Season 1 Review
Review by Ryan Bovay (Ryan-R.B.)
Posted on August 7, 2006
This is a retrospective review and may contain spoilers from anywhere in the series. Read at your own peril.
Here we are: the completion of the first season of Angel's very own show. Fans are usually torn on it, with some in adoration of it and others decidedly bored by much of it. Many detractors cite its possession of a flimsy arc, or a lack of one at all as its largest problem and while I feel this is an addressable issue, it doesn't critically wound the season. In point of fact, I find this to be one of Angel's better few seasons, behind only its second and fifth years. What S1 lacks in a coherent arc it more than makes up for in its well-planned execution of theme, use of metaphor, and carefully charted character development that slowly and intricately puts these people together for the seasons to come.
When Joss Whedon pitched Angel: the Series, he described it as a detective-style film-noir-themed take on the supernatural, much in the same way Buffy was pitched as a look from the viewpoint of the Horror genre. Buffy's style took some time to get right, but the aesthetics of this show in its first year are well thought out and crafted; darkness and emotive shadow creep over, tense musical swells linger, and the picture is shot in a large resolution to provide just a bit of grain. I'd be damned if it didn't seem intentional. Joss also said that where Buffy looked, metaphorically, at the hell of High School, Angel's show would look at life past it in your early adulthood and the life and relationship issues of that unique, big city world. This metaphor is dominant in the first season, and is one of the main themes.
Angel, as a series, is always and will always be about redemption, but the themes of its respective seasons are about the different facets to it. Exploring what it is, losing the chance at it or the responsibility one pledges to it is all covered over the duration of the show. With season one, it was most direct: How do you get it? At the start of the season we see Angel arrive in LA, see him save lives, but we also watch him slip deeply into apathy about his goal. To understand the importance and worth of a human and life and soul, Angel learns in "City of" (1x01) that one must have a human connection; friends and allies that make his life worth living so his mission can be worth fighting for, and most importantly so that he doesn't become detached from (and even dangerous to) those he hopes to save.
The season, as I mentioned, does lack a cohesive arc, but it also has a tremendous amount of hugely entertaining and well-written standalones. Many of them focus on Angel's mission: "helping the helpless." Angel makes it his goal to not only save lives, but save souls and make life worth living for others, and as a result of this his connections are solidified as he carries this out. He and his group slowly form into a legitimate investigation team which takes cases and makes money off of them, and many of the seasons situations out of which the characters are developed are a result of these cases. Cordelia, who in "Rm w a Vu" (1x05) is still defining herself by her possessions, searches for a place to live. Instead what she finds is a stronger sense of self, and in that a connection to the world of humans rather the one of plastic. Doyle and Wesley both find their own connections, as well. Episodes such as these are the season's order, in every one of which something new happens that alters the main or supporting characters, or teaches the audience something about them.
This is, in my opinion, what sets shows like Buffy and Angel apart: relevance. More than any other show, each episode contains progressive, ongoing development that charts development in a very realistic way. On a more specific level, this particular season has an extremely strong episode to episode consistency, with each individual showing striking its own tone and exploring the main theme in different ways. A few larger, more exciting events may have helped, but at the same time I appreciate this season for what it is and how it does something a bit different from most other seasons of Buffy or Angel. There's a lot more to talk about, including the metaphorical basis' used and what we're being fed through them, as well as the general ups and downs.
Despite the superb qualities of this season, great standalone episodes do not make a great season. As you'll see at the bottom, this season's overall score matches its average episode score, as this season is the sum of its standalones rather than a grander whole (like S2). In fact, S1's average episode scores similarly to S2's, yet that latter season has a deeper, more lasting impact because of how the episodes and the meaning of the arc unfold over time. The television story arc itself was conceived to keep viewers hooked episode to episode, and while I found myself always interested in the next installment in the series, I found myself dying to see what happened next on very few occasions this season.
Also notable is the complete lack of an arc, or the way that anything that may have been considered arc worthy (such as W&H's plan in "To Shanshu in LA" (1x22)) was kept hidden from the viewers. While I personally appreciate the standalone quality of the season, I can also understand how this aspect may disinterest those who look for an ongoing story and to those who do not look closely at character development, but rather at plot. As we found out in the season finale, some kind of arc was brewing in the background, since after all their failures with Angel, Wolfram and Hart had at last decided to take real action against him. Unfortunately, the first true steps taken are not until "Five by Five" (1x18), and then "To Shanshu in LA" (1x22).
