First Impressions • S02E03 • TPN’s Angel Guide

H’o…kay…my feelings on “First Impressions”
are…complicated. Typically, I consume media in one of two ways. There’s the bingey, “chewing through episodes
to get to the meat of the story” kind of watch. Then there is the 3-4 hour rewatch while taking
notes to review type of watch I do. Each type of consumption tends to net drastically
different results and I’ve mentioned a number of times how watching an episode for the purposes
of making a video about it has allowed me to appreciate levels of depth and connections
I’d missed before and elevated my experience of it. But the experience I had with… “First Impressions”, an episode I’d
found irksome during rewatches was…unexpected. Joss Whedon has said that he created Buffy
as a feminist parable: the journey of an adolescent girl transitioning into adulthood, and the
trials she would face on her path. Given Mutant Enemy’s regular emphasis on
theme and the protagonist of Angel being a dude, it was inevitable that the topic and
questions about masculinity would come up in some form. Frankly, I find the idea exciting! A corresponding discussion of masculinity
strikes me as a necessary and important balance. Nature abhors a vacuum and because of that,
it isn’t enough for reformist social movements to just tear down the old ways of doing things. New models need to be put in their place. People can’t just be told what NOT to be. A discussion of what is strong healthy masculinity
in a changed society is an important thing. All of that said, I think “First Impressions”
ends up wandering into that discussion, and a few other topics, accidentally and, in doing
so, mires what is otherwise a pretty entertaining and fun episode. Summary
Lorne seems to indicate that Angel has been visiting Caritas frequently. I know that Buffyverse storytelling traditionally
shies away from the use of therapy as a storytelling tool
“Well… love becomes your master and you’re just it’s dog.” Aaaand he’s dead. BUT as I’ve said, I actually…kind of enjoy
therapy in storytelling, and I love the manner in which Lorne works as Angel’s counsellor. In this case, it’s a dream sequence and
Angel’s revealed desire to actually be praised for his singing is pretty adorable. “You’ve been practicing?” – “I have.” – “It shows.” – “Really?” Lorne tells Angel he’s reached a bend in
his journey but doesn’t offer much clarity as to what that means. He then opens into a beautiful rendition of
“Get Here” by Brenda Russell. And the camera moves across the club revealing
the bend…er…girl, in question… Darla! I was afraid you weren’t coming. Through this very cool one’r, where the
bar goes from packed to having no one on the floor except Darla and Angel, the dream is
revealed. The romance of Darla’s red dress, Angel’s
school boy smile, and Andy Hallet’s sweet dulcet tones is actually lovely, though, imagining
all of the extras having to run offstage camera right to pull this off is…kind of hilarious. Cordy and Wes are dusting (literally this
time) the new digs of Angel Investigations when Gunn shows up with a problem. Deevak? Gunn: Demon. Setup camp in my neighborhood. He put two of my men in the hospital last
night. Angel has apparently been dealing with a bout
of whatever the opposite of insomnia is so Wes and Cordy offer to help. I’m going to need the serious muscle. On cue, in comes David Nabbit. The ensemble all get introduced and David
reveals his super power when Angel asks for financial advice for the Hyperion. “Oh, that’s easy.” “Is anybody else getting warm?” …yeah a little actually. This whole sequence is great. This post credits opening scene feels like
a stabilizing, “Here are our characters for this season,” type of moment after the
ups and downs of the previous two episodes. And this moment of Nabbit’s competence was
his first in any of his episodes where I felt a glimmer of why the writers had been bringing
him back from time to time, other than to just be a foil for Cordy. He never really felt like he fit the current
template of the show until this moment. His super power is WAY more interesting than
the silly nerd bit. Too little too late I suppose, as this ended
up being his last appearance. Gunn’s informant on Vlade Deevak gets squirrely
and tries to back out. Gunn understands and takes it all in stride. A fight ensues – all a little hyper-edited,
