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We’ll Always Have Sunnydale
I guess I’ve owed you guys some kind of an explanation for a while, huh? The last review I posted was for ‘Lineage’, which would put me… eight episodes in the hole, with a new one airing tonight (I think). I’ve been behind before, but the big difference this time is that I decided around ‘Why We Fight’ that I won’t be catching up, nor will I be cutting my losses and continuing as I did last year. I’m done.
Before this fifth season started, I heard the same stuff you did – that ATS would be altering its format to where the stories would be contained in single episodes and there wouldn’t be the same kind of season-long arcs with each installment ending in a pulse-pounding “TO BE CONTINUED”. I admit I was skeptical, because they were steering away from exactly what I loved about seasons three and four. But it was all part of Joss’ deal with the WB to get Angel swept off the chopping block. That and the addition of Spike to the cast ensured the show’s safety for one more year, which is all that matters, right?
Which brings us into the realm of “Be careful what you wish for.” I know this is going to get me in hot water with many of you, but sometimes even great shows go on a little longer than they should, and I honestly believe that this is the case with Angel. For the most part, I think this season has been one giant misfire and maybe it shouldn’t have happened at all. The first season was necessary to establish Angel and Cordy in LA and to present the series as something unique from its Sunnydale sire. The second season expanded the cast, broadened the scope of what could happen to these characters (Pylea anyone?), and raised the, ahem, stakes. Season three is really when I fell in love with the show (okay, it’s when I actually started WATCHING, but I’ve since seen all of it so I’m approaching it chronologically now), and man – that whole second half with Connor and Sahjhan and Wes & Lilah and the slit throat. I nearly broke my fingers, my fists were clenched so tight. In season four I had problems with how they handled the whole Jasmine thing and I think there are still some unanswered logic flaws, but there were still lots of terrific episodes, culminating in The Beast’s path of destruction and the return of both Faith and Angelus. I liked the season-ending set-up. The Fang Gang running Wolfram & Hart? What a potentially great move!
But in my own humble opinion, the payoff has been a letdown. I like my vampires in the dark, thanks. As I grumbled a bit early on, it’s hard to even remember sometimes that Angel and Spike are vampires at all, what with the sunny offices and the limitless resources at their disposal. Harmony has no soul, and yet there she is – cheering for the good guys, helping when she can, and cheerfully answering the phone. The big memory wipe at the end of season four means that most of the baggage that was established last year is cleared off the slate, at least until it’s convenient for one of the gang to remember something (like Wes telling his “father” that he had to behead Lilah’s body. Does he remember how she died or why? How could he?!?). Everyone’s happy, everyone’s nice to each other, and too many episodes end with “There’s another mission successfully accomplished – Tennis, anyone?”
Okay, before the Internet Militia comes down on me, I realize it’s not all as cut and dried as that. But what tension there IS between the characters lacks consistency from one episode to the next, or it’s repeated ad nauseum. Angel spent the first half of the season wondering if they were doing the right thing, and it was causing him to brood – okay, we get that. Is there a single fan of the show that didn’t know that would happen?
Furthermore, I feel bad for James Marsters, because a character that he loves so much is living out his last days on television as nothing more than a gag-machine who hangs around annoying the other characters and taking up space. When they brought back Lindsey (a brilliant and popular decision) and connected these two characters, I saw real potential for Spike to find something worthwhile to do in LA. Now Lindsey’s in the clutches of the Senior Partners, and Spike’s confined to running in every now and then to ask for a car or money, or to see if there’s an opportunity to tag along with Angel. I’m going on record now as saying that Spike should have died in the Hellmouth, completing his long and beautiful story by sacrificing his life to save everyone. But thanks to the demands of the WB’s programming execs, he has survived as a pointless accessory.
