Kids, we made it through five seasons of the spin-off of my favorite television series of all time. It’s taken a hair over three years to get here, with the first four seasons of Angel running concurrently with my rewatch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
In recognition of this
historic milestone sort of cool thing, I thought I would give Angel the same Top 10 list treatment that I gave Buffy when I finished that show. Unfortunately, this is proving to be a lot more difficult with Angel than it was for Buffy. Thing is, I know most of Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s seven seasons like the back of my hand. If someone were to give me an episode title, I could probably give you a fairly accurate synopsis of that episode. I can’t say I know all five seasons of Angel quite as well. But I’m giving it the old college try.
You’ll notice that each episode in the Top 10 is linked back to the blog post that I wrote for that particular episode, so feel free to go back and check it out if you need a lengthier reminder of how awesome each episode was.
In one of the most difficult episodes to watch, the audience is forced to say good-bye to the character of Winifred Burkle. However, we also say hello to Illyria. Both of these distinctly different characters are brilliantly portrayed by Amy Acker, who pulls off the transformation from the sweet and intelligent Fred into a cold and calculating ancient demon. Part of the difficulty involved with this episode comes in watching Wesley as he desperately tries to comfort Fred in her final hours. Wes has been in love with Fred since she was brought on as a main character at the start of the third season and they are finally able to give their love a chance when Fred is infected by Illyria and destroyed. Try not to cry watching this episode.
There isn’t a whole lot I like about Season 4 of Angel. But I’m always a fan of the Angelus persona surfacing within Angel. The reasons for bringing forth Angelus are drawn out and complicated, but it all leads to Wes breaking Faith, the formerly rogue Slayer, out of prison so she can help bring Angelus in without killing him. This episode represents the end of the Angelus arc. While Willow visits from Sunnydale to help find and restore Angel’s soul, Faith takes a tour through Angel’s tortured memories, with Angelus as an unenthusiastic tour guide. Ever since their time on Buffy, it’s been clear that Angel and Faith share a great deal in common, as both are damaged and both seek redemption. Also, we get the origin of Angel’s love of the Barry Manilow hit, “Mandy.”
All right, this is the only other Season 4 episode I’m choosing because I refuse to enjoy any more of Season 4. This episode is one of those rare bright spots that throws in a pretty decent mix of humor with the serious tone that Angel took this season. Cordelia has returned to this dimension after spending the summer as a higher being on some higher plain of existence. But she can’t remember who she is or anything else for that matter. So Lorne performs a spell that’s meant to restore her memories. But it goes a little wrong and instead reverts the gang back to their 17-year-old selves. Sadly, it’s the last time we get to experience the real Cordelia until her return in the 100th episode.
Speaking of which… This is kind of brilliant. Because we get Cordy back. The real Cordelia Chase. Not some demented former power that be that’s decided to hijack Cordelia’s body. What the creators of this show did to her character in the fourth season is a crime. I’m not saying that bringing her back for one more episode is enough to redeem what they did to her for an entire season. Maybe if they had brought her back for all of Season 5 I could consider forgiveness. Anyway, Cordelia seemingly wakes from the coma she’s been in since that higher power gave birth to itself… seriously, how stupid is Season 4? She has a vision and needs to put Angel back on the right path. It’s so great to see Cordelia and Angel side by side again because they really did have great chemistry together.
After some insane happenings in Season 2, Darla has returned to LA great with child. Angel’s child. Two vampires getting it on and making a baby should be an impossibility. But here she is, about to pop. On top of this, an old foe of Darla and Angelus, Holtz, has been brought into the present by a demon named Sahjhan, who desperately wants the man-out-of-time to hunt down and kill Darla and Angel. Just as the vampire hunter catches up to the vampires, Darla sacrifices herself so that her baby can be born. Welcome to the world, Connor.
Angel goes about as dark as he can go without losing his soul and reverting to Angelus. At the tail end of the first season, Wolfram & Hart brought Darla back to life as a human, using her to torment Angel for a time. It’s discovered that she’s dying from the disease that should have killed her in her first human life, had it not been for the intervention of the Master. This time, Drusilla is the one who sires Darla, and the two of them go on an insane killing spree. And when their spree ends in the wine cellar of Wolfram & Hart’s head of special projects, Angel just allows the slaughter to continue. And when Angel’s team confront him about crossing the line, he fires them. See? Dark.
It’s the one where Angel got turned into a puppet. Need I say more?
It wasn’t the first Buffy crossover episode, but it was the first time that Buffy herself made an appearance on Angel. Sarah Michelle Gellar guest starred in an episode that saw Angel turned back into a human after accidentally getting infected with demon blood that had healing properties. Angel and Buffy are able to spend a perfect day together. Then Angel realizes that he needs to go back to being the vampire with a soul because there’s too much evil in the world that he needs to be able to fight. He makes a deal with the Powers That Be to turn the clock back, allowing him to change what needed to be changed. Problem is, Angel’s the only one who would remember the events of the lost day, leaving Buffy with only a quick confrontation about Angel showing up in Sunnydale for Thanksgiving and not saying hi. Their good-bye prior to time turning back is kind of heartbreaking.
It’s Cordelia’s birthday! If you want an episode that really shows the growth that her character has gone through after three seasons of Buffy and two and a half seasons of Angel, this is the one to watch. Cordelia has been
blessed cursed with visions from the Powers That Be ever since Doyle sacrificed himself in the Season 1 episode, Hero. But a normal human was never meant to bear that burden. It’s just too much… and it’s killing her. So she’s given a choice… She can give up the visions and even give up the last two years of her life for what used to be her dream. And Cordelia is given a glimpse of that dream life, where she’s a famous actress and basically America’s sweetheart. But she’s still drawn to Angel and a desire to help people. Because that’s how much she’s grown since we first saw her as a self-obsessed brat in Welcome to the Hellmouth. Instead of her dream life, Cordelia chooses to become part demon so she can handle the visions. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Cordelia Chase had the most amazing character arc in the entire Buffyverse. And then they threw her in the garbage in Season 4.
Is it a cop out to pick the series finale as my favorite episode? Maybe. But it’s kind of funny because I mentioned in the post for this episode that I hated it the first time I saw it. Angel had been unceremoniously cancelled by The WB network and we weren’t getting a Season 6. So we were given a finale with a cliffhanger because, when the episode was filmed, the showrunners weren’t sure yet if there would be a Season 6. There were plans for a sixth season, but those plans never saw the light of day. Unless you count the follow-up comic series that came out a few years later. Anyway, having matured or whatever… I’ve come to realize that Not Fade Away was a perfect way to end this series. To end with our surviving heroes continuing to fight no matter what? That just drives home the point that Angel had been trying to make throughout its entire run. Evil is always going to exist. But the good guys don’t have to stand by and let evil have its way. They fight. And they keep fighting. When I really think about it, it’s kind of a brilliant ending.
So, that’s that. Out of five seasons and 110 total episodes, which ones stand out to you? Let me know what you think down in the comments!