In the first episode of the first season of Angel, we learn what Angel will be doing in Los Angeles and then DOOOYYLLLLEEEE and COOORRDDEELLLIIAAAAA. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to start watching Angel.
There’s a distinct noir feel to the premiere episode of Angel, but thankfully, it’s one that’s never taken too seriously. The fact that the show is set in Los Angeles, the city that I was born in and lived in for many years, is a big reason why this feels so familiar to me. So many noir films and books are set in the City of Angels, and this is no exception. But despite that, I still needed a question answered:
Why was this a show? Why should I watch it? Why should I care? Angel was an interesting enough character on Buffy, and I generally enjoyed his role. But how was this show going to move on from that story, and how was it going to be framed? I think “City Of” answers that question well, though it’s not necessarily executed perfectly. I admit part of that might be the fact that Josh Holloway was a vampire on Angel and no one told me? WHAT IS LIFE THAT IS SO FUCKING DISTRACTING. But the cold open of this episode is quite brooding. I think the title sequence was brooding at me. At times, I felt that Angel was very explicitly saying, “THIS SHOW IS DARK. PLEASE BE DARK WITH ME. BROOD WITH ME.” (PS: I first typed that as “BREED WITH ME” and then I was scared.) I don’t think it bothers me, for what it’s worth, but there are clear tonal changes from Buffy. I’m okay with that. I’m perfectly fine with Angel having it’s own style.
It isn’t very long before I’m introduced to the first new character in the Angel universe: Doyle, a half-demon messenger sent by the Powers That Be to guide Angel towards redemption. I’m capitalizing Powers That Be because it just feels right, okay? I like Doyle. I like the way he straddles the line between being deeply serious and remarkably silly. I like his hat. I like that I was right about the fact that Angel would assemble a “team,” that this episode would frame the series, and that we’d have a reason why Angel had to be in Los Angeles to fight evil. But I don’t want to credit myself to much here, because I truthfully don’t know anything about a single detail of all five seasons of Angel. Like, I’m even less prepared than I was for Buffy. GOD.
While I don’t think the introduction of Angel’s purpose is all that smooth, it works for me. It’s weird because Doyle shows up, cryptically gives Angel the idea that his own redemption comes through the redemption of other people, and then disappears from the episode for like fifteen minutes. That seems odd to me? Like, dude is apparently very important, but what is he doing while Angel is out following Tina around? Hanging out in Angel’s apartment? Buying new suits? Trying not to sneeze? Wow, how inconvenient is it that a sneeze turns your face into a combination between a puffer fish and Pinhead? LIKE THE MOST INCONVENIENT, RIGHT?
I do like the idea that Buffy is a show about identity, and Angel appears to be one that will be about redeeming the things you’ve done. That’s fascinating to me, because it implies that Angel already knows who he is. Hell, that’s what the opening of the show frames for the viewer: Angel is the hundreds-of-years-old vampire who lost his soul (TWICE!), fell in love with a Slayer, and left her behind to pursue a new life doing good. So it makes sense that Angel would suspend his disbelief to go after a total stranger to “help” her.
I also must admit that the first half of Tina’s story wasn’t all that interesting to me. It felt a little too much like Angel was the knight in shining armor, that he was going to brood around Los Angeles and save Tina from her shitty situation, and then he’d feel better about himself in the process. A lot of the details were great. That party that she and Angel attend? Look, I lived in Los Angeles and Hollywood for many years, and that scene was so painfully accurate that I just wanted to accept it as a documentary. Los Angeles is a strange place, y’all, and people seriously talk like that! To other people’s faces! FOR REAL!
