Written by: David Fury and Jeannine Renshaw
Directed by: James A. Contner
ANGEL is, for the moment at least, essentially an anthology series with a series
of free-standing stories, it depends principally upon continuity of character to
give it some sort of unity. The
fact that it has been so successful at this sort of continuity represents one of
the series’ strengths. We should
not, therefore, be too surprised that the episode which follows Doyle’s death
concentrates heavily upon the aftermath of that event, acting as a sort of
bridge between the Doyle and post-Doyle eras.
know there are still many who hope for a return for the little half-demon but
the very first scene was a clue to the writers’ intentions in this respect.
The most obvious way to bring Doyle back was to pull another IWRY time
stunt. So Angel’s trip to the
Oracles was fairly clearly intended to close that option off right away.
That was actually the “door closing” that the Oracles were referring
to. And indeed for the purposes of “Parting Gifts” it was a
very necessary prelude. I mean the
whole point of an episode about Doyle’s passing would have been compromised if
the audience spent most of its time thinking that maybe he wasn’t gone at all.
this point I would just like to add that scene like this make very good use of
the Oracles. I know that a lot of
people don’t like them (principally I suppose because of the way they look).
Still they seem to me to strike precisely the right note of moral
ambiguity to leave open all sorts of interesting possibilities.
They are after all supposed to be on the side of good but they come
across as arrogant, emotionless and manipulative.
For them the friendship between Angel and Doyle was “of no
consequence”. The important
point was the war and Doyle’s part in that was now ended.
That part was in atonement for what were deemed to be his sins, even
though as I observed in Hero his failure hardly merited the sort of atonement
the Oracles were talking about. In
any event we were left with the distinct impression that the Oracles could care
less about the “lower beings” they used in their war and this, for me,
created an uncomfortable feeling that perhaps TPTB had some agenda of their own
and were not quite as benign as they might have earlier appeared.
technique, which Angel has used to very good effect, is to give us a scene at or
near the beginning of an episode and then have another scene at the end which
echoes it. So here we first see
Cordelia looking for “Doyle’s special coffee mug”, only to be told he
didn’t have one. It is a regret
to her that he didn’t leave anything behind.
It was almost as if he never existed.
Then, at the end, she is framing a picture of the “ugly, gray, blobby
thing” as a reminder that something of Doyle’s is still in the office –
her visions. In this contrast
the writers give us the theme of the episode: that Doyle had left behind him a
legacy, a “parting gift”. But
that “parting gift” to Angel and Cordelia was more than just the visions.
His departure affected them both and helped shape the way they related
not only to one another but to Wesley also.
In that sense there was great symbolic meaning in the title of the
episode and in the legacy of the visions themselves.
was the interventions of Barney the empathy demon, and to a lesser extent
Wesley, that was the nexus between these the opening and closing scenes.
The effect of these interventions was to bring about very significant
changes in attitude on the part of both Cordelia and especially Angel, not so
much towards Doyle but towards their futures without him.
And it is here that we find the real story of “Parting Gifts”.
the beginning Cordelia, at least at first sight, was dealing with Doyle’s
death. Her regret was evident and
heartfelt, as witnessed by her statement about the lack of even a coffee mug as
a reminder of him:
her concern for Angel is real. But
she was always a very practical and self-possessed person.
And she always remembers that if you didn’t look after yourself no one
else would do it for you. So, in
spite of her suspicion that Angel was withdrawing into himself she can’t quite
forget about her commercial on the grounds that it was a national.
was why, when she had her first vision and realized its source, her regret at
Doyle’s loss was entirely forgotten in her annoyance at what he had done to
“Damn, I can’t believe he did this to me!”
“Who did what?”
“Doyle! I thought our kiss meant something, and instead he - he used
that moment to pass it on to me! Why couldn’t it have been mono or herpes!”
her first reaction was to try to get rid of her unwanted gift.
she could see was the inconvenience and the burden of the visions.
It was Barney who, in his kinder, gentler manifestation, pointed out that
the visions may have been the only thing of value Doyle had to pass on.
The nice thing here is that in many ways this is a faithful reflection of
Cordelia’s attitude to Doyle. She
was so concerned with considerations of what was, from a practical point of
view, best for her that she did give Doyle the consideration he was due. And this is what is knowing away at her.
