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.

EPISODE RATING FROM 1 TO 10:

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.