Angel - Double or Nothing

Summary

Gunn and Fred go through the office files, trying to work. Lorne says that's the right thing to do, quietly commenting on Angel's complete absence from activity - he's just staring at Connor's empty crib. Gunn says he doesn't think Wesley will show his face around the office, for fear Angel will kill him. Cordelia and Groo show up, back with gifts, and she immediately realizes something is wrong. She goes to Angel to commiserate. Cut to a casino with humans and demons in it. The demon in charge calls over another demon and gives him a card for Angel investigations. He tells him to bring him in, that his marker is up and it is time to collect his soul.

Cordelia sits with Angel. Lorne packs up Wesley's things. Groo says Cordelia and Angel are involved in the vigil for the bereaved (shiv-roth for Pyleans). A demon couple are talking to Fred and Gunn. They have a skench demon squatting in their lair and Gunn goes to deal with it. Lorne puts away the box with Wesley's stuff and tells Groo and Fred he's going on some house calls. Fred takes the box to the hospital and visits Wesley. She tells him she understands why he did it. She says what Angel did was wrong. She says Wesley was wrong, he should have trusted them. She says he shouldn't come back to the hotel. She tells him the prophecy was false.

The demon from the casino shows up at the office and talks to Groo, thinking he's Angel. Gunn has found the lair and enters, to be met by projectile phlegm from the Skench demon. They fight and he destroys it. At that moment, the demon from the casino (the closed captions call him the repo man) enters. We flash back seven years to Gunn going to the casino. He talks to the demon in charge, asking for something. He signs a contract in blood, trading his future for his present happiness. We return to the present with the repo man accusing Gunn of trying to cheat them out of his soul. He denies it. The repo man says according to the akashic records, Gunn is getting ready to give his soul to a woman. Only it's not his to give, it's Mr. Jenoff's (the demon from the casino). Gunn says he's a different person now, he says there must be something else Jenoff will take. The repo man tells Gunn he has 24 hours to go back to the casino and hand in his soul. Or they'll take it and Fred's.

Gunn returns to the hotel and Cordelia talks to him. She thinks he's unhappy because he and Fred are so happy while Angel and Wesley are so sad. She tells him it is alright to enjoy his bright future with Fred. She tells him to take tomorrow off with Fred. The next morning, Fred is wakened by Gunn on the phone. She guesses what he's wearing (it takes two guesses and she's never done worse than that). While they are talking, he walks in. He has breakfast (from her favourite takeout). It's pancakes and waffles. Gunn says they are spending the day together. Cut to Wesley's hospital room where a doctor enters to tell him he's doing better and will be discharged that day. He asks if anyone can pick Wesley up. There's no response.

Angel and Cordelia are still staring at the crib. Angel says he thinks Connor was a southpaw. He says living so long you expect to lose people, but it's different now because Connor was just a baby. He talks about having a really long life, but suddenly having something else. Cordelia says it was a future. Gunn and Fred are at a cafe. Fred is full, Gunn has been stuffing her with her favourite foods. Now he wants to go to the movies or a club or shopping. She says she's wiped. He says he blew it. She says they don't have to cram the rest of their lives into one day. She sees the look on his face and worries. She asks if he has leukemia. He says no. She realizes the knot in her stomach isn't from the food, that there is something wrong with them. Gunn pretends he wants to break up. He's mean and rude to her. He mocks her and leaves her.

Cordelia tells Angel she won't pretend things will get better. He'll always have the pain of the loss of Connor. But she says he'll go on living. That there will be people who need them and they will help. That's what they do. She hears sobbing and opens the door to find Fred there. She says she thinks Gunn is in danger. We see Gunn walk into the casino. Fred has explained the situation to Groo, Cordelia, and Angel. They are confused at how she figured he was in danger from him breaking up with her. She says that he wouldn't have hurt her except to protect her. Angel is still stuck on the realization they are dating, but he says they will help. Cut to Wesley returning to his empty apartment.

Cordelia has been calling Gunn, but there is no answer. Angel says he and Fred will check out Gunn's old haunts. Groo and Cordelia can go to his place. And Cordelia says she'll report his truck stolen. Groo says they can leave their business cards with people, just like the demon who came looking for Gunn. Angel looks at the card, it's for Jenoff's Casino. He says Jenoff is a soul sucker.

