Sunday, August 29, 2010

Season 5 Overview

I'm still not sure if I'm going to review each and every episode of Season 5 of Angel. Similar to past seasons, there were parts of Season 5 that I've already written about quite extensively, (for example, the Wes/Illyria story arc, and the unfortunate group-think mentality of Angel Investigations), while there are other aspects I barely touched on. I probably won't know how often I'll post until I actually start watching the episodes.

Crisis of Faith and After the Fall. It had been my intention for quite a while to compare and contrast Angel's Season 2 and Season 5 Crises of Faith, in how in both instances he decided to directly attack Wolfram & Hart as the source of all Evil. I've already done a series of posts about Angel's Season 2 Crisis of Faith roughly about one year ago. Angel failed to take down the Senior Partners in Season 2 but gained the understanding that "if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do". I'd often wondered, what was it that made Angel change his mind in Season 5, in which he apparently made a 180-degree turn and decided to once again go after Wolfram & Hart?

Since Season 5 (and the series) ended with a nihilistic "we're going to get ourselves killed but we're going to take out as many people as we can" statement, a person could think that was Angel's defining moment. In other words, Angel had completely rejected the lessons learned in Season 2 in favor of his "correct" assessments towards the end of Season 5. This didn't make sense in that Joss Whedon himself (as I discussed in the last link above) reportedly has stated that Angel's flashing light bulb moment in Season 2 is closely aligned to his own personal philosophy. I also can't discount how Angel's Season 2's Crisis of Faith ended up with a much more logical and satisfying conclusion than his similar Crisis in Season 5.

Boy, am I ever glad I read the first four volumes of the comic continuation series After the Fall before I started writing these Season 5 posts! Although my archives seem somewhat incomplete since I haven't written about Angel's Season 5 Crisis entirely within the context of the TV series, everything seemed to make so much more sense when taken in the context of the full-blown Apocalypse. I know that Angel was unexpectedly canceled before Mutant Enemy could get the whole story arc completed, which is why the series ended with a bunch of question marks hanging over our heads.

I don't know how much of After the Fall was originally intended for the unproduced Season 6 of Angel, but I'm already seeing aspects of late Season 4 through a new light now that I've read some of the comics. Specifically I can see how Wolfram & Hart had a lot more in store for Charles Gunn than what we saw in the TV series. As a result, I'll be viewing Season 5 with an eye for how Angel and his gang were being manipulated by Wolfram & Hart all along, and how even their ending acts of defiance were part of a master plan set in motion by the Senior Partners. Consequently, I'll be writing my Season 5 reviews within the context of the After the Fall Apocalypse.

Spike and Lindsey. I've previously written how I first started watching Angel mid-series, literally two episodes after Lindsey's final Season 2 appearance. I therefore started off Season 5 being pissed off that Cordelia and Lilah were gone and was wondering, "Who the hell are these Spike and Lindsey guys?"

Wow, did I ever find out, and what a stroke of genius it was to bring actors James Marsters and Christian Kane back for the final season! With Spike I'm somewhat hamstrung since I've seen very few of his appearances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However, I've read some very convincing essays recently that it would have been borderline criminal to allow his storyline to end in the Buffy series finale.

Lindsey's a more challenging case. Although his character absolutely knocked my socks off, I could never quite get a handle on what exactly he was trying to accomplish. I understand that he hated Angel. I also understand that he was ambitious and wanted power. But did he really think he would endear himself to the Senior Partners by completely destroying Wolfram & Hart, then starting anew? Were the Senior Partners supposed to admire his moxie and subsequently reward him with his own branch of Wolfram & Hart? Lindsey did not appear in After the Fall, so his final chapter begins and ends with Season 5.

Season of Unlikeable Characters. One of the things I love most about Angel is its fine character development. It's therefore quite distressing that Season 5 features an unusually high concentration of characters who set my teeth on edge. These characters are Eve, Knox, and to a lesser extent Harmony and Andrew.

With Eve, I'm trying to figure out if she was supposed to be incredibly irritating, if the wrong actress was cast for the part (Sarah Thompson), or if Mutant Enemy out and out botched her character development. Instead of being evil and conniving, Eve came across as being an annoying little pest. The only good thing was that she didn't show up on the series as often as she could have. Despite all of that, Eve still managed to snag some very good lines that gave me a lot of insight as to how Wolfram & Hart operated. Also, the more her character was beat down as the season went on, the more I started to empathize with her.

