Friday, February 8, 2013

The West Wing Introduction

Man: Governor Bartlet, when you were a member of Congress, you voted against the New England Dairy Farming Company. That vote hurt me sir. I’m a businessman. That vote hurt me to the tune of maybe, 10 cents a gallon. I voted for you three times for Congress. I voted for you twice for Governor. And I’m here sir, and I’d like to ask you for an explanation.
Bartlet: Yeah, I screwed you on that one.
Man: I’m sorry?
Bartlet: I screwed you. You got hosed.
Man: Sir, I…
Bartlet: And not just you. A lot of my constituents. I put the hammer to farms in Concord, Salem, Laconia, and Pelham. You guy got rogered but good. Today, for the first time in history, one in five Americans living poverty are children. One in five children live in the most abject, dangerous, hopless, backbreaking, gut-wrenching poverty, one in five, and they’re children. If fidelity to freedom and democracy is the code of our civic religion then surely, the code of our humanity is faithful service to that unwritten commandment that says ‘We shall give our children better than we ourselves received.’ I voted against the bill ‘cause I didn’t want it to be hard for people to buy milk. I stopped money from flowing into your pocket. If that angers you, if you resent me, I completely respect that. But if you expect anything different from the President of the United States, I suggest you vote for somebody else. Thanks very much. Hope you enjoyed the chicken.
-exchange during flashback in In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Part I

So I thought I’d get one or two articles worth of thoughts out there on the first five seasons of The West Wing. Before I get into praising literally everything about my favorite show ever, I consider myself a moderate conservative. I’m a practical idealist. So is Jed Bartlet (the practical idealist part). While I don’t agree with all of his policies on the show, he would be the first person I would vote for in an election. He is principled and sometimes romantic, but beyond brilliant and sometimes harshly realistic. I direct you to Bartlet’s final, lengthy remark in the quote above. Outside of all of the political platforming going on, he says what I find to be the most important thing of all: “I stopped money from flowing into your pocket. If that angers you, if you resent me, I completely respect that. But if you expect anything different from the President of the United States, I suggest you vote for somebody else.” He is such a stand-up guy. He’s not going to lie to you just to get you to vote for him. I love that.
I love Aaron Sorkin, and once I see Studio 60, I’ll have watch at least one episode of every single one of his shows. Sports Night is a brilliant show, too, but The Newsroom, not so much (I’m not even going to go into my opinion on the show). Outside of his oftentimes unnecessary preachiness, he is, by my reckoning, the most talented writer working today. He may not tell the best or most ambitious stories (The Sopranos and The Wire did that best when they were around), but his dialogue is always excellent, brilliantly mixing short comedic interludes in with the always prevalent dramatic elements of the show.
I think what I admire most about the series is that, for all of Aaron Sorkin’s exceedingly liberal viewpoints and preachiness in so many of his television series, The West Wing, a show centered on a Democratic White House, was his least liberal. Every time the majority of the cast voices a liberal opinion on the main political issue of a specific episode, there are always one or two, maybe three, characters who voice a more conservative opinion. It does wonders for evening out the show and I admire him greatly for doing it.

Before I begin, I thought I'd give you an idea of exactly how revered the series is:
Season 1: The first season showed exactly how the rest of the show was going to be rewarded. The season garnered 17 Emmy nominations, winning 9 of them, a record for a freshman series of any genre. The series won for Drama Series, Supporting Actor (Richard Schiff), Supporting Actress (Allison Janney), Writing for a Drama (Sorkin and Rick Cleveland for In Excelsis Deo), Directing for a Drama (Thomas Schlamme for the Pilot), Main Title Theme Music (Snuffy Walden), Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series Episode, Casting for a Drama, and Art Direction for a Drama. In addition to its remarkable amount of Emmy success, the season garnered numerous awards elsewhere. The first won a Peabody Award, possibly the most prestigious award given in television. It was nominated for 3 Writers Guild Award, for Enemies (Patrick Caddell, Rick Cleveland, Lawrence O'Donnell, Ron Osborn, and Jeff Reno), In Excelsis Deo (Sorkin and Rick Cleveland), and Take This Sabbath Day (Sorkin, Lawrence O'Donnell, and Paul Redford), with Sorkin and Cleveland winning for In Excelsis Deo. Other than that, the Golden Globes, Directors Guild Awards, Producers Guild Awards, and Screen Actors Guild Awards are hard to categorize by season because of their timeline, so I'll address those at the end of all of the seasons.
Season 2: The second season continued the strong trend, with 18 Emmy nominations and 8 wins. The wins were for Drama Series, Supporting Actor (Bradley Whitford), Supporting Actress (Allison Janney), Directing for a Drama (Thomas Schlamme for In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Parts I & II), Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series Episode, Casting for a Drama, Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Series Episode, and Single-Camera Sound Mixing for a Series Episode. In addition, this season also won a Peabody Award just like the first season. It was also nominated for 2 Writers Guild Awards, for Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail (Sorkin and Paul Redford) and Two Cathedrals (Sorkin).
Season 3: The third season added another 21 Emmy nominations and 5 wins. It won for Drama Series, Actress (Allison Janney), Supporting Actor (John Spencer), Supporting Actress (Stockard Channing), and Special Class Program (The West Wing: Documentary Special). It was also nominated for 1 Writers Guild Award, for Game On (Sorkin and Paul Redford).
Season 4: The fourth and final of Aaron Sorkin's seasons as showrunner resulted in 15 Emmy nominations and 2 wins. The 2 wins were for Drama Series and Directing for a Drama (Christopher Misiano for Twenty Five). It was also nominated for 1 Writers Guild Award, for Disaster Relief (Alexa Lunge and Lauren Schmidt).
-Season 5: Despite Sorkin's departure, the fifth season didn't actually suffer a noticeable decline in awards recognition, with 12 nominations and 1 win. The win was for Actress (Allison Janney). It was also nominated for 2 Writers Guild Awards, for The Supremes (Debora Cahn) and Memorial Day (John Sacret Young and Josh Singer), winning for The Supremes.
-Season 6: The sixth season ended up with a noticeable decline in awards recognition, but still nothing to be ashamed of, with 5 nominations and no wins. It was also nominated for 2 Writers Guild Awards, for Overall Drama Series Writing and for A Good Day (Carol Flint).
-Season 7: The seventh and final season was rewarded with 6 Emmy nominations and 2 wins. The wins were for Supporting Actor (Alan Alda) and Multi-Camera Sound Mixing for a Series. It was also nominated for 1 Writers Guild Award, for Election Day, Part II (Eli Attie).
-The Golden Globes: Due to the timeline of the Golden Globes, assigning Globe nominations to specific West Wing seasons is literally impossible. That being said, the series received 20 total Globe nominations and 2 wins, both of which it won in 2000 for Drama Series and Actor (Martin Sheen) (that would be for work both in Season 1 and in Season 2). Overall, the series was nominated 5 times for Drama Series, Sheen was nominated 5 times, Rob Lowe 2 times, Allison Janney 4 times, Bradley Whitford 3 times, and John Spencer 1 time.
-The Directors Guild Awards: While the years don't exactly mesh with the seasons of the series, I'm going to split this up by season. Season 1 received 1 nod from the Guild for In Excelsis Deo (Thomas Schlamme). Season 2 was recognized with 3 nominations, for The Portland Trip (Paris Barclay), Noël (Thomas Schlamme), and for Two Cathedrals (Thomas Schlamme), with Thomas Schlamme winning an award for Noël in 2000. Season 3 received 2 nominations, for The Indians in the Lobby (Paris Barclay) and Posse Comitatus (Alex Graves). Season 4 also received 2 nods, for Debate Camp (Paris Barclay) and Twenty Five (Christopher Misiano), with Misiano winning an award for Twenty Five in 2003.
-The Producers Guild Awards: The series received 6 nominations for Producer of the Year for an Episodic Drama, winning 2 times. The numbers and years don't mesh though.
-The Screen Actors Guild Awards: The series was nominated for 6 awards for Best Cast in a Drama, winning 2 of them. Additionally, individual cast members received 14 nominations, winning 4 of them. Those 4 victories were split evenly between Martin Sheen and Allison Janney. Both Sheen and Janney each received another 3 nominations on top of their wins. Stockard Channing received 2 nominations while Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda each received 1.
-Overall: The series was monstrously successful, raking in 94 total Emmy nominations with 27 wins, with Allison Janney winning for awards than anyone else on the entire production team with 4. In addition, it was won 2 Peabody Awards and was nominated for 12 Writers Guild Awards, winning 2. It received 20 Golden Globe nods with 2 wins, 8 Directors Guild Award nods with 2 wins, 6 Producers Guild nods with 2 wins, and 20 SAG Award nods with 6 wins.

Anyway, I thought for a long time about how I wanted to review the first five seasons, the first four of which are as close to perfect as you can get and the fifth of which is still great. I haven’t seen most of the series in 5-8 months, so I’m not going to go through each season episode by episode. Instead, I’m going to go through each season and give you 8-to-10 excellent episodes, many of which are perfect. After that, I’m going to go through and do short, two-to-three-sentence profiles of all of the main cast members and their character personalities, etc.

