Buffy started out as a horror riff with elements of superhero drama thrown in, but it seems to me that Angel announces itself as a superhero drama with a horror theme. Since I’m a big fan of superheroics, this sits quite well with me. Also, Angel himself is much more tolerable when he’s not a supporting player in Buffy’s life. For one thing, he actually breaks a smile every so often. He’s still often annoyingly mopey (“Broody McForehead”, I’m told they call him over at Television Without Pity, and that’s about right), but Cordelia does a nice job of lightening the tone. The metaphorical underpinnings of the show don’t really hold up to those in Buffy, since “city life” is a much broader target than “high school/college”, but I still enjoyed it.
Some more specific thoughts:
1. I mentioned superheroics, and it was fun playing “spot the superhero trope” throughout the season. For instance, there’s a direct Wolverine homage in the pilot and a couple other eps, when the spring-loaded stakes pop out from Angel’s wrists. Angel himself, of course, has more than a shade of Dark Knight Batman in him. The Ring is highly reminiscent of Fantastic Four #90-93, in which the Thing is captured and forced to fight against aliens in a gladitorial arena. Vanessa Brewer in Blind Date is Daredevil turned evil and female. The character design on the demon Voca in To Shanshu In L.A. is totally Doctor Doom. The strongest parallel of all, though, occurs (appropriately enough) in Heroes, in which Angel is clearly Captain America. Here, he fights against a fascistic villain with a red skull-looking head, whose agenda is extermination in the name of racial purity. He zooms around magnificently on a powerful motorcycle, and of course, his loyal sidekick dies a in heroic sacrifice, after which Angel is haunted by grief and guilt. The only thing he didn’t do was hurl a trash-can lid into some enemies and then get frozen in a block of ice. Maybe next season.
2. I really don’t get some of Angel’s choices. Several times this season, the writers remove some basic piece of the rules around Angel’s vampirism, and then have to revert him to the status quo. They do this by having him decide that he can’t really allow himself to accept the change, because it will have some sort of unspecified dire consequences in the murkily defined future. The problem is, this is not a compelling reason, and so at the end of the show I just find myself thinking, “What is wrong with this guy?” The shining example of this is In The Dark. Here Angel is with a magic item that makes him totally invincible, which you’d think would be a pretty kickass thing for a warrior against evil to have, but he smashes it to bits with some flimsy rationale about how maybe if he started going out in the daytime he wouldn’t be as good at protecting the people who need help in the night. Even “an artifact this powerful is too dangerous to exist” is a better excuse than that!
3. This “Powers That Be” business is a little too much naked plot machinery for my tastes. I don’t mind the Doyle/Cordelia visions taking the place of Charlie over the intercom, but I’d prefer if it were just a mystical ability rather than obscure telegrams from some distant puppetmasters.
4. Boy, are those scene transitions annoying.
5. I was quite shocked when Doyle’s death “stuck.” I felt certain it was just a feint, but when Glenn Quinn disappeared from the opening credits, I was convinced otherwise. Once I’d watched the rest of the season, though, I was pleased with the switch to Wesley. I think there’s a more interesting dynamic with him, and I also appreciate seeing the character grow.
6. Another quality that separates this show from Buffy (and makes it a somewhat weaker show, too) is that the episodes are more discrete. There’s much less of a sense of story arc to the season. Yes, significant events certainly do happen (see #5 above), and they carry forward from one show to the next, but there isn’t really a “Big Bad” in the way that I’m used to seeing in Buffy. Consequently, I find that much of my commentary is drawn towards specific episodes:
- The Bachelor Party: Is the demon who’s marrying Doyle’s wife supposed to be the same one who captured Buffy in the season 2 premiere? Because if not, I wish they’d use a different actor. Having the same person play similar-but-different roles muddles the continuity of the Buffyverse.
- I Will Remember You: It resuscitates the Buffy-Angel angst, which I’m a little tired of, and also the ending is unsatisfying in the same manner as In The Dark. However, the episode is redeemed by Sarah Michelle Gellar’s acting. How it is that this woman is only doing Scooby-Doo movies and C-list horror is a total mystery to me.
- Eternity: This was the best premise of the season. The idea of an actress wanting vampirism just for the eternal youth aspect is so perfect, it seems like the show came into being just to create this episode. Also, Rebecca Lowell’s typecasting parallels to Sarah Michelle Gellar added a nice level of depth. Unfortunately, the device of having a pseudo-Angelus emerge in response to drug-induced pseudo-bliss just did not work for me. I just felt like it skewed the rules of the curse to an implausible degree. I do like David Boreanaz as Angelus, though.
- I’ve Got You Under My Skin: I wasn’t terribly pleased with the plot in this one — it just didn’t hang together well, I thought. I liked the way the story kept me guessing, but there were so many twists, and some of them cheated. For instance, if it’s really the boy who’s the evil one, how does he accomplish all that supernatural trickery without the demon’s help? Or this: if the demon really wanted Wesley to help him escape the boy’s body, why would he keep trying to undermine Wesley’s confidence? Also, who leaves gasoline cans lying around the house?
- To Shanshu In L.A.: Charisma Carpenter really impressed me in this one. I don’t know whether she’s grown as an actress since the beginning of Buffy or whether she’s just getting more interesting scenes to play — probably a little bit of both — but her ragged appearance in the hospital bed went well beyond costume and makeup here. Now, what would be really cool is if all the various visions we glimpsed in that finale each turned into shows in Season 2. Guess I’ll have to watch the season and then check the visions again afterwards. The ending of the show (and the season) felt anticlimactic in a couple of ways, though. First, it’s hard for me to care about Angel becoming human when already this season he’s turned down both becoming human and becoming invincible. Secondly, the big reveal on Darla made me say “Enh.” Yes, Darla is Angel’s sire, but she just never seemed like that big of a threat to me, at least not in Buffy. I guess I’ll find out in season 2 what powers she has over Angel.
- City Of: Cordelia: “I finally get invited to a nice place with… no mirrors. And lots of curtains. Hey, you’re a vampire!” Russell: “What? Uh… no, I’m not.” Cordelia: “Are too!”
- In The Dark: Spike mocking Angel from the rooftop at the beginning of the episode.
- Sense And Sensitivity: Angel’s tourist outfit
- Heroes: Doyle in the commercial
- Expecting: Having recently been through the world of prenatal exams and such, the super-acidic amniotic fluid bit felt very creepy to me.
- She: Angel and Wesley’s terrible dancing.
- She: Angel’s impromptu tour guide act.
- Prodigal: I quite liked the way that the bit of “vampires must be invited in” lore put Angel in the very dramatic position of having to watch while Kate’s father was killed, unable to intervene.
- Five By Five: The confrontation between Angel and Faith at the end was very powerful.
- Sanctuary: Hooray for the fakeout making us doubt Wesley’s loyalty to Angel. Also, the final argument with Buffy was great drama.
- To Shanshu In L.A.: Angel’s axe-amputation of Lindsey’s hand was shocking in a good way.
- Five By Five/Sanctuary