FEATURE: Angel - To Shanshu in LA
Previously on Angel: During a daring raid on Wolfram & Hart with the help of Lindsey McDonald, Angel grabs a scroll for no discernible reason. Meanwhile, Lindsey had the opportunity to leave his employers alive, but instead opted for a considerable raise.
Wesley continues to work on the prophecy that Angel brought back with him from Wolfram & Hart and reveals that it is possibly fated for Angel to die. Rather than worry about it, Angel simply carries on with his usual occupation of saving people. However, the lawyers have a plan on the horizon, something called 'The Raising' and summon a big bad wormy dude to take care of Angel. When he promises to strip Angel of his connection to the Powers That Be, he really goes to town and Wesley and Cordelia's lives hang in the balance.
As finales go, To Shanshu in LA is not your typical, but then, the first season hasn't been particularly typical at any point. There's no real Big Bad to rally against, nor is there a discernible apocalypse to stop. Instead, the focus is on how Angel has now become reliant on his team, having moved from the loner that Doyle clung to in the beginning to the man concerned for his friends and willing to save them at any cost. It's also a pretty big hint towards his growing feelings for Cordelia, something that will bubble under the surface for a while yet.
That intimate focus gives the episode a stronger purpose than simply fighting a bad guy. It makes the world feel bigger, the stakes higher and the consequences more severe. David Boreanaz has to do some emotional heavy lifting here and it really works to illustrate Angel's concern for his friends. I love his final brush off to Kate, partly because it's a good measure of his determination and also because Kate has become such an irritating little role, cropping up at weird crime scenes to pseudo-moralise and look a bit peeved. She's the only weak link in this episode, but thankfully, Angel gives her a good talking to.
The character work elsewhere is lovely and neatly done too. Cordelia, so often seeing her role with Angel as a paycheck rather than a lifestyle, is suddenly subjected to the howls of pain in the city as her mind is opened up by Wormy Dude. It gives her a new sense of perspective, a much more selfless one that shifts her to see her work with Angel as both a necessity and a calling. It's a big development for her. She spent much of her time with the Scoobies resenting her role within the gang, often only helping out begrudgingly when it became clear the end of the world is at stake. Here though, she finally rises to the challenge and even starts making sandwiches.
The wider ramifications of the Shanshu prophecy add to the finale's sense of urgency. Wesley's little mistranslation of it to suggest that Angel is careening towards his death is a brief loss of meaning for Angel. He's already dead so it has no consequences for him and in this frame of mind, redemption is for little more than quenching his own guilt. However, discovering that it might lead to him becoming human again gives both the character and the show something to work towards. It's a positive, heroic endpoint. Naturally it becomes a little complicated as Angel's story to develop, but it gives the show a more concrete focus, something which will only benefit it as it moves forward.
Finally, there's that Darla reveal at the end. It's such a cool season cliffhanger that I almost wish I hadn't seen the rest of the show, just to get really excited about the first episode of the second season. Julie Benz has always been one of the Buffyverse's more memorable recurring characters and I'm looking forward to seeing her around again. Plus, it also means Drusilla will show up some point soon and that's always good for a laugh.
So we have reached the end of Angel's first season. Like the companion fourth season of Buffy, there has been quite the variation in quality, largely due to its need to establish itself as something of the same world, but also very different. Naturally, Angel couldn't go for the same kind of experimentation we see in Buffy''s fourth season, but it's something that has worked well to balance the two shows. The second season will be a little dodgy, but the show does begin to grow in confidence now that it has set out its parameters and darker, bloodier atmosphere. Poor Lindsey eh? Someone give him a hand...
Quote of the Week:
Wesley: Uhh... oops. I may have made a tiny mistake. The word 'shanshu' that I said meant you were going to die? Actually I think it means you're going to live.
Cordelia: Ok as tiny mistakes go, that's not one!
Let's Get Trivial: The episode title is a reference to the film To Live and Die in LA as 'shanshu' is revealed to mean 'to live and to die.'
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, Blind Date, here.