Harmony and Clem show up at Angel and Faith's and want to hire Angel as a private investigator. Someone is blackmailing Harmony with a tape of her siring a human, which is against her "rules", and if the tape got out, it could ruin her and throw the fragile vampire status into chaos. Angel and Faith reluctantly agree to help. They track down a group of vamps, but it turns out to be a false lead. They continue the investigation by asking Harmony who might want to hurt her personally, but she's more focused on her career -- and even offers to help Angel with his PR. Angel and Faith decide to just take action and hope that leads them somewhere, but it doesn't. Finally Angel suggests leaking the tape before the blackmailer does, to get out in front of it. Clem steps in and says that's a bad idea and he can make it go away, at which point Angel reveals that Clem IS the blackmailer. He wanted more money from Harmony, but he also loves her. He thought he could fake a blackmail attempt and save her from it, becoming her hero, but she went to Angel & Faith before he could get to the second part of the plan. Harmony forgives him, and gives Angel her PR agent's image rehab plan as thanks. Angel tosses it and walks away. Faith gives it a longer look, but then also follows Angel off into the distance.
Issue #4 had my favorite Steve Morris cover of the run so far, but he tops it with this one. It's so easy to focus on Clem looking sad that you lose sight of the heart balloons, obscuring what could otherwise be a giveaway for the issue's major twist. Harmony is in vamp face, but smiling, striking a balance between threatening and fun, while Angel's facial expression and stretched body give the impression that he doesn't want to be near Harmony in any way. Rebekah Isaacs's alternate cover plays with Harmony and Clem in classic British imagery (the Union Jack in the background, Harm as royalty on British currency, Clem in the traditional Buckingham Palace guard uniform). For the second consecutive month, Faith gets shafted from the cover of her own series, which is the only reason this set of covers doesn't get a 5.
Score: 4.5 out of 5
I enjoyed this issue the first time I read it, but I also struggled to see how it fit in with the greater picture. It was only on second read that the more subtle narrative of Angel's redemption played into things. Ever since we met Angel way back in Season 1 of "Buffy", he's been a character seeking redemption. It's not a new character trait for the comics. What is new is Angel's desire to achieve redemption through one sweeping act. In Season 8, it was the team-up with Twilight to create a "new" universe, a paradise that would replace the flawed existence of Earth. Now in A&F (aka Season 9), it's about ressurecting Giles, making up for what he sees as his biggest mistake as Twilight.
But Angel wasn't always like that. For years, he sought redemption not through grand acts, but through a series of small ones. He helped the helpless, serving as the tool through which the Powers That Be fixed things on Earth. Well, he may be cut off from the PTB now, but that doesn't mean he can't still do the little things, helping the helpless, earning redemption one small act at a time, and that's what Harmony's little "investigation" represents. And though we can certainly quibble about how well Harmony fits the definition of "helpless", it's less about who Angel is helping and more about the simple act of helping, getting back on that path of redemption he strayed from over the last season.
The last scene, with Harmony's great PR plan, kind of cements this for me. Harmony assures Angel that it would fix everything and make everyone like him again, but Angel's not interested in that path. It's just another big gesture that wouldn't actually address the real problem, and so he tosses it. The path he's walking is a long one, but it's one he has to take step-by-step.
Score: 5 out of 5
Phil Noto steps in for Rebekah Isaacs on penciling duties on this issue and does an admirable job. There's always a concern when you have a one-shot artist step in on a continuing series that things will look off, but Noto is a good fit for this series, primarily because he's played in the Whedon sandbox before. He's coming off a cover run on the latest "Dollhouse" miniseries, where he got some work in on his Eliza Dushku likeness. Dushku has probably one of the hardest looks to get down for Whedonverse artists, so the more time an artist gets to work on her, the better.
Noto's bigger challenge on this issue may have been Clem, who had one of the more unique looks for a recurring demon on "Buffy". While he doesn't always get the forehead look right, the skin drooping off Clem's neck looks spot-on in just about every scene he's in. He also does a really good job making the Harmony stripping scene "hot" (at least, as much as it can be in a comic) while also holding on to the PG rating.
I'm not gonna lie, I still prefer Isaacs, but I wouldn't complain if Noto came back for another one-shot in the future.
Score: 4 out of 5
My overall grade might seem a little low, given the various component grades, but this issue has a lot to live up to given what's come before it in the series, and one-shots are almost always going to get a lower grade than multi-part issues because of their nature. Still, I really enjoyed this issue, enough that it didn't bother me that the greater arc for the series wasn't more in the forefront. Some of the Harmony immaturity moments did get a little repetitive, but the Doctor Who cameo made up for it, and it's good to know that her sort-of behind-the-scenes character arc hasn't been forgotten.
Score: 4 out of 5