Sunday, December 31, 2006

Angel - Season 5 Review

US Airdate on the WB: October 1st 2003 – May 19th 2004.

The axe has finally fallen on the brilliant series as Season Five sees the gang taking over Wolfram And Hart with disastrous results. Then add the additions of Eve, Harmony, Spike, a few returns, a couple of deaths and a final episode that’s hugely debateable and see what you get.

In Control Or Being Controlled – You Decide: Season Five of Angel was never intended to be the last season and right from the very first episode of this tricky season, any viewer could tell that storylines were being seeped for a sixth season. So why did it end?

It can’t be because of ratings because Angel was generating more ratings in its fifth season than before and Joss Whedon and his staff writers certainly weren’t running out of ideas.

In fact the more you think about it; the less just cause there was for the series to end. Whedon foolishly gave in to the WB’s demand of adding Spike to the series and the show adopted a dramatically less arc driven season and there are a string of impressive episodes so for the series to end so prematurely is disappointing to say the least.

The season opened with “Conviction”, an episode where right off the bat you could see that the gang working for Wolfram And Hart was destined for disaster, especially when Gunn is getting scumbags like Corbin out of jail, Harmony is a temp, Spike is unfortunately raised from the dead and a bland little liaison by the name of Eve is just plain annoying. Okay so I would take her over Linwood and Gavin any day of the week but unlike Lilah Morgan, Eve is a charisma free zone whose cat and mouse antics with Angel are not so well handled. And you think the gang in Torchwood are shite at their jobs!

Spike’s addition to the series in my book is definitely one of the worst elements to the series. Nothing against the character or even James Marsters but when you look at it realistically, what does Spike really add to the season? Is there any episode where his interactions or input don’t come across as contrived? More importantly if the WB were so desperate for a Buffy verse character to add some spice to the series, why not Faith? There are actual storylines that could’ve been explored with her, she works a hell of a lot better with the regulars than Spike does, her and Gunn would’ve made an interesting pairing and seeing as this season lacks interesting females, she would’ve been a Godsend. Also it would’ve kept Eliza Dushku away from Tru Calling and she’d have less pressure here than if she were given a Faith spin-off.

Having the bleach blond and on occasion why isn’t he gagged Spike back in the mix it means both Gunn and Lorne are surplus to requirements and the first few episodes deal with his resentment towards Angel (“Just Rewards”) and teaming up with Fred in a bid to become corporeal in werewolf tale “Unleashed” and the creepy “Hell Bound”. The season though is a lot lighter than Season Four and hilarity does rear its head in the cracking Lorne piece “Life Of The Party” but the dull “The Cautionary Tale Of Numero Cinco” reaps havoc by now having Spike as a candidate for the Shanshu prophecy.

“Lineage” gives the brilliant Alexis Denisof a powerful role to play when Wesley and his overbearing father come to a violent showdown but the impact is almost ruined when the episode’s twist is something that feels more at home on Alias than Angel.

As much as Spike grates my cheese in Season Five, the only episode in which he and Angel are actually given stuff of true substance is the rocking “Destiny”. Having more Intel on the twisted ménage a trios with these two and Drusilla in the day provides some of the most riveting flashbacks since Season Two and also the shock of dumbass Eve being in cahoots with Lindsey in an effort to bring Angel down is nicely played at the end.

The light hearted stuff is then back for “Harm’s Way”, the only instalment that bothers to make viewers try and care for Harmony. Granted Harmony isn’t quite as dreadful as you’d expect but like Spike and Eve, a lot of her scenes do ring hollow and overall these three have you missing Lilah, Cordy and Connor all the more.

Thankfully “Soul Purpose” with its Farscape hallucinatory sequences gets the series on track as Eve’s pretty obvious mind fucking seems to be unravelling while a neat exploration of a psychotic slayer and Spike’s past actions makes “Damage” hugely watchable, even if it does inflict us to the awful Andrew and has the stupid logic of the Scooby Gang turning their backs on Angel Investigations.

With the Angel gang not doing any real good at Wolfram And Hart and increasingly being undermined by the very law firm they’ve fought against in the previous four years, we really needed someone to call them out and it needed to be someone who actually had an idea of what they are talking about. Not a nerdy little freak whose loyalties could be easily swayed under certain circumstances or even a “shouldn’t he have stayed dead” vampire who really doesn’t need to be in LA but like a co-dependant puppy lingers on no less.

The person in question had to be Cordelia and with eleven episodes deprived of her, Charisma Carpenter’s one episode stint in the series 100th episode “You’re Welcome” was the perfect opportunity to do this. Everything you loved about Cordelia was perfectly executed in easily the best episode of the season (a part of me wonders with a little tweaking that this could’ve been the series finale) – her humour, abilities to put people down at the drop of a hat, the way she scolded Angel on his choices regarding Wolfram And Hart, apologising to Wesley, taking on Lindsey (who got his own desserts) and that gorgeous, tear-jerking farewell kiss. Too bad she only appeared in one episode but at least she left Angel a more than potent parting gift.

Of course with an episode as spectacular as that, the next one was obviously going to be a disappointment and the predictable and somewhat bland “Why We Fight” disappointed in spades. I didn’t care about some guy Angel sired when he had a soul or the same guy threatening a bound and gagged Wesley, Fred and Gunn. I didn’t even care about the contrived manner in which Spike featured in the flashbacks or the way that once again, Lorne had bugger all to do. I wanted continuity on Cordelia, the gang being informed of her death, an actual funeral sequence and an exploration into both Angel and the gang’s grief over losing her. These are the things we should’ve gotten with this episode. The lame A-plot could’ve been a subplot, I think most viewers would’ve appreciated that one.

Luckily though the bitterness subsided enough for me to enjoy the hilarious but for me not the best episode of the season – “Smile Time”. Puppet Angel was fine, even funny but it was Wesley and Fred’s pairing at the end that was great.

Then came “A Hole In The World”, which was an exceptional tour de force and all, but was it really necessary to kill Fred off three weeks after Cordelia? I know Joss likes a death but there are things called limits and seeing as Season Five did lack interesting females, this latest demise while a great showcase for Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker was unjust.

Then again we should be lucky, at least Acker was still on the payroll even if she was now playing a fallen God named Illyria who has to come to the crappy realisation that she’s in a world where no-one is actually scared of her and her only faithful companion, the disturbed Knox is shot by a grief stricken Wesley in “Shells”.

Grief does funny things to Wesley such as making him shoot a random employee in the leg who wasn’t concerned about Fred’s condition, it also had him stab Gunn (who inadvertently signed the sarcophagus into Wolfram And Hart) and of course the killing of Knox.

However these are nothing compared to Wesley taking on Illyria as a pet project with varying degrees of results “Underneath”, “Origin” and “Time Bomb”. Through these episode as Illyria makes her own ham fisted way of adjusting to humanity, Gunn takes Lindsey’s place in a hellish suburban nightmare, Eve is replaced with much nastier and effective Hamilton (another Firefly alumni in Adam Baldwin), Connor reappears and so does everyone’s memories of last year while Illyria is at the receiving end of the ultimate emasculation and Gunn is brought back to the fold.

Sadly though as we get towards the end of the series, the series hits an all time low with the downright awful “The Girl In Question”, a lame assed tale (complete with embarrassing Darla/Drusilla flashbacks) where Spike and Angel head to Europe to save Buffy from The Immortal but are told from Andrew of all people to move on. Even if the series had gotten a sixth season this would still be a bad episode – you don’t even see Buffy or The Immortal and the comedy between the Rome hi jinks is too stupid for its own good. The only thing watchable about this is the cat and mouse antics with Wesley and Illyria and even that’s flawed.

The last two episodes have an arc set in place – Angel taking down both Wolfram And Hart and The Circle Of The Black Thorn and while “Power Play” is a little anti-climatic, I did enjoy learning about Angel inheriting Cordelia’s visions (why didn’t the writers bring her back for the last two?).

“Not Fade Away” is our big series ender and while I prefer Buffy’s more upbeat ending in “Chosen” a year prior, as last ever episodes go, this is good (although Six Feet Under’s “Everyone’s Waiting” is so much better).

Wesley’s death affected me, Connor and Angel teaming up to beat on Hamilton was nice as was Wolfram And Hart coming down (is Eve dead?), though things like Harmony being a traitor and Lorne coerced into murdering Lindsey was a little disappointing. Angel’s final line as he, Spike, Gunn and Illyria stood side by side to take on a hoard of baddies is also effective. This isn’t the most ideal way the series could’ve ended but unlike other series, we did get an ending that does provoke thoughts and feelings, if not entirely positive ones. Goodbye Angel, while Torchwood may be vying for your crown you were the original and you still are the best.

DVD EXTRAS: It’s the last season so the extras really had to go all out and you know what, they totally did. Disc1 has an amusing commentary for “Conviction” by Joss Whedon the “Hey Kids: It’s Smile Time” featurette to back itself up but Disc 2 was even better with both Steven S. DeKnight, David Fury, Skip Schoolnik and Juliet Landau offering their own thoughts on Angel and Spike’s chequered history in their commentary for “Destiny”. Similarly effective is the dream team of David Boreanaz, Christian Kane and Brent Fletcher for “Soul Purpose” on Disc 3. Disc 4 gives us commentaries on two of the best episodes with “You’re Welcome” (David Fury/Christian Kane/Sarah Thompson) and “A Hole In The World” (Joss Whedon/Alexis Denisof/Amy Acker) as well as pulling in Charisma Carpenter for the “Angel 100” feature while Disc 5 has Adam Baldwin, Sarah Fain, Elizabeth Craft and Skip Schoolnik for “Underneath” and a blinding feature on stunts for the episode “Shells”. Disc 6 rounds things off nicely as Jeffrey Bell talks fondly of “Not Fade Away”, while other features include the usual set of bloopers, an informative overview of the fifth season, a nice run down of Angel’s best episode (though one or two choices are mystifying) and Recurring Villainy is great for fans of Darla, Drusilla, Lilah and Lindsey. With extras as comprehensive as this, no wonder the likes of Lost and Doctor Who go all out. There is a standard here of quality and quantity that only recently TV shows on DVD are beginning to strive for.


