Thursday, May 20, 2004

Angel Series Finale

Last night was the series end of Angel. It was anticipated in a lot of quarters and this morning the opinion on its success seems divided. A lot of folks were upset with what they perceived as a "cliffhanger" ending, or the lack of character resolutions.

Me, I kinda liked it. I thought Joss (Whedon, series and Buffyverse creator) was true to his vision of the show as the on-going fight between Good and Evil. It could have had more drama and more "bang," but it did get to a place that feels satisfying. A lot of folks felt cheated by the end coming just before a climactic battle was about to ensue, but as a some-time fiction writer I like how Joss leaves us to imagine what is to come.

Some folks thought the ending was ambiguous, in that we don't see Gigantic Evil vanquished or our heroes slaughtered. It's a device that lets the viewer imagine! Joss was clear enough in the past few episodes that our heroes were going to die. Angel said as much when he finally let the Fang Gang into his plan. He admitted that evil was always with us, would always be with us, was unvanquishable and unending. He also said that the measure of a life was in whether those who were called continued the fight, or gave in. When, in the finale, Gunn went to visit Ann (a minor character from a couple of seasons back who runs a shelter for troubled youth and had a run-in with uber-bad guys Wolfram & Hart), she even reinforces that point. When given a choice of fighting unstoppable evil or continuing to do good works, she immediately chose to keep doing good.

I believe that all of the final four -- Angel, Spike, Gunn and Illyria -- will die in the fight. But, as Angel said last time, their fight would trip up, however momentarily, the Senior Partners and would shock and surprise them. Evil wouldn't win after all, but would also have to keep fighting.

Harmony proved to be a traitor, and self-serving to the end. After being revealed, she has the nerve to ask for a letter of recommendation! And Angel has already left one for her in her desk. We also got to see her in some Victoria's Secret underwear for just a few moments, which was quite pleasant.

Some character beats deserve special mention. When former Wolfram & Hart bad guy Lindsay is brought into the team and sent out with Lorne, we know he hasn't changed his stripes. So when Lorne turns on him after they complete their mission, it was a great film noir moment. Lindsay is outraged that a "sidekick" is the one to kill him and not the hero, Angel. Lorne, on the other hand, has been getting increasingly dissatisfied with everything. Killing Lindsay in cold blood, no matter how necessary it was, is simply the last straw. He walks away from Team Angel a tired, sad, and bitter man. The light-hearted, fun-loving bar owner is now dark and will never be the same. It's a terrible thing to see after Lorne was so much the source of series comedy, but emotionally powerful.

The resoltuion of the Fred/Wes relationship -- in Wes' death -- also was stunning. Wes has, since Fred's death and her subsequent reappearance as the demi-god Illyria, been a shattered and grieving man. He's been yanked back and forth between hope and despair as Illyria has denied having any of Fred left in her while showing that in fact quite a bit remains! I think Illyria being a god who sees humans as meaningless ants and who despises us and our world, would naturally deny and suppress any part of Fred she found. Wes' yearning for his lost love has bothered and intriqued her. When Illyria takes on Fred's form in Wes' final moments, she whispers earnestly, "I love you. I love you. My beloved," it almost broke my heart. Then to see Wes' face shine in return was devastating. Illyria finally understands and begins to accept her human part; Wes is finally given peace of heart.

However, I haven't seen anyone note that Wes' death was typical Wesley Wyndham-Price. He went off alone to kill his demon, full of the usual Wesley overconfidence, and failed. He failed! His demon survived and had just given him a fatal knife stab when Illyria burst in to rescue him. She killed his demon. We've seen Wesley be successful when he's allowed his darkest side to come forward, but whenever he leads with his "hero to the rescue" persona, he always screws up. He screwed up fatally this time. It was painful to see him die, and die in failure, but so very right for Wesley to go that way. It was going to happen sooner or later.

Spike got his moment as well. Remember that we first met him as a failed and ridiculed 19th century poet. His poetry was laughed at, which is what drove him to accept vampirism. So, when we see him reciting a poem at a Poetry Slam full of bikers and get an ovation, it was a small gift to him, salve for his pain.

The Shanshu prophecy was resolved, in a manner of speaking. Angel supposedly gave up any chance at becoming human again when he signed his name to the parchment. But some have noted that he signed it as "Angel" and not "Angelus." Lawyers can debate which is his "real" name, or which him the prophecy refers to: the vampire he first was, or the ensouled vampire from the prophecy. It's wiggle room for any possible later movies. Note however, that Spike is also a vampire with a soul, so the Shanshu prophecy might now apply to him instead!

Lots of great moments: Harmony in the underwear. "Can I deny you three times?" The battle with Angel and Connor against Hamilton. "Blue Thunder." “I mean, really. I crap better magic than this.” “Can you pick out the one word there you probably shouldn’t have said?” “I feel grief for him. I can’t seem to control it. I wish to do more violence.” The whole approaching horde of Evil at the end did carry the appropriate sense of overwhelming odds and certain doom, especially the thirty or forty foot tall monster glimpsed in the background!

Still, it was a bit underwhelming. We get told numerous times this season how evil and all-pervasive the Senior Partners are, but we don't see any evidence in the final run of episodes. Regular viewers know they're high-level nasty, but it would have raised the dramatic stakes to have seen some.

Introducing the Circle of the Black Thorn in the final run-up may have given Team Angel a focus in their fight, instead of the amorphous Senior Partners, but it also brought in something we haven't heard of or seen in the years previous. They didn't come with a cache of evil that would make the end more impressive.

They try to wrap up the Angel, Spike, Buffy triangle in a clumsy (though really hilarious) episode that doesn't have Buffy in it! This is something that's lurked in the series for several seasons -- since the beginnging of Buffy -- and it deserved better. Fans have anguished over this far too much for such a knocked off resolution.

And I've felt that the show has been just a tad turgid for the past couple of seasons. It's meant to be dark and we get a lot of character writing, but the sense of forward momentum is really slowed as a result. Instead of a sense of hurtling to an apocalyptic finale, I felt more like we were trudging morosely, like sullen children.

Ah well. It was still great fun and I did enjoy it. Give it maybe an A- or a B+.

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