There's definitely been a back-to-basics feel about season four, with a heavier reliance on showy set pieces and attention-grabbing stunts than ever before. In a lot of ways, this has worked well. Angel is a lot of things, and pulpy action thriller is just one of them. The lengthy zombie massacre chaos at Wolfram & Hart is obviously entertaining, but it's interesting to consider the last W&H massacre and see which one was clearly stronger, as well as what made that one so much more powerful. Entertaining superficiality has become routine this season, but there's that definite absence when it comes to deeper layers of the narrative -- sparks only appearing when characters are pushed center stage over wacky twists.
It's most evident in the continued Wesley and Lilah story. What started off as kinky fun for both the characters themselves and us at home has suddenly become something a lot deeper and actually sort of sad. The beginnings of their affair was like a game, two individuals who find each other arousing not only in a physical sense, but also because they're on two disparate sides of the law. Lilah's the big bad dominatrix, and Wes is the stuffy bookworm with a dark edge and a taste for anarchy. Slowly, however, the relationship turned. It became less torrid and sleazy, especially on Lilah's end... she really did seem to love him in the end. But every time Wesley casually threw her out or made her keep on her 'Fred-glasses', a little part of Lilah's spirit was destroyed. Their break-up here is clinical and cold, but in keeping with how Wesley always seemed to see their fling. Lilah, on the other hand, seems deeply hurt. Being Lilah, though, she'd never let it show.
Spinning from a whole different angle is the Cordelia and Connor thing. Cordelia has quickly become a horrifyingly misguided mess of a character, being flighty and obnoxious and prone to insane decisions. She dumps Connor, walks back to Angel as if nothing's happened, and later seems to get friendlier once again with his son. It's just perversely uncomfortable, not helped by the fact that a visibly pregnant and mom-hair'd Charisma Carpenter looks at least twenty years older than the guy she's boning, Vincent Kartheiser pining around like a lost puppy dog. Season four is positioned as the year that destroyed the icon that is/was Cordelia Chase, and it's certainly not fun seeing this certain incarnation of the character. Her position on the show has changed so much that you can't help but cheer as Angel throws her out on her ass at the end of the hour. When you think back to how integral and spirited she was back when Angel first began, it's shocking to see.
In keeping with the 'showy thrills' mission statement this year, a lot of trashy fun arrives with the slaughter of Wolfram & Hart, the show lifting straight from Resident Evil as the business-suited lawyers get torn to pieces and inexplicably zombified. These scenes are horribly lit but prove casually engaging. I only wish Gunn had gotten his brains eaten, though, his entire personality having become antagonistic and horrible almost overnight. What's his problem anyway? His pissy relationship with Wes is so melodramatic that you can't even remember how the tension began anymore.
Habeas Corpses has a collection of wonderful moments, and manages to project its entertaining zombie set piece really well. But, like last week, it's only the character moments that remind you of how great this show usually is, most of the horror action pretty routine for genre television. C+
Guest stars Andy Hallett (Lorne); Stephanie Romanov (Lilah Morgan); Daniel Dae Kim (Gavin Parks); Vladimir Kulich (The Beast)
Writer Jeffrey Bell Director Skip Schoolnik