Season 1: The first season has eight main cast members: Martin Sheen as President Josiah “Jed”  Bartlet; Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborn, the Deputy White House Communications Director; Allison Janney as C.J. Cregg, the White House Press Secretary; Richard Schiff as Toby Ziegler, the White House Communications Director; John Spencer as Leo McGarry, the White House Chief of Staff; Bradley Whitford as Josh Lyman, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff; Dulé Hill as Charlie Young, the Personal Aide to the President; and Moira Kelly as Mandy Hampton, a Media Consultant working for the presidency. Janel Moloney and Stockard Channing recur as Donna Moss, Josh’s assistant, and Dr. Abbey Bartlet, the First Lady. Some other notable names also appear at various points. There are so many, in fact, that I’m just going to leave it at that rather than list some of them.

Notable Season 1 Episodes (Okay I’ve just decided not to give short summaries, because it’s just too hard to do concisely. So much happens in every single episode that to try to do each one justice would simply be, well, an injustice.):
-The Crackpots and These Women
-In Excelsis Deo
-Take This Sabbath Day
-Celestial Navigation
-The White House Pro-Am
-Let Bartlet Be Bartlet
-What Kind of Day Has It Been

General Thoughts on Season 1: This is a perfect season of television, with at least 8 pretty much perfect episodes. A great place to look for great episodes for The West Wing is the Emmy submissions the show gives for Best Drama, and the 8 that they submitted for the 1999-2000 TV season are the 8 you see listed above. Pretty much every episode has some sort of great aspect to it. In my opinion, the two best episodes are In Excelsis Deo and the Pilot, followed by (in rough preferential order): Take This Sabbath Day, Celestial Navigation, Let Bartlet Be Bartlet, The Crackpots and These Women, What Kind of Day Has It Been, and The White House Pro-Am.
Season Score: 10/10

Season 2: Every main character save Moira Kelly (good riddance) returns in their roles. Janel Moloney joins the main cast, while Stockard Channing spends one more season riding the recurring character train. Numerous recognizable faces once again appear.

Notable Season 2 Episodes:
-In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Part I
-In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Part II
-The War at Home
-17 People
-Two Cathedrals

General Thoughts on Season 2: Talk about repeat perfection, this season outdoes its perfect predecessor in essentially every way. It takes on a wider-ranging scope of legislative issues and is the better for it, never sagging under the added narrative weight, a weight also increased by the revelations of several important developments first introduced in the first season. It also offers arguably the greatest episode of television episode produced, Two Cathedrals, by far my favorite episode of the series. The episodes listed about above are, once again, just the episodes nominated for the Emmy Award. I’ll think about updating the list once I rewatch it. When that will be I honestly have no idea. I’d rank the episodes thusly: Two Cathedrals, Noël, In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Part II, In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Part I, Shibboleth, 17 People, Galileo, and The War at Home.
Season Score: 10/10

Season 3: The exact same main cast returns once again this season, plus Stockard Channing joins the regular cast, though she only appears in the opening credits for episodes in which she appears.

Notable Season 3 Episodes:
-The Women of Qumar
-Bartlet for America
-The Two Bartlets
-Night Five
-Hartsfield’s Landing
-Dead Irish Writers
-We Killed Yamamoto
-Posse Comitatus

General Thoughts on Season 3: This is definitely the weakest of the Aaron Sorkin-written seasons, but that isn’t to say that it’s a bad season. It is still far better than most anything on television ever. I’m having trouble remembering some of the episodes listed (I really need to rewatch the series), so this list is definitely subject to change at any time. My rankings currently would be: Posse Comitatus, Night Five, We Killed Yamamoto, Hartsfield’s Landing, Bartlet for America, Dead Irish Writers, The Two Bartlets, and The Women of Qumar.
Season Score: 9/10

Season 4: The exact same main cast returns for the 4th season. Rob Lowe departs the main cast in Red Haven’s on Fire and Joshua Malina joins the main cast as Will Bailey midway through the season.

Notable Season 4 Episodes:
-20 Hours in America, Parts I & II
-Holy Night
-Inauguration, Part I
-Inauguration: Over There
-Evidence of Things Not Seen
-Life on Mars
-Twenty Five

General Thoughts on Season 4: This is a season helped tremendously by a few spectacular episodes. I think this is a better season than season 3 is, but it still isn’t up to the same amazing standards of season 1 or 2. I’d rank the episodes as follows: Twenty Five, Holy Night, Inauguration: Over There, Inauguration, Part I, 20 Hours in America, Parts I & II, Evidence of Things Not Seen, Life on Mars, and Commencement.
Season Score: 9.5/10
Season 5: The entire regular cast returns. They are joined later in the season by Mary McCormack in a recurring role. She will become a regular cast member starting at the beginning of season 6.

Notable Season 5 Episodes (I’ve included three extras to make 10 since the number of Emmy episode submissions was decreased by 2 starting for the 2004-05 TV season):
-7A WF 83429
-Constituency of One
-Abu el Banat
-The Stormy Present
-An Khe
-Full Disclosure
-The Supremes
-Memorial Day

General Thoughts on Season 5: This is not a bad season of television, by any means, but it’s just nowhere near some of the material put out in the first four seasons. The writers had to work themselves out of an awkward story area left by Sorkin at the end of season 4, but they took a really long time to do it. That said, there are still some great episodes to be found here, particularly The Supremes, which, quite frankly, blew me away in comparison to the rest of the fare presented in the season. I’d rank the episodes as follows: The Supremes, An Khe, Gaza, Memorial Day, Access, The Stormy Present, 7A WF 83429, Abu el Banat, Full Disclosure, and Constituency of One.
Season Score: 8/10

Character Profiles:
-President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (Martin Sheen)—President Bartlet is an interesting fellow. He has tremendous integrity and is absolutely brilliant. He’s funny in his own odd sort of way, and he’s touch but compassionate. There’s so much more to say about him, but I think the show should do it all for you, since it does it so brilliantly. Sheen’s best episode is undoubtedly Two Cathedrals, which also happens to be the best episode of the entire series, but he’s also brilliant is so many others (Take This Sabbath Day, Night Five, and Twenty Five all come to mind).
-Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe)—The Deputy White House Communications Director, Sam is a brilliant speech writer but sometimes struggles on policy issues. His flawed romantic endeavors are highly entertaining. His character is defined by his firm belief in the American political process and the good that government can do for its citizens. He is the most idealistic character. His best episode is probably Somebody’s Going to Emergency, Somebody’s Going to Jail.
-Allison Janney (C.J. Cregg)—The White House Press Secretary, C.J. is a strong and capable woman. C.J. is such a damn likeable character and Allison Janney, the monumentally underrated actress that she is, plays her perfectly. Let’s just say that there’s a reason why C.J. seems to have more focus episodes than anybody else. As such, it’s nearly impossible to pick Janney’s best episode, though I’d probably say The Long Goodbye (she’s also excellent in Access). C.J. is often kept out the loop on issues, much to her chagrin. She’s also known for taking strong views on certain issues and having a tough time letting go and not letting her emotions get in the way.
-Leo McGarry (John Spencer)—The White House Chief of Staff, Leo is Jed’s best friend and closest confidant (outside of Abbey, of course). There’s a really touching piece of advice Jed gives the Secretary of Agriculture just before delivering the State of the Union. It goes: “‘You got a best friend?’ ‘Yes, sir’ ‘Is he smarter than you?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘Would you trust him with your life?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘That’s your Chief of Staff.’” Leo is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, a fact appropriately described by one of the staff members as the worst-kept secret in Washington. He is described as the greatest political mind in the Democratic Party and shows it regularly. The former Secretary of Labor, Leo acts as a father figure to his younger staff members. John Spencer had been doing TV for ages and was one of the most respected unknown character actors in the business. My favorite quote of his comes from Noël and it perfectly explains his father figure role and his best friend role as well as his calm, collected demeanor and brilliance: “This guy’s walkin’ down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you! Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes him a prescription and throws in down in the hole, and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole; can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me, Can ya help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are ya stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’” I just think that’s so perfect. Leo is a magnificently loyal person and, while he’s not my favorite character, I respect him more than any other, even Bartlet.
-Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff)—The White House Communications Director, Toby is a very interesting character. He is so often a cold individual. Perhaps the most appropriate quote for Toby is a quote from Five Votes Down. He is being picked on and responds: “There’s literally no one in the world that I don’t hate right now.” While this may just make Toby come across as a completely negative, completely unlikeable individual, he isn’t, but he very easily be. He isn’t malicious in any way, but he’s just not happy. Tons of credit go to Sorkin and Richard Schiff for molding Toby into the oddly loveable guy he is. He is, however, capable of fantastic bouts of compassion and emotion that surprise even him. His series best performance is in the first season’s In Excelsis Deo, and it amazes every damn time. It’s just incredible how powerful Schiff nails every single one of the many powerful emotional scenes in the episode. Toby is also a brilliant speechwriter and probably the most vehement liberal working on the staff.
-Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford)—The White House Deputy Chief of Staff, Josh is a brilliant political mind, but he's sort of stuck up. He makes up for his sometimes excessive self-confidence with his boyish charm. His relationship with his assistant Donna is priceless. Bradley Whitford is perfect for the part and does wonders for it.
-Charlie Young (Dulé Hill)—The Personal Aide to the President, Charlie is a driven, responsible 21 year old. Much of his characterization comes from his interactions with the president.
-Mandy Hampton (Moira Kelly)—Chief Media Consultant to the White House, Mandy is by far my least favorite regular cast member of the entire show. She is boring and useless and she never really sparks any sort of interest whatsoever. I am eternally happy that she never appears after the first season.
-Donna Moss (Janel Moloney)—Special Assistant to Josh Lyman, Donna is one of my favorite characters on the show. Her relationship with Josh is absolutely hysterical. She starts out sort of a victim of the dumb blonde stereotype (though not completely), but gradually becomes a force to be reckoned with on and an oftentimes valuable asset to the senior staff. Janel Moloney is so perfect for the role.
-Dr. Abbey Bartlet (Stockard Channing)—The First Lady, Abbey doesn’t appear in every episode, but she starts appearing more and more often starting with the third season, before which she had appeared in maybe 10 episodes or so, if even that many. I never really fell in love with her character, but I never dislike her other. I just don’t feel like she’s in the series enough in any sort of high enough capacity to really form much of an opinion on her.
-Will Bailey (Joshua Malina)—Sam Seaborn’s replacement as Deputy Communications Director, he has considerable political savvy, as shown by his ability to lead a dead Democratic candidate to a victory in a solidly Republican California district. He is a gifted speech writer, though not as gifted as Sam. Relatively soon after becoming DCD, he is offered and accepts a position as Chief of Staff to the VP. I like Joshua Malina. He’s not the most versatile actor ever, but he’s really great in Sorkin stuff. In fact, I’d give him an Emmy for his work in Sports Night. He has great comedic timing. Will is a pretty easy character to like, but like the rest of the characters, he isn’t without his flaws.

