Angel: Season Four Review
Angel is a series that walks a fine line between horror, comedy and action, and up until season four it's done a very good job. It can be scary, it can be side-splittingly funny and you're always guaranteed a healthy dose of arse kicking. For the most part this continues throughout season four - there are plenty of twists and surprises along the way too.
At the end of season three, Angel (David Boreanaz) was locked in a box at the bottom of the ocean after being dumped there by his son, Connor (Vincent Kartheiser). Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) has disappeared - unknown to the rest of the gang, she has moved to another plain of existence and Lorne (Andy Hallett) has moved from LA to continue his showbiz career in Vegas. Finally, following his abduction of Connor, earlier in the season, Wesley (Alexis Denisof) has been ostracised from Angel Investigations and is shacked up with Wolfram and Hart lawyer, Lilah (Stephanie Romanov). As you may have gathered, coming in at this point of the story would be near-impossible for non-regular viewers and this is probably the weakest thing about Angel. However, the long-running arc plots are also a major strength and it's through these that the writers are able to develop such complicated relationships and believable plot twists.
Season Four of Angel is incredibly dark and for the most part is excellent television. After being freed from his watery grave thanks to Wesley's investigations, Angel's first course of action is to try and find out what happened to Cordelia, however her return heralds the appearance of what at first seems to be this seasons 'big bad', The Beast.
The problem is that even though the season is packed with standout moments and we have an excellent adversary in the form of The Beast, the action peters out too soon and the 'Jasmine' (Gina Torres) arc over the last few episodes seems lame in comparison. In a season that features a formidable enemy, and the reintroduction of both Faith (Eliza Dushku), and Angel's alter-ego Angelus in an attempt to destroy The Beast, we had all of the ingredients to get away from the series increasingly deserved reputation of starting well and ending in disappointment. However it was just not to be. In fact, even the Jasmine storyline is wrapped up by the penultimate episode leaving space for an episode to launch Angel in a different (and many fans would argue, misguided) direction. There should have been more than enough here to keep up a stong pace for well over a season, however as we have seen with the final season of Buffy, pacing isn't Whedon and co's strong point.
Thankfully, while the season as a whole was a little lacklustre and rushed, there are still plenty of standout episodes including the very bleak Apocalypse, Nowish in which Angel gets soundly pummelled by the beast and LA is plunged into permanent darkness as well as the whole Faith/Angelus arc that encompases Awakening, Soulless, Cavalry, Salvage, Release and Orpheus and concludes with the intervention of Willow (Alyson Hannigan) restoring Angel's soul. There are also a number of good 'standalone' episodes that do also further the story as a whole including the fun Spin the Bottle which see's the whole cast revert to their teenage personalities when trying to restore Cordelia's memory, the surprisingly dark Supersymetry in which we discover exactly how Fred ended up in Pylea, and a fun change of scenery to Vegas in The House Always Wins which sees the return of Lorne to the Angel Investigations team.
As is customary for the Buffy and Angel DVD releases, we have another book-like package with the usual disc protection precautions. The menus are reasonably well structured without too much of the irritating animation that early seasons of Buffy, in particular, suffered from.
Angel Season Four is presented, as with the last two seasons, in 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer is nice and sharp and there's none of the smearing that was noticeable in earlier seasons. There's plenty of shadow detail an I haven't noticed anything in the way of compression or film artifacts. The only small criticism is that the picture is a little dark, although this isn't directly attributable to the DVD transfer.
We have a reasonably active Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack that has just enough depth to be satisfying. There is a little surround action but nothing particularly impressive and the bass is just about noticeable. It's broadcast quality, but nothing more.
As usual, the extras are scattered around the boxset in the way of commentary tracks on a small selection of episodes. There are also a couple of collections of featurettes etc on discs 3 and 6.
Unlike some TV series, we don't get commentaries on every episode. Instead, the key episodes of the season are chosen and commentaries are recorded in a good context - usually involving the writers, sometimes Joss and occasionally the actor on which the episode features. This is preferable to me and means that it's possible to listen to all of the commentaries without having to watch every episode twice. It also means we don't have to wait ages for all of the commentaries to be recorded (as we do with The Simpsons!).
All of the commentaries have something useful and interesting to offer. I've only dipped in and out of them for the purposes of this review, but I'll certainly be returning to listen to commentaries on both Spin The Bottle and The House Always Wins very soon.
The commentaries provided are as follows:
The House Always Wins with writer David Fury and actor Andy Hallett
Spin The Bottle with writer/director/creator Joss Whedon and actor Alexis Denisof
Apocalypse, Nowish with director Vern Gillum and writer Steven S. Deknight
Orpheus with director Terrence O’Hara and executive producer Jeffrey Bell
Inside Out with writer/director Steven S. Deknight
The Magic Bullet with writer/director Jeffrey Bell
Home with writer/director Tim Minear
Note: All commentaries feature subtitles in English and Dutch
Prophecies: Season 4 Overview
This is a quick rundown of the events of Season 4 - of course, it goes without saying that these are spoiler packed so should be watched after the series. As you'd expect, this is made up of various clips and interviews with the cast and crew including David Boreanaz, Joss Whedon and all of the principle actors and writers. The featurette is presented in a mixture of aspect ratios - the interviews are all 4:3 whereas the clips are non-anamorphic 16:9.
Last Looks: The Hyperion Hotel
From the second season onwards, the show was based in the 'Hyperion Hotel' and we finally see the cast leave their base of operations to join Wolfram and Hart at the end of the series. This featurette looks back at the hotel and takes us on a short tour of the sets that make it up - it's a fairly lightweight affair but an interesting watch regardless.
Fatal Beauty and The Beast
This is a more detailed look at the two main adversaries of the season - The Beast (Vladimir Kulich) and Jasmine (Gine Torres). It's quite interesting to see the former without all of the makeup on, and the feature has enough to keep you watching with the usual clips and interviews (primarily with Whedon, Kulich and Torres).
Malice In Wonderland: Wolfram & Hart
Finally, this featurette looks in more detail at Wolfram and Hart right from the beginning of the first series. In reality it's more a look at the character of Lilah (Stephanie Romanov).
Angel and the Apocalypse
This is housed on the second disc of the boxset away from all of the other featurettes and runs for around seven minutes. The featurette focusses on Apocalypse, Nowish - probably the best episode of the season and the one that introduces The Beast as well as plunges LA into darkness. It is largely focussed on the technical aspects in terms of special effects and stunts and is an interesting look at what went into this ambitious episode. (Thanks to Stian Marthinussen for pointing out where this featurette was!)
Note: All of the featurettes include subtitles in English.
Unplugged: Season 4 Outtakes
Running for just under 3 minutes, there isn't a lot here to hold your attention. The outtakes fall mostly in to the mildly amusing category with nothing particulary funny and not much more than a few fluffed lines, uncontrollable laughter and some amazingly cheesy dancing by David Boreanaz!
11 cross-promotional trailers
All of the trailers are on disc three of the set and cover the Buffy Seasons 2-6 DVD trailers, a trailer for the 'Slayer Collection' DVDs, a feature trailer for Buffy movie starting Kristy Swanson, trailers for Angel Seasons 1-3 on DVD and finally strange promotional DVD trailer that includes both Buffy and Angel. They're all as you'd expect - reasonably presented in 4:3 but there's nothing here to get excited about!
Season Four of Angel is a bit of a mixed bag. The first two-thirds is outstanding television, packed with plenty of action and surprises however the pace isn't kept up and by the last six episodes are very disappointing. The DVD release is as good as we're used to and there's no reason for any fans to be disappointed with this release.