Revisiting ANGEL from the beginning - City Of - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Revisiting ANGEL from the beginning - City Of

Shane King turns back the clock to 1999 to take an in-depth look at the series premiere of Angel, City Of. But first let's get some back story to how the Buffy spin-off came about.

I have a confession to make and I know it’s not a popular opinion. I prefer “Angel” to “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. There, I said it. Don’t get me wrong, both shows are my favourite in television history by some margin and both shows hold a very special place in my heart, but I slightly prefer “Angel”. Perhaps it’s because of the smaller cast, allowing each character to get more screen time. Perhaps it’s because Angel’s target audience is a little older, so the show has a darker, grittier theme overall (the torture scene in “Five By Five” is the perfect example of this). Perhaps it’s because I’m in my mid-20s now, so I can identify more with the adult themes that “Angel” addresses. I did prefer “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” in my childhood and teens after all. Whatever the reason is, I find myself gravitating towards this show slightly more.

I didn’t watch “Angel” season one when it first aired. My 10-year-old self was so furious with Angel for leaving Buffy that I flat-out refused to watch “Angel” in protest. By the time season two rolled around, enough time had elapsed so that I could forgive Angel. I started watching from the season two opener, “Judgment”, and soon thereafter went back and watched season one. In watching the beginning of season two first, I knew that Doyle was going to disappear. I figured that he left Los Angeles for some reason. I didn’t see the truth! Oh, sweet M’Fashnik, I have to watch “I Will Remember You” and “Hero” again soon! This season will be the death of me. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that season one isn’t very well liked overall, which is a shame. While the season lacks a strong story arc, a ‘Big Bad’, and direction sometimes, I don’t feel that it makes season one a bad season. Like season four of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” (which I will be watching alongside this season), the superb standalone episodes make up for this. Sure, the season took six or seven episodes to really find its feet, but so did “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” in its first season!  We have to wade through some mediocre episodes such as “The Bachelor Party”, “Expecting”, and “She”, but it’s worth it to arrive in the promise land that is “Rm w/a Vu”, “I Will Remember You”, “Hero”, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, “The Ring” , “Eternity”, “Five By Five” , “Sanctuary”, and “To Shanshu In L.A.”, amongst others.

Before diving into the episode itself, it’s worth asking why the show exists in the first place. Why does the broody, sometimes boring character of Angel deserve his own show? If you’re a “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” fan, but have never seen “Angel”, why should you watch it?

After seeing David Boreanaz’s terrific acting in Buffy season two’s
 “I Only Have Eyes For You”, Joss came to the conclusion that David should have his own show. Hence, “Angel” was created, pitched, and picked up for television. What “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” is for teenage years and young adult life, “Angel” is for adult life. “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” goes on to explore more adult themes in its last few seasons, but “Angel” does that throughout its run. It’s about the loneliness and problems that accompany people as they enter their 20s or 30s, especially in the city atmosphere of Los Angeles. Life doesn’t get magically better once you leave education; most of the time it gets much harder. The characters of Angel, Cordelia, and Wesley get the chance to not only evolve, but to become more interesting and complex than they were ever able to on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. While “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” focuses on identity and finding your place in the world, “Angel” focuses on redemption. Angel is 246 years old. He knows who he is. He knows the damage that he’s caused as a soulless vampire and as a re-ensoulled vampire. Now is his time to make amends.

Seriously, if you’ve never seen “Angel”, you don’t know what you’re missing. Angel develops a personality and a sense of humour, and Wesley and Cordelia are almost unrecognisable by the end of the show! I beg you, if you’ve never seen “Angel”, go and watch it! You won’t be disappointed! Finally, the opening theme is my favourite one ever (closely followed by “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Game of Thrones”). It’s beautiful and inspiring, yet haunting at the same time. Speaking of the opening theme, something has bothered me for the past 14 years and did so for all 110 episodes of the show. At the end of the opening credits, it shows Angel walking away from the camera down a dark alley...
HE HAS A REFLECTION IN THE PUDDLES ON THE FLOOR! HE’S A VAMPIRE! HE’S NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE A REFLECTION! You’d think that someone would have picked up on that before the show aired!

Now that my fanboying is out of the way, let’s get into the episode itself, shall we?

In some ways, “City Of” is like being back in season one of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. The show’s budget is smaller than Buffy’s is by this point, so it’s much more darkly lit. The vampire make-up is extremely season one-esque and absolutely terrifying. I think that having “Angel” take place in Los Angeles was a fantastic choice. Everyone has heard of Los Angeles and knows a certain amount about it through the media. Also, Los Angeles isn’t new to the Buffyverse, as Buffy ran away from Sunnydale to L.A. at the end of Buffy season two after killing Angel. It’s not entirely new territory.