Of the first five seasons, I’d rank them as follows:
1. 2
2. 1
3. 4
4. 3
5. 5

Best 10 Episodes of the First Five Seasons:
1. Two Cathedrals (2.22)
2. In Excelsis Deo (1.10)
3. Pilot (1.1)
4. Noël (2.10)
5. In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Parts I & II (2.1 and .2)
6. Twenty Five (4.23)
7. Holy Night (4.11)
8. Posse Comitatus (3.21)
9. Let Bartlet Be Bartlet (1.19)
10. The Long Goodbye (4.13)
Honorable Mentions: Oh my goodness! Like 25 other episodes could fit here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Angel Conclusion

Spike: And in terms of a plan?
Angel: We fight.
Spike: Bit more specific?
Angel: Well, personally, I kinda wanna slay the dragon… Let’s go to work.
-final lines of the series in Not Fade Away

Note: The pictures are of some of my favorite non-Buffy-related guest stars that I haven't already included pictures of in other articles
I’m going to do this differently than with Buffy. I will list the seasons in preferential, but I’m not going to do villains, mostly because it would pretty much end up being W&H followed by a list of the more notable people and things they brought forth to screw with Angel. I’m also not going to list my ten favorite episodes. I genuinely feel like, on the whole, if I were to score every episode of Buffy and every one of Angel and then find the median and average scores of both, Angel’s would be noticeably closer than Buffy’s would. In other words, the quality of Angel’s episodes was far more consistent. That’s not to say that the series is better than Buffy, because I don’t think that. What I am saying, is that Buffy had far more standout episodes than Angel did. Angel didn’t have a Hush or a Once More, with Feeling. It didn’t have a Passion or a The Body (of course, nothing else ever could). It did, however, have amazing quality consistency. I talked a bit about how inconsistent some of Angel’s seasons were, but, compared to some of Buffy’s, that’s simply not true. Even what I consider to be the worst season, season 4, only had one episode I would consider terrible. In fact, if you remove that episode and average out the rest of the episodes for the season, you’d end up with about an 80 or an 85. Okay, I’m just rambling now, I apologize. Anyway, I’m not ranking episodes, end of story. I will, however say that my favorite episode of the series is probably either Epiphany, Lullaby, or Lineage. The funniest  episode is Smile Time. The most touching moment, well gosh, there are so many: the last two scenes of Hero, the two most important scenes featuring Denisof and Acker in season 5, Cordy and Angel's final conversation in You're Welcome, the scene with the father and daughter in Untouched, Kate's emotional outpouring in Sense & Sensitivity; I just can't settle for one.
Season Rankings:
1. 2
2. 1
3. 5
4. 3
5. 4

Some More Stuff:
You know how I said I wasn’t going to list my 10 favorite episodes? Well, I’m still not, but I am going to do my top 8s from each season.
Season 1: City Of; In the Dark; I Will Remember You; Hero; Somnambulist; Five by Five; Sanctuary; To Shanshu in L.A. (The Prodigal is also an astonishing episode, but Quinn’s scene at the end of Hero elevates the rest of the episode so much)
Season 2: Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?; Untouched; Darla; The Trial; Reunion; Redefinition; Reprise; Epiphany
Season 3: That Vision Thing; Quickening; Lullaby; Waiting in the Wings; Loyalty; Sleep Tight; Forgiving; Benediction
Season 4: Deep Down; Spin the Bottle; Apocalypse, Nowish; Long Day’s Journey; Soulless; Salvage; Orpheus; Peace Out
Season 5: Lineage; You’re Welcome; Smile Time; A Hole in the World; Underneath; Origin; Time Bomb; Not Fade Away

I didn't lie, I just changed my mind. I am going to try this. I think I'll do two lists. The first will sort of be my top 10 episodes. The second will be my top 10 stand-alones as I feel one thing that Angel does do slightly better than Buffy are stand-alones and the impact they have.

My Top 10 Episodes:
1. Epiphany (2.16) (these 3 are really all absolutely perfect, so they're just in alphabetical order)
2. Lineage (5.7) (these 3 are really all absolutely perfect, so they're just in alphabetical order)
3. Lullaby (3.9) (these 3 are really all absolutely perfect, so they're just in alphabetical order)
4. Reprise (2.15)
5. Smile Time (5.14)
6. Not Fade Away (5.22)
7. Reunion (2.10)
8. City Of (1.1)
9. Darla (2.7)
10. Are You Now or Have You Ever Been? (2.2)
Honorable Mention: Somnambulist (1.11), To Shanshu in L.A. (1.22), and Shells (5.16) barely missed this list, and I mean barely.

My Top 10 Stand-Alone Episodes:
1. Lineage (5.7)
2. Smile Time (5.14)
3. Are You Now or Have You Ever Been? (2.2)
4. Somnambulist (1.11)
5. Waiting in the Wings (3.13)
6. Five by Five/Sanctuary (1.18/19)
7. In the Dark (1.3)
8. Untouched (2.4)
9. The Prodigal (1.15)
10. I Will Remember You (1.8)
Honorable Mentions: That Old Gang of Mine (3.3); Why We Fight (5.13); Billy ( ); Sense & Sensitivity (1.6); The Bachelor Party (1.7)

Best Episodes by Important Cast Members:
-David Boreanaz—Epiphany (2.16)
-Charisma Carpenter—You’re Welcome (5.12)
-Glenn Quinn—Hero (1.9)
-Alexis Denisof—Lineage (5.7)
-J. August Richards—That Old Gang of Mine (3.3)
-Amy Acker as Fred—either Supersymmetry (4.5) or A Hole in the World (5.15), but probably Hole
-Amy Acker as Illyria—Time Bomb (5.19)
-Andy Hallett—Spin the Bottle (4.6)
-Vincent Kartheiser—Peace Out (4.21)
-James Marsters—definitely In the Dark (1.3), especially because none of them really stand out in 5th season
-Mercedes McNab—there really is nothing, but I’ll say this, Harm’s Way (5.9) is a great showcase for McNab’s comic talents, though it’s terrible plot-wise; her best scene probably comes at the end of Not Fade Away (5.22)
-Elisabeth Röhm—definitely either Sense & Sensitivity (1.6) or Somnambulist (1.11); Somnambulist overall is better for her, but that speech she makes to her father in S&S gets me every time
-Christian Kane—probably Dead End (2.18), but he’s pretty much just good in everything
-Stephanie Romanov—probably Deep Down (4.1); honestly, she doesn’t have too many stand out episodes because she is so damn good every single time she appears
-Julie Benz—either Reunion (2.10) or Lullaby (3.9), but probably Lullaby; she’s brilliant with Juliet Landau in Reunion, but her performance in Lullaby is absolutely heartbreaking (that final scene is just absolutely tremendous work)

Some Closing Thoughts:
I thoroughly enjoyed my two-month-long foray into the Buffyverse, and that includes the time I spent watching Angel. I am unashamed to admit to anyone that I like these series, not one bit. I think a lot has to do with how intricate the writers made the plots, how complex many of the characters were, and how terrific both shows were at flawlessly spanning numerous genres, oftentimes touching on three or four of them in the span of 10-15 minutes, maybe even less. I tremendously enjoyed this series, and know that, at some point in the future, I will be returning to the Buffyverse at some point.

