Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Little Respect

I seem to be stuck on the number 3 lately, as today I've been thinking about the something-a-trois between Angel, Charles Gunn and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce in early Season 3 of Angel: The Series.

What got me thinking about this is that I just saw Season 3's excellent "That Old Gang of Mine" for the umpteenth time. I've written previously about the episode here, and talked about it in dribs and drabs in a few other blog posts.

I think the reason why I'm fixated on this episode is that it seems to key in on a few vital aspects of the series in which, although I've been able to rationalize things and come up with a few explanations, I've never been able to resolve to my complete satisfaction.

Angel and Gunn. When Gunn was first introduced into the series in late Season 1, I've often mentioned that the producers took great pains to promote the similarities between him and Angel, right down to their extreme alpha male personalities and their long flowing black coats. The natural assumption is that since the two of them were so similar in personalities, they were bound to butt heads on a regular basis. After a few early minor clashes and little misunderstandings, I thought they settled into a rather good mutual working relationship. (Think of the number of times Gunn strode into the Hyperion Hotel, all ready for a good fight after being summoned by Angel.)

Perhaps Gunn did a certain amount of trash-talking to show that he couldn't be pushed around, but that was mostly harmless posturing. He acted that way with Wes and Cordy, as well as Angel.

It appeared the producers may have thought Angel and Gunn were straying too far from their "can't get along" storyline when they cooked up Season 2's "Shroud of Rahmon" in order to allow Gunn to directly disobey Angel's orders and work undercover with him in the museum heist. Except for the fact that Gunn was included in Angel's mass firing a few episodes later, and Gunn did the obligatory "You were mean to us, Angel" after Angel got back together with Cordy, Wes and Gunn, they seemed to be working well together until "That Old Gang of Mine" aired in early Season 3.

Again, I was a little surprised at the timing of this episode, because I really thought Charles would have been beyond the "I'll work with you, but I'll never be your friend because you're a vampire" stage. I certainly didn't see anything in the episodes leading up to this point that would indicate that Charles would have serious issues about working with Angel to help find indiscriminate demon killers. On the contrary, I've said all along that Charles was upwardly mobile and latched on with Angel and his group as a way to escape from his poverty-stricken wretched neighborhood.

My only explanation for the showdown at Caritas in "This Old Gang of Mine" is that it was probably important for the series to have Gunn's conflict between his loyalty to his old gang and his responsibilities with Angel Investigations finally come to a boil. His old gang might have outlived their usefulness in the series, and it was time for Charles to leave that part of his life behind. The producers of the series were quite generous to give Charles that "closure", since otherwise they could have simply kept Rondell and the other gang members out of the script for the rest of the series without explanation.

Charles' clearing the air with Angel was also probably viewed as a necessary part of Gunn's character development. He said goodbye to his past, and worked through a few issues of his own (primarily involving co-existence with the demon world) before he finally made the final commitment to permanently surrender his life to Angel Investigations.

Gunn and Wesley. I could never quite buy the story that Gunn and Wesley had become close friends in Season 2, and I could never quite figure out why Gunn seemed to quite readily accept Wesley's authority while he was in charge of Angel Investigations. (I've speculated in the past that Wesley, being somewhat older, and with his vast knowledge of the demon world, earned his title of boss of the group.) Again, like with Angel, Gunn went through some posturing and occasionally tossed a few choice insults toward Wesley, but for the most part did what he was told.

As I saw the scene again today where Wesley acted as the mediator between Gunn and Angel, it suddenly occurred to me that Gunn could have possibly been acquiescent to Wesley, not so much because he accepted his authority, but as a way to spite Angel. In a way, he was exploiting his friendship with Wes. I also wonder if Gunn gave Wesley somewhat of a free ride simply because it was more exciting and manly to have conflicts with Angel rather than with Wesley. Fighting for dominance with Wesley might have been like fighting for dominance over an uppity grandmother. Gunn might have run the risk of looking rather silly trying to get the upper hand with Wesley, rather than looking heroic after asserting his dominance over Angel.

Wesley gave his closing speech to Gunn, where he warned him about turning Gunn out "bag and baggage" out into the street if he ever tried to subvert Wesley or withhold information again. Gunn had made his choice between his old street gang and Angel Investigations, and with that choice came certain responsibilities. Perhaps Gunn needed to be informed that it was time to end his fun and games in using Wesley as a pawn in his struggles against Angel, and that Wesley was now firmly in charge.

I've also talked at great length about the "consent of the governed", in which the title of leader was granted to Wesley based on the authority vested in him by the rest of the group. A cynical way of looking at it as that Wesley was made group leader as an indulgence, similar to how the youngest kid can be made captain of the flag football team at the family reunion picnic. Wes may have taken this opportunity to impress upon Charles the importance of giving him the respect he deserved, and how the failure to allow Wes to act as a real leader could mean the difference between life and death.

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