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.

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