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 five seasons of that classic show and its spin-off. In our latest look back at the Buffyverse, we head back to that spin-off series Angel and the third of its five season run.
Season three is arguably the weakest of either series in the Buffyverse. While it has some great moments – and the addition of Amy Acker’s Fred bolsters the cast – the story arc lacks the momentum of seasons two and four. Holtz is an interesting bad guy in theory as a vampire hunter seeking revenge against Angelus for the death of his family and travelling to the future to kill him. Keith Szarabajka even has a certain amount of gravitas as the moral figure forced to commit dark acts to win. But the execution is slow and drawn out and he fails to have the same impact as Darla and Drusilla, the Beast and Jasmine or even Wolfram and Hart.
After a terrific return in season two, Julie Benz returns for a handful of episodes, now a heavily pregnant vampire after the events of season two’s ‘Reprise’. Sadly the mystery behind the demonic pregnancy never really amounts to anything and while her death is well played, the following Connor story drags the season down. The loss of Angel’s baby and Wesley’s tragic betrayal adds a great degree of drama later on but the debut of Vincent Kartheiser’s Connor never really holds the attention long enough in the final episodes. Plus there is the whole questionable romance between Angel and Cordelia that never holds a candle to his romance with Buffy.
However, it isn’t all bad either, as these top five episodes prove…
3×06 – Billy
‘Billy’ is a somewhat overlooked episode of Angel season three. It takes place before the return of Darla, Holtz and the birth of Connor and is the show’s own take on The Shining. It serves as a sequel to ‘That Vision Thing’ at the start of the season, which saw Wolfram & Hart’s Lilah mess with Cordelia’s head to force him to release a psychopath from a fiery prison. ‘Billy’ sees the titular character on the loose, infecting men and turning them into violent abusers. Lilah faces the consequences of releasing Billy when she is beaten but for Cordelia, this is another step in her maturity as she agonises over the pain being caused just to save her life.
It’s a strong episode, dealing with abuse and power and Justin Shilton makes for a frightening figure in Billy. But not perhaps as scary as Alexis Denisof, who becomes infected too. Poor Fred is just starting to adjust to the world after years in captivity in Pylea and sees her life threatened as Wesley quietly, insidiously rants at her attempts to seduce him before pursuing her across the hotel Jack Torrence-style. It’s a chilling sequence and one that quashes any attempt at romance between these two kindred spirits for some time…
3×09 – Lullaby
Darla’s arc comes to an end in this episode which sees Holtz unleash his revenge upon Angel as Connor is born. Julie Benz was terrific in both versions of Darla – the tortured guilt-ridden human and the voracious vampire and in her final semi-regular appearance on the show she blends both performances together as Connor’s human soul begins to infect her.
Darla is tortured with knowing that her love for their child will go the moment he is born. Holtz meanwhile is a terrific wildcard, not yet outstaying his welcome as he hunts down both his enemies. Poor Lorne loses Caritas for good as Holtz blows up the bar to destroy ‘Angelus’, there is a thrilling mid-episode cliff-hanger as a hungry Darla tries to feed on Cordelia and there is a real sense of everything spiralling out of control. The shot of Darla staking herself to give birth as rain pours in the alley and Connor is born is one of the most memorable moments of Angel‘s history. It is just a shame we lost Darla as a result.
3×11 – Birthday
This episode is the highlight of the season, dealing with the increasingly violent, painful visions that Cordelia has been experiencing since late season two. What began as a gift from Doyle and a conduit to the Powers That Be, inflicts so much damage on her brain that the latest vision puts her in a coma. It is horrible to watch Cordelia inflicted with so much suffering but this also serves to be a huge milestone in her role as hero, something we couldn’t quite have conceived on her Buffy The Vampire Slayer days.
After the dark, grim events of the season so far, the alternate reality Cordelia experiences courtesy of returning demon Skip is a delight to watch. Cordy is given a chance to experience life if she had never encountered Angel in LA and instead found herself as a successful actress. The title sequence for her show is just the perfect amount of cheese and there is a real sense that this was the route she should have always taken. But instead she finds herself drawn into the darkness and encounters Angel, now inflicted with visions and losing a battle with his deteriorating mind.
