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. Wrapping up our look back at the Buffyverse is Angel‘s fifth and final season. Airing alone after its parent show concluded with season seven, this year saw Angel and the gang trying to run law firm Wolfram & Hart, turning it into a force for good without being corrupted to the dark side. It also saw James Marsters’ Spike join the show, and his presence, both in attitude and as a second vampire with a soul, added some special dynamic to the season.
After the arc-heavy fourth season, the fifth reverted back to the case of the week stories for much of its run. Stories were somewhat fun and perhaps a little lighter in tone and there was a real confidence to it that ran to the very end when WB foolishly cancelled the show (an act they later admitted regretting). It was the year Lorne ran the entertainment division, Wesley dealt with his returning father and finally admitted his feelings for Fred, Gunn got an upgrade to his brain and became a top notch lawyer (but at a huge cost), and Harmony joined as Angel’s assistant while he ran the whole operation. It was the year Cordelia returned for one final hurrah, and the year Fred had the job of her life running the science division, finally got together with Wesley and was then totally destroyed when ancient goddess Illyria took over her body.
The first half of the season really sows the seeds for the darkness to come in the second half: the returning Lindsey and his manipulation of Spike to the team’s battle to be good when dealing with true evil. And when the dominos started falling, Angel delivered some of its finest work yet. Joss Whedon chose not to change his plans for the finale when the show was cancelled and we left the gang – what was left of them – fighting against demonic hordes as they ‘went to work’. It might not have had the closure of parent series Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but then Angel was always the darker of the two.
Here are the five best episodes of that final season…
The banter between Angel and Spike and the mystery behind his return created some real momentum in the first half of season five. Once he was made corporeal again, the biggest question on everyone’s mind was what happens to the Shanshu prophecy when there are two vampires with a soul? That comes to a head in this thrilling episode that sees both vampires battle it out to find a magical cup that would fulfil that prophecy and restore their humanity.
Not only was it a great fight sequence, it also had plenty of emotional heft. Fans had followed Angel’s journey for nearly eight years and it would be wrong for him not to take his reward. But Spike had also redeemed himself and there was a chance he rightfully deserved it too. The battle of the two vampires reaches its head with the lead hero Angel actually losing… and the cup revealed to be a fake. The final twist, that Lindsey is back and in league with Wolfram & Hart’s Eve was a great final hook and sets up some intriguing manipulation and drama in the episodes to come.
5×12 You’re Welcome
Cordelia’s treatment in season four of Angel was not something most fans were happy with. Thanks to an increasingly mature performance by Charisma Carpenter, Cordy had become the heart of the show and her loss was keenly felt. Fortunately the actress and character returned for one final encore performance as the show celebrated its 100th episode.
The joy of her return and the real spark Cordy adds, hides the tragedy to come. It is not the first time this season that moments of joy are followed by darkness. The manipulations of Spike and Angel by Lindsey and Eve come to a head as it is revealed that the former lawyer has been posing as Doyle, sending Spike to kill the evil within Cordy (leading to a shocking moment when he tries to bite her). The trap is set, as Lindsey attempts to gain revenge against his former employers and Angel by unleashing a terrible beast from within Wolfram & Hart. Spike, Angel and Cordy’s race into the facility and Angel and Lindsey’s swordfight is terrific stuff, resulting in the (temporary) trapping of Lindsey by the Senior Partners.
But it’s the final scene that is the most heart-breaking: Cordy gives Angel a kiss and ends her final request from the Powers That Be to live one more day and (unbeknownst at this time), pass on her visions to him. As Angel receives a call from the hospital confirming her death, the audience gets a final bittersweet farewell to one of the Buffyverse‘s greatest characters. She came a long, long way from her days on Buffy The Vampire Slayer season one…
5×14 Smile Time
Is ‘Smile Time’ one of the greatest episodes of Angel? Quite possibly. It’s a delightful Sesame Street horror pastiche and a dash of well needed humour before the darkness of the rest of season five. Evil puppets have been sucking the life force from children through the TV and when Angel goes to investigate, he gets turned into a puppet too.
Puppet Angel is one of the greatest creations from either show; he’s cute and fierce and you’ll say “awwwww!” when he vamps out. The reaction of the characters is priceless as they try to hide their smiles when faced with their puppet leader, while Angel beating the crap out of Spike is pure magic. And the evil puppets, demons from another dimension, are genuinely quite menacing, their plan to suck the life force from every child as dastardly as it is genius. ‘Smile Time’ also has some time for romance too, from Angel’s developing relationship with werewolf Nina from earlier season five episode ‘Unleashed’, to that kiss between Wesley and Fred as they finally admit their feelings for each other. Unfortunately they were too late, as the next episode would prove…
5×15 A Hole In The World
Joss Whedon is an evil, evil man. He killed Jenny Calendar, made Buffy send a re-ensouled Angel to Hell, broke up Willow and Oz, shot her new love Tara dead and in this episode he mercilessly destroys one of the sweetest love affairs in the Buffyverse. Fred is maybe the purest character of both shows, which makes ‘A Hole In the World’ all the more heart breaking. When she inhales the dust from an ancient sarcophagus, an evil goddess Illyria starts to take over her body.
What’s really tragic about this story of demonic possession is how futile the gang’s attempts to save her are. From the moment she coughs up blood and collapses whole singing “you are my sunshine” to love of her life Wesley, things grow worse and worse as she withers in pain as her body is destroyed by the infection. The twist that the only way to save her is to infect millions is a cruel moment indeed, all of Spike and Angel’s attempts at heroism coming to nothing, while the scenes where Wesley tries to comfort her are horrible to watch. It is gripping drama, one of the finest episodes Angel ever did, but it’s not an easy watch to see such a beloved character as Fred die, so soon after we said goodbye to Cordelia Chase…
5×22 Not Fade Away
The final of Angel raises the stakes higher than ever. What seems like Angel’s corruption to the dark side reveals a brilliant game-changing twist: the infiltration of the evil at the heart of Wolfram & Hart, the Circle of the Black Thorn. Empowered by the visions passed on to him by Cordy, the finale becomes a desperate race of good over evil as his team take on the bad guys one last time.
There is a thrilling, nail-biting pace to the final episode, balancing moments of humour such as Harmony’s attempts to seduce new Senior Partner Marcus to Lorne committing one final act of darkness as he shoots Lindsey dead at Angel’s request and walks away. Wesley makes the ultimate sacrifice, dying in Illyria’s arms having taken out his target; her transformation back into Fred is a beautiful final moment. Gunn reverts to his streetwise roots and ends up bleeding to death, and the final scene in the rain-soaked alley as demons and a frikkin dragon are unleashed on LA is a brilliant (if a little frustrating) climax that offers little closure but continues the journey. “Let’s go to work”.
And the worst episode? There isn’t really a dud in the final season, such is the renewed energy and focus that the Wolfram & Hart setting provides. However there is one episode that borders on a little too silly and superfluous to make the cut.
5×6 The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco
The mail man in the Mexican wrestling mask had appeared in a few episodes when ‘The Cautionary tale of Numero Cinco’ sought to expand his story with a tale of five wrestling brothers who attempt to destroy a demon. With his brothers all dead, the fifth and final demon hunter attempts to finish what they started. It’s entertaining for sure, but the flashbacks and melodrama feel a little too much at times at the team feel like second players in a story they can’t take all that seriously. It’s not serious enough to be truly engaging and not funny enough to be fully entertaining. Instead it sits somewhere in between, failing to quite make its mark either way…
And that wraps up our look at the top five episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel. We hope you’ve enjoyed the look backs and would love to hear your comments on what you consider the best and worst of this season and all those that preceded it…