Joss Whedon properties are found in a lot of slots on this list, because I love Joss Whedon. Oh, and because he’s a genius when it comes to the craft of balancing writing, directing, and producing. Of all of the episodes on the list from Whedon shows, however, this is the only one that Joss Whedon didn’t personally write or direct. It was part of the first season of Angel, the spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and was the first episode to feature an appearance by Buffy, the woman Angel loves so much he chooses to leave her behind. This is because Angel (David Boreanaz) is a vampire cursed with a soul that will leave if he ever experiences perfect happiness (which, horrifyingly, happens when he has sex with Buffy). Without his soul, he is among the greatest evils the world has ever seen, so he chooses to avoid being with Buffy for the sake of both her and the world.
Some people believe in soul-mates: that one person out there is the true happiness and completion that you’ve been looking for. TV has spent a long time telling us it’s true, even if life sometimes decides to tell you that you might love the idea of your partner more than you love their reality. Joss Whedon probably doesn’t believe in soul-mates (as he tends to kill them off once they’re together in his shows), but Sarah Michelle Gellar, the woman who played Buffy, does. She has an unwavering belief that Buffy and Angel belong together, which is why this episode broke her heart and Buffy’s.
While Buffy is visiting, Angel gets attacked by a demon, and, during the fight, is infected with the demon’s blood, which unexpectedly makes him human. Finally being able to be with Buffy freely, the two have a perfect day together, staying in each other’s arms for the first time without worry.
For Buffy, who has never been able to have a normal day since she was 15 and told she had to save the world from evil, and Angel, who has never loved anyone in 200 years, this is a dream made real. But later, upon trying to finish off the demon who made him mortal, Angel realizes that he can’t be as strong of a force for good without his vampire superpowers. So, he asks the Powers That Be, the beings that govern the forces of good in the world, to allow him to go back in time and stop himself from becoming human.
The thing that sets this episode apart is when Angel tells Buffy what he’s done. Not only will they not be together, but in a few minutes, she won’t even be able to remember that they ever were. Sarah Michelle Gellar delivers a performance that is tough to duplicate, because she believes, as Buffy would, that any sacrifice would be worth it to be with the one she loves. But, deep down, she knows Angel has made the decision he thinks is right. The breakdown you see on screen is actually somewhat real, and you can even hear David Boreanaz say “Sarah” when he tries to comfort her.
Some people choose to sacrifice for a cause rather than enjoy their own happiness. Sometimes, that’s what defines a hero. Other times, it’s what defines a fool or a person who has resigned himself to being fate’s whipping boy. Angel, at his best, is all three.
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