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Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer might be part of the same universe, but their shows ended on two very different notes. Buffy outgrew Sunnydale, California, slayed the big bad, and most of her friends lived to fight another day. Anya didn’t make it out, an unfortunate casualty in the fight for humanity, but nearly everyone else did and you’d be hard-pressed to argue that she didn’t die for a righteous cause. The entire final season of Angel, however, wasn’t so black and white.
For the majority of the Angel television series, Angel did battle with the evil multi-dimensional law firm, Wolfram & Hart. Known universally for representing the very worst of the worst, Wolfram & Hart had a hand in nearly every evil pocket that ever existed, taking a cut of every act of evil committed. At the end of Season 4 of Angel, Angel investigations is coerced into taking control of the law firm (or the Los Angeles branch, at least), believing whole-heartedly that they could channel the near infinite resources offered by the firm to do good.
Instead, the once incorruptible team of heroes walked a moral tightrope for an entire season before their questionable decision started to have consequences. In what was perhaps the most shocking turn of events in the series, Winifred Burkle, an integral part of team Angel, became the host of a rather unique parasite—Illyria, an ancient god, the most feared of all the Old Ones, took Fred’s body as her vessel, destroying her soul in the process. To put it simply, Fred died an irreversible death because of decisions that were made within the walls of Wolfram & Hart.
Then began the downward spiral. In realizing the error of their ways, Angel, Gunn, Wesley, and Spike decide to sacrifice it all to stick it to Wolfram & Hart one final time. In attempting to sever the Senior Partners’ link with their world, the team kills the members of the Circle of the Black Thorn, the most powerful secret society on the planet. In so doing, Wesley is killed, and Los Angeles gets sent to hell. That’s where the show ends. It’s an ending that’s infinitely darker than that of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and much more tragic; it’s an ending with very little to be hopeful about.
Angel: After the Fall is where it all picks up again, but this time in the form of a comic book. A few weeks back, I explored Buffy’s transition into comics, and concluded that there’s actually more creative freedom offered at the hand of a talented artist than with network television special effects. That fact is no less true here, where the entire city of Los Angeles lies in the deepest pits of hell, and armies of demons reign supreme. So while creative freedom is indeed abound, that’s not to say Angel: After the Fall follows the Buffy: Season 8 formula to a tee.
No, as I said earlier, the series finales in the two shows are simply too different, and Angel’s has a feel that’s, well, much more apocalyptic. While Buffy, Season 8 lets us see the beloved Scooby gang continue to fight the good fight, Angel’s conclusion doesn’t lend itself to that sort of continuation. Joss Whedon, undoubtedly, knew that the stories needed to progress in two very different ways. In fact, the names of the comics are quite telling. Buffy gets an eighth season. Angel, on the other hand, doesn’t get a sixth season (the show ended with season 5). No, the Angel comics are the beginning of something entirely different.
Winifred and Wesley are both dead, as I mentioned earlier. This much happens in the show itself. The comic book has some other revelations that Angel: After the Fall #1 sheds some light on. The most tragic discovery: Gunn is now a vampire. He roams around hell bound L.A. with a vampire posse, pretending to rescue imprisoned humans only to feed on them when they let their guards down. And Wesley: dead but still contractually bound by Wolfram & Hart. He appears to be helping, but Angel obviously has his doubts. With Spike and Illyria off on their own, Angel is left to save L.A. mostly by himself, sending all living people he encounters to a safe haven held down by Connor.
So does Angel: After the Fall read like the show? I’d say no, it doesn’t—not in the same way as Buffy: Season 8 does for its television counterpart. Angel Investigations has been completely dismantled. The characters we spent 4-5 seasons growing to love are gone—what’s worse is that they were first corrupted and then killed off. I don’t want this analysis to be confused with complaining. I thought the Angel finale was among one of the best conclusions to a series I’ve ever seen. But therein lies the keyword: conclusion. After the Fall is the next chapter for Angel, the almost 300-year-old vampire. Unfortunately, Wesley, Gunn, Winifred, and Cordelia didn’t make it this far, and Lorne skipped town.
In interviews, it has been admitted that if the show was green lighted for a sixth season, Whedon and company would have gone in an entirely different direction with the characters and plot. There’s even speculation that Winifred would somehow have returned and shared a body with Illyria. So unlike the Buffy route, Whedon opted to, as they say, stick a fork in Angel as we know it. Do I recommend Angel: After the Fall? Without a doubt. Plotted by Whedon, it’s as close to a continuation of the acclaimed series as we’re going to get. Just accept, in advance, that it really and truly ended with Season 5, and what follows it just what happens after the fall…