Angel: Character Analyses

I was going to include the following in my conclusion, but I got really into them and they got really long, so I decided to do them separately. Enjoy!

Here are my thoughts on, by my reckoning, the main characters of the series, or the characters I, and you’d probably, care about to any sizeable degree by the end of the series. Overall they’re pretty long, so pick your favorite characters/those you’re most interested in reading about and scroll down until you see them

-Angel (David Boreanaz) (110 episodes, 166 total Buffyverse episodes): Angel is such an interesting character and the relative level of character development for him versus some of his co-stars is interesting. What makes it interesting is that, by the end, he isn’t the most complex character, Wesley is. But in the end that works out so much better, and it even makes tons of sense. Angel’s self-imposed semi-isolationism makes for interesting storylines, but not a ton of variability on what kind of development he can receive. The writers do a terrific job of developing him every season and finding ways to characterize his own search for identity, be that in terms of where he fits in as a vampire in a human world, how his vampiricism impacts his own humanity, how his human instincts and desire impact who he is as a vampire, how his desire for redemption leads him down paths he shouldn’t really go down, etc. As a result, the viewer receives this exceptionally full-bodied portrait of Angel. The flashbacks help to flesh out his pre-vampire background as a drunken, whoring, worthless, father-failing, father-hating scumbag, his violent days as Angelus with his single-minded desire to harm, and his unfortunate 100 years plagued by soul, spending his entire existence hiding from the sun and chasing rats, that is, until he meets Whistler (we see that in Amends (3.11) in Buffy). As a result, we feel like we know him better than we maybe do. Nevertheless, despite my qualms about his depth, I never felt like he was a shallow character, and I think credit for that goes to both the writers and David Boreanaz. In watching Boreanaz’s gradual development of Angel and his own acting skills over 8 seasons and two separate series, his ability to realize a character are really good. Initially on Buffy, Angel is a distant character, an enigma of sorts, and Boreanaz quite frankly struggles early on to act even decently until the Buffy season 1 episode Angel, in which he seems to finally figure out what he’s doing. He proceeds to rock season 2, especially as Angelus, and to destroy season 3. He takes this tremendous momentum and translates it into 5 seasons of spectacularly acted television. I don’t think I could like this series without liking its lead character, so I think that pretty much reveals my opinion on the character. What I find so damn great about the character is how, when I first started watching Buffy, I was drawn to how enigmatic the character was, but as he was made more and more complex, Boreanaz never failed to make him compelling.

-Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) (86 total episodes, 1 as guest star, 140 total Buffyverse episodes): Despite being second on this list, Cordy’s profile was the last one that I wrote. I did that mostly because it’d be pretty easy to get started on her, but also because I wanted to end on a high note. On Buffy, Cordy is merely a comic presence. She has brief moments of dramatic showcase (Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, mostly), but even those are often tinged with comic undertones. When she starts season 1 of Angel, she’s still self-centered, pretty bratty, entitled, and everything else she was on Buffy. Throughout that first season, she changes a bit, but it’s always via something that happens. Fortunately that still means she gets some development unlike others in other seasons (looking at you season 5 Lorne). Some lines in Buffy revealed some layering to Cordy (doing well on standardized tests, etc.) and those layers only increase on Angel. She has two big breakthroughs in season 1. Her first is in Rm w/a Vu where she moves from being so materialistic in determining her own self-worth to basing her self-worth on whether or not she actually earned something. The second breakthrough comes in her relationship with Doyle, in which she, despite not returning much of Doyle interest, still feels betrayed by him on one occasion and mourns deeply after he dies. Also, in season 1, since I forgot to mention it, the visions also add something to her character, something which is not really fully realized until later seasons. Season 2 offers a few changes, and mostly they involve her becoming more realistic, more aware of who she is, what she can do, what she can ask of the world. She’s Angel Investigations’ link to the world and therefore serves as Angel’s emotional link to the world, as well. When he leaves, we see a slightly different Cordy: one even more firm in her newfound dedication to helping the hopeless. Her time on Pylea is also transformative as she finally gets to live like the princess (well I guess queen in this case) she’s always wanted to live like. And she gives it up to return to earth and serve. Season 3 really begins these changes brought on due to the visions. The visions cause her to become more and more like Angel. She’s damaged and broken and has to shoulder this huge burden, but she’s wiser and stronger and better for it. That Vision Thing shows Cordy not only accepting the visions, but embracing them as an essential part of who she is. They also drive her closer and closer to death. Her decision in Birthday shows such a sense of duty and immense self-worth that previously was unheard of for Cordy. She refuses every what she’s always wanted in return for helping. She has a few more points of transformation in the season, but nothing really until season 4. In season 4, her character development is annoying. Everything she does could be assumed to not have been of her own volition. An annoying prospect, so I’m going to skip the entire season as a whole so it doesn’t piss me off. Her return to the series in You’re Welcome is amazing and is my favorite moment of hers in the entire series. It perfectly embodies everything she has become and everything that she will be missed for. Angel Investigations truly loses its emotional side. I love Cordelia Chase. I always have, even when she was just the pretty bitch on Buffy (it doesn't hurt that she's hot, just look at that picture, and still is at over 40). But I love her for such different reasons now, and I love her more than ever. I teared up while writing this, no lie, no shame. Cordy, though put on autopilot for some periods, is truly my favorite character of Angel.

-Allen Francis Doyle (Glenn Quinn) (10 episodes): Doyle is one of the my favorite things about the entire series. He is, quite simply, my favorite part about the first season. His presence is, at first, odd, mainly because it’s the first 10 minutes of the first episode of the first season of the show, but it doesn’t take much time for you to really like the guy. He, like Angel, is struggling to find himself as a sort of half-breed. I assume he came to know of Angel via his visions, but that’s really beside the point. Immediately, he becomes a sort of double to Angel. They’re both originally Irish and their both half-demon. As such, both struggle with the same issues, albeit in a very different sort of way. It’s an interesting dynamic you get with the half-demon with a soul for punishment and the half-demon with a soul by birth. Angel, obviously being the former, is more cautious, no, I don’t know, more… I’ll put it this way. Initially, he just wants to sulk. And once he’s done that for a hundred years or so until he meets Whistler. After he leaves Sunnydale and travels to L.A., he wants to help everybody (after a little coaxing), but he doesn’t know how to do it. Angel is searching for how to repay society. Doyle is very different; he’s searching not for how to repay society, but for where his place in society is. The PTB sends him visions and so he finds Angel. His relationship with Cordy is often hilarious, but his final scene with her is one of the most poignant of the entire series. As I said at the very beginning of this, Doyle is my favorite part of season 1, and I wish he had stayed on longer. Glenn Quinn was an underrated actor and he will be and has been missed.

-Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (Alexis Denisof) (101 total episodes, 1 as guest star, 110 total Buffyverse episodes): The transformation of the series can, of course, be traced by the personal inner developments Angel undergoes, but nearly as often, the series’ transformation can be traced through Wesley’s tremendous character changes and transformations. He ends up being the single most complex character on the entire series, even more so than Angel. He is, far and away, the hardest character to watch sometimes, but that’s a good thing in this case. It’s hard to watch because you can’t stand what he’s doing, but at the same time you completely understand why he’s doing it. You see yourself in his every moral quandary and in his most difficult personal situations. I wholeheartedly enjoyed his first season-and-a-half of the series, but season 3 is where the going got tough. Over his first season-and-a-half, he undergoes some pretty easy character developments that soften his character, something that Denisof had already done a bit. His prophecy translations and realizations gradually darken his character to the point where he makes probably the worst decision of his life. His decision to take Connor away from Angel was infuriating, and yet I couldn’t help but find myself completely identifying with his actions (other than the fact that I’ve never, and would never, kidnap a child). He is convinced he knows something life-saving and important, so he takes drastic measures to try to save both Connor and Angel. He takes Connor not only because he fears for Connor, but because he fears for Angel. He cares so much for Angel that nobody realizes it, not even Wesley. There are also some other contributing factors that I’ll discuss in just a bit in Gunn’s profile. The aftermath of his decision and time alone (away from Angel, Cordy, Gunn, and Fred, not completely alone) is a dark period, but it provides interesting exposition into who he’s become. His relationship with Lilah is, at first, entirely sensual. Eventually, though, it develops into something more, something neither one of them ever admits, but something that their actions and periodic statements clearly imply. He has learned to care for something again, something he prohibited himself from doing after his alienation from Angel and the team. Once he returns to the team, his pining for Fred composes much of his characterization until, of course, they finally have their chance. His love for her is so pure and true it’s amazing. The scene on the roof in Lineage is so immensely important in his transformation I cannot even begin to explain, but to do what he does to save Fred’s life is amazing and shows just how firm in his resolve he has become. The final scene of Fred’s life is one of the most poignant of the series, and much of the credit goes to Denisof. Granted, I disliked some of Denisof’s facial expressions during Fred’s illness, but that doesn’t change how well he handles Wesley’s loss. His final scene of the series is so immensely powerful that I’m beginning to tear up while writing this. Wesley isn’t an easy character to watch by any means, but he is by far the most complicated. He has changed a monumental amount since he first appeared in Buffy season 3, and I like what we end up with better than what we started with. I can’t say I love Wesley’s character because it’s such a hard character to love. I can say, however, that I love everything that the writers and Denisof did with the character. They didn’t just make a character more complex; they completely changed a character. Wesley’s transformation is more complete than any other I have ever seen on television or any other medium, and it is done so powerfully, convincing, and truthfully that I can’t help but at least like him.

