Rollback Review: Angel Season 1

This time, we look at Angel Season One, noting a very confident first year but that it is let down slightly by many Monster of the Week episodes

The TV series Angel premiered on the WB on October 5, 1999, running for five seasons before it was unceremoniously and ridiculously axed, ending on May 19, 2004. Spun off from the hugely successful Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the show focused on the title character Angel (David Boreanaz) – a highly dangerous Vampire who was cursed with a soul and doomed to suffer for all the horrible crimes he committed as his soulless counterpart, Angelus. To make amends for his past deeds, Angel was resolved to “help the helpless,” hunting the forces of evil on behalf of higher powers.

For five seasons, Angel received mixed to positive reviews from critics, its ratings even exceeding its parent show at times (although they never surpassed Buffy at its highest). Angel is highly remembered for its dark tone, strong characters, incredibly impressive stunts and gripping, multi-season story-arcs. For me, Angel is an example of a TV show at its absolute finest. At its best, it presented a programme with few rivals, not afraid to tackle extremely dark story-lines whilst always keeping true to its ideals, and the Buffyverse mythology. Unlike BuffyAngel sadly never got to finish the story it wanted to tell, being axed before its time in an extremely poor, and pretty baffling, decision. Ah well. Despite its early demise, there’s no denying that what we got was more than satisfying. Angel, quite frankly, rocks.

So, let’s get cracking with the season that started it all. This is Angel, Season One.

The Plot

Following the events of Buffy Season Three, Angel moves to LA, setting up shop in a pretty damn impressive apartment (seriously, it’s never established where he gets his money from) and hunting the forces of darkness by night. If Sunnydale is full of critters operating in the shadows, the LA presented here is an entirely different place. Demons, Vampires and other creatures pretty much exist in the open, owning bars, maintaining businesses and getting up to all sorts, protected from the law by the ultimate, evil defending law firm: Wolfram & Hart. When we catch up with Angel, he’s keeping himself to himself, helping where he can but ultimately avoiding all human contact, for fear of getting tempted to start feeding on them.

That is, until, he is visited by Doyle (Glenn Quinn), a half human-half Demon Irish fellow who receives visions of people in trouble from the Powers That Be. Doyle tells Angel that the Powers, a mysterious force that exist beyond our realm of reality and take charge of the forces of good, have chosen him to be their warrior. He also tells him that if he needs to stop being so reserved, or he’ll only see humans as meat, and not actual people worthy of saving. Luckily, Angel is reunited with fellow Sunnydale resident Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), who convinces him to open a detective agency to investigate and help those who need assistance against supernatural threats. Thus, Angel, Doyle and Cordelia team up, forming Angel Investigations.

From here, team Angel face numerous LA related threats, from haunted apartments, evil doctors that can dissemble their bodies and even a visit from Angel’s old fr-enemy Spike (James Marsters – before he gets that chip in his head). However, tragedy soon strikes as Doyle sacrifices himself to save Angel, passing his visions onto Cordelia. Devastated, both Angel and Cordy have to try and find a way to move on – which is nicely helped by the joining of former Watcher Wesley (Alexis Denisof) to the team. Unfortunately, as Angel Investigations go out of their way to try and save the needy in the city, Wolfram & Hart is doing everything it can to keep the evil out of prison and on the streets.

An ancient, super rich organisation, with connections throughout both our world and the infinite number of others, Wolfram & Hart is focused on one goal – ending the world as we know it. This is part of a very long plan, in place since the dawn of time – and one that Angel keeps on interfering with. Thus, these very bad lawyers take quite the interest in him, and start to plot ways to bring him down. Things come to a head by the Season Final, when the firm conduct a ritual to resurrect Angel’s sire, former lover and the hugely dangerous Darla (Julie Benz).


Angel Season One is a rather straightforward run of episodes, especially in comparison with the very intense seasons that are to come. The vast majority of them are Monster of the Week, with Angel Investigations facing a new threat to combat and solve. It’s only really as the Season goes on that we start to really get to know the Big Bads of the year – Wolfram & Hart. For the majority of the time, they operate in the shadows, turning up now and again to cause trouble but ultimately not being a significantly known threat to Angel – at least at first. It’s mainly down to this that Angel Season One is not my favourite of the seasons – but it’s still pretty damn good.

A big part of what makes Season One work is its titular character, Angel. Free from being the mysterious love interest over on Buffy, Angel now has his own story to tell. Forced to live with a century of being Angelus, and being constantly miserable about it (alongside the fact that he had to give up the love of his life), Angel is a very depressing character. His one goal is to do anything he can to try and make the world a better place. It helps, then, that he’s also a goddam bad ass. Stronger than most Vampires and being a match for most of the evil creatures in LA, Angel is a force to be reckoned with, causing waves from the very second he gets there. It’s also pretty good to see Boreanaz fully confident in his role, doing a damn fine job of selling this character and carrying his own show. Well earned, sir. Well earned.