And that’s what this really boils down to. The show is no longer holding my attention, because it’s changed so much and developed into something that I just don’t care about. I used to love any opportunity to see the Wolfram & Hart offices, and now I’m sick to death of the wood, the carpet, the necro-tinted glass, and the track lighting. Furthermore, I think there’s a distinct lack of tension and chemistry between the actors, and I’m willing to bet that most of them are okay with seeing the show end (despite the fact that it’s sad to see all those people out of work. I get that, so don’t take me to task for being heartless). Last year I showed Rebecca BTVS in its entirety, right from ‘Welcome to the Hellmouth’ to ‘Chosen’. It was pretty great to watch the whole series over again, and if it’s even possible, I love it all more than ever. Brilliant writing, terrific performances, great stories, and so much passion and emotion. But unfortunately, I still see season seven as the weakest of them all, and it seems clear to me that the show went on one season too long, which is exactly what I think is happening to Angel. It’s complicated because, as with Buffy, there are still things that need to be explained and resolved, but those important moments are drowning in a sea of bland and half-hearted stories.
Since I think there have been highs and lows since the last episode I reviewed, I present to you now a quick list of comments for episodes 5.8 to 5.15. Call it my nickel tour of the middle of season 5.
5.8 - Destiny: Everyone seemed to like this episode more than I did, but as you’ll remember, the ones that centre around a big physical fight usually lose my interest. I liked the flashbacks, and it was good to get some more insight into why Spike and Angel have such issues between each other. The Lindsey appearance at the end was thrilling! And at least Spike was finally corporeal, so I was eager to see what ME had in store for him (answer: Not much).
5.9 - Harm’s Way: Amusing, sure. But didn’t this one come after a long break without a new episode? I hate it when they drop a big bomb, make us wait weeks for answers, and then return with something goofy and inconsequential. The season desperately needed to get moving, and this wasn’t the solution. Next!
5.10 – Soul Purpose: Okay, this was more like it. They advanced the Lindsey plot, they gave Spike a more active role, and I’m always into dream episodes. Boreanaz directed this one, didn’t he? Nice job. The dreams, however, ranged from scary, to funny, to downright stupid. That one where they used a blonde actress with her head turned away and soundbites of SMG from old Buffy episodes was unfortunately NOT the only time this season when I wanted to throw my shoe at the screen for ME’s lack of good judgment. Awful and embarrassing.
5.11 – Damage: While I found this episode almost completely unmemorable, at least they FINALLY acknowledged the massive, world-changing result of Willow’s spell in ‘Chosen’. The world is now full of new Slayers! Are none of them in LA? Would Angel and company not know or care? So here we had our first nod to all that stuff, and I was pleased that it came in the form of a girl who didn’t understand what had happened to her, because it seems obvious to me that this sort of thing should be pretty common. It was nice to see Andrew and to get an update on the whereabouts of the Scoobs (be still my heart, I love them all), and to see that Angel’s new job has placed him on their “Can’t Trust” list. A fascinating turn, but of course it’s something we’ll probably never get to explore further. Spike got his hands cut off, which was as shocking and terrifying as Xander losing his eye, but never mind – Fred stitched them back on, so once again, it won’t affect any other episodes.
5.12 – You’re Welcome: Ahhh, sweet Cordelia. She looked really hot. How does someone spend six months in a coma and wake up with a perm and in better shape than she was when she went under? I knew she was only going to be around for one episode, so I had a feeling they were going to kill her off. My girl Kit really liked the James Bond set and the wirework as Angel had his climactic swordfight with Lindsey. Personally, I thought it was goofy – all flash and no substance, and I was bugged that it seemed to resolve Lindsey’s threat a little too conveniently (cut to Spike saying “Boy, that little guy sure had me fooled. Glad he’s gone, and now I can go back to being a skinny blonde waste of space. Who’s buying?”). I was also bugged that this was about the fourth time so far this season where Angel apparently came to terms with his role as head of W&H. Okay, we get it!! Anyway, I admit that it tugged at my heartstrings when Angel got the call saying Cordy had died in her sleep. Goodbye, Queen C. Thanks for all the zingers.
5.13 – Why We Fight: Worst. Episode. Ever. A stupid premise, and come on – Angel gets sent down to a submarine at the bottom of the ocean, and SPIKE’S ALREADY THERE?!? You know what that is? That amounts to their need to work Spike into as many of the episodes and situations as they can, regardless of how much of a stretch it is. Still, I thought his two vampire companions were funny (playing with the stereotypes is cool, even with vamps). Now just because Marsters is in the cast, Spike’s going to be in all of Angel’s flashbacks, right? Ugh. This one deserved to have my shoe thrown at it more than any of them.