What's more is that Wolfram and Hart, for such a motivated and all encompassing organization, takes far too long to begin to deal with Angel. From the first episode he is a problem for them, and although the Senior Partners are not informed he is a true threat for some time, it still behooves us to wonder why such an all-encompassing, power based organization would let someone such as Angel continue to pester them. Is it because they're so large? In the first half of the season, Angel repeatedly interfered in their affairs: In "City of" [1x01], "I Fall to Pieces" [1x04], "Sense and Sensitivity" [1x06] and "Parting Gifts" [1x10], he either took out their clients or disrupted their operations in some form. It is my feeling that at this point, some serious action should have been taken, since as evidenced by later seasons, W&H clients are very demanding and would likely hear of a rogue player such as Angel taking out their fellow league of clientele. They would likely demand, widely, for his termination, and despite even more interference in "The Ring" (1x16), it still takes until "Five by Five" [1x18] for Lindsey, who only acts alone and without the firm's approval, for something to be done.
The next point to discuss is more of a matter of opinion, and not as much a detractor so much as a "could've been better," and it concerns Doyle's death. When explaining their motive for killing off Doyle after only nine episodes, Whedon and Greenwalt surmised that it was done to shake Angel's world up; to give us the strong impression early on that Angel's nightly war on behalf of the helpless was not without a price, and to further solidify what being a hero means in this fictional world. This death was done quite well and was structurally well built up to, but I felt there were too few episodes with Doyle and that we could've gotten more out of him before his demise. Though Wesley's introduction may have to have been delayed or thematically altered, it would have been greatly worth it for several reasons:
His untimely end may have also come in handy as a plot accelerator were he to be terminated later on. "Five by Five" [1x18] would've been an easy 100 and one of the best episodes of the entire series if Faith had captured and even murdered Doyle in her crazed state. It would've also made for a far more personal edge to "Sanctuary" (1x19), as Angel, like Buffy, would be left with the hypocrisy of helping someone who had made them a deeply wounded victim. Seeing the power of Angel's conviction tested by such horror would've been downright amazing. The second option, which would have been killing Doyle in the explosion in "To Shanshu in LA" [1x22] would have had the same dramatic effect, though one could reasonably argue it may not have worked, what with the need for the truth of the prophecy to be revealed in happiness.
My final dislike to point out this season is simply one of the most boring and inane episodes of the series: "She" [1x13]. While Angel probably only has one F in its entire run (this episode not even being it), this is still an annoyingly bad episode. You can find my many justifications for this opinion contained within the review.
The strongest suit this season has is its extremely fluid use of theme. Though the ponderings on connection, redemption and starting a new life are not as intricately detailed, subtle or socially penetrating as the themes of any other season, the careful and consistent way they're used to develop characters and give the stories real world relevance is masterful. Angel made it his mission to save souls, and we were shown him connecting with people by helping them, failing to help them, or losing them altogether. All the supporting characters followed, gaining their own redemption through helping Angel and the helpless.
On a lesser show we'd get simple and pretentious commentary on these subjects stemming from the show's monster metaphors, but each and every single theme was used more as a lens to explore the characters and take them to new places. With the exception of Wesley being overly bumbling at times, nothing felt out of character this season, and that's extremely impressive considering the length of a season. Doyle's sacrifice in "Hero" (1x09), Angel's re-ignited belief in himself in "To Shanshu in LA" [1x22] or Kate's decision to see Angel kiss daylight in "Sanctuary" [1x19] were all thematically conclusive, resonant and well built up to. Unlike the story contrivances of S3 or S4, S1 never allows plot to over-complicate or muddy the waters of character development, and every major progression individually commented on an aspect of the theme. And even the most unexpected twists had logical, well foreshadowed roots. Anthologies of such quality and continuity sometimes make me wonder if story arcs aren't getting in the way of far more interesting character studies. In fact, in film, plot isn't even necessary at all for a story.