AND THEN OH MY GOD IT IS CORDELIA AND OH MY GOD SHE LOOKS SO BEAUTIFUL AND HOLY SHIT, THAT’S WHY SHE WASN’T ON BUFFY AND I AM KIND OF A HUGE FOOL AND I TOTALLY HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO EDIT OUT ALL MY THOUGHTS ABOUT HER IN TODAY’S OTHER REVIEW AND I DIDN’T BUT OH MY GOD IT’S CORDELIA I LOVE YOU CORDELIA.
oh god i’ve said too much i feel weird i just love Cordelia okay
I then returned to feeling disinterested in Tina’s story until I met Russell Winters. Damn, wouldn’t he have made a fine season-long villain? Good lord, he was so creepy. At heart, I think there was a lot of similarity between him and Ted, but Russell represented something we’d not seen: someone with the money, status, privilege, and power to get away with absolutely everything he wanted to. Having Wolfram & Hart as part of the storyline helped that because it’s just so believable to me that some rich white dude living in Los Angeles would have a team of lawyers to protect him. THIS IS A VERY LOS ANGELES THING TO DO. Only in this case it’s just so fucking unbelievably unsettling: the lawyers are helping Russell murder with impunity. And they do it because they are all men of entitlement who believe that the world owes them everything simply due to who they are.
I think it’s why it was so upsetting that Angel fails his very first “case” in Los Angeles. Who starts off a show saying the protagonist isn’t going to win? LIKE WHAT THE FUCK. (Also, it was slightly distracting that the actress who played Tina was Bonnie from season three of LOST. WHOOPS.) I mean, it was unfortunate that it took a character death for me to start truly liking this episode, but it’s true! It’s also at this point that Cordelia, Doyle, and Angel all come together. I mean, I did want to explore more of Cordelia’s life (omg her apartment looks EXACTLY like the first one I got by myself in Los Angeles what is this show doing to all of my life IN THE VERY FIRST FUCKING EPISODE), but the episode didn’t grab me until the three characters all converged on Russell Winter’s house. Then I understood what Angel had the capacity to do: tell much darker stories than Buffy, and to move more into an adult setting. I mean, it’s interesting to me that Buffy’s premiere was about her role as a college freshman, and Angel‘s premiere was about him learning that life sucks and then you die. Well, for other people, but you get it. They’re so different, and I love that!
Of course, we also get to see Cordelia be direct with Russell. My god, the look on Russell’s face when Cordelia figures out he’s a vampire in like three minutes….I will cherish that moment forever. The show is all downhill from that point THIS WAS THE PINNACLE OF ENTERTAINMENT. Well, perhaps Doyle trying to drive through a wrought iron gate was entertaining, but…oh my god, Cordelia is going to be on this show full-time now, isn’t she? HELP ME THIS IS FUCKING AMAZING THANK YOU FOR NOT SPOILING THIS FOR ME. I’d also like to thank you for not spoiling the fact that ANGEL THROUGH RUSSELL WINTERS OUT OF A WINDOW TO GET REVENGE AND THE DUDE BURNED UP BEFORE HE HIT THE GROUND WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SHOW DOING. Well, this show already has better special effects and the most fucked up death yet out of Angel and Buffy. That’s pretty promising!
Truthfully, though, it’s the final scene that gives this show promise. We’ve got the impetus for a show existing: Cordelia suggests that they open some sort of office to help people in Los Angeles. Sort of like supernatural investigators! That’s FUCKING AMAZING. It’s like a highly dysfunctional version of The X-Files, except The X-Files never had Cordelia Chase. I think it’s smart for Whedon to only really give us one new character (Doyle) because it made me feel so much more comfortable moving into this new world. I do like the characters of Cordelia and Angel, and the chance to see them interact (and to witness her calling out his gothy bullshit) just fills me with joy. This is so neat. I don’t know how else to describe it! I’m just impressed and happy that Angel is familiar enough in specific ways to make me feel like it’s a natural extension of Buffy, yet it’s clearly it’s own show. That’s all I really wanted.
One last thing: I laughed so fucking hard when Doyel asked Angel if he was “game” for opening the office with him and Cordelia, and then it cuts to him brooding on a fucking skyscraper, and Angel answers, “I’m game.” I’M SORRY, DID HE LITERALLY LEAVE THAT OFFICE, CLIMB UP A BUILDING, AND THEN ANSWER DOYLE? This is my personal head canon and you cannot take it away.