FEATURE: Angel - Judgment
Previously on Angel: The gang are working LA to fight demonic crime and help the helpless. In the process, they find themselves on the wrong side of a bunch of lawyers determined to bring Angel down, resurrecting Darla as part of their plan. Angel has formed an unlikely alliance with a vampire hunter named Gunn.
Since the explosion that destroyed their offices last season, Angel Investigations has been working out of Cordelia's apartment, complete with assistance from Phantom Dennis who has been very keen to help. When Cordy has a vision of a horrific monster, Angel goes on the hunt to track it down, but discovers that, when he kills it, it's not an evil demon. It's protecting a young pregnant woman whose fate is to be decided by a mystical tribunal and Angel just killed her champion. Wracked with guilt, Angel sets about trying to help, taking on the role of protector himself in order to save the young woman and right the wrong he committed.
If ever there was an episode that functions as a microcosm of Angel's ongoing mission, then Judgment is it, boiling down to Angel kills someone and then has to atone for it. One thing Whedon shows (and films) have always excelled at is the reintroduction of the show's MO and key themes, as well as sometimes expanding the world beyond what we're used to.
After the Shanshu Prophecy revealed that he will become human again once he achieves his redemption, Angel's been going after the demons in LA hard and fast, but quickly learns over the course of the episode that this isn't about keeping score, but doing the right thing. We're introduced to The Host and his sanctuary nightclub, swiftly confirming the idea that not all demons are evil and that safe places exist within the downtown area.
Within just a few scenes, Angel has reasserted everything we know, reiterated Angel's ongoing quest for redemption and widened the world out to explore something more in how the demon world works. Lorne's introduction and narration is a key part of that, reminding us all of the kind of city LA is in this world (and singing Gloria Gaynor is a cracking joke). Likewise, Angel, Wes and Cordy interrupting the sacrifice in the gym swiftly asserts their respective roles.
It's an astonishing bit of exposition that never feels like it, but instead feels like we're cosying back down with a few friends we haven't seen for a while. Judgment also contains two of the most memorable images of the series' run. The first is David Boreanaz absolutely slaughtering 'Mandy' in order to get information out of Lorne and admitting he's a fan of Barry Manilow's hit because he thinks it's pretty. Then, there's the big joust itself. I've only seen this episode once prior to this rewatch viewing, but the sight of Angel, on a horse and kitted out like a Knight of the Round Table on an LA street is one so incongruous that it sticks like glue in the memory. Not many shows could pull of that kind of image.
The last scene with Faith is a lovely moment to end on. She and Angel share their respective roads to redemption and support each other accordingly, a nice continuation of the relationship that was touched upon back in the third season of Buffy and cemented in Angel's first season. It offers up a different, more vulnerable dynamic to Angel's character that isn't often seen in his more leadership role with the Angel Investigations crew. It fits nicely into the undercurrent of the episode, around second chances and the ability to change your nature and go against it.
A strong return then for Angel in the second season. I didn't even touch on Wolfram & Hart, but their Darla plan is already rumbling along nicely in the background. Now, if you don't mind, I need to go and listen to something catchy to get that damn 'Mandy' out of my head.
Quote of the Week:
Angel: There are three things I don't do; tan, date, or sing in public.
Let's Get Trivial: The closing credits feature outtakes from Angel's hilarious performance of 'Mandy'; stay to the very end post "Grrr, Argh" to hear David Boreanaz's Elvis impersonation: "Thank you, thank you very much."
LA Who's Who: The late Andy Hallett joins Angel's revolving cast of regulars as The Host, later known as Lorne. J. August Richards is bumped up to series regular and Eliza Dushku makes a quick appearance as Faith, her name hidden in the closing credits rather than the opening ones to keep the surprise.
You can check out Becky's look at previous episode, To Shanshu in LA, here.