Greatest TV Episodes - Angel: Smile Time

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Recently at The Digital Fix, we looked at the greatest episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Body. Now it's time to turn our attention to spin off show Angel. Like Buffy, there are many great choices to choose from. Do you go for the epic Darla from season two? Faith and Willow teaming up with the gang to take down Angelus in season four's Orpheus? Or Fred's tragic transformation into Illyria in the final season episode A Hole In The World.

All are fantastic episodes, all suitably dramatic. The difficulty in choosing the greatest episode of Angel is that there are so many powerful, epic moments in the show's history, picking one episode just isn't enough. But I've done it. There is one episode that, like Buffy The Vampire Slayer's The Body, took a detour from the norm and delivered 45 minutes of astounding television. At the same time it's radically different from The Body in every way. I'm talking about season five's Smile Time.

Angel and the gang taking on killer muppets on a Sesame Street-style TV show shouldn't work but it does. In true-Angel fashion, the threat is particularly nasty; the puppets have taken control of the show after its creator made a deal with devils to increase ratings and now those evil puppets are sucking the life force out of the children watching the show. Nothing says evil more than killing children and it is a chilling undercurrent to all the fun and cuteness afoot.

And there is cuteness and fun galore. From the moment Angel enters Smile Time's studio and is transformed into a puppet we're treated to some of the funniest sequences ever witnessed in a Joss Whedon show. (It should be noted that while the concept, script and episode direction was all Ben Edlund's, the idea of Angel himself becoming a puppet was suggested by Whedon himself).
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The reactions by the main cast are priceless. On one hand they're willing to help fight the threat and turn Angel back into a vampire. On the other hand their boss is a talking puppet. Best of all it's Spike's fit of hysterical laughter at finding “a wee little puppet man." The result is a frantic battle between Spike and puppet Angel. Surprisingly, the puppet wins.

Just as good are puppet Angel's scenes with new potential love interest, Nina the werewolf. First his desperate attempts to hide his puppet self from her and then the horrific moment where she wolf's out, and begins tearing into the puppet through her cage. Seeing a tattered Angel in rags, Lorne yelling out "Is there a Geppetto in the house?" is a wonderful mix of humour and drama.

Fortunately puppet Angel survives and gets to deliver his finest moment yet; vamping during the final battle. If there's one thing better than puppet Angel with his moody eyebrows then it's vampire puppet Angel in full rage.
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Overall, Smile Time's purpose is to have one last massive laugh before the series heads into it's final darker phase. Fred looses her life - and her soul - in the very next episode as Illyria takes over her body and the war against Wolfram & Hart escalates from within.

There is a lot of set up in this episode that has huge ramification in the final eight episodes to come. Gunn literally sells his soul to retain his new-found knowledge; the price is letting the artifact into Wolfram & Hart containing Illyria's vessel. That guilt will almost destroy him.

On a lighter, but ultimately tragic note, Smile Time is also the episode that Fred and Wesley finally get together as a couple. After two and a half years of side stepping around the issue and her unexpected romance with Gunn, audiences finally got what we wanted. It's just a shame that it was far too late.

Smile Time is a truly unique episode that pokes fun at its series lead and has a whole lot of fun with it. If you ever though puppets were evil, then this is the episode that proves it. Puppet Angel never gets old!

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