Whenever I see Knox, I get that same sinking feeling you get when the least attractive guy in your department asks you out on a date. Tim Minear mentioned in the DVD commentary for the Season 4 finale "Home" that everyone who mattered was impressed with actor Jonathan Woodward's work as Holden Webster in the Buffy Season 7 episode "Conversations with Dead People", and they were eager to bring him over to Angel. Woodward is a very good actor and successfully portrayed Knox as being almost endearingly shy and awkward with Fred, but with that touch of malice that Pollyanna Fred was completely unable to pick up on. I could never put my finger on why I disliked his character so much, yet the fact that I could never understand what Fred saw in Knox may have ultimately doomed their whole storyline. Regardless, if I was wired up with electrodes in a focus group, I wouldn't give off whatever vital signs the marketers were looking for that would indicate that Knox would be a popular character on a TV show.

Similar to how I missed Spike and Lindsey in my first run through Angel, I also missed Harmony. I loved Mercedes McNab's portrayal of the bubbly vampire, and she provided me with some of my favorite moments of Season 5. I've even written some glowing reviews of her performances. Empty-headed bleached blondes are not my favorite stock characters, and I was always impressed with how the writers pulled Harmony back whenever she got close to taking things too far. However, I always thought Harmony was completely wrong for Season 5 and could never figure out why Wesley thought she'd work out as Angel's administrative assistant. I've read somewhere that someone (Joss himself?) thought the series needed a blond, and they decided to reward McNab for her outstanding work in Buffy. It appears that the producers were getting a little sentimental when they decided to cast both Jonathan Woodward and Mercedes McNab in Season 5.

Finally, I have not seen Tom Lenk as Andrew Wells in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I'll just say that after seeing Andrew a few times in Season 5 of Angel, I don't have any motivation to switch over to Buffy to see what I missed.

Women. One obvious change to Season 5 was how two very strong female characters (Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia and Stephanie Romanov as Lilah) were dropped from the series and seemingly replaced by either two strong male characters (James Marsters as Spike and Christian Kane as Lindsey), or two weak female characters (Sarah Thompson as Eve and Mercedes McNab as Harmony Kendall). Fred, who was always impossibly pure natural goodness to begin with, was elevated to absolute saintliness in Season 5. I missed seeing these traditional Buffyverse strong, intelligent, wisecracking yet still extremely feminine female (human) characters as the series came to an end. Thank God for Blue Demon Illyria!

Connor Mind Wipe and the New and Improved Wesley. I never liked the Connor mind wipe (where most of the characters magically lost all of their memories of Angel's son Connor) because I could never really tell how much it affected the characters in Season 5. I understand the mind wipe may have been introduced as a way to reassure the network executives that new audience members would not be hampered by their lack of knowledge about the previous story lines.

Regardless, despite the wonderful drama of "Origin" where the memories returned to Wesley and Connor, I thought it was an unnecessary plot device that may have unfortunately impeded Wesley's character development. In the last several episodes of Season 4, Wesley appeared to be coming out of the darkness and emerging as a stronger and more integrated personality. I originally thought this New and Improved Wesley carried over into Season 5. Indeed, Wesley was quite capable and self-assured as Angel's right-hand man, but I'll be looking for signs that something was missing from his overall character.

Overall Impression of Season 5. In the past I wrote about how, in reaction to the dreariness of Season 4, I thoroughly enjoyed Season 5 from beginning to end in my first run-through of the series. However, in my second viewing, I was actually quite bored with the early part of Season 5, (with a few exceptions) and didn't start getting into the action until Charisma Carpenter made her guest appearance in "You're Welcome". From that point on, I thought Season 5 was absolutely brilliant! I'm curious to see if I can get more involved with the earlier episodes now that I'm watching the series on DVD.

Also, I was quite disappointed with how Alexis Denisof's character of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce seemed seriously underutilized in the early part of the season, with the exception of his appearance in "Lineage". Similar to how I didn't think Wesley had that much to do in the early part of Season 3, I wonder if he was again being held in reserve in anticipation of his terrific Wesley/Illyria story arc for the last part of Season 5. I'll add some more thoughts in later posts.

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