Season 4 of Angel. What was Joss Whedon thinking?

One of the worst seasons of a television series I have ever watched.


Earlier this year I went back and re-watched Angel from the very start. Back in my teens I tuned in weekly to watch two hours of Buffy and Angel on a Friday night. I was at college when season 4 of Angel began. I remembering thinking it was bad. I remember thinking Cordelia’s character had been ruined. Because I didn’t enjoy season 4, I stopped watching Angel and apart from being aware that James Marsters joined the cast for season 5, I knew very little about what happened to Angel after the finale of season 4. The show got cancelled, and after what the writers did to the fourth season, I’m not sure how they even managed to get a fifth.

As a grown woman I sat down and watched seasons one to three again and loved them, for the most part anyway.  I was impressed that almost ten years later, the series didn’t look aged. The storylines were exciting, the characters felt like friends. And even though I knew I hadn’t enjoyed season 4 the first time round, I thought watching it with fresh eyes and at a different stage of my life might allow me to see something new and appealing. I was wrong.

The writers destroyed Cordelia Chase, and with the annihilation of her character, they lost my respect. I’m far from the only one who feels appalled by how the writers betrayed Cordy and feels totally grossed out by Connor and Cordelia’s relationship. “The Assassination of Cordelia Chase” by Jennifer Crusie is a great article.

Another thing that irked me was Angel removing the memories of Connor, an unforgivable act in my eyes. He took away the last year and a half of his friends’ lives, all that growth, all that change. How would viewers watching season 5 even know what to make of each character? Wesley, who for me changed the most, would be the hardest to judge how different he would be without Connor’s existence. He stole Connor, betrayed his friends, was in turn cast aside, struck up an unhealthy sexual relationship with Liliah, loved Fred, warred with Gunn, found Angel at the bottom of the sea, battled Jasmine. Who is he now, without all that pain and life experience that led him to the tough, take-no-prisoners impressive man of late season 4?

Angel violated each and every one of his friends, not to even go into what he did to his own son. The Connor sharing dinner with his fake family is not real. Connor who suffered because of one lie after the other is now a lie himself. All thanks to his own father.

The writers, as far as I could see, backed themselves into a corner that season. Next time I decide to re-watch Angel from the beginning, I’ll go to the end of season 3 and pretend the show stopped there.


For fans of Angel, what did you think of Season 4. Did season 5 improve at all? Can you remember being utterly disappointed by a TV show you once loved?



About Emma

Buffy fan, avid reader, writer.
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31 Responses to Season 4 of Angel. What was Joss Whedon thinking?

  1. Mae Clair says:

    I never saw Angel, but it sounds like the writers did a horrible hack job. I’ve had that happen with other series I enjoyed, wondering what went wrong halfway through. So sad when there are loyal fans who’ve supported a series through years only to have it go downhill at the end. At least you can still enjoy seasons 1-3!

    • Emma says:

      It was so horrible watching the utter destruction of the fabulous Cordelia Chase. Luckily the actress agreed to come back for one episode the following season and the writers did great wrapping up her story.

  2. I was never as bigger Angel fan as I was a Buffy fan, but Angel certainly had it’s awesome elements and added a few great characters but yeah, series 4? Eeesh, what a wreck. I must admit I was never a big fan of Cordelia but boy did they mess up her character! All the stuff with Connor was awful and slimy and eugh. Not good. Did you decide to watch series 5 this time around? I would say it’s worth it, it brings back a lot of the original elements that were good about the series, plus, Spike. 😉 I think most TV shows have that one series that isn’t as good as the rest.

    Similarly to you I’ve actually returned to Buffy this year! I’ve been having marathons with my housemates and it’s so much fun. I love how I laugh at the same jokes every time, it amazes me how it never gets old.

