With Buffy on a mini-hiatus (circa late April 2002, anyway), we’ve got back-to-back Angels this week and eventful ones at that. In “Double Or Nothing,” Cordelia returns from her romantic getaway with Groo and steps back into the role of consoler, convincing Angel to come to terms with the loss of Connor and get on with his life. Then in “The Price,” Connor unexpectedly returns, as a young man. But while the goodbye and hello to Connor are these two episodes’ major contribution to season three’s plot arc, I can’t help but feel like it’s another missing person who’s at the heart of both.
But I’ll get back to him in a moment. First, let me dispatch “Double Or Nothing,” an episode that starts strong, gets fairly dopey in the middle, and then rallies at the end.
As Gunn tries to help an old demon couple roust a mucus-spurting freeloader from their lair—“I have a phobia about sputum,” the husband explains—he’s unaware that an enforcer from an evil casino is on his way to AIHQ to collect a debt. Seems seven years ago, when Gunn was 17, he traded his soul to a demon named Jenoff for “happiness,” in the form of his beloved truck. And now, with Gunn giving more and more of his soul to Fred every day, Jenoff is calling in his marker.
I confess to finding the metaphysics of soul-transferral and the effect of romance thereon kind of confusing and silly. And while I liked the idea of Gunn and Fred having one last special day together before Gunn gives up his soul, the big scene where Gunn pretends to be angry at Fred so that he can dump her is both a dramatic cliché and, as written, completely ridiculous. (Why would Gunn do all these nice things for Fred and then tell her he can’t stand her? Think, Gunn, think.)
At least Fred’s not fooled by Gunn’s fakey break-up. While Gunn heads back to Jenoff’s casino to give himself up, Fred tries to rally Angel, Cordy, Lorne and Groo with her intuition that Gunn’s in trouble. The team decides to split up to find Gunn—that is, until Groo suggests that they leave small rectangles with their name behind, like the small rectangle he received earlier from the casino’s enforcer. So they all head to the casino to save Gunn, by offering to wager Angel’s soul against Gunn’s, double or nothing, in one cut of the cards.
Thus the episode gets some juice back. Because of the way Angel (and Buffy) tends to lean, I pretty much anticipated what would happen: that Angel would lose the bet and that our heroes would have to fight their way free. But the actual card-cutting scene was still tense, because I didn’t know how they’d escape. As it happens, they untangle themselves first by staking and decapitating Jenoff, and then, when Jenoff begins to regrow his head, encouraging all the patrons who owe Jenoff to tear him apart. Crowd-sourcing the fight against evil… it’s an idea whose time has come.
“The Price” is a better episode all around. The title (sort of) refers to the reckoning that Angel is facing for all the dark magic he called on in his quest to find Connor. The reckoning appears to come in the form of a translucent slug that slips down the throat of a would-be AI customer, turning the poor man into a ravenously thirsty fiend. Before the dried-up man collapses into dust and the slug slithers away, he points a finger at Angel and says, “This is all your fault.”
While our heroes go on a slug-hunt throughout the hotel, Angel asks Fred to hit the books and research their foe, which isn’t something she’s good at. Making matters worse, more slugs begin to materialize, and one slithers its way into Fred. Soon she’s busting open a snowglobe to guzzle the liquid inside, and she’s warning Angel that the slugs have come from another dimension, sent to torment Angel by a being known as The Destroyer.
“The Price” is exciting and creepy, with multiple turns of fortune. (Hooray! The slugs glow in the dark and are thus easier to spot! Boo! There are a boatload of slugs living in a pool below the hotel.) Even the ending is a good news/bad news situation. Cordelia’s demon side manifests and wipes out all the slugs in the building in a blinding flash of white. But the real threat remains: The Destroyer. This sets up the sudden twist ending of “The Price,” which sees a monster drop from a dimensional warp into the lobby of the hotel, followed immediately by Connor, who slays the beast and then says, “Hi, Dad.” (Did I see that coming? No, I did not. I knew Connor would be coming back as a teenager at some point, because I’m aware of Vincent Kartheiser’s controversial stint on Angel. But I didn’t expect it to happen so soon, or in quite that way.)
I said “The Price” is “sort of” about Angel’s bad karma, because there’s actually something else afoot. When Cordelia warns that “stuff we’ve done in the past comes back to bite us in our respective assi,” she also chastises Angel for not calling her back from vacation when all the trouble with Wes and Connor went down, because she could’ve helped. Similarly, Angel and Gunn bicker over what to do about the possessed Fred and whether they should trust what she/it says. And in a tangential subplot to the episode, Wolfram & Hart’s Gavin feeds Lilah conflicting information about whether their boss wants Angel alive or dead. In short: All these people are dealing with what Wes went through. Which information is the right information? Which choice is the right choice? They’re all fumbling their way through, trying to own their destinies.
That’s why I think that these two episodes—and the second one in particular—are really about Wesley, not Connor. In “Double Or Nothing,” Fred goes to see Wesley and lets him know that she understands what he did but that he should’ve trusted his friends enough to confide in them. (And here’s where I have to give it up to Angel’s writers, because I’m sure one major reason why Wesley didn’t trust Fred or Gunn enough was because of their love affair, which broke his heart. That reason remains unspoken in the episode, but it’s there in the way Gunn is so quick to push Wes out of his life. Gunn surely feels some guilt for stealing a girl he knew Wes liked, and in a classic move, he’s shifting that guilt back onto his friend.) In “The Price,” meanwhile, Gunn goes to Wes and asks for his help saving Fred from the slug, which Wes reluctantly provides but only after letting Gunn know that after this they’re done, professionally.
If nothing else, these episodes show how difficult it’s going to be for Angel Investigations to operate without their resident historian-hero. Maybe that’s what the title of “The Price” really means. Because, remind me… what’s Wesley’s last name again?
- The old demon couple has “been together since mitosis,” and their lair has a welcome mat above its portal, reading, “Gurforg Bless Our Home.”
- We can tell that Gunn sold his soul in 1995 because back then he was listening to Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.”
- And speaking of signs of the times, the collector from the demon casino has an English accent, in keeping with the British gangster movie craze from the turn of the millennium.
- After Fred gives a long explanation for why Gunn had to be acting under duress when he broke up with her, Angel says, “Let me get this straight… you and Gunn are dating?”
- Groo has a surprisingly good color sense. For example, he loves the exotic hue we call “purpla.”
- Groo overhears Cordelia telling Fred, “Angel’s feelings are the only ones I care about.” What Groo didn’t hear was that Cordy was just explaining to Fred why she’s not going to try and bring Wes back into the fold. Still… that can’t have been reassuring for The Groosalugg.
- Cordy does what she can to scrub out the pentagram, but it’s no use: “We’ve got ring around the lobby”
- Angel explores the South Wing of the hotel for the first time and finds a ballroom, with a pool underneath the floor. (It’s A Wonderful Life-style.) I hope that Angel takes Lorne up on his suggestion and turns the space into the new Caritas.
- Gavin doesn’t think that Angel’s wholesale slaughter of W&H employees counts as an example of him starting to lose his soul. “They were lawyers,” Gavin shrugs.
- I’ve tried a lot of different password-security programs, but I’ve never tried the super-secret tarantula method. Is there an app for that?