Thursday, 5 March 2015

ANGEL, 3.3 & 3.4 – 'That Old Gang of Mine' & 'Carpe Noctem'

Thursday, 5 March 2015
ANGEL: What do you want from me?
MERL: What do I want? I'll tell you what I want... I want back the three months I spent in therapy after being hung upside down in a sewer, that's what I want.
A strong showcase for Gunn (J. August Richards), who's potentially one of the most interesting characters on Angel, but has a tendency to fade into the background because he's perhaps not as immediately comical or entertaining as the others. "THAT OLD GANG OF MINE" was a minor highlight of this third season, as Gunn's street crew of demon-killers made a surprise return, although in his absence Gunn's stunned to discover his right-hand man Rondell's (Jarrod Crawford) lost sight of their core values after the arrival of Miami hardliner Gio (Khalil Kain)...

It was interesting to note how Gunn's ethics have changed since he joined Angel Investigations; now he frequents demon bars and works with a vampire. The episode did a very nice job dramatising how Gunn feels torn between nostalgia for his gangland days (when distinctions between right-and-wrong/good-and-evil were clearer), and his more complex role helping Angel (David Boreanaz) fight evildoers that may target innocent, law-abiding demons—such as underworld snitch Merl (Matthew James).

Gio was one of the better villains the show's given us, too, with his tough position on demons that felt believable; the result of bad experiences, ignorance and racism. There was no overlooking the irony of Gunn's cronies all coming from ethnic backgrounds, themselves, which made their own prejudices feel even more disappointing to behold. Ultimately, "That Old Gang of Mine" boiled down to a hostage crisis at the Caritas bar—which we discovered is enchanted to prevent demonic violence, lending Gio's cronies the upper-hand when they gatecrashed the karaoke and proceeded to fill various demons with lead. More could have been done to explore the central argument, and I wanted Rondell to enjoy more of an awakening to the intolerance Gio preaches, but for the most part I enjoyed "That Old Gang of Mine"—especially how Gunn came to realise he's on Angel's side, but can't quite see him as a friend. That little detail should give their relationship added pep in future episodes, as one expects Gunn's attitude to gradually soften.


written by Tim Minear | directed by Fred Keller | 8 October 2001 | The WB

MARCUS: You! You don't deserve that body!
ANGEL: Funny. I was gonna say the same thing to you. I'll tell you why you have a weak heart, Marcus. You never use it.
One of the funniest episodes in ages was "CARPE NOCTEM", which didn't actually start very promisingly but soon developed into something very entertaining. The problem with U.S television shows like Angel is they're bred for longevity, so most episodes adhere to a set formula—usually the gang investigating and vanquishing a demon. So it's great whenever the show does something different, and this was a rare episode where the team tackles an outside force, unaware it's invaded their close-knit group.

While investigating a series of bizarre murders across the city (where various handsome men were found drained of energy, skin crumpled on the floor), Angel unwittingly made contact with the culprit across the street from a gym—elderly Marcus Roscoe (Rance Howard), a retiree in a nursing home who uses an occult trinket to swap bodies with sexier, younger men. Caught off-guard, Angel falls prey to Marcus and wakes up to find he's now in the old man's frail body, while crotchety Marcus absconds to abuse Angel's youth, strength, attractiveness, and unexpected abilities...

I've seen variations of the 'body-swap episode' a hundred times before, but they're a reliable crowdpleaser. "Carpe Noctem" gave David Boreanaz the chance to play a cocky, sexually voracious version of Angel, and the script by Scott Murphy delivered plenty of amusing scenarios—from Angel chatting-up an unimpressed Cordelia, to him mistaking Wes (Alexis Denisof) as the "Fred" he needs to "break up with", and his eventual realisation of his vampiric nature and godlike status when wooing girls at a night club.

Boreanaz was a lot of fun here, too, but I'm glad the story put the emphasis on his character—because, predictably, the flipside of the real Angel struggling to escape from an old folk's home wasn't very compelling. This was partly down to guest-star Rance Howard (father of actor-director Ron) being less able to mimic Boreanaz's body-language and speech patterns—either because he hasn't seen enough of the show to have picked up on anything, or there's just not much about Angel that's instantly identifiable below the surface. Uh, take your pick.

Despite a few weaknesses, this episode was hugely entertaining and delivered all the fun expected of it. I especially enjoyed seeing Lilah Morgan (Stephanie Romanov) fall for the Marcus-Angel's charms at his office, and the way the show has started to treat Fred as someone slightly more interesting than a lovestruck shut-in.


written by Scott Murphy | directed by James A. Contner | 15 October 2001 | The WB