The Best and Worst of Angel: Season 1

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For previous installments of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

For previous installments of Angel:

The Best:

I Will Remember You, Five by Five, and Sanctuary

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There are so few episode of Angel that truly tug at my heartstrings, but I Will Remember You really does in a fantastic way. Love really matters to me, so these sort of episodes definitely resonate and have impact. According to Shangel’s Reviews of I Will Remember You:

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Can my review of this episode just be a drawing of a broken heart and a piece of paper saying “Don’t wanna! Don’t wanna!” in yellow crayon? UGH. I literally pouted at my screen at the prospect of re-living this episode again. After two relatively mediocre “Angel” episodes (“Sense & Sensitivity” and “The Bachelor Party”), “I Will Remember You” delivers what is easily the greatest episode of “Angel” thus far. None of the other seven can compare to it. Ironically, the best episode of “Angel” thus far is an episode that is entirely about a relationship and events that took place in Sunnydale on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”.

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Even though it’s absolutely gut-wrenching, this is my favourite episode of either show in relation to ‘Bangel’ (Buffy and Angel’s romantic relationship). What “I Will Remember You” does is expose what they would have been like as a couple without the added drama of Angel being a vampire and having a gypsy curse. They can have sex. They can go into the daylight together. They can eat together. In doing so, they’re fucking adorable! I’m of the opinion that Buffy has never had a good, healthy relationship. Perhaps it’s because she’s the Slayer, perhaps it’s because she’s primarily dated vampires…whatever the reason, all of Buffy’s relationships have had major flaws. Angel and Buffy could never be a real couple (this episode aside) and they were so full of angst. Riley and Buffy in season four of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” was Buffy’s most stable, healthy relationship, but ultimately Riley was too insecure over having a girlfriend that didn’t need him or rely on him…plus Buffy was never in love with him. Buffy and Spike worked wonderfully together as friends in season five and they were a very enjoyable couple in season seven, but season six was downright unhealthy and disturbing, so I can’t get into them as a couple too much either. With that being said, I like and appreciate all three of Buffy’s major relationships. However, I don’t think that Buffy ever loved someone as much as she loved Angel, which is what makes this episode work. Even though Buffy and Angel had vast flaws as a couple, they had a deep love for one another that was unparalleled by anyone else in their lives. Even after becoming human in this episode, some of the reasons why Angel broke up with Buffy in the first place are still present. These reasons ultimately lead Angel to make his greatest sacrifice. Everything that was wonderful about their relationship and everything that was negative about their relationship is explored in just 42 minutes.

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You’ve got to have Faith! According to Critically Touched review of Five by Five:

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“Five by Five” is a spectacular piece of work; an action oriented episode with smart, nuanced character developments swimming just under the surface enough to shock you with their outcomes. This episode, short of a long-term impact, provides everything you could ever want from a show like this. Mix in a few key Sunnydale alum with interesting and twisted histories, as well as a fast-paced and very pointed plot that takes us deep into Faith’s character, and we’re left with a fully satisfying bit of work. It’s very nearly on the level of its other half (“Sanctuary” [1×19]).

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It is, however, in the strictest sense, a crossover episode, carrying another set of elements from parent show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” onto this one. You don’t need to have seen Faith’s two-part stay on Buffy in “This Year’s Girl” (4×15) and “Who Are You?” (4×16) (although you’re missing some big fun if you didn’t) to enjoy this crossover, but for a better understanding of Faith and her actions here, it is essential. And what this episode is all about is her actions, and how those two “Buffy” episodes changed her dramatically.

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Nearly a year after being put in a coma from her battle with Buffy in “Graduation Day, Part I” (3×21), Faith woke up in Sunnydale (“This Year’s Girl”) to find that the Mayor’s plan to ascend to a pure demon had been thwarted by Buffy. However, the keepsake he left her, the ability to switch bodies with the person of her choice (and therefore, most likely Buffy) was the plot gimmick for “Who Are You?” And while it’s a plot gimmick that’s usually used for cheap and irrelevant comedy, something truly was learned.

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Faith’s greatest peeve, or more accurately, greatest psychotic hatred, had always been being compared to Buffy and looked down on for not being able to meet the standards of Sunnydale slayer. She believed herself above man’s law because of her life as a Slayer (not too different from Buffy really – by the later seasons of the show Buffy develops a massive superiority complex), and when offered acceptance and a unique purpose by the Mayor, was quick to amorally embrace every duty he imposed upon her in exchange for a home, and a family; one that cared for her, as Wilkins truly did. It was the ideal match for Faith: A being of evil, no matter how loving, would not criticize or hold her lower in standing than others who possessed proper moral compasses, which is the biggest part of why she felt loved. It was also an important piece of her tragedy, as she was unable to differentiate criticism, concern and care held for her by people like Buffy and Joyce with the blunt, harsh chastisement of Wesley and the Council.