While I mentioned above that Angel knows who he is and is now at a point to make amends for all the atrocities that he committed as Angel and Angelus, it doesn’t come easy for him. In typical Angel fashion, we first discover him brooding. He ordered the brooding salad with a cup of brooding to wash it down. Before the brooding, we get to see Angel pretend to be drunk. In that scene he shows more personality that he did in three years in Sunnydale. Suddenly he’s the cult of personality...before going back to brooding. Sawyer from LOST (Josh Holloway) is a vampire with short hair.

In an epic moment, Angel’s face goes from fake drunk to focused, and the audience sees that the star of the show isn’t just a depressed drunk, but a very convincing fake drunk instead. Much better. Those extendable forearm stakes that he uses to dust two vampires are amazing.

Angel is clearly having trouble adjusting to the human world again since leaving Buffy and Sunnydale behind him. Let’s not forget, before Whistler found Angel living in an alley and took Angel to watch Buffy being called as the Slayer, Angel had disassociated himself from the rest of the world. He was cut off from civilisation and no longer wanted to be a part of it. It’s natural that after he and Buffy fell apart that he would regress back to the person he was before he met her. For many years that was the only life he knew. Plus, a few months earlier Angel drank Buffy’s blood in order to save his life (at Buffy’s request). It seems to have re-awoken his bloodlust to a certain extent. We see him pushing away the woman he saved in the alleyway because the temptation to drink the blood from her bleeding head was too much for him to bear. His apartment reflects his desire to disappear from the world around him. It’s a dark, dank office-type apartment and he seems to spend most of his time in the underground section of it. He’s lost his place in the world again. Bless Joss Whedon for not mentioning Buffy much in this episode. He doesn’t mention her by name
 at all as far as I can remember. Even though their breakup is the cause of a lot of this depression and moping, it wouldn’t be a good start to the show to have the first episode revolve around Buffy. It revolves around Angel and Angel’s mental state, which it should.

Enter Doyle, a link between Angel and the ‘Powers That Be’, who has visions of people in trouble and has been sent to Angel to help him save souls and guide him on his path to redemption. Originally, Whistler from Buffy season two’s
 “Becoming” was supposed to be Angel’s guide again, but Max Perlich was unavailable, so the character of Doyle was created. As much as I enjoyed Whistler, Doyle is vastly superior in my eyes. He made such a huge impact on the show in just nine episodes. So much so that they’re still talking about him and referencing him over four years later. Plus, he’s Irish. Being a quarter Irish myself and incredibly proud of that side of my heritage, it made me instantly like Doyle. Doyle is also unique in that he’s the first demon (or part demon) who is a main character of the Buffyverse. Remember, Anya isn’t a main character until later on in Buffy season four, so Doyle is the very first.

Doyle is a lot like Angel. Both characters are on the path of redemption due to their past, both are Irish, both have led a troubled life, and both are loners. It’s great to see two characters that are fundamentally so similar being played so differently. Doyle is what Angel could become if he had more personality and charisma...and less sex appeal. I feel like Doyle (and Cordelia) is the biggest catalyst in Angel developing a sense of humour and personality over the next few episodes. Doyle also allows Joss to tell the audience who don’t watch “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” about Angel’s past. He explains how Angel became a vampire, how he became re-ensoulled, how he lost his soul again, and why Angel left Sunnydale.

Doyle gives Angel a reality check and tells him that in order to make amends and help people, he should be out there on the streets making connections instead of distancing himself from the world. By distancing himself he’s making himself less able to empathise and identify with people. How long will it be before Angel sees people as food again if he continues down this path?

Doyle: “It’s about reaching out to people. Showing them that there’s still love and hope left in this world.”
Homeless Lady: “Have you got any spare change?”
Doyle: “What? Get a job you lazy sow.”

...Way to lead by example, Doyle.

Doyle receives his first vision. A woman called ‘Tina’ is in trouble and needs help from Angel. In order to help her, Angel needs to communicate with her. The problem is, Angel is a tad rusty at making connections. For a hundred years pre-Sunnydale, he barely spoke to anyone. Even after moving to Sunnydale he didn’t really integrate with the Scoobies except for Buffy. Buffy is the only real connection he’s made in a hundred years. His “so...are you...happy?” to Tina is so amusing that I could die.

