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THE WATCHER: ANGEL season four review: FAMILY MATTERS

David Boreanaz as the evil Angelus from season four of ANGEL.
There's something about the fourth season of ANGEL that makes some remember it in a negative light. Yes, there is that one incredibly cringe-worthy couple in the mix, but it's a shame that one element – intensely disturbing as it may be – to overshadow a quality season of television that's worth picking up now that it’s freshly available on DVD.

The primary theme of the fourth season was "family." From the Thanksgiving dream-scene that gets the season rolling to the new family created for Connor in the finale, the subject continually surfaces, including the toast that is given in both scenes ("To family." – Wesley and Angel in DEEP DOWN, and Connor in HOME). The relationship between Angel and his son is one of the primary focuses of the season. There’s the contentious relationship between former near-brothers Wesley and Gunn; that brotherly conflict also appears in the fight between Angel and Angelus. Cordelia uses her pregnancy to draw Connor into her plans, with the promise of a happy family unit touted as the reward. Families are destroyed, including the Ra-Tet and that of the Svea Priestesses. Extended family members such as Faith, Willow, and a non-evil Darla render help. Jasmine turns her followers into a giant family, one in which Connor feels accepted and loved. Most importantly, the deep, family-like bonds between the members of the group keep bringing them together.

The season starts with a scene that's far too idyllic to ever actually happen on ANGEL. Still at the bottom of the ocean where Connor and Justine had deposited him, hallucinations are the only things (other than fish) that have been keeping our hero company. In reality, Fred and Gunn have been trying to keep the agency running while standing in as parental figures for Connor, Wesley continues his affair with Lilah, and Cordelia is floating somewhere as a higher being (and, come on, Cordelia as a higher being? That entire idea maybe didn't start the season on the best possible foot).

Those left behind in Los Angeles are still searching for both Angel and Cordelia, both of whom went missing three months prior. Wesley is the one who locates Angel, thanks to the handy resource of Justine who he keeps locked in his closet with a bucket. This certainly isn’t the young Watcher/rogue demon hunter we once knew.

Let's pause for a second and talk about Wesley. Fred mentions in the first episode that there'd been little contact with Wesley, but after Connor dusts their only lead, Fred suggests that they approach him.

GUNN: Fred, Wesley doesn't give a damn about us.

FRED: Have we given him a reason to?

GUNN: He's made his choice. Now he has to live with it.

Made his choice? Let's review. Wesley thought he was averting a prophecy. He negotiated with the enemy hoping secure safe passage for himself and baby Connor. This could be seen as the ultimate act of sacrifice, with Wesley knowing that he would be losing Angel's trust and friendship in exchange for saving his son from death at his own hands. Of course, things didn't go as planned. Through the rest of the third season, no one tried to understand Wesley's side of the matter, and his pariah status doesn’t change much. When Gunn asks Wesley in SPIN THE BOTTLE what happened to him, he responds, "I had my throat cut, and all my friends abandoned me." No wonder he was bitter. Despite all that, Wesley saved Angel from his underwater prison, slicing his arm so that Angel could drink his own blood in order to help his recovery.

The revelation that Connor had a hand in what happened to him caused Angel to... kick him out of the house. Um, tough love? Cordelia's disappearance was still a mystery, and that investigation leads to the first of the season's recurring characters: thief Gwen Raiden. A self-professed freak, she’s Little Miss Electric and uses that talent to her advantage.

Meanwhile, Lorne's starring in his own show in Las Vegas, and the gang pays him a visit in THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS. Turns out that he's being held prisoner in a casino, but that plot is just window-dressing for what makes this episode one of the reasons to buy the set. You simply need to see Lorne singing "It's Not Easy Being Green" and "Lady Marmalade" with green-painted showgirls and a flashy stage backing him up.

The season's main plot arc starts rolling in the fourth episode, SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM. Cordy's back, but she has amnesia. Darn the luck. Angel falls back on his bad habit of making blanket decisions, and he isn’t truthful about the details of their rather unusual life. Connor is the one who is honest (for a change), and Cordy seems to decide that he's the trustworthy one. That probably warranted a few warning bells right there.

Lorne reads Cordy's future (thanks to her "The Greatest Love of All" reprise, and did we really need that reminder of her performance in THE PUPPET SHOW?) and sees something extremely disturbing. Lilah, with the assistance of an unsuspecting Wesley, arranges for Wolfram & Hart to suck that information out of Lorne's noggin before he can reveal any definitive information.

