FEATURE: Angel - War Zone
Previously on Angel: The big guy's had a bit of a bust-up with Buffy over the Faith issue, but his reputation is starting to spread across LA. It's attracting new clients and his fair share of enemies.
Cordelia organises a meeting with a big software billionaire, David, who is having a little issue with the fact he got a bit too into Dungeons and Dragons and went to a demon brothel. Angel takes the case to retrieve any evidence of David's dalliances before his stakeholders can find out. His investigation leads him to a gang of homeless youths in South Central who have been waging a territorial war with LA's vampire population. Trouble is, they think he's a new Big Bad that needs defeating. Hijinks ensue, people are lost in the fight and Angel finds himself with a new begrudging ally in one amateur vampire hunter Charles Gunn.
War Zone suffers from its position in the season, right after the extraordinarily good Faith episodes and prior to the last two episodes, which are decidedly more meaty. It's a bit like Go Fish in the second season of Buffy though thankfully produces something a bit more successful than walking fish men.
In fact, the whole episode is quite the heavy-handed social exploration, covering the gamut of class from the wealth of David to the grinding poverty that Gunn and his gang endure. There's references to race in there too, though, perhaps wisely, they let the casting of Gunn's people do it for them. It's not the show's best attempt at finding a real-world commonality with demon-fighting, but it's admirable of them to try, even if they don't really find any depth within it nor pursue it to any kind of meaningful outcome.
In truth, the biggest occurrence in this episode is the arrival of Gunn, full of rage and violence, markedly different from Angel's brooding, Wesley's repressed desperation and Cordy's openness. J. August Richards hits the ground running in a role that goes on to have one of the most interesting arcs across the series (though it takes until the fifth season to properly go for it). It's a sad introduction and a sobering one, having to stake his recently turned sister to prevent her from killing him. Although I grow increasingly tired of women being sacrificed in popular culture in order for men to learn lessons, I can't deny it tugs at the heartstrings.
I do love the final scene between Gunn and Angel, a twist on the usual 'mentor' type relationship in that Gunn doesn't want any advice and Angel doesn't really need to give it. It's a begrudging alliance, for sure, but it'll prove to be a solid one. It also helps that it isn't a scene in which Angel offers to help Gunn, instead switching the power dynamic to leave Angel as the one who might come seeking Gunn's help in future.
Quote of the Week:
Cordelia: They locked you in, huh?
Angel: No! I just love old meat lockers...
Wesley: You should have tried to call us on your cell phone. You probably forget you had it.
Angel: Those things hardly ever work. Besides, it was a lot easier and quicker to just- Look, I'm the boss here. I say when we use the cell phones and people are gonna die and I have to go.
Cordelia: You're welcome!
Inventive Kill: A badass stake gun on the back of Gunn's truck stakes a vamp from afar.
Let's Get Trivial: Charles Gunn was added to the cast thanks to Joss Whedon deciding that she show needed a character to work with Angel who was very different from either Cordelia or Wesley. It also helped to finally up the Buffyverse's diversity quota, albeit marginally.
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, Sanctuary, here.