As Cordelia will eventually state about Angel, his greatest asset is how he will always keep on fighting, no matter how hard it gets, no matter how miserable he always feels. At first, he’s deliberately reserved, avoiding human interaction due to his recent feeding on Buffy (Sarah Michelle Geller) and the rather nasty craving for human blood its left him with. However, he soon starts to mellow, and we see that despite how tough he is, he’s also incredibly kind and gentle. Underneath it all, we know just how evil he can get if he let’s himself get too attached to anyone. The shadow of Angelus hangs over Angel, and we are always wondering if (and when) he’ll make a reappearance. All of this makes Angel one hell of an interesting hero to follow.

A big part of what helps Angel keep on going is the continued presence of Cordelia. Moving to LA to pursue an acting career after her parents lose all of their money due to tax fraud, Cordy is a very different girl to the one we left in Sunnydale. She’s lost, lonely and chasing after a dream that she knows damn well will never happen. Thus, she finds a new lease in life helping Angel, basically running his entire operation for him single-handily. At first, she’s pretty happy for this to be a temporary situation, until some big Hollywood producer “discovers her,” but as time goes on she comes to live for her position at Angel’s side.

This is only furthered when she inherits Doyle’s visions. As a human, she technically isn’t built to handle them – which means that every time she gets a vision, it feels like her skull is cracking open. This is something that will come to cause some very big problems for her later on. What it gives her is an intricate part in the fight against evil, and an essential presence to the Angel Investigations team. Angel and Cordelia truly form a bond in Season One, more so than they ever had over on Buffy, that does form the backbone of the entire show.

And then there’s Doyle – and this is a bit of a funny one. Such a fun, intriguing character, Quinn plays Doyle to absolute perfection, operating as a nice, down to earth foil to the uber-cool Angel. However, he has quite a sad backstory, which starts to come more and more to light as his short time on the show goes on. I really, really like Doyle – and it’s actually bloody annoying to see him leave after a measly nine episodes. Why this ended up happening is the subject of much debate amongst fandom – some claim there were some backstage issues with Quinn, who later unfortunately passed away due to substance abuse, and some claim it was planned all along by the writers to shake things up. Whatever the reason, at least Doyle gets a very good final episode, which just misses the cut for my highlighted number below. Doyle’s death leaves ripples that stays with the show right up until the end. It’s sad, but at least they make it worth it.

Doyle’s departure means there’s space for one final cast member – who arrives in the form of Wesley! Fired from the Watcher’s Council after his frankly disastrous tenure in the job in Buffy Season Three, Wesley has been left stranded in the states with no way home. Thus, he decides to become a “rogue Demon hunter,” seeking the forces of evil where he finds it. This leads him nicely to LA, where it turns out he’s pretty crap at hunting Demons, but pretty good at, essentially, being the Demon expeert of the group. Wesley is much less annoying than his stint in Buffy, proving himself to be considerable more capable than even he believes. At first, he doesn’t really trust Angel, but they soon become good friends, with Wesley eventually choosing him over a potential welcome back to the Council’s fold. The problem with Wesley is not that he’s crap at his job –  it’s that he continually believes he is. He is about to go down a very dark, intense journey on Angel. And it’s a treat from start to finish.

And what about Wolfram & Hart? Well, we don’t discover much about this organisation in Season One, except that its run by the unseen Senior Partners, that it has unlimited resources and that it has taken quite an interest in Angel. We are, however, introduced to two of its very ambitious associates. First, there’s Lindsey (Christian Kane), an able lawyer who is happy to do some pretty nasty things, but doesn’t quite fit in with the Wolfram & Hart level of ultimate evil. Indeed, he even teams up with Angel at one point, when the firm decide to hire an evil assassin to kill some kids. The interactions between Angel and Lindsey are extremely interesting – you get the impression that Lindsey is quite capable of truly being a good person, but is too tempted by Wolfram & Hart’s power and money. This creates an unfailingly interesting character, who will really come into his own as time goes on.

Then there’s Lilah (Stephanie Romanov). Unlike Lindsey, she has no qualms about getting her hands dirty, and will sink to whatever she has to do to get what she wants. However, very much like Lindsey, there are moments when you can quite tell she feels a tad out of her depth. Angel terrifies her as much as he intrigues her, at least for now. It’s also very entertaining to see her interact with Lindsey. They hate each other, and will literally do anything to one-up the other. Chuck in their genuinely terrifying boss Holland Manners (Sam Anderson), who will shoot a disappointing employee in the head if they don’t impress him, and you have a very interesting group to focus on.

Other characters introduced this season include Kate (Elizabeth Rohm), an LA cop who at first suspects Angel for murders, comes to utilise him as a valuable ally, and then get just a little bit freaked out when she discovers what he is. Kate’s fine, if a little underused, but she’s also a little predictable and never quite used to her full potential. And, of course, there’s Gunn (J. August Richards), a street smart Vampire hunter who leads a crew of homeless young people in a desperate, ongoing fight against the Vamps who keep trying to invade his neighbourhood. Tough, smart, and a natural born leader, Gunn also has a very interesting future ahead of him on this show.