-Charles Gunn (J. August Richards) (91 total episodes, 3 as guest star): I was kind of worried about Gunn’s character early on into the series. I knew he would clash brilliantly with Wesley, though eventually they end up switching places character-trait-wise in a lot of ways, but I was sort of worried his character wouldn’t end up becoming all that complex and would fall by the wayside, much in the same way Lorne ended up doing. Fortunately, however, after a rather lackluster and development-void second season (his first on the show) and a disappointing amount of development in season 3, he receives monster development in seasons 4 and 5. Season 3 promises more development of him pretty much right off the bat in That Old Gang of Mine. The episode helps him come to grips with whether or not he will consciously decide to become friends with and work for a vampire, the things he worked so hard to kill when leading the titular group. The episode really does wonders at subtly emphasizing Gunn’s methodical mind. His soldier-like mentality leads him to be forceful in his pursuit of Fred as opposed to Wesley’s more conservative approach. Their relationship, at times kind of weird (looking at you pancake kiss), shows a new, softer side to Gunn we hadn’t really seen before. Season 4 really makes Gunn an incredibly complex character. Over the course of the season, he and Wesley really complete the portions of their respective transformations that bring them into that switching places deal I talked about earlier. Gunn takes on a bigger leadership role early on in the season, which causes him to be more plan-oriented than action-oriented, the same way that Wesley used to be, and vice versa. On top of that, his personal developments that come to a head in Supersymmetry are devastating. Despite how he holds himself, he’s obviously feeling inferior to Fred because she’s a budding science nerd and he doesn’t understand one ioda of what she’s talking about. On top of that, he doesn’t understand her on a fundamentally personal level. When he steps in and completely Fred’s decision-making capabilities, we finally see that Gunn really just doesn’t understand how strong of a woman Fred really is. Just because she’s small and cute doesn’t mean there isn’t a lioness of a woman inside poised and ready to make immensely difficult decisions. This feeling of inferiority begins to bleed over into his relations with the rest of the team. It manifests not in a weepy baby, but in an increasingly volatile and hostile member of the team. His exploration in Players furthers this feeling of inferiority. The issue is not that he’s inferior, but rather that he possesses no one set of skills that no other team member possesses. His development in season 5 makes him probably the second-most complex character outside of Wesley. This feeling of inferiority because he doesn’t really have any one skill unique to the group is to agree to become a W&H lawyer, which really furthers his character. When the brain upgrade begins to fade, you really see his inferiority complex return, scared shitless that he’ll soon be rendered useless again. For far too much of the series, Gunn is relegated to the background, but when finally given the chance, his character development is fantastic and he is another ultra-likeable, if monumentally flawed, member of the team.

-Winifred Burkle (Amy Acker) (63 total episodes, sort of 62, 4 as guest star): I love Fred dearly. While Charisma Carpenter is that kind of drop dead gorgeous kind of beautiful, Amy Acker is one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen, and that cuteness can really sneak up on you. Early on she was just cute, but gradually, especially in seasons 4 and 5, she becomes . In that way she reminds me of Alison Brie on Community. Fred as a character is an interesting journey. She doesn’t really change all that much over the course of the series, but she does change. Little layers of complexity are added little by little. Probably the biggest changes come through her relationships with Gunn and Wesley. Her relationship with Gunn in described for Gunn’s character review. The events of Supersymmetry likewise play a defining role in what we view Fred to be. Her need for revenge is completely understandable, and her ability to limit her rage and mitigate her own anger is tremendously admirable. When Gunn intervenes, however, we truly see how wrong they are for each other. This eventually leads her to the waiting arms of Wesley and we get to see how meant for each other they are. Their relationship, while far too short, is really touching. Outside of that relationship, however, her 5th season characterization is decidedly lacking, something which I hope was planned as a means to lessen the blow of her transformation into Illyria, similar to George O’Malley’s phasing out in Grey’s Anatomy leading up to T.R. Knight’s departure from the show. Unfortunately, given the writing style of Angel’s writers, I doubt this is the case, but the choice they made to further Acker’s job in the show was great. I love Fred, which I guess I’m saying for just about every character, but that’s because it’s true.

-Connor (Vincent Kartheiser) (28 total episodes, 6 as guest star): I really liked his arc. He’s obviously a screwed up kid, but he was written right. His relationship with Cordy never made me think, “Man this is so unrealistic and absurd.” Sure, it made me angry, but that was more because I wanted to see Angel and Cordy have a shot. Vincent Kartheiser is a great actor, so I was really looking forward to seeing him here, and he is, indeed, quite good, but that doesn’t mean he was flawless. I found some of his moments awkward, but I think that has much, if not more, to do with the strange storyline of the 4th season than it does with Kartheiser’s portrayal. Connor is a hated character and it doesn’t take much to see why, but he’s not an evil character, he’s just really damn confused. Since he’s confused, everybody’s confused about him, so… Well, I’m not going to finish explaining that because I’m going to get confused and then we’re all going to get confused, etc. Watch the series and you’ll understand what I’m saying. I can’t say I liked Connor the character, but I liked what the character did for the series. His actions were so very realistic a lot of the time and the issues he caused did so much for the development of so many other characters.

-Lorne (Andy Hallett) (76 total episodes, 45 as guest star): What a disappointing character. Okay, that sort of came out wrong, but not really. I mean, he is so entertaining, but he never freaking goes anywhere. He appears in 45 episodes in a very supporting capacity, making always pretty funny, occasionally hysterical, peanut gallery remarks, and helping out Angel Investigations in a very unofficial capacity. But he’s so incorporated into the plot that he “needs” to become a regular. No! Especially not when you completely fail as a writing staff to effectively develop his decidedly uncomplex character. The staff tried twice to make you care emotionally about his character, The House Always Wins and Life of the Party, but failed miserably and those are arguably the two worst episodes of the entire series. So what makes it like that? Well, first of all the writing in those two episodes is of unfortunate caliber, surprising for House as it was written by David Fury, though I guess he was more hit and miss than some other well-know Buffyverse writers. On top of that, Andy Hallett isn’t the greatest of actors. Sure, his singing voice is incredible and he’s a better actor than Keanu Reeves, but he’s no Laurence Olivier, either. Even worse, his makeup and contact-colored eyes don’t really help you act, AT ALL. I think we could’ve felt for that character if he has been portrayed in a more serious manner for an extended period of time, but as it is, he isn’t, and that does the character no justice. FYI, I like Lorne, I’m just not a fan of what they did with him. So I guess that means I’m a fan of Lorne the guest star and not Lorne the starring cast member.

-Spike (James Marsters) (24 total episodes, 2 as guest star, 120 total Buffyverse episodes): Considering that Spike is far and away my favorite character in the Buffyverse, I am tremendously happy and altogether unsurprised that the writers found a way to bring him over from Buffy to Angel. That being said, my favorite episode in terms of Spike is his guest appearance in In the Dark, the third episode of the first season. I feel like, while he has this whole thing with being a ghost and then corporeal, it’s never really taken anywhere. I think the major issue with Spike’s character development during his single season on Buffy was that he wasn’t really transitioned from being merely an annoyance to actually being an important member of the team until the final episodes of the series. I can only assume he would have received more development if the series had been allowed to continue, but it wasn’t and so he isn’t.

-Illyria (Amy Acker) (8 episodes, sort of 7): I’m so glad she was finally made into a member of the cast, but I wish she had received more development. What I mean is, in the 7 full episodes in which she appears, she doesn’t really change all that much. Okay fine, her breakdown in Time Bomb is excellent and potentially provides her with some development in that non-existent 6th season I’ve been referencing periodically, but nothing beyond that every materializes. Amy Acker is an underrated actress, so I was glad when, just as Fred was beginning to shrink in character development, the writers thrust this massive change upon her, which she handles tremendously well, but that change just never went anywhere. Illyria’s a fine character, but I think I would have enjoyed her more with more time to watch her transform.

