Two Joss Whedon related posts in a row? I’m perfectly okay with that (as long as people don’t think this is suddenly becoming the Joss Whedon fan blog [cause I’m sure there are a million of those out there]). I actually should probably be doing a review of Sunday’s excellent Game of Thrones before this Angel review but it’s literally gotten to the point where my Game of Thrones reviews are so in-depth and extensive that I have to work up the energy to get started on them. They can be that draining. I’ve got the season finale of Glee tonight which I’ll probably have to save the writing of this review mid-production to watch, but I’ll immediately be back to finish up this post and to also do my song of the day for today. I’ll give you a hint as to what it’s going to be. It’s a name of a gem stone and it comes off the latest album from a Baltimore dream pop band. It also sounds like Final Fantasy music. Anyways, though, I’m now officially halfway through the first season of Angel (and halfway closer to starting Season 3 of Mad Men), and I think it’s safe to say that this is the moment (along with the last two episodes of the last disc) where the series really began to find its voice. Opinion of Angel is pretty split among my friends where half of them think it’s leagues better than Buffy and half of them think it should never have been made in the first place, but if the show can keep up the type of dark and mature storytelling it’s achieved over the last five episodes, I’m ready to believe that I might fall in that first camp someday.

In true Joss Whedon fashion, just when you think you’re going to get a breather episode to make up for the emotional trauma that was Angel regaining his humanity and the chance to live happily ever after with Buffy but he ends up being forced to not only sacrifice his regained humanity to save Buffy’s life but also erase the memories of their happiness from her mind, Joss Whedon stabs you in the heart even harder the very next episode by having the first death of a series’ main character thus far. Seriously, if you ever watched Buffy or Serenity, you know that Whedon is almost  a sadist in this regard, and it’s “good” to know that Angel won’t be any different. Doyle gets a vision of a group of half-demon refugees who are being chased by a pure-blood demon supremacist group (that bears a not-so-subtle resemblance to demon Nazis). We finally learn the dirtiest secret of Doyle’s past (and the one that has caused him the most guilt over the years). When he was younger and first learned of his demon heritage, he was asked for help from a member of his species to try and escape the Scourge. He refused to put his neck out for anyone else, and an entire family of half-demons was brutally murdered by the Scourge and receiving the Visions became part of his penance for his cowardice. Finally telling Cordelia the truth about his heritage and kissing her (and transferring his visions to her), Doyle sacrifices his life to stop the Scourge from killing this group of refugees (and keeps Angel from making the sacrifice since Angel could do more good than Doyle ever could). When Cordelia gets the visions, they lead Angel Investigations into the path of a “rogue demon hunter” who turns out to be former Watcher Wesley (Alexis Denisof) who’s been tracking a demon that is trying to steal the power sources of demons across the country, and by the episode’s end, Wesley has found a place in the offices. The disc ends with one of Angel’s vampire progeny, Penn (The Avengers‘ Jeremy Renner), arriving in L.A. and committing a series of brutal and public murders aping Angel’s old M.O. from when he was still Angelus. Angel enlists the help of the LAPD and Kate to help stop Penn, and while they are able to finally stake Penn before he can commit any more murders, Kate also discovers that Angel is a vampire and about the atrocities he committed before he regained his soul and it appears that their friendship has been ruined before.

“Hero” is, along with “I Will Remember You” from last disc, one of the best episodes of the series so far. Doyle was only in Angel for nine episodes, but Glenn Quinn did such a great job inhabiting the role and the series’ writers did such an excellent job of slowly fleshing him out that losing him hurt nearly as much as losing any of the Scoobies (lord knows it carried more weight than the very sudden and almost anti-climactic death of Anya). Redemption is always a major theme in the works of Joss Whedon. Whether it’s Spike’s quest for penance in the final season of Buffy, Angel’s attempts to atone for his past as Angelus, Anya trying to make up for being a demon, or Andrew trying to make up for murdering Jonathon, all of the best Whedon heroes have something to atone for (except for Buffy for the most part). It’s a testament to the economy of the story telling on this show that you were able to get a meaningful redemption story out of Doyle in such a short period of time. It’s also pretty impressive that we got to learn so much about his character. By this point in Buffy, there hadn’t been half this many episodes devoted solely to supporting members of the team. It’s good to know that Angel really respects its status as an ensemble piece and it’s more interested in telling serialized, character-driven stories than the monster of the week stuff that started the show off. All three episodes of this disc contributed to the myth arc of the season in one way or another, and I think that’s incredibly important for any modern sci-fi/fantasy program that wants to be taken seriously.

“Parting Gifts” and “Somnambulist” were both pretty great in their own right (even if they didn’t quite reach the level of “Hero). Alexis Denisof as Wesley ranks right below Warren and Adam on my list of least favorite Buffy characters, and making him a major character on this program seems like a really odd choice since we already had the other really irritating cast-off from its parent program with Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia. Still, he seems to fill an archetypal urban fantasy role that was missing even when Doyle was on the show (which is to say the brainy guy). Pretty much everyone working at Angel Investigations right now is lacking in the social graces department. Angel is all dark and gloomy and brooding. Cordelia is self-involved and oblivious to comic levels. and Wesley is just about the most pretentious person in the history of this particular ‘verse. There’s a great comedic chemistry there that I wouldn’t have really expected because miscommunication has already become a recurring theme among this group of ragtag misfits. Also, I know that Wesley gets some pretty massive character development on this series (so does Cordy) so I’ll give him a chance. It was great to have Elisabeth Rohm back for another episode as Kate. Not only is she one of the most gorgeous women to ever grace either Buffy or Angel, she’s a complex and strong-willed character in her own right and now that the cat is out of the bag in regards to Angel’s vampirism, it should shake up the stable dynamic the show had been generating with her as Angel’s inside man in the LAPD. Also, there was just some great stuff in that episode about Angel’s quest for atonement and the guilt he still carries not only for everything he did as Angelus but also for all the things that Penn has done since Penn was his creation. The scene where Angel offers himself up to be staked by Kate to stop Penn is a great example of the sort of hero Angel has become and will continue to grow as in this series.

I’m dedicating this post to Glenn Quinn who died of an accidental drug overdose three years after his stint on the series ended. Not only did Doyle have to battle with his inner demons (both emotional and quite literal), Glenn Quinn had his own battles to face and sadly he succumbed to them. I still wish that he had been part of the series for longer than a scant 9 episodes, but I respect and recognize what path Joss Whedon wanted the series to take with this decision and the overall tone it would set for the series. I’m going to draw this review to a close because it’s 10:30 (I did end up taking that break for the season finale of Glee that I was predicting) and I still haven’t done my song of the day post. That obviously needs to get finished ASAP. I still need to review Sunday’s Game of Thrones plus tonight’s Glee finale. Anyways, I stand by my earlier statement that this is the disc of Angel where I think everyone finally realized what type of show they wanted to make, and at this point, you’re either on for the ride or you aren’t. I’m here for the long haul.

Final Score: A-