Monday, April 16, 2012

Angel: Deep Down (4.1)

It takes a while to settle into this episode, the writers presumably wanting us to feel just as disoriented as Angel. I never believed season three was perfect, and you can tell that the writers didn't either, abandoning the weaker elements from last year while running with the bunch of story arcs that really worked. Deep Down not only rounds off the cliffhangers from last season's finale, but also produces an interesting new dynamic for the Angel cast, one that I can't help but admire.

One of the strongest themes from last season was the gradual disbanding of the Angel Investigations group. Angel became a father and got understandably distracted. Cordelia became more than the pretty face of the ensemble and gained powers and a radically annoying conscience. Wesley, of course, did something unforgiveable and betrayed his friends. Fred and Gunn were so wrapped up in being cutesy with one another that they staggered around on the sidelines. Here, with Angel and Cordelia missing and Wes out of bounds, it's Fred and Gunn who are at the top of the food-chain. Fred, in particular, has had a complete turnaround in personality. She's not wearing those stupid outfits like last year, she's no longer annoyingly goofy or weirdly juvenile. She's resourceful, funny and bad-ass with a taser.

Wesley, while still on bad terms with Fred and Gunn, has embraced his darker qualities and is happily engaged in a hot affair with Lilah. Secretly, however, he's hunting for Angel -- all the while keeping Justine locked up in his closet. Wesley has rapidly become one insanely ruthless mother-shutyomouth in the last couple of months, but this is just the pinnacle of his awesomeness. The bucket line, his cold treatment of Justine, his ignoring of Fred's antagonism -- it's all just incredibly well-performed. This is a character who is still heroic and moral, but actively doesn't give a damn on any emotional level anymore.

Elsewhere, Lilah has taken a leaf from Wesley's book and stopped being something of a push-over. Aware that she's far more perceptive and successful than the people she works under, she performs the most Wolfram & Hart-style coup imaginable: she beheads her boss. It's another sign of the writers developing new dynamics this year, and again it's crazily successful.

Deep Down is probably Angel's strongest season premiere, opening the year with a clear focus and managing to lay the groundwork for each character's arc this year, even if most of the cast remains scattered as we fade to black at the end. It's also important to note how tragic everything is: the picture-perfect happiness and warmth of Angel's dreams, and the fractured misery of the real world, a theme that resonates heavily through the rest of the season. A

Guest stars Andy Hallett (Lorne); John Rubinstein (Linwood Morrow); Laurel Holloman (Justine Cooper); Stephanie Romanov (Lilah Morgan); Daniel Dae Kim (Gavin Parks)
Writer Steven S. DeKnight Director Terrence O'Hara

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