I credit reading episode reviews as part of what encouraged me to watch Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Later I needed content for my own websites, and since reviewing was something I could do, I did it. Between Alias and Angel, I've reviewed over six seasons of episodes. A few examples are included here; you can read more - as well as my reviews of things besides TV shows - at the links at the bottom of the page.
Angel - Damage
If I were to list the top ten things found in any given episode of Angel, "damage" would be very near the top of the list. In addition to the destruction that the gang encounters as they fight the good fight, there's always the evil past that Angel just can't get away from. For example, Dana's situation was so similar to what Angelus did to Drusilla, it's almost as if TPTB were trying to throw his earlier misdeeds in his face.
Similarly, it wasn't really a surprise to see in Dana's flashback that Spike was her tormentor. Spike's done some terrible things; even his name was earned by his favorite way to torture victims. As with Angel, even though Spike has changed, his past crimes were many. Dana wasn't one of them, but Spike didn't complain about suffering for a crime he didn't commit. Obviously, even though he told Angel to "let go" of the feeling that he has to pay for his past, Spike also feels deep down that he should be punished.
Dana seems to be the reverse case: she suffered a terrible injustice, but in her quest for vengeance, she was hurting those who didn't deserve it. She was crossing the line from victim to villain, and to complicate matters further, she was a vampire slayer. Normally, slayers are unquestionably good - it's their nature. However, just as there are "good" vampires, there could also be "bad" slayers. Dana's past may be too much for her to overcome. The episode's end echoed this with Spike's ominous prediction that she was already a monster.
In all the hurt that was depicted, arguably the most painful was Andrew's assertion that Buffy no longer trusts Angel. After all they've been through and all she's seen him do, she apparently thinks that working for Wolfram & Hart proves that he's evil. I find that hard to believe, but what a blow it must have been for Angel to hear. Ouch.
Angel - Harm's Way
In a review that I read years ago, the writer praised Buffy and Angel for showing development of the so-called secondary characters. In Harmony's case, I'm not sure how many of us have wondered how life is for her, but we were shown a glimpse of it here. Despite being somewhat of a ditz, she really is good at her job; she knows her co-workers' names and she even does research to contribute to the peace talks. However, for some reason, she is un-noticed or ignored, the same way she is by the people in the break room. She pointed out to Angel that she has to try harder because she doesn't have a soul, but she also lacks the support he has in his friends. I had forgotten that she was popular in high school; that must make her current situation even more painful.
Just when we start to sympathize with Harmony, in walks a lesson on perspective named Tameka. At first, I wondered why this stranger had suddenly appeared out of nowhere, but when I watched the episode again, I saw that Tameka was the one Harmony bumped into in the break room. Tameka was also seated near Harmony and Fred as one of them commented that several people from work were at the bar. Tameka went on to say that she sat next to Harmony in the steno pool . . . what do you know: other people get over-looked and passed by as well.
Plot-wise, this episode seemed rather discontinuous with the rest of the season. After the shocking ending of the previous ep, I was expecting to see at least a brief appearance by Lindsey - and I was *really* hoping he'd be shirtless again. Alas, there was no such spectacle. On the bright side, we were also Eve-free; that fact alone is enough to make this episode a good one, IMHO.
Angel - Smile Time
At first, I was puzzled why the "nest egg" turned Angel into a puppet. Sure, he's been accused several times in past episodes of being one, but . . . did the nest egg somehow know that? Was that the nest egg's idea of a joke? Or was it the nest egg's way of giving him a clue that something was wrong with the puppets? I'm still not sure.
However, if we're looking for a moral to the episode, the story itself offers a comparison of perceived roles to actual roles. For example, the puppets were hardly so in the traditional sense, because they were the ones pulling the strings - with Framkin, with their workers and even with the children who were watching. Likewise, even after being zapped by the nest egg, Angel was still the leader. He could still fight, as evidenced by knocking Spike on his butt in the elevator. He was even still a vampire. Sure, his physical features changed, but inside he remained who he was. The point here could be that appearances deceive.
Other scenes explored the characters' roles in relation to one another. Angel lamented that Nina was trying to take their relationship to a new stage; assuming the worst, he was already fast-forwarding to the part where it ends badly. In response to Angel's fears of the curse, I liked Wesley's response that most people have to make do with "acceptable" happiness, and even though it isn't perfect, it's still very good. Meanwhile Nina, not realizing that Angel has big-time issues, interprets his actions to mean that he isn't interested and that he sees her as she sees herself: Monster Girl. Relationships are often like that, making people feel vulnerable and unsure of the role they should play. On the other hand, when you're with someone new, part of the excitement is gaining the ability to reinvent yourself as part of a couple. By the episode's end, Angel seems to have learned this as he suggested to Nina that they find out what puppets eat.
