Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

I often find that even if you’re a hardcore "go team Spike"/"Angel sucks" type who can’t stand this guy, Angel has managed to at least earn his viewers' begrudging respect by the end of the show. A friend of mine once related Buffy and Angel to chess. They commented that in Buffy’s game, she’s one of the most powerful pieces on the board. Angel? It seems like he’s a much smaller piece on his board, but he’s playing in a much bigger game. The goal for Angel always seems to be to be striving to see more of the bigger picture.

See--and this is going to be a radical statement--but Angel seems, to me, like the most heroic social worker the world has ever known.

The goal of social work is put changes in place at the greater systemic level that alleviate a social problem (or at least, that’s my understanding of the goal of social work anyway). It isn’t enough to feed the homeless: the idea is to provide a chance for the homeless to hold a job and rent an apartment or to put something preventative in place that would prevent people from becoming homeless to begin with.

Angel’s been hurt. Bad. How many tough breaks does this guy have to hit, anyway? He’s cursed with immortality he never asked for. He’s cursed with humanity he never asked for. He gets the woman of his dreams. He has to leave her. And does he deserve any of it? No. But this is the scary truth: the world can chew you up and spit you out sometimes. People slip through the cracks. Angel’s one of them.

In the final season of the show, Angel’s mission has begun to truly seem hopeless. In fact, it seems to even play into Wolfram & Hart’s hands. It occurs to me that W&H don’t mind Angel saving the world; they just don’t want it to be a better place. The sick truth is that every day things get a little worse in the world for Angel and company. As Lindsay says, the Apocalypse has already started. Saving a person or two on the street doesn’t really stop the forces that are hurting people out on the street to begin with. Angel is slowly getting bogged down in the details of what he’s doing. They can use the resources of the W&H to save a few trees, but it makes it hard to see what’s happening to the forest.

But what I love is, Angel stops playing that game. If there’s one maxim in the Angel universe, it’s this: it’s better to hope and to fight. In fact, it’s better to do these things even when it is hopeless. It isn’t that some choir of angels tell us on the show that everything was all worth it and it’s going to be okay. It’s the moments when Angel creates hope where there is none that really move me. It’s all in that final episode where Angel actually signs away his chance at redemption. See, that’s how much this guy has suffered I think. I mean, maybe the Shanshu prophecy is all just a joke, some elaborate manipulation W&H put in place to keep Angel playing some maddening game. Or maybe it really is his shot at having another life.

But Angel decides to break the system so to speak. It isn’t about his redemption; it’s about stopping the things that hurt people--that hurt him--to begin with. And he’s willing to do that even at the expense of himself. And I think this is one of the most selfless moves in the entire Buffyverse and the part of Angel’s choices I always cite to Angel-haters when they’re complaining about him. The magnitude of what Angel gives up--even just to get a shot at sending a message to the big players that we can’t see, not even to stop them but just to prove a point you can’t own us--always seems to me like the only sane choice in an completely insane world. Between playing this sick game for eternity or going out in a blaze of glory, Angel and his allies choose the later.

That’s why I love that the show’s final episode is titled "Not Fade Away." Faced with literally hopeless odds, Angel still chooses to fight and try to do what’s right rather than give in to despair. It’s not an easy life. It’s not a life anyone would want. It’s far, far away from what Buffy and the other Scoobies have. I mean, at least they have lives, houses, people who love them, right? All Angel has that I can see is this fight. But he does the best he can with his life, because ultimately, that’s all there is to do.

His final line? "Let’s get to work."