but if you watch closely, I love the use of the practical dust when Cordy gets stakey. Gunn gets impatient with the team’s need
for some recovery and goes off on his own. Cordy and Dennis have become the best of roommates. As ever, I love any and all Dennis stuff. Cordy has a vision involving Gunn, can’t
raise a slumbering Angel (who is dreaming of Darla again,) and so sets off to find him
herself. Dream Darla indicates she has to go and makes
a…curious statement… “I’m in danger.” – “I’ll protect you.” – “You can’t. You’re too busy protecting everyone else.” Wesley wakes Angel who reacts…unexpectedly. “You made her go away!” This is another example of the ‘shot in
16:9 but intended for 4:3’ issue I brought up in “Judgement”. Angel the character is naked in this sequence
but David can be seen wearing boxers that were supposed to be cropped out. “Now about the naked thing.” Would it’ve been too much to ask for a little
Boreanaz butt? It’s not like we haven’t seen it. *wet floppy naked Angel. Cordy gets the Angel-mobile stolen and Gunn
thinks he has a contact who will know who did it. The contact in question points them in a direction,
but has already been taken under Vlade Deevak’s wing. Gunn-delia heads to a party that gets attacked
by Vlade’s vamps. Cordy goes Cordy on the car thief and finds
out where the Angel-mobile is. At Vlade’s chop shop the pair are attacked. Wes and Hot Pink Angel show up to back them. Then…in…what feels like an unintentionally
comical sequence (did…did you really need the extra front flip Angel? L.A.’s CHANGED you man) Vlade takes an axe
to the head. And, in a moment that feels a little ‘The
More You Know,’ Cordy tells Gunn her visions were warning her that he was actually the
threat to himself. “I ain’t buying none of this Dion Warwick
crap.” Really? I mean…because you live in a world with
vampires and monsters and stuff. And with a woman that gets actual visions
of the future. And…THIS? This is what you don’t buy? Buuuuut…it’s all a defense mechanism and
Cordy manages to tear down the uber-masculine front for just a moment
“Hey…how about that thank you?” Angel retreats back into his dreamworld haven
with Darla. “But…who takes care of you?” – “You do.” And the episode ends with some implied dream
oral and the reveal that Darla is actually there in the room with him… Review (throughlines)
Honestly, the previous episode, ‘Are You Now or Have You Ever Been,’ is probably
as “Hush,” or “The Body,” as Angel gets. A captivating high-brow stylistic departure
from the norm that generally causes me to wonder, “Wait…what was the episode after
that?” “First Impressions” is an outing I tend
to forget about but still find pretty entertaining. It’s a lot more like the first episode of
the season, “Judgement” and has many of the same hallmarks. The show’s total composition of acting,
design, and overall storytelling just continues to feel more and more confident – and this
episode has a ton of neat little elements I loved the surprise of Angel head butting
a woman to reveal she was a vampire.. And the team suffering aches and pains after
the episode’s first vampire fight is one of the moments that makes Angel feel unique
to Buffy. Similar to its use of viscera I brought up
last season. Seeing the team spent and deflated gives Angel
a little more grounded and gritty feel. Whereas on Buffy, injuries, typically Xander’s,
are played more often for yucks. The episode is telling essentially two separate
stories. One about Darla and Angel (which is the one
with the whiff of season arc to it) and the other about Gunn’s Deevak problems. There is some overlap of course, through the
incorporation of foreshadowing, but they’re mostly distinct from each other and you sense
that when watching. So, with the aid of Wolfram and Hart, Darla
is invading Angel’s dreams every night tooooo….snuggle him to death? “Not a great plan.” WELL…all right. Hang on a moment. Dream Darla continues her character’s reinvention
from Darley Quinn of Buffy Season 1 into something FAR more interesting. Her machinations in this episode are subtle
and conniving in a perfectly wonderful way. Clearly Darla is present and aware in the
dreams “Have you told anyone about us?” But isn’t doing anything particularly nefarious. So, what’s going on? Well one line of Angel’s in particular made
something click for me: Why are you so good to me? After everything I’ve done.”
