Tag Archives: Angel

Cultural Catchup Project: Moving On while Moving Apart (Angel)

Moving On while Moving Apart

August 20th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

When a series makes a pretty substantial change to its basic structure, we usually respond in one of two ways: either we fret over how the series will handle that change, or we shrug our shoulders and presume that things will be back to normal eventually. This is not to say that we don’t enjoy this change, but as someone who is averse to change as a general rule it makes me anxious when I see a favourite series taking a glimpse over the edge as if it plans on jumping, even if that jump ends up being a spectacular sight.

However, I honestly didn’t flinch when Angel fired his staff at the end of “Reunion.” This isn’t because I am not enjoying the series, or that I am not engaged with its characters, but rather because the series is naturally suited to these sorts of changes. Admittedly, I knew in advance that reinvention was one of the series’ strong suits, but I didn’t expect for those reinventions to feel so purposeful: when Angel fires his staff, it feels like a logical progression of his character, and the crisis it creates doesn’t feel like an effort to shake things up for the sake of ratings. Indeed, instead of feeling shocking, the range of episodes from “Blood Money” to “Reprise” feel decidedly normal, a statement that even a substantial shift in the character dynamics of the series needn’t disrupt its basic themes or structures.

They aren’t the strongest episodes of the series, but they serve an important role: while they make the argument that Angel and his former employees will not remain apart forever, they also demonstrate how their separation only broadens the series’ potential, continuing a strong second season.

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Cultural Catchup Project: Fighting the War (Angel)

Fighting the War

July 31st, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

At first glance, “The Shroud of Rahmon” was a fairly unimportant episode: caught between “Darla” and “The Trial,” it seems strange to offer a standalone tale of Gunn’s cousin getting in over his head, featuring a mysterious shroud which brings out the worst in those in its presence. It’s not the worst story in the world, tying in with Elisabeth Rohm’s Kate, but it seems like a distraction from the fact that Darla is somewhere out there, and I don’t need to see someone sing karaoke to know that the series’ destiny very clearly awaits her return.

However, as the series embraces its destiny in the episodes which follow, we see that the Shroud was a bit of foreshadowing, a sort of preview of what we were about to see. While Angel’s previous high point to date, the Faith crossover, was in some ways dependent on our connection to Buffy and the arcs which started on that series, the run of “The Trial,” “Reunion” and “Redefinition” feels as if it wholly belongs to this series, even with a number of familiar faces in the mix.

This is largely because these episodes are not about Darla, or Drusilla, or about Wolfram & Hart – rather, they are first and foremost about Angel, about who he has become and what precisely he believes he can do. It is not that these other characters lack nuance, or that their stories stop progressing, but rather that their actions all work to force us to reconsider Angel’s heroism. What was once brave becomes reckless, and what was once heroic can very quickly become inhumane – Angel makes decisions which would to an outside observer make one believe that Angelus had in fact returned, but we see enough to know that his soul is perfectly intact.

It is simply the soul of a soldier, is all.

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Cultural Catchup Project: One Past, Two Perspectives (Buffy and Angel)

One Past, Two Perspectives

July 26th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter has said that he has no intention of ever using flashbacks for the FX series, which some might find odd considering how much of the series is based on an earlier generation of conflict regarding SAMCRO’s founder, John Teller. However, each season of the series has a tightly constructed arc, and so much of its drama depends on capturing the intensity of the Sons’ daily lives that flashing back would likely disrupt any sense of momentum.

And yet, for network series with similarly complex backstories, flashback episodes are almost a necessity: with 22 episodes to deliver each year, as opposed to the 13 offered on cable, flashbacks are a good way to kill some time between major story arcs, or fill in some necessary exposition heading into a new story arc, or to simply have some fun by featuring a character who everyone seems to enjoy. “Fool to Love” and “Darla” are both flashback episodes, and even flash back to the same scenes in two instances, but they represent two distinct types of flashback episodes, which becomes clear when watched together (as they would have originally aired).

I want to talk a bit about how each series uses its respective flashback episode as a standalone piece, but I also want to look at how they work as parts of their respective seasons: while “Darla” is very clearly part of the series’ narrative arc, “Fool for Love” has a unique relationship with the momentum built by “No Place Like Home” and “Family” which offers a different take on the potential function of flashbacks.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Judgment” (Angel)

“Judgment”

July 21st, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

The road to redemption is a rocky path.

There is no question that the conclusion to Angel’s first season, “To Shanshu in L.A.,” was a bridge to the second season, with the return of a figure from Angel’s past and a prophecy which indicated that there might be, to quote Angel, “light at the end of the tunnel.”

However, it’s important not to mistake momentum for structure, and “Judgment” makes it extremely clear that not everything is as clean as it seems. The show doesn’t abandon the ramifications of the first season finale, but it does indicate that moving on isn’t an immediate process: rather than clearly establishing a path to salvation, providing the series with a distinct sense of direction, the premiere instead focuses on how the characters are confronting their new reality, and how they will continue to confront it for the rest of the season.

