THE CHALLENGE: Binge-watch and review every season of Buffy to celebrate Dark Horse Comics' release of Buffy Season 10 on March 19 and "Angel and Faith Season 10" on April 2. So far we've done:
Buffy Season 1 (and an overview of why we love Buffy)
Buffy Season 2
Buffy Season 3
Buffy Season 4
And now, Angel Season 1.
What makes this season (and most of Angel overall) so good is the strong theme throughout of Angel's quest for redemption. The show also dodged a major bullet in its third episode when it introduced the Ring of Amara, rendering a vampire unkillable and able to go out in the day. At first, you think, "What a great idea! Now Angel will be able to go out in the daytime just like anyone else." And then you think, "Well, that's lame. A protagonist who is a vampire who now essentially isn't a vampire because he has a soul and can go out in the daytime." When they destroy the ring, they make a bold statement: We could've taken the easy way out, but we're not. We're making the hard choice, one that keeps Angel in the dark, in the night time, where he belongs. Bravo.
The themes of redemption run strong in this show. First, in Angel himself. We learn more about his backstory, his family life, before he was turned. And somehow everyone who comes into Angel's sphere of influence is looking for the same sort of redemption. Cordelia, stripped of her money and therefore get away with being a total b-i-t-c-h ("A bitca?" -- Sorry, that's actually a joke from Buffy Season 4, but anyways) has to start over. And after the events of the season finale where she literally feels the suffering of everyone around her, she states they have work to do. Meanwhile Wesley is also looking for redemption and ends up becoming a total badass. First, only in his mind, but this is LA, so "fake it until you make it" -- and by the end of the season (and his encounters with Faith and the other watchers) he has become what he set out to be.
Highlights: That theme song. Seriously. The perfect mixture of rock and gothic classical. When Faith shows up. Evil lawyers. The introduction of Gunn and a street gang of vampire hunters. The appearance of one of Angel's sires, played by Jeremy Renner (Ep 11 "Somnambulist"). Phantom Dennis. Angel as Spartacus in a demonic gladiatorial games run by the guy who made fun of Matt Damon in the bar in "Good Will Hunting."
Lowlights: I really liked the character of Kate when she was introduced early in the season. But she turns into a total shrew after the death of her father, for which she some reason blames Angel? Makes no sense, and a waste of a good character. Speaking of, Doyle was a character I kind of hated when he was introduced. And then he actually got interesting. . .in the episode he killed himself. But the show really doesn't find its spot until Doyle dies and Wesley shows up. (Again, a hallmark of Whedon shows having a rough patch early in its first season) On that same note, Wolfram and Hart get introduced early in the season and then kind of don't do a whole lot until the end-- only as hired guns, not as the ones actually pulling the strings for the "senior partners" as they are later. The fact that the lawyers are the bad guys should'v been exploited more early on.
"Five by Five"/"Sanctuary" Episode 1.18-19. When Faith shows up after her stint in Sunnydale, she starts leaving a trail of violence, landing her on the doorstep of Wolfram and Hart, who want Angel dead. Oh yeah, Faith puts one of the lawyers in the hospital for being smarmy. After kidnapping, torture, and a final fight in the office, Angel and Faith throw down in the rain. This ends with Faith breaking down, begging Angel to kill her, yelling that she is evil. Angel offers her sanctuary, and becomes her sort-of sponsor down the road of redemption. This isolates him from both Cordelia and Wesley, and later, Buffy, as she shows up to warn him. This culminates in a brawl involving the two slayers, Angel, Wesley, and the four representatives from the Watchers Council tracking Faith which includes Angel jumping up through a skylight into a helicopter. Yes, really pale men can jump.
The real story here is Eliza Dushku's performance. She is both asskicker supreme and vulnerable as she begins her road to redemption.
8 out of 10
Overall rating for Season One: 7 out of 10. As with Season 4 of Buffy, there are the exact same problems with unneveness and unnecessary, obligatory crossovers. But when they were on, they were on. And as with the first season of Buffy, it takes a while for them to find their pace. And, oh, that season finale and the twist at the end.