Well, after the misstep with the third season of Mad Men (where I only reviewed the entire season rather than each individual disc of the series), we’re back in Los Angeles for the second season of Angel. That’s my current TV on DVD set-up for the blog. I’m going back and forth between Angel and Mad Men (as a regular recurring break in between my movie reviews as well as the current season of True Blood). It feels like ages since I finished the last season of Angel though I know it’s only been about three weeks. I really enjoyed the first season. While it was certainly better than the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I still didn’t feel like I was more invested in Angel by the end of that season than I was in Buffy. It’s probably an unfair comparison to make because I had seven season of Buffy to fall in love with the Scooby gang. Wesley has only been around half a season by the end of season 1 and Gunn was there for four episodes. So, what I’m hoping happens this season is that I form a deeper emotional connection to these characters. That’s the primary benefit of TV (as I’ve harped on again and again on here). I finished the first disc last night before I went to bed (my current nighttime reading material is the newest Dark Tower book, The Wind Through the Keyhole. Expect a review soon), and while I wasn’t wowed by any of the individual stories on display, there is definitely a sense that the show is in complete control of what sort of program it wants to be and how these particular characters fit together.

I should have mentioned this in my review of Salvador but now is as good a time as any to bring it up. Long time readers may have noticed a subtle change to the format of this blog. The pictures in the post are bigger instead of being smaller versions of larger photos. I just didn’t like how small and unclear the pictures looked (unless you clicked on them to make them bigger). I think this set-up may be more engaging to the eyes. Feel free to let me know how you feel about the change. Anyways back to Angel. In the first episode, the gang has had to relocate their offices temporarily to Cordelia’s (and Dennis the ghost’s) apartment. After failing to stop Wolfram & Hart from resurrecting Darla (though Angel still doesn’t know Darla’s what was resurrected), Angel has gone on a crusade to stop all of the evil in L.A. that he can. However, when one of Cordelia’s visions sends him to confront a demon, he kills the demon only to discover that it was good like him and protecting a pregnant woman (whose unborn daughter will grow up to be an important soldier in the fight against the darkness). Angel then has to take up the mantle of her new protector until she can find sanctuary. During all four of these episodes, Angel is having very sexual dreams about Darla and we discover in the fourth episode that Darla is using some special magical herb to control Angel in his sleep (at the orders of Lindsay from Wolfram & Hart). In the second episode, Angel Investigations investigates a 1950s hotel with a history of murder and the supernatural (and a connection to Angel’s past). When they finally defeat the demon that has haunted the hotel for 50 years, Angel decides to make the Hyperion Hotel the new headquarters for Angel Investigations.

In the third episode, Cordelia’s visions are again unclear enough to ultimately cause problems for everyone. She has a vision of Gunn fighting for his life. Because Angel is under the dream influence of Darla and Wesley is simply AWOL, Cordelia goes to investigate on her own and accidentally attacks (but doesn’t really injure) one of Gunn’s men who he was sparring with. However, Cordy knows that she was sent to Gunn for a reason and vows to stay with him until whatever threat to his life appears. As they search together for Angel’s stolen car (which was taken when Cordy went to save Gunn), we get a deeper look into why Gunn does what he does as well as his own death-seeking heroism. When they vanquish a demon that Gunn had been hunting at the episode’s end (with the intervention of Angel and Wesley), Cordelia reveals to Gunn that the demon wasn’t his threat. He’s his own worst enemy and he has to learn to control his temper and his desire to be exposed to danger if he wants to stay alive. In the final episode, we meet a young psychic named Bethany who (unbeknownst to her) has been targeted by Wolfram & Hart as a potential psychic assassin. One of Cordy’s visions send Angel to rescue her but her uncontrolled psychic powers make her kill the would-be rapists (actually sent by Wolfram & Hart to test what would happen to Bethany under stress). As Angel tries to help her control her powers and come to deal with the personal demons (the metaphorical variety) that caused her powers to manifest, he has to deal with the scheming of Wolfram & Hart as well as the continuing thrall that Darla has placed him under.

In all of that recapping, I forgot to mention my potentially new favorite character on the show. He’s some type of benevolent demon known as the Host (also known as Lorne) that runs a karaoke bar because if people sing in public, it allows him to see into their future (at will unlike Cordelia’s uncontrollable visions). He is fairly flamboyantly gay and absolutely fabulous. He adds some much needed levity to the program (and has provided some of the season’s most memorable moments so far but more on that shortly). Joss Whedon works so well (compared to other popcorn supernatural programs) because of the pop literacy of his writing (and his team’s writing) as well as that of his characters. Cordelia had been the only one providing that sort of awareness because Angel is nearly completely pop culture illiterate and Wesley has more of a British leaning (obviously). Lorne brings some of that pop culture joie de vivre to the proceedings and I just think his character is a fun new addition to the cast. He’s far more interesting right now than Gunn. Side note on Gunn, no one on this cast knows how to write an African American character (not that they have to be written a specific way but what I’m saying will make sense in a second). They try really hard to make him sound “black” and “street” and wow do they not do it well. It seems pretty forced and artificial when he talks, and that’s almost never the case for the dialogue on a Joss Whedon project.

As for the individual episodes, they were consistently good even if none of them (except for perhaps the last one, of course directed by Joss Whedon himself) were actually great. The season premiere, “Judgment,” was good in the way that we saw a moment where Angel wasn’t doing good for good’s sake but because he was angry. He was “keeping score” and it cost him when he didn’t think before acting. Also, it sort of grounds us in the fact that it’s going to be a long time before the Shanshu prophecy (where Angel’s good deeds will eventually make him human) can ever come true. The second episode, “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been,” is a fan favorite (although I’m not sure why). The parallels with the McCarthy hearing were pretty cool, and the moment where an ensouled Angel leaves a group of humans to be murdered and tortured by the demon controlling the hotel (in the 1950s after they tried to lynch him for a murder) was really interesting. I just don’t think the rest of the episode held up that well. “First  Impressions” gave us plenty of Cordelia. She’s become far more serious and likeable of a character this season (though still occasionally having the more traditional “Cordelia” moments) and I’ve enjoyed watching her grow. Unlike with Spike, watching her become more sympathetic hasn’t robber her character of any of its strength. Same with Wesley. He’s now fare more of an interesting character now that he isn’t an incompetent twat. However, that episode also gave us a lot of Gunn and so far he isn’t clicking with me. The final episode “Untouched” was the best.Angel is all about redemption and coming to terms with our dark sides, and that episode added a layer of dark sexuality to the whole proceedings. Also, I’m really interested to try to figure out what Wolfram & Hart’s whole plan with Darla is. They’ve been teasing that out very slowly and I’m ready for some more information.

Well, I still need to review last night’s episode of True Blood (this season has been fairly uneventful but at least it hasn’t been outright bad like last season) so I’ll draw this to a close. After a semi-disappointing third season of Mad Men, I’m really hoping that this season of Angel can still deliver the goods that last season sent my way. Otherwise, I’ll be in for a slump of TV. The season’s not off to an amazing start, but it’s been good, and I can see how the season is laying the pieces for things to get better. Once again, I’d love some feedback about using these larger pictures instead of the smaller 300 X 200 pics that I was using before. Feel free to check out my Anchorman review to see an example of the posts with smaller pics. It’s a change. Angel was a bad post to use an example of for these because there are very few decent quality pictures of this show on the internet for whatever reason (I had a similar problem with Buffy).

Final Score: B+

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