“Judgment” is not interested in turning the series on its ear so much as it desires to establish that nothing has changed but the determination of our lead characters, which sets the stage for an engaging, and unpredictable, second season.

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Cultural Catchup Project: Two Steps Forward, Few Looks Back in “To Shanshu in L.A.” (Angel)

Two Steps Forward, Few Looks Back in “To Shanshu in L.A.”

July 11th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

“To Shanshu in L.A.” is no “Prophecy Girl.”

I can’t resist the comparison, as both episodes find their respective series still searching for their identity while closing their first season, looking for a source of momentum. Don’t get me wrong, I like “To Shanshu in L.A.” just fine, but what felt so natural for Buffy (a final showdown with the season’s “Big Bad,” a first glimpse at the evil which sits underneath Sunnydale) feels comparatively contrived when it happens to Angel. While Wolfram & Hart have been built up all season, and there is some really successful subtle serialization in the episodes leading up to the finale, the finale leaves nothing to the imagination beyond the mysteries of “What Does the Prophecy Mean?” and “Who’s in the Box,” which really won’t matter until next season. The resolutions to these mysteries are exciting, and I very much like where the show is heading in terms of its plot, but the episode plants its thematic flag at base camp instead of trying for the summit.

If a great season finale wraps up the season’s storylines while looking forward to what happens next, “To Shanshu in L.A.” is only really successful with the latter, although that’s by design: the show is clearly not done with a majority of the elements introduced this season, so it makes sense that it wouldn’t feel like “Prophecy Girl.” Yes, I’d argue that the episode reflects some of the ways in which Angel lacks the momentum inherent to the conclusion of Buffy’s first season, but it’s yet another example of the show charting its own course, and even with some of my concerns about the way the episode is designed I’ve very excited by the world it has created and its potential moving forward.

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Cultural Catchup Project: Stuck in a Story You Can Get Out Of (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Stuck in a Story You Can Get Out Of

July 9th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

I knew of Season Four’s somewhat divisive nature before I started watching it, but I’m sort of glad for this knowledge: while going in unspoiled might have created a more visceral response to the material, I’ve found it quite stimulating to be able to sort of reconstruct the initial disappointment with the season while I’m experiencing it for the first time. I think watching it on DVD, inevitably, won’t create the same sort of response that viewers experienced back at the turn of the century, as watching at this pace the season’s low points go by pretty quickly and are largely overshadowed by some really strong individual episodes sprinkled throughout the season. I’ve seen the moments when fans would begin to be frustrated, but I’ve yet to see anything that would really turn me against the season, and heading into the final series of episodes I was anticipating something to really change my mind.

However, I’ve watched up to “Primeval” with only the much-beloved “Restless” waiting for me, and I’ve yet to see anything here which really cripples Season Four. I still have plenty of reservations about Adam, and the Initiative, and how wacky and incoherent much of “Primeval” ends up being as a result of its focus on those elements, but this season was never at any point in time about those elements. Every now and then the series would get too caught up in these particular parts of the season, but it was common for the show to step out of them entirely, able to deliver the genius of “Superstar” or return to Oz’s storyline in “New Moon Rising” without feeling as if the overarching storyline was being neglected.

The relative insignificance of the Initiative and Adam is at once the season’s greatest failure and its redemptive quality: while it keeps the season from reaching anywhere close to the Mayor’s arc in the third season, the fact that it doesn’t truly dominate the season’s narrative allows for the subtle character transformations unfolding to rise to the surface, keeping the intriguing but ultimately underdeveloped Initiative storyline secondary to the parts of the show which really matter.

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Cultural Catchup Project: One Faith, Three Narratives (Buffy and Angel)

One Faith, Three Narratives

July 8th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

When I wrote about the first crossover between Buffy and Angel, I wrote that it wasn’t so much a crossover as it was ancillary elements (a returning Spike, the Gem of Amara) crossing between the two series and created largely independent stories which happened to share a basic foundation. However, Spike was a fun villain at that time as opposed to a neutered anti-hero, and the Gem of Amara was a simple MacGuffin without much meaning, so the episodes were meaningful less for what crossed over and more for the stories which those elements created for each series’ respective arc.

As we arrive at the final crossover event (stretching, technically, over five episodes) of the season, what’s clear is that the rules have changed: while the awakened Faith is, like Spike, a character-based connection between the two worlds, it is a connection with much more baggage than Spike’s villainy, and one with wide-reaching complications for both narratives. Whedon is very interested in Faith’s story, which remains diverse and compelling over the course of these episodes, but he is acutely aware of the different role her story plays in each series: while there is technically a clear thread which charts Faith’s behaviour over the course of the four episodes in which she appears, there is a distinction between how much each series focuses on her story as opposed to the story of those around her.

The result is three separate stories, unquestionably connected but distinct in terms of their sense of momentum. While a single narrative of Faith’s awakening stretches over both series, and Buffy and Angel travel back and forth between the two shows working out some of their lingering issues, Faith’s impact on Buffy’s narrative (in “This Year’s Girl” and “Who Are You”) is very different from Faith’s impact on Angel’s narrative (in “Five by Five” and “Sanctuary”), her story finding the series in two very different places which result in unique consequences.

For Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Faith’s return is a continuation of a past storyline and a thematic reminder for the series’ ongoing arc; for Angel, Faith’s return is a turning point for the series’ sense of narrative momentum and character dynamics. Throw in Faith’s individual narrative, and you’ve got the sort of television event that you don’t see every day, and one which helps justify the decision to watch the two series simultaneously even in its quasi-fractured structure.

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Cultural Catchup Project: A Case of Deja Vu (Angel)

A Case of Deja Vu

July 3rd, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

As I get closer to the end of Angel and Buffy’s first and fourth seasons, respectively, the two shows are suffering from opposite problems when it comes to writing about them. While Buffy has gone through a lot of plot development which makes it difficult to write about a single episode as opposed to an arc, Angel is so devoid of plot development that nothing is really jumping out at me. It’s not that either show is depreciating in quality, but rather that Buffy is barreling through while Angel remains in the logical first season holding pattern (albeit with a twist, due to the events of “Hero”).

And so, while it isn’t ideal, I figure it’s best if I offer some quick comments on a large series of episodes for each show as opposed to trying to review them individually. These aren’t really thematic pieces, but more a grab bag assortment of comments regarding particular episodes. Now, I have some reservations about doing this for Buffy, and when that piece goes up later in the weekend I can assure you that it will go a bit more indepth with the growing arcs and some of the character work ongoing in the episodes leading up to the two-parter – however, for Angel, these episodes standalone in such a fashion that a quick paragraph on each seems like a nice way to capture the series’ progress of sorts.

If we can call it that, considering how much of it feels like a case of Deja Vu.

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Cultural Catchup Project: When One Door Closes… (Angel)

When One Door Closes…

June 29th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

There’s been some concern in the comments as of late about how much I’m being spoiled by their contents, which is a legitimate concern that I’ve sort of accepted as the cost of doing business. I certainly appreciate those who avoid spoilers, but I also don’t begrudge those who can’t contain themselves and reveal something small from the future. In some cases, you’re simply being reassuring or helpful: it is technically a spoiler that, for example, Wesley and Cordelia’s character arcs would be continuing on Angel, but it’s not as if the real value of those character arcs comes from the surprise of their appearance. Knowing that fact does not take away the impact of each character becoming part of a different series, but rather puts that seed into my mind for the future.

The one legitimate spoiler I’ve had in regards to Angel arrived far sooner than I expected it to: while a certain Twitter compatriot to remain unnamed mistakenly spoiled the central event in “Hero,” I had no context for when that event was going to arrive, and so I sort of presumed that it was a spoiler for a much later period in the series rather than the midway point of its first season. Yes, I would have been much more viscerally shocked had this closed door come as a complete surprise, but since I didn’t know when it was coming its impact on the narrative remains quite the same. If “I Will Remember You” closed the door on any hope of Buffy and Angel truly reconciling, then “Hero” closes the door on the notion that Los Angeles will be any less dark than Sunnydale.

Although, strangely though, the door that opens is awfully familiar for those who’ve spent time around southern California’s Hellmouth.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Pangs”/”I Will Remember You” (Buffy and Angel)

“Pangs”/”I Will Remember You”

June 28th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

I noted in my review of the episodes of Angel which led up to “I Will Remember You” that Angel, as a character, wasn’t really the focus of the episodes in question. As pointed out in the comments, this is quite logical: Doyle is the new character who needs to be introduced properly for the series to succeed, and Cordelia best bridges the gap between Angel’s business and the kind of person he tends to help (the helpless). However, since “Bachelor Party” closed with Angel running off to rescue Buffy from peril, I sort of presumed that the latest crossover between the two series would help rectify this particular issue.

“Pangs” and “I Will Remember You” do, in fact, bring Angel back to the forefront of his own series, but I find it interesting how imbalanced the episodes are in his favour: while Buffy may appear in “I Will Remember You,” the episode’s narrative devalues the crossover from Buffy’s perspective to the point where these episodes don’t actually impact Buffy’s character in any substantial fashion. Buffy is a series currently juggling a large number of storylines, while Angel is by comparison fairly open-ended: as a result, while Buffy and Angel’s relationship completely takes over in “I Will Remember You,” “Pangs” remains grounded by Buffy’s ongoing arc to the point where the episode actually feels fairly uneventful (if still functional).

However, the value of the crossover is found in “I Will Remember You,” which is an incredibly important episode if we consider Angel as its own standalone series. To this point left in abstraction for viewers to fill in either through watching Buffy or learning about it from someone who watched the earlier series, Angel’s relationship with Buffy invades the spinoff in its nascent stages, a decision which is especially dangerous considering the narrative arc created in the episode. There’s every chance that this crossover, merging the two worlds together, will make it so viewers will wonder why they were ever split apart in the first place, and lead to resentment over the fact that they won’t truly be reconciling.

I’d argue, though, that a heavy dose of character-appropriate tragedy leads “I Will Remember You” away from nostalgic desires towards further building Angel as a protagonist in his own right, an important step for the spinoff series.

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