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.

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