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Commentary: 'Angel' fans, time to let go

By Joshua Levs
CNN

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(CNN) -- There are some things I wouldn't wish on anybody. And being an undead guy approaching 300, doomed to spend eternity ruing past evils, nearly getting vanquished daily, never getting to enjoy certain pleasures, and being prone to sprouting fangs is one of them.

That said, I love that it happened to Angel, an unfortunate sap born in 1727 Ireland, in the world according to genius writer-director Joss Whedon.

The main character of the show "Angel" has the basics of all the great male action heroes: ethics, super-strength, loneliness and all the rest. But this hero, played with depth by David Boreanaz, has more.

He's committed unheard-of depravity and had a curse placed on him to spend every waking moment regretting it. The curse was simple: his soul was restored. In Whedon's vision, the soul is the essence of our humanity. Angel knows atonement will always be out of reach, but still battles for good -- making the whole set-up altruistic, despite his plight.

Now, after eight years -- three on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and five in his own show -- it's this cowboy's turn to ride off into the sunset. (Actually, sunlight turns vamps to dust, so he's more likely to ride off into the night.)

The WB's decision to drop the show drives a stake through the hearts of the most passionate "Angel"-philes. You can't blame them for campaigning -- it worked last year. But, treasonous as this may sound, I say it's time to let go.

Darker turns

Angel's years on screen have been defined by adventures epic enough to give Odysseus a run for his money: a star-crossed romance with Buffy, reversions to soul-free Angelus, getting sucked into a hell dimension. He has faced endless battles -- the biggest ones internal -- and won.

When the character left for Los Angeles, kicking off "Angel" in 1999, Whedon promised even darker, more adult themes. In perhaps the greatest plotline, Darla, the blonde vamp who "sired" Angel -- made him one of her kind -- returns as human. He tries leading her to salvation, but just when she's about to crack, a vampire Angelus sired turns the tables and sires Darla.

Then Darla, pregnant with Angel's son, feels the child's soul inside her and sacrifices herself to save the baby -- knowing that once it's born she'll be evil again and unable to love it.

What's most amazing is that you could actually suspend disbelief enough to get into this stuff. Whedon's stories are some of the most realistic on television -- and among the few that don't pretend to be. There's no level on which he wants us to believe any of this could happen. He's exploring how real people would respond.

Of course, not everything works. For example, Angel is technically supposed to look the same age he did eight years ago. Not quite.

But no matter. The actors -- from Boreanaz on down -- are strong enough to overcome the impossibility of their plotlines, and we follow suit.

At least I did, until this season.

Goring beyond bounds

I stopped watching.

The premise -- that Angel inherits control of big, bad Wolfram & Hart, an evil law firm -- never quite gelled. Whedon made stand-alone episodes, sacrificing longer arcs. And the addition of "Buffy" transplant Spike (James Marsters, a brilliant actor) didn't provide the influx of verve it promised.

But here's what ultimately paved my departure: Whedon added scenes so jaw-droppingly disturbing that at one point the network had to run an advisory. This is not the show I signed up for.

When word broke of "Angel's" cancellation, I thought it might help restore some greatness. I've rejoined just to see how it all turns out.

Either way, this isn't the end. Anyone who has watched "Buffy" or "Angel" knows this: these characters don't die. Well, they do, but they come back.

The WB has hinted at a future TV movie, and I think that's when this saga will be put to rest. Buffy and Angel will have a Shakespearean postscript, and "Angel"-aholics -- having been weaned -- will at last be ready to let go.


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