[Article by Ryan Bovay]
#25 “Dear Boy” [2×05] – A very creepy look at Angel’s obsession and his sordid past with Darla, though it only scratches the surface of the episode of the same name. Still, his obsession with tracking her down, the conflicts with Kate, Wes and Cordy are all hugely worthwhile. And Darla has a soul too. Neat stuff.
#24 “Salvage” [4×13] – The best of the Faith episodes and exactly the shot in the arm Season Four needed at this point. The resurrection of Faith from obscurity is masterfully handled, as is how well she’s incorporated into S4’s main story. Throw in some good drama, kick-ass fights and take out all the conceptual problems the other Faith episodes have, and you have “Salvage.”
#23 “That Old Gang of Mine” [3×03] – Gunn comes to terms with working for a demon in this complex and interesting look at morality in the Angel-verse. Strong conflicts and an intelligent metaphor for races and cultures make this and important as well as memorable episode.
#22 “Inside Out” [4×17] – Sporting some of the most intricate philosophy in the series, this episode has a well rounded set of themes on morality, destiny, and opposites; Cordy is bad, Darla is good, and the writers elevate Connor to a tragic figure in a truly sympathetic conflict.
#21 “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?” [2×02] – A hotel as a character? Who’d have thought? A fan favourite and unique episode of ‘Angel’ that provides beautiful set pieces, an intriguing mystery and an important piece of Angel’s past. Probably the most ‘special’ episode of the series, it also has some of the best metaphors.
#20 “The Prodigal” [1×15] – A superb standalone that, in the best qualities of Season One, brings together a confluence of well foreshadowed character events for some great drama and action. It’s also one of the most important episodes in the series, as we learn why Angel truly feels guilty for his past as Angelus.
#19 “Sleep Tight” [3×16] – Although it’s not as stunning as David Greenwalt’s other best efforts, there’s some of the most utterly gut-wrenching drama of the entire series here. Wesley’s tragedy comes full circle as Holtz carefully manipulates both him and Justine into exacting the key pieces of his revenge, which become clearer and more scary as the episode comes near its close.
#18 “Home” [4×22] – Lilah’s recitation of Angel’s speech from “Deep Down” [4×01] is chilling after all he’s fought for and lost this season. “Home” functions as a setup for S5, possessing all of its greatest qualities, while still providing great closes to the themes and threads of S4. Connor’s conflict and the resolution to it are both tragic, as Angel loses the last thing left he loves.
#17 “I Will Remember You” [1×08] – This is pure drama at its very pinnacle. A few regrettable contrivances keep this episode from rising to greatness, but the raw pain and emotion of Buffy and Angel’s final hurrah is memorable and potent. Top credit goes to Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz here.
#16 “Underneath” [5×17] – A surprisingly powerful installment that begins to pick up the pieces of “Shells,” and has Angel begin affirming his new goal at W&H. The metaphor of the holding dimension constructed by the writers cuts to the heart of modern society – quite literally – to deeply intellectual effect.
#15 “Sanctuary” [1×19] – A huge amount happens here, from Kate’s revenge, to Buffy’s arrival in LA and Wesley’s critical decision of whether or not to betray Angel in capturing Faith. Her struggle is expertly interwoven with the season’s main theme, and Angel’s development. All of it is flawlessly webbed together by an airtight script and some great acting from Eliza Dushku.
#14 “Deep Down” [4×01] – This is the episode of Season Four that even Season Four haters love. It’s dark, highly atmospheric and introduces some of the show’s darkest ideas in anticipation of the season ahead. And in the vein of episodes like “City of” and “Epiphany,” establishes a new moral mission statement for Angel as a character and a show.
#13 “Power Play” [5×21] – An episode all about power; who has it, who wields it, why they have it and what needs to be done with it. It’s one of David Fury’s very best offerings as he misleads, confuses, interests and eventually satisfies us with the unforgettable scene where Angel reunites with the Fang Gang to plan the takedown of the Circle.