Another advantage to an anthology is how accessible it is. Buffy, at its highest points, had better ratings than Angel. However, when one examines consistency season to season, Angel often had a steadier viewer-ship that only dropped off during a few points of S4, and it's likely because of a season like this. This season in particular works the standalone format, so it's easy and fun for outsiders to watch. In my personal life, I've had more luck getting friends interested in this show than in Buffy because of how these early episodes present themselves. More people in general have heard of Buffy, but more people I know have caught, even offhand, a few episodes of Angel. They usually enjoy them too.
But what really makes or breaks a season's general quality is the quality of the filler. The big bad isn't on the scene, and the most important things aren't happening, but yet we need to watch anyway. What's to hold our interest? Here's another place this season shines above all others as it is purely the sum of its excellent standalones. You can tune in every other week if you'd like and still be well up to date, but you may still have missed some amazing moments. The writers keep the quality consistent, even if there isn't as much grand ambition. On one end of the spectrum there are episodes such as Sense and Sensitivity (1x06), where there's a fun viewpoint on political correctness in the workplace, and on the other there are ones like I've Got You Under My Skin (1x14), where we're shocked and thrilled, and witness the innate horror of human nature and the redeeming bonds of family.
Lastly I'd like to point out the impressive amount of continuity this season uses, both for a quick thrill and important character moments. The latter will be discussed in detail later on, but I feel it's worth mentioning here that we get a recurring character as simple as Kate who is taken so far by her simple inclusions from time to time, as well as through the inclusions of her father in only two episodes ("Sense and Sensitivity" [1x06] and "The Prodigal" [1x15]). Likewise, the David Nabbit character ("War Zone" [1x20] and "To Shanshu in LA" [1x22]) was a funny counterpoint to the good-looking, dead-serious Angel Investigations team. And on top of that we have some of the W&H lawyers such as Lee Mercer ("Sense and Sensitivity" [1x06], "Five by Five" [1x18], "Sanctuary" [1x19], "Blind Date" [1x21]) or the talent agent Oliver ("City of" [1x01], "Eternity" [1x17]) whose appearances are purely surplus, but add something entertaining to the mix. As a fan, it's most appreciated when the writers show as much love for these little quirks as us.
As he is the lead character, it is expected for Angel to get a great deal of development, especially in the first year of his own show. The themes of the season are wrapped around his development (and in regards to the life after high school metaphors, Cordy as well), and he gets a great deal of it. As I mentioned, this season is stellar in the department of character development, and very few episodes at all pass without Angel learning something or discovering something that transforms him, if only slightly. He begins the season detached; fighting the good fight for the sake of it, and slowly slipping into apathy in regards to the people he wants to help.
The main theme of "City of" [1x01] was connection, like the season, and by helping Cordelia, defeating Russell Winters and allying himself with Doyle, was given his tie to the world that was to give him a reason to fight. From here, we follow him as he wages this battle. As I mentioned, Angel's development is continuous throughout nearly every episode this season (for anything outside of what I discuss here, read my Reviews!). Aside from being impressive, this also means that these small developments need to occasionally build. His growth as a person not unlike an average person's: a series of small things build him to who he is, and these smaller moments are punctuated at certain times by greater moments that test him and take him even further.
There are several important moments this year, and that's what I'll go into. First and foremost are his dealings with Buffy. The two important progressions between them come in "I Will Remember You" (1x08) and "Sanctuary" [1x19] and the first is the necessary post-breakup reunion, wherein the couple has to talk their issues out to move on (although this doesn't exactly get to happen for Angel). Becoming human for him is a whirlwind and he at last gets his perfect day of sultry human pleasure with Buffy - sans evil. Up to this point Angel has fought several demons and saved a good deal of lives, and has well earned the respect and friendship of Doyle and Cordelia, both of whom he has become fond of. And he has taken time to consider the weight upon his shoulders, having willfully destroyed the ring of Amarra (IN THE DARK), despite that it could've meant human salvation from his burden. By now he's recognized the value of his mission (not the value of himself, quite yet though), and it's when Buffy comes in that things get turned upside down.
Despite giving into temptation and experiencing bliss above bliss with his one great love, he's come too far to ignore the importance of his quest to save souls and his fight against the Mohra demon sobered him. This leads him to make the decision to demand of the Oracles to fold time and erase his perfect day, leaving him with a great deal of pain but also a strong sense of conviction on why he's fighting; after all, look at what he gave up. The second development in "Sanctuary" [1x19] finalizes what their post-breakup relationship is going to be like. Angel is still greatly pained, living with the memory of his perfect day of Buffy, although she remembers none of it, and has moved on a great deal (well into a new relationship). Because of this Angel is a bit bitter, but completely right in where he takes the heated conversation; he informs her she is not a part of his world anymore, and that his life here is his own, and is different now. That he recognizes and informs Buffy of this is not only the final nail in their relationship's coffin, but is also a critical step for him to be able to move on and continue his mission.
