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1) This review will almost definitely contain spoilers for episodes after this one.
1) This review will almost definitely contain spoilers for episodes after this one.
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“First Impressions” isn’t a difficult episode to decipher its meaning or the point it’s trying to make. It’s about exactly what it suggests: first impressions, and how they might not always be what they seem. On the surface, Gunn is an arrogant, mean-spirited, quick to temper, volatile, and rather rude man that’s lived a difficult survivalist lifestyle thus far. However, underneath all of that, he’s a confused, conflicted, vulnerable guy that’s trying to do the best he can to keep his friends and the people around him alive for a day longer. He needs to be a hard ass to his crew to keep them alive. He can’t lead them and be friends with them. It simply doesn’t work that way. In contrast, on the surface, Jameel is a scared, intimidated, borderline coward, but in reality he’s the villain of the episode that’s pulling Gunn’s strings and trying to kill him because Gunn’s getting too big for his own good.
Honestly, this episode isn’t a favourite of mine. In fact, with the exception of “Happy Anniversary”, this might be my least favourite episode of the season. That’s not a knock on “First Impressions”. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the episode, but the rest of the season is so consistently strong that it’s hard to compare “First Impressions” to the likes of “The Trial”, “Reunion”, “Redefinition”, “Reprise”, “Epiphany”, and many more episodes that take place during the second season. While Gunn certainly isn’t a fan favourite, he is a character that I have a great amount of love for. I can empathise and relate to Gunn in a way that I can with few other characters in the Buffyverse. Gunn is relatively normal. He’s not a demon or vampire, he holds no superpowers, he doesn’t have a wide array of knowledge at his disposal like Wesley...he’s simply normal. A strong fighter, a leader, and a vampire hunter in his own right, but by Angel’s standards, he’s normal. “First Impressions” is Gunn’s first centric episode since season one’s “War Zone”. In that episode, Gunn’s sister Alonna was kidnapped by vampires, sired, and Gunn was forced to stake her. Here we are six months later and Gunn has closed off emotionally and has become harder on himself and the people that surround him. He’s lost the person he was closest to in the entire world and because of that he doesn’t know how to go on. I can relate to that more than I care to.
The episode opens with Angel dreaming about himself and Darla dancing in Caritas...with Lorne singing in the background. I get a great deal of satisfaction watching these two characters interact with each other because (as I said before) David and Julie have such fantastic chemistry together. You can just feel that they have hundreds of years of history, even if we haven’t seen them interact in the present much yet. It’s funny, in “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” season one, Angel and Darla’s relationship didn’t seem that interesting, nor did David and Julie have great chemistry. However, everything since the siring flashback in “Becoming Part One” has been gold. I know this is a controversial opinion, but I feel that Angel and Darla have better chemistry than Angel and anyone else, Buffy and Cordelia included. I don’t think Angel loves Darla more than he’s ever loved anyone (that distinction would go to Buffy) and I don’t think that Darla knows the real Angel better than anyone (that distinction would go to Cordy), but their chemistry together and the way they interact with each other and steal every scene they’re in is second to none. David and Julie just smoulder on screen together. It’s interesting that Angel’s dream is taking place in Caritas, a demon sanctuary. Angel’s subconscious mind knows that Darla and himself are safe from harm there. Angel knows that his friends wouldn’t approve of his feelings for Darla, so his mind has taken him to the one place he feels they’d be safe. In this dream and the subsequent dreams that take place during this episode, it becomes apparent that Darla is trying to isolate Angel from his friends and keep him distracted from helping the helpless. She wants to be the centre of his universe again. In later dreams, she tells Angel that his friends expect too much from him, she encourages him to not answer his cell phone when his friends call, and asks for him to stay with her instead. All of this is subtle foreshadowing of what is to come for Angel later in the season, when Angel fires his friends and throws away everything to hunt down a newly re-sired Darla and Drusilla. Darla and Angel’s dreams are so erotically charged because Angel has a lot of unresolved issues surrounding his sire. She made Angelus what he was. She shaped him, trained him, nurtured him...then he staked her to save Buffy. Remember, Darla is giving Angel these dreams through drugs. She wants Angel to be having sexual fantasises about her because it makes her job easier after he knows she’s back from the dead.
I know that it’s a dream, but I really hope the part about Angel practising singing in the shower is true because i get such joy out of that mental image...the singing part, not the Angel in the shower part...okay, maybe a little of both. It’s just funny to think that Mr. Broodypants sings in the shower. Plus, he kinda needs the practise. When he sang “Mandy” in “Judgment”, I felt like my ears were being violated. Also, Andy Hallett (Lorne) had pretty much zero acting experience before Lorne. He’d done the occasional acting job and worked as an extra every now and then (he’s one of the students behind Buffy at the beginning of “Hush”), but Lorne was his first substantial role outside of performing on stage as a singer...hell, Andy didn’t even have an agent until after “Judgment” first aired! Andy was the personal assistant of Kai Cole (Joss Whedon’s wife). After Joss and Andy went to a karaoke bar (oh, the irony) together and Joss heard Andy sing, he created the part of Lorne just for Andy. With that being said, I can’t believe how fantastic of an actor Andy Hallett is right from the beginning. He captures the essence of Lorne from the very first scene.
