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 every season of that classic show and its spin-off Angel. We’re back to LA for the latest instalment as we revisit the fourth season. After the somewhat lacklustre events of year three, the fourth has a real energy to it as Angel and the gang face an apocalypse in the arrival of the Beast and the goddess Jasmine, not to mention a multi-episode return by Angelus himself.
It’s certainly the darkest and most dramatic season and one of the most thrilling too. It starts with Cordy’s return and Angel being saved from his watery grave, Wesley now in kick ass mode engaging in a twisted relationship with Lilah and Lorne a prisoner in Las Vegas. Gunn and Fred are still a couple and Connor remains a wild card. Those early episodes quickly pull the pieces together for the timely arrival of the Beast who wreaks havoc on the city, blocking out the sun and slaughtering the entire staff at Wolfram & Hart. The return of Angelus ups the stakes further, while Eliza Dushku makes a welcome three-episode return as Faith to take him down, culminating in a guest spot by Alision Hannigan’s Willow to re-soul Angel and head off to Sunnydale to fight the First Evil in the final episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer season seven.
Not everything was so successful, The decision to turn Cordelia into an evil incubator for Jasmine is questionable at best and sleeping with Connor is an act many fans would best forget. And while Gina Torres makes a terrific guest role as goddess Jasmine in the final episodes, the storyline runs out of steam after the epic heights of the Beast, Angelus and Faith. Even so, there’s no denying the ambition of season four, culminating in the team saving the world from (Jasmine’s corrupt version of) world peace and being granted the keys to a newly rebuilt Wolfram & Hart.
But which were the greatest episodes of this epic season? Here’s the top five for your consideration…
4×06 – Spin The Bottle
Joss Whedon was not involved in Angel as much as he was with parent show Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The creation of short-lived series Firefly meant he only wrote and directed one episode of the fourth season. However, it was a great episode, using his trade mark wit and humour to tell a story of a spell to bring back Cordelia’s memories going wring and causing everyone to lose theirs, becoming the people they were at 17.
It’s a very fun episode before the debut of the Beast next week and, like Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s season six episode ‘Tabula Rasa’, has a great time showing what the characters would be like without the supernatural events that lead them to LA. Angel reverts to naïve Irish Liam exposed to the modern world and experience terror of ‘demons’ driving down the street in front of the hotel. Cordelia reverts to her bitchy high school days, Fred a shy nerd and Wesley the English focus of Liam’s Irish rage. It’s actually funnier than ‘Tabula Rasa’ and a great palate cleanser as the Beast is teased in the episode’s final moment, teasing some dark times ahead.
4×07 – Apocalypse, Nowish
Like the following episode ‘Habeas Corpus’ (an episode that almost made this list). ‘Apocalypse, Nowish’ is the moment when the arrival of the Beast tears everything apart and plunges season four into a nightmarish, never-ending apocalypse. His arrival had been teased for some time and the Beast’s debut is shocking stuff, beating Connor in the alley and then beginning his rampage.
The Beast one of the best creations in the Buffyverse; not only does he look terrifying but his brutality is something rarely seen at this level. The discovery of the dead actors laid out in a symbol as Angel and the gang arrive is disturbing and the subsequent fight is nail biting stuff. Angel is beaten to a pulp, Gunn and Wesley faring little better (though Wesley leaping forward with two guns firing is an utterly cool moment). And things get worse when the Beast summons a rain of fire down upon LA, the first of many terrible events to come. Cordy sleeping with Connor was another disturbing moment, leaving the audience confused, bewildered and desperate to find out what happened next.
4×12 – Calvary
Every episode featuring the Beast deserves consideration on this list, the rain of fire destruction of Wolfram and Hart and the permanent eclipse allowing vampires to run riot throughout the city providing the strongest run of episodes since the team up of Darla an Drusilla in season two. ‘Calvary’ stands out as one of the best episodes of season four as it allows Angelus to interact with every member of the team. David Boreanaz is so much better when he’s playing the evil version of the vampire and he is at is finest in this episode.
