Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Torment Finds The Vampire A Child: Angel Season Three Soars!

The Good: Excellent character development, Intriguing plots, Acting
The Bad: Minor strange inconsistencies, Not making Lorne a full cast member
The Basics: As Angel and Cordelia begin to move even closer together, two ancient adversaries of Angel's resurface to change everything in Angel The Complete Third Season.

It is hard to be a spin-off show for a series where big, grand things occur week after week. That is to say, it is difficult to create a series that happens in the same time as the original series it is spun off from and make it its own entity. Angel season three is a perfect example of that. In the Buffyverse, Angel still has a strong emotional bond to Buffy, whom he loved. Yet, just as Angel seems to be fully on its own steam, Buffy was killed in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, forcing Angel to have a reaction. Why? Because in our age it is impossible to believe that either: a. the love they shared could be brushed off easily if he did know about her death or b. that communications between Sunnydale, California and Los Angeles, California would be so bad that Angel never found out. The last moment of the second season of Angel brought the heroic protagonist the news of Buffy's death and that is where the third season begins.

Angel returns to the hotel after months in isolation trying to deal with the death of his beloved (though estranged) Buffy. Fred, the young woman he rescued from the Hell Dimension, has not left her room and the months have found Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn holding Los Angeles together in their fight against demons as Angel Investigations. Angel's return is followed in short order by the return of the villainous Darla, who comes bearing Angel's baby. Against all laws of nature, human and vampire, it appears Darla is pregnant with a fully human baby. As she nears term, the baby becomes the focus of the energies of all sorts of forces, including the villainous Wolfram and Hart, a cult that believes the baby will spell doom for all vampires, Holtz (one of Angel's victims who has been in suspended animation for two hundred years) and a dimension-shifting demon who has a grudge against Angel. These forces prey on the heroes of Angel Investigations until each member of the team is forced to make life altering decisions that change their lives.

What the third season of Angel does exceedingly well is push the supernatural drama into what the general viewer might consider "legitimate" drama. From its first season, Angel has been somewhat obsessed with exploring adult issues using the supernatural context of vampires and demons. Unlike Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where the demons often have a symbolic value where they may be compared to childhood fears of adulthood, Angel's demons are quite literal and the stories tend to spend much more time and emphasis focused on the repercussions of the decisions. That is to say, how the team of Angel Investigations fights evil is often more important than the evil itself. This approach works fabulously to keep the viewers focused on the characters, which should be the goal of any great drama.

As the characters are the most important aspect of the series, it is important to see where they are and where they are going this season:

Darla - Attempts to understand the baby within her and deal with that,

Holtz - His quest for revenge on Angel for slaying his family centuries before finds him forming an army of vampire hunters and making a choice that will destroy Angel's baby,

Groo - Returns from Pylea to take Cordelia as his wife in an unlikely turn that shifts the momentum of Cordelia and Angel's relationship,

Lilah - Working for Wolfram and Hart, she continues to attempt to destroy Angel, now finding an ally in Sahjhan, a time-shifting demon,

Lorne - Ever the ally to Angel Investigations, Lorne spends the season helping Fred get used to our dimension and counseling Angel on parental matters,

Fred - Slowly learns to deal with being back on Earth, she develops a strong relationship with Gunn and slowly becomes comfortable with being the staff researcher,

Gunn - Bonds with Fred and comes to deal with the consequences of his having made a deal long ago with a very dangerous demon. Still kicking butt, Gunn is forced to accept that his priorities in life have changed greatly since his days on the street, and go from there,

Wesley - Perhaps the most complicated arc of the season finds Wesley researching along, falling for Fred when she and Gunn become involved. Rattled by that, Wesley turns to his research where he discovers a terrifying prophecy about the baby that is to be born from Angel and Darla and he must make a difficult choice that jeopardizes everyone,

Cordelia - Still plagued by the visions from the Powers That Be, Cordelia is almost lethally wounded on her birthday, leading her to make a decision - based on her love for Angel - that will allow her to live and be strong. Renouncing part of her humanity opens up all sorts of new doors for her, though, and it leads her to a climactic decision in the season finale,

Angel - Confused over the death of Buffy and by his feelings for Cordelia, he finds his situation getting infinitely more complicated by Darla's appearance. His new role as father changes his priorities and his obsession with protecting his son begins to motivate everything he does.

These are, to say the least, compelling character arcs, for all concerned. This is the season that Angel steps out and fully becomes its own show. The consequences that the group, all of them including the peripheral characters and villains, is forced to deal with completely change the momentum of the show while still maintaining its integrity and recurring theme of responsibility. Angel is forced to take responsibility for his one night stand with Darla, Cordelia is forced to take responsibility for her love of Angel, and Wesley must deal with the decision he feels forced to make with the weight of prophecy against him. It's all about that bear responsibility and how it knocks us around.

But Angel is far more entertaining than a simple lecture on responsibility and season three has a good number of fun moments. In "Double Or Nothing," Cordelia's solution to the problem of the demon who owns Gunn's soul is amusing and in possibly the best episode of the season, "Waiting In The Wings," there is a scene that is genuinely erotic. And that's a rare thing to be able to pull off. Sure there's a lot of sex on television (I suppose), but actual erotic scenes, that's much more rare.

In addition to all of that, Angel is a likable protagonist and season three finds him and Cordelia in a maturing relationship based on a powerful, if unspoken, love. This season reads like a family story between the two of them and many of their scenes are passionate and beautiful, some utterly heartwrenching. And, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there are a lot of good one-liners that make everything snap along.

What makes all of this possible is the actors. Newcomer Amy Acker quickly establishes herself as more than just a beautiful face as Fred, just as great storylines and the ability to act completely charming prevents J. August Richards' Gunn from simply being a token ethnic actor. In fact, Richards continues to distinguish himself as a genuine, instinctive, articulate actor and one of the best characters (of any ethnicity) on television.

Alexis Denisof, who plays Wesley, is given his biggest assignments here and he lives up to the challenges with style and skill. Denisof plays Wesley as a man haunted by the potential choice he would like to avoid but feel drawn to make. Denisof's body language and ability to get around complex lines exceeds even his post-beating acting from the first season (which, was quite masterful. Were I a casting director needing someone to pretend they had just been tortured to within an inch of their life, I would want Denisof).

Charisma Carpenter continues to shine as Cordelia, infusing the role with more humanity and far less snob than ever before. Carpenter brings life to a character that started out (on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) so monolithic. She plays the quiet scenes with depth, the humorous scenes with an impish spark and her erotic scenes with mature passion. Season three finds Carpenter as an acting force to be reckoned with.

Finally, star David Boreanaz is given a chance to show some real range as well. Season three, in fact, falls into a minor technical difficulty as a result. Boreanaz plays Angel as overjoyed over his son, which should mean that Angel's curse comes back into play. Angel is supposed to lose his soul if he is ever truly happy, a condition which the franchise keeps equating to sexual terms, but Boreanaz's expressiveness over Connor would seem to be enough to make his character lose his soul.

This DVD set is wonderful for fans of the series or anyone wanting to get into the show. It is very close to achieving perfection, robbed only by little moments like Angel attacking Wesley in the hospital in "Forgiving," a scene that makes little sense following the powerful scene that preceded it.

The DVD set is possibly the best one yet from the series featuring some deleted scenes that some of us have been hankering for for a while. The commentaries are decent as well, making this a great boxed set. Anyone who is open to accepting great drama where they find it is likely to enjoy the third season of Angel, and it's quite accessible to those who have not known the show before this.

For other works with Keith Szarabajka, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon
The Dark Knight


For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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