Brilliant but flawed - but still essential
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 06/23/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Warning: Multiple SpoilersOf the seven seasons of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and the five seasons of ANGEL, the former's seventh season and the latter's fourth season were the most frustrating, and most flawed. Many things were spectacularly well done, but there were also ill judged story arcs that threatened to undermine all the good things in the season. It would not be wrong to say that Season Four contained many of the best things ever witnessed in either show, as well as some of the worst things. What went right? The year started with perhaps the most extraordinary episode in the history of the series, "Deep Down." At the end of Season Three, Connor had taken what he imagined to be revenge on Angel for the death of his foster father Holtz by locking Angel in a heavy metal cage, and dropping it into the Pacific Ocean. The new season begins with a fantasy sequence in which Angel imagines himself to be at a dinner with all his friends, Connor included, only to awaken to realize he was still on the bottom of the ocean. Luckily, his estranged colleague Wesley has undertaken the search for Angel, and eventually manages to locate where he has been dropped. Throughout the season we get the same conflicted, tormented, alienated Wesley we saw at the end of Season Four, and his character is far and away one of the finest things of the season.What else went right? The season was far less episodic than any of the five seasons of the show. TV execs hate long story arcs, but there is no question that from an aesthetic point of view long arcs make a better show. There is a sense in which Season Four was one long story. Additionally, there was a great new and underutilized character in Alexa Davalos's Gwen Raiden, an outstanding bad guy in "the Beast" (impressively played by towering Czech actor Vladimir Kulich), and a fantastic three-episode arc featuring Eliza Dushku as Faith. The special effects were as good as anything ever seen in television, including some eerie sequences in which it literally rains fire from the sky and the sun is blackened out in L.A. We also witnessed what may have been the funniest episode in the history of the show (with the possible exception of Season Five's "Smile Time"), the outrageously funny "Spin the Bottle." And Angelus returned for a few episodes. The high points were very high indeed.In the light of all these delights, what was it that made it a flawed season? First and foremost, an extraordinary error in concocting the character widely known as "Evil Cordy." For whatever demented reason, it was decided originally to make Cordelia the "big bad" of Season Four, a plan that had to be scraped when Charisma Carpenter became pregnant in real life. Since her baby was due at about the time when she would have been required to fight Angel, keeping the original story arc was clearly impossible. Fans will recall that at the end of Season Three, Cordelia had been made a "higher being." In Season Four we would have found that she had been more or less duped, and would be hijacked by evil entities that would return her to do battle with Angel. Instead, they changed the story by having her have sex with Connor ("yeeecccch") and becoming pregnant with his child, who turned out to be not a child but a full grown goddess with a penchant for eating people. For me this very nearly killed all the good things in the season, since I absolutely loved Cordy's transformation from school snob early in BUFFY to heroine who made extraordinary sacrifices in her willingness to fight the good fight. I thought this a horrible misuse of her character. A second major problem with Season Four was Connor, a character that was never very well conceived and never well written. He never really gelled with the rest of the cast, and most of his scenes felt like interruptions in the action. And on top of all this, he had sex with Cordy ("yeeecccch"). It was no surprise when he was nudged out of the show at season's end. The third major flaw in the season was the character of Jasmine (played by the usually marvelous Gina Torres, who I loved in Whedon's Sci-Fi Western that year, FIREFLY). I and many other ANGEL fans found the episodes featuring Jasmine to be utterly unpleasant. Everyone becomes a mindless automaton, blindly serving her needs unless accidentally contaminated with her blood, Fred first, and then Angel, and eventually the others. This was a story line that was developed in the wake of the discovery of Charisma's pregnancy, and it did have the feeling of something that was grafted onto the season, and not an integral part of it. So, of all the years of ANGEL, this is the one with more fantastically great and horribly wretched elements. Nonetheless, it still was one of the three or four best shows on television this particular season (2002-2003), matched in my opinion by BUFFY (which suffered its own most flawed season), the prematurely cancelled FIREFLY, and the also tragically cancelled FARSCAPE. Which is to say that warts and all, it remains essential viewing.The Season Four set, which has been previously released in most of the world's regions, contains the largest set of special features yet."
