Mark Watches ‘Angel’: S04E06 – Spin the Bottle

In the sixth episode of the fourth season of Angel, OH MY GOD, THIS EPISODE IS SO FABULOUS. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.

You know, it’s weird coming off of “Him” and watching “Spin the Bottle.” Both shows had a light and silly story for their sixth episode. This one not only has people behaving strangely, but it reminded me of “Tabula Rasa” from the previous season of Buffy as well. Actually… this is almost the exact same episode in some respects, but the twist here – that the characters are changed into their teenage selves – shows us just how much they’ve all changed from what we knew of them.

This really does feel both like a giant love letter to Clue: The Movie (ONE OF THE GREATEST MOVIES EVER MADE AND THERE IS NOT A SHRED OF IRONY IN THAT SENTENCE) and to Closed Circle mystery movies. WHICH I LOVE, BY THE WAY. Oh god, Clue is a closed circle movie. So is Identity. Oh shit, have any of you seen that British thriller, Exam? That movie destroyed me. IT’S SO FANTASTIC. Good luck figuring that one out. And I also can’t deny that when it comes down to it, “Spin the Bottle” is easily one of the funniest episodes of Angel. I suppose some of that relies on nostalgia for three of these characters. We’re given a glimpse at the past of Cordelia and Wesley from when we first met them on Buffy, and OH MY GOD, IT’S SO LOVELY. David Boreanaz gets the chance to play Angel as one who is terrified and shocked by the modern world. And when it comes to Fred and Gunn, half the fun of their characterization here is in discovering new elements of their past. (Fred was a pothead, wasn’t she?)

All of this is framed by a fascinating narrative device: Lorne is giving a spoken word/musical performance to a club of sorts, reflecting on the tragic nature of what he experienced on this evening. The true nature of Lorne’s actions, though, reflect on what a fascinating story this is. By revealing that Lorne was speaking to an empty club, one where either we or Lorne imagined an audience present, this episode suddenly turns into this bizarre, post-modern commentary on reality, especially the reality these characters believe is real. This is a hilarious episode, and I don’t want to deny that. But there’s an air of tragedy to everything we see.

Truthfully, Wesley is not the bumbling fool he once was. He’s in an incredible dark and bitter place, and that’s made evident by his attitude towards Gunn before the spell is cast. Not only does he obviously harbor intense feelings for Fred still, but now he seems to be actively doing what he can to break them up. Well, at the very least, he’s planting the seed of doubt in Gunn’s mind. The dude is already emotionally vulnerable after the end of “Supersymmetry,” and this isn’t helping. So we see Gunn reduced to macho posturing when the spell hits, and I’ll be damned if this isn’t intentional. Gunn has changed so much since he was a teenager. While he certainly is the least trusting of the group, I’d say that he has learned to trust others out of loyalty, more so than anyone else in this cast. But his conversion reflects the fear he feels towards Wesley and what he believes is the only way he can fight the man.

And Cordelia. Oh, goddamn it, her story might break my heart the most. This spell is cast to return her memory, and while it eventually does, what she goes through here is a deconstruction of her character development. It really is fun to watch Cordy act like the high school queen she once was. I always enjoyed how she acted as a foil (or at least a contrast) to what the Scoobies were doing. I think she still acts as the most powerful dynamic at Angel Investigations, but you can really see how different she’s become over the years. She lost her memory because of her ascension to a higher plane, and now we see how it’s reduced her to the superficial cattiness of her past. What’s the price that she’s paid for coming back to Earth? I don’t actually know, especially since I can’t really figure out why the Powers That Be sent her back, why they took her memory, and why she saw that SATAN BEAST in the moments after Lorne restored her mental history. I mean, she clearly knows something about the oncoming apocalypse, right? But the experience has left her drained and exhausted, and I wonder how this is all going to pan out.

Angel’s an interesting one. When Joss chose to de-age him, he didn’t portray him as a bloodthirsty vampire. He was Liam, a frightened Irish teenager stuck int he modern world inside a vampire’s body. It’s certainly a joy to watch him be the most frightened character of the bunch, but his terrified innocence brought out a disgust with what life had handed him. When he speaks openly to Connor at the end of the episode about how he didn’t ask for what he’d been given, it reminded me of Buffy’s emotional plea to Giles in the first season of Buffy. This is not the life Angel wanted, and he has no choice in the matter. It’s interesting, then, that Angel is largely reduced to having puppy dog eyes for most of this episode. To me, it really highlights just how fucked up this situation is for him. The woman he loves doesn’t remember him, his son is closer to Cordy than he is, and he is playing a part in an Apocalypse that he doesn’t want to happen. So many outside forces dictate what Angel must do in life, and forcing Angel to be a teenager again brings out the angst-ridden rage he has about this reality.

Even Fred appears more “innocent” and wide-eyed than usual. I think she has the smallest change out of the bunch, but again, I think her innocence is directly contrasted with the events of the past few episodes. It’s especially relevant to “Supersymmetry.” The teenaged Fred has no idea what she will have to go through later in life, so gone is the paranoia and fear that she normally operates under.

I’m drawn back to Lorne’s narration again when I think about what a brilliant episode this is. I mean, Joss utilizes a spell that we’ve pretty much already seen and a technique that’s familiar to us. And yet, I still think this episode is downright fantastic. Like the end of “Tabula Rasa,” this episode does not offer a permanent reprieve from the environment these characters are living in. If anything, it exacerbates those problems and fears. It’s a reminder that this doesn’t feel temporary at all. But Lorne, the narrator, the observer, the omniscient storyteller, appears to be giving us this information way in the future. He references the tragedy of that day, but we never truly see how this pans out. Something set things into motion, and there’s definitely some significance to that flash that Cordelia saw when her memory returned. But what the fuck happened?

For real, I have never been more unprepared for this show in my whole life.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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