After three years in Sunnydale, David Boreanaz’s vampire with a soul went to Los Angeles, where he spent five seasons battling demons from other dimensions and evil lawyers from this one. But which season was the best?
With the success of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, creator Joss Whedon doubled down on his television universe with a second series that debuted in the fall of 1999. After realizing his relationship with Buffy would never work out, ANGEL left to establish himself as a private detective in L.A. He wouldn’t be the only Sunnydale alum to relocate, though, as he teamed up with Cordelia Chase and former Watcher Wesley Wyndam-Price to battle the seedier elements of the city’s demon underground.
ANGEL had a decidedly different feel from BUFFY, with a grittier, noir setting focusing more on single episode stories at first, before delving into the season-long arcs that fans of Buffy were more familiar with. As the show went on, Angel’s entourage grew, just like the level of threats Angel Investigations faced, mostly coming from international (and interdimensional) evil law firm Wolfram and Hart.
How do each of ANGEL‘s five seasons rank against each other? Let’s take a look.
5. THE WORST – Season 4
Of all 12 seasons of Joss Whedon’s BUFFYVERSE that aired on television, I honestly believe this is the worst. Nothing felt right with this season, and by the time it ended, the show would need a complete overhaul (more on that later). Much of the season was spent with Angel Investigations trying to stop the coming of The Beast, who was trying to blot out the sun, and the machinations of a possessed Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), who was controlling the Beast. She was also manipulating the rest of the crew, leading Angel’s son Connor, who had a serious Oedipal complex, into a relationship and then “birthing” the true big bad of the season, Jasmine (Gina Torres), who wanted to bring about world peace, at the price of consuming human lives.
The fourth season is pretty integral to the overall mythology of the show, but it is always a slog to get through.
“Home” – The season finale of season 4 introduced the soft reboot the show would undergo in season 5 and is, really, the only worthwhile episode of the whole season.
4. ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT – Season 1
ANGEL didn’t really struggle to find its footing in its first season, mostly because many of the characters had already been established on BUFFY, but it did take some time to get going. Originally, Angel was paired with a demon named Doyle (Glenn Quinn) who used his “visions” to lead Angel to souls who needed saving, but Doyle sacrificed himself in the season’s ninth episode, passing his visions on to Cordelia. He was soon replaced by Wesley (Alexis Denisof), which is when the show really started to form into what it would eventually become. The first season was mostly one-and-done episodes that was establishing the show’s mythology and the evil law firm that would cause Angel so many problems.
The first season also included Angel developing a rapport with police detective Kate Lockley (Elisabeth Röhm), who served as the Scully to Angel’s Mulder. Lockley wasn’t privy to the world Angel lived in, and I felt her growing obsession with the supernatural hindered the back half of the season.
“I Will Remember You” – A crossover with one of Buffy’s fourth season episodes, the slayer is in town and Angel becomes mortal, leading him to make some difficult decisions.
“Five By Five” / “Sanctuary” – More Buffy guest stars, as Wolfram and Hart bring in renegade vampire slayer Faith to take Angel out. As Angel tries to reform Faith, the Watcher’s Council and Buffy both show up in L.A. to try and take Faith out.
3. COMPLACENCY – Season 3
After a really great sophomore season (keep reading), ANGEL‘s third time out was a bit of a letdown, but it still produced some enjoyable hours of television. The third season also gave us the addition of Amy Acker to the cast, as genius Winnifred “Fred” Burkle, who was introduced at the end of the previous season, along with the Groosalugg (Mark Lutz), an alternate dimension champion who comes to Earth to be with Cordelia. We also got the return of Angel’s sire, Darla (Julie Benz), mysteriously pregnant with Angel’s child.
The child, Connor, sets off the main story of the season, as a demon hunter whose family Angelus (Angel’s evil side) murdered is resurrected and steals the boy into another dimension. The kidnapping causes a rift between Angel and Wesley and leads to Connor’s return as a teenager, hell bent on continuing the demon hunter’s mission.
This was also the first season where BUFFY and ANGEL weren’t on the same network, as BUFFY moved to UPN for its sixth season, which left ANGEL without any crossovers with its former sister show.
“Fredless” – After being lost in another dimension for many years, Fred finally reunites with her parents and contemplates leaving L.A. But first she, and her parents, need to help defeat attacking bug demons.
“Sleep Tight” – Wesley kidnaps Connor, convinced by a prophecy that Angel will kill him.
2. ALMOST PERFECT – Season 2
Much like its sister show, ANGEL hit its stride with an amazing second season, which saw Wolfram and Hart step up as the main antagonists for the show. The law firm’s star, Lindsey, brings Darla back to life and then brings Drusilla – the vampire sired by Angel – to turn her back into a vampire as the pair torments their former partner in crime. The battle with Darla and Drusilla pushes Angel away from his team, Cordelia, Wesley and new member Charles Gunn (J. August Richards), and the trio tries to forge their own path while Angel walks a fine line between good and evil.
The crew really starts to gel here, and the addition of Gunn and empath demon Lorne (Andy Hallett) made everything click and almost every episode was a blast to watch. The show also had great antagonists, with Wolfram and Hart attorneys Lindsey (Christian Kane) and Lilah (Stephanie Romanov) stealing episodes where they appeared.
“Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been” – A look at Angel’s time in L.A. in the 1950s, as he tried to save a woman hiding from her past in a hotel with a sketchy history. He returns to the hotel in the present day to deal with a related problem, and it gives us the origin of Angel Investigations’ new headquarters, since the first season HQ was blown up.
“Guise Will Be Guise” – While Angel visits a swami to help him get over his obsession with Darla, Wesley poses as Angel to play bodyguard to the daughter of a wealthy businessman, who plans to sacrifice her for more power. Alexis Denisof is amazing in this episode.
“Over The Rainbow” / “Through the Looking Glass” / “There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb” – The three-part season finale takes the reunited team to Lorne’s home dimension of Pylea, where Cordelia has been kidnapped and made a queen. The fun story introduces us to the Groosalug and Winifred Burkle, and also puts Joss Whedon in front of the camera as Numfar, who dances as the situation warrants.
Which season of ANGEL is my favorite? Well, there’s only one left. So, in PART 2, we’re going to take a deep dive into the show’s fifth and final season!