5x01: Conviction = 9/10, 5x02: Just Rewards = 8/10,
5x03: Unleashed = 6/10, 5x04: Hell Bound = 9/10,
5x05: Life Of The Party = 8/10, 5x06: The Cautionary Tale Of Numero Cinco = 4/10,
5x07: Lineage = 9/10, 5x08: Destiny = 10/10,
5x09: Harm’s Way = 7/10, 5x10: Soul Purpose = 9/10,
5x11: Damage = 8/10, 5x12: You’re Welcome = 10/10,
5x13: Why We Fight = 5/10, 5x14: Smile Time = 8/10,
5x15: A Hole In The World = 10/10, 5x16: Shells = 9/10,
5x17: Underneath = 8/10, 5x18: Origin = 9/10,
5x19: Time Bomb = 7/10, 5x20: The Girl In Question = 3/10,
5x21: Power Play = 8/10, 5x22: Not Fade Away = 10/10.

Season Five is currently available on VHS and DVD.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Angel - Season 4 Review

US Airdate on the WB: October 6th 2002 – May 7th 2003

The Apocalypse hits LA and it has big intentions on staying put as our gang through further life changes. Cordelia sees herself as a paramour to both Angel and Connor as an entity named Jasmine takes control of her, Fred and Gunn head for Splitsville, Wesley and Lilah’s affair ends in death, Lorne is dragged back from Las Vegas and a slew of baddies reign supreme.

The Lights Are Out And They’re Not Alone – To a lot of people, Season Four might be the most jarring season of Angel and for some odd reason, it happens to be the best. This is strange because there is a fair amount of stuff I can pick fault with but even when I do, even I have come round to this season in particular after some repeated airings and watching it as a whole on DVD and to enjoy this particular season on Angel, I strongly urge watching it on DVD as opposed to the TV format.

As Season Three left off with an interesting cliff hanger, the first episode “Deep Down” manages to actually surpass it with some deliriously uncomfortable fantasy sequences that would be more suited to either Farscape or Six Feet Under but mainly three months later, it goes to show that Fred and Gunn are just about holding on, Connor is sullen personified, Justine is a pathetic mess (no wonder she was kept in a closet), Wesley is getting his rocks with Lilah, who does everyone a major favour and gets rid of Linwood while keeping the equally bland Gavin in line and oh yeah, Cordelia is in Higher Plane heaven and Angel at the bottom of the sea.

Angel’s rescue to me in a way more or less validates Wesley and should reaffirm the gang’s trust in him but for some reason not everyone wants him back and the spat between Angel and Connor sets the tone for this season – Angel will try to be a father while Connor will choose to believe everyone but his father. Once or twice you can understand it but Connor’s consistent gullibility will test the patience of a Saint at times.

With Angel back in the fold, both “Ground State” and “The House Always Wins” are key in pulling both Cordelia and Lorne back into the mix and while they’re not the strongest of episodes, moments like Fred going Pylean, Gunn’s near death experience and moderately okay mutant thief Gwen. Lorne’s return isn’t exactly excitement central but Cordelia’s is every bit as mysterious as it’s arbitrary and the convenient amnesia that bestows her in “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” has a certain amount of emotional resonance but once again Lorne gets the shit beaten out of him when he uncovers something about Miss Chase and a triangle between Angel, Cordy and the nihilistic Connor is yuck beyond words. After all Cordy played surrogate mom to this kid last season and seeing the two of them fornicate in “Apocalypse Nowish” isn’t a pretty sight by any means.

Better handled is the quadrangle between Wesley, Lilah, Gunn and Fred, mainly due to the leaps and bounds of Alexis Denisof, Stephanie Romanov, J. August Richards and Amy Acker. As plots go this is so riveting. It’s nice to see Gunn and Fred’s relationship actually be challenged, especially in the rather boring “Supersymmetry” when Fred contemplates murdering the man who sent her to Pylea and Gunn alleviates her conscience by carrying it off. Wesley and Lilah’s affair may not have lasted as oh say Buffy/Spike but it’s similar in tone and oddly somewhat more effective. I hate to admit it but some sympathy is drawn for Lilah as she feels more for the world weary former watcher than he does for and their break-up in “Habeas Corpses” has Lilah come out with the most perceptive comment and best way of describing Angel the series as a whole.

Of course personal dynamics aside, Season Four actually has an ongoing plot and it involves and as the “Tabula Rasa” influenced “Spin The Bottle” showed in its very last moments, The Beast is making his way to LA and he has every intention of blocking out the sun and there’s not a thing Angel and company can do about it. “Apocalypse Nowish” had The Beast rise from where Connor was born, Angel battered and the sky raining fire in one of the most breathtaking sequences of the show as “Habeas Corpses” had Wolfram And Hart slaughtered, Lilah made into a fugitive and Cordelia getting a hell of a dressing down from Angel.

The next three episodes proved pretty potent as “Long Day’s Journey” threw in the bomb about The Beast and Angelus being former allies as the sun was blocked out and the Ra Tet was destroyed while “Awakening” pulled the “it’s all but a dream” when Angel and Cordy bonked and the former became Angelus. Of course this didn’t actually happen but for an episode which is more in line of the bait and switch tactics of Alias, it works pretty damn well. It’s a shame then that “Soulless” is nothing more than long speeches, pissing contents between Wesley and Gunn over Fred, Angelus taunting the disillusioned crew and moderately okay flashbacks because Lord Of The Rings’ Sean Astin does a good directorial job no less.

But being into the second half of the season, “Calvary” provides some truly inspired shockers in its wake. First off all it’s beyond great to know that both Angelus and The Beast are pawns in this big apocalypse but it’s also quite eerie to realise our big bad is Cordelia of all people. Hasn’t Joss had enough of turning his good guys evil? Apparently not as a reported feud between him and Charisma Carpenter saw the latter’s real life pregnancy in the show written in a way that not only devolves Cordelia but does Connor little favours in the process as he gets sucked into her mind games and evil schemes.

With Lilah getting a particularly violent death and Angelus on the loose (along with Connor being a pain in the ass), “Salvage” saw the most welcomed character return as Faith busted herself out of the big house and once Eliza Dushku positively sparks with everyone she encounters, particularly when she faces Angelus and the two of them go all out to best the other in pretty gruesome “Release”. Angelus may be clever but it seems so is Faith and Wesley as “Orpheus” has both slayer and vampire sharing an inspired coma and not even Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” can put you off this. This is easily the best episode of the season, especially when a bright and bubbly Willow has her own magic fight with Cordy who ends the episode in spectacular fashion by revealing to all and sundry that she’s knocked up and this is after we get Angel back.

With only seven episodes left in the season, you do wonder how many more surprises we can be inflicted to and although neither Cordy or Connor benefit well towards the end both Charisma Carpenter and Vincent Kartheiser do give it their all so more a case of bad Joss when “Players” and “Inside Out” show the extremes both of them take in order for Goddess Jasmine to be born. Dark and disturbing the latte episode also sees the return of Darla and the arrival of Gina Torres.

Fresh from Firefly, Torres has a wonderful ethereal quality that makes you understand why so many people have no qualms in succumbing to Jasmine’s thrall. Physically Jasmine is a stunner and “Shiny Happy People” sees her as something genuinely compassion and it’s the first time all season that Angel and Connor agree on anything to be honest.

However you just know that something doesn’t add up with Jasmine. After all, why all the darkness and slaughter to be born and Fred being put against her friends when she becomes privy to Jasmine’s true intentions (devour humans more or less) in “The Magic Bullet” showcases more of Amy Acker’s talents.

One by one everyone except Connor begins to realise that Jasmine is bad news and with them all getting captured at the end of “Sacrifice” while Angel blurts out Jasmine’s true name in “Peace Out”, Connor’s ongoing struggle to find a good lie to believe is creepy. You feel bad for the lad but at this rate you can’t help but want to scream at him to side with his father.

The season delivers the best ending with the ambiguous “Home”, originally designed as a prelude to Season Five or a series finale if the WB didn’t renew the show (and they really fucked with the scheduling for this season). I loved Lilah’s return, could deal with the way both Cordelia and Connor were exited (that doesn’t mean they should’ve been) and the gang taking the reigns of Wolfram And Hart had potential. This season was so brilliant and exhausting to watch that an ending less action packed worked in its favour.

DVD EXTRAS: Again more brilliance on this front. Starting with Disc 1, there’s a fairly interesting commentary on “The House Always Wins” with David Fury and Andy Hallett while Disc 2 has commentaries for “Spin The Bottle” (Joss Whedon/Alexis Denisof) and “Apocalypse Nowish” (Steven S. DeKnight/Vern Gillum) as well as a featurette regarding the apocalypse. Disc 3 has Buffy/Angel trailers for both shows on DVD while Disc 4 has a commentary for “Orpheus” director Terrence O’Hara and oddly Jeffrey Bell. Disc 5 is only commentary filled with ones for “Inside Out” (Steven S. DeKnight) and “The Magic Bullet” (Jeffrey Bell). Disc 6 finishes proceeding off with Tim Minear providing all on his last episode “Home” and there are featurettes regarding a Season 4 overview, a look at Wolfram And Hart, Monsters, and The Hyperion etc.


4x01: Deep Down = 9/10, 4x02: Ground State = 7/10,
4x03: The House Always Wins = 7/10, 4x04: Slouching Toward Bethlehem = 8/10,
4x05: Supersymmetry = 6/10, 4x06: Spin The Bottle = 8/10,
4x07: Apocalypse Nowish = 10/10, 4x08: Habeas Corpses = 8/10,
4x09: Long Day’s Journey = 7/10, 4x10: Awakening = 9/10,
4x11: Soulless = 7/10, 4x12: Calvary = 9/10,
4x13: Salvage = 9/10, 4x14: Release = 8/10,
4x15: Orpheus = 10/10, 4x16: Players = 7/10,
4x17: Inside Out = 8/10, 4x18: Shiny Happy People = 7/10,
4x19: The Magic Bullet = 8/10, 4x20: Sacrifice = 7/10,
4x21: Peace Out = 9/10, 4x22: Home = 10/10.

Season Four is currently available on VHS and DVD.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Angel - Season 3 Review

US Airdate on the WB: September 24th 2001- May 20th 2002

New faces, new enemies as Angel gains a son, Darla sacrifices herself, Cordy gets elevated, Gunn and new girl Fred get it on, former enemy Holtz succeeds in turning Connor against his father, Lorne finds his business blowing up and Lilah is still the best bitch in town! The love I have for this season knows no bounds.

