Angel "Power Play" (5/12/04)

4 Stars... This show is cooler than you are!

What's worse than Angelus?

This review does contain (minor) Spoilers

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J.C. Maçek III... Dressed like Boreanaz before Boreanaz was Angel!  HUZZAH!
J.C. Maçek III
The World's Greatest Critic!

The final year of one of TV's best and edgiest shows has (amazingly) turned in to one of the best ever. What's so surprising? Well, Angel's never been a bad show. It certainly had to find its niche in the first year (which looked like a "bad-guy-of-the-week show by contrast), but, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer before it, Angel was willing to change under the wise tutelage of Joss Whedon. Interestingly enough this change hasn't been an arbitrary "for the times" alteration, but an actual and literal evolution of the characters and the very theme of the show into what it is. Let's face it, if back in the first season someone had told you that Nice Guy Vamp Angel would become the CEO of the LA Branch of Wolfram and Hart, the focal point of legal evil in the world, each of us fans would have laughed.

But Joss and company (a company now featuring The Tick Creator Ben Edlund) have managed to keep us on our toes and avoid the (rare but notable) stagnation that has marred previous seasons. It's safe to say that the final season is one of the best ones. And that's what is surprising... this was supposed to be the revitalizing year that kept it from Cancellation. For all our rejoicing at the end of last year that the show had been "resurrected" so to speak, the WB went ahead and cancelled its strongest show (notice Charmed and Smallville are still around). It's easy to be upset with the WB, but it's easy also to be thankful in the way they handled things. Unlike the evil Fox (our own real-world equivalent of Wolfram and Hart) in their mishandling of Wonder Falls, the WB gave plenty of notice to allow for a solid wrap-up of an incredibly cathartic and event-packed season.

And now the Wrap-Up is upon us... only two episodes left before the parade of CSIs and Law and Orders and Mark Burnett Productions force us to forget that TV was once a creative outlet of any kind. But what a season to go out on! This season's given us the Perils of running an evil law firm (in the season Premieree no less!), and added one of the Jossverse's most compelling characters, James Marsters' Spike (tangible or not). And that was just the set up! As time went on, we were treated to Angel (David Boreanaz of course) beginning to fall for new-girl Nina (Jenny Mollen) who happens to be a Werewolf (!), dealing with Harmony (Mercedes McNab) as an assistant, seeing his son Connor (Vincent Kartheiser) return as someone else's kid, turning into a Puppet (!!), losing Cordy forever in one of the best episodes of any season of Angel and right now potentially turning into the proverbial Big Bad we've all been worried about. And that's not even to mention Fred (Amy Acker) being killed off (and possessed) by a godlike creature named Illyria, hotter than Glory and even more deadly, Wesley (Alexis Denisof... my how he's changed) brooding over it, Gunn (J. August Richards) becoming a Super-Attorney and then Triple Bypass Surgery Volunteer in the Hell Dimension, and Lorne (Gay Green Guy Andy Hallett)... well... even old Lorne had his day becoming the Host with the Most, babe, the Life of the Party!

Try reading all that without Hyperventilating. Even with the addition of the Anti-Baldwin (Adam) replacing Eve (hey I just got that) as the Senior Partners' liaison that Angel won't sleep with there's no cliché here to bitch about. Yeah, I know, another Firefly alum... Caleb, Jasmine... they're all good, okay?

So now that I've wasted all this time on Recaps... how does this week's episode (the second to last EVER) stack up? Well, "Power Play" is pretty Standard Issue for this season... But if your standard issue is GOLD give me more of THAT! The dominos have been falling for the old crew of Angel Investigations and Gunn, Spike, Wes and even Illyria are putting two and two together that these dominoes are spelling out Wolfram and Hart's control over Angel, not the other way around. Has Angel become Angelus again, or has he become a power-player beyond all good and evil? And if so... is there something in him that is worse than Angelus?

One of those Dominoes shows up in the person of Drogyn (guest star Alec Newman), the guardian of the deep well. It appears that it was Angel who sent an Assassin after Drogyn, but Drogyn won the battle and tortured the Assassin for Information (in the Jossverse answer to Abu Ghraib). What's worse, it appears the whole thing might have been a set up to ensure that it's not discovered that the Death of Fred and manifestation of Illyria was all a plan of Angel's to enter in to a Secret Society more powerful than "Skull and Bones" and almost as chilling.

What follows is Classic Jossverse sleuthing featuring the team interviewing the Bad Guy that Won't Die Lindsay (Christian Kane, still whining about Season 3) and going literally head to head with Angel, motives unknown. All the while Illyria and Drogyn play Crash Bandicoot on the X-Box... word is Bond!

As it turns out, the Secret Society the Circle of the Black Thorn is the mayhem hand of the Senior Partners on Earth. Angel stands to achieve ultimate power like the other Demons and U.S. Senators in the Circle, or he could work to destroy the Black Thorns from the inside out.

What's the plan? Well if Joss is anything he's unpredictable, and there's no telling. Class Act writer David Fury and director James A. Contner manage to skillfully avoid giving us too much, maintaining a moral ambiguity and uncertainty as we approach the finale. The rule of the day is to expect to be surprised, and on May 19, 2004 that's exactly what I'm expecting. Unlike the Buffy Finale (which was really good, but should have been "GREAT") I think this one might go out with the cerebral bang we all deserve! The whole season has been one well written mind-bender after another, so by momentum alone I think this one will be great.

I'm still impressed by Acker's acting more than ever before. Fred was an interesting Pollyanna thrust into a demonic and scientific hell of a life, but the contrast between Fred and Illyria is on the scale of the difference between Coca-Cola and Iced Motor Oil! The curse of being a deity on Earth and (this episode) getting the proverbial Manna beaten out of her by Adam Freakin' Baldwin has given us an emotional experiment in the armor chinks Illyria is showing more and more of. Similarly Denisof's expressions at dealing with this truly show how far he's come. While all the actors shine here, it's still the Spike and Angel show in so many ways. The concept of having two ensouled vampiric Alpha Males on one show could have bogged it down, but instead led to some great scripts that handled both Drama and Comedy with a deft quill.

Here is no exception and the horror, the laughs and the surprises are all balanced well and earn "Power Play" Four Stars out of Five! It's going to be sadder than a salted slug to see Angel go this month, especially because this season has proven so well that the best episodes might be still ahead of them. Luckily Angel and or Spike TV Movies are possible on the Horizon (Marsters says "Hell Yes" Boreanaz, "Hell No!"). I guess we'll just have to see how The Crow: Wicked Prayer and the Ghost of the Robot World Tour pan out to know for sure. It's all about the Benjamins, Baby!

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Angel "Power Play" reviewed by J.C. Maçek III who is responsible for the content of this review and for his refusal to admit involvement in the Iran Contra Controversy!
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