Mark Watches ‘Angel’: S03E18 – Double or Nothing

In the eighteenth episode of the third season of Angel, Gunn struggles with a hellish deal he made seven years prior. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.

Well, I just have a lot of questions, and I need to ask them.

  • You know, I like Gunn a lot, and it’s no surprise around here that I was eager for yet another bit of his backstory. But what the hell happened here??? This isn’t an abysmal episode by any means, but it’s just so fucking weird.
  • I do have a lot of positive things to say about this episode, but we’ll get to them later.
  • Okay, who thought it was a good idea to make Jenoff look like Richard Nixon?
  • I AM JESTING. Well, he did remind me of Nixon every time he was on the screen, but that’s just my brain. LOL.
  • WHO THE FUCK THOUGHT IT WAS A GOOD IDEA TO HAVE GUNN WALKING THROUGH THAT CASINO WHILE “GANGSTA’S PARADISE” WAS PLAYING???? Look, I don’t think you might understand why this was both deeply hilarious and deeply troubling to see. Okay, so, that specific song, which was overplayed like hell because of that movie Dangerous Minds, is kind of considered a bit of a joke? Well, wait, I’m not saying Coolio was a joke at that time, but I grew up on hip-hop. It’s a huge part of who I am today, and let me tell you: my twelve- and thirteen-year-old self (as well as many of my friends) eternally side-eyed that song’s association with Dangerous Minds. Like, it became a thing about how much that song was like the easy way to make reductive statements and opinions about poor people of color, especially those assumed to be involved in gang activity. And look, I could write a goddamn novel about real-life and fictional experiences that feed off of the “white savior” trope, and how Dangerous Minds both ruined the original book and represented a gross attempt by Hollywood to assume that poor students of color can only respond to white teachers. (ALSO, HOLLYWOOD, STAND AND DELIVER DID THIS SAME STORY 8 MILLION TIMES BETTER EDWARD JAMES OLMOS I LOVE YOU SO MUCH.) No, for real, Dangerous Minds is totally listed on TVTrope’s page for this boring, reductive trope, and it’s true! (PS: I LOVE YOU FOREVER AND EVER, TVTROPES. FOREVER.) Yes, it somewhat reflects a reality, and I don’t want to deny this. Hell, two of my favorite and most memorable teachers were white and were able to reach a largely minority student body brilliantly, and I love them dearly for it. So it’s not that there aren’t white teachers who are able to speak to the emotional and educational needs of non-white students! But oh my god, I just realized this is all in one bullet point and I need to start a new paragraph. Hold on.
  • Okay, so, the whole point I’m building towards is that for me and a lot of friends of mine who grew up listening to hip-hop and rap, we felt uncomfortable with the unfortunate association that “Gangsta’s Paradise” got because of the movie it was attached to. It wasn’t even what the song spoke of, and I have no problem admitting that Coolio’s sample of that brilliant Stevie Wonder song is just perfect. It’s such a recognizable song! It’s done so well! But “Gangsta’s Paradise” has been used so often as the go-to song when someone wants to give off the image of a ghetto or a rough neighborhood. Plus, it was socially acceptable for this song to be the more popular image of what hardcore rap was. Since there wasn’t as much swearing, suddenly this was okay? Again, that’s not something I blame on Coolio at all, just how it was perceived by others. Why was this message and this method more acceptable than Tupac or Eazy-E or N.W.A. or anyone else?
  • SO I KNOW I AM WRITING A LOT OF WORDS ABOUT ONE FUCKING SONG THAT LASTS LIKE TWENTY SECONDS IN A FORTY-FIVE MINUTE EPISODE OF A SHOW. So, here it is: it’s like when someone who has no real understanding of a underground phenomenon tries to represent it to a mainstream audience. The translation is always terrible. If the writers were trying to portray Gunn’s violent and challenging life on the streets, y’all shouldn’t have picked a song that was… well, “Gangsta’s Paradise.” It’s like having a scene in a club where a bunch of punks in leather jackets with mohawks and spikes are moshing and choosing to have Blink 182 playing in the background. It’s not that you’re 100% wrong about that image, but to anyone involved in that sort of thing, it’s so transparent and false that it just makes us laugh. Look, the writers even got the year it was released wrong, assuming that Angel takes place roughly in real time. No one would be playing “Gangsta’s Paradise” in the spring of 1995 because it wasn’t released until August of 1995. 
  • Wow, I can’t believe I just wrote that many words about “Gangsta’s Paradise.” I do like the song, and I actually hadn’t heard it in like five years. Now I’m going to binge on 90’s hip-hop, so that’s a positive outcome of this episode.
  • You know, there is a great story in having Gunn sign away his soul because he doesn’t believe he’ll get old. Even thematically, that kind of fits with the lyrics of “Gangsta’s Paradise.” But this episode only tells us this, and does not spend one second showing us why Gunn believes that. It feels very lazy, so why do this? Why not give us more flashbacks?
  • Okay, seriously, why didn’t Gunn just tell someone what was going on? I do not believe for a second that his character would just GIVE UP. He loves Fred, he cares deeply about his friends, and he certainly knows his friends would help him with anything. I DON’T GET WHY HE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY DECIDES IT IS BEST TO JUST GIVE UP HIS LIFE. It doesn’t make sense! And it’s not like his character couldn’t reach a point like that. But we aren’t given a single reason to think this. This time, we’re not even told anything, let alone shown it. So what gives?
  • THE ENDING TO GUNN’S PREDICAMENT IS SO TERRIBLE!!! Who thought that was a good idea??? So, they just hope that a bunch of people will tear apart the owner of the casino? Was no one loyal to Jenoff? Not one person? Wouldn’t one person have benefited from keeping Jenoff alive? That whole scene literally felt like the writers were like, “Fuck, Angel lost the double or nothing bet. What should we do? How about they just cause a distraction and leave and then we don’t deal with any of the mess we created? COOL.” I was so bewildered by this resolution. They just walked out. Which could have been done well, mind you! But it happens so rapidly that there’s not even any time to develop the humor of the situation.