-Harmony Kendall (Mercedes McNab) (17 total episodes, 11 as guest star, 32 total Buffyverse episodes): I’m so glad Harmony was finally made into a member of the main cast, but I wish she had received more development. What I mean is, her character is great by itself and Mercedes McNab does a really excellent job of being background comedic relief, but not much else. I think the writers might have found a way to further develop her character if given more seasons, despite her fate at the end of the 5th season, but alas they were not. What we’re left with is a charming and funny, if not terribly bright or complex character.

-Kate Lockley (Elisabeth Röhm) (15 episodes, all as guest star): The best part about Kate is how completely unnecessary her character is, but how incredibly compelling she is and how well she is used to flesh out the show’s main characters in the first two seasons. In many ways, these are the best types of characters. When you can watch a show incorporating so much previous knowledge of constantly transforming character traits and have this character who comes in and out of roughly one-quarter of a season’s episodes, shedding an immense amount of light on the main cast members, but not really doing anything that’s completely necessary for further story, you know a character is truly special. Case and point. After Angel and Kate’s falling out, her disillusionment with Angel and how he’s handling the whole situation sheds tons of light on who he is, but her disillusionment isn’t actually integral to the overarching plot of what’s going on in the season. I had really hoped that she would become a series regular, but that not happening does nothing to lessen my affection for the character. I think a large portion of what makes her so endearing what Elisabeth Röhm does with the character. She does a brilliant job of making you care about Kate and literally everything she is going through without ever seeming like she’s begging. When she needs to, she also has a terrific chemistry with David Boreanaz. In some ways I’m glad Röhm went from law and order on Angel to Law & Order because I feel like, had she become a regular cast member, she would have needed an actual purpose for being in the show. It’s an issue that I feel doomed Lorne, as I’ve stated above, and I think Kate’s character would have suffered as a result. She’s an excellent plot device, and you could always count on Elisabeth to give a strong, if not tremendously powerful (see Sense & Sensitivity and Somnambulist), performance. Frankly the only thing I wish is that she had received an episode of closure. She never really completed her journey in many ways, and that kind of bugged for a while after her departure.

-Lindsey McDonald (Christian Kane) (21 episodes, all as guest star): What a confusing guy. For the first season, Lindsey is very much the go-to-for-evil guy. He was the up-and-comer at W&H, and Holland Manners (one of the Whedonverse’s greatest villainous creations) knew it. Almost all of his actions in the first two seasons, but especially in the second season, made you want to despise him, and few of them made you feel some sort of pity and understanding for the guy, at least until you realized just how much he actually cared about doing what was right, which was never very much at all. Nevertheless, I still liked his character, which may have to do with Christian Kane’s next major TV character, Eliot Spencer on Leverage, which I watched for the first few seasons and enjoyed. Nevertheless, he still makes you sort of feel for his character. When he returns to season 5, he’s changed slightly and no longer wants anything to do with good, not even for his own gain. His fate at the end of the series almost made me feel bad. I guess what I like most about him is how important he was to making W&H the firm we experience in the series.

-Lilah Morgan (Stephanie Romanov) (36 episodes, all as guest star): Honestly, Lilah might be my favorite character in the Angel universe. If Lindsey hadn’t left for two seasons and then returned in a form that was more annoying than evil, he might have that distinction, but I think Lilah may take the cake. For much of the series, for the viewer, she is the face of Wolfram and Hart, and, as such, dictates much of what the viewer thinks about the firm as a whole. And what does we think about the firm as a whole? Well, personally, I think is probably the single best villain in the Buffyverse. What I mean by that is, during its period of importance (which frankly is all of Angel), it is the best. Spike as a character is better, but he wasn’t as fully developed until after Buffy season 2. A large portion of what makes her so good is how magnificently she is portrayed episode-in and episode-out by Stephanie Romanov. She is cold and calculating, but she is also passionate. She know what she wants, and she’s willing to do anything, ANYTHING, to get it. The issue for everybody trying to stop her drive and support of evil (and W&H’s) is that what she and the firm want is always shifting and progressing, they just know exactly what their goal at every point in time. Her relationship with Wesley is at first startling, though I guess not really now that I think about what Wesley has become when they begin. Nevertheless, I am satisfied by what it eventually turns into. The fact that they clearly begin to actually love and care for each other to a degree beyond pure physical, sexual attraction, as shown through the mutual, if sometimes lapsing, trust they have for each other, is great to see.

-Darla (Julie Benz) (20 episodes, all as guest star, 25 total Buffyverse episodes): What a fantastic character! The Darla in season 1 of Buffy is boring and pretty much useless, much like the rest of the entire villainous realm of season 1. Her 20 appearances in Angel, however, make her one of the most complex character in the entire Buffyverse. Julie Benz’s work with Juliet Landau in season 2 is truly some terrific stuff and does wonders for fleshing out the Darla we already sort of knew. The season 3 Darla is a different story entirely. Her short arc is tremendous in both its effect on her and on the characters around her. Her newfound is humanity is an amazing and wholly believable development. By the end of her time on the series, I loved Darla’s character.

Well, that’s that. I’ll post the conclusion tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Angel: Seasons 3-5

Darla: No. No, I don't think so. Once he's gone, I won't be okay. I won't be okay at all. I don't know what I'll be. Angel... Our baby is gonna die right here in this alley. You died in an alley, remember?
Angel: I remember.
Darla: I wanna say I'm sorry. I wanna say it and mean it, but - I can't. Aren't you gonna tell me it's okay.
Angel: No.
Darla: No? It's really not, is it? We did so many terrible things together. So much destruction, so much - pain. We can't make up for any of it. You know that, don't you
Angel: Yeah.
Darla: This child - Angel, it's the one good thing we ever did together. The only good thing. You make sure to tell him that.
-exchange in Lullaby

There is a section in the first act, during the courtship dance, where my foot slips. My ankles turned and - and I don't quite hold - every time. He doesn't notice. He doesn't even know ballet that well. But always, at that same moment, I slip. It isn't just the same ballet. It's the same performance. I don't dance. I echo. -Ballerina in Waiting in the Wings

Dearest Steven, This is a most difficult letter for me to write. You mean more to me than anything in this world or any other. But your best interests must come first, which is why, by the time you receive this, I will be gone. I hope one day you will be able to forgive an old man's weaknesses, which compels him to say these things in a letter. But to attempt a good-bye in your presence would be impossible for me. I fear I would never let you go. And I must let you go. I know that if I didn't you would only end up hating me. And that I could not bear. Your destiny lies with Angel. I know that now. You will have a better life with him. I'm comforted by that certainty and the knowledge that with him you will discover your true purpose and come to know what it is you are meant to be. -voiceover by Holtz in Benediction

Season 3: In its third season, the series continues to star Boreanaz, Carpenter, Denisof, and Richards. It also adds Amy Acker to the opening credits as Winifred “Fred” Burkle. Andy Hallett returns in nearly every episode and Stephanie Romanov returns in most of them. Keith Szarabajka and Jack Conley appear as Daniel Holtz and Sahjhan, respectively. Holtz has a long-held grudge and Sahjhan’s just a demon who thrives on destruction and whatever. Daniel Dae Kim also recurs as Lilah’s law firm nemesis, Gavin Park. Laurel Holloman recurs as Justine Cooper, a woman who’s sister was killed by vamps and now has a personal vendetta against vamps, no matter who they are. Mark Lutz recurs as the Groosalugg, a humanoid introduced in the Pylea triad at the end of season 2, and John Rubinstein recurs as Linwood Murrow, the new head of W&H’s L.A. office. Julie Benz returns for 5 episodes, 3 of which compose an excellent trio of episodes. David Denman is introduced and appears in a few episodes as the scary-looking and powerful, but charismatic and frequently humorous demon Skip. Future mad man Vincent Kartheiser appears several times at the end of the season as Connor, Angel’s son.