The smaller moments that led up to that, and his sense of self in feeling separate from her in his own world had a lot to do with another blonde: Kate. He's continued fighting and saving souls but the most deeply affecting one to him is that of hers. Having early on forged a friendship and co-worker-like bond, Kate discovers in "Somnambulist" (1x11) that Angel is a vampire, and can barely deal with it. After her father dies at the hands of a group of vampires, her distrust for Angel and even hatred of him shapes him into a bit of a different person as well; mostly it makes him think about his own worth as a being in the universe, and with this intricate new world of his own with its own unique problems established, he's clearly right in saying that he has his own corner of the sky now.
The final important pieces for Angel take part in the inter-connected final two episodes of the season: "Blind Date" (1x21) and "To Shanshu in LA" [1x22]. By the time of the former, Angel has fought a great deal of evil, fought for and lost a lot, and has lived with the question of his own existence that's weighed on him heavy since Buffy [3x10]: "Amends." He's given partly into despair about the futility of his un-life in addition to suffering Kate's venomous contempt for him, which only justifies - for him - his opinion of his mockery of a life. A little moment I loved in "War Zone" [1x20] was when the blackmailer asked Angel what he wanted and he simply replied: "What do I want? Love - family - a place on this planet I can call my own - but you know what? I'm never going to have any of those things."
"Blind Date" [1x21] transpires, and the prophecy is found. What's interesting about Angel in that episode, despite that he was not the focus of it, was his parallel to Lindsey; how he had never felt more out of place while Lindsey was finally finding his place. By this point, due to all that's happened, Angel is now partially eroded. It's not quite as bad as how drained he's to become by "Home" (4x22), but it's appropriate for what he's experienced. As Vanessa is quietly acquitted of all her charges, he despairs at how the world is structured for power as opposed to justice, and how he can't have his place in that world and that it makes him powerless to fight it. This is where we're led into the stunning finale where Angel nearly loses the few things left he cares about (when Vocah attacks his friends), and sends his self-pity to hell before risking becoming hollow and passive enough to let go of what he discovers really does matter; long-term purpose be damned.
The greatest moment of the episode comes when he finally stands up to Kate in recognition of his own self-worth. On top of that, his will to defy everything he believes the prophecy says confirms the return of his strong will to fight and keep living and fighting; the strength of his connections is restored. Having the prophecy to give him a purpose to live and fight for his whole life only feels like a bonus.
Life moves beyond High School for Cordelia as well, and like Angel her development is continual, with the results of the changes slowly appearing when she's put to the test. She doesn't get anywhere near as much focus as Angel does; but then, no one else this season does. The side characters get far less emphasis and are more or less along for the ride. We the audience are simply lucky that the ride encompasses these supporters extremely well, and something rather good comes of it. In other seasons, we're not so lucky, as certain supporting players are made to show up to deliver only a throwaway line and get little development at all, even when just tagging alongside the main characters (think Lorne circa S5).
But I do re-iterate: that is, most thankfully, not the case this season. We got shadows of what she was to experience on Angel's new show in BtVS [3x20]: "The Prom," in which we found out her family had lost all its money and she was then unable to go to any sort of college or university. She shows up in L.A. chasing the cliché of an acting dream when she is united with Angel.
Cordy has always been a unique kind of person. Compared to this show, Buffy made her feel kind of shallow, especially in S3, and this is the season when we start to appreciate what she brings to the mix. I recall a moment in Jane Espenson's Buffy S3 episode "Band Candy" when she declares that she does well on standardized tests. When the group looks at her bewildered, she defends herself saying "What? I can't have layers?" Meeting Angel and beginning to befriend Doyle starts her on the right path, but her first piece of crucial growth comes in "Rm w a Vu" (1x05), up to the point of which she has always defined herself by what she owned and wore. To her, Cordelia Chase was that great car, amazing dress and list of expensive schools to attend. Fighting for a beautiful apartment she wants brings her a sense of worth in that way, but defeating the self-esteem-degrader of a ghost who haunts it gives her a sense of self-worth beyond the apartment, to the point where winning it doesn't matter; proving she's better than what her opponent puts her down as becomes her priority.
