Although Joss Whedon’s now classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer is rightly celebrated as one of the greatest and most influential TV series of all time, in many ways, it was surpassed by its darker, more adult spin-off Angel, starring David Boreanaz as the titular vampire with a soul. While it took a little while for Angel to find its sea legs, it eventually grew into incredible genre entertainment—despite their limited budget—and deserves far more credit than it gets. (I’ll even go on record to say its series finale is better than Buffy‘s.) So in order to right these wrongs and give Angel due praise, we’ve come with with a list of the most memorable episodes the series gave us. And yes, we are counting some two part episodes as one — our list, our rules kids.
1. “Hero” (Season one, episode nine)
One of the early indications that Angel wasn’t going to be just “Buffy 2.0″ was “Hero,” which came about halfway through season one. The character of Doyle, played by the late Glenn Quinn, was a key figure in Angel’s life, due to his abilities to receive visions of people in danger for Angel to rescue. No one was expecting Doyle to heroically sacrifice his life this early in the series run; this episode proved that just because you’re in the opening credits sequence, it doesn’t mean you’re safe.
2. “Five By Five”/”Sanctuary” (Season one, episodes 18/19)
This two-parter enlisted Faith (Eliza Dushku), the rogue slayer who brought so much drama in Buffy’s third season, as the newest addition to Angel’s story. These episodes begin her slow march towards redemption, which, impressively, actually feels earned despite all the horrible acts she’s committed. This is also the last time Sarah Michelle Gellar appears as Buffy on Angel, and the former lovers are not exactly getting cuddly in this one. Their argument over what to do with Faith is truly epic.
3. “Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been?” (Season two, episode two)
Being some 250 years old, our hero has a ton of history, both as the soulful and broody Angel and as the evil and sadistic Angelus. This early season two episode flashes back to the paranoid Hollywood of the 1950s, a time of McCarthyism and racial prejudice, and we’re introduced to a demon who feeds on just those very things. We also learn that not all of the dark chapters of Angel’s life were from when he was evil.
4. “Darla” (Season two, episode seven)
Another incredible flashback episode that traces the origins of Darla (Julie Benz), the vampire who sired Angel. We learn who she was before becoming a vampire, and the details of her twisted relationship over the centuries with the vampire she created, Angelus. There’s also a great flashback to early 1900s China, where we see the Buffyverse’s main vamps—Angelus, Darla, Spike, and Drusilla—all together in their evil prime.
5. “Reunion”/”Redefinition” (Season two, episodes 10/11)
After being pushed to the brink by both Angel’s sire Darla and his progeny, the insane Drusilla (Juliet Landau)—not to mention the demonic law firm Wolfram & Hart—Angel decides to become less Batman and more Punisher, and allows the vampire ladies in his life to murder their way through a party of lawyers who, while not exactly good guys, were human beings. He then fires his crew and becomes a cold-hearted vigilante jerk for the rest of the season.
6. “Sleep Tight”/”Forgiving” (Season three, episodes 16/17)
In Angel‘s third season, the show was firing on all cylinders, best example being this two-part arc. Angel’s righthand man Wesley Whyndam Pryce (Alexis Denisof) betrays his employer and friend by stealing his infant son Connor from him, all in order to protect him from a prophecy he thinks will result in the child’s father killing him. Angel’s son is then stolen again from Wesley and taken to a Hell dimension, leaving Angel so enraged he tries to murder his friend in his own hospital bed.
7. “Spin the Bottle” (Season four, episode six)
Series creator Joss Whedon didn’t write and direct as many episodes of Angel as he did Buffy, but when he did, they were pretty great. Case in point: “Spin the Bottle,” an episode where Angel and his gang are caught up in a spell that reverts them all to their teenage selves. This allows us to get retro versions of Cordelia and Wesley, who revert to their early Buffy-era, buffoonish selves.
8. “You’re Welcome” (Season five, episode 12)
By this, the 100th episode of the series, Charisma Carpenter’s character Cordelia Chase, who was a mainstay for the first four seasons of the series (as well as three seasons of Buffy) had been written out of the show and placed in an off-camera coma. When she finally emerges from her long illness, she helps Angel on one last case, and proves that of all the people in the Buffyverse, she had grown the most as a character.
9. “Smile Time” (Season five, episode 14)
In this amazing episode, written by The Tick creator Ben Edlund, Angel is turned into a puppet. Yes, it is as totally amazing as it sounds. Worth watching alone for hearing James Marsters as Spike call Angel “a wee li’l puppet man!”
Which are your most favorite episodes of Angel? Be sure to let us know down below in the comments.
Images: 20th Century Fox
More essential episodes lists!
- We’ve got one for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
- We’ve got one for Eerie, Indiana
- And yes, we’ve got one for Buffy the Vampire Slayer
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