Sink your teeth in
It’s been 20 years since Angel, the Los Angeles-set Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off, first premiered. That may seem like a long time, but for vampire-with-a-soul Angel (David Boreanaz), it’s just a blip in his 200-plus-year life full of bloody violence and brooding redemption. While this is just another birthday for Angel, it’s a major milestone for fans of Joss Whedon’s dark, supernatural noir series. So whether you’ve never seen Angel before or you’re a die-hard fan, let’s celebrate the 20th anniversary by watching 21 of the most essential episodes, full of impressive action, terrifying twists, and the most delicious heartbreak that a vampire with a human soul can feel — and don’t forget to check out our big Angel reunion.
Season 1, episode 1: “City Of”
Ah, the episode that started it all. Not only are we reacquainted with Angel as he gets to know his new city and all the trouble hiding in the shadows, but we also get to see just how much Cordelia has changed (or not) since high school. This is the beginning of a beautiful relationship (Angel with Cordelia, and us with this spin-off).
Season 1, episode 8: “I Will Remember You”
This hour is essential viewing for any Buffy/Angel fans, if only because it’s full of that sweet, sweet heartbreak we know so well from these star-crossed lovers. There are highs (that love scene!) and oh, are there lows. As if Angel needs yet another reminder of how his love for Buffy will never work out. Prepare for major tears. Even if you never watched flagship series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the emotion of this episode will definitely move you.
Season 1, episode 9: “Hero”
We promise this binge guide isn’t going to be all tearjerker episodes, but you simply can’t skip Angel’s first major death. R.I.P., Doyle — we hardly knew you, and yet you still proved to be an iconic character in your brief time on the series. And what a way to go out! The title of this hour says it all.
Season 1, episode 22: “To Shanshu in L.A.”
With Angel’s first season finale, we get intense action, an amputation, intriguing mythology, high stakes for Cordelia, and a whopper of a cliffhanger: Darla’s back. The sight of her is enough to strike fear in the heart of anyone who watched the early days of Buffy.
Season 2, episode 5: “Dear Boy”
Finally, after four (!) episodes, there is some momentum with Darla’s resurrection. Angel does not handle it well! And it comes with flashbacks to Drusilla’s origin story, another treat for longtime Buffy fans. Plus Angel sings, which is always a fun bonus — and helps balance out the shock of seeing just how cruel he was as the soulless Angelus.
Season 2, episode 7: “Darla”
This plot- and flashback-heavy episode fills in a lot of blanks about Angel’s history: what happened after he got his soul back, how he struggled with it, and even how he tried to still be evil with it at first. Angel’s never been perfect, but that’s what makes him so magnetic. Even when he makes mistakes, he learns from them. The next century of redemption-seeking after his soul-filled evil fling with Darla, Spike, and Drusilla is proof of that.
Season 2, episode 10: “Reunion”
They may be evil, but that doesn’t make the sight of Darla and Drusilla wreaking havoc on L.A. any less delicious. The take-no-prisoners female vampires relish in their power, and even inspire Angel to give in to his darker impulses as well. It’s a temporary crisis of conscience for him but quite understandable in the moment — and totally thrilling to watch.
Season 2, episode 16: “Epiphany”
There are so many reasons why this hour is a must-watch, from the consequences of Angel and Darla’s night of (non)passion to Angel swallowing his pride to rejoin the group at Angel Investigations as an employee — not the boss — to Kate’s surprising revelation that she never invited Angel into her home, yet he still was able to enter it to save her life. But it’s really because of the scene in which Lindsey tries to beat up Angel out of revenge for sleeping with Darla and Angel turns the tables right back on Lindsey. Epic, and completely deserved.
Season 2, episode 22: “There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb”
Not only was the end to the Pylea adventure trilogy arc as satisfying (and weirdly hilarious) as we hoped it would be, but it also came with a season finale cliffhanger that topped the last one: Willow waiting for Angel at the Hyperion Hotel, bringing news about Buffy’s death.
Season 3, episode 1: “Heartthrob”
As if a whole episode about Angel mourning Buffy wasn’t enough, this season opener also reveals quite the surprise: Darla’s pregnant! Did you really think Angel would ever get to have sex without ruining his entire life? That’s a nice change from the decades of seeing that trope only apply to female characters (including Buffy herself).
Season 3, episode 11: “Birthday”
Cordelia has grown so much over the course of the first two seasons of Angel (remember how awful she was during Buffy?!), but this installment cements her as one of the best characters of the franchise. Her importance is clear through the alternate reality of what would have happened if she never joined up with Angel: She would have been a famous actress, but Angel would have gone crazy. That’s why her selfless decision at the end of the hour (and her transformation into part-demon) feels so earned. Too bad she couldn’t use her visions to see how it would end up changing her life forever… and not in a good way.