This important first step makes a lasting impression which is carried into her relationship with Doyle. "The Bachelor Party" (1x07) comes around, and despite having reciprocated little of Doyle's interest, she feels hurt and a little betrayed when she discovers he has an ex-wife, and a great complicated past that she hasn't been told about. If there is one thing Cordy is, it is that she's very open and speaks her mind and likes reciprocation of that kind, and so having had someone as interested in her as Doyle was keep a secret that large generally bruised her. But the important moment in this episode is early on, when she has her life saved from a vampire by Doyle himself, who is only concerned for her safety despite taking a nasty beating.
Reflected by her well-dressed, rich and fancy date who abandoned her to die when the vamp appeared, Cordelia's experience here gave her a taste of the real substance that good people can provide and the benefit of it in general over the material. She acknowledges this in a beautiful moment in "Hero" [1x09] and it stays with her, but unfortunately Doyle meets his end and she's left with his burden: the ability to receive the visions of the PTB. In the seasons to come she's to change into someone not unlike Angel because of these visions; burdened, damaged, but stronger, wiser and greater a person for living through the hell of her duty and serving it loyally. We get a good preview of this in "Parting Gifts" (1x10), the second major episode for Cordy where she struggles dealing with Doyle's death; still partly attached to the physical, she laments that Doyle has left nothing behind as tangible evidence of his existence. But by bearing the visions through this episode, and teaming up with Angel and Wesley to do good and stop evil through them she further discovers real substance, and recognizes that she has the most important thing that Doyle could give her (sappy as that may sound).
After that, Cordy doesn't get any more focus episodes, but does continue to slowly grow closer to her friends. She vehemently defends Angel as a pure champion of good under harsh circumstances in "Somnambulist" [1x11] and "To Shanshu in LA" [1x22], and puts her investigative skills to work alongside Wesley in THE RING when Angel becomes the one in need of help. Also - remember that mention about layers? In "The Ring" (1x16), she jokingly proves that she knows what a double or single entendre is.
Most every character that made the regular roster on AtS came looking for a means to redemption for their individual trespasses. Cordelia had her High School life, in which she was an irreconcilable bitch who was quite cruel much of the time, and Wesley had his failure with the Watcher's Council and Faith. Doyle met Angel at the behest of the powers, so his quest was more or less stumbled upon, but it was fulfilled just as well as anyone else's. In fact, Doyle's kind of lucky he went out early; he's one of the few AtS characters to go to a conclusive and deserved end.
I've never hid that I am a fan of this character, and as I mentioned earlier I kind of wish he could've stayed around for more of the first season, at least. In great part due to the charisma of Glen Quinn who portrayed him, Allen Francis Doyle was roguish and fun to watch, and it is my firm opinion that in the context of the length of his time on the show, he has one of the best arcs on it (Wesley's of course being the best). To go back to "City of" [1x01] again (last time! I promise!), we meet Doyle and are given the impression that he's a man with a strange burden who's just been thrown into the mix of things. The key thing to watch for here in his personality is that he stops and considers whether or not to help Angel at Russell's mansion; though he does, his pause gives us some brief insight into his opinion on the epic fight he's been plunged into.
It's not really a surprise that he feels like this, however. We're later to learn this has happened to him a lot recently. Throughout the first few episodes, small comments and asides as well as some brief contact with other beings gives us the impression that he's let his life go to rot; drinking, gambling, borrowing and stealing. He's made an irresponsible life for himself and clearly has no qualms about staying there, and this comes to a head in the B plot of "Rm w a Vu" [1x05] when a demon actually comes to collect his head to set an example for those who don't pay back what's borrowed. This is most interesting in how it affects Doyle, turning him fearful and unwilling to face the consequences. The hints to Angel that he's been living like this for awhile (sleeping around, gambling and running) don't give us much, though it's a glimpse into a sad life and his reluctance to talk about it only worsens that feeling.
