Buffy The Vampire Slayer is returning… in some form. Whether it is the (second) reboot of the premise or a spin-off remains to be seen. However one thing is certain; no matter what path it takes, it has a lot to live up to. The Joss Whedon TV series starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as the titular slayer, is one of the most beloved shows of all time.
So while we wait for news on what the new Buffy The Vampire Slayer might bring, we’ve been looking at the first four seasons of that classic show. This time however, we’re doing something a little different; after we looked at the top five episodes of Buffy’s fourth season last week, this time we’re discussing spin-off series Angel, whose debut season ran concurrent with Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s fourth.
The first season was perhaps the most episodic in tone, the long-running arcs not kicking in fully until season two. Along with Charisma Carpeter’s Cordelia Chase, the first season saw David Boreanz’s brooding vampire with a soul head to Los Angeles to open a private detective agency with the aid of demon Allen Doyle (Glenn Quinn) and his visions from the Powers That be. The shock death of Doyle saw the return of former Watcher turned rogue demon hunter Wesley Wyndam-Price (Alexis Denisof) join the team, Cordelia gain Doyle’s visions and the introduction of streetwise Charles Gunn (J. August Richards).
With a darker feel to its parent show, Angel season one was a bit grittier, violent and harsher in tone but still balanced the humour and wit of its predecessor. While the cases of the week were varied, the seeds of later story arcs were sown, from the introduction of evil law firm Wolfram & Hart, who became a more formidable presence as the season progressed, to recurring evil lawyers Lindsey McDonald (Christian Kane) and Lilah Morgan (Stephanie Romanov), not to mention the first appearance of rogue slayer Faith and a couple of appearance by Buffy herself.
It’s not the strongest season, but there was plenty of magic to be had as these entries prove…
1×08 – I Will Remember You…
After season three of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel encountered his former love several times, but none were as momentous as this episode. After a questionable appearance in Buffy’s episode ‘Pangs’ (the episode was a lot of fun though), the slayer heads to LA to demand Angel tell her why he didn’t come to see her. The angst of three seasons is brought back to the surface as both realise that nothing has changed and they are better off apart. Enter a demon, who’s blood heals Angel, making him human again.
This is the episode that never was; without the risk of loosing his soul and turning evil again, they are finally reunited – the kiss on the beach is a wonderful moment – and their love rekindled physically and emotionally. Unfortunately the Powers That Be put a spanner in the works and like any good hero, Angel is forced to chose between love and duty. The scene where she discovers that time is going to be set back 24 hours and he will no longer be human is perhaps the most heart-breaking moment in their relationship since she sent him to Hell in season two finale ‘Becoming’.
It probably had a few ‘Bangel’ fans shedding a few tears too.
1×09 – Hero
In Angel everyone dies. While it would have been unthinkable for Buffy The Vampire Slayer to ever kill off Willow, Xander or Giles, Angel was a much darker show and in this world, very few people get out alive. The ninth episode of Angel sets that precedent by killing off one of the three main characters in a shocking twist that set the tone for everything to come.
The Scourge might have been a little too on the nose – Nazi demons in full SS gear – but they are a formidable presence, hunting down ‘good demons’ as part of their plan for full demon purity. After half a season of trying to resist the good fight, Doyle makes the ultimate sacrifice, killing himself to save the innocent, but not before passing on his visions to Cordelia with a romantic kiss that comes far too late in their relationship. And his final video message certainly leaves a lump in your throat as the audience says goodbye to Doyle for good.
1×14 – I’ve Got You Under My Skin
This episode is Angel‘s take on The Exorcist and is both packed full of atmosphere and tension and has one terrific twist. Angel saves a young boy Ryan from a speeding car and immediately gets invited into the child’s home as a token of thanks. It quickly becomes apparent that this is a family rules by fear and while the first obvious reason is an abusive father, it soon takes the more supernatural route – Ryan has been possessed by a demon.