Things keep going downhill - as they are prone to doing – including the beginning of Gunn and Fred's relationship implosion in SUPERSYMMETRY, as Fred discovers that her excursion to Pylea was no accident. This restarts the triangle between Wesley, Fred, and Gunn right back up. After some teenage flashback fun created by a memory restoration spell in SPIN THE BOTTLE, much more wakes up than they realize. This year's apocalypse (well, one of them, as Sunnydale dealt with The First Evil at the same time) starts rolling in full swing with new enemy The Beast in APOCALYPSE, NOWISH. This particular Big Bad du Jour appears in the same spot that Connor was born. Plus, there are earthquakes, there are paranormal activities galore, there's a really cool group fight scene, and then there's that fun little rain of fire.

As a result, we get a finalist in the Most Disturbing Couple In Television History competition: Cordelia and Connor. It was far worse than OEDIPUS REX seemed when I read it back in school (or saw that except performed by Buffy, Willow, and Xander in the aforementioned THE PUPPET SHOW). Then again, Oedipus didn't realize what he was doing. Maybe that situation would have been less disturbing on ANGEL if togas were involved.

On second thought, forget I said that.

Between the Very Disturbing Couple and the seemingly invincible Beast that was tied to Connor in some way, circumstances were grim. Then, a funny thing happens: following up his rain-of-fire-causing mass sacrifice, The Beast does something pretty darn keen: destroying Wolfram & Hart. Can't argue with eradicating Angel's number-one enemy. HABEAS CORPSES also marks the end of Wesley and Lilah's relationship, as Wesley chooses a side... whether he is welcome on that side or not.

Next on Mr. Beast's agenda was blocking out the sun, which he accomplishes in LONG DAY'S JOURNEY. Cordelia comes up with the information that Angelus has a connection with their new opponent, so they come up with the bright idea of "temporarily" desouling Angel. In a city with no sunlight. With the lawyers who are their main enemy out of the way. Did this not seem like a really bad idea? Los Angeles would be a giant playground for him. But they do it anyway.

AWAKENING gave us "Angel's Perfect Day" that would loosen that soul. Sadly for him and for anyone else hoping for that happy ending, it was all in his head. Instead, there’s a soul in a jar and an Angelus ready to cause havoc any way he can. Angelus is always great fun to watch, and he starts out with psychological warfare in SOULLESS. The "soulless" concept goes literal when the soul-filled jar goes missing. Things get worse in CALVARY, when we learn that the Beast has a boss, and then Angel gets his chance to roam free.

Worst of all, the fabulously evil Lilah, who had taken refuge in the Hyperion with our heroes, is killed. Not by The Beast. Not by Angelus. Nope. Cordelia is the one who does the deed. Or, more specifically, a non-Cordelia. That wasn't our Cordy doing the walking and talking since that pesky little memory spell back in SPIN THE BOTTLE woke up something else. And oh, does this Lilah-killing, soul-stealing Beastmaster have plans up her sleeve.

A big benefit of the Angelus plot arc was the appearance of two familiar Sunnydale-related faces:

Special BUFFY-related Guest Star #1: Faith, how we missed you. Incarcerated since the first season’s SANCTUARY, Wesley helps Faith break out of prison in SALVAGE so that she can help them deal with the Angelus situation. Who better to deal with one of the most feared vampires in history than a Slayer? Buffy was busy with her own situation (and on another network), but they had another option. Actually, Faith was the better option ("I'm not gonna kill him, Wesley. Angelus. I don't care what you thought you sprung me for. Angel's the only one in my life who's never given up on me." - Faith, SALVAGE).

SALVAGE gets even more interesting when Cordelia reveals to Connor that she is pregnant with his baby. Well, at least the sun came back after Angelus killed The Beast. That was a plus. As Faith and Wesley continue to pursue Angelus in RELEASE, Cordelia uses a Big Voice – one that Angel later describes as "cheesy" - to attempt to recruit Angelus as her new lackey.

To top it all off, we have the marquis match-up of Angel vs. Angelus. In ORPHEUS, after Faith tags along with Angelus on a drug-induced journey through Angel's past - complete with puppy-saving and Barry Manilow - the demon and the soul fight for supremacy. That's a fight that was a long time coming. Which brings us to...