#12 “Somnambulist” [1×11] – Not only a superb standalone, but a rewarding episode for long time fans. Angel sees his violent and soulless past reflected in the sins of the vampire Penn, as we as an audience are subjected to cruel and deeply frightening reminders of why that past is ever present, dangerous and always a tiny, perfect moment of happiness away.
#11 “Destiny” [5×08] – This is an episode kept from the #1 spot only by my realism as a ‘critic.’ Spike and Angel’s fight has been over a century coming, and sparks some of the most profound dialogue the series has seen as they battle it out over their fates, the meaning of heroes, their age old rivalry and their shared past love interest: Buffy. It doesn’t get any juicier.
#10 “Lullaby” [3×09] – The best episode of Season Three, and one of only a few good episodes in the main arc. The conclusions to Darla’s character and her stunning, noble sacrifice are matched in dramatic potency only by Holtz’s cruelty. It’s such a great setup that it makes much of the story arc following it seem disappointing.
#9 “City of” [1×01] – A brilliant and flawless start to the season that sets up the main themes and metaphors of not only this first season, but the entire series. Angel gains a connection to the world in Doyle and Cordelia, and despite some apparent signs of the episode being a pilot (bad vamp makeup), this is a very impressive start to the series.
#8 “Epiphany” [2×16] – Why is this episode so high? What it lacks in pure drama it easily makes up for in intelligence and philosophy. The character consequences of Angel’s fall are dealt with well, but what makes this episode truly great is its brilliant existential ponderings on the meanings of life and a world without a God or a greater purpose. Its themes become the mission statement for the show.
#7 “Darla” [2×07] – Easily the best crossover with Buffy, this episode matches up with “Fool for Love” in an unforgettable historical continuity line, while also being one of the best shot and written episodes of Angel. The camera has a unique and near-noir eye here, focused on Angel’s epic – and tragic – fight to save Darla. We also get another great piece of his past.
#6 “A Hole in the World” [5×15] – Deeply insightful, AHIW possesses the single best metaphor in Angel’s run. The dialogue on Cavemen vs. Astronauts takes us deep into the characters moralities, and into our own as a human people. Though it sometimes bobs over the top in melodrama, it doesn’t miss in its intended effect in the horrible pain we feel for Fred and Wesley. Amy Acker is Emmy-worthy.
#5 “Reunion” [2×10] – Shocking is the only way to describe it. The most critical piece to Wolfram and Hart’s plan to bring Angel down clicks into place as Darla is re-vampirized, and Angel abandons his mission to help the helpless in a quest for vengeance. The room you’re watching in may just get colder when he utters: “And yet somehow, i just can’t seem to care.”
#4 “To Shanshu in LA” [1×22] – This episode feels huge, and the series changes in ways you wouldn’t expect. Angel finally comes to terms with his existence and realizes its own worth, abandoning his self-pity as his friends are attacked and brought down around him. The confluence of events including Vocah, Lindsey and the Shanshu Prophecy make for an unforgettable experience.
#3 “Shells” [5×16] – Like “A Hole in the World” [5×15], this episode masterfully plumbs the depths of humanity, power and culpability, but is more effective than its predecessor in terms of its lightning-paced plot and wider social scope. The price of power is at last paid – in blood – by Angel and Co, and the impact of it is unforgettable.
#2 “Reprise” [2×15] – A hopelessly dark Tim Minear masterpiece that destroys the themes set down by Season 1. This is an intelligent, sometimes overlooked gem that makes brave and important statements about the nature of the world and evil; literal must-see viewing. Angel gives into perfect despair as Wolfram and Hart’s plan to drag him down into the darkness is complete.
#1 “Not Fade Away” [5×22] – No words can do justice how I feel about this episode, but the quality and quiet drama of the closures to each individual character, and how they play out to their action-packed ends in the second half are amazing. A season of well built themes, characters, and events come to a crashing head as the Fang Gang take on the Circle and win, and go out fighting, maybe dying, because it’s right. This is the quintessentially perfect episode of Angel.