Sunday, July 19, 2009

Top 10 Favorite Angel Episodes

Now that I've seen all of the Angel episodes from beginning to end, it's time for me to start my series of Top 10 lists. I have a lot of problems with these lists, because my Top 10 favorites today might not even make the list tomorrow. I feel somewhat like I'm writing things in stone when I publish Top 10 lists, but I'll get over my hangups and start on them anyways.

So today, I'll start with the obvious, my Top 10 Favorite episodes.

My criteria for "Favorite" episodes are ones that I like to watch over and over again, and that are uniformly good or fun to watch from beginning to end. Some that didn't make the list, like "Epiphany", are incredibly moving and profound, but didn't make my list simply because they belonged to a story arc where the episodes flowed seamlessly from one to another, making it difficult to pick out one episode as being better than the other. For example, I think of "Epiphany" as being too-closely intertwined with its immediate predecessor, "Reprise", to be able to pick out either of them as the better stand-alone episode. It does not mean that I like these episodes any less than the ones appearing in my Top 10 Favorites list.

MY TOP 10 FAVORITE ANGEL EPISODES (in chronological order).

1. "Guise Will Be Guise" (Season 2). (My episode review here.) This episode not only has the delightful plot twist of Wesley pretending to be Angel while he romances the beautiful Virginia, but we also have great scenes where Angel gets some surprisingly good advice from the phony swami T'ish Magev. I loved the ending, where Angel allowed Wesley to take over as the leader of the group and lead the charge in rescuing Virginia, not to mention where Angel was dismayed to find out that he was originally slated to be Virginia's protector because her father mistakenly thought he was a eunuch. This episode also bumped Wesley's character development a little farther along as he transitioned from being a bumbling twit to becoming a much more heroic (and normal) character.

Art LaFleur is a terrific character actor and it was good to see him making the most of his role as the all-knowing swami. Brigid Brannagh, also a talented actress, played the heiress Virginia Bryce quite charmingly. Wesley and Virginia made a wonderful couple, and it was too bad their relationship didn't last past the 2nd season.

2. "Billy" (Season 3).(My episode review here.) It certainly is odd that the episode featuring my favorite character at his very worst is probably my favorite "Wesley" episode. It is probably even more odd that an episode that features an extended scene of a madman chasing down and trying to kill a young woman would fit within my criteria of an "episode I want to see over and over again". What makes "Billy" truly remarkable is the depth of Alexis Denisof's acting skills, as he moves from nice guy, to chillingly evil killer, to a man heartbreakingly tortured by guilt and remorse. It's been said many times, but it bears repeating: you know an actor turned in a terrific performance when his potential-killer character turns out to be the most sympathetic character on the entire show.

This episode also featured great performances by Stephanie Romanov, Charisma Carpenter and Amy Acker. The scene with Stephanie and Charisma (Lilah and Cordelia) was somewhat poignant because it showed the audience what a great duo these two ladies would have made. The Angel/Lilah scenes were always entertaining (and "Billy" featured one of their great scenes), but additional Lilah/Cordelia scenes could have blown the show wide open.

The writers did a great job of developing Cordelia's character to the next level in this episode, making her much more confident and mature. Unfortunately, I think the creators squandered their opportunity, and I don't think Cordelia's character ever consistently matched the promise she showed in "Billy". (And I don't place the blame on Charisma Carpenter.)

3. "Couplet" (Season 3). (My [sort of] episode review here.) For out-and-out "Aw, that's so sweet!", this is my favorite Angel episode of all. All of the actors hit perfect chords in their performances: David Boreanaz (Angel) as the jilted lover trying his best to not look jealous as he dealt with not only the loss of Cordelia, but from being constantly upstaged by The Groosalugg, and who also graciously stepped out of the way so Cordelia could have her happiness; Mark Lutz (Groosalugg) as the naive but noble, good-hearted warrior whom Angel simply could not stay angry with even though he stole Cordelia away from him; Charisma Carpenter as the glowingly ditzy and ecstatic Cordelia, who was too lost in her love for The Groosalugg to realize how her actions were affecting Angel; and Alexis Denisof, as Wesley, coping the best he could with losing Fred to Charles Gunn, while he continued to run Angel Investigations as a tight ship.

