Monday, June 4, 2012

Angel: Orpheus (4.15)

The first crossover episode in years, Orpheus is the flip-side of the last hour of its kind. While season one's Sanctuary cast Buffy Summers as a whiny, petulant outsider with little rationale, Willow Rosenberg slips easily into the world of Angel -- a shining beacon of energy and breezy banter that momentarily brightens up what's been a pretty dour run of episodes. It's also ironic that she's used far better here than she's recently been used on her own show, free of the baggage of her new love interest and granted some purposeful dialogue for once.

Her interaction with the Angel team folds into this. It goes without saying that her 'kinda gay' chemistry with Fred is adorable, notably that final romantic dismissal. There's also the obvious fun of seeing Alyson play against her off-screen boyfriend, their characters comparing their recent woes and finding some kind of common ground in their mutual desires to return to normality. It's just a really strong depiction of this character, and Alyson Hannigan seems happy to be pushed center stage again.

Away from the Willow guest spot, Orpheus is a wonderfully constructed hour on its own. Cordelia's personality is interesting -- a mix of cult leader seductress and destructive menace. She mostly has scenes with Connor, but there's this horrible undercurrent to them, especially since Connor has only ever known betrayal; and seeing Cordelia play on his weaknesses and manipulate him into believing they're somehow different and 'special' is particularly cruel. At the same time, her irrational nuttiness is becoming a bigger spectacle. Just look at her wild mood swings, babbling crazy-talk and lamp-shade wielding. She's so completely awful, but in a fun way where you can't wait to see this thing meet her demise. And while Charisma's performances in these episodes don't seem at all popular, I think she's handling this material really well, especially considering she hated this whole storyline.

Finally, we reach the end of the Angelus saga -- something I'm pretty happy about. While I loved his interaction with Faith, we're definitely at the point where Angelus' return remains nothing but a showy distraction designed by evil-Cordy, so I grew sort of eager for the old Angel to return. Regardless, his story is again really strong. There are various moments of visual interest (the corniness of Angel saving the puppy, the blood lust in the diner), but it also has a powerful message about redemption, something that ties together the arcs of both Angel and Faith. While you can atone and grow, you'll never stop having those cravings, and you need to make peace with that in order to finally be able to move on. Faith's story has become so layered since she journeyed onto the Angel set, and this recent arc pushed her into extraordinary new directions. Her growth over the years has been remarkable, and Eliza Dushku bends to each persona with total ease and control.

Orpheus is a little less showy and slow-mo-fight-sequence-y than the preceding hours, which comes as something of a blessing. The performances are strong, the script is tight. Literally the one error here is Cordelia's hideous baby-reveal ensemble. It's like something out of a pregnant lady sex dungeon. Ugh. A+

Guest stars Alyson Hannigan (Willow Rosenberg); Eliza Dushku (Faith)
Writer Mere Smith Director Terrence O'Hara

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