Shiny Shelf

Angel: Spin The Bottle

By Jim Smith on 05 March 2003

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

So it takes the UK premiere an episode written and directed by creator/hero/the don Joss Whedon to get shiny shelf back into the Angel reviewing saddle, eh? Damn straight it does.

‘Angel’ hasn’t been bad this year, far from it, but it hasn’t – for this reviewer at least – been terribly compulsive either, not something you want to write about on a weekly basis. Not even, to be honest, something particularly keenly anticipated. A storming season opener aside the series has pootled along, providing entertainment and the odd blind alley (the Cordy/Conner Oedipal thing is dull as dull can be) but it’s never quite entered the ‘counting the hours until the next episode’ territory inhabited by ‘Buffy’, ‘The West Wing’, ‘24′ et al.

Well kids, the big boss man is in sole charge for one week only. So, what happens? Well, ‘Spin The Bottle’ is a high-concept show and one with more than a bit in common with Season Six ‘Buffy’ highlight ‘Tabula Rasa’. Yes, the gang (including the estranged Wesley) all lose their memories, reverting to adolescent versions of themselves. Actually, that makes it sound like Season Three ‘Buffy’ episode ‘Band Candy’. Isn’t it weird that these series have been going so long that a character we first met as an adolescent can now have an episode where they revert to adolescence? I think I need a lie down.

Anyway, it’s a real actors’ piece this, with all the regulars clearly enjoying the chance to play theme and variation on their well-worn chracterisations. Wesley devolves into a cross between his Season Three ‘Buffy’ performance and the head boy smugness of that bleach-blond git from ‘Harry Potter & The Yada Yada Whatever’ and it’s a shock after the ‘Die Hard’ Wesley we’ve got used to this year. Charisma Carpenter gets to play Cordy the way she started out doing, Gunn gets more aggressive and Fred extends her accent a few more miles into Texas. Boreanaz, mercifully, eschews the chance to Blarney-Oirish it and instead adds another layer, Liam-as-scared, Liam-as-victim. It’s nicely judged, but then Boreanaz’s best performances have always tended to be those created under Whedon’s direction.

Whedon’s direction is, actually, the real joy of this episode. Check out the lighting on Lorne in the framing sequences or the big sweeping camera arcs or the smart discontinuous editing. Check out Lorne talking to camera out-of-time with the action (it’s like Goddard or something), the gloriously chaotic scene where Angel/Liam sees the cars rushing by outside the hotel and the swimmy camera work as Gunn susses out what’s what.

The script, although scarcely innovative by Whedon’s own standards, is a solid piece. More, it’s one which uses the characters and its own conceit effectively, and its structure – which allows for an extreme change in mood between the tense opening scenes and the sitcom of the middle third – is both unusual and deftly handled. There’s much continuity and plenty comedy too, all of which is welcome. What the piece lacks is catharsis, I think. The bookends (Cordy and Angel’s ‘Were we in love?’ conversations) are very impressive, but at the end we’re left with more questions, more run ons and no definitive statements. Much as ‘Waiting In The Wings’ was robbed of its potential iconic, standalone status by the (otherwise much welcome) intrusion of Groo in the final moments, the deferred conclusion here seems to add strength to the series but perhaps robs it from the episode in the process.

Not the best Whedon/Whedon I’ll grant you, but damn fine telly all the same.

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