Stand out moments include Angel pretending to be Angel after he is ‘cured’ (“I have to go save the world!”) to his torment of Gunn, tricking Lorne and attempts to manipulate Cordy and Wesley. This alone would make ‘Salvage’ a stand out but it also holds a few extra surprises, namely that the Beast was just a flunkie of something far more powerful. Lilah makes her final living appearance in the show (though Stephanie Romanov would make one final terrific appearance as ghost Lilah in the finale) and her death makes for a shocking climax. After being chased by an escaped Angelus through the Hyperion she runs into Cordy who stabs her in the neck. Because she is evil! Along with the escape of Angelus, it’s a brilliant disturbing chain of events that takes Angel season four into even darker territory.
4×13 – Salvage
Which brings us to the next episode ‘Salvage’. When you’ve got a sadistic vampire on the loose in a city already ravaged by vampires and the Beast, who do you call to help out? Buffy may have been busy with the First Evil, but Eliza Dushku’s Faith returns, broken out of prison by Wesley as things get more desperate than ever. It was great to see that even in her redemption, the now ‘good’ slayer still has her spark as she goes up against the Beast and Angelus.
Faith isn’t the only highlight of the episode. Learning that a slayer is after him, there is a great scene where Angelus rings Sunnydale and speaks to Dawn (confirming the effects of the season five spell extended to every character), while there are some grim moments as Wesley is haunted by what happened to Lilah and admits his feelings for her. But it’s the ending that defies expectations; Faith goes up against both big bads and is brutally beaten, barely escaping with her life. And then Angelus turns and kills the Beast proving that in the Buffyverse he s still one of the coolest villains ever. Even if he does inadvertently bring back the sun.
“Aw, crap! You mean killing the Beast really does bring back the sun? I thought that was Angel’s retarded fantasy.”
4×15 – Orpheus
Jumping ahead a couple of episodes and we have another season four highlight. The previous episode ‘Release’ ended with another shocking cliff-hanger as Angelus fed on Faith. ‘Orpheus’ wraps up Faith’s arc on Angel and sees the last appearance by Angelus; the result is that while there’s still plenty of great drama to come, season four never reaches the heights if this episode again.
What makes ‘Orpheus’ so fantastic are the two story threads – Faith and Angelus trapped in his mind, exploring Angel’s past and the guest appearance by Alison Hannigan’s Willow, the one person who was able to successfully re-ensoul him back in Buffy The Vampire Slayer season two. David Boreanaz and Eliza Dushku do fantastic work together, exploring what happened to Angel after he gained his soul and what made him a hero. The Angel versus Angelus scene in the alley is pure magic. Willow attempting to cast the spell to finds Angel’s soul while evil Cordy works behind the scenes to stop her are packed with tension and there’s great chemistry between Willow and Wes (off-screen husband Alexis Denisof) and Amy Acker’s Fred. There was a nice set up for the end of Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s seventh season as she recruits Faith to join her in the war against the First Evil.
Angel’s return is the first moment of happiness in some time, But that is cut short with Cordy’s subsequent reveal that she was heavily pregnant. Things were far from over and Jasmine was coming…
And the worst episode?
4×16 – Players
This isn’t a bad episode by any means, but it does suffer by coming after ‘Orpheus’. With the Beast and Angelus defeated, Faith gone and sunlight restored to LA, ‘Players’ feels very anticlimactic. Even the return of Alexa Davalos’ Gwen with her lightning abilities doesn’t work – her side quest with Gunn feels like the show reverting back to cases of the week and lacking momentum. The main plot to determine what Cordy’s mystical pregnancy is feels flat and Cordy feels so removed from what made her a great character, it’s hard to watch. Fortunately we’re only spared one episode before the gang find out what her true intentions are.
And that’s the top five of our penultimate look back at the best episodes of the Buffyverse. We’ll return next week to revisit the top five of Angel’s final season…