Worst Episode

Angel Season One may not be the strongest of the seasons, but the episodes do remain pretty consistent. Sure, you do get the odd blip, such as episodes that try to claim Angelus can be temporarily resurrected by a “happy drug,”but the absolute worst offender has to be She. This episode really does not succeed in what it wants to do – which is to establish a whole new mythology based around some slave Demons escaping their home world, being pursued by some evil slaver Demons. Except – it’s extremely uninteresting, just a tad boring – and is never referenced or referred to again. Yep – worst one.

Best Episodes

When Angel Season One hits, it hits beautifully, and there are some brilliant episodes here.

In fifth place, we have a cross-over with Buffy, I Will Remember You. Following one of Doyle’s visions sending Angel to Sunnydale to help Buffy out from the shadows (see Buffy episode Pangs), she comes to LA a little miffed at Angel, demanding to know, basically, who the hell he thinks he is. However, when a scrap with a Morah Demon ends up making Angel (in a mythology crushing move) turn human, the two of them finally get what they want – to be together without the worry of Angelus. Now a human, Angel can give Buffy the life he always wanted to give her, as a normal human to share it with her. Alas, it is not to be. When Angel realises that the two of them will always be in danger with him as weak as he is, he makes the ultimate sacrifice, making a deal to turn back time and prevent his initial change. The consequence? Angel is the only one who remembers this perfect day, with Buffy going back to Sunnydale none the wiser. Seeing Buffy and Angel’s final goodbye, with Christophe Beck’s beautiful score playing one last time in the background, is utterly heartbreaking, and both actors rise to the occasion beautifully. A high point to the Buffy and Angel relationship, and pretty much how it finally ends.

In fourth, we have another former Sunnydale resident arrive in LA. The Dark Slayer herself, Faith (Eliza Dushku). Following the events of Buffy‘s Who Are You, Faith runs to LA, causing havoc in her wake and being completely out of control. This is soon picked up by Wolfram & Hart, who are getting just a tad fed up of Angel constantly doing things that get in the way of their plans. Thus, Lindsey and Lilah hire Faith to kill him – something she’s very ready to do. Faith proceeds to kidnap Wesley and torture him, blaming him for everything that’s gone wrong in her life (and maybe having a bit of a point – sorry Wes, but you really sucked as a Watcher). Angel arrives just in time to save him, their final showdown ending with Faith finally giving up, begging him to kill her. Which leads on to…

Third place, and one of the finest examples of a cross-over, is Sanctuary. As Faith has caused quite a bit of a stir, everyone is out to get her. And by everyone, I mean Wolfram & Hart, Kate, Wesley, the Watcher’s Council’s Agents from Buffy Season Four and Buffy herself. Indeed, Buffy has quite a big reason to be annoyed at Faith, after she stole her body and slept with her boyfriend Riley (Marc Blucas). Thus, Angel is literally forced to go up against anyone, doing his best to try and help Faith face up to who she is and what she’s done, and move on with her life. In a fantastic 42 minutes that essentially deals with the consequences of events across both Buffy Season Four and Angel Season One, we see Wesley truly decide to stick by Angel, Faith hand herself into the Police to save Angel and to stop herself from hurting anyone else – and Angel tell Buffy to, basically get stuffed, something that, if I’m honest, she has coming here (though he completely u-turns in his next Buffy appearance). Always a fantastic episode this is a brilliant temporary end for Faith, leaving the door open for an inevitable return.

In second place, we have the Angel Season Final, To Shanshu in LA. Angel has stolen a prophecy that relates to him from Wolfram & Hart, who are busy summoning some very evil Demon from Hell to cause trouble for him, Vocah (Todd Stashwick). In a highly entertaining episode, in which Angel’s house blows up, Lindsey’s hand gets chopped off and Kate gets told to get a grip, we get a fantastic Season Final, ending with the revelation that Angel could be made human again if he survives the coming wars. And also that Wolfram & Hart have resurrected his old sire and lover, Darla.

And the one that takes the crown? Well, it has to be the pilot itself, City Of. I love this episode. It takes a character we are familiar with (Angel) and throws him into this new surrounding, clearly explaining to us what this show is going to be and how its going to work. There’s such a confidence behind everything you see here, and it helps that, overall, its a damn good episode. Seeing Angel have no qualms about going up against a very rich Vampire who thinks himself untouchable, and kicking said Vampire out of a window, is an absolute delight. I have no hesitation in stating this is one of the most successful pilots ever made. Worthy of such a great show.

Final Verdict 

With a fantastic setting, gripping characters, awesome stunts and just a sense of fun, there’s no denying Angel Season One is a success. Sure, it doesn’t quite have the intricate story-arc later seasons will adopt, and does have one or two clunkers – and I still don’t know what happened with Doyle, but ultimately this is a show that is very sure of itself. It knows what it wants to do, and it knows how to do it. Angel as a show is about keeping on fighting, a message it maintains right up until its last episode, and successfully introduces here. Therefore, whilst not the best, Season One is definitely a triumph.

Join me next time as I look at arguably the strongest season of Buffy – her very good Fifth.

Discussion feed

Up next in tv