    • Emma says:

      Those marathons sound like a right laugh. I’m looking forward to introducing my nieces to Buffy when they’re a little older, but they’ll probably think it’s soooo dated. 🙂
      It’s quite sad of me to admit it but especially with the high school years of Buffy, Xander and Willow and the gang feel like my own friends.
      Buffy will always be my favourite show, but I did enjoy the first few years of Angel. I’ve caught bits and pieces of season 5 but no, I’ve never sat and watched season 5 all the way through. It just felt wrong. What were Angel and co doing working for Wolfram & Hart? Why was Gunn wearing a suit? 😉

      • Hahaa, SO true on the last point, LOL. Gunn? In a SUIT?! It’s just not right. 😛

      • Declan says:

        A big problem with Angel, the show, was how each season was not really about defeating W&H. Season 2 was good for the darla arc because it had something to do with W&H; however, the pylea arc was a terrible way to finish a season and left the season feeling incomplete and had no impact on crumbling W&H. Season 3 was super entertaining but it had the annoying Holtz Justine(I have no idea if this is her name) relationship which felt like a rip off of Faith and the mayors familial relationship. In addition, Connor was the most dumb person I’ve ever met and so annoying. Season 4 was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen lmfao. Have yet to get to season 5 but heard it’s amazing and redeems season 4. Overall, this is a really good show and don’t blame Joss for season 4 bcs Charisma told everyone abt her pregnancy after the season was written so it is not his fault. That being said, I prefer Buffy because it was able to dive into many different themes and I personally enjoyed 4-7. Also I feel that the age demographic plays a huge role in what buffy seasons would be a persons favorite. 1-3 would be a teens fav and 4-7 would be an adults fav. This is a generalization but thats what I have seen so far.

  3. That was terrible of Angel to remove those memories. But I did see the series through. I need to go back and watch to see what went on because I’ve watched so much other stuff, I can’t remember everything. I wouldn’t have stopped watching, anyway, because I wanted to see the return of Spike. I just love Spike.

    I’ve watched the Buffy series a BUNCH of times. Angel doesn’t come close to being as good as Buffy, in my opinion.

    • Emma says:

      You were loyal. If you go back and re-watch from the beginning come back and let us know how you got on, if your opinion changed.. I adore Spike too but I think bringing him over to Angel cheapened his death and sacrifice in the finale of Buffy.
      Buffy will always rock and Angel will never beat it in terms of characters, humour, storylines..

  4. laurajc83 says:

    Season 4 & 5 Angel? Let’s not even go there. You can see it dying a slow painful death with each episode, from the destruction of Cordelia to the depths of shame with the puppet episode where the actors couldn’t even be bothered to show up and act!! On the whole Wesley issue, Wesley kidnapped Connor as a baby as he thought Angel was going to kill him, and they all abandoned poor Wesley for a good while after and Angel even tried to kill him, I felt very sorry for Wesley there! And me criticising David Boreanaz is a big no-no for me as you know, but even I felt that he was indifferent to the role in the end, giving his real life wife Jamie Bergman a part here and there. Very shoddy ending to what could have been a great series if Joss Whedon, the writers, and actors hadn’t lost heart! Sure the same happened Season 6 of Buffy!!

    • Emma says:

      Uh oh Laura. I can feel your wrath. Least you stuck it through to the end though. That puppet show – I did manage a few minutes of that episode before switching. I think someone may have been on crack when they came up with that. Lol, “the actors couldn’t even be bothered to show up and act”. Who did his wife play in it? I’m off to Google her now.
      Season 6 of Buffy was depressing, and that double meat palace episode! Woeful.

      • laurajc83 says:

        Doublemeat Palace was the worst Buffy episode of all seven series. David B’s wife played a small role at the beginning of a series 5 episode, I think he only was defending her in a case, the scene only lasted 2 mins! But still, nepotism!! 🙂 🙂

  5. I never watched Angel, but this is always the peril of serial stories. It’s a pleasure when it goes well, but there’s always the chance things will go off the rails.

    When that happens, some people resist admitting it — remember all the Star Wars fans trying to find a way to love the prequels as much as they loved the original trilogy?

    I’ll tell you this — as far as I’m concerned, Twin Peaks never got a second season. ☺

    • Emma says:

      TV shows often wear out their welcome. These days I’m finding I prefer short ten episodes series. It must be extremely difficult to come up with a run of good to great 22 episodes every season.
      Anthony, I still haven’t seen Twin Peaks and I meant to go and pick up the boxset the last time I wrote about TV shows on this blog because almost everyone who left a comment mentioned TP.

