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.

No comments: