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Season 1
Season 2



October 1999- May 2000


A Series based on Ideas

I think that I have to begin my discussion of  ANGEL the series where I have usually begun my reviews of individual episodes, by looking at ideas.  It has been one the strengths in general of the series that, in every episode, the story has not just been an end in itself but has been used to explore ideas.   Some of these ideas are based on metaphors properly so-called.  “Lonely Hearts” is a good example of this.  Others are built around social issues ("War Zone") or character related themes ("Parting Gifts").  In a few cases ("I Fall to Pieces" and "She" for example) they didn't come off.  Nevertheless, you can go through each and every program and find evidence that constructive thought went into it.  Even a comparatively straightforward story like "the Ring" was about the need to co-operate in the face of a common danger. 

This fact adds to inherent interest of the program in its own right.  As well as the plot it means that there is a deeper level which only becomes fully accessible if you think about what you have seen.  It also lends a coherence to an episode.  Each significant plot development, each piece of important dialogue is normally subordinated to an overall theme.   Each episode is about something rather than merely being a series of loosely or closely connected events. 

As I have already indicated there are many different types of ideas and these can be used in many different ways.  There is no reason why a writer should limit him or herself to just one approach.  But if a series is going to establish an identity for itself there has to be some sort of pattern, some sense that the ideas chosen and the way they are examined reflect some overarching vision.  In other words it is not enough that individual episodes are about something.  The series itself has to be about something rather than simply being a sequence of individual episodes with little or nothing in common beyond the fact that the same characters feature in them week after week.


The Struggle of Young Adulthood

And perhaps here we come to the most important thing about the way in which stories were used to explore ideas in season 1 of ANGEL.  The initial premise for the series seems to have been developed around the following concepts:

It would be "the second half" of Buffy's Hell as a metaphor for High School concept.  It would take use the supernatural as a metaphor for the experiences of twenty and thirty year olds.

It would feature Angel as a character who saved others, not only physically but also spiritually.  He would be dealing with people who were also damaged and use his own experiences to "save their souls."

This implied what was essentially an anthology with each case of the week having little or no carry over to the  next. The first half-dozen or so episodes fitted this general description very well.

   "Lonely Hearts" used the "donkey demon" and its modus operandi to explore the sense of social isolation of singles in a big city.  As I observed in my review of this episode, there are certain fundamental differences between life at school and life in the adult world.  High School is an enclosed, almost claustrophobic environment where there is a clearly defined and settled community with fixed relationships.  The big city has a vastly larger, more inchoate and more mobile community where relationships are in a state of continual flux.  There are problems of alienation and loneliness in both; but they are different problems.  hand "Lonely Hearts" was about the loneliness of being surrounded by people you don't know.   

  "Rm w/a Vu  centered around another problem caused by moving away from your parents and the support they can provide.  It illustrated how a young adult has to take on significant financial and other obligations, often for the first time.  As such a person you may be in full time employment for the first time and will not usually have the means to replicate as comfortable a lifestyle as you enjoyed while at home.  This may mean accepting less than ideal living conditions.  Alternatively accommodation of your own will only be affordable with one or more others sharing it.   And whatever choice is made you are going to have to (literally) live with the consequences. 

   "I Fall to Pieces" looked at another aspect of taking responsibility for your life.  At one level it was about the obsessive behavior of a stalker.  But the real message was less about Meltzer the stalker and more about Melissa his victim. The real  point of this episode was that inadequacy can turn to violence but when confronted by strength, both moral and physical, it just “falls to pieces” both literally and metaphorically.  As Meltzer’s weapons in stalking Melissa literally fell apart so his true weakness was metaphorically revealed. 

The subject matter of "Sense and Sensitivity" is essentially how you deal with other people.  In this episode there is a fairly strong counterpoint between Kate’s situation on the one hand and that of her colleagues on the other.  Kate is showing us the very real damage that emotional remoteness can do.  Her colleagues are showing us the harm that over sensitivity to the feeling of others and our own emotions can also cause.  The message does seem to be that there is a balance in everything.  We do have to “connect” with other people and this is a point that is reinforced by the somewhat brutal final scene between Kate and her father.  Instead of responding to her emotional breakdown at his retirement party, Trevor is cold, almost unfeeling.  But at the same time the near disaster in the police station also shows emotions must be kept under some control.  Otherwise we are being merely self-indulgent. 

  "Bachelor Party" was about cultural differences and about coming to terms with who or what you are. Identity is a crucial part of anyone’s existence.  Who you are, or rather who you perceive yourself to be, affects so many other aspects of your life including expectations for your future and your relationships with others.  And that identity is a function of a lot of different factors: parentage, social or economic background, religion, education, gender, and race to name but a few.  Doyle was a man of substance but he lost faith in himself because he found being a half-demon unacceptable.  The implication was that he considered demons less than human and therefore saw the fact that he had a demon heritage as something to be ashamed of.   The result of this self hatred was profoundly destructive.  On the other hand the attitude of his ex-wife, Harry, was different.  She realized that, far from being inferior to human, demons were simply different and after a moment’s hesitation  she accepted this aspect of Doyle for what it was: part of life’s rich tapestry.   Later on she made a study of demon culture her life’s work.  Indeed she actually planned to marry a full demon.   Her attitude was not only positive but healthy.  She is far happier and more fulfilled in her life because of it.  

And we can add to these the storyline in a later episode like “Expecting”.   Here, Cordelia finds herself pregnant and abandoned in the same circumstances in which so many young women let their defenses down: they are alone and frightened in a strange and anonymous world.   I especially like the idea of Wilson and the others worshiping a demon who provides them with success, money and fame in return for them acting as his “procreative surrogates”.  This seems to me to illustrate perfectly the shallowness of people who, in real life, are only interested in exploiting others for the advantage it brings to them. 

In the forgoing episodes you have some of the quintessential experiences of young adulthood. A person swaps the material comforts of the home for a much more precarious existence where he or she has to fend for themselves.  This includes things like finding a job or somewhere to live.  And this process is accompanied by the need to find your own place in the world in a wider sense.  It means learning to make a connection with people you can trust.  But it also means having faith in yourself to cope with anything that others throw in your way.


A Change of Concept

But, as the season progressed, the ideas around which each episode was built changed.  A comparison between the early episodes mentioned above and the last half-dozen or so in the series shows just what a radical shift it underwent.  "The Ring" and "War Zone" were essentially what are called "filler episodes".  But the real thrust of ANGEL towards the end can be seen from "the Prodigal", "Eternity", "Five by Five", "Sanctuary" and Blind Date".  What is impressive about these episodes taken together is that, although each is essentially a self-contained story, thematically they fit together very well to form a coherent and consistent pattern of thought. 

In “Prodigal”, for example, we saw how  Liam came to be vamped.  He wasn’t evil; he didn’t fall into Darla’s clutches because he did anything particularly wicked.  But he was both self-centered and irresponsible.  He was only interested in his own pleasure and didn’t care about anyone else.  In particular he didn’t try to understand his father’s point of view but was only concerned about how he felt. Moreover, nothing that happened in his life was his fault; it was always down to someone else.   It was because of this attitude that disaster befell him and everyone he knew.  If he had been a better son, of he hadn’t tried to take advantage of Darla in that alley, things might have been different.  But they weren’t.

  In “Somnambulist” we see the scale and nature of the consequences of Angel’s actions.  One of his own children – a vampire he created  -  is repeating a pattern of killing that Angel himself taught him.  In him I am sure we are intended to see a reflection of the mind of his vampire father, Angelus.

   “Five by Five” deals with the choices we make in response to our past.  In “Five by Five” the important parallel lay between Faith in LA2000 and Angel in Borsa 1898.  Both had traveled down the path of evil.   Because for both that was all they knew they tried to hold onto that past.  In the end Angel could not because there was in him the urge to do what was right and that urge asserted itself.  The human soul became responsible for its own actions in a way Liam had never been.  Because of this he can leave behind his past as a monster.   In contrast Faith blamed Wesley for the fact that she took the wrong path and because of this she clings on to her past as a killer ever more tightly.

   In “Sanctuary”, on the other hand we see Faith being forced to confront and accept responsibility for her past and the crucial moment in the episode comes when quite voluntarily she gives herself up to the police and confesses her crimes as a way of facing up to what she has done and accepting punishment for it.

And here we see parallels to Angel’s own journey.  In several episodes but  crucially in “In the Dark” and “Somnambulist“ and “Sanctuary” we witness the extent of Angel’s personal journey.  In “In the Dark” Angel was given the chance to live like a human but rejected it.  He did so because that chance was not what he really wanted.  What he wanted was forgiveness, redemption if you like.  And that was not to be obtained easily or quickly by some magic trickery.  Rather it had to be earned – the hard way.  And in “Somnambulist” we see how he did so – by confronting his own past (in the form of his vampire offspring) and dealing with it.  His willingness to do so made him different to the creature that he was before, even though that creature still exerts an influence on him as demonstrated by the fact that he enjoyed the sensation of killing.  And finally, in “Eternity” We are being reminded that Angel must continually fight to retain control of the demon within and the outcome of the battle is not assured.  In that episode he actually did lose control.  If he did so once he can do so again.  It is as if the writers were saying that redemption is never easy or straightforward.

 By the same token, in “Sanctuary” we see the extent to which Angel is committed to achieving redemption not only for himself but for others   It is that which now defines him.  And that is why he reacts to Buffy in the way he does.  Just when he is reaching Faith Buffy shows up. Faith is at a delicate stage and she threatens to ruin everything. So all he can think about is that he has to stop her repeating Wesley’s mistake (a possibility stressed when Angel himself reminded Wesley of that mistake in “Five by Five”).  That is his one concern and nothing else matters. 

 Finally in “Blind Date”  we see a counterpoint to the hopeful message of “Sanctuary”.  In the former episode Lindsey McDonald is given a choice.  On the one hand there is the authentically hard road to redemption offered by Angel, full of risk and sacrifice.  On the other he is offered the world by Holland Manners.  He doesn’t ask Lindsey to choose to do evil as such.  Rather he was just being asked to take up a position in the world that will bring him power, wealth and prestige.  The price he was asked to pay for that is to help others who do evil.  Lindsey wasn’t a bad man.  Nor was he  forced into making any particular choice.  But he went ahead and made the wrong one anyway.

A shorthand description of these episodes would be that they are about what is right and what is wrong; about how we all have the power to choose our own paths but how any choice we make will have consequences for ourselves and others. They are about taking responsibility for these consequences of our actions, no matter how hard that is; but above all they are about how it is never too late to change.  The ability of a human soul to choose good over evil means that everyone has the right to seek their own redemption, regardless of what they have done in the past.  The exploration of these ideas didn’t begin with “the Prodigal”.  We can also see evidence of these themes being explored in “In the Dark” and in many ways the shift in emphasis towards them began with “the Somnambulist.”  But it is the very concentration of episodes dealing with choice, responsibility and consequences in the last third of the season that marks it out so strongly.

Two things follow from this.  First of all, on this reading, the use of metaphor to explore the day to day experiences of young adults in general has, by the end of the season, been effectively sidelined.  I'm sure we will continue to see this concept worked out in individual episodes from time to time – as with "Expecting" and "She" – but it no longer constitutes the main thrust of the series. Secondly a very significant change has come over the treatment of the other basic concept mentioned above – saving souls.  The intention here seemed initially to have been to relate this concept to the use of metaphor.  So, for example, in "I Fall to Pieces" Melissa was helped to take control of her life in the face of Ronald's stalking her.  This was almost  a practical definition of saving souls, rooted in the concerns of the day to day world, referring to general well being or a sense that our life was in order.    By the end of the season the concept of saving souls had been redefined in much more metaphysical terms – the difference between right and wrong, free will, responsibility, redemption.  It really is now about the condition of the human soul itself.  This new direction also implies that ANGEL will not really be about the struggles of ordinary people like Melissa to live ordinary lives.  Rather it will be about more fundamental choices such as those faced by Lindsay.

There was nothing basically wrong with the earlier concept of saving souls.  Indeed, "Lonely Hearts" and "Sense and Sensitivity" are two of the best episodes in Series 1.  Nor do I think that it is really true to say that bringing in a "victim of the week" meant that attention was not being focused on Angel himself. As I have already pointed out in episodes like "Lonely Hearts" and "I Fall to Pieces" the writers have looked for and found a particular angle (yes I spelled that correctly) to the story that makes it relevant to Angel (and I spelled that correctly too) and slanted the story accordingly.  But I find the general direction of "Angel" at the end of the series so much more interesting.  This is because it speaks of a much more profound and ultimately more important human experience.  It looks at what fundamentally defines us as individuals in all its contradictions and complexities.  It doesn't provide devastatingly insightful answers to the questions raised.  But it takes its subject  matter seriously and its treatment of it is both intelligent and articulate.  If nothing else  it does encourage us, the viewer,  to think about the issues ourselves and that is never a bad thing.

Perhaps the thing that I like most about this refashioning of the concept of saving souls is that it allows us to concentrate attention of the key characteristics of Angel as an individual.  Of course, as I have already pointed out, in the beginning, he was also the agent for change because his experiences helped him understand what was needed.  But his sense of loneliness in "Lonely Hearts" or his stalker-boy past in "I Fall to Pieces" did not go to the essence of Angel as a character. The heart of the character is choosing who and what you really want to be.  It is about taking responsibility, doing the right thing as opposed to the easy thing,  and where applicable also about making amends for past wrongs.  This, therefore, must also be where the principal focus of "Angel" as a series must lie.   In showing the inter-reaction between Angel and others the writers show us the same issues facing them through his eyes and his experiences.  This makes their examination of those issues more meaningful, more powerful.  Would the tragedy that overtook Kate and her father have meant the same if we had not seen Liam's own tragedy and felt Angel's personal commitment to prevent another father/child relationship end in disaster?  Would Faith's crisis have been as comprehensible without the parallels drawn with Angel in 1898?


The Developing Mythology of the Series

Linked to the change in direction I have just been discussing is another which may be even more important in the future development of the series.  In the beginning ANGEL was essentially a supernatural detective story, or rather a series of individual stories.  These stories were told without much in the way of context.  All we really had were the mysterious Powers That Be (or TPTB)  and the visions they gave Doyle.  The purpose of these visions was simply to help those who needed it.  So, there was no real need to make very much more out of them by way of background.  Nor was there very much sign that the writers intended to do so.  Things changed dramatically in IWRY.  There we began to get hints about an Armageddon and the important part Angel would play in it.  These hints were dramatically reinforced in "To Shanshu in LA”.  There we not only get confirmation of Angel’s role in a future Armageddon but the writers stress the connection between Angel and TPTB.  The whole idea of bringing Darla back is to sever that connection.  It must be admitted straight away that the idea of a coming Armageddon is something of a cliché.  For that reason it has very limited appeal on its own.  But what it can do is to provide a context within which potentially more interesting relationships can develop.   It provides a basic reference point around which an overarching mythology can be built for the series.   And in the hints of TPTB trying to guide Angel not just to help individuals but to perform a task of wider importance and in the interest of Wolfram and Hart (and by implication others) in stopping him we have the beginnings of this mythology.  Angel is already on a journey of personal redemption.  By setting for him a more general long-term role (rather than simply the task of helping individuals on a weekly basis) the writers are in effect creating a parallel between his ability to carry out this role and his ability to succeed in his quest for redemption.   It will take our hero on a voyage not only of physical trials but self-discovery as he moves towards a slowly unfolding and as yet hardly glimpsed final climax.  This again creates a sense of coherence and direction, a feeling that you are watching one great design rather than a series of small separate stories, which do not belong together. And this is what can really helped to take the show to another level.  It was here that ANGEL began seriously to carve out for itself a new mythology all of its own, quite separate from that of BUFFY.

And the more metaphysical emphasis on the soul towards the end of season 1 reinforces this effort on the part of the writers to create a mythology for the series.  The two dovetail beautifully to create a scenario where we have not just a physical conflict but a moral one as well.  The coming struggle and the early signs of it that we have seen represent a clash of ideas and of values.  All of the things that make a difference between the Dark and the Light are displayed in late season 1 ANGEL.  But perhaps the theme is most clearly played out in the character of Lindsay in "Blind Date".  We see in the structure of man's law a value system based on power.  Angel himself makes the connection when he refers to Wolfram and Hart’s manipulation of the courts in “Blind Date”.

"It's still their world, Wesley, structured for power, not truth.  It's their system  and it's one that works.   It works because there is no guilt; there is no torment; no consequences.   It's pure.   I remember what that was like.  Sometimes I miss that clarity."

The world Angel describes here is not only one where monsters do evil things for the pleasure that this brings to them.  It is a world where human beings create a community of interest with such monsters for the profit that brings them.  This is a value system where it doesn’t matter whether something is right or wrong.  It doesn’t matter whether others suffer.  What matters is the benefit you derive.  This is In opposition there is a value system based on the need to do the right thing whether that brings you any benefit or not and indeed regardless of what it actually costs you.  Above all it is a value system which judges right and wrong by reference to the consequences that an action has for others.  In short it is a value system which is based on the idea of a common humanity; a society in which human beings have an intrinsic importance beyond what they can do for us.  And here we begin to see an underlying philosophy for the series. Perhaps it isn’t a particularly profound one.  But it doesn’t have to be.  It does what it needs to and that is to inform the way we look at the ideas and themes explored in the course of the season, the actions of the characters and the developments in plot.  It is of you like our compass on the journey.

The ideas underpinning ANGEL may have been reshaped.  One thing has remained pretty much constant on however.  That is the use of character.  There is far too much material here to go into in any detail.  So I will ignore the recurring characters and instead concentrate on the principals.



Angel has always been a character of enormous potential.  A former soulless killer who now has his human heart restored and must now face the consequences of his actions.  He must live with the constant struggle between his own moral sense and the demon instinct inside him.  He is a creature who still exists outside the world but must find a way to live with it.  The surprise was that BUFFY made so very little of it.  Well, its loss is ANGEL’s gain.  I have already touched on how the series has made ample use of all of these elements in Angel’s character but what I haven’t dealt with is how the events of the series have affected Angel himself.

Angel’s story is a journey and like all journey’s it progresses in stages.  We can indeed see certain key moments for him in season 1. 

   In “City of…” he decides that there is more for him than simply penance.

   In “In the Dark” he articulates his desire to be forgiven and realizes that there is forgiveness there for him if he does the right thing

In “Somnambulist” he accepts that there is a difference between himself and Angelus.

In “Sanctuary” he has fully embraced the idea that he has a special mission.

   In “Blind Date” and “To Shanshu in LA” he learns that he does have a place in the scheme of things and how that place may lead to his redemption.

Laid out like this you can see the bare bones of a story: Angel’s developing sense of a mission and what that means for his view of himself and his place in the world.   When we first saw him in “City of” he seemed to be going through the motions.  He gave no sign of a real personal belief in what he was doing.  He was helping people but it was more out of a sense that this was his penance than any real interest in them.  Having given up Buffy his attitude seemed to be that he was so totally unworthy all he could do was suffer in life.  The contrast to the Angel we see in “Sanctuary” is striking.  Now he is a man with a mission, one which involves a much more personal commitment on his part to those he is helping.  As he said to Cordelia when trying to help Faith:

Angel:  "You understand why we have to help Faith, don't you?"

Cordelia:  "Totally.”


This has become the most important thing in his life so much so that he unhesitatingly chose it over Buffy.  And this is important – perhaps the single most important aspect of the entire season.  Angel only started to come out of his shell because of Buffy; he only started to fight evil because of Buffy.  It was all about Buffy.  Now we have the clearest possible demonstration that he has an independent champion in his own right and not just someone helping her.  And with this sense of mission have come the feelings of self-worth and dare I say it of destiny.  When you have a mission  that you believe in, almost be definition you have to believe in yourself.  And we see this in both “Sanctuary” and “To Shanshu in LA”.  In the former the noteworthy thing is the somewhat high-handed way that he treats everyone who disagree with him over Faith.  He has such confidence in his own judgment that he ignores everyone else.  In the latter episode it is clear that he is done apologizing for his existence as a vampire or what he is doing in LA, even though it may be outside the law.

But the problem is that we have no very clear picture of how moved from his state of mind in “City of…” to his state of mind in “To Shanshu in LA”.  And really the episodic nature of the season told against it here.  We see the individual stages of the journey but we have no sense of any connection between them.  There was little or no carry over of ideas explored in one episode to the next.  The way in which the prophecies of Aberjian were used to establish a bridge from “Blind Date” to “To Shanshu in LA” was very much the exception.  We do not for example see how Angel’s acceptance that he is not the same as Angelus in “Somnambulist” makes any contribution to the development of his special sense of mission in “Sanctuary”.   Indeed that sense of mission does seem to be sprung on us somewhat out of the blue.  And while, as I have already said,  the themes of the episodes themselves form a coherent and consistent body of thought and while they do say a great deal about Angel and the issues facing him, many of them do not seem to tell us anything at all about the direction Angel as a character is going in.  In “the Prodigal” or “Eternity” we have very little sense that the themes explored have any consequences for Angel at all. So, in many ways this was a case of the whole not being the equal to the sum of the parts.

But by the end of the season we have a very interesting set up for Angel.  Here is a creature who now has a fully developed sense of his mission but with perhaps no very clear idea of where pursuing that mission was going to lead him personally.  Certainly in “Sanctuary” he seemed to suggest that he expected nothing for himself:

“The truth is no matter how much you suffer, no matter how many good deeds you do to try to make up for the past you may never balance out the cosmic scale.  The only thing I can promise you is that you'll probably be haunted - and may be for the rest of your life."

He may have been speaking to Faith here but I think it is clear he was speaking about himself.  But all of that changed in “To Shanshu in LA”.  One thing that has remained constant with Angel is his sense of social isolation.  Apart from his relationship with Cordelia and Wesley (and I will turn to that shortly) he has nothing that any of us would call a life.  The writers have stressed on a number of different occasions just how remote from the world Angel is.  We see this is “Lonely Hearts” and in “She”.  But perhaps the best example of this is to be found in “Eternity” where his fear of his own vampiric nature as a barrier to contact with ordinary people features heavily.  The original intention may well have been that Angel’s character growth should have been in terms of lessening this social isolation.  Certainly the concept of saving souls by getting into people’s lives would suggest that.  With the different emphasis on what saving souls now means, Angel’s involvement in ordinary people’s personal lives is now no longer the same issue that it was.  It would, however, obviously be a poor choice on the part of the writers to abandon any character development on this side.  And in “To Shanshu in LA” they chose quite deliberately to focus on this characteristic not simply as a quirk of personality but as something fundamentally tied up with his lack a personal stake in his own redemption.  But with the promise of humanity Angel now does have that stake.  He can for the first time begin to want thing for himself and thereby become more fully human than ever before.  I think that this can only presage a major change for him  and we  can only wait to see the nature of the change next season brings.



The next person I would like to deal with is the character which departed in episode 9, “Hero”. Almost the first thing I noticed about Doyle on his introduction into “Angel” was his similarity to Whistler.  Both were badly and cheaply dressed; had a slightly shady, down at heal air but were articulate and self-confident.  Each knew who Angel was and had a definite message for him.  This suggested to me that the writers’ early concept for Doyle was that he was to continue in the Whistler role.  Whistler was sent first of all to find Angel and convince him to give up his self-imposed exile and play an active part in the struggle against good and evil.  It is also implied in “Becoming 2” that Angel learnt other things from him before coming to Sunnydale on his own.  Similarly Doyle had a definite message for Angel about the part he was to play.  From “City of...” –

"It’s not all about fighting and gadgets and stuff. It’s about reaching out to people, showing them that there’s love and hope still left in the world."

When a character articulates a theme for the series and defines the role of the leading character in it the obvious implication is that he is possessed of certain knowledge denied to Angel or to us.  A role like this was certainly consistent with the creation of an overarching mythology where Angel was closely connected to TPTB and acted as their agent in the war between light and dark.  In that scenario Doyle would be the principal link between Angel and TPTB. But there were two problems with this idea.  The first was that initially at least the series developed in a different direction.  With the exception of IWRY, the role of TPTB was confined to identifying individual humans who needed to be saved and nothing about these cases suggested they had any wider significance in the greater scheme of things.  The second problem lay in the character of Doyle himself.  It was one thing to bring in a character like Whistler to set Angel on the right path and then drop out of the picture altogether.  It is another for Doyle to act as Angel’s mentor in a larger sense as the person, for example, to whom he turned for advice in charting his way through difficult moral choices.  First of all Angel, as an ancient vampire with lifetimes of knowledge and experience, did not need that sort of a mentor.  Secondly, arguably Doyle (as conceived) was ill equipped to provide the necessary guidance.  He certainly had “street smarts” enabling him to come to some shrewd judgments (as with the need to charge clients).  But giving him the role of moral guardian for the series would not have sat very well with what we later discovered were his own wrong turnings in life.