I really enjoyed the Tina aspect of this episode. Like a lot of people, Tina moved to Los Angeles with dreams of superstardom, but ended up working in a diner trying to make ends meet. She stumbled across a charming, manipulative, slightly cold and pale man called Russell Winters. Russell offered to make all of her dreams come true. What a prince. There’s nothing suspicious about that at all in Los Angeles, right? Los Angeles has broken Tina. She wants nothing more than to go home. I feel sorry for her in this episode. She must have been surrounded by so many horrible people previously to think that Angel would want sex as a reward for saving her. That’s heartbreaking. Not only is this used as a moment to get the audience to feel empathy and love for Tina, but it establishes to the new viewers that Angel is a stand-up guy. He won’t take advantage of her. He’ll give her a place to stay and will help as much as he can, but he wants nothing in return. He’s a genuine hero.

All of this leads to Angel bumping into Cordelia at a party. It seems like Cordelia has landed on her feet after her parents lost all of their money. She’s happy, smiley, and her career is going great!...or so we think. In reality, Cordelia’s life is going
 terribly. The girl who once had everything she wanted is now living in squalor. She’s living alone in a crappy motel room with almost no clothes or food. Her only company are the gigantic cockroaches that are living in her motel room with her. As sad as this is to see, it’s fantastic to experience Cordelia living like this! Her downward spiral in lifestyle is half of the catalyst that prompts Cordelia to grow empathetic and caring (the other half being inheriting the visions from Doyle). She needed to be broken down in order to be rebuilt as a better person. The dynamic between Angel and Cordelia in this episode is also wonderful. These two characters had little to do with each other in Sunnydale. Now here they are making small talk at a Hollywood party. It’s alien watching these two interact without their amazing friendship in place. Angel and Cordelia’s friendship is one of the most pure, realistic, incredible things to ever happen on “Angel”. Even now there’s a spark of friendship between them! Do my eyes detect Angel smiling at Cordelia? It looks like a smile. This is rare and unnatural. I’m assuming that it’s wind until further proof can be established.

Oliver deserves his own paragraph as well. He’s amazing. He hits on Angel. He’s so amusing and memorable that they bring him back later in the season for “Eternity”.

Another thing I love about this episode is that Angel is established as a
 flawed hero. It’s so rare to see a ‘big hunk of hero sandwich’ (as Lorne would say) doing such ridiculous things. After Tina has been kidnapped, Angel dives into his car to chase after them...except it’s not his car, it’s another one the same as his. Oops. I love the usually suave Angel being such a klutz. Of course, this is the Whedonverse, so Tina discovers that Angel is a vampire and runs straight into Russell Winters.

Russell Winters. What a terrific first ‘monster-of-the-week’. He’s your typical vampire villain. Middle-aged, charming, manipulative, and he has a widow’s peak hairline. On top of all that, Russell represents something that we’ve never seen before in the Buffyverse. Russell is wealthy and successful. He has the contacts and wealth to do anything he wants. He can abuse anyone he wants and has no fear of repercussions. He’s the type of villain that establishes the difference between “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”. Without the Los Angeles setting, this story wouldn’t work so well. Russell is just so creepy and disturbing!

At this point in the episode, I thought I had the rest of the story figured out. Angel will save the day, dust Russell, send Tina home safely, and the show will be set up as a vampire with a soul on a mission of redemption, saving people along the way.
 Wrong. So wrong. I was convinced that Angel was going to save Tina. What kind of TV show would make their leading character fail during the first episode?! That just doesn’t happen normally. This choice worked perfectly in the context of what the episode was trying to say. Angel can’t save everyone. His story of redemption isn’t about being perfect; it’s about fighting and trying to make amends regardless of the circumstances. The message that this episode exemplifies ends up being the message of the entire show down the line. Plus, Tina’s death did lead to cranky Angel, which is always a treat.

Angel: “I don’t want to share my feelings, I don’t want to open up. I want to find the guy that killed Tina and I want to look him in the eye.”
Doyle: “Then what?”
Angel: “Then I’m gonna share my feelings.”

All that brooding and angst! I love it! Now we get to see the real Angel. Not the depressed loner, not the guy trying to hide from the world, but the most notorious vampire in history. I’m wet...with perspiration at the prospect of Angel doing something other than brood.