Doyle's main problem is his issue with his own demonic heritage. Given the circumstances, his reasons for refusing to help his fellow half-demons is understandable, but even more so is how it weighs on his soul. What never seemed specified to me was whether or not he was approached by the clan during the failing stage of his marriage or after it had run its course, but I will guess that it occurred after, as his bitterness over his heritage would make him even less motivated to help. The two critical points of development for Doyle are "The Bachelor Party" [1x07] and "Hero" [1x09], and the latter could not have happened without the former.
The revelation that his wife left not because of his demonic inheritance, but because of his bitterness and fear of it, changes him fundamentally. Her acceptance leads to the start of acceptance for himself and an eventual embrace of his demon side, which leads to the sense of belonging and duty that he has yet to fulfill which comes full circle in "Hero" [1x09]. Doyle essentially fell into every major turn in his life: His marriage, his discovery of his nature, the petition for help from the demon clan, the failure of his marriage, and being led to Angel. When the Lister clan was discovered by he and Angel, Doyle was at the point where he possessed a moral clarity about his actions and his own responsibility because of what he had faced. The Lister demons become his second chance to accept himself fully and do what's right, so he strongly encourages Angel and Cordelia to take interest in this case.
But the key piece to his dramatic send offcomes early on in the episode when Angel relates the events of "I Will Remember You" [1x08], including sacrificing his entire experience with Buffy. This is the final piece that clicks into place and it's what's most beautiful and selfless about Doyle's sacrifice: It wasn't necessary. But he'd seen Angel's purity and bravery and the strength of his mission to save souls, and hearing about how Angel had given up his only day of true happiness in his long existence made the beleaguered half-demon realize that the greatest gift he could give the world was its champion, so that Angel could keep living and fighting. Even in a lesser sense it made him stronger, as he finally got the nerve to confess to Cordy about who he really is, and even ask her out.
Where exactly he would've gone if he would have stayed longer is anyone's guess, though I honestly believe that the "getting killed by Faith" way to go (which i mentioned under "Cons") would've been just as amazing. Perhaps he could've hit a coma here, and come back just for the end? Who knows? His end, however, was logically well built up to, dramatic, carried impact and wrapped his personal story up perfectly. A character could ask for little more.
Enter the British man. Giles 2.0; shinier glasses, less wrinkled features and - ouch - pants that chafe the "legs." Wesley arrives in "Parting Gifts" [1x10] and joins up with Angel Investigations in the absence of Doyle, and while his long-term character arc is easily one of the best ever written on television (fans will unanimously attest to this), not a huge deal happens for him this season. He has, like Doyle, a smaller amount of time than the other characters and doesn't get quite as much done. However, what we do get is some solid confidence-building and intent foreshadowing on the nature of his personality.
As a critical part of Angel moving past Doyle's demise, Wesley shows up in the episode after, hot on the trail of a vicious demon. I mentioned earlier that everyone on AtS is essentially looking for some kind of redemption, be it in their own eyes or in the views of others. Wesley expresses his deep sense of failure, and reveals that the Watcher's Council fired him harshly for what transpired in S3 of Buffy. But "Parting Gifts" [1x10] is a great start to his tenure on AtS, as he proves to both Angel and himself that he has skills that are necessary to the fight, and to Angel that risking the people alongside him has to be done no matter the pain. This is essential for both of them.
Wesley's character here is a simple continuation of the man we met in the third season of Buffy, but like Cordelia he is given more edge and depth. He is still smart, but a little incompetent and untested. Most importantly he is guilt-wracked by his failure in Sunnydale and is eager to help to prove his harshest criticisms (mostly coming from him) wrong. The scene in which Wesley, defiant of the Council, offers his aide to Buffy in BtVS [3x22] "Graduation Day, Part II" was the starting point for this thread.
The foreshadowing I mentioned also plays out in this episode, and in "Somnambulist" [1x11], in both of which he feels that it is his duty to act as the hero and intervene to save the day at any cost. In the former of the episodes mentioned, it's not such a problem, but in the latter it spoke deeply to me about the events to come in S3. He believed that Angel was killing humans again, and rather than confronting the problem he worked behind his friend's back, plotting a usurpation based on what he believed was right and his preconceptions of heroism. There is no character in this show more tragic than Wesley, and this is the first hint of his fatal flaw.