You Know What They Say – Things come in three and when it comes to excellence, Angel’s third season is a near paragon of television perfection. With Season One largely being standalone and Season Two losing the plot midway, Season Three doesn’t boast either obstacle as the various arcs are set up from day one, with an array of interesting pay offs during the Buffy-less season (network wise as the series stayed put on the WB).

If I am being honest season premiere “Heartthrob” (not an allusion to David Boreanaz, I think) is easily the weakest premiere but there are many moments throughout the opening episode that warrant attention. The central plot, aside from being a connection to Angelus, Darla and new bad guy/tortured hunter Daniel Holtz with another vampire coupling and it’s grieving present day version as the male tries to avenge the female that Angel killed is less interesting when you look at new girl Fred writing gibberish on her hotel room walls, Angel admitting that while he felt incredible loss for Buffy, it ended up not killing him after all as some obvious feelings between him and the wonderful Cordelia (the season’s best character) began to surface.

Angel and Cordy – whether you’re a Buffy/Angel shipper or not, it seemed the idea of Angel having feelings for the former Sunnydale resident were inconceivable but to be honest, every season of Angel that has preceded and past this one, David Boreanaz’s chemistry with Charisma Carpenter has gotten better and better, so I’m probably in a minority of viewers who actually was intrigued over the idea of these two hooking up.

Angel certainly has deep feelings for Cordelia even if it isn’t true; he proves more than willing to let a loose cannon like Billy Blinn escape in “That Vision Thing” when Lilah hires help to inflict pain on our Vision Girl and the consequences for that deed gets explored in the somewhat topical episode “Billy” (misogyny bad – got that!).

Between these two stunning episodes the writers make an effort to finally get Gunn to choose between his gang and Team Angel in the disjointed “That Old Gang Of Mine”, some randy old coot body jacks our hero in “Carpe Noctem” while Amy Acker’s science girl Fred is finally given a reason to stay in LA and move past her Pylean experiences in the fairly good “Fredless”.

With the first six episodes hinting at arcs, ensuring Wolfram And Hart still are a pain in the behind and asserting dynamics within the team, “Offspring” delivers the big ones – a pregnant Darla carrying a human child and an 19th Century Holtz in 2001 LA thanks to the meddling demon Sahjan. Both “Quickening”, “Lullaby” and “Dad” then deliver more shocks as the gang try to assess what kind of a threat a child born to two vampires will pose to the world as Wolfram and Hart are ready to dissect Darla and her unborn kid, while Holtz simply wants the vampire version to Bonnie and Clyde dusted. It seems Angel and Darla offed his family and turned his youngest child into a child into a vampire, forcing Holtz to kill her so making a deal to be frozen for over 100 years and now in the present day, Holtz is one pissed off bugger. As prophecies about the child are coming like locusts, Julie Benz gives a heart wrenching performance as a soulless Darla scared of hurting her own child, ultimately kills herself and with the baby born, it’s up to the gang to wipe out enemies and pick a name, which they do by choosing Connor (since being used on Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me), while a vindictive Holtz recruits embittered rogue hunter Justine (Tina from The L Word) as his new slayer. In other words a rather fucked up version to Giles and Buffy with these two nasty co-dependants determined to make Angel pay for past crimes. I understand the impulse and Holtz is a fascinating character but I still side with Team Angel. Is there something wrong with me?

Taking a break from the arc, the season hits another high with the insane ‘what if’ scenario of “Birthday” when her latest vision saw Cordy choosing between her friends or the lifestyle she originally clamoured when arriving in LA two and a half years ago while the somewhat fun “Provider” had the gang spread too thin in a ludicrous attempt of providing for Connor.

With all this, we needed an episode to explore the two love arcs of the season and the Whedon penned “Waiting In The Wings” does this in spades. On one side, Wesley gets his heartbroken as Fred decides to choose Gunn and on the other side the attraction between Angel and Cordy has two spanners in the works – one being the duo possessed by spirits on unrequited lovers and the other would be the return of the Groosalugg who Cordy decides to comshuck with after all. The episode also boasts some interesting ballet and an appearance from Firefly’s Summer Glau.

“Couplet” then lives up to its title and sees Cordy off on holiday with Groo as Angel contains his envy while Fred and Gunn get ensnared by trees and a prophecy regarding Angel and Connor ensures that the next three episodes are unmissable.

Yes, the biggest shock from the episodes “Loyalty”, “Sleep Tight” and “Forgiving” is Wesley doing the ultimate betrayal. Fearful that Angel will kill his son, Wesley hands the boy over to Holtz who thanks to Sahjan fecks off to Quor Toth as Lilah spikes Angel’s blood to get him to act aggressive towards him own flesh and blood and Wesley not only get his throat slit by Justine and a pillow in his face by a feral Angel. It’s a shame that Cordy is missing for these episodes as I would’ve loved her reactions to what Wesley did and to losing Connor whom she acted like a surrogate mum to as well. While Holtz’s actions are atrocious, it’s easy to see why he behaves and acts the way he does. In fact it’s almost hard to call him a full on villain so thankfully Stephanie Romanov is on fine form with Lilah in cahoots with Sahjan, bluntly explaining to Angel her need to survive in a world where sexist twats like Gavin and Linwood (two of the least effective characters in the whole season, you’ll miss Lindsey and Holland even more) constantly undermine and humiliate her and poor Wesley has to learn his misguided heroics were all for nothing as there was no real prophecy of Angel killing Connor – Sahjan made it up so in the future Connor wouldn’t kill him, although Justine did a decent thing by containing the bastard in an urn. These episodes put you through the ringer as much as they did with the characters on board.

Sadly though as much I like Gunn and don’t mind his relationship with Fred, they’re not exactly excitement central and “Double Or Nothing” is a dull episode in which the only highlight is Cordy’s return, despite that disgusting blond haircut, which mid Season Four got rid of.

The last four episodes are a mixed bag. Both “The Price” and “A New World” have significant moments such as the consequences for using a spell to get Connor, an extension of Cordelia’s half demon nature and of course, the returns of both an aged and haggard Holtz and a surly teenage version of Connor, an ultimate killing machine, played to absolute perfection by Vincent Kartheiser. You would think he and David Boreanaz were related and their onscreen father/son rapport is great.

The latter of the two episodes doesn’t really deal with as great given that not much really happens except for Connor beating on everyone within a two inch radius and seriously hating Angel’s guts (Holtz worked wonders on him then).

The last two are great though, especially after repeated runs. “Benediction” has Holtz kill any chance of Angel and Connor becoming close when faithful puppet Justine kills her mentor as part of his twisted scheme, Cordelia can calm the hysterical lad and Lilah preys on a vulnerable Wesley.

Season finale “Tomorrow” isn’t my favourite season ender but it’s better than when I originally saw it and the culmination of Angel and Cordelia’s attraction to be interrupted with Connor and Justine sinking Angel to the bottom of the ocean and Cordelia ascending to a higher plane is interesting if arbitrary to say the least. There is also the low key exits for Lorne (savagely underused this season) and Groosalugg but only one of them never surfaces again as Wesley and Lilah become fuck buddies (Best! Toxic! Relationship! Ever!) and Fred and Gunn are left to hold the fort. When it comes to cliff-hangers, this may not be 24 but damn, this leaves you craving for Season Four like an addict.

DVD EXTRAS: A huge improvement on the first two seasons, which is great given the superiority of this season. Disc 1 is empty but two provides a neat commentary from Jeffrey Bell and Tim Minear for “Billy”. Both Minear and Mere Smith do the same then for “Lullaby” and there’s a deleted sequence from “Birthday” on Cordelia’s comedy Cordy) and a commentary from both those two again. The “Darla: Deliver Us From Evil” feature has Julie Benz, various cast and staff writers commenting on the vampire’s impact on the series while the Outtakes are pretty funny. These are all on Disc 3. Disc 4 provides similar material with Joss Whedon on both “Waiting In The Wings” and a deleted scene from the same episode (watch Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof bust a move). Disc 5 is devoid of other material but Disc 6 has a wonderful “Season 3 Overview”, a couple of Stills, screen tests for Amy Acker and Vincent Kartheiser as well as a “Page To Screen” feature. All in all, a nice array of stuff to keep you satisfied.


3x01: Heartthrob = 7/10, 3x02: That Vision Thing = 8/10,
3x03: That Old Gang Of Mine = 6/10, 3x04: Carpe Noctem = 8/10,
3x05: Fredless = 8/10, 3x06: Billy = 9/10,
3x07: Offspring = 9/10, 3x08: Quickening = 7/10,
3x09: Lullaby = 10/10, 3x10: Dad = 7/10,
3x11: Birthday = 10/10, 3x12: Provider = 7/10,
3x13: Waiting In The Wings = 9/10, 3x14: Couplet = 7/10,
3x15: Loyalty = 9/10, 3x16: Sleep Tight = 10/10,
3x17: Forgiving = 9/10, 3x18: Double Or Nothing = 6/10,
3x19: The Price = 7/10, 3x20: A New World = 7/10,
3x21: Benediction = 8/10, 3x22: Tomorrow = 8/10.

Season Three is available on both VHS and DVD.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Angel - Season 2 Review

US Airdate on the WB: September 26th 2000 – May 22nd 2001

Second helpings have never been so prepared as not only does the Angel Investigations crew expand with vigilante Gunn and fey demon Lorne but enemies swell in their numbers as Wolfram And Hart and Darla make it their business to tip Angel over the edge with deadly consequences for his friends.

Daddy’s Home – Passing the tricky stage of overcoming a first season and wooing viewers to hold on, Season Two is a real tester for not only the characters but viewers also had a lot of getting used to as well. As the Sunnydale experts tackled a Hell God during this point, Angel’s second year opened with the gang working in Cordelia’s apartment, cluttering up the place and making a balls of protecting a pregnant woman with a mythical child. Said woman would then be known to audiences as Vanessa Diaz on Six Feet Under in the same year as the season aired but debut episode “Judgement”, while not as intriguing Buffy driving Dracula out of Sunnydale but you have to like it for the brief appearance of Faith, Darla in co-hoots with Lindsey and Lilah and the introduction of Andy Hallett’s loveable if underused demon Lorne (although for the most of this season, we call him The Host).

