Angel - First Impressions

Summary

Angel is at the karaoke club where he just sang Send in the Clowns and Tears of a Clown. He's been practicing in the shower. The psychic MC tells him his heart can still break and that he's come to a bend in the road. Darla is in the room and the two of them dance together. We see he's dreaming.

In the hotel, Cordelia is tired of dusting. Gunn comes in looking for Angel, saying they have to meet a snitch who will help him track down a demon in his neighbourhood, Deevak. Wesley and Cordelia offer to help, but Gunn rudely turns them down. David Nabbit turns up, they paged him two days ago but he was in Kuala Lumpur working on a hostile takeover. Angel asks him for help in buying the hotel - they have a six month lease with an option to buy. David runs off a lot of financial talk which excites Cordelia. When he sees they don't understand, he says he'll get his money guy to run up some figures for them. He leaves happy to be part of the gang. Angel gives Cordelia the keys to his car and tells Wesley to get some bribe money. Gunn doesn't want to take them but Angel says they need the whole team. Gunn complains that he is always there when Angel needs him and Angel is slow to help him.

They meet the snitch, Jameel, in a garage. But he doesn't want to talk. He's too scared of Deevak. Gunn starts beating him to get the information. Angel stops him. Jameel has been followed by vampires who attack. He flees and after a tough fight the gang slay the vampires. They are all hurt and tired. Angel wants to regroup, but Gunn says he's going to find Jameel. Cordelia says he should be less like Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs and Gunn says he hasn't seen a movie since Denzel was robbed of the Oscar. He leaves and the others all agree Denzel is great. Angel shrugs off his ineffectiveness in the fight as an off day. Cordelia drives him home and he says he just needs some sleep. She says that's all he seems to be doing lately.

Cordelia is at home with ghost Dennis. She has a vision of Gunn in trouble. She phones Angel, but he's dreaming. He's moonbathing with Darla. He hears a ringing, but she tells him to ignore it and it will go away. She tells him they are one. Cordelia calls Wesley and leaves a message saying she is going to Gunn's and he should get Angel and meet her. She grabs an axe and goes.

Cordelia finds Gunn fighting and knocks his opponent on the head. Only it's just a harmless training session. Meanwhile, Angel is still deep in his dream. Darla tells him she has to leave, that she's in danger. He says he'll protect her, but she says he's too busy protecting everyone else. We hear a knocking and see Wesley hammering together a coffin. Angel sees this. Darla vanishes and Angel blames Wesley, attacking him. Only now it is the real world Angel attacking the real Wesley. He comes to his senses and Wesley tells him about Gunn.

Cordelia patches up the guy she hit. Gunn is eager to get rid of her and walks her to her car while she refuses to go. It has been stolen. Gunn and Cordelia go looking for the car, Gunn knows all the guys who steal vintage cars. Cordelia insists she won't leave him and will protect him. In addition to her axe, she has mace. Gunn finds her annoying. Wesley and Angel are going to ride on Wesley's bike, but Angel has to wear a pink helmet - the only one Wesley has. He's embarrassed at wearing the lady's helmet.

Gunn and Cordelia visit Henry, who doesn't have the car but tells them to try Desmond. He tells them Desmond is at a party given by Tito. Gunn sees Henry has been stealing neighbourhood cars and tells him to stop or he'll do something about it. They leave and Deevak and some vampires come out from the back. Henry is working for them and Deevak says he intends to put an end to Gunn. At the party, Gunn runs into one of his people who is supposed to be on patrol. He chews him out and sends him home. Inside, Cordelia really doesn't blend in and actually takes Gunn's advice to stick close and shut up. They meet Veronica, a woman Gunn is clearly interested in. Cordelia tries to explain her relationship to Gunn but just embarrasses herself and offends Veronica with a lot of ill worded references to working girls. Gunn says hello to a couple of guys and Cordelia assumes they are criminals. Gunn says Nabbit probably made his millions breaking the rules. Cordelia tells him he invented software for blind people to surf the web and has a foundation which gives $20,000,000 a year to charity. Gunn spots Desmond. Desmond admits to having the car and vampires attack. They seem to be focusing on Gunn. Veronica gets hit and gets a shard of glass in the neck. She pulls it out and starts bleeding heavily. Cordelia helps her and when the fight ends, she and Gunn rush her to the hospital. The doctors say Cordelia probably saved her life.

Cordelia finds Gunn in a waiting room, blaming himself for what happened. He won't listen to her reassurances and he accidently refers to Alonna (his sister who died in Warzone) when talking of Veronica. Desmond tries to sneak out and Cordelia stops him, demanding to know where her car is. Wesley and Angel arrive at the party. They talk to a woman who turns out to be a vampire. Gunn and Cordelia go to the garage where the car is. But the keys aren't there and Cordelia had left them in the car. Deevak appears. He's big and tough and grabs Gunn by the neck and picks him up. He uses his other hand to fight off Cordelia who comes at him with her axe. He morphs into Jameel. Cordelia sprays him with the mace and he drops Gunn, morphing back into demon form. Angel and Wesley arrive and while Gunn fights Deevak they fight his vampires. Gunn is getting the worse of the battle, but they finish off the vampires and Cordelia tosses Angel the axe as he leaps over the cars to smash Deevak in the head with it.

Wesley finds the car keys, but they are covered in demon blood or pus. Cordelia tells Gunn he is the real danger, that he creates dangerous situations and is on a self destruct mission. She insists she will help him. He doesn't explicitly thank her, but she doesn't seem to need that. Angel returns home to a waiting Darla. She asks if anyone said thank you for his saving them, he says not exactly. He says he has a lot to make up for, she says he has made up for it. He says she takes care of him. She takes him to the sofa. They start kissing. We see it is a dream. Only the real Darla appears in Angel's bed as he sleeps.

Analysis

Basically, this episode breaks down into three parts: the dream sequences, Gunn and Cordelia, and Angel's waking moments. But the three are closely intertwined and each has impact upon the other.

The first dream sequence takes place in the club: a sanctuary where enemies can meet safely. From their conversation, we learn there have been several dates before. And Darla is making him keep their trysts secret. He's already pulling away from his friends and moving towards her. The MC has warned Angel that his heart can still be broken and that his movement toward redemption (the upward road) can be slowed by his choices. Darla is clearly the bend in the road and Angel already seems to be going the wrong way. He's keeping secrets and we soon learn he's spending a lot of time sleeping rather than working at his task.

When Gunn arrives he's angry that Angel isn't ready, feeling he has always been fast to come to Angel's aid. Of course, Angel's dream life is taking him away and interfering with his work. Gunn is also disdainful of Wesley, Cordelia, and David. David proves his significance right away, none of the others could even understand the economic points he makes and they are essential if they are going to use the hotel as their new base. Angel insists on taking Cordelia and Wesley, saying they need the full team to fight Deevak. But Gunn doesn't want to take anybody but the strongest on his mission.

Gunn's eagerness for violence quickly shows itself as he attacks the reluctant to talk Jameel. The violence quickly escalates when the vampires appear and interestingly it is Angel, the muscle Gunn so much wanted, who is most ineffective in the battle. Angel shrugs this off as a bad day, but clearly his dreams are affecting him. When Cordelia takes him home, he says he needs sleep and Cordelia notes that's all he does. His eagerness to enter the dream world is interfering with his real world activities.

The second dream takes place in the moonlight outdoors. Before Darla was telling Angel to keep their meetings a secret from his friends. His sleep time was interfering with his work. But this time she has him ignore Cordelia's phone call. He is being sucked more and more into her world - she says they are one - and existing less and less in the real world, the world in which he has to fight for redemption. And he's abandoning his friends, leaving Cordelia to go out alone into danger, exactly the kind of action which terrifies Gunn. When we return to the second dream, Darla is telling Angel she must leave. He wants to go with her and she claims to be in danger. He wants to protect and she says he's too busy protecting everyone else. She is inverting Angel's good intentions. Turning his natural desire to protect the innocent into a tool she can use to undo him. Wesley's knocking to awaken Angel turns into the creation of a coffin - the container for vampires. When Angel awakens he accuses Wesley of making Darla go away and attacks him, almost killing him before coming to his senses. His movement into the dream world is almost complete.

The absence of the car causes discomfort to both men. It prolongs Gunn's stay with Cordelia and forces him to be lectured by her while he's driving. It forces Angel to wear the pink helmet which he clearly finds humiliating. The real world is demeaning to both these men, who are normally truly heroic characters. But they need to be demeaned in this way. They need to be brought back to the reality of the world and pulled out of their respective fantasies.

