I liked the different approach HAPPY ANNIVERSARY took to the show's formula, with an altogether more sci-fi influence. Here, Angel (David Boreanaz) received word from Lorne (Andy Hallett) that the end of the world is night (for real), so they teamed up to locate a scientist called Gene (Matt Champagne) who's destined to bring about the apocalypse.
Lorne and his karaoke bar haven't worked for me this season, but here the writers made the wise decision to make Lorne more of a key player in things. I found him much more palatable and amusing as an unlikely partner for Angel, now the vampire's human friends have deserted him. Their "odd couple" scenes together were a lot of fun, and arguably more entertaining than the usual dynamic with Wes (Alexis Denisoff), Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) and Gunn (J. August Richards). I'm not sure it would work long-term, but as an occasional thing I look forward to more occasions when Lorne's brought out into the field.
The backbone of this episode got increasingly ludicrous as it went along, which was a shame after a promising start. We came to realise that Gene's working on a device that will freeze time; and after overhearing his girlfriend Denise (Darby Stanchfield) is planning to dump him on their anniversary, resolved to trap them both in a single never-ending moment of love. Unfortunately, Gene was blissfully unaware he's actually constructing a doomsday device that will end the world, with his experiment manipulated by droopy-eyed Lubber demons.
It was an intriguing concept that felt different to most other episodes Angel has done, which just about held things together as the weaknesses began to show. The sub-plot with Wes, Cordy and Gunn having an early success with their Angel-less Investigations was only really there to fill some time, although I did enjoy seeing that Wes is using the agency to play out his Sherlock/Poirot fantasies. The episode also reminded me that Wes actually has a steady girlfriend in Virginia Bryce (Brigid Brannagh) from "Guise Will Be Guise", which until now had escaped my memory.
WESLEY: Quiet may be good for mankind, but bad for business.
Much punchier was THE THIN DEAD LINE, which concerned an outbreak of zombie cops causing mayhem in a run-down neighbourhood. It had clear overtones of the Rodney King tragedy from 1992 (where the aforementioned African-American was beaten by L.A cops), which started the infamous L.A Riots. It's a popular nightmare scenario for those entrusted with your protection to instead mean you harm, but given Angel's location I'm sure this real-life event factored into the birth of Jim Kouf and Shawn Ryan's script.
What I liked about this episode was how everyone was tackling the same case, but from different angles. Angel and Lockley (Elisabeth Röhm) investigated the root cause of the zombies, while Gunn, Wesley and Cordelia dealt with the problem at street-level. I was also surprised to see that homeless shelter owner Anne (Julia Lee) was back, so I assume she's going to be a recurring character now. That makes sense, if her shelter's going to become a goldmine for supernatural problems facing everyday Angelenos, and should certainly help Wesley's splinter group find cases during the quiet period they're experiencing. Or maybe it was just a handy location for this episode's climactic riff on Night of the Living Dead, with zombie cops breaking through windows and doors to attack the homeless folk inside.
Overall, while it wasn't anything extraordinarily good, "The Thin Dead Line" was bold entertainment and managed to make the idea of a city's police force turning evil feel appropriately dangerous and unsettling. It was also fun seeing Gunn interacting with people more on his wavelength, and the drama nicely intensified once Wes was shot in the stomach and his ambulance became the focus of police brutality.
written by David Greenwalt (2.13) & Jim Kouf & Shawn Ryan (2.14) | directed by Bill L. Norton (2.13) & Scott McGinnis (2.14) | 6 & 13 February 2001