Angel starts slowly, and, during the first two thirds of the episode, I found myself bothered by the voiceover for the first time. But by the time the credits rolled, Angel had evolved into a truly great episode of television, perhaps the best of the series yet.
The episode reminds us that, while The Wonder Years is largely about the coming of age of a small group of people, it’s also about the loss of innocence of an entire American generation. Karen’s boyfriend Louis forces the Arnold family to confront some difficult, liberal notions: That women can have fulfilling careers as well as men, that war is more pointless than it is heroic, that the government and media can manipulate their opinions.
And yet, Louis takes his liberalism too far. Aside from being a rude houseguest, he uses his open sexuality (or perhaps simply his college-guy horniness) to betray the intimacy that Karen thought he and she exclusively shared. The final moments are the most humanizing moments of the series yet for Karen, and the moments I’ve been waiting for: where the show treats her as a layered character the same way it does the rest of the main cast.
For awhile I was worried that Angel would end up a farcical affair, where Marissa was a sister or a close friend. But the show elevates beyond sitcom fare and reminds us that no worldview is perfect, no person perfect.
It’s just a shame that half the episode wraps Kevin up in a silly, seemingly irrational sibling protective complex. Paul is again excellent on the episode fringes, as is the increasingly-amusing Wayne, though I’m worried he’s turning into simple comic relief.
But those last eight minutes are so strong that I’m happy to forgive Angel its sins and thank it for helping us navigate the morally complicated world The Wonder Years presents and for giving Karen some humanity by episode’s end.