The gang are more or less back too with Wesley still a goof with a tougher veneer and Cordelia as delightfully sarcastic and helpful as usual. In between getting office digs with the luxurious Hyperion Hotel in “Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been” and new recruit Gunn forming a bond with Cordy in the surprisingly good “First Impressions”, the biggest draw this season is Darla. Wolfram And Hart brought the lady back from the dead and it doesn’t take a genius to realise her purpose is to mess with Angel anyway.

At this point I should apologise for not noticing Julie Benz’s strengths as an actress because while repeated viewings of Buffy’s first season did address that problem of mine, this season really blew my mind on this woman’s abilities. Benz is anything but a newcomer to this genre as the likes of Roswell allude to but damn, the woman and Darla are captivating, you feel the urge to fast forward through other stuff to watch her in action.

Darla got staked by the only thing she’s ever loved and being resurrected as a human adds to the wonderful psychological warfare the former prostitute inflicts. When Angel isn’t sleeping more and dreaming of her, then Darla is making sure she’s spotted in public as classic instalments such as “Untouched” and “Dear Boy” show us and as Cordelia is quick to add, Angelus and Darla are the vampiric equivalent to Bonnie And Clyde.

Getting the relentlessly boring “Guise Will Be Guise” out of the way (although yay for Wesley finally getting some on-screen action), Darla’s arc is dramatically increased as her mental state takes a turn for the worst and her and Angelus’ most defining moments are unfolded in the unforgettable “Darla”, which even surpassed the quality of the Buffy crossover episode “Fool For Love”. Let’s face it, after watching these set of episodes, a part of you will ever wonder why you were ever so interested in Angel’s romance with Buffy. Angelus and Darla may have been dark and dastardly but the chemistry between David Boreanaz and Julie Benz is off the rector scale.

Sadly though there’s another clunky episode with “The Shroud Of Rahmon”, which while it shows the extent of embittered Kate’s mistrust of Angel and even Gunn’s, you simply won’t care because if it isn’t Angel and Darla, you just don’t want to know.

Of course the disappointment of said episode leads to three instalments of undeniable genius. Through “The Trial”, “Reunion” and “Redefinition”, the show’s writing taking a defining route as Angel’s attempts of doing good by finding a cure for a human Darla result in failure and Drusilla siring the notorious vampire once again. As team ups go, Darla and Drusilla are a force to be reckoned with and Wolfram And Hart pay the ultimate price when Angel allows his former girls to slaughter them good and proper. Bye Holland and watch out Lindsey/Lilah! However the resolute nihilism in Angel also results in all of his gang being fired and Darla and Drusilla getting roasted for their sins. He ain’t Angel, he ain’t Angelus but he’s damn scary and he’s certainly disillusioned.

Unfortunately this is where the season hits something of a dramatic slump as separate from his team, the gang are barely able to cope without him and Angel looks pretty close to breaking point. “Blood Money” is a monotonous episode with an update from Lily, now Anne from Buffy’s second and third seasons who’s now running a homeless shelter as Angel upstages a rivalling Lindsey and Lilah and the gang set up Angel Investigations without their “angel”.

Similarly uninteresting is time slowing “Happy Anniversary” even if it does have a dream team of Angel and Lorne as they stop a random loser from ending the world because his unhappy girlfriend plans to dump while “The Thin Dead Line” shows a bit more get up and go, thanks to the wonderful teams of Wesley/Gunn and Angel/Kate and the funny way of showing corrupt cops at work (something which co-writer Shawn Ryan explored further when he created The Shield for FX).

After these less engaging episodes, the season hits an ultimate high with a stunning two parter “Reprise” and “Epiphany”, two episodes that really ying/yang Angel’s zenith and nadir as Wolfram And Hart plan one of their Senior Partners arrivals, the gang are placed in danger of nasty demons with their spawn growing in the back of people’s head, a disturbing suicide attempt from Kate (following her very much alive exit from the series). The best bits however is the violent angry sex between Angel and Darla (big repercussions in Season Three for that one), Angel and Lindsey duking it out and the gang back together as a whole. It’s nice that the tension of Angel’s abandonment of the gang isn’t something the writers skim over as Cordelia is quick to mention Angel giving away her stuff and Wesley quick to assert the leadership position Angel has entrusted him with.

“Disharmony” saw the return of former Sunnydale irritant Harmony who goes to show that leopards really can’t change their spots (couldn’t we have gotten more of Willow in this episode? I’d like to have seen more of Cordy’s reaction to her former friend being a lesbian) while the horrible “Dead End” sees the exit of a disheartened Lindsey and the rise in power for Lilah, someone who hasn’t been shy this season showing her more ruthless streak, whether it’s goading psychic girls or entrapping Lindsey, either way Stephanie Romanov is more interesting in her second run and although Lindsey’s desire for Darla made me care for him more, Christian Kane deserved a far better parting episode that this wretched drek.

The final four episodes after that show so much meandering decision to form an arc and sadly it isn’t one involving Darla but when Lorne’s cousin Landok arrives in “Belonging” and Cordelia goes through a portal, we’re introduced to the not so humble world of Pylea. “Over The Rainbow” saw Cordy being enslaved while sheepish fellow captive Winifred “Fred” Burkle warned her of the dangers. Let’s just say that Lorne is justified in his personal hatred of his birthplace. Imagine being in a world where there’s no music, the people are real savages and humans are literal second class citizens. Okay you don’t have to jump dimension as that can kind of happen in real life but you get the gist. Angel, Lorne, Gunn and Wesley’s attempts to save Cordy are not without their problems or surprises.

Surprise Number 1 being the upgrade of status Cordy gets in “Through The Looking Glass” as her visions give her the rights of regal stature. It’s not so great for everyone else as while Cordy got to meet the handsome and kind hearted Groosalugg, Lorne gets a gagging order from his people, misery from his family as well as his head chopped off for effect as Angel makes enemies by saving Fred’s life and Wesley and Gunn are intrigued by three books that spell Wolfram And Hart.

The season finale while not a brilliant way of ending the season has it’s moments of greatness. “There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb” not only shows the current teams as a fantastic unit while welcoming Fred into the mix but the end as Willow is forced to inform the gang of Buffy’s death is heartbreaking and Alyson Hannigan doesn’t even get dialogue in her brief scene.

A collection of some highs, a few stinkers, one or two genuine shockers and an ambivalent final episode, Season Two certainly kept your brain working and although not my favourite season, it still affirms my love for the show.

DVD EXTRAS: Disc 1 has a pretty informative commentary for “Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been” by the genius that is Tim Minear while Disc 2 has a script for “Darla”. Disc 3 delivers some real goods with interesting features like “Making Up The Monsters” and “Inside The Agency” as well as some set blueprints and stills. Disc 5 is another script one, this time for “Disharmony” while Disc 6 has a commentary on the so-so “Over The Rainbow” by director Fred Keller, a feature on “Stunts”, cast biographies, a trailer for Season One on DVD as well as a genuinely engaging “Season Two Overview”. More commentaries on better episodes that the two selected wouldn’t have gone amiss.


2x01: Judgement = 8/10, 2x02: Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been = 7/10,
2x03: First Impressions = 7/10, 2x04: Untouched = 9/10,
2x05: Dear Boy = 8/10, 2x06: Guise Will Be Guise = 6/10,
2x07: Darla = 10/10, 2x08: The Shroud Of Rahmon = 5/10,
2x09: The Trial = 9/10, 2x10: Reunion = 10/10,
2x11: Redefinition = 8/10, 2x12: Blood Money = 5/10,
2x13: Happy Anniversary = 6/10, 2x14: The Thin Dead Line = 6/10,
2x15: Reprise = 10/10, 2x16: Epiphany = 9/10,
2x17: Disharmony = 7/10, 2x18: Dead End = 4/10,
2x19: Belonging = 6/10, 2x20: Over The Rainbow = 6/10,
2x21: Through The Looking Glass = 8/10, 2x22: There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb =8/10.

Season Two is currently available on both VHS and DVD.

My Review of Doctor Who's: "Survival"

Written by Rona Munro
Directed by Alan Wareing

The Master: “Why, Doctor! What an unexpected pleasure.”

1989 saw a good few things happening. Well I was four years old and Michael Keaton made an amazing impression in Batman but on a serious note, after 26 seasons it was also the time that Doctor Who itself was coming to an end.

It’s often hard to muster a direct feeling to the show’s ending. On one hand, this series could’ve well gone into the 1990’s but given that most shows in the sci-fi and fantasy genre are lucky to run for a third of what Doctor Who ran for, was ending it really the worst thing ever?

On paper this might not smack of an epic series finale to end all finales but the more I’ve watched this serial, the most enjoyable it’s become and there is senses of closure in certain parts throughout the story as well as The Doctor and The Master have one of their better confrontations.

Ace and The Doctor come back to Perivale purely because the girl wants to catch up with her mates. Given that the previous two serials “Ghost Light” and “The Curse Of Fenric” went out of their way to flesh Ace out as a character, it makes perfect sense to bring trouble to her own location.

When it comes to Ace (and also going by the sleeve for this serial’s DVD release), she really does feel like a precursor to Rose Tyler. In this serial even more so than ever. While her return isn’t met with people assuming she was dead, there are a string of conflicting emotions that Ace goes through.

On one hand she actually doesn’t like Perivale. She finds it rather boring and given that I often feel the same way she does about my own home town, I can relate to her during those moments. That being said, the Perivale we see also has some trouble involving felines. Well The Doctor does seem to get into trouble with this lot.

A lot of Ace’s friends have gone missing in recent times and instead of giving her a straight answer, the rather annoying Sergeant Paterson spends his time lecturing the girl on not contacting her mum. Needless to say, this bothers Ace for a good time afterwards but The Doctor’s too distracted.

There might be many things The Doctor’s ever had to face but clearly boredom was never one of them. He realises that there is a black cat acting oddly and proceeds to try and track him down. During that he also manages to annoy Ace’s misanthropic friend Ange as well as some store owners.

To be fair The Doctor probably should’ve stuck with his Girl Friday. Ace manages to attract the cat and then a Cheetah person on horseback before being taken to the Cheetah planet itself. The Doctor also winds up there along with Paterson, whose penchant for sticking his nose in really grates.

In a serial with a decent enough array of guest characters, it’s only Paterson that truly annoys me. Ace meanwhile manages to find her friends Midge and Shreela as well as a newcomer called Derek. The four of them have conflicting ideas of how to deal with the Cheetah people though. Ace wants to fight them, the rest prefer to hide. Both sides raise good points for their arguments.