As Angel had apparently resigned himself to being alone, Wesley had given up on ever having a chance with the woman of his dreams. At the other end of the spectrum, Knox was trying to create something from nothing. The shift in their love triangle is displayed most clearly in the scene between the three of them in the lab. Formerly, Fred and Knox were the ones looking so cozy together, but now Fred and Wesley are. Knox has become the odd man out, unmistakable in the painfully clear way that Fred dismissed him and remained with Wesley.
In a slightly different scenario, Gunn found himself in the difficult position of choosing a role. With the imprint, he was given a chance to be someone completely new, and he became an asset to the gang in a new way. Having repeatedly said that he thinks they're doing good, he relished the person he had become; no doubt, he never considered the possibility that one day he'd have to return to his former self. He seems to feel that he is worthless apart from his new skills, and the doctor verbalized the dilemma by labeling the two sides of Gunn: street punk versus attorney-at-law. However, despite the fact that one title may sound more desirable, neither fully describes who Gunn is. The so-called punk would be above making a shady deal with a crooked doctor.
Including a television show in the plot was particularly fitting, because where else do so many people try so hard to manufacture their own reality? Just like with actors, the roles that we play change from time to time. Sometimes the change is only temporary as in the case of Angel's puppet problem. Sometimes the change is for the better, as with Fred and Wesley, but sometimes the change is not so good, as with Knox. Perhaps Gunn should have learned from Framkin that when trying to prolong the inevitable, the fine print will get you every time.
Alias - Blowback
Yet another complaint for the ABC/Alias advertising department: jeers to you for 1) spoiling this Sydney-I-am-your-father plot twist in the preview and 2) spoiling this Sydney-I-am-your-father plot twist in the preview with a scene that wasn't even in the episode. In the preview Sloane firmly declared that he is Sydney's father, but since this show is what it is I figured that was only part of the clip, so maybe he preceded his claim with something like, "There's a good chance that I am Sydney's father." Instead, he *completely* rephrased the sentence to say something weak about thinking Syd's strength comes from him.
I don't think that Sloane will turn out to be her real father. Perhaps that would make for a more interesting story line, but it would undermine one of the few constants on the show: Jack is Sydney's father (and sometimes does questionable things to protect her). It would make Jack and Syd's relationship struggles to this point completely irrelevant.
Writing this review, I have an idea why the writers made Lauren a spy: since Sydney is no longer a double agent, they need someone to be living her life using an "alias." But wait, the agents frequently go on missions and use fake identities. Plus, the writers already made Sloane a double agent, probably to try to create a weird sense of irony . . . Okay, I have no idea why the writers felt compelled to include yet another I-married-a-spy plot. Nor do I have any idea why they're trying to make us believe that Lauren actually cares for Vaughn, when she is both living a lie and sleeping with someone else.
Alias - Echoes
Perhaps the writers thought of calling this episode "Ghosts," or "Voices," or maybe even "Not You Again!" Surely they considered several titles, but the one they chose was highly appropriate. In the literal sense, of course, an echo is a repetition. That definition is applicable here since Sydney repeated Irina's explanation of the Rambaldi symbol, and the explanation itself was a restating of the words of Rambaldi's prophecy.
I'm not a huge fan of the Rambaldi stuff, but it's nice to see that the foretold battle between Sydney (the Chosen One) and Nadia (The Passenger) has not been forgotten. The sisters weren't fighting each other this time, so we can be fairly certain that Nadia's wound is not fatal. However, I'm curious why Anna and the other followers seem to want this battle to occur: what do they have to gain from it?
In a poetic sense, the word echoes brings to mind the past, especially a continuation of something. That's nothing new on this show where previous events frequently have a way of affecting the present. Recalling the last meeting between Vaughn and Sark - and the circumstances behind it - Vaughn's dread at seeing Sark again was understandable. Sydney was in a similar predicament as Anna's reappearance reminded her of unfinished business, since Syd had vowed to eliminate Anna if the opportunity arose again. Syd admitted that Anna brings out the worst in her; Vaughn could probably say the same about Sark simply because Sark is a tangible target for Vaughn's anger over Lauren's betrayal. Few antagonists can haunt a person like their own inner demons.