…and I thought, MAN…Darla’s being soooo…comforting. Wait a second. I want to take comfort in you, and I know
it will cost me my soul and a part of me doesn’t care. OHHHHHHHH….sneaky, sneaky. Darla has structured her seduction here VERY
much around the aspects of Angel’s more…selfish and impulsive feelings for Buffy that The
First tried to manipulate him with in “Amends” The First: “Take her.” The First: “Think of the peace…” The desire for comfort. Satisfaction. Peace. And Darla already tried to connect herself
with Buffy when she and Angel first saw each other again in Sunnydale. 1×07 School girl outfit. 19:00
In Angel’s dreams here, she even happens to run ice across his chest… “Uh oh…mortal coordination…” It tracks that Angel would still be vulnerable
to this kind of attack. In the first season Angel’s continued longing
for Buffy’s companionship showed up quite a few times. “She was a hotty girl…” I’ll never forget
And I mean, sure they had some squabbles in “Sanctuary”, but Angel went to Sunnydale,
punched Riley in the everything, apologized, and left on good terms. Angel’s path to this episode is a chosen
one, but he and Buffy didn’t part ways because they fell out of love. And Darla playing on those desires that move
Angel towards the dark through the medium of dreaming, where we are emotionally defenseless
and vulnerable, makes the attack even more unnerving. She’s also building resentment towards the
rest of the team. “Hey honey, save any lives today? […] Did any of your friends say thank you? 6
Angel’s reaction to Darla, even in dream form, shows actual joy at seeing her. He smiles like a kid with his crush. Her stroking his selfish desires is working. The lyrics to the Brenda Russell love ballad
in Angel’s dream have an almost furious self-interested focus when not being sung
by Andy Hallet’s beautiful voice. I can’t wait another day,
I need you right here, right now. Right here, right now
I need, I need I want you to get here
And, indeed, Angel obliges by sleeping more and more. The other story in this one revolves around
Gunn-Delia. The title, “First Impressions”, is probably
a reference to Pride and Prejudice, originally named First Impressions before publication. Like Cordy and Gunn’s journey here, Austen’s
novel is about two very different people spending time together and revising their first impressions. And this is the second Angel title to reference
Jane Austen after the previous “Sense & Sensitivity”. On the surface of it, their odyssey through
Gunn’s Neverland may look entirely like a Gunn-centric tale. Gunn does several things that appear he is
letting the battle itself overwhelm his ethical compass. From beating a snitch for just not wanting
to talk. “I got people dying”
And after Team Angel pleads for a regroup and maybe a healing salve Gunn gets impatient
with them and immediately chooses to go off on his own. The weight of the dark world he has to face
keeps pushing him to extreme measures he thinks he has to take in order to win. And I was reminded of Angel succumbing to
his dark impulses in “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been”. “Take ‘em all.” In fact, Demon Deevak SPECIFICALLY makes a
comparison between he and Gunn. “How does it feel to meet up with someone
even nastier than you?” And Divac wearing a similar shade of red,
albeit one that has been dirtied and worn over time, is a nice visual reenforcement
of their connection. And his assuming human form further blurs
the line between man and demon. But Cordelia actually has a wonderful little
arc of her own in this one as well. 7
I’ve pointed out several signposts on her journey since the show started but it’s
important to always recognize that Cordy is always Cordy
“I’m a bitch.” Her story in the battle has been more about
figuring out where that person belongs as she comes to understand the stakes and the
scope of others suffering. “We have to help them Angel.” Don’t be embarrassed, we’re family.” And in this episode we get a quick taste of
how Cordy is always Cordy. “Grease stains all over my new outfit.” But when the vision of Gunn comes and she
can’t find Angel, Cordy never hesitates and immediately sets out on her own, refuses
to let Gunn pressure her, and is calm and collected in the face of violence. To the point where, by the end of an episode
in which she started out by complaining about grime on an outfit, she is covered in the
blood of a woman she’d tried to save that she’d just met for the first time and it