As Barney later points out to her very forcefully:
is, of course, exaggerating but there is evidently truth in what he is saying.
After all an outright lie on his part would not have resonated with
Cordelia at all. What he was saying
had enough truth in it to hurt her. And
what Barney said (together with the fact that her vision actually saved her own
life as well as putting it in jeopardy in the fist place) seems to have made her
think differently about her newly found “gift”.
Certainly by the end of the episode she has accepted it, albeit
grudgingly and is busily framing the drawing of what she saw in her vision.
Certainly the symbolism seems to me to be fairly plain.
By accepting Doyle’s gift with fairly good grace she was accepting that
her personal convenience was not the be all and end of everything and that she
did owe some form of obligation to others.
At the beginning she said she had nothing to atone for. Perhaps her new attitude to the gift was in part acceptance
that she did have something to atone for. In
effect she was accepting that she had been wrong in the way she had treated
Doyle and this was the way of making up for this.
the beginning of “Parting Gifts”, Angel is more obviously suffering.
He pushes Cordelia away because if he did otherwise he would be forced to
share his feelings. And the closer the two of them become the greater risk of him
suffering yet more emotional pain. But
there is far more involved here than a mere sense of loss.
There are also feelings of guilt. These
are most clearly manifested in Angel’s reluctance to take Wesley with him when
he looked for the Kungai demon:
interesting thing here is that Wesley was not especially important to him.
He did not particularly care if he lived or died. Rather his reluctance
to have him along was a reflection of his feelings of responsibility for
allowing Doyle’s death. And
those feelings of responsibility must have been very real.
After all, Doyle died in place of Angel and because Angel allowed himself
to be taken by surprise and knocked down.
of these reactions could not survive the shock of Cordelia’s kidnapping.
That brought Angel face to face with the reality that he could not loose
Cordelia as well. It was too late
to protect himself through emotional isolation.
Furthermore he also realized that he couldn’t do everything on his own.
He needed Wesley’s help to rescue her.
for Angel just as much as Cordelia the events triggered by Barney marked a
turning point. First of all he was
forced to accept that his attempt to cut himself off from human contact and
retreat back into his shell was now doomed to failure.
Secondly, and just as importantly, Angel also begins to come to terms
with his feelings of guilt. These
were built on the idea that he should have prevented Doyle’s death.
But in accepting help from Wesley Angel is implicitly accepting that he
cannot do everything on his own. And
that tacit acceptance of his limits is
itself recognition that Doyle’s death too was beyond his power to control.
Above all, in the rescue of Cordelia, her trust in Angel (“I never doubted for
a minute that you would find me”), Angel’s working relationship with Wesley
and the little breakfast scene at the end we see a deliberate effort to rebuilt
what had been shattered – the “family” unit.
Only this time the dynamic is different.
Instead of having Doyle as the connection between Angel and Cordelia, the
relationship between those two now seems destined to become central to the
series. So, Angel and Cordelia learn to deal with the implications of
Doyle’s death, both in terms of their own personal response and in
terms of their relationships with each other and Wesley.
have said relatively little about Wesley to date.
There was some good use of him in this episode.
I think that our realization that Wesley was the relentless demon hunter
Barney described was supposed to be funny, although I didn’t find it
especially so. He was more
effective as the point around which Angel’s feelings of guilt turned.
He first refused to work with Wesley for fear of getting him killed.
But Wesley does have genuine “Watcher skills” and Angel’s
realization that he needed help to save Cordelia convinced him that he did after
all need to work with someone. Finally,
although Wesley was never intended as a direct replacement for Doyle (the
characters are too dissimilar) he
did physically fill an empty chair at the breakfast table thus helping in the
symbolic reformation of Angel’s little group.
The really good thing about this scene is that it was not just an
afterthought. I think that the
writers were drawing parallels between Angel and Wesley.
Angel held himself accountable for his failure to save Doyle.
Wesley held himself accountable for his own more profound failings and as
a result had lost all self-respect. The
help he was able to give Angel made the latter realize he couldn’t do
everything himself but it also enabled him to regain some of that self-respect
and Angel’s gesture in acknowledging that help and accepting him at his table
were very important in that respect.
a story which is about personal relationships in several different senses what I
liked most in all of this was the way things were underplayed.
