Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: We add TV to the mix, presenting a week of our favorite series finales in honor of Parks And Recreation’s final episodes. (Note: Plot details are revealed.)
Angel, “Not Fade Away” (season five, episode 22; originally aired 5/19/2004)
Though it was always a companion series to Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, which started at the same time as Buffy’s fourth season, was a much different show from the beginning. Tonally, it was darker than its sister series. Angel showed a world run by dark forces, one in which redemption was always just out of reach.
In “Not Fade Away,” Angel (David Boreanaz) reveals his plan to disassemble the Circle Of The Black Thorn, a fittingly over-the-top name for what’s essentially an evil subcommittee tasked with carrying out the apocalyptic plans of evil law firm Wolfram & Hart. Angel has worked his way into the circle by making some serious sacrifices, including signing away his last shot at humanity, which he does without hesitation, because Angel has always seen redemption as much bigger than himself. After doling out assignments to the team, he asks them to go out and live their day however they choose, knowing it could be their last.
Those literal life-or-death stakes drive the emotional throughlines of “Not Fade Away”: Angel finds brief catharsis with his son; Gunn (J. August Richards) remembers what makes life worth fighting for; Wes (Alexis Denisof) finally lets down his hardened guard in his final moments; and Illyria (Amy Acker) learns loss. “Not Fade Away” encapsulates Angel’s central philosophy: The fight against evil is one that never ends, but you just have to take your best swing. It does all this while also being both an emotional roller coaster and a twist-filled action thriller. And even though the world is ending, the finale also mixes in Angel’s distinctly dark humor, best captured by Acker in plainspoken lines like, “I wish to do more violence.”
Unlike most series finales, Angel’s doesn’t seem too concerned with resolution. “Not Fade Away” effectively distills what was beginning to feel like an overly complicated mythology into a battle between good and evil, without painting either side with too-broad strokes. In the end, Angel got back to its roots while also moving things forward, and the upbeat it ends on isn’t really a cliffhanger so much as a statement of purpose for Angel the show and Angel the vampire with a soul. “Let’s go to work,” Angel tells the team. The fight never ends.
Availability: The complete series of Angel is available on DVD and for streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime.