The kind of long narrative of serialized TV can be wonderfully immersive, but here at 25YL we also recognize the value of a great episode on its own. Join us as we explore horror and sci-fi anthologies old and new, along with some other standout episodes of shows you love. This week, Cat Smith takes a look at an episode of Angel.
Let’s be real. Season 5 of Angel was a different show than the previous four. Team Angel took over the evil law firm Wolfram & Hart. Instead of working out of a vintage hotel, Angel is now CEO of a multi-milion dollar, state-of-the-art facility, with resources up the wazoo. To say his usual methods of helping the helpless have been altered would be an understatement. It’s a different show. And hey, I like them both. And really, by the time we got round to Season 5, I was kind of ready for a change.
Season 4, from start to finish, was one of the darker seasons of this ‘verse. By the time I got to the end of it, I was exhausted. I remember thinking, “please, could something good happen to someone, even for a minute? I need a break!” The move uptown to Wolfram & Hart brought some much-needed humour, among other things. And it was still plenty dark. But the darkness felt different than it did before.
It’s not that we’re not used to Angel as Captain Broodypants. That’s his whole jam, and it looks good on him. And at this point, he’s got plenty to brood about. He’s lost both his love and his son, and he’s concerned he’s losing his soul—though not in the usual, fun way.
When we last left our heroes, Cordelia (who spent the previous season possessed by the Big Bad) was in a mystical coma. His son, Connor, was so messed up by the whole Jasmine thing that he’d gone pretty close to round the twist. Angel, never a fan of Hell Incorporated to begin with, took the deal with Wolfram & Hart because they offered to rewrite reality. Thanks to their magical allies, they were able to give Connor the normal, happy life he could never have had with his father. Angel knows the price he is paying is worth it, but he struggles constantly with his new position. The darkness has turned inward.
At the very top of the episode, Angel quits. He’s had enough and he can’t do this anymore. Never mind fighting evil from within the belly of the beast. He can’t continue to compromise, and keep turning his back on his own mission in the name of the bigger picture. People whose opinions matter to him think he’s sold out. They think that he’s one of the bad guys now. He needs help: some kind of sign from the Powers That Be to show him which direction to go. Right on cue, his sign vaults out of her mystical coma, complete with a terrific new haircut.
Apparently, for the 100thepisode, they had originally planned to have Buffy guest star, but Sarah Michelle Gellar wasn’t available. To my dying day, I will be grateful for this. Don’t get me wrong, my first time through the Buffyverse, I shipped her with Angel as much as the next person. But halfway through the first season of Angel, it was clear she was Of The Past, and better left there. I remember one of the times they did a crossover story early on, and thinking “you have no idea what he’s been going through without you! Go back to the suburbs!” And as “Cangel” evolved, and we got to watch Angel fall legitimately in love with his best friend (and I’m sorry, but he and Buffy were never friends), the armada of the S.S. Cangel sank all others.
Re-enter Vision Girl. Cordelia got handed prophetic visions way back in Season 1, you remember. She spent a long time enduring them as they slowly destroyed her human brain. Finally, she took a dose of demon DNA so she would be able to continue as Angel’s conduit to the Powers. Her visions would guide him in his continuing fighting of the good fight.
I love Cordelia. I love her with my soul, and your soul, and Angel’s soul. Hell, I love her with Spike’s soul. And I missed her. And even though it made sense as a storytelling device, I felt a little betrayed by the show. Cordy can’t be evil! I mean, I know it wasn’t really her, but still. It was painful enough to have her and Angel miss their moment for the romantic relationship they both wanted. But you had to take her hero status away from me too?
In my opinion, Cordelia is better and stronger than any Slayer. She had these powers forced upon her, but she never shirked them. She never complained. Even when the visions were turning her brain into oatmeal, she remained stalwart. Cordy knew the mission, accepted her place in it, and was willing to do whatever it took. She’s the poster child for character development. She evolved worlds away from the bitchy rich girl we knew in Sunnydale (I loved her then too), yet remained wholly herself.
Among other things, she was Angel’s for-real partner. When he was in his darkest hour of self-doubt, it made sense that the Powers would know whom to send to get him back on track. He needed to be reminded of who he is, and why he keeps fighting. For a change, he’s the one who needs to be saved. And Cordelia is just the girl for the job. She reminds him of the guy she fell in love with, the guy who always did the right thing, no matter what. She reminds him of his own nobility and bravery. As before, she serves as his conscience. “You know how you’re always trying to save, oh, every single person in the world? Did it ever occur to you, you were one of them?”
When I first watched the series, I came late to the party. It had already been over and done with for a couple of years. I didn’t know the tea behind the previous season, and how bad blood between Joss Whedon and Charisma Carpenter had led to the Dark Cordy storyline.
