Judge Brett Cullum stalks the streets of L.A., a solitary creature of the darkness, seeking the DVD series that will redeem his soul.
Cordelia: Come on, Angel. I wanna hear you sing.
Season Two of Angel gets a good yet surprising release from Fox. The surprise concerns its aspect ratio, but more on that later on. The second season is a strong chapter in the show's history because it planted seeds for story arcs that extended well into the final episodes of the show's run. This is the year Angel (David Boreanaz) had to stand on his own, and he and the Fang Gang hold it together nicely through three major arcs. The nicest facet to Season Two is that Angel finally shows how much soul he's got.
Facts of the Case
Six discs feature 23 episodes in widescreen and a nice collection of shorts:
Disc One: "Judgement," "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been" (featuring commentary with writer Tim Minear), "First Impressions," "Untouched"
Disc Two: "Dear Boy," "Guise Will Be Guise," "Darla," "The Shroud of Rahmon"
Disc Three: "The Trial," "Reunion," "Redefinition," featurettes on make-up and sets
Disc Four: "Blood Money," "Happy Anniversary," "The Thin Dead Line," "Reprise"
Disc Five: "Epiphany," "Disharmony," "Dead End," "Belonging"
Disc Six: "Over the Rainbow" (featuring commentary by director Fred Keller), "Through the Looking Glass," "There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb," season overview, and featurette on the stunts throughout the series
Season Two of Angel introduced elements into the "vampire with a soul" story that set the stage for what was to come. There were three major story arcs: the return of Angel's sire Darla (Julie Benz), Angel's revenge against her and Wolfram and Hart, and finally a journey into another dimension to save Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter). These three plots support the real story, which concerns Angel (David Boreanaz) heading into a darker place because of that pesky soul the gypsies cursed him with. That's what gives the show its gravitas…weight…heft. Any fantasy or scifi show runs into a specific conundrum: "How can we get a human element out of the freakish or far out?" And Angel seemed able to provide that in spades. It began to comment on humanity as well as it did on vampires and lawyers who lived outside the human race. How gleefully fun that is! Two evil soulless creatures locked in a death match…lawyer versus vampire! But, dang it, the show made me feel for both.
The Fang Gang is back in top form for Season Two. Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) expanded her emotional range further, no longer just vacillating from bitchy barb-slinger to screaming damsel in distress. Her looks and silences spoke volumes to Angel, and the show gave her a core. Wesley Wyndham Price (Alexis Denisof) emerged from bumbling sidekick into a leader who had more depth and strength than initially expected. And Charles Gunn (J. August Richards) made a street-smart demon hunter lovable and vulnerable. In a way this is the season when the whole cast got souls.
The show transitioned from Buffy tie-in with a monster-of-the-week format into a dark soap opera where you could see demons singing hits by the Pointer Sisters now and then. I give props to Joss Whedon for creating the show, but honestly he wasn't involved much with Angel during its second season, as he had been before (and would later be). Credit cocreator David Greenwalt and writer Doug Petrie (along with tons of writers, directors, and producers) for holding up the quality throughout the entire season. They took the show down the path it needed to go, and really hit a home run.
The supporting cast was as sublime as any other element. Julie Benz returns as Darla, and she breaks your heart and rips it right out again…still beating. Andy Hallet is introduced as The Host, or Lorne, as he would later be known, a horned green lounge lizard who runs the karaoke sanctuary known as Caritas. Amy Acker debuts as Fred, the librarian trapped in a strange world. Surprise guests crop up as well: Even Joss Whedon himself plays the ever-dancing Numfar in the Pylea episodes.
David Boreanaz as the titular Angel holds it all together. He never gets enough respect for playing the most successful vampire heartthrob since Barnabas Collins rolled into Dark Shadows. He had to emerge from his role as Buffy's sidekick in Sunnydale, and this season shows him in peak solitary form. Angel loses all faith in his mission and humanity, and then he comes around like a heroic Phoenix, seeking redemption with renewed vigor. Buffy the Vampire Slayer revolved around a struggle against destiny, a girl yearning for a normal life when the supernatural keeps pulling her back in to the shadows. Angel, conversely, emerges as a monster from the shadows of the supernatural and tries to find his place in the normal world. He's the flip side of the coin, the yin to the yang, and his journey in Season Two takes him into an angry and bitter place where he wants to fight alone for vengeance. It's vampire Hamlet with a happier ending. Snicker all you want, but Boreanaz keeps this operatic myth grounded in humanity.
Everything is in place to make Angel: Season Two dynamite, and it is. Then along comes Fox with some strange decisions about presentation and extras. First off, the anamorphic widescreen is a problem. If you watch "Darla" closely you will see a lighting tree in the corner of the screen at one point. Tim Minear has gone public and said that Season Two was meant to be full frame, yet the studio went ahead and widened the screen. It works most of the time, but during shots with three characters see if you can't tell they all huddle together. Yet the transfer is super clean and has almost no edge enhancements. The only time I noticed strange digital artifacts was in the last four episodes, when some trees began to pixelate a little in Pylea. But Angel's color palette is perfectly preserved and faithfully represented. Sound mix is the now-standard Dolby 2.0 surround. Sound is good, rear speakers occasionally get used, but it's nothing mind-blowing. The menu interfaces are great when you compare Angel to its sister show Buffy. Angel's episode titles go from top to bottom, and it's easy to tell what episode is next. Each disc starts with some flash and dissolves into a static screen with a photo. Two scripts are included, and finally somebody blessed us with black type on a white background, so I can read them.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The real crime before the court is the dearth of extras. We get two very dry technical commentaries from a writer and director. No Joss Whedon, no Marti Noxon, no actors. Then you get short features on make-up, sets, and stunts, and a rather different season overview as well. It touches on thematic elements and offers the usual talking heads intercut with scenes from the episodes you just watched. Usually Fox goes all out, and there's normally one commentary from Joss Whedon. But this time around he only directed one episode and cowrote a couple…so we have to wait until Season Three to hear more from the master of this universe.
Yeah, okay…Angel has silly moments now and then. The extras seem sparse. And we get widescreen when the show was shot for the normal full-frame ratio. Also, even though Angel is a great show, you have to have been a fan of Buffy to understand the entire drama. I can see where some people shrug and say "I don't get it." Yet the rewards always seem to outweigh the letdowns.
In the end I have to say I love Season Two. Some say the Pylea episodes were anticlimactic or the three threads didn't hold together well. To them I say "Go hang out with the soulless lawyers!" Angel is great science fiction because it addresses humanity as much as Star Trek or…um…Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It has teeth and wings. It's a wonderful example of how cinematic and captivating television can be. Investing in this series is rewarding and never dull. If you yearn for the creatures of the night to take back the streets of L.A.—Angel is your man.
Angel is free to go out in Los Angeles in his black leather trench coat and help the helpless. Season Two is a gem. Fox probably rushed this set out, considering it mirrors a region two release. It was silly for them to widescreen it, but the transfers are great—but can we get some more extras next time? If any of us rabid fans want anything from these sets it's the hidden goodies and useless trivia. That would save all our souls. Redemption is in reach!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Writer Tim Minear on "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been"
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