barely seems to register. And, in that scene when she finds Gunn raging
over what has happened, he lets slip the driving source of his actions this episode. I can’t take it easy. I can never take it easy. The minute I do someone like Alonna pays the
price. Alonna? ….*pause
Doyle: Well we all got something to atone for. Whether he’s being driven by the need to
atone for what happened to his sister or the fear that the same fate may befall someone
else, Gunn has let the battle, and what the world has done to him, justify one particular
mode of action as inevitable. “I got people dying.” “I can never let my guard down.” Remember, there was no one in Cordy’s vision
of Gunn, except Gunn. And, Cordy finally gets through to him. “Deevak wasn’t the danger my vision was
warning me about. […] It’s how you live your life. You don’t just face danger you create it.” Lorne: “I know you’re feeling smooth and
in the groove. Isn’t that what comes before a fall?” At the end of their journey, Cordy and Gunn
have a new appreciation for each other. Though…Wesley and Gunn still remain a little
adversarial. “A please gets it’s done.” “Shotgun.” I’m sure they’ll work it out though. And that’s probably all the episode was
going for with this story. Gunn being fiercely independent, isolating
himself, abdicating his moral compass, Cordy telling him he needs support and…Gunn finally
accepting it. …buuuuut the problem is that Gunn’s language
in several places throughout this episode, qualifies his independence as specifically
masculine. “Always enhances a guy’s rep when a skinny
white beauty queen comes to his rescue.” And, in previous episodes he’s also related
his independence to race and class. “I don’t need help from some middle class
white dude that’s dead.” Once he starts doing that, the episode begins
to slip into a bit of theme soup, one where ingredients work against each other instead
of together. And the way Gunn’s dialogue is written,
he’s continuously tying the theme back to broader issues of race, class, and masculinity. “I gotta tell you you are one high maintenance
chick.” It’s not just Gunn though, the structure
of the episode as written starts muddling things up even more. David Nabbit was used in “War Zone” to
contrast with Gunn, so they could be the embodiment of the haves and have nots, respectively. David makes their connection explicit again
in this episode. “Identify yourself traveller. Are you also a fellow demon killer?” And Gunn later uses David as an argument for
why his decisions and way of life have to be the way they have to be. You think he became a billionaire by being
a good citizen?” And the series’ introduction to Gunn so
far makes things in this episode even more muddled. Gunn’s world has been continuously painted
as separate, distinct and somewhat unknowable by his white co-stars, as they constantly
stumble into awkward situations around him. “He’s a great guy with a really fly street
tag. – What’s he fly?” 25:30 Cordy’s “working girl”, racial
awkwardness in this episode is a repeat of that same joke. It’s intended to be self-deprecating as
Gunn and Veronica stand around and let the various white people dig their own grave but
it still has to work off the idea of “other” and “separate.” Not trying to see Gunn for who he is but defining
him by his circumstances. His very first episode made obvious symbolic
parallels to his life being like Peter Pan’s and his world to Neverland. And so, for all intents and purposes, Gunn
is from a magical dimension, impenetrable and alien to the rest of the cast. 9 What’s bizarre is that the previous episode,
“Are You Now”, handled Judy’s character with the exact opposite method the show has
dealt with Gunns. Rather than emphasizing how everyone is separate,
that episode tackled issues of race and homophobia by CONNECTING them to our main protagonist. Judy was half-white/half-black but passing
as white and feeling isolated and inauthentic for pretending to be someone she isn’t. She and Angel bond and the episode uses their
own mutual sense of isolation to emphasize their similarity and connection. “It’s just blood, Judy. It’s all just blood.” 10
By instead drawing a line between two worlds, the writers have been emphasizing separation,
inadvertently codifying one side as “normal” (and the other as strange and unknowable,)
and putting Gunn in the awkward position of figuring out how to move between them. And the world building here doesn’t do the
soup any favors as it plays on tired old stereotypes Yeah well business is business. You should think about minding your own. While simultaneously downplaying and deflecting
them “Just because I know some car thieves doesn’t
mean I am one.” So…carrying the bog of these accidental
connections to their fullest extent then, Gunn is a proud independent black man who
is taught the error of that fierce independence…by a young white woman? Yecch. And putting aside Gunn for a bit, once the
theme has been tied to masculinity, it inadvertently casts several other scenes in a weird and
confusing light. In an episode where Cordy is trying to show
Gunn the errors of his masculine independence, Wesley and Angel essentially engage in a Stake-measuring
contest. After Wesley refuses help from muscley, wang
out Angel who is standing over him in a dominating fashion, Wesley IN THEIR FOLLOWING SCENE feminizes
Angel by forcing the hot pink helmet on him (21:00). “Hop onboard, gorgeous.” I’m not sure exactly WHAT to make of Darla
in the soupy masculine/feminine context, as she dotes on Angel throughout in hyper romanticized
sequences, culminating with her giving him a blowjob. Again, I don’t really believe all the extra
racial and ferminine/masculine commentary was intended. Mostly it feels to me like the writers were
just using Gunn’s verbal fixation on gender, race, and class as a stock character affectation. When you limit the blast radius of what he
says to just that, Darla’s actions just look purely schemy again and Angel fussing
over hat head and the pink helmet, not his first display of fuss, is just funny. It’s actually one of my favorite occasionally
displayed traits of his. “You got peanut butter on the bed.” “And the reason there’s a wet towel on my
leather chair?” Problem is, throughout the episode guides
I’ve chosen to focus on the execution of any episode rather than speculating on intent. Sure, Faith saying Little Miss Muffet was
probably not INTENDED to be a reference to Dawn at the time. David Fury most likely saw that episode and
decided to add “curds and whey” into “Real Me” after the fact. But we’re talking about the shows as collective,
finished creations – regardless of what order the brush strokes went on the canvas. If we weren’t, holy hell would we be selling
Gunn’s character short here. In various interviews, the Mutant Enemy writers
have said that they never worked for a series that put as much emphasis on theme as Joss
demanded. And that’s one thing I love about these
shows. That’s ambitious and ambition is always
more interesting. Problem is, sometimes you just don’t stick
the landing. Contemporary discussions about ethnicity,
stereotypes, and tropes in storytelling often feel like a bit of mire. Are we NEVER supposed to have stories that
deal with questions of race, sexual violence, homosexuality, or gender? Of course we are. Weighing the value of their use though is,
to me, mostly a question of execution and payoff. Does the use of them find something new and
innovative to say? Does it turn the prism of our perspective
and reveal something interesting? Does it do the traditionally marginalized,
as with Judy, justice? In the case of “First Impressions”
“Can I get an apology?” …not so much. The two different worlds stuff eventually
works collectively over the series as part of Gunn’s arc and pays off in an interesting
fashion. The problem is that, in these early one-off
episodes it just feels so tired and on the nose. Generally, as they move Gunn away from those
stock archetypes which the writers don’t seem to know how to develop, his character
just becomes more interesting. That any of this material works NOW is a testament
to J. August Richards’ stunning charisma and that, other than the mish mash of ingredients
in the theme soup, this is a pretty entertaining episode. In fact, when I went back and watched “First
Impressions” a second time for this video without my laptop in front of me, I probably
enjoyed the episode more than I ever had previously. Because the elements of the story I found
ambiguously irksome were now clarified and understood. And that is really one of the rewards of having
this discussion in the first place. To clarify and understand what might’ve
been storytelling missteps and why they were, so we can say, all right. Cool. I get it. And then just enjoy the rest.

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