Without giving anything away, it's unfortunate that so much of Birthday ends up retconned in future episodes. Future episodes that, if I remember correctly, are a whole heap of convoluted suck that never makes a whole lot of sense. On its own, Birthday is a pretty wonderful fable that breaks down the walls of Angel as we know it and allows Cordelia to experience a life that could have been, if she had just taken a different direction all those years ago. Cordelia as a character has been problematic this year (far too preachy and sanctimonious) -- but this takes her back to her roots, maintaining her recent growth but allowing her to once again be funny, charming and vacuous.
It takes a while to go anywhere, but the It's a Wonderful Life-style alternate timeline is wonderfully depicted, from Cordy's initial satisfaction with her existence as a famous sitcom star, to that subconscious feeling that something is amiss in her new world. It's also interesting to see how the rest of Angel Inc. differ in this world. I loved the call-outs to the Kungai demon in season one as well as Cordelia and Wesley's brief flirtation back at Sunnydale High, and the sight of Angel crippled by destructive visions was crazily powerful. Great lighting in that scene, too.
But it's Charisma Carpenter's hour, the script granting her some wonderful material to work with as she tries to piece together her out-of-body experience, and later proving her resourcefulness by tracking down the endangered girl and running with her instincts. In the end, she inherits part of a demon in order to stop the visions from killing her, and it's an arresting closer. The evolution of Miss Cordelia Chase continues. A
Guest stars Andy Hallett (Lorne); Patrick Breen (Nev); Max Baker (Clerk); David Denman (Skip)
Writer Mere Smith Director Michael Grossman