Season 3, episode 20: “A New World”
Ugh, Connor. The newly adult son of Angel returns after living in a dark dimension with his kidnapper, Holtz, and clearly Holtz was not the best father figure, because look at how Connor turned out. That doesn’t stop Angel from trying to bond with his son after losing him so suddenly. But Connor only has eyes for Holtz. Again, ugh.
Season 3, episode 22: “Tomorrow”
It’s well known by now that Angel isn’t playing around when it comes to season finales, but man does this one take the cake. Cordelia becomes a “higher being,” which is just as wild as it sounds. Wesley sleeps with Lilah. Connor/Steven finally gets his revenge on Angel, having been manipulated into believing Angel killed Holtz (when Holtz actually killed himself and framed Angel). It all ends with Angel literally sleeping with the fishes, having been sealed into a metal coffin and dropped into the ocean by his own son — the ultimate betrayal.
Season 4, episode 6: “Spin the Bottle”
Games of spin the bottle are usually pretty awkward, but Angel truly outdid it with this hour that reverts Angel, Cordelia, Wesley, Gunn, and Fred to their 17-year-old selves with no memory of their adult lives. Chaos and hilarity ensue. But fair warning: The end of the episode hits like a true gut-punch. Classic Angel — giving us top-notch comedy, only to turn around and destroy our emotions in the next moment, right when we least expect it.
Season 4, episode 10: “Awakening”
The first present-day appearance of Angelus since the early seasons of Buffy does not disappoint, especially because the way Angel’s evil side returns is so shocking. It turns out Angel’s moment of true happiness hasn’t happened in real life but rather via a forced hallucination, and that just feels like a dirty trick for the cursed hero. And the promise of what Angelus can do in the present is absolutely terrifying.
Season 4, episode 15: “Orpheus”
Any Buffy or Angel episode featuring Faith is a can’t-miss, especially after she starts working toward her own redemption. Staying in prison when she could have easily broken out this whole time? Incredible. But it’s this hour, in which she poisons both herself and Angelus, putting them into a coma to force the ultimate showdown between the evil Angelus and the soul-having Angel, that is her best trick yet. And that’s not even mentioning Willow! This episode really is an embarrassment of riches.
Season 5, episode 1: “Conviction”
The gang goes evil. Well, kind of. As first introduced in the season 4 finale, the final season’s brilliant twist is that Angel, Wesley, Fred, and Gunn now own and run the evil corporation Wolfram and Hart, which they’ve been fighting to destroy for the entire series. In their minds, they hope that they can get rid of all the evil aspects (and employees) of the company and turn things around to do some good in the world. But the real kicker comes in the very last moment, and it’s one that no one, especially fans of the Buffy series finale that aired only a couple months earlier, could have predicted: Spike survived his big heroic death, and he just materialized in Angel’s office. This is going to be good.
Season 5, episode 14: “Smile Time”
Angel gets turned into a puppet. ’Nuff said.
Season 5, episode 15: “A Hole in the World”
The final season is just full of game-changing twists, as Fred gets infected by a demon named Illyria who takes over her body. What seems like only a one-episode procedural arc takes everyone by surprise as it soon becomes clear that Fred really is gone and Illyria is here to stay (just when things were finally getting good between Fred and Wesley!), allowing Amy Acker to give a tour de force performance as a completely new — and extremely chilling — character.
Season 5, episode 20: “The Girl in Question”
People change. They really do. But can someone really change as drastically as Buffy dating Angel and Spike’s shared nemesis, the Immortal? Buffy fan-favorite Andrew certainly believes so, as he acts as a sort of narrator/spirit guide for Angel and Spike in Rome as they orbit around their shared ex, never actually making contact. All the near-misses may be torture for both fans of Buffy/Angel and Buffy/Spike, but what’s truly genius is how this episode gives each relationship equal weight while never actually giving any payoff. It’s not what we want… but it’s what we deserve. Because in the end, it turns out it wasn’t even Buffy — it was just a decoy slayer helping to keep Buffy safe. Hilarious.
Season 5, episode 22: “Not Fade Away”
Whether you love or hate how Angel ends on the biggest cliffhanger of them all, you can’t deny that the series finale was one of the best episodes, hands down. Pulse-racing action, heartbreaking deaths, and the highest stakes yet, Angel went out with more than just a bang — it was all-out war. We may never know whether good or evil won, but the real winner was all of us for getting five full seasons of Angel.
More where that came from
To read more from our exclusive Angel cast reunion, pick up the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday, purchase a special limited edition cover featuring David Boreanaz (available online only), or collect both! And don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.