Best Season 3 Episodes:
-That Vision Thing—In possible the season’s best episode, Angel, after Lilah persuades him to, travels to a prison guarded by the demon Skip to release a prisoner of the PTB.
-That Old Gang of Mine—An underrated episode in which Gunn is torn between loyalties to Angel and the rest of the team and to his old gang when his old gang starts taking out demons and vamps just for shits and giggles.
-Fredless—A decent enough episode, this is the first real character development for Fred’s character. I also enjoyed how genuinely kind and loving her parents are, especially given the Buffyverse’s tracked record where that’s concerned (outside of Joyce, of course).
-Billy—A really great episode, a man named Billy with the ability to get other men to brutalize women puts Fred in danger at the hands of Wesley and Gunn.
-Offspring—The first part of the excellent Darla triad, Darla arrives at the Hyperion pregnant as the team researches a prophecy about the arrival of a being with a huge impact on the world.
-Quickening—In the second of three Darla entries, Holtz begins to search for Angel, while the team tries to figure out more about the baby.
-Lullaby—In definitely the best episode of the season, Holtz hunts Angel while Darla gives birth to their son.
-Birthday—Skip comes on Cordy’s birthday and tells her that her visions are going to kill her unless she goes back in time and chooses a different path in life.
-Waiting in the Wings—Easily retitled “Angel Investigations Goes to the Ballet”, this starts out seeming like it’s not going to be very good, and then proceeds to be fantastic. They go to the ballet, where Angel realizes that the performers are the same dancers he saw perform the same show 110 years before.
-Loyalty—Wesley obsesses over and dreads the eventual fulfillment of the prophecy he has translated, “The father will kill the son.”
-Sleep Tight—In possibly the biggest character turning point of the entire series, Wesley takes Connor away from Angel in an attempt to save him.
-Forgiving—Angel searches of Sahjhan to learn more about the prophecy Wesley had acted upon while Fred and Gunn search for Wesley.
-A New World—Angel’s son returns as a teenager and Angel tries to catch him.
-Benediction—Holtz tries to use Connor to get to Angel, and Justine learns of Holtz’s return.
-Tomorrow—In a powerful episode, Angel and Cordy plan to meet to finally acknowledge their mutual feeling and discuss their collective future, but things don’t go according to plan.

Overall Season 3 Review: This is a great season of TV. Not quite as perfect as season 2 nor even as excellent as seasons 1 and 5, but still really great. I’m pretty sure I like this season more than most, and I’m proud of that. Oddly, many of the episodes some people tend to think are great I find to be just above average and vice versa, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. There were sections of this season that I found amazingly good (like the Darla triad, I don’t actually know if that’s a word) and others that I found altogether unworthy of sections like the Darla sequence. For me, any downsides of the season are saved in that three-episode sequence. Additionally, the middle section of the season is immensely strong, quality-wise.
Thematically, the season continues to explore humanity as all of them do, this time in terms of what makes humans tick. It delves into the innate responsibilities of being human. This obviously comes to a head in Lullaby, when Darla and Angel’s child is born.
I initially wrote here that the character development is relatively minimal, but then I started writing about it and realized that it's actually quite strong. Wesley receives by far the largest development, what with his immense inner struggle and eventual disastrous decision to try to save Connor. Cordy also gets a tremendous change in Birthday, but then she becomes frankly, well, boring, and I don’t just mean her transformations are boring. She, the character, is boring. Also, I’m fine that Angel and Gunn didn’t receive as much characterization this season (though Gunn did receive some nice work in That Old Gang of Mine), but I wish that Fred and W&H had been developed. Stephanie Romanov and her consistently excellent depiction of Lilah Morgan are the only thing keeping W&H at its position of hatred in the viewers’ mind this season. Linwood Morrow is truly lackluster in comparison to the truly detestable Holland Manners and Gavin Park just isn’t given much.
It’s interesting. As I was watching the season, I though after most of the episodes, “Damn. That was really good.” But once I got to the end of the season, I thought, “I need to start watching the fourth season because this third one didn’t really finish saying anything or really go a ton of places.” In other words, unlike every single other Buffyverse season, I am sad to say that this one might be less than the sum of its parts. That being said, the sum of its parts is so great that the entirety of the season being less than it still adds up to an incredible season. As I said, each episode is a great watch, I just wish it all meant a little bit more when all was said and done.
Season Score: 9/10

Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. It’s harsh and cruel. That’s why there’s us. Champions. It doesn’t matter where we come from, what we’ve done or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be.
-Angel in Deep Down

Season 4: Season 4 sees the return of Boreanaz, Carpenter, Denisof, Richards, and Acker to the regular cast. It also adds Kartheiser to that list starting with the first episode of the season and finally adds Andy Hallett to the crew in the season’s 14th episode. Stephanie Romanov continues to recur, as does Daniel Dae Kim until a handful of episodes in when he gets killed. He proceeds to go get himself Lost. Firefly-star Gina Torres appears in 5 of the last 6 episodes of the season as Jasmine, the eventual main villain of the season. Eliza Dushku returns for a few episodes, and Alexa Davalos recurs in a few as well as Gwen Raiden, a mutant human with the ability to funnel electricity. Julie Benz, David Denman, Alyson Hannigan, Laurel Holloman, and John Rubinstein all appear in the same roles they have before, each for a single episode. Jonathan Woodward, best-known as Holden in Convos with Dead People, appears in the final episode as future recurring character Knox, a scientist at W&H.

Best Season 4 Episodes:
-Deep Down—In an excellent episode, with Cordy still stuck on a mystical plane after her meeting with Skip, Wesley attempts to retrieve Angel with the forced cooperation of Justine.
-Ground State—Angel, Fred, and Gunn try to steal an object that could help find Cordy, but an electrically gifted thief name Gwen wants it too.
-Slouching Toward Bethlehem—Cordy finally returns from never-never land, but can’t remember squat about anything, not even who she is.
-Supersymmetry—In a great episode, Fred’s has a scientific article published and speaks at a science symposium, but some bad stuff happens and Fred and Gunn have to make a monumentally difficult decision.
-Spin the Bottle—In a fantastically entertaining, but still worthwhile episode, Lorne attempts to restore Cordy’s memory, but instead reverts everybody to their teenage personalities.
-Apocalypse, Nowish—In a pretty great episode, Cordy, plagued by nightmares, sees them come to fruition when the Beast emerges. Cordy and Connor get together, showing the first signs that something’s not fine with the Mudville 9.
-Long Day’s Journey—A discovery about the answer to the Beast problem leads the gang to suspect the answer lies with Connor. Gwen returns and helps Angel search for and try to save some mystical totems in order to prevent the Beast from blotting out the sun.
-Awakening—In a pretty good episode, Wesley brings in a dark mystic to try to remove Angel’s soul in an attempt to locate and destroy the Beast.
-Soulless—Angelus is interrogated by Wesley and the team as they attempt to figure out how to kill the Beast.
-Calvary—The team discovers that the Beast has a far more powerful master, but they’re unaware of exactly how close that power really is to them.
-Salvage—In a really great episode, Wesley frees Faith from prison to help capture Angelus and take out the Beast while Angelus goes after the Beast in his own right
-Release—In what I find to be an underrated episode, Angelus continues to search for the Beast while Faith tries to contain Angelus.
-Orpheus—In a really great episode, Willow returns to restore Angel’s soul while Angelus and Faith, both in comas, relive Angel’s good deeds.
-Players—Gwen gets Gunn to help her find a device to control her abilities and Lorne tries to regain his empathic powers.
-Inside Out—The team finally learns about Jasmine’s future birth through Cordy and Darla attempts to convince Connor to preserve his oh so precious humanity.
-Peace Out—After a series of lackluster efforts in the Jasmine storyline, this one is excellent. Angel travels to another dimension where he searches for Jasmine’s true name. Meanwhile, Connor searches for Cordy.
-Home—In pretty good execution of an excellent idea, W&H makes angel and the team an offer they can’t refuse. Connor goes over the edge and Angel must make a painful decision.

Overall Season 4 Review: This fourth season falters ever so slightly for lots of the same, albeit differently shaped, issues that season 6 of Buffy ran into. The season has really lofty ambitions, and it just can’t quite get there. This is, of course, not to say that it’s a bad season of television, it’s just not up to par with the rest of the series. I think the issue is that the show tried to combine its free storytelling style with serial drama. While pretty much every other season in the Buffyverse does indeed have a season-long story arc, this season is pretty much 22 episodes of the same story. A good number of the episodes begin where the last one ended. Unfortunately, it just ended up that the writers bit off more than they could chew. That’s not to say the episodes are ad, they just aren’t as good. There isn’t really a stand out episode, except for maybe the season premier, Deep Down. For pretty much the entire season, a really great episode was followed by a mediocre episode and vice versa, which really does nothing for quality consistency.
I thought the character developments here were quite well done. Cordy’s development is pretty hardcore (unlike many, I was actually really ok with how her character was developed during this season). Connor’s also taken to some dark places that wouldn’t have been possible if not for Vincent Kartheiser’s excellent acting making it believable. Wesley’s emotional maturation is expertly done and Gunn is finally given the character development attention he deserves, finally becoming respected for more than just brawn. Angel’s struggle to understand and connect with Connor were decent enough, but I feel like they could’ve been taken further and weren’t. Jasmine is a perfectly fine character, but she gets kind of annoying after a while.
This season wasn’t terrible, just not as good as it could have been.
Season Score: 8.5/10

Tell me, father, what is it that galls you so, that I was never as good at the job as you, or that I just might be better? -Wesley to his father in Lineage

Cordelia: I naturally assumed you’d be lost without me, but this!?
Angel: I am lost without you.
Cordelia: You just forgot who you are.
Angel: Remind me.
Cordelia: Uh, no. That’s for you to figure out, bubba. I can tell you who you were: a guy who always fought his hardest for what was right, even when he couldn’t remember why, even when he was miserable, which was, let’s face it, a not small portion of the time. He did right. And that gave him something. A light, a glimmer, and that’s the guy I fell in… the um, the guy I knew. I see him around here, and maybe I’ll start believing.
-exchange in You’re Welcome