Special BUFFY-related Guest Star #2: Witch extraordinaire Willow Rosenberg pops up in ORPHEUS, acting more like Willow in this one episode than she did in the entire seventh season of BUFFY that ran concurrently. Matching wills with the non-Cordelia without knowing who her enemy was, she sweeps in to save the day and re-ensoul Angel. The spell is old hat for our Willow... which makes one wonder why she isn't popping souls back into vampires on a regular basis. Once Willow heads back to the hellmouth with Faith, Cordelia reveals her pregnancy in a seriously over-the-top manner. What was with that outfit?

We get a bit of a breather in PLAYERS, as Gwen makes her third and final appearance, recruiting Gunn to help her with a project that turns out to be of a personal nature. But on the other side of that episode's coin, the gang realizes that Cordy isn't Cordy with a fun little set-up involving a Magic 8-Ball.

The situation comes to a head in INSIDE OUT, as Angel learns that much of what's happened during the last few years has been a set-up. Skip's line echoed what most of us had been thinking for almost a year: "No, Cordelia was chosen to become a higher being because she's such a pure, radiant saint. Puh-lease." According to our old buddy Skip, this grand plan was responsible for everything from Doyle's death to Lorne's exodus from Pylea. It seemed a little far-fetched; nevertheless, events converged to create non-Cordelia's baby, and whatever was controlling her was about to give birth to itself. In an incredible scene, Darla appears and tries to intercede, asking Connor to spare an innocent's life. She fails, and the True Big Bad finally appears, leaving poor Cordy in a coma.

Hail, Jasmine! Fresh from the cancellation of FIREFLY, Gina Torres portrayed the Power That Was that became the new messiah of Los Angeles. Jasmine inspired love and worship in all that saw her, as well as a fierce loyalty to protect her. There is a brilliant scene in MAGIC BULLET during an Open Microphone Night, when the testimonials regarding Jasmine range from hilarious to chilling. By then, Fred has seen through Jasmine's serene and beautiful exterior in SHINY HAPPY PEOPLE. She sees the monster within and is repulsed, eventually arranging for the others to see the true face of Jasmine. Losing Jasmine’s love and the bonds they shared with their fellow worshippers is devastating, even though they understand the evil that she represents.

Here's the kicker: when they try to reveal the real Jasmine to Connor, nothing happens. Turns out that he already sees her Jasmine’s face and is fully aware that she eats people. Neither bit of information has a negative impact on him.

Jasmine is an interesting subject. She created a peaceful society, which you’d think would be a good thing.. But she was evil. She ate people. And she was all maggoty. That world peace thing? Eh, who needs it? You see, in order to create this new world order, free will had to go out the window. And, as the dead Holland Manners explained all the way back in Season Two, evil is a part of everybody. There’s no chance for peace and tranquility on this planet if people can be as mean and evil as they want to be. True, a few people became lunchables for Jasmine, but isn't it all for the greater good?

Nope. A lack of free will and the creation of a human smorgasbord aren't acceptable prices for world peace. Sadly, due to the nature of humanity, we'll likely never get there without a similarly price that’s too high to meet.

In the end, after Angel has broken Jasmine's spell on the masses, it is Connor who ultimately destroys her. This act sends him over the edge and into psycho-land. Of course, a certain evil law firm doesn’t mind that Jasmine gets knocked out of the picture. Wolfram & Hart comes back at the end of the season at full-strength and with shiny new offices. A dead-yet-walking Lilah Morgan appears on the doorstep of the Hyperion to congratulate Angel & Co. on their stunning victory against Jasmine. In fact, she invites them to take over their entire Los Angeles branch fo the firm. The finale (HOME) sets up the fifth season, as this shiny new law firm seduces the remaining members of Angel’s team. Angel, yet again making decisions for everyone, makes two biggies: accepting Lilah's offer, and imposing a price: a new (and "normal") life for Connor, where his old one is erased from everyone's memories. Thanks for asking the rest of the team about that one, big guy.

Season Four was action-packed and filled with twists and turns, and there were individual moments that shone. Did it have the continuity or intensity of the season prior? No. In fact, it seemed to suffer from a similar lack of clarity and plot stumbles as BUFFY did in the concurrent seventh season. Was it a bad season? Not in the least. It's highly entertaining and well worth owning, not to mention that it will give you something to watch during a new television season that is lacking a new season of ANGEL.

- Reviewed for DARKWORLDS.COM by Amy Berner. Contact Amy at amy_berner@yahoo.com.

 
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