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In the end, the only thing that held clarity or happiness for her was approval, and in light of her actions and irresponsibility, the only source of approval could come from evil. At the time of “Who Are You?” she was still very much of the opinion that she and Buffy were both handed certain lives unchangeable by fate; no other option was possible, least of all her being responsible for where her life had gone. But, much like your staple TV show, a lesson was learned in the body-switch episode. Much unlike a staple show, it actually mattered.

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Faith, living in Buffy’s body, discovered why Buffy had everything she had. It was not because she was Buffy Summers, handed a destiny and friends and a life, but because she was Buffy Summers. Her actions, responsibilities and her courage to fulfill and uphold them was why she had her world, her Scooby gang, loyal boyfriend, approving Watcher and overall great life. It was in this revelation that Faith recognized that like Buffy, her life was the result of her actions, leading to the amazing scene where Faith, in Buffy’s body, beats up Buffy in Faith’s body, looking at herself and screaming at her: “You’re nothing! Disgusting! Murderous bitch!” This was, for her, what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity. And it is with this clarity, and a will to die, that Faith comes to L.A. and Angel’s world.

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According to the Critically Touched review of Sanctuary:

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“Sanctuary” is another impressive stand-out; a superb standalone that can engage casual viewers and readily rewards those who have cared to pay attention for many seasons. Most impressive about this showing is how expertly it juggles and interweaves the many conflicts and threads that occur throughout the episode; a lot of things come to a head. Angel’s quest for redemption is personified in a figure we know and understand, the final answer to the Buffy question is decided, Wesley makes his hardest decision yet, and a secondary character gets a story of her own. And all of it, with great credit to the writers, flows evenly throughout a plot tied together by Faith’s crisis, which leaves no one unchanged. It’s one of those episodes that remind you what a uniquely exceptional series you’re really watching when years-long histories and well illustrated characters can be called on for such a satisfying union.

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Now, the most important part of good writing is that everything moves with a purpose. This is, among other things, obvious, but relevant to this review of this episode in particular because of how much it has going on. The material here was too juicy to be terrible, but in less capable hands this could’ve had certain characters as slaves to the situation, serving the writer’s purpose only. Going into this episode my first time, I was worried it would be Angel, since Faith’s story begged a great deal of time, as did Wesley’s struggle. Throw in Buffy and Kate, and it’s getting a little crowded.

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But Angel’s mission persists most importantly here. In my very earliest review (“City of” [1×01]) I surmised that the theme of S1 was connection: that for Angel to carry on as an ample hero he would need ties to the world. Up to this point he’s been saving lives and souls of many, but is prone to old-fashioned noir heroism; no association with the saved, no face to present. He’s just a good deed and a stalk away into the night. But to create deeper ties, this too must change, and because of this Faith’s redemption is as important to him as it is to her. Her repentance is his success, the key to his belief in humanity, and it’s something he’s able to see and feel; tangible proof of the importance of his mission. My favourite moment in “Judgement” [2×01] was when Angel visited Faith, because it just proves it.

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Though, at the start of the episode they’re not quite there yet. We begin with a somber moment, and I was pleased to see that we didn’t skip to the next day, but saw the immediate aftermath of Faith and Angel’s battle as they quietly descend in the elevator. One could call it sobering, and rightly so, as Faith has just hit ‘rock bottom.’ It’s a term often used by recovery groups that support drug or alcohol addicts, and it’s meant to describe the lowest point one can get to when they’re deep into their problem. An addict has gone so far down that they’ve lost everything; usually themselves. We join Faith at this point, having reached the lowest place possible which spurs the desire to change. She’s cold, ashamed and finally aware of everything she’s done more than ever.

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To carry on with the addiction metaphor, her journey through this episode exists to bring her to ‘Moment of Clarity.’ Preceded by ‘rock bottom,’ this is when an addict comes to a light of sorts; the realization of what one must do to make things right. But the actual theme of the episode is the perennial one of redemption, and, more specifically: Earning it – meaning it. Angel’s already gotten to that place by beginning his quest to save the souls of others, and as we saw in “Five by Five” [1×18] he too hit rock bottom once, and has come a long way since (hitting it a few more times in between too. See: “Orpheus” [4×15]). So just like last year, his empathy for her is genuine as is his desire to help as he remembers going through everything very alone.