After grumpily waking from his Darla-filled dreams, Angel heads to the Hyperion Hotel lobby, where he finds David Nabitt (yay!) waiting for him. David is back for his third and final appearance on “Angel”. He’s at the Hyperion Hotel to give Angel financial advice so that Angel doesn’t have to pay taxes on the hotel. He talks about money and finances, Cordy gets bizarrely turned on by it, and David disappears into the daylight while wearing a purple cape! Who wears that outside during the day for no reason? COOL PEOPLE, THAT’S WHO! Soon after, Gunn asks for Angel’s help in tracking down Deevak – a demon that has been raising Hell in Gunn’s neighbourhood.
Cordelia: “Maybe we can help?”
Gunn: “You two? I find Deevak, I’m gonna need more than C-3PO and stick-figure Barbie backing me up...no offence.”
I’ve never realised before just how C-3PO like Wesley’s facial expressions and head movements can be sometimes. That’s hilarious.
Gunn: “It’s survival of the fittest, brah, and right now you’re not looking too fit.”
I hope this sentence doesn’t come back to bite Gunn in the ass later. What this shows the audience is that Gunn is a loose cannon at the moment. Make no mistake, Gunn is an ass for most of this episode. He hits Jameel for no good reason, he’s overly harsh to his gang, and he’s generally bad tempered. However, it’s totally understandable. Not only has Gunn been fighting vampires for his entire life with very little money and help, but he feels responsible for his sister’s death six months earlier. He can’t adjust to life without her and he can’t stop blaming himself for her death. He feels like he let his guard down for one second and in doing so his sister was kidnapped and murdered. He can’t let his guard down again, not ever. He has to be vigilant constantly in order to protect people...or so he feels. What I love about how this episode is written is that Gunn’s attitude and actions aren’t portrayed as unjust. His actions and attitude are both completely justified. Gunn has to be hard on people (including himself) to keep people alive and out of trouble...the problem is that in doing so, he’s alienating himself from his crew and making himself a marked man with other people in his neighbourhood. It’s why Deevak is after him, it’s why Cordelia receives a vision of Gunn in danger from himself. Gunn’s self-destructive attitude is going to get him killed.
Angel Investigations get into a massive fight with a group of vampires and they dispose of the vampires much less efficiently than they usually would. Angel has arm pain, Gunn has rib pain, Wesley has back pain, Cordelia...has grease stains. Why will Cordelia have a huge dry cleaning bill for her clothes? Angel has a washing machine and tumble dryer in the Hyperion. Oh God! What if Angel charges Cordelia to use it in order to buy blood from the butcher’s shop?! PLEASE LET THAT BE CANON! Angel is having trouble keeping focused on fighting and helping the helpless because of his dreams of Darla. He’s distracted, constantly tired (due to the drugs Darla’s feeding him), and his mind is cloudy.
After Cordy receives her vision of Gunn in trouble and runs off to help him, Wesley goes to find Angel. Wesley wakes Angel from a dream of Darla rolling ice down his bare chest...I can see why Angel grabs Wesley by the throat as he’s waking up! You interrupted Julie Benz rubbing ice down the man’s chest!
Wesley: “Now, about the naked thing...”
Angel: “I’ll get dressed.”
Wesley: “Much appreciated.”
Just when I thought these two were becoming close.
While Cordelia is ‘protecting’ Gunn (read: whacking his friend over the skull with an axe), Angel’s car is being stolen by Deevak (Cordelia took it to go and help Gunn). Speaking of Deevak, he’s not going to be winning any beauty pageants, is he? Not the most attractive of demons or supernatural creatures. What was that? No demons are attractive? Do you remember Jhiera from “She”?! Exactly.
Gunn and Cordelia go to a party in order to find someone who might know where Angel’s car is. Cordelia, the social Queen of Sunnydale High, is totally out of place here. It’s an entirely different scene to the Caucasian persuasion of Sunnydale. At this moment, the subplot of this episode finally dawned on me: poverty and race. Cordelia, while acting as Gunn’s ‘protector’ has no idea what life has been like for Gunn growing up. She doesn’t know why he acts the way he does. She doesn’t know what he’s been through. Sure, Cordy has encountered poverty since moving to Los Angeles, but it’s night and day when compared to what Gunn’s life has been like living on the streets, fighting vampires, and never knowing whether he’s going to live to see another day. Gunn is the way he is for a reason. He’s a self-sufficient man that has only ever relied on one person, his sister, and because he dropped his guard for just a moment, she’s gone forever. After vampires attack the party and Gunn’s friend Veronica almost gets killed, Gunn’s motives and attitude becomes clear to Cordy for the first time.
While on the subject of Veronica...don’t pull a large piece of glass out of your neck, you moron. It’s keeping the blood IN until the paramedics arrive. Cordelia attending to Veronica and comforting her is a testament to how far she’s come as a character since the days of Sunnydale. Could you imagine the Cordy of Buffy season two doing this? I can’t. She’s empathetic and caring now.
Gunn: “I can’t take it easy. I can never take it easy. Not for a second, alright. The minute I forget that someone like Alonna pays the price.”
My heart just broke...again. Six months later and Gunn still hasn’t forgiven himself for his sister’s death. He’s haunted by her death and part of the reason why is because he feels like her kidnap and siring was his fault. If he wasn’t at war with the vampire gang and didn’t have a death wish, they wouldn’t have targeted her in the first place. If he hadn’t ‘let his guard down’ momentarily and forgotten about watching the perimeter, she wouldn’t have been taken. “I can’t take it easy, I can never take it easy” explains what Gunn’s entire life has been like so far. He can’t relax, he can’t rest, he can’t let his emotional guard down because when he does the people he cares about get hurt. Therefore, he will never let himself be vulnerable again. He feels responsible for everyone in his crew and he has the weight of the world on his shoulders because of that. He’s taken it upon himself to lead this group of the downtrodden, the homeless, and the vulnerable, but in doing so he’s put himself into a lose-lose situation. He can’t save everyone, but he feels responsible for each of them and feels like he needs to save everyone, even when things are out of his control. I see parallels between Angel and Gunn in that regard.
I like the twist that Jameel was Deevak. It was unexpected, but it wasn’t over the top and out of the realm of believability. Jameel resents Gunn because of Gunn’s attitude that he’s stronger and better than everyone. As I mentioned before, Gunn has to act that way in order to gain respect and survive the streets of Los Angeles, but it’s alienating him from the rest of his former life. This is a huge catalyst as to why Gunn joins Angel Investigations in the first place. Since losing his sister, he’s outgrown his former life.
Even the vampires laugh at the fact that Angel is wearing the pink helmet. Angel’s credibility as a badass vampire hunter is shot, I’m afraid. You know what I’d love? An internal monologue of what Angelus is thinking when Angel puts the pink helmet on. Can you imagine it?! He’d be fuming. Alexis Denisof is the King of facial expressions. The scene where Wesley gets grumpy with Angel and tells him to stop being a wanker and put the pink helmet on is beyond funny. It’s probably my favourite Angel-Wesley comedic scene ever. I beg you, please go and watch this scene after finishing this review. Watch Wesley’s face for two specific moments... 1) Just after Wesley tells Angel to stop being such a wanker and put the helmet on, Wesley has an exasperated look on his face like “put the helmet on already, you moron!”. It’s ridiculous. 2) Watch his smirk as he says “looks good. Hop on board, gorgeous.”...SEND HELP, I CAN’T BREATHE.
Deevak’s death of axe-through-skull was rather neat. I feel that we, the fandom, sometimes take the cool fight sequences and interesting deaths for granted because they happen so frequently on these two shows. Deevak’s death was unique and very entertaining.
The final important thing of note is that “First Impressions” establishes the wonderful friendship between Cordelia and Gunn, which I thought might have been a blossoming romance after their flirty conversation after Deevak’s death about Cordy being Gunn’s new protector. Gunn hasn’t interacted with Cordy and Wesley a great deal by this point, so Gunn and Cordy striking up a friendship gives Gunn another reason to stick around and become a member of the team. Gunn’s self-destructive behaviour is going to get him killed. Cordy – aided by her vision – is trying to help Gunn heal over Alonna’s death and help him understand that he’s not alone anymore. He doesn’t have to be completely self-reliant anymore. He has a new family. She’s saving Gunn not just from the world, but from himself. That’s what differentiates “Angel” from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” in my eyes. I’ve said it before, but Buffy is about saving lives, Angel is about saving souls.
The episode draws to a close with Angel dreaming about Darla again...then it shows a real life Darla, naked, straddling a sleeping Angel. “I could just eat you up”...certainly a unique way to end an episode.
Quote Of The Episode
Wesley: “Come on, what are you waiting for?”
Angel: “I really don’t think it’s gonna fit.”
Wesley: “Of course it will, put it on.”
Angel: “You know, I don’t need a helmet for protection.”
Wesley: “Angel, it’s the law in California. Do you want us to get pulled over?”
Wesley: “Then what’s the problem?”
Angel: “Well, it’s just, ya know, the whole visibility issue, not to mention the whole hat-head thing and when you really think about it, how come I have to wear the ladies helmet?”
Wesley: “Stop being such a wanker and put it on.”
*Angel puts on the pink helmet and looks thoroughly unamused*
Wesley: “Looks good. Hop on board, gorgeous.”
Angel: “You’ll pay for this.”
FINAL SCORE: 6/10
What are your thoughts on "First Impressions"? Did you enjoy this episode? Dislike it? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments section below!
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