I think of this episode as having three sets of couples. Cordy and Groo, and Fred and Charles were the first two sets. Angel and Wesley made up the third set, as they seemed to turn to each other for support while trying to cope with losing their loved ones to rivals within the group.

I give special kudos to Charisma Carpenter for turning what could have been an unsympathetic character into someone we could rejoice with her as she celebrated her happiness at being with her true love.

4. "Deep Down" (Season 4). (My episode review here.) Probably the only thing that keeps "Deep Down" from being my favorite episode is the fact that the humorless Justine has such a prominent role. Despite that, it's still an outstanding episode from beginning to end, from the heartbreaking banquet dream sequence where Angel was dining with all of his loved ones, to a particularly luscious love scene with Wesley and Lilah, to a shirtless Wesley looking might fine as he informed Justine it was time for a boat ride, to Wesley's loving devotion as he tenderly administered treatment to the close-to-death Angel, to Lilah turning a potentially disastrous personal job performance review meeting to an opportunity to behead her boss and get her much-wanted promotion, to Wesley's seemingly cruel but in reality tough-love treatment of Justine, to Angel summoning every bit of strength and energy he could muster in order to kick Connor out of the Hyperion Hotel.

Wesley more than proved his continued loyalty to Angel even though he had been cast out of the Angel Investigations group in his misguided attempt to save the infant Connor by kidnapping him.

5. "Habeas Corpses" (Season 4).(My [sort of] episode review here.) This was one of the more action-filled of my "Favorite" episodes, but also featured some fine dramatic performances as well. Wesley delivered his famous "There is a line...." speech as he broke up with Lilah. Both Alexis Denisof and Stephanie Romanov were superb in the breakup scene, with Denisof being strong, gentle and firm, and Romanov looking quite vulnerable as she tried to keep her emotions in check. I also enjoyed the interplay between Connor and Lilah as Connor naively went to Wolfram & Hart to try to find answers about his true identity. Lilah almost had him killed, but Connor nobly shielded Lilah from The Beast until he was knocked out and temporarily disabled. Wesley, showing his true nobility and depth of feelings for Lilah, rescued her from The Beast and from the offices of Wolfram & Hart. Lilah, perhaps inspired by Wesley's innate goodness, informed Wesley that Connor was still trapped inside the building. Finally, most of the rest of the gang came to rescue Connor from Wolfram & Hart while they went through some truly harrowing experiences fighting their way through the newly-deceased Wolfram & Hart employees who had become re-animated as zombies.

6. "Salvage" (Season 4). (My [sort of] episode reviews here and here.) I actually could have equally chosen the next episode in the series, "Release", as a favorite, but chose "Salvage" because it had that devastatingly emotional scene between Wesley and Lilah as Wesley contemplated having to cut the head off of her corpse. From then on, the show took off and never stopped, as Wesley broke Faith out of prison and tested her on some vampires who were patrolling the city streets; as Faith made her grand entrance into the Hyperion Hotel, acting like she owned the place, and laid down the law regarding the rules of engagement for bringing back Angelus; as Faith gave Connor a long-overdue butt-kicking; and as Faith had her first encounter with Angelus. Just about any episode with Eliza Dushku in it is worthy of Top 10 status.

