So, :Angel: is over. And what a way to go. A Blake (but not a bleak) ending.
I would have to rate this as one of the best series finales I've ever seen. Just when we think that we have Joss Whedon all mapped out, just when we expect to pull a Chosen on us, he twists. Holland Manners didn't step out of the shadows. Angel's plan went basically according to plan. The characters put their affairs in order and they went out fighting... and that's the way they closed the last shot.
I did not see that coming.
Angel's final episode, Never Fade Away had the emotional resonance of Blake's 7 Blake, but without the overpowering pessimism. Angel knew from Power Play that he was about to pull the house down around him, and that's exactly what happened. Writers Joss Whedon and Jeffrey Bell did an expert job playing with our expectations, stringing the hope of a happy ending along, until time ran out. The sudden realization that Angel and company are not going to get out of this scenario alive feels like a slap in the face, and it's revitalizing. As an audience member, I was right there with Angel's crew, picking out the 30,000 on the left or the 50,000 on the right, ready to fight to the end.
Maybe I'm just a sucker for last stands. The mustering of Rohan scene at Pellenor Fields (in Return of the King) always gets me. Always.
I especially liked the balance this episode achieved between humour, sadness and resignation. The scenes where all of the characters got to spend their last day on Earth were all really touching, and far better done than :Buffy:'s Chosen. All of the characters got to hit their notes for one last time, and we were drawn into the realization that this really was goodbye. Highlights include:
- Lindsay's shock at having been betrayed and killed -- not by Angel, but by Lorne. I actually felt sad for Lindsay at this final insult to his character.
- Lorne's sadness at these turn of events. The final scene of him walking away was heart rending.
- Wesley's last moments ("lie to me") were all that we expected. Illyria's grief at Wesley's death, and her frank admission that she couldn't control it spoke volumes.
- Angel's last moments with Connor. Great to have a good-bye between the two.
- Spike's "no amulets!" reference to Chosen, a subtle tip to the audience that this really is it, folks... maybe.
- Spike's poetry slam. Sheer brilliance.
The story is surprisingly open ended. The fact that we don't actually see Angel, Spike, Illyria and Gunn actually die obviously leaves openings for sequels, as does the open-ended endings for Lorne (where will he go?) and Eve (who cares where she goes?). There is also so much more that we could explore (the emergence of Illyria's humanity, for one) but, frankly, I hope that this is it. To have Angel and company go out in a blaze of glory is new and different (or, at least, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). It ends the series on a high note. Let us not cheapen that with movies of the week -- although if they wanted to show Buffy and the new Slayer council reacting to the events in L.A., that would be okay.