It is noticeable that in the major decisions that Angel had to face in the first eight episodes of the series Doyle was either ignored completely (IWRY) or acted merely as sounding board (“In the Dark”).  On the other hand as a “guide and mentor” type figure he should have been the one pointing out Angel’s path for him.

So what was left for him?  He had his visions and street contacts but they are plot devices rather than a “role” in the series.  Angel was “terminator in chief”.  And there was really no room for the exploration of someone else’s life story on the series.  It wasn’t just that Doyle’s tale had a similar theme to Angel’s.  It was that Angel’s story had to remain center stage.  Other characters’ stories could form the basis for individual episodes or be used to counterpoint Angel’s or draw parallels to it but there was no real room for an entirely separate story on which to form the basis for someone else’s participation in the series.

What was left for Doyle – and the roles he actually filled – was to be Angel’s friend and Cordelia’s sparring partner and, in that capacity in particular, to provide some very necessary comic relief.   In these roles he was markedly successful.  At first sight it is hard to see on what basis Angel could have developed such a close relationship with Doyle.  I had always thought myself that Angel and Giles were a well suited pair.  But Angel and Doyle were such opposites – the reserved, reflective, solitary vampire and the outgoing, spontaneous and gregarious half demon.  But such was Doyle’s easy going charm that I actually had little difficulty in believing in Angel responding to it.   Certainly by “Hero” when he revealed to Doyle the most personally difficult decision he ever made it was difficult to miss how close they had become.

Doyle’s relationship with Cordelia was more complex.  It obviously took a big step forward in “Bachelor Party” when Cordelia realized she wanted someone with substance in her life and admitted that was something Doyle did have.   But Cordelia was never someone to let her heart rule her head.  That fact alone kept any relationship she might have had with Doyle within certain limits.  Indeed the contrast between Cordelia’s relentless practicality, over running the business no less than in responding to Doyle’s hints, was a source of much of the conflict (and humor) between them.  

But herein lies another problem.  Doyle effectively acted as interface between Angel and Cordelia.  The latter had scenes together but they were never used to develop a personal relationship between them.  Because of this I did not really get the same sense of a close-knit team as developed later between Angel, Wesley and Cordelia.  And it was the friendship that we saw growing between Cordelia and Angel in “Parting Gifts”, “Somnambulist” and “Expecting” in particular that made the single biggest contribution to her development as a character.  So, you could say that Doyle actually held back her development.  And it is here you find the paradox.  When TPTB (in Mutant Enemy) killed off Doyle they created an awful lot of ill feeling over the loss of an undeniably popular figure.  But in the end it seems to me that the change worked to the advantage of ANGELas a series.  Nothing major was lost with Cordelia effectively replacing Doyle as Angel’s friend and intermediary to TPTB (at that time a pretty limited role indeed).  Arguably the gain was in a more balanced and coherent Fang gang.

This should not, however, detract in the least from GQ’s achievement.  For all the reasons I have given Doyle’s role in “Angel” was a fairly limited one.  Indeed it is noticeable that he really only played a key role in two episodes – the less than sparkling “Bachelor Party” and the flawed “Hero”.  But in spite of this the impact he made in just nine episodes can hardly be denied.   The natural charm and self-effacing humor he was able to bring to bear in the part were a natural for Doyle.    If I were to express any reservation at all, it would be that I didn’t quite get the same sense of conviction from him when it came to playing the tragic elements in his character.  I tended to get more of a sense of self pity.  That, however, may be more a matter of direction than acting. 



Of the secondary characters, Cordelia posed by far the most difficult problem for the writers.  At times on BUFFY she seemed too close to caricature for comfort.  As a comparatively minor figure there  this didn’t matter much.  As the principal female on ANGEL it mattered a great deal.  The trick was to try to develop real depth to her without sacrificing the element she was most needed for on ANGEL.  She was someone who lived in the real world, she was to be the link between that world and Angel’s.  And the clash between her own enlightened self-interest and Angel’s more solitary and reflective nature was intended to provide the source of much of the humor.  This might have been a recipe for a character to swing from one extreme to another; but not here.  The way the writers opted to address the problem was particularly clever.  They stressed the way Cordelia, from a very low point in her fortunes in “Rm w/a Vu”, began to understand herself and her past.  She did not apologize for who she had been but she had no illusions about it either.  Time and time again what was stressed was her rationality.  This was how her “me first” attitude was presented – as the reaction of a hard-headed, practical woman.  But because of this it was far from incompatible with her growth as a character. So, for example, we had her realization in “Bachelor Party” that a rich and handsome guy was not enough for her – she wanted depth.  But that wasn’t enough to make her disregard the fact that Doyle was short and poor.  Equally in the course of the season she became Angel’s closest friend but in “Somnambulist” and “Eternity” that genuine friendship did not affect her concern for her own safety.  Perhaps most significantly of all, while she was never happy with the visions (because of the personal discomfort) she came to accept them just as she had accepted a lot of the other unpleasant aspects of working for Angel Investigations (like sawing up dead demons).  And in doing so she was already moving towards the sense of purpose that the events of “To Shanshu in LA” seem to have given her.  But even here, there is nothing incompatible with this attitude and wanting Angel Investigations to make money – something that has been a constant preoccupation for Cordelia.  So we get the best of both worlds.  The conflict between Cordelia’s concern for Angel  and her increasing commitment to what he is doing and her sense of self preservation, annoyance at personal discomfort and ambition for her financial security (combined with her unchanging “I am not afraid to say what I think” attitude) has been a source of much of the best humor in “Angel” even while Cordelia continues to grow as an individual.

