53 weeks after Warners insanely pulled the plug on Joss Whedon? impeccable BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER spin-off, the fifth and final season of ANGEL arrives in a typically-lavish DVD boxset. It? time to step back into the Buffiverse one last time and remind ourselves just how and why the man Whedon single-handedly reinvented genre television.

ANGEL made it to a fifth season by the skin of its teeth. Having become ? turgid supernatural soap opera?in its fourth year, Warners required a bit of fine-tuning for the show to go for another run. They required the addition of James Marsters as bleached-blond bad-ass vampire Spike (latterly of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) to join the ranks (the fact that Spike died a noble death in the last episode of BUFFY wasn? their problem), they wanted more stand-alone episodes to attract new viewers and they wanted a budget cut. They got all three but the cost was too much. ANGEL season five was never less than entertaining but there was always a sense of a show whose wings had been clipped, a series yearning to go off in different creative directions.

At the end of season four Angel Investigations moved into the belly of the beast as they found themselves in control of the LA division of Wolfram and Hart, the evil law firm whose presence has been a constant since the first episode of the series. This move broadens the show? horizons but also narrows them a bit. The requirement to save money means that too many episodes rarely move away from the admittedly-impressive W and H set, a mass of corridors, offices and laboratories. This has the effect of narrowing Angel? world although fortunately the set-up gives the large supporting cast a bit more to do than usual. The one-off nature of many of the early episodes comes as a shock to those used to the rich multi-layering of the earlier seasons – particularly the grim and disturbing season four. But there are some good episodes early in the season: season-opened ?onviction?sees Angel and co settle into their new working environment, ?nleashed?introduces a new werewolf character (who later becomes an unlikely and rather hurried love interest for our brooding superhero) and ?ife of the Party?is a comedy riot. But then there? the boring wrestling episode ?he cautionary tale of Numero Cinco?and the aimless ?ineage? The addition of Spike to the cast manages to raise Boreanaz? game and both actors turn in some fine performances right throughout the season, the enmity between the two deadly vampires creating real sparks of bitter wit and sour sarcasm. The wonderful Mercedes McNab returns as hopeless vampire Harmony and she even gets her own episode, the amusing (if pointless) ?arm? Way? Former series regular Cordelia (Chjarimsa carpenter) makes a heart-breaking final appearance in the 100thepisode, ?ou?e Welcome?By the time we reach the half-way point in the series the gloves are off; the cancellation notice has come through and the series reverts to story-arc mode. The stunning ?mile Time?(Angel is transformed into a puppet!) aside, the series becomes more serialised when tragedy strikes in the magnificent ? Hole in the World?when Fred (Acker) is destroyed by the goddess Illyria who promptly takes over Fred? body, allowing Amy Acker to show what she can really do. The series rattles towards its conclusion and attempts are made to tie up a few loose ends – the Shansu prophecy which has haunted Angel for five years and the Angel/Spike/Buffy love triangle, clumsily resolved in the amusing ?he Girl in Question?

But it? the last three episodes which sees the show accelerate, perhaps a little too fast as a new super-bad is introduced, an evil so enormous (yawn) that it looks as if Angel? changed sides again. There? a terrible sense of doom in the very last episode as old friends are either killed or mortally wounded or, in the case of Lorne, just can? stomach the fight any more. The alst scene of the final episode will live with angel fans forever as Angel, Spike, Illyria and Gunn plunge into battle against impossible odds. ?et? go to work.?n

Season five may have been compromised by network pressure but ultimately it? a fitting end to a great, horribly-underrated show. Time now to bid a fond farewell to the rich, entertaining Buffiverse. Let? hope it? not too long before we?e allowed to journey there again. Cheers, Joss.

THE DISCS: Clean, crisp transfers and the usual ragbag collection of extras. Plentiful commentaries (including some of the cast), featurettes on ?mile Time? stunt choreography, the best of Angel and recurring villains. There? also a half-hour featurette on the final season which, frustratingly, skates over the show? premature cancellation with just a few wistful comments from Joss.]]>

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