Cordy commits her most selfless act ever as she asks Skip to ‘demonise her already’. Cordelia becoming part-demon was an unexpected twist and one that sets up her downfall in season four. Of course we weren’t to know why Skip really worked for and at this stage, I’m not sure the writers did either.
3×13 – Waiting In The Wings
If nothing else, we can be thankful for ‘Waiting In The Wings’ as the episode that introduced the world to the brilliant Summer Glau. Like Amy Acker, who made her debut in Angel season two, Glau is another genre icon who debuted in the series, playing a prima ballerina forced to act the same performance over and over again for more than a century. After all the darkness and despair, Angel brings all his team to watch the sae ballet he saw (presumably) as Angelus 110 years ago and realises he is watching the exactly the same performance.
‘Waiting in the Wings’ sees Joss Whedon taking writing and directing duties and the magic can really be felt in this episode. He has fun with the characters, from Cordy snoring her way through the performance to streetwise Gunn enthralled. The mystery builds as Angel’s team investigate the supernatural happenings and discover Mark Harelik’s Count Kurushu has trapped Glau’s poor ballerina in the same performance over and over again in punishment for choosing to love her male lead over him. The masked figures haunting the theatre provide a terrific, demented threat, allowing for plenty of action-packed sword play while Angel and Cordy find themselves relieving the prima ballerina’s love affair (not the first time he has been possessed by dead lovers).
And of course, because Joss Whedon wrote this episode, no one ever really finds true love. Wesley’s hopes at dating Fred come crashing down as she gets together with Gunn (why?) while Angel and Cordy’s moment to find love is snapped apart by the return of Mark Lutz Groosalugg. Remember, in Joss Whedon’s world, all love is doomed…
3×16 – Sleep Tight
Perhaps the most shocking episode of season three, this brings the Holtz and baby Connor storyline to a head in an episode that feels much like a season finale; certainly everything that follows with the teenage Connor in the final episodes fails to deliver on the twists and turns of this episode. Welsey finds himself torn between loyalties after he learns about a prophecy that Angel will feed on his son. Unbeknownst to him, Lilah has been secretly arranging for Angel’s blood to be laced with his son’s. Dark stuff indeed.
Things only get worse when Wesley turns against his team to save Connor, in the hopes that Holtz’s moral convictions might actually save the day. His betrayal by Holtz’s right hand woman Justine, having his throat slit is a shocking turn of events and will leave Wesley ostracised and ready to transform into the cool badass Wes of season four. Even more tragic is the final showdown that sees Holtz take Connor and jump into the demon hell dimension, exacting his revenge in the most unexpected of ways. Now if only he had stayed there with Connor, things might have turned out better for the team and the audience.
As for the worst episode? The good news is that there really isn’t a terrible episode in season three. The bad news is that the Holtz and Connor storylines feel dull and drawn out and that drags a number of episodes into mediocre to good territory.
3×18 – Double Or Nothing
This episode suffers for a coupe of reasons. It comes after the fallout of Wesley’s betrayal and Connor’s abduction by Holtz but before the final run of episodes with adult Connor. As such it drags the momentum of the season down again. Secondly it tries to offer a new side to Gunn and makes him look like an idiot. Yes, in ‘Double Or Nothing’ we learn that Gunn sold his soul to a demon in exchange for a truck and now that demon is coming to collect.
J. August Richards actually delivers a really strong performance, tortured after knowing his days of happiness with Fred are coming to an end. And the showdown with the demon in his casino is a lot of fun. But the premise is so stupid that Angel kind of comes across as wrong for trying to break the contract. After all, if Gunn was stupid enough to make that decision, he should be adult enough to live with the consequences.
And that’s the top five and one worst episode of Angel season three. It’s not all doom and gloom but it doesn’t quite have the magic of other seasons. Were you a fan? And what are your top five episodes? Let us know in the comments below…