In the sixth episode of the second season of Angel, Wesley must pretend to be Angel when Angel goes off to get help with his obsession over Darla. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.
You know, it’s the way that Jane Espenson navigates tone in “Guise Will Be Guise” that gives this episode that push from “good” to “how have I never watched this show before what is my life.” I do like when a fictional world can be a bit meta and reflect on some of the more ridiculous aspects of it, especially when it comes to science fiction or fantasy. That’s actually a staple of every Whedon project I’ve seen, now that I think of it, and when I actually get to do Dollhouse at some point, I’ll be interested to see if this kind of humor and storytelling happens there, too.
What’s just endlessly fascinating to me about this episode is that it’s an exploration of who Angel is, but half that exploration is entirely through Wesley. And even if a lot of this is both humorous and a set-up to a sacrifice, it actually doesn’t negate any of the stuff we learn about the titular character. Even better, it directly ties in with the themes I’m starting to see across all the episodes in season two.
Honestly, I sometimes just forget that Angel is a demon, and this story was a reminder I needed that it’s part of who he is. Darla’s return is a reminder for Angel that he has come a long way since his Angelus days, but what does that mean for his manufactured identity? It’s true that Angel really has chose his identity at this point in his life. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that either. Angel wanted to escape his horrific past, so why shouldn’t he get to decide how to portray himself to others? It reminded me of my first year of college. I was actually just talking about this last night! (Note: I’m writing this on the morning of April 23rd as I’m on my way to Phoenix, AZ for my book reading today. omg I’M SO FAR AHEAD OF Y’ALL LOL HELLO FROM THE FUTURE. Or wait the past? WTF AM I DOING.) This whole idea is why I enjoyed season four of Buffy so much. For me, college was about finding a way to erase the identity I’d been given over the course of a decade in Riverside, California. And that’s something I don’t think a lot of people think about. We’d like to think that we get to make up who we are, but reputation and social pressure can assign us an identity whether we like it or not. In my case, I was the loser nerd who was involved in all these clubs because all the teachers were my best friends. NO SERIOUSLY PEOPLE GENUINELY THOUGHT THIS. Even worse, after graduation, getting outed meant people assigned a new identity on me, and even that wasn’t what I wanted.
It’s why I like that Angel made a conscious decision to start over and choose how to show himself to others. I did the exact same thing when I started school in Long Beach, and it was a really powerful experience for me. I’m sure it was for Angel, too, but this episode takes this journey a step further: what happens when Angel becomes controlled by this desire to appear in a very specific way? Can that actually be a detriment to his behavior and the relationships he has? Well, yes, clearly it can be, as demonstrated by his reckless behavior in the cold open. ANGEL WHAT WERE YOU THINKING.
I’d also like to make a request at this point: can I please have an episode entirely centered around The Host? It’s just not fair. Can there be another spin-off show and it’s just Andy Hallet being better than all of us for forty-five minutes a week? Yes? Please? It’s all I ask for.
So while we get scenes of Angel working through his problems with the “swami,” Wesley takes it upon himself to slip into the role of Angel when a man holds Cordelia at gunpoint. Obviously, this is a humorous situation, and it really wouldn’t have worked if this was anyone else aside from Wesley. Alexis Denisof really does capture that clumsy awkwardness well in his portrayal of Wesley trying to be Angel in this episode. But we also get to see more of his confident side that’s been growing since he joined Angel Investigations. It’s interesting, too, because all that comes out when Wesley has to stay alive. It’s this burst of self-preservation that gives him theses moments of certainty. That doesn’t mean it’s not a genuine experience. Those things are already there; they already exist within Wesley, and they’re a part of who he is.
You can see how well this is paralleled with the same epiphany that Angel comes to have. Seriously, I can’t gush enough about how satisfied I am that all the shit Angel talks about with the fake swami is still just as meaningful at the end of this all than if he’d spoke with the real T’ish Magev. I admit that a lot of the scenes in the cabin are more funny than anything else. It’s nice to have someone criticize Angel’s ridiculous habits! I mean, it’s a convertible. How have I never said anything about this before? And the more I think about this, the more I wonder what on earth the planted swami was thinking about the whole time Angel was there. The dude said some amazing shit! Like, he was pretty damned good at figuring Angel out! WHAT WAS THIS GUY BEFORE THIS? What if he was actually a therapist for years? These are the things that I think about in great length all the time.
In Wesley’s case, we have a story that’s actually a rather familiar trope: person pretends to be someone they’re not, falls for a pretty girl, girl is (rightfully) completely fucking pissed that she was lied to. I can’t say I found Wesley’s story (at least in this regard) to be all that interesting. It was more funny to see him confronted with the challenge of being a vampire and constantly fuck that up. Oh my god, when he grabbed that cross for a good fifteen seconds, it took everything in me not to cry laughing. At the same time, I was much more fascinated with Wesley’s own journey, and the way that this showed him what Angel’s life was like.
I mean, Wesley has never known what it’s like to have people fear him just by his own name, though I’m sure he’d like that. There are quite a few moments where Wesley smiles out of pure joy when he gets something right or realizes he’s pulled something off. Those small moments are glimpses not only into Angel, but into his own potential. Because he’s pretending to be Angel, that means he’s the one actually doing all the work.
And as serious as I could get about all these things, this really is a genuinely funny episode of Angel to me, especially the whole “impure” scene. Bless you, Virginia. GET IT, GIRL. It’s still a great addition to the emotional continuity of the season so far, but it really does feel like its own story. YES GOOD.
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