The Doctor meanwhile realises that The Master is also on the Cheetah planet. It’s actually nice for a change that the writers didn’t try to hide his return. We knew within the first ten minutes of the episode that he was here as he used the black cat to spy on The Doctor.

However because of Paterson generally being in the way, The Doctor has to save him from getting eaten before reuniting with Ace. The next course of action is for the newly assembled team to try and get to a safe place away from the Cheetahs. That goes awry as soon as everyone including Ace starts fighting them.

As for The Master, it seems his motives are a lot less grand here than you’d expect. He’s not after destruction for once – he simply wants to get out of there. Being trapped on the Cheetah planet means that he’s slowly becoming one of them and while his mind is strong to resist, he’s beginning to falter.

It’s interesting to see him and The Doctor have a fairly civilised conversation. With the planet on the brink of destruction and The Doctor unwilling to help him, The Master preys on Midge to get his back to Earth. Seeing Midge becoming affected wasn’t much of a surprise though.

Ace becoming affected on the other hand was. Hearing her describe to The Doctor her feelings of running forever when Karra wasn’t trying to seduce her with the thrills of a good kill made for some great moments. Sophie Aldred consistently gets to shine in this serial and Ace is also used to get the remaining people out of their.

The Master’s plan to use Midge as a means for killing The Doctor wasn’t his best. Still at Paterson met a grisly end and there was something genuinely nasty in the way The Master was able to easily kill both Midge and Karra in the final segment. It’s good to have solid reminders of how genuinely menacing The Master is as often you can forget what callousness he’s capable of.

However for me, the best scene is between him and The Doctor. The Master has never lacked in trying to kill The Doctor but predictably enough he’s always failed in doing it. When the two of them go at it on the Cheetah planet, it’s the first time in perhaps a long while that the stakes really feel high.

For all his loathing of The Doctor, it was The Master who lured him to Cheetah planet and to be fair, these two have always had a ‘can’t live with/without him’ dynamic. It’s pretty much left uncertain of whether or not The Master got out of Cheetah world but given that in “The Movie”, he’s arrested by Daleks the lookout for escape is good.

The final scene between The Doctor and Ace is also pretty poignant. She was convinced that the motorcycle debacle had him killed and there’s something great about the way the writers didn’t over egg their reunion. No instead The Doctor and Ace simply walked away and talked about further travels. It’s quite sweet actually.

Also in “Survival”

It’s interesting that the first episode of Doctor Who was a four parter and this one was a three parter. They did mix it up in the last few seasons.

The Doctor: “So what’s so terrible about Perivale?”
Ace: “Nothing ever happens here.”

I just spotted Emmerdale actress Adele Silva as Squeak. A lot of actors/writers from that show have worked in various mediums of Doctor Who.

The Doctor: “What happens when the lion comes out?”
Shopkeeper: “What lion?”
The Doctor: “Better get your running shoes on.”

Ace: “People don’t just vanish.”
Ange: “You did.”
Ace: “That was different.”

Originally if this show had gotten another season, Ace would’ve left halfway through it and we’d have gotten a cat burglar for a companion.

Ace: “Nothing’s invincible.”
Midge: “That’s right, Ace. You tell us. You sort them out.”

Ace (re The Master): “Do you know any nice people? Ordinary people. Not power crazed nutters trying to take over the galaxy.”
The Doctor: “I don’t think he’s trying to take over the galaxy.”

In a twisted way, you almost wonder if The Doctor wasn’t so resistant to helping The Master in distress, would it actually change The Master in some ways?

The Doctor: “Why did you bring me here?”
The Master: “I need your help.”

Ace: “I thought cats hated water.”
Karra: “I’m not a cat, I’m Karra. I’m your sister.”
Ace: “No I’m not. Why do you keep calling me that?”

Karra is played by Lisa Bowerman who will go on to play novel and audio companion Bernice Summerfield.

Karra: “When I’m hungry, I hunt. When I hunt, I eat.”
Ace: “Would you eat me?”

The Master: “You are my hunting dog, Midge. You’re my teeth for my trap. Trust me, Midge. Trust me.”
Midge: “Yes. Trust me Midge.”

Some of the original titles for this serial were “Cat Flap” and “Blood Hunt” but I think “Survival” is a better title.

Karra: “I can run into the dark. Run forever.”
Ace: “Just wait. I’ll get you something.”
Karra: “Good hunting sister.”

The Master: “It seems we must always meet again.”
The Doctor: “Well they do say opposites attract.”

Judging by that line and some stuff from “The Mark Of The Rani”, no wonder Russell T. Davies had absolutely no problems with playing with the homoerotic tension between The Doctor and The Master in “Utopia”, “The Sound Of Drums” and “Last Of The Time Lords”.

The Doctor: “There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea is asleep and the rivers dream. People made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea is getting cold. Come on, Ace, we've got work to do.”

This was released on DVD in April 2007 with some excellent extras including a fan commentary as well as one from Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred. The “Endgame” featurette is a must see too.

“Survival” may not be the kind of serial you would expect a long running series like Doctor Who to end with but as series finales go, I actually like this a little more than other shows who know in advance that they are about to end and still don’t produce anything satisfying. Bringing back The Master is a good way to end it and the Cheetah plot overall works for me. Plus in terms of DVD releases, the extras really do go all out.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Angel - Season 1 Review

US Airdate on the WB: October 5th 1999 – May 23rd 2000

Leaving both Buffy and Sunnydale behind him, vampire with a soul Angel heads for solitude in the busy city of L.A, only to find a purpose with former friend Cordelia Chase, vision afflicted Doyle and eventual help from ex-watcher Wesley Wyndham Price. The downside of this also include a relentlessly evil law firm called Wolfram And Hart and the resurrection of an old flame.

Bright Lights, Big City, More Demons – As clichéd as the phrase “you can’t run from your problems” is, it’s been constantly proved that there is an element of truth behind that popular saying. Spending three years in Sunnydale has seen Angel do good and terrible deeds in equal measures and after having the sense to finally end his relationship with Buffy, our favourite vampire made the right move to put as much distance between him and the Slayer as humanly possibly but because we knew that Joss Whedon had no intention of Angel just sitting on his ass and chewing up the LA scenery, I found it hard to buy Angel’s protests that he wants to left alone in a city so filled with people and all forms of life.

Then again neither did charming jack the lad half demon Doyle, thus beginning the season premiere “City Of” where the demon with visions of people in distress tried to appeal to the brooding vampire, along with the powers that be, that Angel could really atone for the bad he’s done as Angelus by doing more good in LA. In a way Doyle reminds me of Whistler and he and Angel make an unlikely but interesting duo as they track young women being murdered by vampire millionaire Russell Winters. The premiere is made even better when former Sunnydale resident and aspiring actress Cordelia Chase pops in the City Of Angels and Angel has to rescue her from the nasty Winters.

Then again, Russell is easy to deal with as Angel pops into law firm Wolfram And Hart and throws the vampire out of a window without thinking about it. In the space of one episode Angel has already made a powerful enemy in the evil law firm and their charismatic lawyer Lindsey McDonald, played by the delightful Christian Kane but on the plus side, along with Doyle and Cordelia, Angel also has his own detective agency and with these two as your back-up, you’re in pretty good hands.

Unlike even the first season of Buffy, the great majority of this entire spends more time on personal arcs as opposed to big bad ones. Yes, there are a few episodes where Wolfram And Hart make their presence more than felt but the grand majority of the episode, it’s mainly minor villains or a few people from Angel’s past but for the most part, the first nine episodes go out of their way to establish the relationships between Angel, Cordelia and Doyle and like a good people, I found this to be the season’s biggest and best strength.

Cordelia and Doyle enjoy their fair share of bickering and unrequited lust for each other (well mainly Doyle) in light hearted instalments like “Lonely Hearts” (where a sex demon invades) and “I Fall To Pieces” (where a stalker can disassemble his own body parts) but the inevitable Buffy crossover start with the third instalment “In The Dark” where Oz appears to help and Spike appears to be a pain in Angel’s backside (preparing us for Season Five then).

The light hearted antics also pop up in “Room With A View” as Cordelia deals with a ghost set out to stop from moving into an apartment and “Sense And Sensitivity” where abrasive cop Kate is reduced to a basket case. All these episodes while average at best are important for characterisation as it’s great for Cordelia to call herself out on her previously callous behaviour and even the somewhat annoying Kate is sympathetic enough when her Daddy issues are brought to light. Doyle gets a mediocre episode with his ex-wife and a lame eating ritual in “The Bachelor Party” before the season hits its first standout episode.

Surprisingly as someone who liked Buffy and Angel as a couple but wasn’t devastated when they broke up, the shipper tastic “I Will Remember You” where Angel briefly experienced mortality and a chance to be with the woman he loves even got me nearly at it but the first death of a team member when Doyle bravely sacrificed himself to save a clan of demons in the powerful “Hero” is jaw dropping stuff. With the death of a character that had a direct link to TPTB, was Angel royally screwed in his mission to help the helpless?

Thankfully that would turn out to be “no” on both counts as “Parting Gifts” saw Cordelia inheriting Doyle’s visions (note to self – don’t kiss half-demons) and to keep the terrific trio alive, we got reinforcement with Wesley Wyndham Price, a man who couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag and whose general uselessness got him fired from the Watchers Council. Wesley is a little hard to take in initial episodes as he mostly seems to be whaled on (“Somnambulist”, “Expecting”) or taken as bait (“She”) but by episode 14 “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” when issues of his parents, abilities as a former watcher and his established friendship with Angel are challenged, you find yourself liking him more and more and Cordelia’s neat array of sarcastic one liners in regarding to Wesley’s manliness raise a chuckle every now and again. Baddies during these particular range from lowlifes like empathy Barney trying to flog Cordy on the black market, a killer vampire sired by Angel, a disgusting beast who gets men to impregnate women with it’s spawn and a powerful female named Jhiera who wants equality for her female raise along with a possessed and ultimately soulless young boy named Ryan, so yeah, as viewers we’re pretty much kept on our toes.

Along with establishing Wesley in the group without ultimately erasing Doyle’s existence, another person we focus on in the latter half is policewoman Kate. Initially, you’re dreading a romance between her and Angel but by the time she discovers he’s a vampire and can’t get past that, and then you can breathe a sigh of relief. No romance here, in fact, Kate and Angel can barely stand one another after that bombshell and the fact that vampires kill her disapproving father in the excellent showcase “The Prodigal”. This episode excels for Elisabeth Rohm’s performance but mainly for the first appearance of Julie Benz’s lethal Darla in flashback as Angelus is sired and slaughters his own family with complete and utter glee.

The next two episodes, while not short on eventful stuff aren’t quite as good. “The Ring” may reintroduce Wolfram And Hart and debut Stephanie Romanov’s ruthless Lilah Morgan (a character who gets more interesting in later seasons) but the central premise of demons fighting it out for survival just plain suck and even the drugged return of Angelus in “Eternity” isn’t as interesting, although Cordy and Wesley’s own feelings on their boss returning to his former certainly is.

The season hits an all time with the mind blowing two parter “Five By Five” and “Sanctuary” as fresh from body jacking in Sunnydale, Faith’s two episode stay in LA is unmissable. Allying herself with Lindsey and Lilah at W&H, Faith wastes no time in trying to kill Angel, kidnapping and torturing Wesley but the saga takes a reversal when Faith decides she wants to redeem herself and Angel and company, including a royally pissed off Buffy and the ever insufferable Watcher Council think otherwise. Powerful, raw, packed with flashbacks and cementing Wesley’s likeability, these are two episodes you could watch on a loop. Similarly we get a wonderful introduction to Season Two regular, vigilante vampire hunter Charles Gunn in the interesting “War Zone” and Lindsey gets to show he’s capable of having a conscience in “Blind Date”.

Season finale “To Shanshu In LA” ends the season on one hell of a strong note with both Cordelia and Wesley attacked by Vocah, the Oracles who’ve recurred throughout the season are slain, the office blows up to bits, Lindsey loses a hand, a prophecy reveals the possibility of Angel becoming human and Wolfram And Hart who have designs on Angel gets their own little victory when their plot to raise Darla from the dead is a complete success but not without it’s own surprises. For those you who have recently been thriving on Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, you need to see this series. Angel does what Torchwood is doing but somehow better. This debut season may run primarily on standalone format with the occasional arc but I guarantee you won’t be bored.

DVD EXTRAS: Disappointingly the first two seasons of Angel are the most lightest with the goods but there are good and these include two pretty enthusiastic commentaries for “City Of” (Joss Whedon/David Greenwalt) and “Room With A View” (Jane Espenson) on the first two discs. Disc 3 has a “Season One Feature” as well as standard trailer for the first season on VHS, Cast biographies and a neat Art gallery. Disc Five has reasonably hard to navigate scripts for the excellent “Five By Five” and “Sanctuary”, while the final disc has more satisfying features like “Introducing Angel”, “I’m Cordelia” and “The Demons” where cast and crew discuss various people and the making of the series.


1x01: City Of = 9/10, 1x02: Lonely Hearts = 7/10,
1x03: In The Dark = 6/10, 1x04: I Fall To Pieces = 5/10,
1x05: Room With A View = 7/10, 1x06: Sense And Sensitivity = 6/10,
1x07: The Bachelor Party = 6/10, 1x08: I Will Remember You = 10/10,
1x09: Hero = 9/10, 1x10: Parting Gifts = 7/10,
1x11: Somnambulist = 9/10, 1x12: Expecting = 7/10,
1x13: She = 8/10, 1x14: I’ve Got You Under My Skin = 7/10,
1x15: The Prodigal = 9/10, 1x16: The Ring =6/10,
1x17: Eternity = 7/10, 1x18: Five By Five = 10/10,
1x19: Sanctuary =9/10, 1x20: War Zone = 7/10,
1x21: Blind Date = 8/10, 1x22: To Shanshu In LA = 9/10.

Season One is currently available on both VHS and DVD.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

My Review of Doctor Who's: "Ghost Light"

Written by Marc Platt
Directed by Alan Wareing

The Doctor: “Who was it that said Earthmen never invite their ancestors round to dinner?”

To be honest out of all the serials of the original Doctor Who, this might be one of the most confusing but wonderful ones I’ve had the pleasure of buying. There’s the right element of creepiness, further explorations into the successful Seventh Doctor and Ace dynamic and it wisely runs for the length of three episodes.

The Doctor and Ace finds themselves in a creepy mansion back in the latter’s hometown of Perivale but it’s not long before it’s established that the house in questions is under some creepy control of Josiah Samuel Smith who has managed to put everyone else living in that house under his control.

The Doctor is keen to find out what exactly is going on in this mystery house but Ace is a lot less enthusiastic about this particular. One thing that was a constant with Ace is that unlike some of her predecessors, the writers here had a great interest in vocalising her more than ever.

It’s part of Ace’s general appeal. After the largely passive Peri and somewhat annoying Mel, Ace became the kind of companion we’ve seen in the past. Her thoughts, reactions, feelings and more importantly her own past became paramount in her overall characterisation.

The final season of Doctor Who gave us two serials that were often more Ace’s character growth and facing up to her past rather than The Doctor or even the monsters that inhabited these serials. “Ghost Light” is the first one to really hit that home when halfway through the story it’s revealed that Ace has a history with this creepy house.

In 1983 Ace had visited this place and felt an evil presence which obviously scared her enough to openly argue with The Doctor about leaving this mystery well alone. It was also this creepy presence that had Ace burn the place to the ground so visiting it 100 years prior to her little bout of arson seemed anything but therapeutic.

Another plus point for this episode is putting the action into the year 1883 and taking the normally tomboy dressed Ace and shoving her into a more feminine attire. Sophie Aldred happens to be one of those understated beauties and Ace is particularly gorgeous in the dress she spends most of this serial in.

The real villain of the episode however Josiah is a suitably nasty piece of work. Controlling everyone in the house means that both The Doctor and Ace finds themselves in battle a good few times. Ace herself even gets to have a bit of girl fight with both a manipulated Gwendoline and Mrs Pritchard, the latter of whom is a calculating madam to put it mildly.

There are many surprises that this serial tends to offer. One of them being the fact that a spaceship is hidden beneath the cellar with something hidden in that. That is later revealed to be an alien that came to Earth to collect various samples, which even included a Neanderthal but after doing that the alien in question then decided to slumber.

Of course there are also two alien forces in this story and both of them have their own agendas. Control is the one with its desire to become a lady and Sharon Duce gives off the vibe that she had a lot of fun such an unstable but in some ways arguably less destructive alien menace.

With so many twists in this serial, it’s almost hard to keep up with everything really. The mansion has sympathetic characters in Gwendoline, Inspector Mackenzie and a butler with the neat little name of Nimrod as well as the nasty characters in Mrs Pritchard, Josiah and the other alien menace – Light.

Well part of this episode title had to play into things and having the baddie called Light is a nice enough twist for me. Light kills both Mrs Pritchard and Gwendoline (after it’s revealed their mother and daughter) in a failed attempt to stop evolution and Josiah goes on his own rampage.

However the defeat for both of them feels a little easy compared to all the complexity that we’ve had to go through. Smith winds up becoming a prisoner on the alien ship inside the mansion and Light is bested by The Doctor’s emphasis on how futile it would be to try and stop evolution.

With both Fenn Cooper and Nimrod doing a bit of space exploring, the only other was Ace facing up to her past history with the house. She doesn’t exactly thank The Doctor for placing her in this situation but she’s smart enough to realise that he’s got a point and by the end of the story, she does seem to be able to lay her own ghosts to rest so to speak.

Also in “Ghost Light”

As usual there were other titles that this serial could’ve gotten such as “The Bestiary” and “Life-Cycle”.

Reverend Matthews: “I see that all the stories about you are true. You have no shred of decency. Even parading your wantons in front of your guests.”
Ace (to The Doctor): “Does he mean me, professor?”
Reverend Matthews: “I have it. This is some experiment related to your mumbo jumbo theories. Perhaps she’ll evoke into a young lady.”
Ace: “Who are you calling ‘young lady’ bug-brain?”

This episode had a lot of surreal images what with the house, the guests and the plethora of stuffed animals on display also.

The Doctor: “Let me guess. My theories appal you, my heresies outrage you, I never answer letters and you don’t like my tie.”

Ace: “There must be things you hate.”
The Doctor: “I can’t stand burnt toast. I loathe bus stations full of lost baggage … and then there’s unrequited love, and tyranny, and cruelty.”

Although this was the second serial to be screened in Season 26, it’s interesting that this was however the last one that was actually filmed.

Gwendoline: “I think Mr Matthews is confused.”
The Doctor: “Never mind. I’ll have him completely bewildered by the time I’m finished.”

Ace: “Scratch the Victorian veneer and something nasty will come crawling out.”
Josiah: “You and The Doctor thought you could get the better of me but I’ll see him squirming yet.”

I noticed that we got one fun dinner scene in this serial where Ace joked about ordering in a curry to The Doctor’s disdain.

The Doctor: “It’s asleep downstairs and Josiah doesn’t want it awoken.”
Ace: “Maybe that’s a good idea. Maybe it should be left alone. Professor, just this once.”
The Doctor: “It’s very, very old, perhaps even older. Just one quick chat?”

Inspector Mackenzie: “And who are you?”
The Doctor: “I wouldn’t want to confuse you.”

The fight scene between both Ace and Gwendoline did look a little homoerotic. I recently found this site that noted anything on Doctor Who that could be considered “gay” and this was one of those things. Watching that fight again, I have to admit that I agree.

Light: “Earth! Why mention that wretched planet to me?”
Ace: “If you don’t like it then bug off.”

Ace (re the mansion): “I wish I had blown it up instead.”
The Doctor: “Wicked.”

This came out on DVD in 2004, with a decent selection of extras but the commentary with Sophie Aldred, Andrew Cartmel, Marc Platt and Marc Ayres is really good.

Confusion aside, this is an exceptional story. “Ghost Light” boasts the right length, has enough creepiness to surpass the somewhat naff looking monsters and making it both a period setting and incorporating some of Ace’s own personal history with the mansion only heighten the story. One of the series strongest episodes but also rather underrated too.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 7 Review

US Airdate on UPN: 24th September 2002-May 20th 2003

The smash hit comes to a conclusion as Buffy learns the Slayer lineage has been dramatically altered with The First Evil and a horde of other nasty types take advantage of this. Elsewhere Spike and Willow go through the motions in overcoming past misgivings, Dawn proves to be useful as Xander and Anya are tertiary and Andrew just damn annoying. Also we get more of Giles and a mysterious newcomer named Robin Wood.

Last Dance: Ah, seven years of a hit TV series and coming up with an ending to satisfy all those loyal viewers and critics alike can’t be an easy feat and while this season has some flaws, Season Seven puts up more than a good fight to end Buffy as the iconic and influential series it was rather than a shadow of it’s former self.

You may disagree as certain things don’t even please me but a season that opens with an episode as invigorating as “Lessons” is starting things off pretty well. Let’s see – in England we have Giles getting Willow to control her magic and use it positively because unlike drugs, magic is a part of Willow internally and isn’t something she can walk away from. In Sunnydale, we have a mysterious young lady killed by a group of Bringers as Buffy and Dawn muse over the reopening of the newly rebuilt Sunnydale High.

If ever there was a season opener that perfectly sets up events, “Lessons” is that very episode. Seeing the new Sunnydale High is good for sentiment value but having a likeable but shady looking principal there along with three disgruntled ghosts who Buffy once failed to save terrorising Dawn and her friends while a crazed Spike is goaded by The First Evil, who makes it’s reintroduction more significant by morphing into every single Big Bad in the previous six seasons as well as the Slayer (well, Buffy is technically a reanimated corpse) is definitely a stunning moment like no other and contrary to popular opinion, this season doesn’t necessarily lack in mind blowing or stunning moments.

Nope even the second episode “Beneath You” saw the Scoobies deal with a worm like beast as Spike and Anya scrapped in the Bronze and Buffy learned in an interesting way that Spike has a soul. If there is a gripe with this storyline, it’s probably the horrible way in which the writers skim over the fact Spike nearly attempted to rape Buffy and the Slayer’s insistence to all and sundry through out the season that Spike is the most important fighter on her team. Um, Buffy, you’ve won plenty of battles without Spike, just because the writers love James Marsters doesn’t mean, Spike is your strongest fighter. However, I would say Willow was much more needed.

Willow’s return in the third episode “Same Time, Same Place”, one of the few weak episodes in the season is nicely touched upon. I like that she’s repentant for turning on her friends but I wish we had more emphasis on her grief over Tara. Seeing her at Tara’s grave in “Help” is sweet but why not have counselling or even have the Scoobies express more concern over Tara’s death. I guess when all is said and done; I miss Tara and still can’t used to not seeing her with the Scoobies. For some reason it doesn’t feel right her not being there especially when they are less interesting character in the Scooby core this season and you can’t help but not miss Amber Benson’s screen presence either. In fact, barring a few references here and there, Tara is the first dead character on this show who doesn’t pop up whatsoever, making Amber’s departure from the show more effective and painful too.

Luckily the somewhat likeable Anya is given one significant outing before spending the rest of the season in the background with Xander and it comes in the wonderful flashback episode “Selfless” which puts a nice end to the Vengeance Demon arc and also shows that Willow isn’t totally out of the woods as well, regarding her dark side.

Dawn then got a rethread episode with the fairly amusing “Him” (“Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered” anyone?) Before the arc with The First Evil went somewhere with the breathtaking “Conversations With Dead People”. One of favourite episodes of all time, The First moves in on getting Spike to kill and issuing Willow a dire warning while Dawn violently interacts with Joyce and Buffy unleashes her emotional baggage for the past seven years on a random vampire. Not even the terminally detestable Andrew killing Jonathan can deter the brilliance of this powerful tour de force.

The next three episodes after that – “Sleeper”, “Never Leave Me” and “Bring On The Night” were then mandatory viewing. After all – how could The First be controlling Spike into killing people and why does it want him? Spike’s a pretty powerful vampire but he ain’t exactly the kind of guy you want if your goal is Armageddon. Still though, it’s interesting to see Buffy and company try and lose Spike as the Watchers Council is blown to smithereens, a nasty ubervamp reducing Buffy to a pulp, The First mind fucks some more with Spike, the irritant known as Andrew becomes a regular fitting, Principal Wood continues to get darker and hey, Giles turns up with Potential Slayers.

Yes, here is our arc and ultimately The First Evil’s real goal – to balance the scales between evil and good in the former’s favour and because the Scoobies raised Buffy from the dead, the balance is now disjointed and potentials are being called everywhere and when they’re not being killed by The First and it’s many allies, then it’s up to Buffy and the Scoobies to protect them and train them for the biggest battle in everyone’s lives.

The stinker with the Potentials is that most of them are kind of annoying, nearly all of them (bar the most loathed by viewers – Kennedy) aren’t exactly proactive and Buffy wastes too much time giving them speeches than really preparing them, so you do actually wonder how the hell she’s gonna win against The First anyway.

With only two real potentials given a personality – Dawn’s friend Amanda and Kennedy, you don’t become as emotionally invested as possible and with Andrew mostly coming out with lame geek jokes, it’s annoying that Xander, Anya, Dawn and at times, even Giles have to suffer as a result. They are the people I wanted more screen time for, not just the newcomers.

Kennedy is a character who didn’t sit well with viewers and while her and Willow aren’t anyway as interesting as Willow and Tara, their hook up episode “The Killer In Me” is a series best and even removes Spike’s chip during Iyari Limon’s only showcase episode. Kennedy and Willow are more or less the Buffy/Riley to this season. It’s interesting to a degree but if this show had gotten another season, these two ultimately wouldn’t be together.

Moving away from the Slayer angle, it’s nice to see some interpersonal dynamics between people as Giles’s annoyance over Buffy’s attitude with Spike and Robin’s seething hatred for the blond vampire are ripe in execution. Giles is right though – Buffy is being too laissez fair with Spike (who spends most of the season in bondage and bleating about his soul – dude I get it!) and hey, once we learn that Wood’s mother was Nikki, the subway Slayer Spike offered in New York, I was more than sympathise with the man and his and Giles’ half-hearted way of getting Spike out of the way in the excellent “Lies My Parents Told Me” (pity Drusilla’s final Angel episode wasn’t anywhere near as good as this). I wouldn’t exactly have a welcome mat out for the man who would hurt, never mind kill my mother either. Before those episodes though, we were treated to a brilliant Slayer origin tale in “Get It Done” and Andrew proved slightly useful in “Storyteller”, though why they didn’t kill him in that episode, I’ll never know.

The final five episodes however are important. Spending most of the season having potentials offed by Ubervamps, Bringers and The First while the Seal of Danzelthar wrecked all kinds of havoc was fine to a point. It had to get worse before getting better and The First had one more ace up his sleeve with arrival of misogynist preacher named Caleb, played to perfection by Firefly’s Nathan Fillion. Bringing someone this late in the game meant that Caleb had to make a big impression and removing the eye of one of the Scoobies (poor Xander) while battering Buffy and offing a few more potentials definitely made Caleb an effective baddie (I think that definitely means that Adam/The Initiative were by far the least effective in the series).

“Dirty Girls” was an excellent debut for Caleb and a more than welcome return for Eliza Dushku’s rogue slayer Faith but “Empty Places” finally saw the Scoobies reassess Buffy’s actions and put Faith in the role of leader, one that even Faith admitted she was out of her depth. With so much action in the last few weeks, we needed one more quiet episode and the sex heavy “Touched” serviced that need as “End Of Days” saw a return from Angel and Buffy finally get one up on Caleb as she reclaimed her role of leader.

“Chosen” was then the deciding factor. In a season of too many speeches, potentials, Spike overload, annoying Andrew and a lack of communication with the Scoobies in later episodes, could this episode see the show go out in a blaze of glory or nasty smell in the air? Who am I kidding – this episode rocked! Sure “Becoming” and “The Gift” are way better but Joss Whedon ended this series on such a euphoric high that even Anya’s anticlimactic death, the spoiler of Spike joining Angel and Andrew surviving weren’t enough to break away the joy. Plus I loved the battle inside the Hellmouth (though why every single baddie Buffy and the Scoobies have destroyed wasn’t in there I’ll never know) but while she may have stopped The First, with help from her friends and Wolfram and Hart, you do wonder whether or not Buffy actually won. I mean evil still exists out there and while Buffy is now just a Slayer, rather than the Slayer, it’s still a topical question. Either way this episode reinforced everything I loved about the show.

DVD EXTRAS: It’s the last season so the extras really did need to be good and like all the previous releases, they’re quality stuff. Commentaries on hand included Joss Whedon and David Soloman for “Lessons”, though Solomon is more interesting when he assists Drew Goddard for “Selfless”. “Conversations With Dead People” boasts the most comments with Goddard, Jane Espenson, director Nick Marck and actors Danny Strong and Tom Lenk. The best one is for “The Killer In Me” as Drew Greenberg seems to be drawing on personal experience when writing the Willow/Kennedy material. Drew Goddard is a consistent commentator and he’s back to aid the likes of James Marsters and D.B Woodside for “Lies My Parents Told Me” as well as Nicholas Brendon for “Dirty Girls” as Joss Whedon rounds up everything in his anecdotes for “Chosen”. Other delights include the “Season Seven Overview”, “Buffy 101: Studying The Slayer” (one for media students everywhere), “Generation S” (dedicated to the potentials), “The Last Sundown” (Joss’ Top 10 episodes – I have at least 50), a look at the wrap party and some meh outtakes. Disc 1 contains a “Willow Demon Guide”, 12 trailers (mostly for other seasons of Buffy/Angel on DVD) and a neat dedication to the fans called “Buffy: It’s Always Been About The Fans”. A couple of deleted scenes wouldn’t have gone amiss or a commentary from Gellar, Head or Hannigan but hey, with extras this kick ass – who cares?


7x01: Lessons = 9/10, 7x02: Beneath You = 8/10,
7x03: Same Time, Same Place = 7/10, 7x04: Help = 8/10,
7x05: Selfless = 9/10, 7x06: Him = 7/10,
7x07: Conversations With Dead People = 10/10, 7x08: Sleeper = 8/10,
7x09: Never Leave Me = 8/10, 7x10: Bring On The Night =9/10,
7x11: Showtime = 7/10, 7x12: Potential =7/10,
7x13: The Killer In Me = 10/10, 7x14: First Date = 8/10,
7x15: Get It Done = 8/10, 7x16: Storyteller = 8/10,
7x17: Lies My Parents Told Me = 9/10, 7x18: Dirty Girls = 10/10,
7x19: Empty Places = 8/10, 7x20: Touched = 9/10,
7x21: End Of Days = 8/10, 7x22: Chosen = 10/10.