At the casino, Gunn is about to have his soul sucked. Angel and the others enter and Angel shouts out Gunn, scaring everyone and causing an uproar. They fight their way into the casino, but are soon surrounded by demons. Angel demands to talk to Jenoff. He says Gunn works for him. Jenoff says he should have checked into Gunn's background before hiring him. Angel says if Jenoff lets Gunn go, he won't kill him. Unimpressed, Jenoff orders his men to kill them. Angel offers double or nothing. They'll play a game of Angel's choice. If he wins, Gunn goes free. If he loses, Jenoff gets both their souls. Jenoff agrees. Fred points out if Angel loses his soul he'll go evil and kill them all. But Cordelia still sides with the card game. Angel gives her a stake and says if he loses to make it quick. They go to a card table and Angel opts for a simple cut of the deck, high card wins. Jenoff gets a 9 of clubs, Angel turns up a 3 of hearts. Cordelia stakes Jenoff's hand to the table. Angel cuts off his head. Gunn knocks down the repo man, then points out killing Jenoff isn't that easy. Jenoff starts growing a new head. Angel turns to the crowd and asks if anybody else there owes Jenoff. The crowd turns on Jenoff and starts beating him to death as the gang flee.

Fred and Gunn are sitting in his truck and he is apologizing for what he did. Fred asks him what he traded his soul for. He tells her it was for the truck. He says he loves her. At the hotel, Angel starts disassembling the crib.

Analysis

I'm really conflicted on this episode. On the one hand, it had the best name ever for a demon. On the other, it was pretty lame. First, I have to believe Gunn was dumb enough to trade his soul for a truck. Second, I have to believe you can cheat your way out of a soul trade. I mean, this was a legitimate business deal. Gunn knew what he was getting into and Jenoff came through with his side of the bargain. Third, I have to believe Gunn has not been paying any attention. Wesley made the mistake of not trusting his friends, not going to them for help. Fred explicitly makes this point. Now, Gunn does the exact same thing. Fourth, I have to believe Groo is incredibly naive. I understand business cards are a new thing to him, but surely he might think there was a link between a stranger looking for Gunn and Gunn being in trouble. That's just common sense. Basically, there's just a lot of lameness to swallow.

I do think there are a couple of interesting moments in this episode. You've got Fred confronting Wesley in his hospital room. You've got Angel taking apart Connor's crib. And that's about all you've got.

Fred's confrontation with Wesley was easily the best moment in the episode for me. It was unexpected, just the way Angel's attack on Wesley last week was unexpected. It was in character for Fred, she's always been good at making fine moral distinctions and never shies away from saying the truth. Best of all, it was dramatically powerful because Wesley couldn't say anything. Any excuse on his part would be pointless. By having Wesley incapable of speaking, the scene just becomes stronger. This also nicely sets up the scene where the doctor asks Wesley if there is anyone they can call to take him home and the later scene where he walks into his empty apartment alone. Wesley's isolation (which really began when he first translated the prophecy) is becoming more complete. Fred was the person most likely to side with him. She was the one seeking evidence he wasn't guilty. She was the one who trumpeted the prophecy as evidence in his favour. But she also realizes that Wesley's flaw was not in believing the false prophecy, but in failing to believe in his friends. Basically, Fred's speech is a parallel to Angel's attack. She tells Wesley she understands why he did what he did. She tells him he was wrong and to never come back. She tells him the prophecy was false. This parallels Angel telling Wesley he understood, that he wasn't evil, and then attacking him. She says Angel's attack was wrong, but by verbally attacking she affirms his belief that Wesley was guilty is correct.

The final scene of Angel dismantling the crib was a strong one. This show has a good reputation for ending on strong scenes, especially this season. While the dismantling of the crib doesn't equal Darla's suicide in Lullaby or Angel's attack on Wesley last week, it's still pretty strong. It signifies Angel's acceptance of the loss of his son, the final stage of his mourning. At the beginning of this week's episode, he had passed from rage (which peaked with the attack on Wesley last week) to intense sorrow and despair (signified by his withdrawal from all action). But he finally returns to his role, asserting his position as leader of the gang (he says Gunn works for him) and removing the physical reminder of opportunities lost. I found interesting his comment about having lost so many and how it never becomes easy to deal with. This is a very Whedonesque statement. It reminded me of the mourning for Joyce in The Body and Forever. Whedon really understands death and how people deal with it.

