The House Always Wins
Slouching Toward Bethlehem
Spin The Bottle
Long Day’s Journey
Shiny, Happy People
The Magic Bullet
It was always going to be tough going into the fourth season of Angel and sustaining the same level of excellence gracing the previous three seasons of Buffy’s spin-off show. The penultimate season of Angel is by far the most tumultuous, plagued with a convoluted story, unnecessarily shocking plot twists and questionable character motives throughout. Unlike previous seasons, there’s a real lack of monster-of-the-week episodes too causing an unbearably quick pace to hang over large stretches of the season. It’s not all bad though and once again the action and supernatural elements are generally very well implemented but it’s just a shame that more care wasn’t put into the script which is sadly lacking and drags down the overall appeal of this fourth season.
The story picks up right where it left off last year. Angel (David Boreanaz), trapped in a glass box at sea, is quickly rescued by the rest of the group and what ensues is a desperate search for Connor (Vincent Kartheiser) across the demon-strewn streets of Los Angeles. Cordelia’s (Charisma Carpenter) ominous vision of a world-ending demon called “The Beast” is the driving force for most of the conflict here although Wolfram & Hart do inevitably crop up and continue to thwart Angel and the others. As the plot progresses, Angelus and Faith (Eliza Dushku) both resurface and a surprise appearance from Willow (Alyson Hannigan) make this a season that certainly fires on all cylinders but the plot lacks refinement, hidden behind the facade of its breathless pace to hide some of the issues inherent here.
Angel himself is still the driving force of the season though and his conflicted emotions toward his estranged son Connor is heart-wrenching to watch, especially after everything our vampire with a soul endured last year. After three seasons of continued improvement, Cordelia’s character is arguably the biggest casualty of the writing here with some questionable character motivations, exacerbated by her prolonged absence during the middle portion of this season’s 22 episodes, changing the dynamic of the group in a drastic way. Of course, the rest of the cast do the best they can with the scripts their given and Alexis Denisof puts in another impressive performance as Wesley following his decision to snatch Connor away from Angel last year. His sordid affair with Wolfram & Hart’s Lilah (Stephanie Romanov) only further emphasises how lost he’s become. Throughout the fourth season his character has the most positive development put into it too which is certainly a welcome relief given the quality of writing this season.
When the dust settles and the credits roll on the finale, Angel’s fourth season has an overwhelming air of disappointment hanging over it. Many of the faults here do rest solely on the writers although there are moments where Angel shines; brief stints of action and solid acting all round are a welcome relief from the onslaught of convoluted plot developments gripping the series. With a little refinement and care put into the scripts, Angel’s fourth could easily be as good as the previous three seasons in the show’s history but Angel falls way short of the bar its set for itself with this effort. It’s a shame too as Angel’s group of complicated characters and darker tone are arguably more endearing than Buffy but this feels like a missed opportunity to one up the female vampire slayer’s show. Whether Angel will recover for its fifth and final series is anyone’s guess but some serious work needs to be done to improve here on what’s otherwise a largely disappointing season given what we’ve seen before.