But if the character development for Cordelia was one of the real strengths of season 1, the writers attempts to define a role for her in the series have met with less success.  Until Doyle’s death she seemed all too often a peripheral figure.  Doyle had the visions, Angel did the fighting.  Doyle was Angel’s friend.  Any discussion of importance was between them.  All too often Cordelia seemed reduced to comic relief (especially in the entertaining scenes between Doyle and her) or a sort of Greek chorus, commenting from her own unique perspective on Angel and his preoccupations.  This was a valuable role obviously.  As I will be discussing in due course, comic relief plays a very important part in the series.  And it gave Cordelia the opportunity to deliver some of the best dialogue in season 1.  But the role she played here is hardly a central one and certainly not the sort of role you might expect from the series principal female.

Things changed, to an extent, in “Parting Gifts”.  In that episode the practical side of Cordelia came to the fore.  She grieved for Doyle’s loss as much as anyone but for her “life goes on”.  And this practicality allows her to show important support for Angel who is much less well equipped to cope with the loss.  And the danger Cordelia then finds herself in reinforces for Angel Cordelia’s importance to him.  In this episode we have the genesis of the friendship between the two of them.  And this feeling of friendship is immediately reinforced in “Somnambulist” both by Cordelia’s instinctive loyalty to him in the face of Wesley’s suspicions and by her evident concern and support for him at the end.  And there were a number of other episodes (I am thinking here especially of IGYUMS and “To Shanshu in LA”) where the friendship also featured.  The real problem, though, was that comparatively little use was made of it.  There were several occasions where the writers created situations where Cordelia’s friendship for Angel might have had some significant effects on him.  But (with the possible exception of the final scene in “Somnambulist”) the Angel/Cordelia friendship didn’t really serve as that sort of turning point at any stage.  In IGYUMS she seemed on the point of getting him to open up about Doyle but was thwarted by a vision.  Sadly, any further attempt to explore he way Angel came to terms with Doyle’s death through his relationship with Cordelia was ignored.  Equally the way Cordelia tried to et Angel to connect with the world in “To Shanshu in LA” was essentially used for laughs.  But the prime example in this respect  was “Sanctuary” where Cordelia made no effort to change Angel’s mind at all, even when she patently didn’t agree with what he was doing.  And he was clearly risking his own life as well as everyone else’s.  One cannot help but feel that the friendship between the two was almost decorative rather than being a major factor in the season.

Instead those episodes where Cordelia features most significantly in terms of advancing the storyline were the ones in which the main plot point was to rescue her: “City of…”; “Rm w/a Vu”, “Parting Gifts”, “Expecting” and “To Shanshu in LA”.  Of course it is perfectly true that everyone – even Angel – needed rescue at one time or another during the season.  But this number and the relative lack of a strong alternative role for her makes Cordelia far too much of a one note character for comfort



Which brings us to Wesley.  Here the trick the writers performed is even more surprising.  Few characters can have been introduced into a series with more against him.  Not only was he replacing the much-loved Doyle but he was also carrying a lot of baggage from Season 3 of BUFFY especially from “Bad Girls” where the words “arrogant, gutless fool” hardly seem adequate to describe him.  And the writers did themselves no favors by overplaying his physical clumsiness in “Parting Gifts” and one or two other episodes.  At one stage it looked as though we were in for a heavy dose of slapstick humor courtesy of Wesley.  This is not only a form of humor I have never found amusing but it did not seem to me to fit in especially well with the more sophisticated style of Angel as a series.

But the writers had already given themselves a key to the character – his sense of failure over what happened in Sunnydale and the resulting feelings of inadequacy.  These were feelings they reinforced in IGYUMS where some pretty harsh treatment by his father is implied.  This was important.  We could begin to see his behavior in Sunnydale in another light.  Rather than trying to retcon his actions there (especially his failed abduction of Faith) we were made more understanding of the background to them and therefore more sympathetic.  What we saw was a man trying to overcome a past in which he was forever being judged and found wanting.  At times this led him to try too hard but in doing so he only had the best of intentions.  And this humanization of Wesley was reinforced when we were allowed to see another side of him altogether.  In Sunnydale he had often seemed a little priggish.  And in “Expecting” the judgmental attitude he showed towards Cordelia at the beginning was all of a piece with that.  But when Cordelia was in real trouble, when she needed support and help rather than criticism, then Wesley came though for her.  Indeed he could hardly have done any more.  It was almost as if the writers were saying that his prudishness was a surface veneer.  Wesley was behaving the way his father and the Watchers’ Council would have wanted him to behave.  But the Wesley who was there for Cordelia when she needed him was the real Wesley.

And at the same time another great change came over Wesley.  The writers quietly dropped the physical comedy.  Instead they started to concentrate on his acknowledged strengths – research and knowledge of the occult.  All featured heavily in  “Expecting”, “She”, “the Prodigal” and IGYUMS. At the same time they began to develop other sides to the character, such as his bravery and loyalty.   “The Ring” was in many ways a breakthrough episode because it showed him taking on villains in a physical confrontation and winning without Angel.  This was followed up in subsequent episodes, especially “Eternity”.  The final aspect of his contribution was also hinted at in that episode.  He was very quick to understand the nature of Angel’s difficulties over Rebecca and this intuitive understanding of Angel was also to come out in “To Shanshu in LA”.  Interestingly enough this gave him a much more clearly defined role in the series than either Cordelia or Doyle had.  He was not only the one who filled in the background information.  He was the one who was able to editorialize, to comment from a sympathetic but objective standpoint on Angel’s situation whether that was his fear of becoming involved with another woman or his lack of place in the world.   As we saw in “To Shanshu in LA”, Wesley himself didn’t have all the answers and had to struggle to work them out.  But in doing so Wesley was being used to help put Angel and his struggles in a wider context.  This was a less obvious but for that reason more effective approach than having a Whistler-type figure simply tell Angel and the audience what he should be doing.  

Through these contributions, Wesley leaves behind the bumbling klutz of “Parting Gifts” and “She”.  We now began to see a character that was competent, indeed highly useful and that is always a very important characteristic for anyone.  It is almost essential in gaining respect for a character and it is hard indeed for an audience to relate to someone if they do not respect him or her in some way or other.  Not that this change to Wesley happens overnight.  That was one of the best ways the transition was handled.  We still have adequacy issues for Wesley in, for example, IGYUMS.  There his grasp exceeded his reach.  He wanted desperately to help but in the end he failed.  But that is realistic.  That is what happens when someone is trying to prove themselves.  The important point is that he did not give up and eventually he did prove himself.  And it was through this simple expedient of making Wesley competent most of the problems with the character vanish. 