BUT I AM NOT A BALL OF OVERLY CRITICAL HATRED! THERE ARE OTHER THINGS THAT I LOVED DEARLY!

  • Cordelia’s hair is lovely. I actually like it that color and that short!
  • CORDELIA IS BACK OH MY GOD.
  • Cordelia is the very best holy shit. 
  • Though as soon as she returned, I yelled out, “HOW ARE THESE PEOPLE GOING TO SUMMARIZE WHAT HAPPENED WHILE SHE WAS GONE???” Because right??? She missed everything.
  • Almost every perfect scene in “Double or Nothing” involves Angel and Cordelia. I almost can’t believe the same person wrote all of their emotional and intimate dialogue and then wrote Gunn walking into a room to “Gangsta’s Paradise.” How can one person be so right and so wrong all at once? Are they a black hole now?
  • Fred’s confrontation of Wesley is the other incredible scene in this episode. It’s touching, uplifting, and then it’s just one giant punch in the heart. For some reason, hearing Fred bring the emotional smackdown on Wesley is just a million times more heartbreaking than Angel’s murderous rage. When she tells Wesley that he betrayed all of them, you can watch the hope drain right out of that man. The last straw is when Fred reveals that the prophecy wasn’t even real. Like, how is Wesley ever going to return from this? What he did was for nothing. He lost all of his friends FOR ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Oh my god, I hate Holtz and Sahjahn so much. I hate that what they did led to the destruction of Wesley. I don’t know how he will ever forgive himself after this. It’s clear that this show isn’t going to bring him back to Angel Investigations, at least not for the time being. Ugh, my heart hurts.
  • Cordelia really should have been around for the last few weeks, and listening to her talk to Angel made one thing clear: she was the real moral center all of these people needed. She was the comfort they required. She would have found a way to prevent all of the tragedy these people have gone through from ever happening. But that’s not what happened, and it’s almost a moot point to even discuss what could have been. For now, she gives Angel the comfort he needs and the truth he has to hear in order to move beyond the loss of his son. All of their scenes are written so beautifully, and I love how quiet they are. There’s no yelling, there’s very little music, and it’s just the two of them being with one another in a moment of grief and loss. They absolutely save this episode from being forgettable.
  • Does anyone else think the Groosalugg looks like an alien sometimes? He sure acts like one. That being said, I really am starting to like that he’s around. He makes me laugh with his misguided attempts at bravery!
  • I’M SERIOUS, HE DOES.
  • Oh god, Fred and Gunn are still together after all this. Yes.
  • Angel dismantling a crib: never in a million years did I think a thing like that would make me tear up. No matter what this episode is, that one scene is one of the most haunting things this show has ever given me. Connor is gone, and I have to accept that.

Damn.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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