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The Way We Were

Angel Episode 4.6 Spin The Bottle
AirDate: 10th Nov 02

I'm not even going to talk about 'Tabula Rasa'. I'm not going to humour those of you who feel the need to cling to each and every example of why you figure Joss is letting you down this year. I've had some great conversations recently with readers, wherein we agreed that everything that's happening in these current seasons of Buffy & Angel shouldn't be attributed to laziness, or lack of direction, or to Joss' busy schedule. As always, the man knows exactly what he's doing and you're missing out if you'd rather stand back with your arms folded, criticizing the decisions you don't agree with. So 'Him' was another love spell episode, and 'Spin the Bottle' is another one where (almost) the whole cast forgets everything (sort of). In hindsight, were they entertaining episodes that spun engaging stories and still managed to advance the season's plots? Yup and yup, so the defense rests.

Haunting. That's a word that kept coming to mind as I watched episode 4.6. Even though there was a lot of comedy in this one, Lorne's ivory-tickling and wistful gin joint philosophy packaged the whole thing like some noir-ish stage version of the Twilight Zone. Or it was a bit like Big Time, Tom Waits' concert film, where a world-weary piano man muses about life and absentmindedly strolls through some touching and funny stories about people doublecrossed by their own hearts.

This show's been great lately for having each episode pick up exactly where the previous one left off, right to the minute. Admittedly this usually goes hand in hand with minor flaws in logic, in terms of the people in the background getting to fast-forward a little too much in no time flat. In this case, as Angel and Cordy strolled outside for their moonlight honesty session, Lorne was able to completely recover from his head wound and do a reading for a wraith (he did say wraith, right?), which led to his discovery of the potion that would make everyone act like 17 year olds. Codename: Tequila (trust me on this).

Having the Fang Gang revert to the way they were, long before they ever met each other (longer in Angel's case than Cordy's), showcased how far they've all grown as people. Angel & Cordy have become champions, fighting evil on behalf of the powers that be, Wesley overcame his early school-boy stuffiness to become a fearless demon hunter and tactical genius, Fred managed to give up pot and become an expert on super string compactification, and Gunn… well?

Maybe one of the things we learned in this episode is that Gunn, at least on the surface, is pretty much as he's always been: A guy who's got major beef with vampires, takes no crap from people, and does his talking with his fists. The aforementioned characters have all gone through serious transformations, but Gunn continues to hold down the tough guy duties. I'd say Joss is conscious of this lack of depth, though, as just before the spell was cast he had Gunn bemoaning his role in the group as nothing more than the muscle. It could be argued that Gunn's development has been a lot more subtle but every bit as substantial, as last week he tried his best to be the voice of reason in the face of Fred's bloodlust. Sure, he ended up doing the dirty work himself, but at least he acknowledged some ethical concerns that he might not have considered years ago.Speaking of the late Professor, I should say at this point that four different people wrote me with the same theory. His final punishment last week was all a little too neat and tidy for the way things work in the Whedonverse. What if his cries of innocence were genuine, and he wasn't really Fred's cross-dimensional cruise director? Who else at the university might have had a motive for this crime? Was there anyone else in that episode that seemed to resent Fred's brilliance a little? If this is the case and the Prof was, in fact, innocent, then Chuckie G and Freddie B are going to have a much harder time washing this blood off their hands, should they ever find out. But at this point it's all speculation, so let's move on.

Which is something that Fred & Gunn clearly haven't been able to do yet. That didn't look like post-orgasmic snuggling they were doing when Angel went up and knocked on their door. They looked to me like two people with a boatload on their minds but nothing they could say out loud. It's that telltale heart again. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

But Charles had a lot to say to Wesley, didn't he? Which brings us back to their pre-spell confrontation. Gunn may be the muscle of the group, but he's no dummy. Last year's triangle clearly still resonates between them, and even if Fred is only in love with one of them, Wesley's assistance in her revenge plan sparked a renewed connection and drove a sliver (not quite a wedge) between her & Gunn – first because Gunn wouldn't immediately take her side against the man who ruined her life, and then because he demonstrated his capacity for the same cold-blooded murder that she thought him incapable of. These two sides of the coin might very well mean that she'll never look at him in the same way again.

