I’d forgotten what a fantastic episode “That Old Gang of Mine” is. I’ve complained plenty about Gunn but the root of the problem isn’t his character, it’s the fact that he’s seldom given anything to do. As this episode demonstrates, Gunn’s as compelling as anyone else at Angel Investigations when he’s given a story of consequence. What’s really surprising here is that we’re able to sympathize with Gunn without sharing his dilemma. The Angelverse has long established that demons aren’t all evil. Some work for the Powers, others are just average Joes. So it’s no stretch for us to accept that some might become innocent victims. But then, Charles’ problem isn’t denying that demons can be people, it’s accepting that people can be monsters.
Killing of Merle is hardly surprising in retrospect; as a minor recurring character he’s actually an ideal candidate for some stakes-elevating murder but it still caught me off guard the first time around. It’s placement has a lot to do with that as Merle deserved more than a cold-open fatality. If that’s not enough of a hook, there’s the grisly nature of this kill. Angel seems to have upped the gore factor, but blood splashing on walls is still unprecedented. It’s a smart way to start the episode as Merle puts a “human” face on the other demon-victims in this episode.
Merle’s death is meant to disturb, and this darkness is carried on throughout the rest of the episode. We get another grisly murder in an apartment, blood (red this time) splashed on a Big Gulp, and a very dark climax in Caritas. Lorne’s bar has always been a safe space in the Angelverse, someplace that invariably delivers the funny along with occasional character insights. I don’t think that “profane” is overstating what Gio and company do to it. The carnage here is upsetting, and it’s enough to make you think that something truly unpleasant may actually happen to one of our principals.
Gunn’s former crew have become the monsters here and you could see their unrestrained hatred as a more extreme expression on Gunn’s own prejudice. But Gunn doesn’t. His takeaway isn’t “love your vampire brother,” it’s that the mission isn’t what matters. Angel can’t be his friend because of what he is and Gunn’s not really apologetic for that fact. He shares his crew’s anger and, as Lorne suggests, Gio’s guilt but he’s directing those things towards helping people. This trumps hatred not because demons aren’t all monsters, but because it’s what keeps Gunn from becoming one.
The scene at Caritas really is surprisingly dark. I particularly liked Gio’s rendition of “Beneath My Wings.” It was a good way to underscore just how batshit crazy this guy is. I also particular like the fact that the bar patrons aren’t merely benign demons. Should Gunn really be defending the baby eaters?
This episode also contained the first great Fred moment as she turned the crossbow on Gio after making us think she might actually shoot Angel.
Great moment for Wes too when he tells Gunn he’ll fire him if he ever withholds information again.
I was surprised to learn that Tim Minear “loathed” the script for this episode. I wish I could dig up some more specifics regarding why.
Who didn’t love seeing Gio get his head torn off?