This was typified by the first scene between Angel and Cordelia when the
latter came out as the slightly bossy elder sister.
Then there was Angel’s stunned disbelief on learning that Cordelia was
his link to the Powers and his exasperation at her attitude to her gift. You
could almost see him saying to himself “Cordelia, of all people…”.
Even the breakfast scene at the end, which could have been very mawkish,
was played principally for the humor and was all the better for it.
Because of this approach the grief and vulnerability of both main
characters is hinted at rather than openly displayed.
This makes the contrast between the surface control both main characters
try to display and their inner turmoil both more real and believable.
In this the writers are greatly added by some more fine performances from
both DB and CC.
thing I liked most about the plot was the way we, as viewers, were constantly
trying to keep up with it as it developed and changed. First of all we had Barney as a victim hunted by a
relentless demon hunter. The
mystery seemed to be who was the demon hunter and why was he after Barney. His early protestations of innocence are quite believable
principally because he looks shady but insignificant
(actually a little Doyle-esque). And so we tend to assume that the black leather clad motor
cyclist is in fact the vllain, only to discover – its Wesley!
From him we get information about a particularly nasty demon he has been
description of this villain doesn’t match Barney at all.
It then turns out that Wesley has in fact been following a Kungai demon
and suspicion is even more firmly pointed at him as villain of the piece when he
ambushes Angel and Wesley. This
leads quite naturally to the conclusion Angel and Barney reach:
task then becomes one of finding the demon and stopping it.
But then just as Barney seems to confirm his basic decency by helping
Cordelia to see her inheritance from Doyle in a positive way he is revealed to
be the demon stealing powers and the Kungai is his victim.
was all a bit like pealing away the skin of an onion. Just when we thought we understood what was going on
another layer was removed and we were forced to re-evaluate everything that had
gone on before on the light of this earlier revelation. These are the sort of plot twists that Angel has made a
specialty of. Of course the seeming
innocent who turns out to be the real villain is something of a cliché in SF
and fantasy but I think that it still works well here principally because of
Barney. There is no jarring
discontinuity in character before and after the “switch” in personality.
He is the same shady “wheeler-dealer” type. But despite this he makes
a very credible change from hunted to hunter because his seeming insignificance
allows him to insinuate his way into a position of trust and betray it.
Heck, we saw him do this and we fell for it just like everyone else did.
was a degree of contrivance in the way that Angel tracked down the place where
Cordelia was being held but I didn’t really mind that.
First of all I liked the irony of Cordelia having a vision and
complaining about it when it was in fact to help save her life.
More importantly, however, the auction itself was an inspired idea.
In it we were presented with a spectacle that was both humorous and
deadly serious at the same time. The
progress of the auction intercut with scene of Wesley and Angel trying to find
it gave a very effective sense of a race against time and Cordelia’s effort to
stave off the inevitable in the form of trying to drive up her own price added
both humor and considerable tension. There
was, I think, only one thing that diminished it as a climax to the episode.
As I have already said Barney made a very interesting and believable
villain but, once unmasked, he carried no real
threat. The very face of
Angel’s arrival at the auction effectively ended proceedings and it would have
added to things if the outcome of the battle had been in even a little doubt.
“Parting Gifts” is a very good example of how to use a story as a
vehicle in character study. There
is believable progression and change which is the outgrowth of the story itself
but which has a far more general significance for our characters. The problem is that in character terms “Angel and Cordelia
adjust after Doyle’s death” was never going to deliver an especially
powerful punch. So, the character
developments, while interesting and believable in context, are fairly limited in
terms of impact. Nor is
the plot very innovative. Even
with the twists, it quickly resolves itself into a standard “rescue”.
But the episode, while failing to reach any great heights, was a very
entertaining hour complete with humor, drama and action which also managed to
create some interesting and believable character developments which are
obviously intended to set the dynamics of the show up for the post-Doyle era.
The one thing I did not like at all was the slapstick element to the way
Wesley’s character was handled. I
thought that the knife taped to the ankle was a particularly clumsy device
intended to elicit humor. Buster
Keaton does slapstick. I do not see
it working on “Angel”.