Angel - The Vampire Anthology - Wesley Review

(Author's Note - there are going to be inevitable similarities between this release and the Cordelia Anthology. Technically they're of virtually the same standard, and the format - four episodes, plus the star indulging us with ten minutes of their time - is identical. Therefore a bit of copy and paste between the reviews is unfortunately on the cards, as I attempt to suggest that covering each anthology is better than combining them all in one single article. Sorry about that, but figuring out how best to present them was a trauma, of sorts).

As with the Cordelia Anthology, this DVD is only recommended on the following conditions (i) how much you like Wesley Wyndham-Price, former watcher who is part of Angel's detective agency (ii) the extent to which you can handle four episodes plucked from three entire seasons of material.

Taking the second point first, it's never less than an irritation to have to dip into the overarching Angel story to catch a single tale. Characters have come and gone, and things have happened with each jump - significant things too, on occasion. Why anyone would choose to watch a show like Angel this way rather than invest in the season box sets is beyond me. Nothing is explained, meaning the viewer has to work out what has elapsed before each episode begins. It's very annoying. You would need to be a massive Wesley fan, I feel, to enjoy this unreservedly.

And that takes me nicely on to the first condition - these episodes were specially selected because they focused on the (so-called) English member of Angel's team. Whether he's a favourite of yours or not, you will learn more about Wesley's character development here than any of the others. Luckily for me, he's my favourite of the lot, dodgy received pronunciation dialect aside. Maybe it's because he started out as a Giles (of Buffy fame) rip off, and everyone loves Giles, or perhaps it's down to the neat blend of comedy and issues that drive him, he's certainly among the more three-dimensional of the people in the Angel universe. In this anthology, you get to see all sides of him - as a would-be tough demon hunter, as someone who steps into Angels's shoes, and ultimately as the one who questions what's going on around him. It transpires more than once that Wesley's central conceit is that he in fact wants to be Angel, a quite fascinating paradox considering his past exploits and his role within the team.

But all this is open to interpretation and you might see things differently as you work your way throuigh the episodes:

Episode One - Parting Gifts
Wesley's entrance occurs as another major Season One character departs. The carrier of visions, Doyle, has died, and Angel visits the 'Powers That Be' to beg for his return. In the meantime, a demon is being pursued by a leather-clad biker, who of course turns out to be Mr Wyndham-Price. Now calling himself a rogue demon hunter, he cuts a fine figure in his Terminator-esque leather get-up and bag of weaponry, but it doesn't take much for Angel to bring him crashing back down to Earth. Soon enough, the gang get caught up in a saga of double-crossing and duplicitous demons, though the whole episode is a set-up to work Wesley into the storyline. Some nice moments include Cordelia kissing everyone she meets in an effort to get rid of the head-splitting pains that come with the visions she has inherited from Doyle, and Angel's ill-fitting abilities as a cook. As for Wesley, his role within the team has already been mapped out - he's already hitting the books in this episode - and there are enough English reserve type gags to set him up as an effective new Rupert Giles.

Episode Two - Guise will be Guise
Wesley takes a case in which he masquerades as Angel in order to protect the daughter of an LA oligarch, Virginia Bryce. Things take a logical turn for the messy when they fall for each other, as in the meantime Angel is preoccupied at the lodge of a 'swami', discussing his feelings about Darla. Obviously, Wesley has a hard time living in the skin of a vampire, and there's a bit of an American Pie moment as he's forced to drink a cup of blood in keeping up his appearance. This episode is nothing but filler material, and though entertaining enough has little going on that's really memorable. Whilst still in bumbling English mode (this would largely be dropped by the third season), Wesley is good for some laughs, and his mixture of jealous and admirable feelings towards Angel is endearing.

Episodes Three and Four - Loyalty and Sleep Tight
A real sizzler of a double bill from the second half of Season Three, this one opens in classic horror mode, with Angel devouring his infant son, Connor. The scene turns out to be part of Wesley's nightmare, but it's horrifying stuff, and sets us up for a superb tale about fractured loyalties and myriadical plots. As reptilian attorney, Lilah Morgan, of Wolfram & Hart, and a bunch of gypsies who are descended from the clan that cursed Angel in the first place draw their separate plans against the vampire, his group is feeling the strain. Cordelia is absent. Fred and Gunn's relationship is being tested. And then there's Wesley himself, slowly falling apart as he believes via a prophecy that Angel will kill Connor. It's not often that the acting in this show deserves a mention, but Denisof puts in some superb work as Wesley, doubts and convictions running through him utterly convincingly as his loyalties are pummelled by forces from within and outside the group. The episodes end on a superb cliffhanger, as it quite necessarily leaves more questions than answers and Wesley facing the consequences of some difficult decisions.

As with the Cordelia Anthology, the quality here is excellent, with none of the grain and darkness that marred the earlier seasons of Buffy. Certainly where episodes three and four are concerned, it's absolutely fine in widescreen, and deliciously clear. Soundwise, it's the familiar two-channel Dolby Digital soundtrack that is probably as good as it's going to get from a TV show. It's clear enough, with some decent surround effects that only hint at how good it might have been with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Still, less is more, and Angel can surprise and stun the viewer with its judicious surround activity, adding some level of ambience.

Alexis Denisof is the logical interviewee in this DVD's one significant extra, a fifteen-minute dance across the surface of Wesley's character. Denisof doesn't put much of a foot wrong, and some of the clips show what's in store for his on-screen persona after the events on the disc, which are of course mouthwatering and leave you wondering just what they could have put on the anthology had more thought gone into it. All the same, nothing overwhelmingly worthwhile is said and the whole things smacks of tired promotion. Decent, but unecessary.

7 out of 10
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