Andrew | Chicago, IL, USA | 09/23/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I would like to preface this review by saying that the very first episode of Angel that I ever saw was Release, an episode from the middle of this season. When I saw it, I recognized that this was definitely an amazing show, for Release is one of my very favorite episodes, however I had almost no idea what was going on. I only knew four characters; Angel (David Boreanaz), or maybe I should say Angelus, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (Alexis Densiof), Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpentar), who confused me by being evil, and Faith (Eliza Dushku), who confused me by being good. Also, I thought that this was the second part of a three part episode arc involving Angelus, Angel's evil alter-ego. Man, was I wrong. This season's overall arc rivals the arcs used on shows like 24 and Alias; in order to fully understand and appreciate this season, one has to see every episode as well as most of the episodes from previous seasons.
Anyway, the season picks up sort of where we left off last year; Angel is at the bottom of the Pacific, where he was left by his son Connor (Vincent Kartheiser) and vampire hunter Justine Cooper (Laurel Holloman). Cordelia is on the higher plane of existence, Wes has been exiled from the group and is in an unhealthy relationship with Wolfram and Hart lawyer Lilah Morgan (Stephanie Romanov), Lorne (Andy Hallet) is performing in Vegas, and for the three month interim, Gunn (J. August Richards) and Fred (Amy Acker) have been searching for their two missing friends while trying to run Angel Investigations with Connor. For the past few months, Wes has been holding Justine hostage and is using her to find Angel. After Wes rescues Angel, the vamp kicks Connor out of the hotel and begins a search for his lost love Cordelia. The trio of Angel, Gunn, and Fred also start asking Wes for help more and more often. Over the summer it seems that the nerdy ex-Watcher has turned into a suave, dark, 007ish vampire hunter. Then, after a trip to Vegas to clear their heads and help rescue Lorne, the group returns to the Hyperion Hotel to discover Cordelia, who has no memory of her life. Lorne "reads" her and is horrified to see unspeakable evil in her future. Once she gets her memory back, things begin to go to Hell in L.A. Plagues of rats and snakes start occurring all over the city, and then an enormous demon made of solid rock emerges from the Earth... in the exact spot where Darla (Julie Benz) staked herself in order to bring Connor into the world. The Beast (Vladimir Kulich), as the gang calls it, causes the sky to rain fire, the performs a ritual that blocks out the sun. Things get a lot worse when the Angel Team has Angel's soul extracted in order to get information from the evil Angelus, only to learn that the Beast is taking orders from something worse. Soon, Angel's soul is stolen and Angelus escapes and runs rampant through L.A. Finally, we meet the Beastmaster, Jasmine (Gina Torres who has previously worked with Joss Whedon on Firefly), a higher being whose evil master plan is... world peace?
This year, the Angel gang faced numerous changes; Wes is now a dark, tortured, fighter, Gunn and Fred's relationship is tested to the limits, Cordy may no longer be who she used to be, Faith is now a force for good, and the L.A. branch of Wolfram and Hart is completely obliterated! The group also faces two of the most morally ambiguous challenges ever: do human sacrifices and the loss of free will justify world peace, and the other one stems from one of the show's greatest twists to date.
As I said earlier, this season is the most arc-heavy of the entire series (although year 3 is pretty intense, and year 5's arc is ingeniously the lack of an arc, but I'll get into that in the Season 5 review), and for the most part, it worked really well. Things did kind of slow down during a few episodes (in my opinion at least) such as the first Angelus episode and the first couple Jasmine episodes. However these minor problems can easily be overlooked due to the amazing overall story and the amazing individual episodes.
