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May 19 2016

Why "Not Fade Away" is the best TV finale of all time. An appropriately praise-filled piece on the enduring brilliance of Angel's swan song.

I have an enduring love of Angel, and I think "Not Fade Away" is beautifully done with some incredible character moments, but it is a real problem that they have to trump up this "Circle of the Black Thorn" as the bad guys--a group who we've never heard of before (unlike, say, "The Senior Partners"), whose role in the world seems pretty damn vague and whose deaths hardly seem to matter at all in the scale of things. I can understand why they didn't want to have the series end with Angel launching a devastating blow against the Senior Partners, because at some level that would mean that he fundamentally alters the nature of reality. Your hero can't defeat sin itself unless you're telling The Greatest Story Ever Told--and especially if you want to keep the story going in some form or another. But inventing a bunch of "hey--believe us--they're really, really bad guys" to bear the weight of a "final battle" just feels forced and inauthentic, no matter how well you tell the story.
@Yoink: Well, at the very least the Circle of the Black Thorn wasn't a bunch of randoms but characters that had all been set-up and introduced throughout the season and I think it was all handled pretty well and believable.
Well, at the very least the Circle of the Black Thorn wasn't a bunch of randoms

That's really more part of the problem than a mitigation, though, isn't it? I mean, yeah, we've encountered these guys (not all, but most) individually and we pretty much have their measure--and collectively there's really no evidence that they're doing anything more organized or effective than we already knew they were doing individually. They seem, at most, to be a kind of social club for bad guys. Killing "Every. Single. Member. of the Circle of the Black Thorn" seems, ultimately, no more "epic" than killing a bunch of villains-of-the-week--and that's because it is in fact just killing a bunch of villains-of-the-week.

In the end it's not that big a deal. It just isn't really possible to end episodic TV entirely satisfactorily and on Angel they did an amazing job when they were forced to improvise in pretty short order. Wesley's death remains one of the greatest moments on any TV show ever.
I'll try to pay closer attention to the Circle members on my next rewatch with this in mind, I guess. :D

And, yea, that god damn Wes/Illyria scene. "Would you like me to lie to you now" is one of those lines that instantly destroys me, even when mentioned completely out of context.
Given the various constraints they were under, I thought Joss and Co. did a phenomenal job. Budget cuts, somewhat unexpected cancellation, etc, they managed to pull together a variety of villains we'd seen throughout the season and make a believable cabal out of them, plus Angel's double cross on them, chucking the Shanshu Prophecy promise, just fighting on because that's what you do...brilliant. I think we all know that few serialized dramas, even in today's so-called golden age, were as cleverly and tightly executed as what Whedon, Minear, Fury and many others gave us with Buffy and Angel. Not Fade Away remains a hugely apt title considering their ongoing legacy and absolute lack of dropoff in quality upon further review.
short of that awful Connor/Cordelia hook-up/pregnancy plot, Angel epitomizes the perfect TV ride all the way to the end, from the mischievous end of the first episode to that dark alley of misfits.
Heh, I have to say I loved Season 4, in all its messy glory. And yes, it was messy. A ton of great episodes though.
Thinking about this finale brings tears to my eyes. I can't say that about any other series finale. I agree that it was the best series finale of all time.
Outside of the Connor/ Cordy stuff, I think there is alot to love in Season 4 (especially Wesley becoming a full on broody mess of a character.)
Definetly agree that Not Fade Away is up there as one of the great series finales (it also works as a nice counter to the Buffy finale when exploring concepts relating to the heroes journey and fate.)
The Circle of the Black Thorn really should have been called "The Junior Partners"
Also, its not the best series finale. Its good, but not the best. I'm gonna go with Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The best ever I don't think is right, although I do think it is an impactful episode. But that is mostly because I found it a very bleak ending, a kamikaze plan that really they knew would have no meaningful impact, that a new circle would just be formed. And, as such, it varied in coherency as a choice for the different characters. But I think it really did show well just how dragged off his mission Angel had become to be up in an ivory tower and going for a dramatic moment of personal glory rather than keeping his feet on the ground with his original aim of helping individuals. That was particularly emphasised as he sent people off on missions that risked/cost their lives knowing that what he was saying he was going to do had already been achieved, the poison which killed Sebassis having already been passed on. Instead of fighting with any of them he wanted a personal face off against Marcus. I do like the way it finishes on them still fighting though. It fits the whole feeling that it is a never ending battle and that suited Angel's story and so was very fitting for the end of the show.

Totally agree about the Wes/Illyria scene, they were the best thing about S5 and I'm a S4 fan too. :)

[ edited by Stoney on 2016-05-20 14:08 ]
...and let's not forget, "Can you pick out the one word there you probably shouldn't have said?"

I love the ending, and it's 'way up on my "best-ever" list. Along with the wonderful dialog, "little girl" Fred morphing into Illyria as she punches the magician into dusty oblivion. It's a wonderful climax to the series.
I thought Not Fade Away was brilliant, and certainly ranks as one of the top series finales of all time.

I still reserve the top slot for Cop Rock, though.
@filops. oooh yea! that line from Angel is so epic! :D
"Would you like me to lie to you now" is one of those lines that instantly destroys me, even when mentioned completely out of context.


And I absolutely loved this finale.
Funny you brought up Cop Rock, mnspnr. Just ordered the DVD set of it, not because I loved the series (not sure how I feel about it, and honestly don't remember much about it after 20 years), but because I went to high school with one of the stars of that show.

Not Fade Away is at the top of my list, along with the finales of ST:TNG, MASH, and Buffy. I think Babylon 5 would be in the top 5 as well.

[ edited by Nebula1400 on 2016-05-21 19:38 ]
Great episode, but I think the series end of "Justified" maybe wins the top slot with me.
Definitely my most favourite finale. Other than "Babylon 5" I can't think of anything that comes even close.
More recently, I liked the way "True Blood" ended, while "Castle" and "The Good Wife" failed to be (completely) satisfying.

Interestingly enough, I've never seen "M.A.S.H.", only a handful of "TNG"-Episodes, and I've never even heard of "Cop Rock" (it sounds awesome - no pun intended). "Justified" I started to watch, but stopped after the very first episode. Didn't do much for me.
I don't know about best, but it was one of the boldest and most memorable. What's really amazing is that it managed to be extremely dark yet hopeful at the same time. They are against impossible odds, yet are still ready to fight. You don't actually see the outcome. If you're a glass half empty person (and have never read any of the comics), then Angel and co. died in a valiant, but ultimately meaningless fight. If you're a glass half full person, they somehow survived and continue to fight the good fight to this very day.
Not Fade Away feels like it perfectly actualised Angel's great and dawning aphorism: if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. The Circle of the Black Thorn are transitory, sure, but so is everything, even Angel probably.

There may be a futility to what they do--when we detach ourselves from the welter of our emotions that's always the case anyway, in the grand scheme of things--but as an example, as an abiding morality, it feels as profound and gleaming a secular thought to live by as any. Few final episodes, particular final scenes, of TV could ever hope to locate and make luminous a TV show's central principal so succinctly, so vividly, and in pure action and motion, too, in the language of cinema: An action is the perfection and publication of thought--Emerson.

And Wesley's death is of course crushingly lovely, wavering between life and death, fantasy and reality, some liminal space divested of all his grief and sorrow. The last perfect longed-for moment he earlier derided, disclaimed as a fiction now extinct from his life. Illyria supplying the morphine dream and Wes, maugre his past recoil at her transformations into Fred, surrendering to the warm pull and imbibing the vision of his own personal heaven.

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