Monday, August 2, 2010

Gunn to the Rescue

What I found maddening about the whole Gwen Raiden arc in Angel was that it appeared to consist of a giant build-up that went absolutely nowhere. Alexa Davalos made a huge impact on the entire series with her wonderful portrayal of the Electric Freak/Thief Gwen. However, what the audience needed was one more appearance by her that might have finally explained why Gwen was introduced to the series in the first place.

(Quick recap of Season 4's "Players": Gwen told Charles a false story that she needed him to help her rescue a kidnapped little girl named Lisa. She tricked him into creating a diversion so she could swipe the advanced L.I.S.A. device that, when implanted into her back, would neutralize her electrical properties so she could touch people without electrocuting them.)

Although the theft of the L.I.S.A. device brought somewhat of a satisfying conclusion to her story in that she was finally allowed to obtain the appearance of normalcy, she was really there to bring out Gunn's role of "The Muscle" out into the forefront, thereby setting the audience up for his If I Only Had a Brain Season 5 story line. "Players" successfully showed off both his brains and his brawn.

I've said before that Charles Gunn was an ambitious social climber who latched onto Angel Investigations as a means to move up from the mean streets of inner-city Los Angeles. In order to join his upscale colleagues at the Hyperion, Gunn was willing to give up his top-dog leadership role that he enjoyed in the past and settle for a staff position as "The Muscle".

Gwen correctly stated in their final scene that "Man, they [Angel Investigations] have done a number on you. You really believe this I'm the muscle crap." Charles convincingly told her "I'm a fighter. Born and raised." But later events in the Season 5 premiere episode "Conviction" would prove otherwise when he agreed to the Wolfram & Hart brain upgrade. Even though it was pretty obvious that Gunn was dissatisfied with simply being "The Muscle" within Angel Investigations, he was more dissatisfied with the fact that being The Muscle also meant he was the low man on the totem pole.

There was nothing wrong with being a great fighter. Gunn's skills were extremely valuable, as the Angelus story arc proved when the group became seriously overextended. The group probably needed at least one more Charles Gunn while they were going after Angelus. His story parallels a lot of real-life situations where a person's outstanding skills in one area might be buried inside his cubicle. For example, a person might have a natural talent for performing some important tasks within the marketing department, but he'll never get a chance to prove himself as long as he's stuck in accounting. Supervisors might even be aware of his extra talents, but may decide that having the employee break out of his usual routines would be too disruptive to the normal office workflow.

As much as Gunn yearned for a leadership/planning position, he loved a good uncomplicated fight against the forces of Evil more than anything else, as proved by these dialogue sequences from "Players" and Season 5's "Not Fade Away" here, here, here and here. I'm reminded of Faith admonishing Buffy in "Bad Girls" in Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for finding it hard to admit that she loved the adrenaline rush of a good fight. Faith and Gunn might have made a good team, which is another reason why it was too bad he was stuck with guarding the Hyperion while she was hunting Angelus.

Regardless, besides the lowly foot soldiers of the world, another class of low-status employees are the ones who are held in reserve until they can be called upon at a moment's notice. In fact, holding people in reserve is held in such contempt, the whole business plan of most employers consists of cutting people who can be called upon to perform a specific task at a specific time. Just think of the number of times you've had to wait in long lines in supermarkets because there isn't enough staff to man the checkout lanes. Angel was actually being progressive when he advised Gunn (before Gwen came calling) that "Gunn, I want you to sit tight for now. It never hurts to have some muscle on deck."

So why did Gwen want Gunn to help her steal the L.I.S.A. device? Was it because she recognized his special abilities? Because she thought he would be the perfect dupe to get caught up in the whole "let's rescue the little girl" charade while Gwen stole the actual device? Or a combination of the two? Gwen made it clear in earlier episodes that she had a thing for Gunn. (How much of her attraction had to do with the fact that Gwen didn't care for Fred is hard to tell.) We can't discount the fact that it would have been awfully nice to bed down with the man who helped her lift the L.I.S.A. device in order to find out if it actually worked.

Although it was clear in this scene that Gunn didn't like being played by Gwen, it's remarkable how quickly he halted his stormy exit when she informed him, "You can keep the suit." His change of mind seemed awfully abrupt, but I took it to mean that he appreciated the opportunity she gave him to be able to use some of his hidden talents (his wits, his planning skills, etc.) in addition to his fighting skills. The suit represented at least a temporary promotion where he was being rewarded and recognized for all of his abilities.

Idle Thoughts.I'm informally making my third pass through the series in my posts. As such, instead of doing formal episodes reviews, I'm solving mysteries, pointing out things that I had missed during my first viewing(s), and expanding on some themes that I've touched on in the past. As fascinating as Gwen's character is, she simply doesn't fit within this criteria that I've developed. Some fascinating essays still need to be written about Gwen. Unfortunately, none of them will be written by me.

Did Gwen recognize some of Charles' hidden talents before she asked him to join her on the heist? Or was she totally surprised when he used his wits to get them into the party and into the house that held the L.I.S.A. device? My hunch is that she guessed that he was being underutilized in Angel Investigations, and was delightfully surprised to find out how talented he really was.

I think "Players" showcased some of Gunn's best fight scenes. I'd have to review the episode to see if a stunt double was used, but as far as I'm concerned, it was all actor J. August Richards.

David Boreanaz and Charisma Carpenter continued their streak of fine acting performances whenever they appeared in scenes together. This part was a particular favorite of mine, where Angel was talking about how the entity that controlled The Beast was "deluded and demented", with Cordy taking offense but having to hide her hurt feelings.

This scene where the Angel Investigations team members used gallows humor to talk about Connor and Cordelia's "spawn" is a sentimental favorite of mine since it reminds of this scene in Season 3's "Quickening" where the group was speculating about the nature of Angel and Darla's "spawn".

Damn it! Connor almost figured it out when he explained to Cordelia why "It doesn't make sense". Cordy then had to ruin it all by telling him that "Everything happens for a reason." Spoken like a true kindergarten Sunday School teacher.

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