This is where things really get interesting; the exorcism is an incredibly tense scene, the demon talking through Ryan (Jesse James delivers an creepy, offbeat performance) with physical scares and haunting secrets revealed. But it is when the demon is exorcised and tracked into the sewers that the episode plays its best hand; it wasn’t trying to possess Ryan, it was trying to escape. It turns out the boy has no soul and was so evil, even the demon was terrified of it.
Cue a final desperate race against time to save Ryan’s family before he kills them all…
1×18/1×19 – Five by Five / Sanctuary
Dare I say it… this might be the best Faith storyline across all of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. After fleeing Sunnydale at the end of Buffy season four’s ‘This Year’s Girl’ the rogue slayer heads to LA on the throws on a psychotic break. The scene where she ties to seduce a man in a club and then beats the crap out of his girlfriend and anyone who attacks her while still dancing is one of her darkest scenes to date.
Enter Lilah from Wolfram & Hart, who recruits Faith to do what she does best and slay a vampire…Angel. Faith continues to wreak havoc, attacking him in public and then violently assaulting Cordy in her home and kidnapping her former watcher Wesley, torturing him in another dark, disturbing scene. Eliza Dushku really lets loose as she explores the full depravity of Faith’s dark side, but its her breakdown, beating at Angel’s chest, demanding that he kill her that delivers her finest performance as Faith hits her lowest point yet.
While not as quite as strong as ‘Five by Five’ Sanctuary is still one of the strongest episodes of the season as Angel attempts to rehabilitate Faith. It’s a little odd perhaps that her story arc is effectively wrapped up in Angel and not the parent show, but the return of Sarah Michelle Gellar seeking vengeance is appropriate and this time she is at odds with Angel over what to do with her A broken Faith finds herself facing the wrath of Buffy, Wolfram & Hart and the Watcher’s Council with even Wesley going head to head with his boss to gain vengeance on what Faith did to her. It’s powerful stuff, ending with Faith voluntarily going to jail for life.
Yes, she would return in both Angel and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but this marks the end of her journey into darkness.
1×22 – To Shanshu in L.A.
The season one finale really defines what Angel would become for the rest of its five-year run. Wolfram & Hart emerge as the true big bad of the series after playing a recurring thorn in Angel’s side and his destiny is established (though it would never be satisfyingly resolved due to the show’s eventual cancellation).
‘To Shanshu in L.A.’ really is the tearing down of everything from season one and setting up a new version of Angel; Wolfram & Hart summons the Vocah demon to slaughter the oracles that have served as Angel’s conduit to the Powers That be, blow up Angel Investigations (putting Wesley in critical condition) and overload Cordelia’s head with multiple visions that puts her in psychiatric care. With his allies taken out, Angel faces Wolfram & Hart alone, seeking vengeance against evil lawyer Lindsey McDonald by decapitating his hand, faces off against the Vocah demon himself and steals the prophecy the evil law firm have been after – the Shanshu Prophecy that tells of Angel’s reward of becoming human after saving the world.
Everything is changed by this finale. Cordelia is a new woman, the hundreds of visions she experienced gives her humility in understanding the suffering of others, which will lead to her becoming a champion herself. Angel finally has something to fight for and best of all, Darla is resurrected; her return will change the show forever…
As for the worst episode of Angel season one? There are a few episodes that fail to really meet the mark; the episodic case of the week format will soon change in season two as it moves away from supernatural detective drama. But there really isn’t a terrible episode either. However, this entry is generally regarded as one of the weakest elements of that debut season.
This episode attempts to try and say something about the battle of the sexes as Angel encounters Bai Ling’s demon Jhiera, freeing enslaved women from her male oppressors from another dimension. However it veers between seedy and boring, the sexual tension of Jhiera and Angel falling flat. It’s not totally uninteresting or terrible but there isn’t much to enjoy either.
It’s definitely only an episode that will only be viewed again if you’re doing a full re-watch of the series.
And that’s the five best stories (and one one worst) of Angel‘s debut season. Next time, we’ll head back to Sunnydale for the top five episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s fifth season…