5.14 – Smile Time: Just in case you think I’m only here to be a negative nancy, you’ll be pleased to hear that I loved this one. Sure, it was silly and light and didn’t do too much to advance any of the more important issues (Fred & Wes being one exception, and Gunn’s repaired law-brain being the other), but I’ve loved a bunch of the funny eps of both Buffy and Angel, and this ranks up there as one of the better ones. I miss puppet-Angel already, and his fight with Spike ranks as one of the more entertaining battles in the show’s history. Cheers to Ben Edlund and Joss for crafting a fantastic episode from a potentially disastrous premise. I loved seeing Mustard Guy doing a little more acting, and oh yeah – Nina came back, but who cares?
5.15 – A Hole in the World: Damn. Just when I’d written this season off and made the decision to quit writing about it, they follow up an excellent funny episode with an excellent dramatic one. I will say that I’m going to puke if I have to hear Angel utter another of those cringeworthy lines like “Let’s save the day”, but all in all this was a strong and moving episode. The slow, agonizing way that Fred went out ensured that everyone felt the significance of such a beloved character’s passing (I guess I can’t speak for everyone, but I loved her). A bunch of stuff finally fell into place in this episode, and the conclusion was a perfect example of why this show USED to be so exciting. Everything is royally fucked. Now what? If I have any criticisms, it’s that the idea feels somewhat recycled. If it’s not the whole Dark Willow concept again, it’s the fact that just last season we had the Big Bad using one of the female castmembers’ bodies as a host.
So while it appears that this less-than-satisfying season is taking a sharp turn for the better in its home stretch, I’m afraid that it’s too little, too late. I believe that Angel peaked somewhere between the mid-points of the third and fourth seasons, and what we’ve been watching is an unfortunate swan song for a show that deserved better. The long and the short of it is that I’ve lost most of my interest in this series, and I’ve had a hard time caring about each new episode. If anyone’s going to review it, it should be someone that shares the fans’ enthusiasm, not a cranky old guy who stopped caring a while ago. Whenever someone says something negative in a review or the comments, the readers are usually quick to respond with “If you don’t like the show, why are you even on a website devoted to it?!?” You’re exactly right, which is why I’m saying goodbye.
Finally, and just so you don’t think I’m putting all the blame on the show, my own life continues to be hectic enough that it’s impossible for me to find the time to write TV reviews. My job keeps me very busy, I’m back in school at night (English Lit, so there’s tons of reading and regular essays to be written), and I’m also in the mainstage cast of an improv theatre company here in Toronto, which means I have performance commitments every weekend. I USED to have a very hectic workout schedule, but that seems to have fallen by the wayside of late – something that I absolutely have to remedy before I turn into that big blobby demon that Buffy electrocuted. I’ve also now been with Rebecca a year, and with my schedule as busy as it is, it’s hard enough to find time to spend with her. We’re in the beginning stages of house shopping, so once that moves into full swing, forget about it – I’ll be lucky if I have time to put on pants before I leave the house.
And despite my grumbling, I’d like to thank all of you for making this a fun and rewarding experience, and I mean that. I’ve corresponded with hundreds of you on all aspects of Buffy and Angel, and aside from a few unpleasant exchanges (I’m sorry if you are), it’s been a pleasure. Shows like this offer a lot to the discerning, educated viewer, and I’ve been floored by the depth of knowledge and keen eye for both the larger themes and the minute details that many of you possess. I would especially like to thank Bec, who wears so many hats around here and does it all while she’s been in school AND traveling the bloody world. She does what I could not, and I’m both impressed and grateful. We got to spend a fair bit of time together over the Christmas holidays, and of all the good things that have come from my involvement with Slayage, the best is probably seeing our friendship move beyond the Internet into the realm of reality.
I’m sure there are some of you who are going to jump all over me for devoting so much web space to ME, ME, ME, and you’re probably right. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that you visit Slayage to talk about the show and the people directly involved, not us.
“Why should we care about you? Who are you anyway?”, you’ll probably say.
“I’m nobody”, I’ll answer. “Just a guy who used to write about Buffy and Angel.”
Take care, everyone.
|Slayage.com will still be running. Ron's article refers to his role as reviewer only. Sorry if there was any misunderstanding. Bec