The curse of studio executives seems to be striking all too often these days. Probably one of the biggest sufferers in this is Joss Whedon. The creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, like J M Straczynski (Babylon 5) before him, has had to fight continuously and often in vain to keep his shows on the air.
Buffy was one of the most intelligently written shows of a generation. It tapped into the teenage market like nothing ever before and very much created the mould for many of our modern tough female characters in TV and film. Buffy was like a modern day Ripley (Alien) except younger and full of wise-cracks.
As time wore on Buffy suffered the typical problems of being dumped by it's network. It and it's spin off Angel found a home on the fledgling UPN, which could never offer the mass market of the other big hitters. Despite the strength of the story telling Buffy ended with very viewers. I would argue that this was more because of the poor network it was served by, rather than because of it being a poor show.
However, at least it was given a chance. It was allowed to run it's course. Unfortunately, once gone, Angel seemed destined for the scrap heap. Only a year since the end of Buffy and the curtain has fallen on Angel. It was not planned. It was not expected. The staff weren't told until well past the halfway mark of what has turned out to be a final season.
In many ways this has attributed to a relatively poor conclusion after 5 years of dark story telling. Now don't get me wrong. The end of Angel was still well written and superbly orchestrated. Joss Whedon and his staff should be commended for managing to pull off a strong finish despite the lack of warning. But it was still lacking.
The first two thirds of season 5 were building towards a longer story arc, this seemed clear. Unfortunately, the decision to cancel has led to a number of liberties being taken with the story we had grown used to.
Out went the prophecy which has become central to the story. In came a suddenly devious and plotting Angel. That he claimed to have been plotting for 10 months was outrageous given that the first appearance of this came only 4 eps from the end.
The end, however, still packed a punch and deserves credit. A friend pointed out to me that one of the oddities of Buffy's finale was that it was the good demons that died (Spike, Anya), while the main human cast survived. On the surface it appears that it's rolls reversed in Angel, as first Wesley, then Lindsey and finally Gunn all bite the bullet. The remaining good guys are left unresolved. Running towards an impossible number of enemies as the screen fades to black. It's a cunning ending, leaving it open for a possible return of Spike and Angel. In my mind, they all died, but only time will tell.
All that's left is to say goodbye. Angel will be remembered as the disjointed one. It's peaks (Seasons 2 and most of 5) are some of the best television in recent times. It's troughs (season 3) are not so memorable.