Why is it that I’ll easily forgive “Spin the Bottle” for going back to an old well in the same week that I lambaste “Him” for doing the same thing? We’ve seen Whedon characters forget themselves in one way or another even more often than we’ve seen them under love spells but this episode still feels… I wont say “fresh” but it’s certainly not stale. This is a far better episode than “Him.”. The jokes land and the action pops and that’s enough to make me forgive the warmed over premise. More importantly, this episode uses the old trick to new effect by actually having something to say about the characters; who they are is not the independent thing they like to think it is, its bound up both in who they were and who they’re with.
This episode illustrates just how presumptive the gang’s been in their efforts to bring back the old Cordy as there’s never any question that this is who she “really” is. Getting the old old Cordy instead isn’t just a reminder of who she used to be, it’s a reminder of who she could’ve been. The snippy bitch didn’t just vanish over night, she was eroded by being surrounded by first the Scoobies and then AI. This Cordelia is no less real than the one we knew last season.
Looking at the other character who seems to have changed the most since their first appearance, Wes also illustrates just how much identity is driven by relationships. The clumsy, incompetent teenager is pretty close to the Watcher we knew in Sunnydale and he reveals that Wesley’s weaknesses are rooted in a deep insecurity. It’s only after he became confident in his friendships that Wes stopped being such an ass and it’s only after he stopped caring about those friendships that he became an even bigger one. Regardless of the apparent scope of the changes, he’s still just reacting to the way others treat him.
Gunn’s transition also serves to support the idea that we’re defined by our relationships as much as our past as were reminded that the newfound chip on his “just the muscle” shoulder used to be a lot bigger. Gunn softened over the years as he was surrounded by people he could lean on and his thug roots start to show when those relationships are threatened.
Fred… Well, Fred was a pot head, and that’s funny.
Angel gives us the best illustration of all of the impact relationships have on us. Liam is Angel without the baggage. The lack of guilt keeps him from brooding, but this teenager still bears little resemblance to even the happy Angel. His reaction to learning that he’s a monster is one of fear and bewilderment and when everyone starts telling him he’s evil he doesn’t feel bad about it, he embraces it. Recall that this amnesiac Angel still has a soul. It’s not guilt that drives him to be good, it’s the love and support of his friends.
The other element of this episode that I really love is Angel ranting against his father. As I’ve mentioned before, this is why I have so much sympathy for Connor. Angel’s our hero, his moralizing is part of what makes us love him, but that doesn’t make it what a teenage son needs to hear. I’m reminded of strongly of “The Prodigal,” where Angel’s own father clearly loves, but has absolutely no clue how to talk to him.
Apparently, seeing the old Wes is not just the best part of this episode, it was the primary motivation for it.
As always, Lorne’s great here, though the narration does need to work pretty hard to tie Connor’s subplot into the main one.
“I had my throat cut and all of my friends abandoned me.” Love that line