When you live at home for the first time in a while (although it’s really just the first time since last summer) after spending an extended period of time off on your own, you find yourself in a state of mental schism. I’ve simultaneously found myself regressing to some pre-college safety nets (my dad buying me food, getting by without cell phone service, spending virtually my entire day watching sitcoms with my sister) while also rebelling against the reality of my situation. I’m desperate to be around people my own age, to be able to get drinks with friends, to be within walking distance (or public transportation) of places where people my age congregate. It’s a weird situation. Being home has robbed me of much of my motivation. It’s sad but true. I just can’t really get excited about doing anything. So, even though I finished watching this particular disc of Angel a couple of days ago, I’m only just now finding the motivation to sit down and review it. However, in semi-cool news, an article I wrote for work about the Top 10 Bands at Bonnaroo that You Might Not Have Heard Of (you can read it here) has received nearly 1700 up-votes on Stumbleupon. So, that always feels good. Anyways, this last disc of Angel has been the best yet with four truly excellent episodes and what I’m assuming is the beginning of an epic showdown between Angel Investigations and the evil lawyers at Wolfram & Hart.

In the first episode, a client intentionally lures Angel into a trap to force him to become a combatant in an underground demon fighting ring (think Bloodsport but way more cool). If Angel kills 21 opponents, he’ll be let free. However, Angel isn’t going to kill anyone if he doesn’t have to and he’s looking for any way that he can get out of this predicament without having to kill his fellow prisoners to pay his price for freedom. We are also introduced to Lilah, a lawyer at Wolfram & Hart who offers to buy Angel’s way out of the ring in exchange for his silence (which he obviously refuses). In the second episode, an actress whose career is on the downslide is saved by a crazy stalker by Angel (who didn’t know who he was saving). When it turns out that her stalker was hired by her agent to help save her flagging career, the actress decides to convince Angel to turn her into a vampire so she can be young forever. However, the drug she uses on Angel to cause him to be open to her proposal causes him to experience an artificial “pure happiness” and he transforms into Angelus until the drug wears off. The last two episodes are a two-parter where Faith (Eliza Dushku) arrives in Los Angeles after the events in Sunnydale where she woke up from her coma and tried to kill Buffy and then wound up switching bodies with her (and sleeping with Riley. Yikes!). After causing some mayhem in L.A., she’s recruited by Wolfram and Hart to kill Angel. After Angel and Faith have an epic fight, we learn that Faith really just wants Angel to kill her, and he tries to set her on the road to redemption. However, the arrival of Watchers from England hell bent on killing Faith and Wolfram & Hart’s recruitment of the LAPD in their quest to put Faith and Angel down proves to much and to finally atone for her sins, Faith turns herself into the LAPD. Also, Buffy returns to L.A. one last time where she and Angel have a big fight and end their relationship for good.

Besides introducing Lilah to the series, “The Ring” probably contributed the least to the overall myth arc of the series. It was certainly the most self-contained story in the show (even if it did re-establish the theme that Angel only kills when he absolutely has to and he knows that the person he’s fighting is impossible to redeem, i.e. species that are always innately evil) but that didn’t make it any less bad-ass. There was a serious focus on hand-to-hand combat, and the gladiator style battles were all pretty cool. I mean, yeah it was a very simple concept and it was more action-oriented than story but it’s okay to have stuff like that every now and then. Also, it was another moment (that continues so much this disc. just so much) where Wesley really started to grow on me. I still haven’t been able to get over just how much more I like him recently compared to how much I despised him on Buffy. “Eternity” was just fantastic though. Well, the second half was amazing. The first half was more a study on how Angel is unable to become emotionally close to people after A) losing Buffy and B ) after turning into Angelus. He can’t risk experiencing that kind of happiness. When Angel became Angelus that episode, I was instantly reminded by how excellent that Buffy became the second he became bad. David Boreanaz can be a little stereotypically brooding as Angel (though he’s much more interesting and three-dimensional on his own show), but when he’s Angel, he gives Spike a run for his money in the entertainingly evil department. So, you can’t say David Boreanaz is a bad actor. The problem is that Angel is just written a little flatly as a character sometimes.

The real stars of the disc though were of course the two-parters, “Five by Five” and “Sanctuary” (which only partially had to do with the fact that Joss Whedon co-wrote the last episode). Faith is a pretty excellent character. She’s supposed to be the Buffy-verse’s version of the superhero gone bad (think the Red Hood or Superboy Prime). So, she operates in a different realm of moral and ethics than our more stalwart heroes of Angel and Buffy. Watching her descent to the dark side was one of the highlights of Season 3 of Buffy, and here we see here at her lowest. She only took the job with Wolfram & Hart because she wanted Angel to kill her and put her out of her misery. There were plenty of great moments in “Five by Five.” Whether it was the initial scenes between Faith and Angel, the flashbacks with Angel and Darla (where we finally see what he was doing the first years after he was turned), or Faith torturing Wesley, emotions were running high for the whole hour and it all felt very focused on well-established characters and took them in new and exciting directions. However, the final fight between Angel and Faith was simply epic and the scene where she finally breaks down to him in the rain was superbly acted by Dushku (who I don’t normally think is all that great of an actress). Angel (even more so than Buffy) is all about our quests for redemption and who better than Faith to explore that with. “Sanctuary” upped the emotional ante by finding Wesley torn by his loyalties to the Watchers and his loyalty to Angel as well as having the final series appearance of Buffy in a very emotional confrontation with Angel. As someone who just went through a break-up, it was all pretty rough to watch. While I understand the show’s decision to have Faith wind up in prison, I almost wish she had stuck around a while longer because I long for our little group at Angel Investigations to get a little larger. They need at least one more person for them to really feel like as dynamic a group as the Scoobies. I think Gunn shows up next episode though so that should fix that.

Well, I really need to finish Yentl. I think I started it like a week ago. I think I may finally break my rule about always finishing the movies I start for this blog (and to be fair, I’ve broken it once before when I started things out with Downfall but never finished it) and just leave Yentl behind for the next time that I refresh the order of my blog (which I do once a year when I add the new award-nominee films to the list) because I don’t want to start it all the way over but it’s been so long since I watched the first half, that my review would be pretty awful if I just started it again. I feel bad about it, but I think it’s the right way to handle it. However, this incident (as well as the one with Downfall which was seriously on the verge of being an “A+” film) has proven to me that I shouldn’t start any movies unless I plan to sit all the way through it. I don’t have the attention span, memory, or willpower to restart a lot of movies if I don’t watch it all at once. Anyways, one last thought on this season of Yentl. I’ve only got one disc left but the first season of Angel is light years better than the first season of Buffy. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. Well, it looks like I’ll be starting Mad Men soon. Cool stuff.

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