Angel: She asked me to breakfast.
Wesley: Breakfast. Right. How did you respond?
Angel: Well... of course, I -ahem- ignored it complete, changed the subject, and locked her in a cage.
-exchange in Smile Time

Groofus: I've been working on this great new song about the difference between analogy and metaphor. (Polo throws at and hits him in the head) Man!
Polo: Are you out of your mind?
Groofus: Well, we want it to be good, don't we?
Polo: We eat babies' lives!
Groofus: And uphold a certain standard of quality edu-tainment
-exchange in Smile Time

Season 5: In this fifth and final season of Angel, Boreanaz, Denisof, Richards, Acker, and Hallett stick around as the main cast. James Marsters joins the party in the first episode and Mercedes McNab, after recurring in 7 of the Buffyverse’s 12 seasons and a total of 26 episodes, joins the main cast in the 17th episode of the season. Sarah Thompson recurs as Eve in slightly less than half of the season. Christian Kane returns to the series as Lindsey McDonald after being absent since the end of the second season. Jonathan Woodward returns as Knox, and Firefly-star Adam Baldwin joins as Marcus Hamilton. Dennis Christopher appears in a few episodes, as do Vincent Kartheiser, Juliet Landau, and Tom Lenk (as Andrew Wells). Julie Benz and Jack Conley each returns for a single episode. Roy Dotrice appears once as Wesley’s overbearing father, and Charisma Carpenter also makes a guest appearance in a single episode.

Best Season 5 Episodes:
-Conviction—After taking over W&H, Angel and the team struggle to adapt to their new surroundings. At the very end of the episode, Spike materializes out of the amulet he used to save the world in Chosen. Only issue: he’s a ghost.
-Just Rewards—The episode struggles a bit because of some storytelling style issues, but I liked it. It should have told everything from Spike’s viewpoint, but never did.
-Unleashed—This isn’t a great episode, or even a really good one. It’s pretty good, but I liked the character of Nina, despite her relative incomplexity.
-Hell Bound—This is a great episode, but it suffers because it never ends up saying anything. The episode centers on Spike’s more and more frequent disappearing acts, which are him slipping into Hell for short periods. The issue is that you finish the episode knowing no more about Spike than you did when you started.
-Lineage—In this perfect episode, Wesley’s overbearing Watcher father visits unannounced during an invasion of W&H by cyborg assassins. This is truly a remarkable episode and features what I consider to be Alexis Denisof’s finest performance in the Buffyverse.
-Destiny—A terrific episode in which a mysterious package makes Spike corporeal again. Angel and Spike battle each other for the “Cup of Perpetual Torment” in order to settle the conflict over which vamp with a soul is really the one being talked about in the Shanshu Prophecy.
-Harm’s Way—This is by no means a great episode, and I honestly had hoped it would be a little better when I finally realized it was going to be about Harmony, but it was decent nonetheless, and it featured Harmony, which is awesome.
-Soul Purpose—In this pretty good episode, Lindsey returns, claiming to be Doyle (that heartless bastard) to convince Spike that he’s really the vamp champ. Angel, meanwhile, is plagued by nightmares about his destiny of redemption being claimed by Spike.
-Damage—The beginning to an incredible succession of episodes, Angel and Spike hunt down a psychotic potential Slayer, given Slayer strength and stuff by Willow’s magic at the end of Buffy, who has escaped from her mental institution and believes that Spike is drove her insane.
-You’re Welcome—In probably not the best, but probably my favorite, episode of the season, Cordy awakens from her coma after a series of visions of Angel in trouble. The episode is tremendous as it shows Cordy’s attempts to steer Angel back from the edge of dejection. The final scene between Angel and Cordy is incredibly emotionally powerful. For me, this is Charisma Carpenter’s finest hour in the Buffyverse.
-Why We Fight—I like this one better than most, I think. It’s mostly a period piece that takes place during WWII on a captured U-boat. That being said, it suffers some because it doesn’t use era dialogue in its period segments. It also suffers because, instead of using a demon, they insert Spike and two cronies into the plot, a stretch and a bother. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting storyline and I really enjoyed it.
-Smile Time—This is quite possibly the funniest episode in the Buffyverse, and that’s saying something. Not only that, but it’s also quite convincing as a dramatic and sometimes even legitimately frightening episode. While investigating some mysterious occurrences he attributes to a children’s morning show called Smile Time, Angel gets turned into a puppet. Hysterics and strong emotional ramifications follow. Angel ends up closer to his own humanity than when he began.
-A Hole in the World—The team desperately tries to find a cure for Fred, infected by a demon imprisoned inside a sarcophagus. Fred’s death scene is immensely poignant, and while I hate to say that I kind of like that they killed Fred off since she was such a fabulously lovable character, In an attempt to save Fred from Illyria’s grasp, Angel and Spike travel to England where they meet a kind figure from Angel’s past and discover a hold in the world.
-Shells—Angel and Spike unsuccessfully attempt to restore Fred. Gunn has some painful news and Wesley has some violent emotional reactions. Illyria encounters the inconvenient truth of her modern existence. The montage at the end of the episode is pretty poignant.
-Underneath—In a very good episode, Angel, Spike, and Gunn travel to a suburban hell dimension run by the Senior Partners to track down Lindsey with the hope that he has info on the Senior Partners that will help the team out.
-Origin—In a really good episode, Connor’s new parents seek help from W&H about his supernatural abilities. (Due to some plot details revealed earlier in the season, Angel’s the only major person who knows about Connor.) Wesley’s past comes back to haunt him when his memory is restored.
-Time Bomb—In this great episode, Illyria’s power is destabilizing, causing her to jump uncontrollably through time. When the team tries to stop her, she kills them all. Amy Acker’s performance her is incredible.
-The Girl in Question—Not even a pretty good episode, but a damn funny one.
-Power Play—In this fabulous episode, the team begins to doubt Angel’s loyalty and intentions after some highly questionable decisions he makes. While Spike searches for Illyria, Drogyn arrives to tell him that Angel tried to kill him. This all eventually leads to a huge, great reveal at the end.
-Not Fade Away—Talk about fantastic episode, I just wish this hadn’t been the last one. After revealing everything that he’s been plotting over the last several months and how the team is going to start taking down the Senior Partners, the team spends a final day doing what they love before attacking the Senior Partners, with some great and some terrible consequences.

Overall Season 5 Review: This is an excellent season of television, I just wish it hadn’t been the series’ last. This is probably my 3rd-favorite season of the series. The reason I rank it below season 1 is that it just doesn’t have that continuous string of good-to-great episodes. The episode quality consistency just isn’t there. Sure, there are a ton of great episodes, but there are also a handful of really mediocre ones, too. The first 4 or so episodes of the season are decent enough, but the 5th and 6th border on really bad. Luckily, then we get Lineage and the rest of the season has a really, really excellent run, with the obvious exceptions of Harm’s Way and The Girl in Question, which were, I hope, always intended to be entertaining, but lightweight, episodes. Season 1 had about 3-4 mediocre episodes and 1 bad one. Season 5 has 6 and 2 of the same.
The character development continues to be strong, though I continued to dislike what the writers did with Lorne. He’s totally sidelined to making the occasional witticism. He never does anything, leaving a character I loved when he first started recurring way back 4 seasons prior a tragically underdeveloped, very two-dimensional (bordering on one-dimensional) character. The one attempt they made to add some complexity to his character, Life of the Party, failed miserably at making you care about his emotions really at all. Gunn didn’t receive too much emotional development, but he does become a more complex character through his intelligence implant, a development I liked even better after he lost the suit. For most of the season, Angel undergoes the same sort of character arc he does in season 2. He begins to slip into darkness and has to be pulled back out. The big reveal at the end of the season is a fabulous change of pace for Angel’s personal emotional struggles. Obviously, the biggest character developments happen to Fred, or rather Amy Acker, and to Wesley. Amy Acker handles her two characters brilliantly, and her work in the episodes in which she’s required to portray both Illyria and Fred is unqualified brilliance. Wesley is forced to undergo a huge amount of emotional development over the course of the season, and the writers do a uniformly excellent job of making his entire transformation, in a continuation of season 4, entirely believable and powerful. Denisof also does a fantastic job acting his changes, though I did feel like too many of his facial expressions during some of his close-ups during the latter half of the seasons were bothersome.
Overall, I feel like this season did a better job of wrapping up the series than the 7th season did of wrapping up Buffy. I say this despite the fact that season 5 wasn’t supposed to be Angel’s last and it only was because Joss Whedon got a little overzealous in asking WB for a renewal. Angel and the team’s struggle against the Senior Partners, and evil and darkness in general, is going to go on more a long time after this season ends, so having the series ending with the team uniting about to go into battle is a great way to finish it.
Season Score: 9.5/10