  6. sherry fundin says:

    I think I am partial to the Angel series because it was probably the first vampire/fantasy I ever watched. I do agree with you about Cordelia. I don’t know what they were thinking and where they thought they could do with that crap and I was really disappointed. That being said, I watched it all anyway. ^_^

  7. Jessica Mauck says:

    I never watched Angel or Buffy in real time and I’m currently binge-watching Angel on Netflix (after finishing Buffy). I’m on Season 4 and I hate it so much that I actually googled “Angel season 4 is horrible” just so I could read about how horrible it is from better fans than I. And sadly for the show, there are a TON of things popping up about how much this season sucked. And, like you said, it focuses a lot on the destruction of Cordy’s character. I’m so grossed out by the Conner/Cordy thing – and he didn’t bother me that much before this, though I know he wasn’t exactly a fan favorite. However, I see him slipping down a rabbit hole and find myself really not giving a crap about watching this anymore. I had similar feelings with the last 2 seasons of Buffy regarding Willow’s character (good ideas, poor execution, and then she was barely even there and only seemed to exist for Kennedy and I just hated that). However, the feelings are stronger with Angel. They aren’t just taking it in an annoying direction – they’re totally destroying everything. It’s so hard to watch!!

    • ljmc83 says:

      Totally agree with you Jessica Mauck! 🙂

    • merlin pendragon says:

      Ahaha Jessica I just finished season four of Angel and quite literally looked up the exact same thing! I also agree with the other points you made! Connor and Cordi together is.. just.. ick. AHH!

  8. Darth Lehnsherr says:

    You’re really missing out on some of the best parts of Angel then. Angel Season 5 is considered to be one of the best seasons and my favourite for a number of reasons.
    1. Gets back to more of the standalone cases while weaving in character development.
    2. Gets back to the core of the show “helping the helpless” but this time with a twist
    3. Completely redeems Connor and Cordelia in the very few episodes they’re in.
    4. Gunn finally has a major character arc.
    5. Illyria is one of the Top 3 best Angel characters despite only in a couple of episodes.
    6. SPIKE
    7. Contains some of the best episodes of Angel ever (You’re Welcome, Destiny, Smile Time, A Hole in the World, Shells, Not Fade Away, Power Play).
    8. It truly completes the story of Angel with a finale that is considered one of the best ever produced in television.

  9. Dana Gumm says:

    Cordelia Chase was the worst character in Angel. She just plain out sucked. Should have killed her off in the first season. Only reason she was there was for the tits and ass to look at. She was just horrible. Fred, just as bad…. not even sure why she was there at all. I swear Joss could have written in a better character then Cordelia Chase and Fred. Gunn was all right, but should never have been given a full time spot.

    • merlin pendragon says:

      Hello! sorry i sort of disagree with you. It took awhile, but in Buffy she became actually pretty great! She is actually really smart, and she does end u growing as a character, again on Buffy though. When she came to Angel it was amazing to see a familiar face, and it made me stick with the show! (all went down hill on 4th season though) BUUTTTT i saw spike in the 5th and had to keep going lol. There is my personal experience sorry if you do not care!

  10. admiral awesome says:

    i just got netflix, so of course the first thing i do with it is go watch old angel episodes circa ~5-7am, hearkening the good ol days when weekday mornings used to have angel on TNT from 5am-7am and buffy on FX from 6am-8am (including that 6-7am buffy/angel “power hour”) — and of course when i go back and watch these shows that i’ve routinely watched even as recently as 5-10yrs ago it’s amazing how you see how you and your perspective have changed over time.

    years ago i remember reading somewhere that by season 4 angel had become a “dour soap opera” and re-watching it in the here and now you can totally see that shining through. for example, all of the interpersonal lovey-dovey relationships are played to the 9s; in season 3 it was just like “awww wesley didn’t make a move on fred so gunn filled that boyfriend role for her. in season 4 right from the getgo it’s shoved down your throats that they’re sooooo cutesy-wootsy and banging like rabbits and OH SO HAPPY but then that professor shows up and they retcon the whole “how fred ended up in pylea thing” and suddenly it’s him who sent her there. ultimately, gunn kills the dude to “save fred” from doing it so “he doesn’t lose her forever” and you get hit over the head with a sledgehammer like “THE CONSEQUENCES WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN!”

    so that means that literally 2-3mins into the next episode (“apocalypse nowish”, which is just a downright awful episode, and i can say this definitively as i finished it a few minutes ago and it’s what compelled me to start googling “angel season 4 sucks” =) you can see fred all I NEED SOME SPACE. I NEED SOME ME TIME. and gunn starts freaking out (as they’re now suddenly portraying him as this super-needy/overbearing boyfriend) and then when wesley pops up like “hey there’s some end of the world type shit going on” gunn’s jumping all over him like FRED’S NOT HERE! and they evil-eye each other…. then this is the episode where lilah dresses up like fred, and typically i remember one of the cool things about season 4 was “hey wesley was banging lilah… way to go wes!” (as lilah always “worked best for me” aesthetically on that show =) but now you can see the subtext and the larger fred/gunn/wesley triangle dynamics and how it’s ALL ABOUT THAT and uhhh, we haven’t even gotten over to THE OTHER TRIANGLE with angel cordelia and connor. go figure that apocalypse nowish literally ends with angel getting cucked (a word in heavy rotation these days, but i guess short of the “voluntary” part this is pretty apropos)

    then the cold open for the next episode is just angel kicking in a door and yelling while the sounds of things getting broken offscreaen can be heard. shortest cold open segment for the whole series IIRC =)

    so yeah you know, there’s literally an apocalypse going on that’s eventually whole jasmine thing (and the cop out for the destruction of cordelia’s character = she was possessed by jasmine once that spell brought her memory back) but of course interpersonal love triangles take precedence and no matter what everyone needs love (awwwww) and that’s literally bigger than the freaking jasmine apocalypse for everyone…. i’ll have to see how a modern reView of the proper-Jasmine-era goes…. but yeah, whatever “fun” angel had as an oft-lighthearted romp (“i’m not a eunuch!”) is completely gone by season 4 as everything gets serious and connor runs around rebelling against dad “just cuz he was raised in a hell dimension thanks to an absentee father” (someone bang the metaphor gong) and just…. yeargh. season 5 can’t come soon enough.

    so wow, i’ve already gone way too TLDR, but yeah put me down for saying that season 5 redeemed a lot of the show and it’s a shame that joss seemed to push for the “early renew” (or so the legend/story goes) and that caused the network to think he was power-playing so they were like “ok then, if you wanna know now then yeah, you’re canceled” and etc) because for better or worse season 5 got back to some lighthearted stuff as they carried on with the bigger arc about how power corrupts and people can become sellouts and the whole 9 yards but even the puppet show episode itself is way better than, say, angel literally getting cucked while jasmine-cordy bangs connor during a rain of fire that causes angel to get emo and banish cordy/connor out and rah rah rah blah blah blah. yeah, i’d rather have puppet-angel get mauled by his werewolf girlfriend while his back is turned to her for some exposition than have SERIOUS BUSINESS DURING A RAIN OF FIRE. c’est la vie.

    anyways TLDR TLDR TLDR = a few years late, a few bucks short i can say that as i re-watch angel season 4 again for the first time in ~3+ years (as i had all of the eps on my old laptop hard drive but for some reason i had no interest in grabbing season 4… hmmm i wonder why? =) yeah, it’s way more horrible than i remember. i didn’t pick up on a lot of the subtleties and nuances of the “dour soap opera” even as recently as ~5yrs ago or whenever the last time it was on TNT…. and now watching it = holy crap it’s just some kind of truly awful….. and i feel a little bit dumber as a person for having gone out of my way to consume it again (and i apologize to anyone who feels this way after reading this post)

  11. Ruby says:

    Angel season 4 is fantastic. Everyone complaining about this season are the same people who just want their characters and stories to remain simple, sweet and w/out conflict or consequence. THAT is bad TV, folks.

    And to the original author of the article, you just want to watch Angel seasons 1-3 and stop there? You want to stop where the hero of the show is sunk to the bottom of the sea never to be found again.

    That’s pretty dark (like season 4).

    • merlin pendragon says:

      I understand what you are saying, but CONNER And CORDI! And well, they sort of ruined cordi in general during season 4. The rest was mediocre.

