before its time, the exploits of this vampire with a soul and his quirky band of evil-fighters have thrilled, chilled, and amused me endlessly. This is one of the few shows where the writers kept challenging themselves; each season is dramatically distinct in terms of narrative flow, pacing, and character development.
Compared to its spin-off source, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel is different in a variety of ways: 1) it deals with more mature themes, and just feels "older" -- this can probably be attributed to the fact that the lead character is not a teenager, but a 250 year-old vampire; 2) it's darker -- funny, sure -- but much darker than its sister show; and 3) it breaks away from the Buffy formula of having a seasonal arc end with a showdown with whatever "Big Bad" is on deck.
The unorthodox storytelling style is most evident with season four; essentially a straight-shot narrative (with a handful of stand-alone episodes) where one show often picks up seconds after the previous left off. Season four is really part two of a two-season, 44-episode arc dealing with Angel and his son, Connor. And it is a fantastic story, littered with tragedies, dramatic changes in the central characters, neck-snapping betrayals, villain after villain (each more lethal and creative than their predecessors), some crazy Oedipal crap, and more than one epic fight. Of course, there are plenty of hiccups along the way.
Let's unpack season four a little more then, shall we?
(WARNING: PREPARE TO ENTER MAJOR SPOILER TERRITORY!)
* The character arc of Wesley
This is my favorite aspect of the season. Wesley undergoes the most compelling and dramatic metamorphosis of any character in the Buffyverse -- and, I'd make the case for it being the most dramatic in recent television in general. The guy started out as bumbling comic relief in Buffy, which lasted through the first two seasons of Angel. When he took the helm of Angel Investigations midway through season two, he started to develop some hardcore-osity...but it wasn't until he had a neck ventilation courtesy of the annoying Justine, and was abandoned by his friends, that he became what fans lovingly refer to as "Dark Wesley." A different haircut, some beard growth, and a cynical outlook on life suit Wesley well. The guy goes cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs -- consider: he starts to bang Lilah, the evil yet bodacious lawyer, organizes his own elite vampire dusting unit, holds Justine hostage in a closet for months, and arms himself with extendable knives and grappling hooks (not to mention shotguns and pistols). And when he rejoins his compadres, all this great stuff comes with him. Most excellent.
* Cue kitchen sink!
The writers have thrown everything into this season. Angelus? Check. Apocalyptic Satan-like monstrosity? Check. Father/son/girl love triangle? Check. Mystical statutory rape? Check. Faith vs. Angelus? Check. Angel vs. Angelus? Check. Gorgeous bringer of love and harmony and enslavement that eats folks? Check.
* The Connor storyline
Many Angel fans dislike Connor. He can certainly be irritating some of the time (okay -- all of the time), but the writers treated the character justly. There is no way that a kid brought up in a hell dimension and taught to hate his true father will ever become a well-adjusted teen. The guy suffers from über-angst. And the Connor/Cordy relationship is surely gross, but you have to give credit where credit is due. By the end of this season Connor's story wraps in a moving fashion -- and it's tied up even tighter in the next season. It was a tough, agitating trek -- but taken as a whole, the Connor cycle is ambitious and fascinating.
Boreanaz obviously revels in portraying this side of his character, and he's good at doing it. All of the quirks that make Angelus such a treat are present and accounted for: the snarky evilness, the lack of mercy, the detestation of his Angel counterpart. And he gets a nice run of five episodes.
* The pacing
Because of the style of the season (one long narrative), slow parts can be expected -- and there are plenty here. The biggest perpetrators in the "get-on-with-it-already" department are Connor and Cordelia. There is just too much talking with these two, and it grows very tedious, especially when you know there is plenty of Angelus action that can be had elsewhere.
* Cordelia's storyline
Whereas everyone else benefits from some excellent character development, Cordelia, sadly, falters. Her incessant pep talks with Connor are wearisome, and, though the idea of having her be The Beast's master is cool, Charisma's portrayal just doesn't ring true. To top it all off, I wasn't feeling the Cordy/Angel relationship at all, even back in season three. Eventually, Cordelia was evicted from the shows (to make a memorable return in season five, however, refreshingly back to her old self).
* The overall flow.
The set-up of the season has both good and bad ramifications. Once you're hip-deep in the story, it's great. So many things happen that the story moves forward with relentless suspense and anticipation for what's to come. But because of its rejection of stand-alone episodes, season four is not a season I look forward to revisiting. When I was in it for the first time, I was hooked; but the re-watchability suffers from the big-long-arc approach.
Fox continues to impress me with its respectful treatment of Angel (I wish I could say the same for those rats at the WB.) I really dig the way these sets are put together. The artwork is excellent and the episode guides are first-rate. The discs themselves sport a great interface system as well. Episodes are easy to navigate, and transitions are creative.
The shows look smooth, too. Angel was the first series I watched that used the widescreen approach, and it really helps make the show look theatrical. Compare this season to the season one set, and you'll see the difference. Season four deals in an epic scope, and the video presentation does this scope justice. Episodes are transferred very well, and detail remains sharp, even during the extensive night sequences (this is a show about a vampire after all). A Dolby 2.0 audio mix is up to the task, and has some real moments of juice in the big battles -- The Beast will make your bass blast.
Finally, a solid group of bonus features catapult the set (and the series) into the upper tier of TV-to-DVD releases. Selected episode commentaries by creator Joss Whedon, and cast and crew members, offer varying degrees of insight and wisecracking -- the two most entertaining include actors Andy Hallett and Alexis Denisof.
A season overview featuring cast and crew interviews basically takes you through the season; it's the Cliff's Notes for the show; and, sadly, lacks any profound commentary on the show itself. Four featurettes include: Angel and the Apocalypse, Last Look: The Hyperion Hotel (a spot on the shooting location), Fatal Beauty and the Beast (spotlighting Jasmine and The Beast), and Malice in Wonderland: Wolfram and Hart (a look at Angel's corporate nemesis). All these extras are interesting, and offer varying perspectives on the Angel mythos. A blooper reel rounds out the offerings.
Twenty-two episodes, six discs, a nice array of features, and one of the most kick-ass -- and woefully underappreciated -- genre shows of all time make this a set no Buffyverse enthusiast or sentient human being should be without.
Not guilty on all counts, except being damn great.
Review content copyright © 2004 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2004 Nominee
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 990 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Selected Episode Commentary by Cast and Crew
* Season Overview
* "Angel and the Apocalypse"
* "Last Look: The Hyperion Hotel"
* "Fatal Beauty and The Beast"
* "Malice in Wonderland: Wolfram and Hart"