ANGEL SEASON TWO
aka Step At A TimeNew Team Member
Wonderful. Who doesn't love Krevlorneswath of Deathwok Clan? No one that's welcome at my table, thank you very much.Strengths
-Hot redheads. Look, I'm just going to put this out there. One thing that Angel
has over its predecessor is a steady stream of comely crimsons filling in the margins. There's Eve, Bethany the unstable telekinetic, Wes's rich ladyfriend, the chick the physics nerd tries to freeze in time, and I suppose Justine, if dour hunchbacks do it for you. No judgments. Probably a few others I'm forgetting, but as a gentleman with a taste for ginger, I appreciate the effort.
-Caritas is a fantastic setting, and allows for some terrific comic business, with Boreanaz and Carpenter proving especially adept at laughably horrible singing. That's nowhere near as easy as it seems, by the by.
As I got at before, this is a functional counterpoint to the dynamic that didn't work with Kate and the LAPD in S1 (Merle provides a similarly flipped street-level source of info after Gunn proved capable of greater things). That it introduces us to Lorne's debonair, Sea Breezin' self is just icing on top of icing.
-Case in point: possibly the funniest moment of the whole series comes when the gang regroups after being fired and gets into a boozy three-way argument that is interrupted by a glorious jump cut to an even boozier three-way butchering of "We Are The Champions".
-Lilah gains prominence on the W&H front. Christian Kane does fine work as Lindsay, but I like that Lilah is less wishy-washy about her badness, and how she oscillates between officiously evil and plain ol' bitchy. Plus, you know, HAWT.
-Kate gets written out, and as has become typical, a disappointing character is at their best when being dismantled. Having her ostracized and eventually ejected from the force makes her more sympathetic, and this storyline doesn't waste so much time trying to insert Angel directly in it. This is the element of the private eye premise that took the longest to shake off, but it's for the best, as spending time with the cops draws our attention to all the nonsensical elements that reside just outside of each and every frame of the Buffyverse.
It seems like the plan may have been for Kate to become a permanent member of AI, given how abruptly she leaves and quickly Fred pops up as the New Girl. It's probably for the best that didn't happen, given how much stronger a performer Acker is, but I could also see an ex-cop having more potential for romantic chemistry with Gunn, so who knows what might have been?
-Darla and Drusilla are a great combo, and the moment when Dru shows up to re-sire her is a very well executed twist ending. I also like the underlying idea that Angel could potentially lose his soul without any curses or reverting to Angelus. But the best part of the storyline is how it allows the supporting cast to coalesce and come into their own. Wes and Gunn in particular develop a strong, surprising chemistry in his absence.
-The Pylea storyline is a great lark, with some terrific comedy beats ("I think we're winning!"/smash cut to..., Numfar and his Dance of ____), and I love Lorne's ultimate conclusion that he loves LA because "no one belongs there". It's just too lightweight compared to the mid-season Darla arc not to feel a bit disappointing as a finale.
-Gunn is a real mixed bag. He's fun enough to spend time with, and Richards does well with almost any material he's given. But he also brings a lot of the show's biggest weaknesses to the forefront, particularly the inability to portray the seedy side of LA with anything approaching subtlety or believability. Any time we revisit his backstory I know we're in for some cringeworthy shit.
So here's where I start wildly and irresponsibly impugning the motives of the creative team. It seems to me like Gunn's integration into AI was in no small part motivated by how white the Buffyverse had always been. So they crafted an interesting character whose backstory gave him plenty of reason to have a more hard-nosed, less compassionate approach to life and demon-fighting. But they didn't have the balls to follow through with it, which I assume was motivated in part by not wanting the first prominent minority figure on the show to be less noble or heroic than all his white pals. The result is a character who can still be tough and funny and likable, but is domesticated far too quickly and smoothly when there is potential for a more complicated and interesting arc.
It's a marked contrast with say, Wes, where I look at how he started and am amazed at how far they were able to push him in directions I never would've considered. Whereas with Gunn, I like what he is just fine, but I can see so clearly what he might have been if they had taken a few more chances that it still feels vaguely disappointing.
-"Rogue" Angel is something that works better in concept than execution. Leaving aside the laughably overwrought voice-over in the otherwise excellent "Redefinition", it still seems odd that Angel goes so far off the reservation just to hunt down a pair of vampires, given how easily the human characters can mow them down in other episodes.
The emotional connection is there for him to feel especially responsible for the havoc they wreak given, their shared history, but they needed to do some more damage. Or maybe summon a larger, Judge-style physical threat in order for Angel going off the deep end to really make sense. I know it's not supposed to be his best decision, but we should be more in line with his mindset than we are.
It also ends with an odd abruptness, as Angel (awesomely) lights them on fire, but doesn't bother finishing them off and they just sort of leave town.
-Not a strictly S2 thing, but this is as good a place as any to highlight just how inconsistently vampires are portrayed throughout the series. Sometimes there will be a scene that goes out of its way to show how Angel is insanely faster and stronger than Wes, while in others Gunn and Fred can wade into a whole nest and knock it down with minimal fuss. Two vampires are sometimes a catalyst for our hero to declare total, scorched-earth war, and sometimes a comic inconvenience.
-Like I said, Pylea is a bit underwhelming as a finisher, and doesn't do much to tie the whole season together into something great. And Lorne's decapitation fake-out is just the worst kind of cheap. Come on.
Total Bullshit Move That Makes The Whole Bullshit Show A Big Pile Of Bullshit
Darla is the latest character to come back from the dead, and it's getting to be a bit much. And just for extra squirreliness, she comes back human just so she can be re-vamped. And then get pregnant with a MAGICBABY...Why I Don't Care
It seems to take a lot of work and literal sacrifice on W&H's part (as opposed to Angel's resurrection just sort of happening), but more importantly, she's a bad guy. When the good guys aren't constrained by the limits and finality of death, it kills drama and tension. When the bad guys break those rules, it makes them that much more formidable as adversaries. It ain't fair, but what is?Highlight Episodes
"Guise Will Be Guise" - Wesley-focused episodes are always going to be favorites of mine, and this one is a gem. It basically replays Wes's entire arc from Buffy
through this season in miniature, starting with him bumbling and exaggerating his capability, and culminating with him stepping into the role of romantic hero for real. Angel's parallel identity crisis with Tish Magev is also a fun diversion with a strong character focus, plus it contains several of my favorite gags of the entire series:
Upon learning that Angel's strategy to get past W&H's vampire detectors is to "get to the office before they stop me", Gunn is distressed. "That's the plan? Walking real quick was the plan??"
"I am and I'm not."
Confused by a call about Wes's new client, Angel asks if he was in Virginia, to which Wes quietly demurs "that's beside the point..."
Boreanaz does one of his great "wounded pride" takes when Virginia's father reveals that he targeted Angel because he is a eunuch, prompting him to protest and mutter about how "the curse isn't even that clear..."
"Happy Anniversary" - Lorne really steps into the fold for the first time, and his sunny pacifist streak proves a wonderful counterpoint to Angel's dour militaristic bent. It also progresses the Angel-less AI dynamic that I enjoyed so much mid-season.
But in a broader sense, it finds the show stepping away from the narrow noirish template of the original conception and playing around with other kinds of detective stories. The main storyline is a very fun buddy-cop riff, while the side plot jumps hilariously past the main action to an Agatha Christie parlor mystery denouement. Wesley's pompous account of the convoluted, unseen mystery plot is a miniature tour-de-force for Denisof, and I absolutely lost my shit when he casually drops in "-but we all know that Kevin is impotent, so..."
Why on earth would they all
know that? They met these people yesterday.