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"Angel" Tv Series - "Lack of Conviction" Review

Monday 13 September 2010, by Webmaster

Even Joss Whedon seemed somewhat bored in his DVD commentary as he described the basic standalone story line of Angel’s Season 5 premiere episode "Conviction". The quick synopsis is, Angel and his gang moved into the LA offices of evil law firm Wolfram & Hart and felt compelled to defend a particularly odious man who was threatening to mystically unleash a killer retrovirus (which he had planted on his innocent school-age son) if he was judged guilty of his crimes in a courtroom. Angel et al wrestled with their consciences, wondered what Wolfram & Hart was up to, agonized over their decision to join Wolfram & Hart, etc.

Although I had to almost force myself to sit through this entire episode, there was enough going on with the developing plotlines to keep me interested.

A New Series. More than one Mutant Enemy DVD commentator noted that Season 5 of Angel was somewhat like the beginning of a brand new TV series. The producers had made their pitch to the WB network in the "pilot" episode of the Season 4 finale, "Home", and, after having been given the green light, continued on with the "series premiere" of "Conviction". Whereas Season 1 started out fresh and exciting as the producers enthusiastically explored uncharted territories, Season 5 started out tentative and sclerotic, as if Mutant Enemy personnel knew their backs were to the wall and were afraid to take any chances.

Joss Whedon made it clear in his commentary for "Conviction" that Mutant Enemy had to take Angel in a completely different direction in order to avoid cancellation. One of the changes mandated by the executives was that there needed to be more standalone episodes, or shows with storylines that resolved themselves within a single episode. The purpose was to allow new viewers to tune in without feeling completely lost. Throughout Season 1, Mutant Enemy seemed to be making changes for the better, whereas in Season 5 Mutant Enemy seemed to be making changes simply for the sake of making changes. Fortunately for us viewers, the creators finally got their acts together roughly in time for Charisma Carpenter’s guest return in "You’re Welcome".

The plot for "Conviction" itself was nondescript (I’ll let you read the synopsis in the Wikipedia link above), but the real value of the episode was that it was quietly setting the groundwork for the rest of Season 5. Charles received his brain upgrade from the mad scientist, Eve schooled everyone in how the world really operates, Angel and his gang wondered if they made the right choice when they decided to join Wolfram & Hart, the storylines for some new characters (Knox, Eve and Harmony) were established, and ghostly Spike made his dramatic debut at the very end of the show.

As an aside, I actually thoroughly enjoyed the early episodes of Season 5 the first time I saw them. However, I quickly lost my enthusiasm on subsequent viewings. Which always brings up the question, is it fair to criticize episodes just because I don’t enjoy them as much after I’ve seen them a few times?

Faceless Bureaucrats. Continuing on with the theme of Season 1 versus Season 5 premieres, Joss Whedon mentioned in his commentary that it was important to show in "Conviction" where Angel had started from at the beginning of the series and just how far he had gone by the beginning of Season 5. Whedon’s brilliant solution was to have a heroic Angel save the girl from the evil vampire in the dark alleyway, only to be descended upon by hordes of Wolfram & Hart employees securing the area and otherwise documenting his every move. The girl incorrectly accused Angel of engineering a publicity stunt, but we certainly can’t fault her for reaching that conclusion. By the way, I absolutely adore actor T.J. Thyne, and I was happy to hear Joss praise his performance as the weaselly lawyer who orchestrated the whole event.

I obviously can’t reconcile how the entire staff of the LA branch of Wolfram & Hart could have been murdered by The Beast in Season 4’s "Habeas Corpses", only to be mystically replaced by hundreds of more employees who somehow managed to gain several years of experience within a few short months. Truthfully, I don’t mind a little bit of magic to explain an unlikely event in a series like Angel if it will help move the story along. However, if someone could have said something along the way like, "The top employees of Wolfram & Hart offices around the world were transferred to the LA branch" I would have been a bit more satisfied.

There was always something a bit unworldly about Wolfram & Hart employees, as though I was never completely convinced that they were human despite all evidence to the contrary. (Lindsey McDonald was about the only one who seemed real to me.) There’s the obvious metaphor of losing one’s soul to Wolfram & Hart that could easily explain the personality changes. And this brings me to what I thought was always a rather unsettling premise that Mutant Enemy may have been pushing, that anyone who hired in with a big, powerful corporation was either already evil or automatically became evil once he or she signed on the dotted line. (Although, quite significantly, I don’t think Lorne found large numbers of out-and-out evil people working for Wolfram & Hart when he was reading their auras. Perhaps being apathetic is worse than being sincerely evil?) The character of Knox probably personified the majority of Wolfram & Hart employees in that he, according to Whedon, existed within a "moral vacuum".

Am I overly paranoid in thinking that Mutant Enemy, by emphasizing the "human" face of Wolfram & Hart throughout Seasons 4 & 5, was casting aspersions on ordinary working men and women around the world who trade off a few of their values by working to provide for their families and their futures? How many people have the luxury of turning down job offers where some of their duties might involve performing a few personally distasteful tasks? How many of us spend more than a few days on the job at a time without having to at least briefly set aside our scruples all in the name of advancing our employer’s interests?

Rather than having Angel et al being contemptuous of the Wolfram & Hart rank and file staff (think of Fred’s hissy fit here), I would have liked to have seen more of an exploration of how at least some of these workers might have felt compelled to work for Wolfram & Hart simply so they could get a little bit ahead in life or at least be able to keep treading water. I can’t help but think that the message being foisted on us is that it’s better to live in sackcloth and ashes and keep our values intact rather than work for a Big Corporation.

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