The departure of Professor Walsh from the narrative (somewhat prematurely, a la Oz), together with a feeling cyborg Adam only offers so much as a villain, perhaps led to the awakening of comatose Faith (Eliza Dushku) in "THIS YEAR'S GIRL". She was a character the show's had in its back pocket for awhile now, so her return was inevitable but well-timed. As much as I've enjoyed this fourth year more than I expected to, it hasn't really had the same punch as season 2 and 3, but the return of Faith certainly restored some energy.
Adam's still off on a rampage around Sunnydale; eviscerating demons and putting them on display as grisly "performance art", which chills Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her friends to the bone. Riley's (Marc Blucas) fortunately back on the team, having left The Initiative's medical care following last episode's brawl with Adam, but there's bigger fish to fry with the return of the cocky, wise-cracking Slayer called Faith—who awakens from her slumber like a poisonous Sleeping Beauty, having experienced symbolic dreams of Buffy knifing her in the stomach and slaughtering her adopted father The Mayor (Harry Groener) during a picnic.
I actually really enjoy the Faith character, which has worked as an effective counterpoint to Buffy. It helps that she's been developed in a pleasing way; starting life as the boisterous "sister" of Buffy with a streetwise approach to the same life calling, then slowing transforming into a hateful "evil version" of her former friend. Her alliance with The Mayor last season was a little implausible, but I really enjoyed the idea she became the apple of the Big Bad's eye. Much of that carried over into "This Year's Girl", with Faith realising she's been asleep for eight months and deciding to continue her vendetta with Buffy—partly as vengeance for her father's death (who recorded some videos for her to watch should his plan for world domination go awry), but mainly because she's always seen Buffy as a judgemental figure.
I wasn't aware this was a two-part episode going in, but it makes sense to give this story that kind of scope. The climactic scrap between Buffy and Faith in the Summers' house was one of the show's best pieces of fight choreography, and the twist-ending that Faith managed to use a supernatural trinket the Mayor gave her to swap bodies with Buffy means the scene's set for an even better second part. You can't go wrong with a story wheren the heroine's trapped in the defeated villain's body, and vice versa, can you?
Elsewhere, it was nice to be reminded that Spike (James Marsters) hasn't become completely domesticated and retains his desire to see his new "friends" killed (he just can't do it himself), and it's about time The Watcher's Council was brought back into this show. They should be a far more important and influential force, so maybe they're here to help put The Initiative in its place? Also nice to see Buffy's mother Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) for the first time in ages, and the return of the Mayor for a few scenes was a nice touch for fans. I like it when episodes clearly attach themselves to the history the show is creating as it goes along.
written by Doug Petrie | directed by Michael Gershman | 22 February 2000
Cordelia: Very good, Mister I-can't-tail-the-suspect-during-the-day-because-I'll-burst-into-flames Private Eye.
There were aspects of "THE PRODIGAL" I really enjoyed, and others that fell flat to me. On the plus side, this was probably the first episode that told a story that actually required Angel (David Boreanaz) to do real detective work for once. I wasn't several steps ahead of the plot, which is usually the norm, and actually found myself fairly engaged with the story about Detective Lockley's retired father Trevor (John Mahon) becoming a mule for a syndicate of demonic drug-runners.
The flashbacks to 18th-century Ireland were less enthralling, mainly because Boreanaz's Irish accent remains terrible (although at least he doesn't attack it so much it's more noticeable), but also because the Mutant Enemy crew do such a poor job bringing the Ireland of 1753 to life on-screen. It's all very cheap and silly, although it was nice to see the moment Angel actually became a vampire—which naturally meant a return for Darla (Julie Benz) and, surprisingly, an early appearance from Mad Men's Christina Hendricks as "Barmaid". She must have impressed someone on staff, because she'd go on to have a brilliant villainous role in Joss Whedon's Firefly two years later.
The theme this week was fathers and families; as Angel struggled to protect Kate Lockley's (Elizabeth Röhm) father from the demons, while recalling the fact he killed his own domineering father shortly after becoming a vampire. More importantly, Lockley and Angel are bound by the fact they both had strained paternal relationships: Angel's father (J. Kenneth Campbell) considered his son a drunken wastrel, and Lockley's father could never express his love for his own daughter following the death of his wife.
I also really enjoyed how Tim Minear used vampire lore in a very dramatic way, when Angel was unable to prevent Trevor being killed by the demon drug-runners because he wasn't granted permission to enter his residence... so had to wait until Trevor had been killed, for the "spell" to break and allow him entry to kill his murderers.
Overall, it's a shame the 'Ye Olde Oireland' scenes always feel so ridiculously cheesy, but I enjoyed seeing a continuation of Lockley's story that fed into Angel's own back-story in certain ways. Röhm has proven to be a weak actress for the mos part, but she wasn't too bad here, and in all honesty her character makes more sense existing on the show than Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) right now.... who spent this episode installing a security alarm system.
written by Tim Minear | directed by Bruce Seth Green | 22 February 2000