  12. Steve says:

    Ok let’s have it right. Buffy was shit. Angel was shit. No ifs no buts no maybes. Now I know you have fond memories of this garbage and that’s ok because you were a kid and your mind hadn’t fully developed. Same as I thought button moon was the best show ever. Nevertheless it was a steaming pile of yaks do do

    • laurajc83 says:

      I have to disagree with you Steve but your comment did make me laugh! I also thought Button Moon was the best show ever!! 😀 “We’re off to Button Moon, to follow Mr.Spoon, Button Moon……” good times…..

      • Steve says:

        Watch Salem. It is about witch trials, the occult, black magic and unlike Buffy and Angel it doesn’t suck enormous sweaty donkey balls!

  13. GRiM says:

    The fact that you’re missing is that Charisma became pregnant and failed to tell Joss until shooting had already began and half the season was filmed. This screwed up the whole season story which would have actually seen Cordy as the big bad and have a fight with Angel (This was the reason they wrote her as being trained earlier).

    Because she left it too late to tell Joss they had to speedily rewrite and do another Demon baby story which pissed Joss off so he basically killed her off in final episode of season 4. (Until later when she comes back for one episode in season 5).

    Also to the person who was talking about the puppet episode. This was an excellent filler episode and done simply for fun because of his fathers connection to muppets.

  14. laurajc83 says:

    Where are you getting info on Charisma and Joss?? Puppet episode was exactly what you said, a filler! Pointless and not funny at all. Even if Joss’ father had a connection with muppets, it was another example of the declining work on both shows, Eg. Buffy’s Doublemeat Palace -please don’t try to defend that one!! Joss Whedon, I feel, would never have allowed bad episodes to be given the go ahead in the early days of both Buffy and Angel but I feel more control was handed over to the other writers towards the end of both series, as either he had other projects to focus on or he was just plain getting tired of it, because his best work and stories had already been done and told in the earlier seasons. Don’t get me wrong, early Buffy and early Angel will always be my favourite programmes of all time but I hate to say it, the ends of both series are bitterly disappointing.

    • Stevek says:

      Here is a link to Charisma Carpenter appearing on a panel where she answers questions that will help explain some of this. She answers the question about her relationship with Joss and what happened to Cordelia’s character starting at about 5:30

      • William says:

        Since I’ve just finished Angel for the first time in 2020, (Hulu binge), I count myself on the outside. After finishing, being so excited, and wanting to share in my new love of a tv show, I decided to look up forums of any kind to voice my joy. Only to find anger and hatred of a character (Connor) and a writer/creator (Joss). Was Joss wrong for how he handled Cordy/Charisma? Did Charisma wait to long to tell Joss of her pregnancy? Since I wasn’t there, I don’t know. And either does anyone else outside that room. No matter what you think you found on the internet to back up your silly anger in the first place. What did I find? Opinions. Pure and simple. No facts. Just the same old quick to judge, quick to anger, slow to understand opinions given by angry people over fictional characters who I adored, but now am left with a sour taste in my mouth because of. You just can’t please everybody. Ever,
        So let me ask you a question. Isn’t it possible that if Charisma told Joss as soon as she found out she was pregnant, it was STILL late in the schedule? Isn’t it possible that when the writers, the art department, the mask makers, the fight coordinators, the location scouters, and the many other things needed to put a weekly tv show on the air were just told, Um, we gotta start over, that maybe if that was you, you’s be upset too? She doesn’t work at a bank, or a supermarket. You can’t just call a person to take your shift. There are so many things tied into her, that can’t be just waived off as standing behind a door, or loose fitting clothes. Anyone who says that is just plain ignorant.
        Now, having little to no time to write an entire season, and do all the things I’ve already listed, and most I have not, we want to jump all over the writers for having to change their original story. And then blame and accuse, blame and accuse. You people sucked the fun out of a show that I had no problem with. A show that got me excited to see what was coming next. Like few shows have ever done for me. So thank you. Thank you for your self serving arrogance.
        Your shallow interpretations of things you know nothing about, but think you do.
        But most of all, thank you for reminding me how self-centered and sophomoric
        people can be.

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