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The Worst:

Expecting, and Eternity

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Expecting stems it’s general story from a mystical pregnancy (see Feminist Frequency‘s #5) getting no high marks from me. According to Shengal’s Reviews of Expecting:

“Expecting” is a mixed-bag of an episode, but there is more bad than good. I hate saying that because I adore “Angel” so much and absolutely love Cordelia as a character. However, this episode has very little going for it. “Expecting” explores the negative consequences of sex in your early life. It does this through Cordelia being impregnated by a demon for the first time. This is not the last time or even second last time that Cordelia is impregnated by a demon or supernatural being. She’s also impregnated against her will in season two’s “Epiphany”, she’s almost forced into mating with the Groosalugg in Pylea, and she’s yet again impregnated against her will by Jasmine in the fourth season. I think it’s time she started wearing a hazmat suit and a chastity belt. Part of the reason I can’t get into this episode is because I despise the over-used storyline of a human female being impregnated against her will by something supernatural. It seems to happen on every sci-fi or supernatural show and it’s almost never handled delicately or successfully. It’s so clichéd! In essence, a female character is being raped. Yes, she has sex with Wilson willingly, but she is unwillingly impregnated with a demon spawn, so I’m not calling it legitimate.

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According to Critically Touched‘s review on Eternity:

The plot concerns Rebecca, a young and down-on-her-luck actress who is struggling to find a niche a season and a half after the end of her cult TV show (this carries some humour for me reviewing this show after its end). When Angel saves her life by pushing her out of the way of a car, she takes an interest in him, eventually discovering he’s a vampire. This intrigues rather than frightens her, leading her to try and seduce him via the Hollywood method – with a drug – which then leads him to become Angelus. See what I meant?

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There’s a moral to the story this week too, and this time it’s honesty. The episode opens with Angel and Wesley panicking, trying to escape, and we find out they’re watching Cordelia at a play. Both are patronizing her later, omitting certain facts; not exactly saying they liked it (the play) or didn’t like it as to not hurt feelings, but in fact lying in the process. And in fact, everyone is lying to each other; Oliver, Rebecca’s agent, lies to her about the attacks and her chances of getting a new role. Angel lies to Rebecca about taking her case and to his friends about his criticisms of them. Rebecca lies to Angel and Cordelia as well, but for different reasons and much worse results.

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The worth of the episode comes from how the characters deal in and react to these lies, and how it characterizes them more personally. Angel is omitting truths and in some cases outright lying, however it is often out of his sense of justice. Deciding what’s best for others and how to deal with it has always been a part of his character concerning those he cares about, and so his lies to Wesley, Cordelia and Rebecca were well-intentioned; what he believed was better for their protection and/or happiness.

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Rebecca is the counterpoint, lying out of a care only for herself, which is all her existence is concerned with. Unable to see the small amount of love she actually has (coming from her agent Oliver, who wants so desperately to help her that he’s willing to terrorize her), she’s as trapped in her character Raven – a forever young, popular, season-limited woman – as her fans are. That she despises them for this trait is an interesting commentary on how she views herself. And yet she clearly envies them to a point, as desperate to forever be Raven as much as her fans want her to be, and it’s for these motives that Rebecca takes an interest in Angel.

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She lies to him, manipulates Cordelia into giving information on his life and his Gypsie curse under the guise of friendship, and drugs his drink with a “happy pill” based on this information, betraying him in the most underhanded of ways. The intentions of these lies are what differentiate her from Angel (selfish as opposed to selfless), and yet the writers are careful enough to make us sympathize with her, the sad and slow deterioration of her life gently revealed throughout the episode. Her motivations are never in question and even in her worst moments she invokes that sympathy, which I though was a smart move. Angel expertly sums it all up mid-transformation: “You think you want to stay the same? What you really want is to make it disappear.”

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All the pain, deceit and worries of fading away become too much for her, and a life spent so long in service of only one-self drove Rebecca to this end. And what an end it was. David Boreanaz once again was a delight as Angelus and with a few good lines to back up him up too (still not as masterfully written as Whedon’s invocation, however). It was the scene the episode was built for, because Angelus is, if anything, brutally honest.

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Next is the best and worst of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8.

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11 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of Angel: Season 1

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