|Lives were upended--and some co-opted--in the fifth and final season of Angel, as the denizens of Angel Investigations found themselves taking on one of their scariest endeavors ever: corporate life. After making a literal deal with the devil (or something distinctly devil-like), Angel (David Boreanaz) moved his team from their crumbling hotel to the high-rise digs of law-firm-from-hell Wolfram & Hart, his reasoning being they could better fight the forces of evil from the inside, and with more resources to boot. Clever maneuvering or easy rationalization? Not a few members of Angel's team accused him of selling out (as did a number of viewers), but as with most of the show's previous four seasons, Angel somehow took a dubious premise and mined it for gold. And with one core cast member gone (Charisma Carpenter, whose Cordelia was immersed in a deep coma), it seemed as if the show, from within and without, would suddenly fall apart--that is, until Angel's longtime nemesis Spike (James Marsters) showed up, fresh from his sacrificial roasting at the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Let the vampire games begin!
With Buffy off the air, fans flocked to Angel's last season to get their fix of Joss Whedon's "Buffyverse" in any form they could, and the addition of Spike was a shrewd one, albeit not enough to keep the show from getting canceled. And for the first half of the season, the creative forces behind the show seemed to be toying ruthlessly with the audience. Spike was around, but not entirely corporeal; Angel himself became sullen and withdrawn; and most horrifically, sweetheart scientist Fred (Amy Acker) and former watcher Wesley (Alexis Denisof) underwent traumas that would test even the most devoted viewer. However, just when you'd be about to throw in the towel, things started changing for the better--Spike became a permanent fixture (both in the flesh and on the show), Angel's secret motives were revealed, and the introduction of demon warrior Illyria, who proved to be the show's answer to Buffy's sardonic demon-made-human Anya, was a welcome breath of fresh air. Creatively, Angel also came up with some of its best episodes, including "Smile Time" (where Angel is turned into a puppet really!) and "You're Welcome" (the show's 100th episode, which marked the bittersweet return of Carpenter's Cordelia). The ending of the series was deliberately ambiguous, and not everyone made it through alive, but in going out kicking, it was a proper sendoff for a show that always fought the good fight. --Mark Englehart