Another important thing to review is the experience he undergoes in "Five by Five" [1x18] and "Sanctuary" [1x19], which marks his biggest development in the season. Just as Angel would've had his belief in redemption tested by my hypothetical Doyle situation, Wesley, who in "Five by Five" [1x18] defends the potential for the grace of any being with a soul, undergoes a test of his own convictions after suffering torture at the hands of Faith. Much like Doyle, seeing Angel's strength brings him to let go of his hatred for the wayward Slayer in lieu of complete trust, and it's important to note because up to this point Wesley has just been Doyle's replacement as a sidekick. This is the first real step to the new trio becoming a family, and also hugely benevolent, considering what he'd suffered.
I do have one complaint to level against him, however. Or more appropriately, the writers and what they did with him. Even as early as his first appearance, despite his intelligence and resourcefulness, he is portrayed as ridiculously bumbling and it never sat very well with me. He displayed some types of cowardice and naivety on Buffy, but never was he as bumbling and slapstick as in certain scenes in that particular episode, as well as in "She" [1x13] and parts of "The Ring" [1x16].
These two are the worst offenders, mainly because his best qualities (bravery, innovation) are also displayed in the same episode. The writers were still trying to find the balance in his character at this point and this is evidence of it.
Despite being a secondary character and having a few unnecessary appearances, Kate managed to get a great deal of development this year and is a tremendously interesting character to watch, both in and of herself, and how she effects Angel. When I say unnecessary, also note that this is not a negative. My meaning is that she could have been entirely left out and we would have been none the worse, however the writers' persistence in carrying this character's threads into the heart of Angel's life made for a huge surplus of quality and was an amazing addition to some already amazing episodes.
She has a simple progression that is decidedly less continuous than that of one of the main characters, but it works just as well. A quite complex woman who took up the police service because of her father (whom post-his-wife's death did nothing but live for his work, emotionally drained), Kate's life is defined by the only thing she knows how to do: enforce the rule of law. From the moment she meets Angel, it is clear their tenure together will only be temporary, as Angel, despite his perpetual will to do good, operates on his own terms and fights beings that are well outside of the law.
The major splintering comes in "Somnambulist" [1x11], and the discovery that Angel is a vampire. This disturbs Kate greatly, for the discovery of creatures so unshakeable and undefeatable by the rule of law rattles her foundations, along with the discovery that someone she has confided in, and even crushed on, is one of those beings (and according to historical texts, one of the very worst of them). Despite this, the benefit of the doubt is given, until "The Prodigal" [1x15] rolls around, and Kate suspects Angel of direct involvement with her father's death.
From there on in, he represents to her not only a threat to the stable world of man, but someone completely outside of it and an interfering representation of everything that has shaken her world. As Angel tells her in "To Shanshu in LA" [1x22], she's putting the blame on him for everything she can't handle in her life when it comes to the world of the paranormal, and that's not about to change. S2 comes and as Angel begins his descent into darkness, her opinion is only vindicated as she spirals into obsession about the underworld and comes to lose everything she has because of it. Like the other characters, she's being put well into place for what's to come.
There's not much to say about Wolfram and Hart this season. Not nearly as much as in the later seasons anyway. Although I firmly hold true that AtS has never had a true Big Bad villain (who is introduced and cleanly defeated in the finale, as in Buffy), there are usually villains that are prevalent throughout the season and propel the arcs. This season, W&H was that entity, but in some ways it did fail. As I mentioned under "Cons," they implausibly fail to get involved in the fight against Angel and do very little throughout the entire season except be menacing and mysterious.
The only episode to bring anything interesting to the table is "Blind Date" [1x21], in which we get the terrifying persona of Holland Manners, who gives us a look into the power structure and the deeply intricate manipulative functions of the firm (read the review for further detail). In "To Shanshu in LA" [1x22] Darla is raised right at the end, and that's all we get. However, there is a great deal of intricacy to this firm, and their ingenius plan to bring Angel down through Darla fits perfectly with what ideas we're given about them this season: Rather than simply kill him or make him lose his soul, they carefully shape events to make him willingly abandon his mission, and that's a very special kind of evil. More to come on W&H next season.
An anthology is usually useless on network TV, but Whedon and Greenwalt, with the addition of Minear, manage to pull it off. Looking back at all the scores I've handed out and the awards I've given, I feel more confident than ever that this is, thematically and logically, the perfect way to start Angel on his personal journey.
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