The acting is as good as ever; in fact I think that these actors just keep getting better. I guess the only exception is Kartheiser. He is kind of uneven; he will do very well in one episode, and then in the next one, his performance will be a little dry. Speaking of Connor, while I never truly despised him the way many fans did this season, I will admit that his constant snarl and bad attitude did get a little tiresome. The regulars weren't the only good performers. The guest stars were superb in their various roles, from Dushku's Faith to Torres' Jasmine, and from Kulich's Beast to Alyson Hannigan's Willow, who made an appearance in the episode Orpheus. Speaking of Faith, I still can't believe that she turned down a Faith spin-off show to do Tru Calling. Okay, I enjoy that show, but I believe that a Faith-based show led by Joss would have been amazing. Finally, there was Alexa Davalos, who played Gwen Raiden, a theif with an, um, electric personality. I still can't believe that Davalos didn't get used more. She definitely would have been a welcome addition to the team for Season 5 (along with James Marsters' Spike of course). Oh, and speaking of regulars, Andy Hallet finally made the opening credits after 2 and a half seasons as a guest star! Personally, I think that Hallet has gotten the short end of the stick in a lot of instances, such as being left off the DVD covers, but oh well.
One of the best things about this season was that Buffy cross-overs were allowed to happen again, despite the fact that BtVS was on UPN while this was on The WB, and the writers really made the best possible use of them. We were treated to overlapping stories (Faith and Willow, Angel taking the amulet to Sunnydale) as well as some references (Wesley talking about how the Watcher's Council no longer exists). I guess that the networks realized that this year was the last season of Buffy, so they let them have a few final crossovers.
The special effects and make-up this year probably reached their peak greatness (the show's budget was cut after this year). The Beast, the demons, and the portals all looked great.
This is, in my opinion, the best season so far (my favorite is Season 5, though). This season had great stories, great character development, and of course, great fights. The first fight with the Beast, Angel, Gunn, Wes, and Lorne was spectacular. The duels between Faith, the Beast, and Angelus were not only epic, but they were also kind of funny. And this season had probably my favorite fight of the series: Angel vs. Angelus! I wish that it had been longer. I truly believe that the writers could devote an entire episode to a duel between the two.
Pretty much every episode was good this year, so here are the best of the best: Deep Down. Spin the Bottle (the show's second funniest episode). Apocolypse, Nowish. Long Day's Journey. Awakening. Calvary. Salvage. Release. Orpheus. Inside Out. Sacrifice. Peace Out. Home. Anyway, that's the Season 4 lowdown. One season to go. See you in year 5!"
An exhausting thrill ride or a muddled mess?
R. Seehausen | Cypress, TX United States | 06/29/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"If there's one thing the fourth season of Angel does, it's wear you out. It moves from one "oh my God, what are they going to do?" to the next, and by the time you reach the halfway mark of the season, you're just begging the writers to let up and give you some respite from the rollercoaster ride of emotion.It's a profoundly disturbing season, and achieves horror in a way that neither Angel or Buffy ever have. Joss Whedon calls it emotional horror, the horror that comes not from having a scary thing pop around a corner or blood and guts splattered all over the pavement, but rather from characters we know and love having terrible things happen to them and acting in awful ways.This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's a draining, exhausting thing, but it's not necessarily bad.What is bad is the disjointed, messy plot of the season. In a season that has almost no episodes that stand on their own, outside of the plot, it's devastating that the plot is never clear and never makes sense.It's not all the writers' fault. It was a troublesome season of television for both Buffy and Angel--Joss Whedon was off working on Firefly, and both shows suffered from difficulties regarding their regular actors. In Angel's case, the primary problem was Charisma Carpenter's (Cordelia) pregnancy. You get the sense that it forced the writers to make changes in the story on the fly, breaking earlier plotting and destroying an already convoluted and overly complex storyline.The season isn't all lows, don't get me wrong. It is a thrill ride, jumping from one horrific situation to the next, each further pounding the Fang Gang into the ground. The Beast remains, in my opinion, one of the most effectively frightening villains in the history of the Buffyverse. Connor, while easy to loathe, is also fascinating in a sick, voyeuristic sort of way. Other villains, including (and especially) the return of an old "friend", provide even more horror and difficulty, mostly in a very entertaining fashion.And the season