The Fang Gang

Aside from the individual characters themselves one of the greatest strengths of this season was the formation of the Fang Gang, Team Angel, the LA Scoobies whatever you want to call it.  This is one of the areas where there is a direct parallel between ANGEL and BUFFY.   I am obviously not going to go over in detail the "Scooby gang drifting apart" in Season 4 controversy here.  It seems to me however that while there were (justified) criticisms of the execution of the idea there was also a great deal of hostility directed at the idea itself.  A lot of people just did not want to see this little group split apart, no matter how interesting the process from a dramatic POV.  There is something deeply attractive and satisfying about the idea of a small group of misfits binding together as a family and relying on one another not only for physical help in time of danger but for emotional support.  I suppose it speaks to our own need for the comfort and support that a family unit can bring.  At first the relationship developed slowly, almost imperceptibly. The key episodes in this respect were “Parting Gifts”, “Somnambulist” and “Expecting”.  Interestingly they were all consecutive.   What really started the ball rolling was Doyle’s death.   This was the catalyst that made Angel realize how much he needed others.  In both “Expecting” and IGYUMS we saw his genuine concern for Cordelia and Wesley.  On the other side of the coin, “Somnambulist” was the episode where we began to understand the friendship that Cordelia had for Angel.  It was a key moment in her humanizing.  And then there was Wesley.    In “Expecting” he seemed to be set up to take a disapproving view of Cordelia’s pregnancy.  Instead he was a model of support.  Similarly, when Angel was in trouble in “the Ring” we see a similar level of commitment from both Wesley and Cordelia to saving him.  By the end of the season there is little doubting how close knit and coherent the little group is or how each of them – Wesley and Cordelia as well as Angel – has their own contribution to make.  As a result the unit becomes stronger than the sum of its individual parts.  Just as in Sunnydale none of its members would have lasted a year without the others. But more importantly each find part of what they are looking for in the others.  There is Angel, the ensouled vampire without a place in the world.  There is Cordelia the former princess whose only expectation in life - a conventional future of marriage, children, divorce and AA meetings or drug rehab clinics - is now denied her.  And finally there is Wesley, the failed watcher with feelings of inadequacy who couldn't even please his own father let alone the COW.  These are just as much misfits as Buffy, Xander, Willow and even Giles.  From the other each gained something that they needed.  For Angel it was friendship, a human connection.  For Cordelia it was a direction in life, something to give it meaning.  And for Wesley it was a sense that he was valued and appreciated.   And by stressing this fact the writers help reinforce a serious message.  No matter what our problems or how serious they are a connection with others helps.



It is one of the advantages of not having an "Initiative" style arc to set up that each episode in a season can concentrate on telling a single story.  And in general this aspect of ANGEL’s first season has been a success, although not an unqualified one.  At its best in episodes like "Lonely Hearts", "Blind Date” and especially "Somnambulist" the plots themselves have been compelling.  The task for our heroes has been involving, the dangers have been real, the obstacles and risks substantial and the methods by which they have been overcome have been well thought out and logical.  Indeed in ANGEL we see the old fashioned virtues of plots which have a beginning, a middle and an end.  Problems are introduced, investigated in a competent and professional manner and a solution is devised.  There is a minimal reliance on plot contrivances, stupid actions by the villains or unbelievable co-incidences.  And here we find surely the essence of good storytelling.  Perhaps I can outline some of the particular strengths of the plotting as follows:

Often there have been pretty strong or interesting villains.  Outstanding among them have been Penn in "Somnambulist" and the combination of Marcus and Spike in "In the Dark".  First and foremost they come across a genuine personalities in their own right.  They are believable as individuals with the sort of motivations we can understand: greed, hurt pride, lust even.  They are also generally capable.  They do not do stupid things just to accommodate our heroes’ efforts to stop them. And if they do something wrong, it is because of a character flaw such as Penn’s predictability or Spike’s arrogance.  And this is what helps give them a genuine air of menace.
Mostly each episode consists of just the one plot.  There have only been a few occasions where the storytelling has been interrupted by sub-plots.  In particular Wesley and Cordelia have generally been used in support of Angel in the main plot itself rather than given a separate storyline.  This has added to the sense of unity and direction of the episodes.
The pacing has been very good.  Usually the plot was kicked off during the teaser and proceeds from there in a logical progression from one  incident or development to the next.  There have only been a few occasions ("She" and "Expecting" come to mind) where this progression is interrupted by "filler" scenes which serve no real purpose.  And in this context I have to say that I think it has been to the series advantage that more overtly soap opera developments have been kept to a minimum.  The closest we came to this was the extended tease that was the Cordelia/Doyle relationship.  But the writers’ use of this pair was very sparing.  Scenes between them were used to develop plot or theme or as comic relief to break up the tension.  They never became an end in themselves and never intruded too jarringly into plot development.
Indeed the use of humor is one of the best-judged aspects of the series. There was an odd little period when we had three overtly humorous episodes - “Rm w/a Vu”, “Sense and Sensitivity” and “Bachelor Party”  - all in a row.  Of these “Bachelor Party” did fall flat, although it had some nice moments.  But the other two had the priceless advantage of actually being funny.  And even here “funny” didn’t just mean light and fluffy.  There was a real edge to both of them.  People died.  Others were genuinely threatened.  And although the accent in other episodes was less on the humor and more on the horror, the series nevertheless maintained a very successful balance between the two. Often an episode would begin with a humorous scene as a sort of gentle introduction.   But in the main the humor was used to balance the horror and thereby reduce the tension at key moments, thus giving the audience a breathing space.  In that way it accentuates the darkness rather than dilute it.  Perhaps the best example I can think of in this context it the wonderfully black humor in an episode like “Sanctuary” or “Five by Five”.  In the latter Lee tells Faith he doesn’t want her to make him look bad and as she bangs his head forcefully ion the desk we hear this exchange:

Faith:  "How do you look now?"
Lilah (with a smile):  "She shows initiative."

Lindsey (to the intercom):  "Jesse, I think you better make it 3 for dinner instead of 4."