Season Seven is currently available on VHS and DVD.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 6 Review

US Airdate on UPN: October 2nd 2001 – May 21st 2002

It’s a year of unrelenting misery as Buffy takes to be resurrected and losing Giles by fornicating with Spike and isolating her friends, Dawn continues to whinge for most of the year as Willow loses Tara and herself in dark magic as the usually joyful Xander and Anya face their own problems. That’s also couple new baddies with three pathetic villains named Jonathan, Warren and Andrew determined to take over Sunnydale. No, I’m not making this up!

Pass The Prozac And Grab A Drink – You Might Need It: Season Six brought a set of new stuff to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These included the show moving from the WB away from spin-off series Angel to less successful network UPN, it also saw Alyson Hannigan get a special “And” credit and the unfortunate departure of Anthony Stewart Head as Giles, who only appears in eight of the 22 episodes in this rather bleak season. This was also one of the few seasons that was also critically reviled by many of the Buffy viewers.

Whether it was a case of ennui with a series that some speculated was destined to end with its fifth year but didn’t or the simple fact some people prefer their fantasy dramas to be nothing but escapist material (doesn’t Charmed fill that requirement?), either way, the level of hatred for Season Six is quite staggering!

Granted there are serious cons to the pros with this darker than usual year but with the exception of one truly terrible episode, Season Six to me is as good as any other season. It’s certainly better than Seasons One, Three or Four and on a par with Season Seven. I was one of those people who mostly liked the season during its debut on Sky One in 2002 and repeated VHS and DVD viewing hasn’t diminished that feeling.

The season opens darkly as it should have with the brilliant Marti Noxon and David Fury penned two parter “Bargaining Parts 1 and 2” which sees the Scoobies coping with Buffy’s death the only way they can – which includes Willow and Tara moving into the Summers household, relying on Spike, lying to the authorities and using the Buffybot to allay suspicion. Everyone more or less deduces that the charade can only be maintained for so long and when Giles leaves Sunnydale, Willow and company decide to raise Buffy from the dead without involving Dawn or Spike.

The shit storm for them though involves a Biker Gang of demons who learn the Buffybot is a machine and decide to terrorise and take over Sunnydale with no actual slayer. They scare the locals senseless, destroy the chirpy robot and botch up the Scoobies resurrection attempts but luckily for the Scoobies, Buffy (in the most disgusting black dress and cavewoman hair) is raised from the dead, kills the Biker Gang and tries to top herself until Dawn manages to stop her, which is one point to a girl who spends most of the year whining incessantly.

Following episode “After Life” throws the notion that bringing Buffy back was wrong (a recurring theme for the year) when a demon from another dimension hitched a lift with the Slayer, while “Flooded” puts Willow and Giles on opposing sides with the former furious that her magical authority is being challenged. The episode is also noteworthy for the introduction of our villains of the season – Jonathan, Warren and Andrew (Tucker’s brother). Gods they aren’t, morons they behave like and an actual threat to the Scoobies they don’t become until the latter half of the year.

For the time being though the three geeks take pleasure in robbing a bank, messing with Buffy’s attempts of normalcy (“Life Serial”) and acquiring diamonds (“Smashed”).

Nerds aside some of the inter-personal stuff with the Scoobies is interesting. Buffy telling Spike about feeling disconnected from her friends and the world sets up the inevitable coupling with the two while the lacklustre “All The Way” gets points for Xander and Anya finally announcing their engagement and the usually in tune with each other Willow and Tara fighting over the former’s abuse of magic.

Getting the highlight and overly discussed “Once More, With Feeling” out of the way (an episode I adored), there’s also Willow’s abuse of magic and the mishandled (in parts) metaphor of drug addiction for it. It gives Alyson Hannigan something gritty to play with but you’re easily siding more with her concerned girlfriend and old friend and by the time you see the amnesiac episode “Tabula Rasa” (one of the funniest too), as sad as Tara dumping Willow is to watch, deep down you hope it’s the kick in the arse that Willow needs to realise that’s she out of control.

Sadly “Smashed” and “Wrecked” with the return of Amy as human only fuels Willow’s magic lust and she’s sooner visiting magic crack houses, getting fused by an ass named Rack and when she endangers Dawn, it’s the wake up call she pays attention to because as concerned as Buffy, Xander and Anya, neither of the three really confront her in the way that Tara and Giles tried and failed to do. Still though these are two cracking episodes and while short on proper character stuff for others, the people focused on are richly rewarded.

For instance, “Smashed” revealed that Spike was physically able to hurt Buffy without pain to his head and a wonderful scrap resulted in a building collapsing and one of the hottest sex scenes in any TV series past or present as Buffy and Spike let their love, hate and lust consume them.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a Buffy/Spike shipper but you can’t deny the chemistry Sarah Michelle Gellar and James Marsters as it literally leaps off the screen. It also helps a bunch if you don’t own a rose tinted pair of glasses and quickly realise that this pairing was more the great sex/toxic relationship than true love. We know Buffy doesn’t love Spike and for most of the season, she still doesn’t actually respect him.

It doesn’t help that Spike constantly pressures her for sex, stops by unannounced at times and generally acts like a dick to her, even if Buffy behaves like a total bitch with him at times too. Then again, you never saw Buffy engaging in dogging and bondage with safe as houses Riley or even Angel, so you basically get what you see with her and Spike.

The second half of the season doesn’t exactly lift the bleakness we’ve experienced so far either. Willow struggles not to use magic and Xander and Anya are only funny to an extent, especially when Buffy gets invisible in “Gone”. “Doublemeat Palace” is one of the season’s lighter episode but it’s also the worst with only a Willow/Amy face off as any source of interest because Buffy working in the thankless fast food industry doesn’t raise much excitement. With her strength, she could’ve easily gotten a security job but hey, Joss wanted to lay on the mundanity of life in Season Six.

The previous useless trio of Jonathan, Warren and Andrew thankfully improve in the superb “Dead Things” when a botched rape attempt on Warren’s ex-girlfriend exposes Warren for the evil bastard he truly is, a task which Adam Busch does well with as the more disappointing instalments of “Older And Far Away” and “As You Were” manage to deal with Dawn’s abandonment issues, Riley’s return and the Buffy/Spike break up in a ham fisted way.

“Hells Bells” gives the previous underused Xander and Anya a chance to shine but again the misery kicks in when Xander realises that he isn’t keen on becoming his father and Anya becomes a Vengeance Demon again. “Normal Again” and “Entropy” are no picnics either with everyone learning about Spike and Buffy, the nerds’ surveillances camera being discovered and Buffy hit hard with a hallucination of her life as a Slayer being a set of lies. The only happiness in these episodes are the gentle and much encouraged reunion between Willow and Tara.

In fact Amber Benson and Tara are probably the best things about Season Six. She was the best vocalist in the musical episode, Tara actually confronted Willow about her magic addiction and gave her a consequence for two mind wipes on her and even offered level headed advice to Buffy. Plus she was only Scooby to bother with Dawn all season so when “Seeing Red” opens with Willow and Tara in a post sex embrace, a million cheers can be heard. Despite the episode being my second favourite in the series’ run, it’s also misery filled with a shock attempted rape scene involving Spike and Buffy and that evil son of a bitch Warren does the ultimate nasty by trying to kill Buffy and ends up shooting poor Tara dead.

It isn’t just Willow who feels incandescent fury as not only can you not hate Joss for this particular character death (the hell?) but given how misery induced this season has been, Willow and Tara back together and the former in a more stable mind frame. Instead the season ends explosively with the final three instalments “Villains”, “Two To Go” and “Grave” with Willow going gothic, flaying Warren (don’t expect me to bitch about that – he deserved it), beating the living daylights out of the Scoobies, in particular Buffy, Anya and a returned Giles when she wasn’t trying to end Jonathan and Andrew and then the world. With Buffy rendered useless, it’s Xander and a slightly cringey/touching yellow crayon speech that gets the old Willow back. The only disappointments are Spike’s getting his soul back/ “I thought it was to remove his chip storyline” (I didn’t care) and the writers’ lack of regard for Tara by not having a funeral for the girl. Overall, a character driven season meant a good one in my books.

DVD EXTRAS: Season Six may not be on a par to Season Five but it demolished my favourite season in terms of extras. Okay, there ain’t a commentary for “Seeing Red”, which annoyed me but both Marti Noxon and David Fury are on fine form for their yak track for “Bargaining” and Joss clearly loved writing/directing/practically composing the brilliant “Once More With Feeling”. Both Drew Z. Greenberg and Rebecca Rand Kirshner fail to disappoint with their thoughts on season turning episodes “Smashed” and “Hells Bells”, then again neither did Rick Rosenthal and Diego Gutierrez for “Normal Again”. The commentaries are then rounded with David Fury and James A. Contner for “Grave”. Other goodies in this season included a fantastic overview, the cast interviewed at “The Academy of Television Arts and Science Panel”, which is quite lengthy. Disc 4 also has cast and crew muse over previous employment in “Buffy Goes To Work”, while “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Television With A Bite” delves into the series cultural impact before the final disc rounds things off with pretty standard “Outtakes”.


6x01: Bargaining Part 1= 9/10, 6x02: Bargaining Part 2 = 9/10,
6x03: After Life = 8/10, 6x04: Flooded = 7/10,
6x05: Life Serial = 7/10, 6x06: All The Way = 6/10,
6x07: Once More With Feeling = 10/10, 6x08: Tabula Rasa = 9/10,
6x09: Smashed = 10/10, 6x10: Wrecked = 8/10,
6x11: Gone = 7/10, 6x12: Doublemeat Palace = 5/10,
6x13: Dead Things = 9/10, 6x14: Older And Far Away = 7/10,
6x15: As You Were = 7/10, 6x16: Hells Bells = 9/10,
6x17: Normal Again = 8/10, 6x18: Entropy = 8/10,
6x19: Seeing Red = 10/10, 6x20: Villains = 8/10,
6x21: Two To Go = 9/10, 6x22: Grave = 9/10.

Season Six is currently both available on VHS and DVD.