7. "You're Welcome" (Season 5). (My episode review here.) Charisma Carpenter was absolutely brilliant in her series farewell, as she portrayed Cordelia waking up from a coma to find her world had turned completely upside down. What the hell was Angel Investigations doing hooking up with Wolfram & Hart? Cordelia had heartwarming reunions with both Angel and Wesley, and some interesting, to say the least, reunions with Harmony and Spike! In a nod to their beloved Wes/Cordy days, the two of them hit the books the "old school" way before they both agreed they liked the high-tech way better. Cordelia figuratively kicked Angel in the butt as she challenged him to justify why he was working for his mortal enemy. After talking with Spike; the gang figured out Lindsey was back in town, Harmony cheerfully "tortured" Eve to get her to talk, Wesley discovered the correct magic spell that was needed to make the protective runes disappear from Lindsey's body, Fred started making goo-goo eyes at Wesley, Cordelia accompanied Angel to do battle (against Lindsey) one last time, and Cordelia said her final good-bye to Angel (sealed with a kiss) in the most heartbreaking way possible. That was a perfect ending to a perfect show.

8. "Smile Time" (Season 5). (My [sort of] episode review here.) I don't know why I hated this episode the first time I watched it. Fortunately, by the end of the day, I saw the show one more time and I loved it. What's not to like about this episode? Highlights include Wesley berating Angel for his lack of awareness about Nina's attraction to him; Wesley being completely clueless about the signals Fred was sending to him; the fight between Angel and Spike after Spike called Angel a "wee, little puppet man"; Wesley and Fred's cozy/cute moments in the wee hours of the morning as they reviewed the Smile Time tape; Lorne desperately calling out "Is there a Geppetto in the house?" after discovering a badly torn Angel who had almost been devoured by werewolf Nina; the team striding down the corridors of Wolfram & Hart with fearless leader Puppet Angel leading the way; and the final battle scene against the evil puppets, complete with cute little sound effects made by the huge furry creature who was attacking Wesley. And to top it off, the episode was sealed with a kiss between Wesley and Fred, when Wesley finally caught on that Fred was interested in him. The "Self-Esteem" song playing in the background during their kiss was both the whipped cream and cherry on top to a very sweet episode.

9. "A Hole in the World" (Season 5). (My episode review here.) The beginning of the show was incredibly poignant as it showed a flashback to an excited Fred packing for her big move from her childhood home of Texas to exciting university life in California. Then, almost as soon as Fred and Wesley's relationship began, it was over. The contrast between Angel and Spike's desperate flight to England to meet with Drogyn and try to find a way to save Fred, and Wesley's attempts to comfort Fred as she was dying, was absolutely phenomenal. Wesley's final moments with Fred were heartbreaking, as I thought it portrayed a very realistic view of what it's like to spend time with someone who is frightened and close to death. Not all deaths are serene, and not all friends and relatives are able to keep their composure while their loved ones are dying. Spike and Angel worked magnificently together, bound together by their common love for Fred.

I'd like to give special mention to Alec Newman as Drogyn. He reminded me of The Groosalugg for his good-hearted nobility. It's a real pity that the series came to an end and Drogyn was killed off before his character was fully developed.

10. "Power Play" (Season 5.) (My [sort of] episode review here.) I blogged previously that:
I enjoyed "Power Play" more than the series finale, "Not Fade Away", because I enjoyed the buildup leading to the final countdown. I also enjoyed Wesley's leadership and the teamwork involved when the Angel Investigations team was trying to figure out which side Angel was on. Plus, Angel's speech at the end of "Power Play" was probably the highlight of the whole series for me!
I also enjoyed what looked like the beginning of a more formal friendship between Illyria and Spike, which we guessed would happen a few episodes earlier when they were obviously having such a terrific time sparring against each other in the training room. With the loss of Wesley in the series finale, we're free to imagine that Illyria was able to lean on Spike to help guide her through what was still a considerably new world for her.

Closing Thoughts. I had to take 26 episodes and pare them down to 10 for this list, which was not an easy task. Even then I was upset at the ones I left off the Top 26 lists. My hardest omissions from this blog post were Season 1's "Bachelor Party", where Doyle was almost sacrificed to a demon clan as part of his ex-wife's wedding preparations, and Season 2's "Dead End", marking Christian Kane's last appearance in the series as Lindsey McDonald until Season 5. If you don't see any of your favorites here, they'll probably show up on some other list in the future.

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