Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Under Watchful Eyes

Angel's Season 3's "That Old Gang of Mine" aired on TNT yesterday morning. I don't think it shows up on any of my top favorites lists, but it really should since it's such an outstanding episode. One of the reasons why I love Angel is that it's easy to watch the same episode several times over and zero in on different aspects each time.

Angel seemed to have strong suspicions that Charles Gunn knew more about the "random" demon slayings than he was letting on. To back up a bit, when Merl the Demon Informant was slain, and Angel and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce were looking for clues in his home, Gunn let it be known that investigating his death was a complete waste of time. "Is this really the kind of thing we should be spending our time on? I mean he was what he was, right?"

Coincidentally, in this episode we were also able to witness the differences in Angel's and Wesley's leadership styles as I described in one of my last posts, "Wesley's Path to Betrayal". Angel very obviously took exception to Gunn's attitude toward demon-killing, and directly accused Gunn of purposefully being slow to answer his page. Gunn countered with "Excuse me, but did somebody put you back in charge? Because if they did they forgot to tell me about it."

Wesley, somewhat being the Good Cop to Angel's Bad Cop, skillfully stepped in to diffuse the situation by saying in extremely measured tones, "All right. Gunn, if this isn't something you can get behind, we'll understand. For now why don't you just go on home." Gunn didn't quite buy Wesley's Mr. Nice Guy routine and stood his ground until Wesley put his hand on his shoulder and repeated, again in that fake understanding voice, "Go home".

To be honest, I'm not sure if Angel had any suspicions about who the real perpetrators were at Merl's apartment. If he did, then it makes the scene at the next deceased demon's apartment all that more believable when Gunn put one of the evidence bags in his pocket. Although Angel didn't witness the actual act, he did notice that Gunn had his hand in his pocket, and took one long suspicious look at Gunn as he left the scene. We also gazed though Angel's eyes as he looked at Wesley crouched on the floor. The whole unspoken sequence appeared as though Angel was looking to see if Wesley had seen anything, or if Wes was showing any signs of figuring out that there may have been something suspicious about Gunn's behavior.

There are a couple of ways of looking at this little scene. We could accuse Angel of withholding information because he wasn't sharing his suspicions with Wesley. Just as Gunn wanted to gather more evidence on his own that his old gang was behind the killings before (presumably) reporting his findings to Wesley, Angel could have been waiting until he had proof that Gunn knew more than he was letting on.

I choose not to get high and mighty and indignant with Angel because I prefer my second explanation. Angel was using this opportunity to observe the strengths and weaknesses of both Charles and Wesley, and see how they reacted to this situation. Rather than stepping in and possibly being accused of interference, Angel was learning more about Wesley's newly-found leadership capabilities and Gunn's loyalty to the group. It becomes crucial for leaders to know as much as possible about their followers so they'll have an idea of how these same people will react in times of crises. When the next Big Bad happened, Angel would need to know if Wesley had the ability to lead the group, and he would need to know exactly where Gunn's loyalties lay.

A side benefit was that as Gunn and Wesley worked through their difficulties, they would have the ability to learn from their mistakes. If Angel took charge too soon, Gunn and Wes would have been cheated out of an opportunity for further character development. I compare this to allowing my kids to make mistakes so they'll be able to develop problem-solving skills on their own. I also carefully monitor their situations and step in when necessary.

Although there were vicious demon-killers on the loose, it still appeared to be a controlled situation for Angel Investigations. It was obvious that when Angel and Gunn had this conversation at the Hyperion Hotel, Angel was somewhat playing dumb, and must have felt pretty good when he noticed Gunn squirming and asking where the boss (Wesley) was at. If Angel had known that everyone was walking into a demon massacre, he would have stepped in a lot sooner.

When Angel finally did arrive at Caritas, he found out pretty quickly that Gunn had to go through some difficult thought processes to decide exactly where his loyalties lay. Although I don't believe Gunn really wanted to kill Angel, he definitely might have if it would have meant saving additional lives.

Gunn's feelings toward Angel desperately deserves its own blog posts. When all was said and done, Gunn was still loyal to Angel, but still couldn't get over the idea that Angel was a vampire. Here's this chilling piece of dialogue:
Gunn: Hey! No matter what else, I think I proved that you can trust me when I could have killed you and I didn't.

Angel: No. - You'll prove that I can trust you when the day comes that you have to kill me - and you do.
There are all sorts of ambiguities in Angel's statement, but basically, Gunn and Angel would continue to work with each other and cover each other's back. When the time came for another standoff between Angel and Gunn, the process would have to be repeated. Whose side would Gunn take the next time around? It would take the re-emergence of Angelus in Season 4 to find out.

Unfortunately, my pretty little theory about Angel observing people in action falls down where Wesley is concerned. Although Wesley was very brave in standing up to Rondell, Gio and all of the other gang members, the best we can say is that he helped calm tensions just a bit, protected Fred and Cordy, and didn't make matters worse. He also acquitted himself quite nicely in the final hand-to-hand combat sequence. Although Wesley did a fine job at Caritas, circumstances did not allow him to stand out and be the hero. Angel might have been observing Wesley as well as Gunn in action, but I'm not aware that it was indicated on-screen anywhere. If anything, the whole incident at Caritas may have reinforced Angel's awareness that he was still needed to swoop in and save the day on a regular basis.

In my next post I'll talk about the rights of demons who inhabit the world of Angel. I'm also cooking up at least one more Wes and Lilah post as well.

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