Season 4 of Angel. What was Joss Whedon thinking?

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

angel

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.ย  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.

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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?

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20 thoughts on “Season 4 of Angel. What was Joss Whedon thinking?

  1. 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!

    1. 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. ๐Ÿ˜‰ 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.

    1. 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. ๐Ÿ™‚
      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? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  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.

    1. 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. 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!!

    1. 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.

      1. 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!! ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

  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. โ˜บ

    1. 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. 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. 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!!

  8. 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. 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.

  10. 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. 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).

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