It’s at this point in the episode that we’re introduced to Lindsey. Lindsey is a rising star of Wolfram & Hart - a mysterious law firm that is aware of demons and vampires and represents some of them. I’m a little biased, as I’ve met Christian Kane twice, but I adore Lindsey. He’s one of my very favourite Angel characters. His journey is fascinating. I first met Christian in a bar in London, England. His band, ‘Kane’, was playing and I got the opportunity to hang out with him for a while after the show. The second time was at ‘Vampire Ball 4’. Full details of that convention - including what it was like meeting Christian and some rare “Angel” facts - are located here.
Having a law firm as the show’s ‘Big Bad’ was another great choice. It works so well in the Los Angeles setting. Plus, it’s another way to differentiate the show. While “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” has a new ‘Big Bad’ every season, “Angel” will have one major recurring villain throughout its run.

The last 10 minutes of this episode really pick up the pace. Cordelia goes to Russell Winters, hoping that he can help her with her career. After having a little breakdown and needing to look in a mirror, Cordelia realises that
 there are no mirrors in the house. That’s a red flag for someone that lived in Sunnydale.

Cordelia: “Hey, you’re a vampire!”
Russell: “What?! No I’m not…”
Cordelia: “Are too!”

I love how defensive and child-like Russell looks at Cordelia knowing that he’s a vampire. Cordelia has a habit of making vampires break under her gaze. She does the same thing to Lyle Gorch in Buffy’s
 “Homecoming”. This scene is perfection! Cordelia is getting all sassy with a vampire, even though she’s in his home alone with him. A wiser person might have pretended that they didn’t know, asked to go to the bathroom, and escaped. Not our Cordy. Her foot lives in her mouth. As we discovered in “Earshot”, when Cordelia said all of her thoughts, she has no off switch. In the interim, Angel has broken into Russell’s house and sets out of the darkness to fight Russell. It’s easily the best moment of the whole episode. I love the metaphor that as Angel steps out of the darkness, he’s also stepping out of the darkness he’s been feeling since leaving Sunnydale. All that moping and brooding will be put behind him now and he’ll start on his path to redemption...well, mostly. Cordelia sums it up best with her “you’re about to get your ass kicked” to Russell. He fights Russell, saves Cordelia (does that make up for him failing to save Tina?), and escapes.

The next day, Angel disturbs a meeting between Wolfram & Hart and Russell. This is where I realised just how much promise the show had. Russell tells Angel that he can do anything he wants because he’s wealthy and doesn’t make waves. Angel asks Russell if he can fly, before kicking him out of the window into the sunlight. Sheer perfection. It’s the exclamation mark that this episode was missing. It’s an emphatic point to end the episode on. Angel gets revenge for Tina’s death and there’s no evidence because Russell turned to dust before he hit the floor. Take that, douchebag!
We get a very brief scene where Angel calls Buffy, but hangs up before saying anything. We get to see Buffy receive this call in “The Freshman”. It was a wonderful moment to include in the episode. He loves Buffy and misses her, but he’s trying to move on without her and give her the opportunity to have a ‘normal’ life. It’s time to start the next chapter. It’s at this moment that the team is established. Angel is going to open a detective agency with Cordelia and Doyle, and he will help the hopeless. The episode ends on a fittingly broody note, with Angel answering Doyle’s question by saying “I’m game.” So. Cheesy.
Some other thoughts on “City Of”...

• I’m surprised that Angel knows how to use a computer. He’s nearly 250 years old. Having spent most of his life sitting for oil paintings, it can’t have been an easy transition for him.
• Doyle almost had a brave moment trying to knock down Russell’s gate. I laughed so hard when the gate didn’t break! “…Good gate….” 
• I can’t believe they got away with Doyle calling Cordelia a “stiffener”. Naughty, naughty.

Quote Of The Episode

Russell: “Angel, we do things a certain way in L.A.”

Angel: “Well, I’m new here.”

Russell: “But you’re a civilised man. We don’t have to go around attacking each other. Look at me, I pay my taxes, I keep my name out of the paper, and I don’t make waves. And In return, I can do anything I want.”

Angel: “Really? Can you fly?”

*Angel kicks his chair out of the window into the daylight, Russell turns to dust on the fall, and Angel casually puts the Wolfram & Hart business card back into Lindsey’s pocket.*


Shane ‘Shangel’ King is a blogger from England, where he spends most of his time reviewing television shows, attending conventions, and fanboying professionally. He’s currently reviewing every episode of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” in-depth on his blog, and will soon be covering “Firefly”, “Game Of Thrones”, “The Walking Dead”, “Chuck”, “Doctor Who”, and more in equal depth! You can also follow Shangel on Twitter.

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