Angel: Season 4, Episodes 13, 14 and 15: Salvage/Release/Orpheus
Written by David Fury; Directed by Jefferson Kibbee
Written by Steven S. DeKnight, Elizabeth Craft & Sarah Fain; Directed by James A. Contner
Written by Mere Smith; Directed by Terrence O’Hara
Based on these three episodes of Angel, I’m convinced that the goings-on during the season of 2002-2003 were considerably better in Los Angeles than in Sunnydale. Okay, so you get some bad ideas, like the dodgy and mildly-incestuous relationship between Cordelia and Connor (not literally, because they’re not blood relatives, but she always struck me as something of the mother figure in the unofficial Angel Investigations family), not to mention the crummy Jasmine storyline that was thrown in late in the game only so Joss Whedon could give another of his Firefly actors a job after that show was cancelled. Still, it’s a hell of a lot more potent and focused than Buffy’s seventh season. It’s considerably better shot (by many of the same directors who were doing such an indifferent job on Buffy), the actors seem to be more engaged, and there’s genuine character development instead of people just saying and doing whatever will service the plot. Plus, who couldn’t like the new, super-cool Wesley, with his designer stubble, sawn-off shotgun and no-nonsense attitude? This is one character who’s certainly come an extremely long way since he was first introduced to the Buffyverse.
I also notice that a genuine effort is made to build on the theme of redemption that was a big issue for Faith back in Season 1 of Angel. She’s only on the show for three episodes this season, but she gets considerably more character development than she does in Buffy’s five, where she does little more than get it on with Wood and say “yo” a lot. Additionally, in her brief guest stint in the third episode, Willow seems more alive than she does at any point on Buffy this year. It’s bizarre, but Mere Smith, who had never written the character before, manages to portray Willow’s “voice” with considerably more skill than those who had been writing her for years. Granted, the Willow that appears on Angel has a lot more in common with Buffy Seasons 1-3 Willow than the less quirky one that emerged later on, but I’m willing to forgive that given that, for the first time in ages, Alyson Hannigan actually seems to be enjoying playing the character. Her scenes with Wesley (Hannigan is married to Alexis Denisof in real life) are also nice, in an in-joke sort of way. I should also point out that it’s kind of embarrassing how much more chemistry she has with Amy Acker (Fred) than Iyari Limon (Kennedy), despite the fact that they only get a couple of scenes together. If they had to pair Willow up with anyone during the final season of Buffy (short of bringing Tara back), it should have been her.
What’s not forgiveable, though, is the ease with which Willow performs the re-ensoulment spell. Given that, on Buffy, it’s been stressed that she has a hard time performing even the most basic enchantments without threatening to slide back into Dark Willow mode, it’s a major oversight that she seems able to pull off one of the most complicated spells in existence here without batting an eyelid.
Overall rating: 8/10 for Salvage, and 7/10 for Release and Orpheus.
Next time: back to Buffy for Dirty Girls.