When an actress gets pregnant during the run of a show, you can either try to hide the belly, or you can use it. And anyway, from a storytelling point of view, it certainly worked. Nothing could have possibly raised the stakes (pun intended) for Angel more. And let’s face it, happy couples don’t exist in Joss World (Fred and Wesley? We had them for what, five minutes?). It breaks my heart, but I get it. I’m a Game of Thrones fan. I’m okay with a character I love being sacrificed on the altar of strong storytelling, provided it is done well.
This episode gave Cordelia back to me. I’m so grateful for that. After the angst of Season 4, this episode gave me and everyone else the closure that we needed. David Fury did a beautiful job with both the teleplay and the direction. They even found a way to include Doyle in the anniversary episode. Who knew Angel even kept the videotape of the Angel Investigations commercial? After Glenn Quinn’s fatal heroin overdose, to hear Cordelia refer to him as “first soldier down” is an extra twist to the heart.
So evil lawyer Lindsey McDonald is back in town, and he’s got plans for Angel. He’s been toying with Spike, trying to get Angel to believe that another vampire with a soul is turning out to be a better champion of the downtrodden. Lindsey, with the help of Wolfram & Hart liaison Eve Nolastname, has a plan to lure Angel into the bowels of the building. There’s some sort of big scary beastie down there, and I guess Lindsey plans for it to eat Angel, or something? It’s never really made clear. In any case, an ass-kicking is on the menu.
I have to give special mention to that fight scene between Angel and Lindsey in the last act. I don’t know if David Fury had been rewatching Empire Strikes Back when he was working on this or what, but damn. That set with the big, unrevealed Angel-failsafe monster always makes me wonder if the failsafe plan had really been to freeze Angel in carbonite.
But really, this is one of my favourite fighty bits from either Angel or Buffy. Christian Kane was newly trained in swordplay for his film Secondhand Lions (see it if you haven’t done, it’s lovely), and boy oh boy, did they take advantage of that. Shirtless and tattooed is an added bonus, sure. I love how Kane’s post-Angel TV career has been largely based in ass-kickery of all sorts. His punching on Leverage was one of the things that got me to watch that show in the first place.
Kane did his own stunt work for this episode. Even though David Boreanaz was post-knee surgery, you can never really tell when Mike Mazza steps in for Angel stunts. The choreography is fantastic. A big complaint I often have of fight scenes in film and television is the way they are directed. When something is shot too close/fast/choppy, you can’t properly see the moves. And I want to see them.
Whedonverse fights are usually pretty good about this, and this fight is a particularly good example. There’s one move, a slightly slowed-down, sweeping sword thing, where I swear to God, you can practically hear lightsaber noises (not really). I love it. The whole thing is just over the top enough, with the slightest sprinkling of cheese to round it out and make it fabulous. Angel, finally getting his head back on straight thanks to smacks across it (both metaphorical and non), says “I’m Angel. I beat the bad guy.” Yes. Yes he does.
Maybe it’s the fight that finally gets Cordelia’s words of wisdom through our champion’s thick skull. Maybe before her words penetrated his head, a great big sword needed to penetrate his torso. Maybe all the pummeling from Lindsey served as punctuation (punch-uation?) for the point Cordelia had been trying to make all along. In any case, by the end of the episode, Angel is back on track and ready to get back to the mission. He’s a hero and he knows it again. In the end, Cordelia sets him straight, like she always did.
I know that final kiss between Angel and Cordelia had plot-relevant repercussions that we don’t learn about until later. But I’m glad they didn’t stick in the vision-transference special effect that we saw when Doyle gave the visions to her. They let the kiss be what it was, a beautiful sign-off of this love letter to one of the best characters anywhere. Apparently Joss Whedon stepped in, uncredited, to write the final scene between Angel and Cordelia. I guess he needed closure too.
Charisma Carpenter has said that she and David Boreanaz spent a good hour crying together when it came time to shoot that scene. When you think about it, in that moment, Cordelia knew it was goodbye, but Angel didn’t. For all that she had been talking about how she has to leave now, he doesn’t really get it until the phone call. I don’t know about you, but the phrase “you’re welcome” will always belong to this moment, no matter how well The Rock sings it in a Disney movie.
This is an episode about finding your way back. The whole series of Angel has an underlying theme of heroism at any cost. These people know what it is to fight the good fight. They know that the fight is more important than anything—even more important than actually winning. Everyone has doubts, everyone loses their way, everyone feels like giving up sometimes. The cost of being a champion is high. But Cordelia knows it’s worth it, and she uses her last moments on earth to make sure Angel still knows it too. She even manages to get in a goodbye to Wesley—“you still work the best mojo in town”.
Thank you, Team Angel, for this episode. Thank you for closure, for tears, for joy. For never forgetting what makes a hero, and giving one of mine back to me. I’ll always love you. I’ll always be grateful. I’ll always sing your praises.