ANGEL SEASON FOUR
Let’s get right to it: Angel’s fourth season is a hot mess. What it has in its favor is a cast that is completely in tune with their characters, a writing staff that knows how to write “moments” and a devil may care attitude that prevails over the whole affair. I said earlier, in the Buffy Season Seven summary that…
…creator Joss Whedon signed a two-season deal with the [UPN] network. Also, as part of the agreement, Joss was guaranteed that Angel would be moved over to UPN as well in the event of it being cancelled after it’s fourth season. A small part of me believes Joss subconsciously sabotaged Angel’s fourth season in the hopes WB would do exactly that, but we’ll get into the mess that was Angel Season Four later.
While I won’t go so far as to seriously entertain the notion that Joss intentionally sandbagged one of his shows, I will allow myself space to wonder if he didn’t deliberately try to toss a half-dozen different ideas out there without rhyme or reason, to see what would work, not worrying about the repercussions because he knew he had a fallback should WB decide to cancel the show. I’m not saying that happened, certainly not that it happened consciously, but subconsciously? Yeah, I can see Joss thinking “let’s try this and if it doesn’t work, we’ll just eighty-six it. What are they gonna do, cancel us?”
Very little about the overall picture of the season works, and even though Angel had, by this point, sort of settled into a formula where every season was broken into thirds (big arc to start, big arc in the middle, mini-arc that ends the season with a cliffhanger), there were always through-lines that gave the whole season a cohesive feel. Not here. There’s an attempt, maybe, and on paper, you can make a case for it, but in execution it’s non-existent. In season four, there are multiple little arcs that begin and end abruptly, overlap each other, and offer little in the way of character development or payoff. Other than one massive change to a core cast member, the first twenty-one episodes (of the twenty-two-episode season) keep everyone either entirely static or, in the case of Angelus’ return, only temporarily changed. For a show that butters its bread on the development and evolution of its characters, it’s worth noting that such evolution is viewed over the course of its entire five-year run, and in that run, season four is, for the most part, a year-long stretch where almost everyone spins in the mud.
I say almost because one character does go through some radical changes, and that’s Cordelia.
Unfortunately, the circumstances behind the scenes with actress Charisma Carpenter fueled the changes to the character Cordelia, and not for the better. First of all, let’s remember who we’re talking about here: Charisma Carpenter’s Cordy is an OG Buffy character. She’s been there from the beginning. She was the original “human” villain of the show and slowly grew into an anti-hero and even a genuinely sympathetic hero character before moving over to Angel. The Cordy from Buffy Season One could never have worked as part of a core trio of characters on Angel, but after three years of steady development and growth, she had blossomed into the perfect comedic charmer in a series with such a dark and brooding leading man needed. Throughout Angel’s first three seasons, Cordy continued to develop, to the point where by the end of season three she was a believable love interest for Angel, something no one—and I mean no one—would have bought when the series began. It’s a credit to Joss and his writers in that they crafted the perfect “ill-fated lovers” duo in Buffy and Angel and somehow managed to create an additional love interest for each that you would never believe could work unless you saw it on screen.
And then the Season Three finale happened.
I didn’t talk much about this in the previous Angel article, because I knew it fit better here: Basically the third season ends with a customary cliffhanger, but the focus of the episode’s ending is on Angel being left to rot at the bottom of the ocean, and not on what happened to Cordelia, which is a shame because no one doubted for a second that Angel would fail to escape his confines and resume being the hero of the show. That presumption sort of spilled over, perhaps intentionally, into thoughts about the fate of Cordelia. Everyone assumed she’d be okay, but instead, she (spoiler alert) wasn’t, and it hurt the fanbase of the show as a result.
So what happened to Cordelia? Well, at the end of season three she encounters Skip, who tells her she can do more good for Angel and co. by ascending to a higher plane of existence. Mind you this happens at the same time Angel is being tossed into the ocean by his vengeful son and surrogate vampire-hunter father.
That’s a fun sentence.
The thrust of the final episode of season three is that Angel and Cordy are finally going to confess their feelings to each other. Except, before they can, they are, seemingly, separated forever. Of course, TV viewers know how cliffhangers work; there’s no such thing as forever. Angel sinks to the ocean and Cordy ascends to a heavenly light above. We end the season knowing they’ll get back together but unsure how.