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AtS Season 4: Whither Angel?

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Several of you guys have been watching AtS 4 recently and squeeing away about its various joys, so I thought I’d better give The Season of Doom another shot and watch it again. To which end I am bribing myself by watching episodes alternating with BTVS 7, because quite frankly – watching the whole of AtS 4 by itself: not going to happen.

I’ve got as far as Slouching Towards Bethlehem (i.e four episodes in) and I am already starting to find it hard going. I find this odd. I always take the view that if a lot of other people are enjoying something then it is worth giving it a second or even third shot, so I wonder what went wrong with me and season 4. And after much ponderfication I think I am beginning to understand it.

The problem is as far as I’m concerned there is a great gaping hole at the heart of season 4 and it consists of Angel himself. I’ve always watched the show for Angel. I have a soft spot for Wes, especially in his earlier insecure incarnations, ditto snarky Cordy, but the name of the game has always fundamentally been Angel for me. Yes, I’m mainly interested in the principle character – this is always convenient when watching a TV show. Only with AtS 4 that’s the problem right there – because what on earth is Angel’s character arc this season? As far as I can tell he doesn’t have one.

A lot nominally happens to the others. Fred continues her journey from protected mouse to hard woman who takes full responsibility for herself except for when she doesn’t. Connor carries on cracking up. Gunn carries on having numerous issues about his status, mostly epitomised by that penis extension of an axe (and a big round of applause for the Beast that finally crumpled it). Wes carries on turning into Angel MkII slowly works his way back into the team but can never really atone for what he has done. Lilah carries on angling for position and being evil. Lorne carries on being a minor adjunct/deus ex machina. Cordy turns into a completely unrecognisable blob then gets taken over by a demon and finally goes into a comma.

Okay, so Cordy actually had something unexpected happen – weird and irritating but at least it was change. The others, not so much – it is all ’continued’. Not one of them significantly changed their character direction from the previous season. There were a couple or three relationships that tossed and turned, but in terms of actual character development it was mostly just straight lines. Still a straight line either up or down is at least movement, so better than nothing.

But Angel – not a thing. He starts the season being calm and tolerant letting Connor go for his own good, and there at the end of the season what is he doing – being calm and rational and letting Connor go for his own good. It was a somewhat more dramatic letting go but it was essentially the same action to wipe Connor’s history as to expel him from the hotel. Both were actions that separated Angel from his son, at cost of some pain, but he knew that ultimately it was the best thing to do for Connor. And they were very passive actions.

Not that passive would matter if it was something unusual for Angel. I could totally buy an arc in which the normally pro-active character was forced into a rational passive role by circumstances at the beginning of the season, worked through the season trying to deal with the resultant fall out both plotwise and in terms of his own emotional fallout from such an uncharacteristic action, then at the end found it had been the right choice after all and he was going to have to do it again only to the power of ten. That would have been a great storyline. Yet try as I might I just can’t make it fit Angel.

I love Angel, but he isn’t a proactive guy with people. He doesn’t normally confront difficult relationships head-on thus making his actions with Connor exceptional. The giving up on a relationship when it gets difficult is Angel/Angelus’s trademark. It is a pattern we have seen him follow time and time again with Buffy (left in BTVS 3) the AI team (fired them in AtS 2) Lindsey (let him go rather than try to help him) and Darla (repeatedly). So pushing Connor away when he got into difficulties – really, no surprises there at all.

And anyway, passivity was Angel’s behaviour all season. He realised in episode 2 that he wanted Wes back but he didn’t fight to get him – he just calmly waited for him to return in his own time. He didn’t fight for Lorne – Gunn and Fred did all the actual work of springing the green guy, Angel just seemed to want a good time in Vegas. He didn’t fight for Cordy, he just let her go to Connor when she told him that was what she wanted and then got upset about it. Big beasty turns up and Angel dully steps up to the mark in expected fashion, doing nothing at all unusual in the process. He has a stint as Angelus, then gets changed back. Plenty of self discovery and growth for Faith there, zip for Angel – he found out nothing about himself as Angelus that he (and we) didn’t already know. The same with the Jasmine arc. She gave him a period of calm but I can’t see that he gained anything in the long term. He didn’t even try for any serious play with Gwen. Or to actually strike out at W&H or Lilah – the Beast did them more harm in one episode than Angel ever did.

He waited and stuff revolved around him. All damn season.

Now all of this may actually be a perfectly sensible way to behave in real life, but it doesn’t make for exciting television when this non-action is coming from the lead. I know that to some extent just as BTVS became All About Spike, AtS became All About Wes, but still there should be limits. I am left with a stonking great big question mark about the whole season – why on earth did ME plan it that way?

Now obviously I could just put it down to incompetence on their part, but I am reluctant to do that. ME can cock up but they rarely cock up something so fundamental. And forgetting to give their main man a character arc – really not a very likely mistake for them to have made. So I’m thinking that there must be one, and I’m just too plain stupid to see what it is, which is why I’ve failed to enjoy a season that so many of my friends seem to have no problem with.

I’m putting out an all ships call here – explain this one to me. What on earth is Angel’s character arc in AtS 4? The phones are manned and we await your call. I’d really like to know before I re-watch any more episodes because I reckon it would be a real aid to enjoyment to actually understand it.