Ranking the Seasons: Angel, Part 2

After four seasons pounding the pavement in Los Angeles as a detective, Angel and his team hit the big time!

We’ve already looked at the first four seasons of ANGEL and how they stack up. While Season 2 gives the final season a run for its money in terms of quality and enjoyment, I still think Season 5 was some of the most consistently good television Joss Whedon ever produced.

Since the first season of the show, Angel and his crew battled interdimensional evil law firm Wolfram and Hart and worked to stop their machinations to bring about chaos and destruction to the planet. At the end of the fourth season, though, dead attorney Lilah Morgan, one of the firm’s former rising stars, informed Angel that the firm’s senior partners have decided to grant Angel Investigations the Los Angeles branch of Wolfram and Hart. Why? When the group killed off Jasmine, the guaranteed an end to world peace, and it was agreed that there was nothing more evil that Wolfram and Hart could possibly do.

So the fifth season of Angel got a soft reboot. The action moved from the hotel to the W&H Los Angeles branch. Each member of the team – Wesley, Fred, Gunn and Lorne – were given their own department to run while Angel took over operations, trying to change the firm from the inside and make it a force for good with former Sunnydale student and current vampire Harmony as his secretary. To complicate matters some, Angel’s sire and former archnemesis Spike – who seemingly burned up at the end of BUFFY‘s final episode – showed up to the firm as a ghost and annoyed everyone there until he was finally made corporeal.

The team’s battle to turn the firm around is a struggle and takes its toll on the team: Gunn, who was given knowledge of all laws, both demonic and human, ends up helping an artifact come through customs that eventually turns Fred into the old god Illyria. Spike and Angel battle over which vampire with a soul is “the chosen one.” And Angel seemingly loses faith in his mission and begins to act more immorally and makes the rest of his team uncomfortable.

The whole season is an epic build to the series finale, as Angel reveals his moral ambiguity was a ruse to get rid of evil social group The Circle of the Black Thorn. The team eliminates the biggest bads in the realm before squaring up for a battle against the senior partners. And Angel wants to fight the dragon. As they step up to the plate to fight, the show ends. Good and evil continue in the never-ending struggle, but we don’t get to see how it ends. And I didn’t get to see Angel fight the dragon.

Months earlier, Joss Whedon overplayed his hands with WB executives. He wanted an early commitment from the network that ANGEL would be back for a sixth season. WB execs said, “don’t worry about it, we’ll announce in May.” Whedon said no, he wanted to know now. Angel was doing great in the ratings, there was little chance WB would have cancelled the situation was allowed to play out to its natural end. But backed into a corner by Whedon, the WB decided they would pass on season 6. This list could have been much longer had Whedon just calmed down a bit.

The show ended on a high note, though. Almost every episode of season 5 knocked it out of the park in terms of quality and enjoyment. So many characters were spotlighted and given chances to shine, from Wesley and Lorne to secondary characters like Harmony and Lindsey.

Let’s take a look at my five of my favorite episodes of the fifth season, in no particular order:

“The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco” (Episode 6) – Airing on my birthday in 2003 may have something to do with why I love this episode, or maybe it’s the discussion about when the Devil made a robot – EL Diablo Robotico, a story I would love to see told. Most likely, though, it’s just a fun episode. It takes a background character from the first five episodes, the masked mail guy, and gives him a backstory, some pathos and a hero’s journey that he needs Angel’s help to complete.

“Destiny” (Episode 8) – A flashing package somehow¬†recorporealizes Spike and leads him and Angel on a quest to drink from a chalice to determine which vampire with a soul is the one discussed in the Shanshu Prophecy. The two former friends fight it out to get to the chalice first, and when Spike manages to get there first, he discovers its filled with Mountain Dew. Angel, on the other hand, is left with a little bit of doubt as to whether he’s supposed to be the hero he’s been over the past couple decades.

“Smile Time” (Episode 14) – While trying to stop a kids show from sucking the energy from its viewers, Angel gets turned into a puppet. That premise along probably got everyone to watch that episode.

“A Hole In The World” (Episode 15) – One of the most heartbreaking episodes in all of the Whedonverse. As Fred and Wesley finally begin their relationship, Fred falls ill after inhaling some dust from an artifact brought into the firm. Angel and Spike travel across the world to help her, but discover that pulling the old god Illyria out of Fred’s body would kill everyone in the path from L.A. to its grave. Fred’s death scene, as she and Wesley declare their love and Fred asks “Why can’t I stay?” is a tearjerker, and sends Wesley into despondence for the rest of the season.

“Not Fade Away” (Episode 22) – The season and series finale sees Angel gather his forces and gives them a day to get their affairs in order before they go into battle first against the Circle of the Black Thorn and then Wolfram and Hart. One of the best series finales ever to air on TV, and as the show closed without the reveal of how the fight with the senior partners ended, I cursed the WB and Joss Whedon for not giving me more.

What do you think of Angel’s fifth season? Tell us about it in the comments!