In “Angel” Season 3, the vampire-detective show manages to get even darker, if that’s possible. You could measure the torment and angst on screen in some of these episodes by the gallon. Yet at the same time, this is the season “Angel” really gels and the characters form a real “family” of outcasts and freaks – which makes it all the more painful when bad things keep happening to them.
This season Angel Investigations continue to grow – the nervous Fred joins the team, while Gunn and the demon Lorne both also become full-time cast members. Fred’s a strange addition at first, and I felt Amy Acker overplays the whole “naïve country girl with an accent” schtick. But she becomes an enjoyable cast member, although I couldn't ever buy into the idea that her and Gunn would have a relationship – they never make a plausible couple. I also really loved the changes Wesley went through this year, completing the transformation from tweedy geek in his early “Buffy” appearances into a grim, haunted and authoritative figure. (Alexis Denisof proves himself a pretty solid actor this season.)
But the big ongoing story this season is the tale of Darla, Angel’s evil ex, and her pregnancy and the surprise child she delivers. It’s a great tragic soap opera storyline, complete with a resurrected ancient foe of Angel’s, Holtz. Holtz, wonderfully played by Keith Szarabajka, was a vampire hunter 200 years ago whose entire family was slaughtered by the evil Angelus. Brought back to life to continue his hunt for Angel, Holtz is a fascinating character – seething with righteous rage over Angel’s past deeds. The whole Darla/Holtz plot comes to a great conclusion as Angel’s son is born – then through one of those magic/timey-wimey things, ends up a few episodes later as a scowling Pete from “Mad Men.” The grown Connor and his fractious relationship with his father give “Angel” another surge of energy as the third season comes to a close.
This season is the best yet, as it tangles fatherhood, guilt, love, and vengeance into one boiling mass of emotions and twists. I’d have to say this year is when the spinoff becomes as good as the parent show “Buffy” was at its peak. It’s a tribute to the skill of the actors and writers that the show doesn’t drown in its own bleak plotlines. Just enough humour and action are used to break up the gloomy bits.
Best episode: There’s several great ones this year, but I have to go with “Sleep Tight,” about as tense an episode “Angel” has produced, with Angel’s baby son becoming a football passed between a variety of players. Wesley’s betrayal of the team is startling, but what’s even more gripping is how horribly his behaviour damages the bond between the friends of Angel Investigations – the easy camaraderie between the gang is broken, and the fallout from this episode lingers through the rest of this season and into Season 4. The shocking finale of this episode, where Angel loses Connor and Holtz, seemingly forever, is a gut-blow to the viewer. (Runner-up status to the season finale "Tomorrow" which has a great cliff-hanger ending -- one character sinking into the sea, one ascending to higher realms.)