I liked the parallel made between Gunn trading away his future, which he never expected to have and Angel losing his future. By fighting Jenoff and regaining Gunn's future for him, Angel strikes a blow for his own future. His destiny is to be a warrior for good. Grieving in the hotel and ignoring his role in life isn't going to help. While Angel's future past his own death was Connor, there is still a temporal future stretching out before him. He still has responsibilities. He can't afford to make the mistake Gunn made, believing there is nothing and trading everything away. Gunn's dilemma prompts him to action and moves him past grief into recovery.

I guess I have to talk about whether the gang were justified in their treatment of Jenoff. And I guess I've already indicated my stance in my earlier statement about cheating your way out of a deal. I think the argument boils down to two issues: can you legitimately trade away your soul or is any such deal a theft and was this particular bargain a legitimate one.

Now, most places make it illegal to trade away your life. No matter what the circumstances or how willing you are. But life and soul aren't exactly the same thing. Legally, the soul doesn't exist so contract law doesn't really deal with it. And other soul trading is accepted - even endorsed. After all, what are baptisms (which lots of religions perform on uninformed minors) or christenings or first communions or circumcision or bar mitzvahs all about. These are all methods of endorsing a contract between God and the person (usually a minor) for that person's soul. I don't see a lot of people arguing that such contractual relationships with God are illegal. So I figure if you can trade your baby's soul to God (in return for the promise of eternal bliss in heaven), then you can trade your soul to a demon (in return for a truck up front). And there are Buffyverse precedents. We've seen people willingly trade their souls to become vampires - because they want the longevity. There has been no reneging on those deals.

This brings us to the question as to whether this particular deal was legitimate. I think there are two obvious arguments against its legitimacy. The first is that Gunn was 17, a minor. However, soul trading amongst minors is pretty common. Plus, he was an emancipated minor - already engaged in his war against vampires. I don't think any serious argument can be made that he didn't know what he was getting into. Gunn, after all, was aware of the existence of vampires and other demons. He knew souls were real - which is very different from the usual stories of soul trades.

The other argument is that there wasn't fair value. Legally, for a contract to be valid there must be the perception of fair value. What you give up has to be roughly proportionate to what you expect to gain. Now a truck just doesn't seem to be worth a soul. But what exactly is a soul worth? It wasn't worth much to Gunn. He didn't expect to live long and he didn't expect to have much happiness. The truck was a way to achieve his goal of fighting vampires and helping others. That's pretty significant. In retrospect, it seems a poor bargain. But would Gunn have survived without the truck? Would many others have died if he hadn't acquired it? You could argue that a soul has infinite value - but you could make the same argument about objects which have sentimental value like your family home. But we still manage to put a cash value on those things - usually a lower one than we like. Gunn clearly felt he was getting a fair trade - he even says so to Fred. Jenoff gave him exactly what he wanted and fulfilled his side of the contract.

It would have been a lot easier had there been evidence of Jenoff cheating at cards. But there wasn't any. Nor was there any indication he would not have kept his side of the bargain had Angel won. Plus, Angel triumphs by exhorting others to greed. He gets the crowd to attack, and presumably destroy, Jenoff by noting they all owe him something - maybe souls, maybe money, maybe something else. But all those debts are legitimate. There is no hint of cheating on Jenoff's part. So, basically, Angel doesn't just help Gunn he helps a whole bunch of dead beats escape from paying what they owe.

Some quick final thoughts. Sometimes I get the feeling the writers are bored and looking for ways to make their lives more difficult. They get rid of Cordelia for a few episodes, meaning no visions and no straight talk. Then they decide to pretty much eliminate Wesley for a few episodes, with all his scenes being silent ones. Since the soul trading took place 7 years ago, how come Jenoff had the Angel Investigations card? Gunn wasn't working for them 7 years ago. Has Gunn kept in touch all this time? That seems weird. It was good to learn Fred can actually get full.

Lines of the week:

"I never figured I'd be around this long or have this much." - Gunn on why he was ready to sell his soul.

"You didn't cook, did you?" - Fred revealing her deepest fear.

"I'm in starch heaven." - Fred revealing her deepest desire.

"We are not losing another member of this family." - Angel getting out of his funk.

"Who does a guy gotta kill to talk to the boss around here?" - Angel with a great opening line.

"Vampire's not only got soul. He's got guts." - Jenoff recognizing a noble opponent.

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