It's interesting that both Buffy and Angel are setting up apocalyptic wonderment at the exact same time... but both from opposing angles. Buffy, right now, is all about foreboding and dialogue-driven intensity, arguably reaching for a sinister 'tone' rather than something physical and raw. Angel, with Apocalypse, Nowish, is straining for balls-to-the-wall carnage. It's an arresting trade-off between the dueling tones both series have embraced in the past, and both shows are currently successful in their respective approaches. Apocalypse, Nowish features one of the most realistic depictions of biblical end-of-the-world insanity that I've ever seen in genre television, the episode ending with a stunning montage of a divided cast all experiencing the horror of a rain of fire and brimstone, the new big bad seemingly indestructible in his quest for hell on earth.
This is also the point where season four becomes either batshit awesomeness or horrifying monkey-poop, according to whatever fan you speak to. As a result, it's Angel's most polarizing season. Right now, I'm enjoying watching it while aware of what's to come, but I remember my abject disgust at certain events the first time around, and it really colored my judgment for a while. This is obviously referring to Cordelia, who has awkward sex with Connor in one of the ickiest television twists I've ever seen. Cordelia, even before that moment, is horrible this week. Her visions are annoyingly vague, and she seems to have no problem remaining distant from Angel and pursuing this beastly devil-monster thing with only Connor in tow. Then there's her obnoxious dumping on Angel, telling him that seeing all his past crimes as Angelus has turned her entirely off. Forget about literally experiencing it all back during Buffy's second season, she'll settle for throwing it in his face only now.
Finally, there's her insane decision to bone the teenager she practically mothered just a couple of months back. It's the show descending into horrible soap opera mode, featuring incestuous nuttiness with little internal logic, characters wildly going against type, and spurned lovers catching people in the act. What's happened to this show?
But, wonderfully, this actually works really well in hindsight. I'm forgetting certain elements of season four's future story arcs, but the major ones are cleverly sign-posted both in Cordelia's initial nightmare at the top of the episode, as well as in the general craziness that plagues most of the stories here. Of course, all of this is definitely a failing of season four, too -- since a truly epic story arc should at least be sort of engaging on first viewing, instead of being something that threatens to alienate the majority of the audience. 'Watch it all again and you'll understand' can come off more than a little tacky, you know?
Then again, there's a surreal car-crash quality to a lot of the episode, so many wacky plot twists being thrown at us that we can't help but keep watching. It's at the expense of a lot of great character work, unfortunately, but continues this season's running theme of pulpy thrills. But it's saying something that the only moment here that truly hits you on an emotional level is Lilah's quiet sadness as she is told to keep her Fred-glasses on, the sign of a woman who's fallen in deep with a man who doesn't at all feel the same way about her. Apocalypse, Nowish is Angel-lite, but remains remarkably intense as an episode of genre action. B-
Guest stars Andy Hallett (Lorne); Stephanie Romanov (Lilah Morgan); Daniel Dae Kim (Gavin Parks); Vladimir Kulich (The Beast)
Writer Steven S. DeKnight Director Vern Gillum