Cordelia's discomfort at the party, her inability to blend in, her awful attempt at conversation with Veronica are all examples of the white beauty queen dumped into urban black society. But Gunn is just as awkward in her world as she is in his. Gunn is disdainful of Wesley and Cordelia, not recognizing their contribution. He belittles Nabbit who is helpful. And unlike Cordelia he doesn't recognize his faux pas or make any attempt to learn. He continues his tough guy act, not listening to her defense of Nabbit or paying attention to all the help she gives. Even in the hospital when Cordelia points out Veronica survived, Gunn says not because of him. Everything still is about him and he cannot bring himself to say Veronica did survive because of Cordelia.

In the final battle with Deevak, the team works together to vanquish the demon and his vampire allies. But Gunn still leaves a loner (although he seems to have heard a little of what Cordelia said) and Angel returns to his dreamworld with Darla. This final dream has Darla in the hotel - invading his home and the world he shares with the others. She criticizes the people he helps and their lack of gratitude. She tells Angel he has done enough to make up for his sins. She continues to drive a wedge between Angel and his friends and to work on increasing his complacency and diminishing his drive to continue on the road to redemption. And we discover she is not merely in his home in the dreamscape, but she has entered it in reality.

Gunn and Angel are both living in fantasy worlds. Gunn believes he must fight as a loner, protecting the weak. He won't take anyone he feels is at all weak with him and he won't allow himself a moment of weakness. Of course, this isn't humanly possible and Gunn is just setting himself up to fail. He is ready to blame himself for everything that happens, whether he is genuinely responsible or not. Given that he accidently says his dead sister's name instead of Veronica, we can assume he still feels guilt for her death. He slayed her in vampire form and he also probably feels responsible for her capture by the vampires. Angel is falling into a dream world with a woman he also slayed in vampire form. She is his sire, a relationship even closer than the brother/sister relationship. Both men have a strong sense of guilt, both men did the right thing. Both men are eager not to hurt others and are unwilling to open up. But to be saved they have to open up. Cordelia has made Gunn her project, realizing that the real threat to him is not demons, but himself. But Angel is in the same situation and while Cordelia and Wesley are there for him, he has become closed to them.

The first impressions of the title are pretty much all wrong. Gunn sees Cordelia as helpless and a hindrance. But she saves Veronica's life and her mace and axe are the weapons used to defeat Deevak. Cordelia sees Gunn as tough and unfeeling (she compares him to the crazed Michael Madsen character in Reservoir Dogs), but realizes he is actually very sensitive and desperately needs her help. Cordelia thinks all of Gunn's friends are thugs and he thinks Nabbit is a robber baron and worthless. But Gunn's friends come through for him (Desmond is ready to return the car and the guys at the party come to his aid against the vampires) and Nabbit is an okay guy who really wants to help, though a little weird. Another wrong impression is of Jameel, who Gunn thinks is a snitch. In reality, he is the alter ego of Deevak and ready to repay the beating Gunn gave him. There is also the first impression Cordelia has in her vision. She thinks she has to protect Gunn from an external enemy, but realizes he is the enemy. His lifestyle is leading him to destruction and she is determined to do something about it.

Some quick final thoughts. I loved Dennis turning down the heat in Cordelia's apartment and then tossing her the phone. By now Cordelia should realize the obvious interpretation of her visions is almost never right. Darla's relationship with Angel is a complex one and while I'm sure she'd be happy to see Wesley and Cordelia dead, I'm not so sure she would gladly let go of Angel. Wolfram & Hart are playing with fire here. At first I thought having Nabbit as a recurring character would be annoying, but now I'm enjoying him. Angel needs someone who can help him out with financial advice - or even with cash. And Nabbit's childlike glee in being part of the gang and fighting demons is fun to watch. The whole Denzel conversation was fun and it also intrudes a moment of normality into the show. I think that's an important element and it's the kind of conversation we can all see ourselves having. It makes the gang look like regular people. Another example of that natural dialogue was Wesley calling shotgun.

Lines of the week:

"I haven't bothered to see a movie since Denzel was robbed of the Oscar for Malcolm X." - Gunn on film.

"I'm gonna die." - Cordelia being really brave.

"Stop being such a wanker and put it on." - Wesley having the rare opportunity to lord it over Angel.

"You'll pay for this." - Angel bringing Wesley back to reality.

"I could just eat you up." - Darla with the kind of love talk you don't want to hear from a vampire.

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