But the humor also serves another purpose. It is noticeably  less “verbal” than is usually the case on BUFFY, in the sense that it relies less on tricks of language.  At its best on ANGEL it has been character related.  And one of the reasons this works so well is that we see a different type of humor derived from each of the principal characters.  I have already discussed Cordelia in this context.  The humanizing of Angel through a series of set pieces from jumping into the wrong car in “City of”, the running gay and batman jokes, the fact of him being a social misfit and his constant battles with technology have been uniformly successful.  Only with Wesley was there a significant mis-step with the ill-judged attempt to overplay the groveling and his physical clumsiness.  This might have been taken as a sign of his eagerness to make himself useful.  But is shows what a fine line the writers can tread with humor.  Because it was overdone it lost any sympathy we might have had for the character and instead simply became annoying.

Twists are something that “Angel” has made into a specialty.  Almost every episode has featured at least one attempt to confound the expectations of the viewers.  In “Parting Gifts” for example the rogue demon hunter turned out to be Wesley and the seemingly innocuous Barney was the real villain. The advantage of this technique is that it always keeps the audience slightly off balance wondering whether everything is quite as it seems.
The special effects and the fight scenes have been of a uniformly very high standard throughout.  But they are subordinated to the demands of the story itself.  The fight sequences, for example, are not overused.  In particular sometimes at the climax when you expect a major fight the writers give us a different ending (for example "City of.." and "War Zone") which proves more effective.

Of course, in some cases admittedly the narrative in an episode has been a little thin because the writers have been concentrating on other matters.  "The Prodigal" would, I think, be an example of this.  However if the development of theme or character is strong enough this is not for me a criticism.  Indeed an episode where the storyline is there as background or as a peg on which to hang other development allows the viewer to concentrate on the important aspects of the episode.  The real problem is a different one. In season 1 too many of the storylines have been too derivative or too predictable or both.  Episodes like “City of…” or “In the Dark” were essentially standard rescue stories.  “The Ring” was essentially the same type of rescue story and also contained the sort of slave revolt we had seen many times before.  “Expecting” was yet another variation on the same theme, this time built around another old standby of a demon child.  Both “Hero” and “She” were straightforward stories about escaping from oppression and again in terms of plot contained little that was new.  “Hero” was a particular offender here because the death of Doyle (which should have been a climactic moment in season 1 was so formulaic and the Nazi type enemies  were comic book. I will readily admit that there were some interesting character work in these episodes and some very thoughtful thematic developments.  But the storylines were workmanlike retreads of a few old favorites and that is not really praise.  When you are left thinking that you have seen this too many times before or that you know exactly what is coming next it is very hard to sustain interest

And the pity is that great use can be made of an old idea when the writers come up with a new twist to make us look at something familiar with fresh eyes.  I have already referred to the sort of plot twist we find in “Parting Gifts” but here I am referring to a twist in a larger sense.  Rather than a new or unexpected development which sends a plot into a different direction I am talking about something which makes us fundamentally re-evaluate our whole way of thinking about we are seeing.  A superb example of this came in IGYUMS.  What appeared all along to be a rip off (I think the French call it “homage”) from “the Exorcist” was turned completely on its head when we discovered that the “innocent child” Angel and Wesley were trying to rescue was the real monster and the demon was the one afraid for its sanity.  This was not only a cool idea in itself but also opened up some interesting material on children and crime in modern society. Equally, in “Eternity” we see a story which seemed to be about a stalker and his victim.  But it actually developed into a story in which Angel was forced to confront the demon within when it was released by a misguided actress’ attempt to become a vampire herself.  It us a pity that this sort of imagination could not have been brought to bear in episodes like “Expecting” or “The Ring”.



8.5/10 (B+):  It is not very easy to grade an entire series.  A simple mathematical average of marks for individual episodes would be very misleading.  Yet the raw ratings do I think speak for themselves.  9 of the 22 episodes I judged to be B+ or better and 13 were either “very good” or “excellent.”  Only 3 rated a D or below. And given this balance  I think that the series does deserve to be judged by the best it produced, rather than the worst.  The first season of ANGEL demonstrated many virtues.  First and foremost was the way that it increasingly concentrated on strong and important themes such as the choice between good and evil, the need to take responsibility for our decisions and the ability of humans to take control of their own destiny regardless of the past.  And these themes were dealt within in interesting and thoughtful ways in which strong use was made of the nature of the titular vampire and the situation he finds himself in.  And this brings me on to the second great virtue of the series: its appealing and consistent characterization.  In Angel, Cordelia and Wesley we have not mere ciphers but living breathing (well except in Angel’s case) individuals we can believe in and relate to.  In Angel in particular we now get a much greater sense of depth and of understanding of who he really is.  It is not only that the writers have filled in more of his background (important though that is).  They have also explained much more clearly and satisfactorily why he came to take responsibility for Angelus’ crimes and how in doing so he found himself cut off from the world.  But far from leaving him as a static figure haunted by this past, the writers have launched him on a path towards redemption and this path has already delivered significant character development in terms of the development of an active sense of mission  and the promise of more change to come.  And all of this happens in the context of some very good, strong storylines.  At their best in “Somnambulist” or “Five by Five” they make for compelling drama on their own.  But even the uninspired stories like “Expecting” or “the Ring” are workmanlike and professional.  Of course flaws remain.  The change in direction midway through season 1 was a little disorientating, although it was something that  might have been expected as the series found its feet.  The development of Angel’s sense of mission and the changes in him was too episodic.  What we saw were staging posts rather than being given a sense of a journey with changes gradually happening over time.   And at times the plotting has been too derivative and unimaginative.  On occasion you almost get the sense of going through the motions.  But above all I think the most promising thing about ANGEL is that as a series it now seems to have  a sense of purpose and direction.  I think that it does know where it is going and I am more than happy with that direction.



For the full Saturday reviews of the Season 1 episodes just click on the links below:

1.  City of...

2. Lonely Hearts

4. I Fall to Pieces

5. Rm w/a Vu

6. Sense and Sensitivity

8. I Will Remember You

9. Hero

10. Parting Gifts

11. Somnambulist

12. Expecting

13. She

14. I Got You Under My Skin

15. The Prodigal

16. The Ring

17. Eternity

18. Five by Five

19. Sanctuary

20. W

21. B

22. To Shansu in LA