Saying that season four was possibly the worst season ‘Angel’ is like saying that milk chocolate is the worst form of chocolate – it’s still better than most of what the competition has to offer. Which is to say that, at its worst, ‘Angel’ was better than ninety-five per cent of network television.
Watching ‘Angel – Season Four’ on DVD brings out the best and worst of the season. The early episodes of the season focus on Angel’s return from the depths of the ocean and culminate in Cordelia’s [Charisma Carpenter] return from the heavens. These episodes, which have more than a few good moments, serve as the introduction to The Beast [Vladimir Kulich] – a satanic looking demon who is pretty much unstoppable. The Beast’s arc lasts for several eps, during which time we learn that he is controlled by yet another powerful figure from behind the scenes.
By the time we learn that Cordelia is the Beast’s boss, we are far enough into the season that the following shift [which, incidentally, says that everything we know about ‘Angel’ - from Day One – is wrong!] there are so few eps left that the entire Jasmine arc feels like it hurtles by at Indy 500 speeds. The only unifying aspect of the season is the way that our heroes are manipulated throughout. Even in the season finale, when Lilah [Stephanie Romanov] makes Wolfram & Hart’s big offer, Angel [David Boreanaz] and the gang seem to be reactive, rather than proactive.
If not for some sharp characterizations, and some really intriguing sub-textual material, ‘Angel – Season Four’ wouldn’t have worked as well as it did. The increasingly perverse [and yet somehow genuine] relationship between Wesley [Alexis Denisof] and Lilah works precisely because it is so much counter to the roles each play with their respective employers. Connor’s [Vincent Kartheiser] attitude toward Jasmine, even after he knows what she is, serves to further delineate just how much of an outsider he is.
In the worlds of series creator, Joss Whedon, actions have consequences – usually BIG consequences – as witness, the deteriorating relationship between Gunn [J. August Richards] and Fred [Amy Acker]. Their arc is also evidence that actions taken in previous seasons continue to affect the ongoing story. It’s a lovely piece of character work.
Angel has his own problems – he’s spent three months at the bottom of the ocean; the woman he loves vanished before he could tell her how he feels and, now that she’s back [and remembers nothing] he won’t tell her about his being a vampire because he thinks she needs time to regain her bearings; his son dumped him into the ocean in the first place, so he has to show a little tough love there, by kicking Connor out of the hotel; he wants to save his son, but can only do that by killing him [calling to mind a certain prophecy from season three].
As usual, the sterling guest cast gives strong support. Stephanie Romanov gives Lilah Morgan such an elegant, civilized evil; David Denman returns as the cool-talking demon guardian, Skip; Clayton Rohner [‘GvsE’] does justice to a sleazy casino manager who enslaves Lorne [Andy Hallett]; and Vladimir Kulich makes The Beast appropriately beastly, and Eliza Dushku’s three-ep stint as Faith was dynamite – just to name a few.