My review of season 2 of Angel will be relatively short even by my less than grandiloquent standards. It’s a season that is of uniformly high quality, but also rarely reaches the highest strata of the show and is bogged down by a poor final arc with Pylea.
This season still rides on its excellent character development. The humanity of the inhuman Angel is the central theme of the season, much as it was in the one prior. Angel take the role of lone wolf for awhile, shutting down the investigation service for a time, was cliché but effective. Angel worries about his comrades, but it also highlight a perennial character flaw. Namely, Angel is arrogant. He often thinks he knows best, is the only one fully capable and often makes unilateral decisions (see Season 5). He is the chosen one, the vampire with a soul and he has a destiny to fulfill. All that said, there is some really poor writing around Angel’s character in this season. In particular in his interactions with Darla. Of most cringeworthy status is the episode “Epiphany” where Angel sleeps with Darla and then has a new outlook on life that no longer has Darla in it. It’s weird and a little sleazy.
Wesley continues to evolve this season from the weak Watcher and downtrodden pansy that came before. This still isn’t the guns akimbo Wesley we become acquainted with later, but he stands up to the physically imposing Gunn and runs the investigation agency in Angel’s absence. Wesley is competent and somewhat assured.
Cordelia is, somewhat predictably, the “heart” of the team. She too has grown significantly from her role as the mean girl of Sunnydale High. She can stake a vampire and doesn’t resort to weak snide remarks to cover her insecurity. The anonymity of LA appears to have oriented Cordelia to her relative insignificance in the world. Instead of jeering at her for not reaching her lofty aspirations, you instead sympathize with her. It speaks to the strength of Angel’s writers that they salvaged such a one-note character from Buffy.
Gunn is Gunn. This is the only season he is somewhat interesting. But too often he is just the brash young guy that views violence as the first and last resort. One episode they literally had him explain slavery as the only non-demonic person of color on the show. It was not a highpoint for Angel.
Much of this season deals with Darla, Angel’s sire and former lover, and the machinations of Wolfram and Heart. Darla gets a huge retcon as someone of huge import in Angel’s life rather than the throwaway villain of season 1 Buffy. This prompts a lot of dramatic moments and interesting flashbacks. Unfortunately, it never quite makes sense why Angel has so much compassion for Darla. She is evil and Angel never disputes this fact about vampires. Furthermore, the Buffyverse has long operated under the notion that Angel and Angelus are separate people. It’s not really clear why Angel would love Darla as the unredeemable Angelus would. His memories of his time with Darla would mostly include all the terrible things he did as Angelus. It’s hard to invest yourself in this plotline when you are wondering why Angel is so concerned. The aforementioned epiphany seems to oddly mirror this reading of the situation as if he suddenly realized he didn’t really have any attachment to Darla.
It’s also never clear what the hell Wolfram and Heart are trying to accomplish this season. Angel and team never really set out to dismantle or impede W&H so one wonders why they continue to antagonize Angel by raising his sire and so on. And again we learn that W&H are specifically not going to take Angel off the board for reasons shrouded in mystery and which I am sure they regret by the end of Angel.
Lastly, the Pylea arc that ends the season is cheesy LARP quality stuff. It introduces a throwaway love interest for Cordelia that seems to appear only to derail the romance with Angel. It also introduces Fred. Amy Acker is great, but this was not a great introductory arc. Mostly it just goes on for at least two episodes long. There are some great jokes from a self-obsessed Angel, but way too much generic fantasy pap to sustain my interest.
So this is a mixed bag. It’s I think of more even keel than season one, but misses a lot of the existential exploration of humanity that propelled a lot of the better episodes of season 1. The new additions to the cast are mixed bag, with Lorne being my standout favorite. The core three of Angel, Wesley and Cordelia are still the highlight of the show and the strength of the core ensemble is the primary reasons Angel is a better show than Buffy.