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’Angel’ Seeks Redemption with Episode 100

By Kate O’Hare

Sunday 1 February 2004, by Webmaster

This past November, in the vast, echoing expanse of the Wolfram & Hart lobby, The WB Network’s "Angel" proved that any death knells sounded for it were entirely premature.

The Wednesday-night drama with the undead title character is very much alive, and executives from both The WB and studio 20th Century Fox showed up to cut a big cake (dripping with blood-red icing, of course) and sing its praises on the occasion of its 100th episode, airing Feb. 4.

Spun off from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel" has spent four-and-a-half seasons with David Boreanaz as the 200-plus-year-old vampire with a soul, struggling to redeem himself by good deeds.

"Usually spinoffs are just cynical things," says WB entertainment chief Jordan Levin, "but this really extended a story that needed to be told."

This season has seen Angel facing two major challenges. First, he must figure out how to do good while running the Los Angeles office of the evil law firm that once wanted his head on a platter. Second, he must deal with the resurrection of his former vampire protege, Spike (James Marsters) — whose fiery demise in the cause of world salvation in the "Buffy" finale turns out to have been only temporary. As the other vampire with a soul, Spike’s heroic deeds have made Angel question his own commitment to the cause.

Oh, and along the way, Angel deals with the odd werewolf, demon, ghost and Mexican wrestler.

One hallmark of both "Buffy," created by Joss Whedon, and "Angel," created by Whedon and David Greenwalt, is the use of subtext and classic literary themes. While some TV shows have their themes articulated by loyal viewers with the time to think about it all, these shows know what they’re trying to say.

While "Buffy" was about (take your pick) female empowerment, the hero’s journey and the ties that bind, in the case of "Angel," Whedon explains, "The idea of the show was redemption and what it takes to win back a life when you’ve misused yours terribly. ’Angel,’ to me, is so important because it’s about how an adult faces what they’ve done with their life, goes forward with it, overcomes it. It has a great deal of meaning to me ... plus, awesome fights.

"If I have any message for America, it’s that you can solve problems through fisticuffs."

But seriously, redemption is a tricky theme on television, with its ever-present risk of sliding into pretentious puffery or treacly moralizing. But it’s an idea that cuts straight across "Angel," as each of the main characters struggles to come back from loss in one way or another and prove his or her worth. That’s especially true of the vampires, who have a lot to answer for.

Angel was cursed with his soul and, after a century of wandering about aimlessly, was spurred into rejoining the human race and using his powers for good. Spike, on the other hand, driven by guilt and a desire to be a man worthy of Buffy’s love (a love she once gave freely to Angel), risked life and limb to get his soul back — and wound up saving the world.

"Angel doesn’t seem to register that Spike has a soul," Marsters says. "It’s the same reason that Spike never believed Angel having a soul. When I was evil, I didn’t buy it. Now that I have a soul, I don’t buy that he’s reformed at all.

"The reason is, I’ve seen him in action. I’ve seen him kill too many people to ever believe that he could be reformed. It’s exactly the same for him. He’s seen Spike do so much stuff that all this prancing around, pretending that he cares now, has gotta be bull, but it’s not. That’s the wonderful thing. They both are reformed; they both are trying very hard to make up for it."

In the 100th episode, "You’re Welcome," Angel cohort Cordelia awakens from the mystical coma she’s been in since the end of last season. That was the last we saw of her, as former regular Charisma Carpenter was dropped from the cast. Always outspoken, Cordelia has a few things to say about Angel consorting with corporate evil.

"Investing him in the cause of good while he’s running the evil operation doesn’t really make sense," Boreanaz says, "so he doesn’t understand. That’s what’s bringing him down. Cordelia brings that back to him."

Calling her one-off return "bittersweet," Carpenter says, "She comes to put Angel back on the path, and then she leaves. Cordelia’s return in this episode is a love letter to Cordelia."

So, underneath all "Angel’s" monster makeup and kung-fu fighting, Marsters insists there’s real meat on these bones. "Joss always aims so high in his themes. He’s got two people striving to be good, in the real world.

"That sounds strange to say, because it’s got vampires and stuff, but to not be coy, to not be overly sentimental, to not be overly simplistic about it — how do you reform your life? If you really have done evil, how do you face the world and try to become your best self? How do you talk about these things?

"Man, redemption, it’s what we all hope for, because frankly, we all know we’ve done evil. We’re all human beings, and all of us have. We all have regret; we all have deep guilt; and we all, at the inner core of us, want to believe that we can redeem ourselves."

While Boreanaz may not have come to the lead role in "Angel" seeking redemption, he did have a short resume and a lot to prove.

A steadying presence on-screen and off, he takes a Zen approach. "Believe in yourself and put your mind to it. That’s not the problem. The problem is that there are no problems."