starts out at top form. The resolution to the cliffhanger that ended season three, "Deep Down", was nearly perfect, answering most of the immediate questions from last season and leaving more open to explore throughout season 4. What follows is a short series of excellent stand-alone episodes (including the introduction of the fascinating, X-Men-esque Gwen) before Cordelia's inevitable return and the start of the season's thrill ride of a plot.But the season's conclusion, which spans over four or five episodes, is terrible. The explanation for the convoluted storyline of the season is insufficient to say the least, and if it doesn't leave you confused, it'll still leave you gaping in disbelief. Not disbelief at any sort of surprise, but disbelief that the writers would explain things in such an inept and inadequate fashion.But the season doesn't end there. It runs off into something entirely different in tone and unrelated to the type of emotional horror we've been constantly experiencing, and only loosely tied (by the previously mentioned inadequate explanation) to the previous events of the season. It's, if anything, even more disturbing, but in a way that will leave you more detached and confused than involved and frightened.And once that ends, a completely unexpected and completely unrelated season finale caps off the season with even more confusion. It seems to serve only as a jumping point for the fifth season, which it serves as adequately (despite initial disbelief in the plausibility of a certain law firm's motivations). What it doesn't do is give us anymore satisfaction than the already unsatisfying ending provided in the episode preceding it.It's a shame this season was such a mess. It showed great promise, and perhaps if the writers had gotten a clear, well-developed plot worked out and stuck with it all the way through, it would have been one of the best and most disturbing seasons of Angel or Buffy. As it stands, it's only a testament to the disorganized nature of both Buffyverse shows' writing staffs during this tumultuous season of television, a season that produced two of the weakest season plot arcs (this season of Angel and Buffy's corresponding season 7) ever to grace a Joss Whedon show.Is it worth the money? Yes, because the journey is intense and contains many entertaining and worthwhile developments, and is written well other than the convuluted season's plot. The cast also gives it their all, with the possible exception of Charisma Carpenter, whose lackluster performance in the second half of the season can be excused by her advanced pregnancy and the ridiculousness of the plotline forced upon her character.All of that said, I hold the opinion that this was the worst season of Angel, never delivering on its promises or matching its suspense and intensity with clarity and logical plotting. Buffy and Angel fans, buy it and enjoy the intense journey, but be forewarned about the lackluster plot and do not expect a satisfying conclusion. It will leave you disappointed."
No need to ask where the feeling is in this season...
Rebecca Rae | 01/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This season is probably tied with Season Five as my favorite season. Some people couldn't stand this season, however I loved it beyond words. Whereas Season Seven of Buffy was putting me to sleep with the long speeches and massive amounts of whiney teenagers with random plotlines spinning off into thin air, Angel Season Four was much different. It actually got my blood flowing. I laughed, I screamed, I yelled, I felt SOMETHING! The point is, this season is supposed to make you angry, it's supposed to make you gag over the relations between Cordy and Connor! That's TV at it's finest! When you are so emotionally attached to the characters that it can effect you in such a strong way.
Anyone who is a fan of Wesley will love this season because he blossoms. Gunn fans will be hurt his relationship with Fred dissolves, and those like me who are a fan of both Gunn/Fred and Wesley/Fred will be torn the entire season. And of course come Season Five, you'll be heartbroken that they gave up on this love triangle...
Speaking of love triangles never neglect the Angel/Cordy/Connor dilemma. But even through all the romantic problems, this season is far from romantic, and the big bad Jasmine will make sure you feel queasy at least 1/4 of the season. Also we must note the splendid acting from all the characters.
The point is, this is the season where you as a person come to realize what exactly it is you love about each and every character. In Wes, some will miss the geek, others will love the dark side. Most will realize that as they miss Buffy season 1-3 Cordy, even more they miss the beautiful woman she has turned into on Angel. The love for Lorne's humor continues, the weakness in Lilah, the brave girl looking for her hero in Fred, and the man looking for redemption in Gunn.
And as always, the hero will always be our beloved Angel. His sacrifice will move everyone. And it is only in Season Four that you'll begin to understand that any man with muscle can save the world, but it takes a true hero like Angel to save a heart."