So while there was definite sadness and drama in 'Spin the Bottle', it was silliness that ruled the roost. Much like in last week's Buffy, everyone got ample opportunity to make with the funny. I mentioned in the previous Angel write-up that I miss the snobby hurricane that was the high school-era Cordelia Chase, so it was a real treat to see Charisma stand up and immediately launch into her classic putdowns and naaasty wit. It was equally fun to see Wesley revisit his days as the Watcher Academy's brightest pupil. Watching him stand up straight and proudly grasp his lapels with both hands after all this time was like seeing Indiana Jones crack his bullwhip again. Only, you know – geeky.

Remember in 'The Zeppo' when Xander tried desperately to forge an identity as "Car Guy – The Guy With The Car"? Last night Wesley became Gadgets Guy. How about the crazy crap he's got up his sleeves?!? It was good evidence of the episode's varied tone, as the first time we saw them (back at Pryce Club HQ, in the company of that meathead that I'm SURE must have been part of the basement TV crew in Wayne's World) they were awe-inspiring, and later on they provided some of the biggest laughs of the evening. I'm still chuckling when I visualize Wes dancing around trying to avoid his own blades like some bizarre mix of Jerry Lewis and Inspector Gadget. "Nobody scream! Or.. touch my arms."

Someone else had to remind me of this (as is usually the case), but Cordy's "Hello, salty goodness" was the latest fist-pumpin' nod to past events (it's like a game unto itself). It was the same thing she said when she first saw Angel waaaay back in 'Never Kill a Boy on the First Date'. Also great was Wesley's reference to the challenge that sees the Slayer ("Slayer? The band?") locked in a house with a vampire. 'Helpless' is one of my favourite episodes both for the way it adds new depth to Buffy & Giles' relationship, but also for its sniffle-inducing conclusion where Giles commits professional suicide by turning against the Council because he loves Buffy too much to be their lapdog any longer. I like that it's becoming harder than ever to talk about one show without bringing the other one into it. Say it again, Will – everything's connected.

But Angel, uncharacteristically, got to provide one of the funniest moments as he realized that young Liam has a dark secret, and one that wasn't going to sit well with a group of armed strangers out to kill a vampire. In Angel we saw the evening's most drastic peronality switch, since he was the one completely removed from the only time and place he'd ever known. His brush with L.A. traffic and his amazement that Cordy "stopped the tiny people from singing" were both great, but from the instant where Cordy bared her tasty neck and he got bumpy, the episode cranked up into high comedy gear.

And then who should drop by right smack in the middle of Angel's big debut as the nasty "I guess I'll feed on your corpses" vampire, but Connor – fresh from his latest bout of vamp-thrashing. He was nicely warmed up and ready to go a few rounds with the old man. That was quite a fight, too – probably very cathartic for him (was the frying-pan-in-the-head an intended laugh? Cause I laughed), and it seemed to do a world of good for Connor to hear Angel talk about his own father. Lorne's spell may have accomplished even more than he hoped, as these two have come one step closer to understanding each other.

So with Lorne's magic peanut butter safely on everyone's tongues and all memories back in place, Gunn & Fred were free to go back to their dark room to deal with their dark side. Now that everything's back to normal, Gadget Guy is again out the door (did you get chills when he said to Gunn, "My throat was cut and all my friends abandoned me"?), so the focus once again shifts to Vision Girl. Just as this week's Buffy gave us some insight into Morphy's bigger plan, the last few minutes of Angel included a quick glimpse of the "rough beast" that Lorne warned us about. I just watched that scene again, and I'd like to respond to a few people who wrote me to point out the glaring connection, as Andrew & Jonathon uncovered a Satanic symbol with a goat's head, and apparently Cordy saw a goat-headed demon in her vision. Sorry, folks – wishful thinking. I'm not ruling out the possibility that the two show's Big Bads are one and the same, but all we saw in Cordy's vision was a pair of scary eyes and a little bark-like skin around them – there was nothing clearly goatlike. Not that I want to downplay the juiciness of this vision, as it seems the evil that's coming is almost here. I LOVE sweeps!!

Take care, everybody.

PS – I would have praised Joss for his entertaining script, but I hear Doug Petrie wrote the last scene (if you aren't a regular visitor to this space, please don't write me to say that's not true – call it an injoke).

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