The TDF Top 10: Angel
We started our weekly TDF Top 10 with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, now we're heading back to the Buffyverse to count off the top 10 episodes from spinoff show Angel.
Spin-offs are a hit and miss affair, and attempting one from a cult phenomenon like Buffy The Vampire Slayer must have been a daunting task. But Joss Whedon’s masterstroke was knowing who and what to bring across from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Angel and Cordelia (and later Wesley) were characters that had begun to stagnate, with little to no development during season three. Transferring them from Sunnydale to LA gave them new life, allowing them to evolve outside of the confines of the Scooby Gang. It’s no coincidence that of all the Buffyverse characters, Cordelia and Wesley had the most development throughout their arcs. Whedon also had a stable of now veteran writers to draw upon, and the list of the shows the Angel writing team went on to is quite something; American Horror Story, Battlestar Galactica, Daredevil, Hannibal, Lost, Mad Men, and Supernatural amongst others.
Whilst for me Angel never quite hit the heights of its parent show, I’ll be honest and say writing this list was so much harder than the one for Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I had a shortlist of about 25 before I finally whittled it down to the ten below. Honourable mentions go out to City Of (1.01), I Will Remember You (1.08), Hero (1.09), Are You Now or Have You Ever Been? (2.02), Reprise (2.15), Billy (3.06), Lullaby (3.09), Waiting in the Wings (3.13), Forgiving (3.17), Tomorrow (3.22), Supersymmetry (4.05), Spin the Bottle (4.06), Soulless (4.11), Home (4.22), and Origin (5.18).
Honourable mentions out the way, here is The TDF Top 10 for Angel...
10: Birthday (3.11)
I’m a big fan of the chilled-out demon Skip, so I had to include at least one episode that featured him. This is a classic “what if?” episode that can be a cliche, but in the hands of the Angel production team it’s a standout. More than anything it shows just how far Cordelia has evolved as a person since her Sunnydale days. The alternate reality - where she is the star of her own TV series - is everything the Cordelia of Buffy The Vampire Slayer would have wanted. Instead she chooses to embrace her role as a hero, even agreeing to become half-demon for the sake of Angel Investigations.
9: Sanctuary (1.19)
It was probably to Angel’s advantage that the series avoided relying too much on Buffy turning up for a quick ratings boost. That meant that when she did appear it had real impact. Buffy’s first appearance on the spinoff, I Will Remember You, narrowly missed out on being part of this list, but it’s Sanctuary that really stood out for me. Angel’s interaction with Buffy is really a metaphor for the series itself; he’s telling her not just to leave his city, but leave his show. Just like Angel the character, Angel the series doesn’t need Buffy The Vampire Slayer anymore. After this episode Sarah Michelle Gellar would not appear on Angel again.
8: Smile Time (5.14)
Some of the best moments in Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel come when they try something completely out of the ordinary, and Smile Time is one of those episodes. Few shows could get away with turning their lead character into a muppet for one episode, but Angel certainly pulls it off. The episode is filled with so many great moments: Lorne’s “my little prince!”, puppet-Angel’s fight with Spike, Fred and Wesley finally getting together. But there’s also an underlying darkness to the episode. The happy puppets are, after all, draining the life from children, leaving them with Joker-esque rictus grins. Plus Gunn unknowingly makes the seemingly innocuous deal that will cost Fred her life in the very next episode.
7: Orpheus (4.15)
Season four is probably the weakest, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some gems scattered throughout. Orpheus is a Buffy The Vampire Slayer reunion, with both Faith and Willow turning up to help Angel get his soul back. Faith continues her path to redemption, as we discover she has been quietly serving out her prison sentence even though she could have escaped at any time. She then takes a trip down Angel’s memory lane, as we get to see some more of the ups and downs of the vampire’s tragic life. Meanwhile Willow shows her badass side by taking on a god in a magical duel, and there’s another smackdown hundreds of years in the making: Angel versus Angelus.
6: Reunion (2.10)
Drusilla is always fun to have around, but we never got to see the combination of her and Darla before in the Buffyverse. The two make a great double act, with Darla playing the straight vampire to Drusilla’s insanity. Wolfram and Hart swiftly discover what a mistake it was to both resurrect Darla and bring Drusilla in to turn her once more. Of course the episode is most memorable for Angel’s surprising act at the end, where he abandons a room full of lawyers to be massacred by the vampiric duo. His dismissal of their pleas for help is deeply chilling: “And yet somehow, I just can’t seem to care”.
5: You’re Welcome (5.12)
There’s no denying Charisma Carpenter/Cordelia was done the dirty in season four, so it was good to see her return for one final goodbye in the show’s 100th episode. Cordelia awakens from her coma to return Angel to the right path, and Carpenter fits effortlessly back into the show, making us wonder what might have been if things had gone differently in the previous season. Lindsey also gets his comeuppance after manipulating Spike, carried off by the Senior Partners to a special torture dimension. Angel and Cordelia finally get a real kiss, and then seconds later the final kicker, Angel receives a call to say that Cordelia never woke from her coma and has died.
4: Darla (2.07)
In my Top 10 Buffy The Vampire Slayer list I included Fool For Love, so there was no way I wasn’t going to include its sister episode from Angel. Darla is an underrated character in the Buffyverse; there was a lot of character development packed into her limited appearances. Five seasons after she appeared as the first ever vampire in the Buffyverse we finally got to see her story (her siring is in fact the earliest moment we ever see). It also gives us a look at the immediate aftermath of Angel’s ensouling, as he tried to carry on as if nothing has happened. Interesting fact: despite being a major part of the Buffyverse backstory, the foursome of Angel, Spike, Darla, and Drusilla only appeared in four Buffyverse episodes together.
3: Five by Five (1.18)
There are few TV series that can manage to completely change the way we see a character in one short scene, but this episode certainly manages it. Faith is a character we loved to hate up until now, going from betrayed humanity to the mayor, to exacting revenge on Buffy, to brutally torturing poor Wesley. But Angel isn’t going along with that. He knows how hard the road to redemption is, and he’s not giving Faith the punishment she wants. By refusing to fight her, Angel turns Faith’s world, and our view of her, upside down. Gone is the arrogant dark slayer, and what’s left is a scared little girl crying her eyes out. Powerful stuff.
2: A Hole in the World (5.15)
Poor Fred. How I remember this episode blindsiding me when I first saw it. Angel kills off Fred, probably the most likeable character, right after she finally got together with Wesley. Plus it’s partially Gunn’s fault. And to top it all off, Angel and Spike have the opportunity to save her, but can’t bring themselves to do it if it means the deaths of thousands. Again the episode serves as a metaphor for the wider narrative. This season was all about whether Angel and friends could change a corrupt organisation from the inside, yet it leads to Fred literally being corrupted from the inside out. Fred’s death scene at the end is the most devastating in the whole series (and up there with Joyce and Tara over on Buffy The Vampire Slayer), partly owing to series-best performances from Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker.
1: Not Fade Away (5.22)
Whilst Buffy The Vampire Slayer's finale was not one of its better season ends, Angel went out on a high. Every character gets their moment, with nice touches like the return of Spike’s poetry and Angel finally getting to spend some quality time with Connor. Wesley was given a hero’s send-off, completing a character arc that was one of the most transformative in the Buffyverse. There was also one last insult for Lindsey, the only character other than Angel to have appeared in both the first and last episodes of the run. The episode’s cliff-hanger ending divides opinions, but for me it emphasises everything Angel is about. A true hero keeps fighting, even if the battle never ends.
So do you agree with the list above? What are your favourite episodes of Angel? Let us know in the comments below.