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On TV Today's Date:

original air-date: 03-03-04

Perhaps more than anything else, this outstanding episode will make a lot of frustrated fans scream "How can they cancel a show that's turning out such great stuff?"

Because this really is a terrific episode, perhaps the best of the season. The acting is solid all around, the dialogue is ultra-crisp, and the story utilizes a near perfect blend of drama, humor, and action.

The opening picks up right from last week's episode, i.e., Fred has transformed into the Old One being known as Illyria.

Right away, Amy Acker does a good job at creating a character who clearly is not Fred. Sure, the special effects help ("thickening" the stick figure-like Ms. Acker with a leatherlike exterior was a particular savvy move). But in the end, it's the acting that makes the difference. And that's a good thing because fans really don't want another big bad who's a good gal gone bad (a la Willow).

Nor do the fans want to see Jasmine Part 2. Fortunately, the story also avoids that trap. Illyria is something new, an interesting character who certainly isn't the same type of evil we've seen before on the show. In fact, there is some question as to whether or not Illyria is evil at all. Sure, hollowing out someone to use their body is not very nice. But that may be more due to a lack of comprehension or a matter of perspective. After all, Illyria comes from a time when many beings were fighting for control and/or survival. And history, as they say, is written by the victors.

Also, it's interesting that Illyria clearly wasn't simpatico with the then weaker Wolf, Ram, and Hart. Hey, if you had been wrongfully imprisoned for millenia, wouldn't you want to run out and conquer with your Army of Doom?

Of course none of that matters to the remaining, non-blue members of the Fang Gang. They want Illria out, and Fred back in. Illyria seems impervious to physical harm and displays some unique powers of evasion. Plus there's the whole question of whether Fred is beyond salvage ('nuff said for the sake of the spoiler free).

There's also the question of whether or not Wes and Gunn's friendship is beyond salvage. Fans know it's only a question of time before Wes figure out Gunn's paper pushing involvement. How the story unfolds in that regard is particularly smart. And Alexis Denisof shines this week.

One question answered: Knox did in fact survive the Gunn grinding of last week. In fact, he's now Illyria's "Croissant" (hey, close enough!) or high priest. But given that it's Knox, who excels in multidimensional annoyance, it's really only a matter of time before someone kills him.

Throughout all this, Angel finally steps up as a leader. Spike also finally accepts his role as lieutenant (or "first officer") and delivers a great speech towards the end.

Of course every diamond has its flaw. Here it's the ending. Put simply, the ending stinks. Put complexly, it is an out-of-place, music-laden, melodramic montage belonging to Dawson's Creek or some other prime time soap. You would have thought the show's creators would have learned earlier in the season when they inflicted a similiar ending on us. But apparently they didn't. Who knows: Maybe they outsourced the ending to some low-cost offshore studio after blowing their budget on some of the cool effects.

Well, now that Illyria's realized that the world has changed "a bit" and that her old neighborhood isn't quite the same (if only there had been a sign with "Coming soon: another fine Starbucks!"), her allegiance really might be up for grabs. That might be useful since, as Spike points out, there's a much bigger storm on the horizon.

But if Angel and Spike can't handle it, then there's still one man in LA who can: Jack Bauer!

Chris Crotty

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