The success of Angel‘s fourth season rests squarely on the strength of its season arc. That’s somewhat strange to say when so many of the season’s fault can also be pinned on that arc. Or perhaps not. Far more than any of Angel’s other seasons, this one focused on telling a unified story. A challenging, dark, EPIC story. This allowed plot, theme, and character to all yield big payoffs as they capitalised on what came before. It also meant that things weren’t pretty anytime this narrative behemoth stumbled. In my opinion, the successes of this seasons far outnumbered its failures, making it one of Angel‘s best.
I already mentioned the season arc in the preamble, but I’ll give it mention again here. After eleven seasons in this universe, “Apocalypse” has become cliché but this arc was able to breathe new life into it. Unstoppable horned demon, rain of fire, eternal night and, most importantly, a group of heroes who are badly out of their depth. This was the story of the world falling down around our characters and the increasing desperation just made for a superb season.
Wesley. There’s some standout work by everyone this season, but Alexis Denisof deserves special mention. Wes’ transition to bitter hardcore badass is one most surprising but plausible character turns I’ve ever seen. Wes was always a good character, but this season made him a great one.
Wesley’s relationship with Lilah gets its own special mention. Dark, twisted, but just a little bit romantic.
“Awakening” is definitely this season’s standout episode and one of my all time favourites. Disguising the thorough deconstruction of our hero as utter drivel was a bold move and speaks to almost everything that made this series great.
Other great episodes: “Orpheus,” “Spin the Bottle,” “Release” and ” Habeas Corpses”
I’ll put the Angel/Connor relationship in this category. While it would’ve been nice to see this thread followed a bit more consistently over the season, anytime it surfaced was great. I love the fact that that Angel (for a time) became his own father; a self-righteous egotist who might love his son, but would rather berate than help him. Luckily, he can learn from his mistakes.
Angelus. Buffy‘s second season still looms large in many fans minds, but this is a case where the sequel surpassed the original. Boreanaz grew tremendously as an actor in the intervening years and his chemisrty with the entire cast is superb. This mini-arc is the real reason Angelus should be ranked among the all time great TV villains.
Captivating as this season might be, its a structural trainwreck. The Beast/Angelus/Cordy/Jasmine made for some awkward shifts and all the forced exposition in the world doesn’t make things look anymore planned out.
Cordy is most definitely the weakest link in the rotating villain chain. I actually think that Cordy could’ve worked as a Big Bad but the transition need way more attention. As it stands, it felt like “oh, Cordy’s evil? Okay… And now she’s Jasmine. Huh?”
Gwen. Worst. Character. Ever.
Speaking of Gwen, “Players” is the season’s low point. I won’t actually put Charles himself on this side of the list as he worked well as a supporting character this season, but this solo adventure had the same effect as that kid who keeps telling everyone how cool he is.
Other episode fails: “Ground State” & “The House Always Wins”
Gunn and Fred’s relationship was so uninteresting we were all just waiting for them to breakup so she could be with Wes. If that was the point, then bravo, but that still doesn’t make it any more entertaining to watch.