“Spin the Bottle”
Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by Joss Whedon
We open on Lorne singing “Memory” because this is going to be a super thematic episode. Then he starts talking about youth and how it’s magical but catastrophic. He has a story for us! About Connor! Cut to Connor stomping up a street, backed by heavy metal chords and sporting the scowliest scowl ever. Then cut to where we left Angel and Cordy in the Hyperion’s courtyard. Angel tells her he’s not sure if they were in love. He had feelings for her, but before they could meet to talk about it, he got sunk to the bottom of the ocean and she got beamed up to a higher plane. She thinks maybe she felt super uncomfortable about his feelings for her and wanted him to back off. He doubts it, since he wasn’t exactly being obvious about it. He wants to at least have their friendship back. She gets very upset thinking about how she still doesn’t know who she is.
In comes Lorne! He has a spell that can restore Cordy’s memories! Guaranteed to work. Angel thinks that’s suspicious, especially since Lorne actually comes out and says “there’s no way this could fail.” Ahoy, mischief gods! You’re up!
Lorne will be narrating the whole episode from the karaoke bar. We fade from the bar to him explaining how the spell will work to Angel and Cordy. Angel’s still hesitant, but Cordy is wiling to risk any side effects as long as she actually gets her memories back.
The only catch is that this spell requires six participants, and they currently only have five. Cut to Wesley, who is trying out a spiffy new set of wrist-mounted collapsible swords and stake-launchers. He pays the vendor and dismisses him. He gets a call from Lorne and heads to the hotel. He seems surprisingly cordial, but that might be because he’s keen to know how Fred’s doing.
She’s lying awake in bed next to Gunn, and they aren’t talking. Angel comes to get them both. Downstairs, Lorne is setting up the stuff for the spell. Fred and Lorne chat amiably, and then Wesley arrives. The tension cranks right up. Back to narrator Lorne, who explains all the tangly intrigue going on between Fred, Wes, and Gunn regarding the murder of Professor Seidel.
Angel finds Cordelia in her room...wrapped in a towel, fresh from a shower. Also apparently Connor is confirmed to be 18. She tells Angel what a mess the kid is. Angel doesn’t really want to talk about it. She wants to know why he thinks he can just barge into her room. So do I, because what with her having her own apartment in the previous seasons, that’s not something he’s ever done before.
Wes wanders into the office, where Gunn is sitting in the shadows, brooding about his role in the group. He’s the muscle, apparently, and he feels like that means he doesn’t contribute as much as the rest of them. Well, he used to contribute a bunch of street contacts and knowledge of different factions too; if that’s no longer a thing, it’s his own fault. His bitterness and insecurities, along with the knowledge that Fred went to Wes for help, are starting to make him think he needs to worry about Fred and Wes. Wes doesn’t feel particularly guilty. Gunn gets in his face and threatens him about making a move on Fred. Wesley’s reply is sardonic, and Gunn’s about to try slamming him against the wall or something when that collapsible sword shoots out, pointed right at Gunn’s throat. Gunn backs off and Wes walks out. Gunn laments how things have gone so far downhill between them. Wes doesn’t particularly feel like there’s anything to salvage.
Spell time! The bottle of magic starts rattling and spinning, emitting glowing mist which shoots into all of them, effectively leaving them stoned. Lorne collapses behind the counter. Angel wanders into the courtyard. Fred finds a potted plant, strokes it, then vomits into the pot. Wes looks around and giggles. Cordy is having second thoughts about this spell, so she stomps on the bottle, shattering it and snapping all of them out of their weird trip.
Abruptly, Cordy is acting like her snooty rich girl cheer captain self from high school. She thinks this is some kind of prank upperclassmen are pulling on her, and she threatens to sue. Wes and Gunn are also confused, and Gunn, hostile. Angel comes back in from the courtyard, and Cordy says the exact same thing she said the first time she saw him in “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date.” Nice call-back.
Wes tries to get everything straight about who they all are. He doesn’t recognize any of them, and he establishes that they’re all equally in the dark. Fred introduces herself, then gets a large helping of Buffy S1 Cordy nastiness. And this immediately becomes ten times funnier when Wes introduces himself with at least as much pompousness as he ever showed in Buffy S3. I love this so much. When Gunn introduces himself, Wes freaks out because he thinks there’s a literal gun. Bahaha.
Cordy wants to hear Angel’s story. Angel is now an extremely baffled Irish teenager from the 1740s. He hates Englishmen like Wes, thinks Gunn is a slave, and is super confused by everyone’s accents—including his own, which is strangely not Irish. (Because David Boreanaz hated doing the Irish accent, because he sucked at it.) He’s Liam.
Cordy wants to leave, but Wes stops her because he thinks they’re all victims of some nefarious plot, and that they’re locked inside the hotel. Great theory! How about actually testing the door, though? Gunn and Fred both vote not calling the cops, Gunn because he and the cops aren’t on the best of terms and Fred because she thinks there’s a government conspiracy. Wes discovers the growth of attractive scruff on his face and thinks it means they’ve been out for a whole month. Hahahahahahaha. Cordy discovers her short hair and starts crying, thinking the government cut her hair. They all continue being hilariously silly (except Liam, who thinks he’s in hell) for a few more minutes, culminating in Gunn getting in Wesley’s face and Wes doing some absurd karate until a stake pops out from his sleeve. A clue! Fred does similar stupid karate, but no stake pops out.
Gunn and Fred find Lorne behind the counter and freak out while Wes accidentally finds the collapsible sword and freaks out about that. They all gather around Lorne, very scared.
Elsewhere, still with heavy metal background music, Connor is beating the crap out of a few vampires who were about to attack a prostitute. She offers to “reward” Connor for saving her life, but retracts it when he admits he has no money. She tells him to run home to momma. Which is creepily close to what he actually wants to do.
Back at the hotel, Wes is taping Lorne to the cone-shaped lobby couch. Gunn wants to cut Lorne’s head off. Cordy wants answers, particularly about why neither Wes nor Gunn seem very surprised about finding a red-horned, green-skinned dude. Across the lobby, Liam and Fred discover the weapons cabinet.
Wes is about to dramatically explain to Cordy, Fred, and Liam that vampires are real, but Gunn steals his thunder because he’s taking too long. Bahaha. Wes is very proud to know that Lorne is a demon, not a vampire, and he possibly has some knowledge about the species, but that’s doubtful. Fred starts poking at Lorne in the foreground while Gunn rolls his eyes about Wesley’s lack of useful knowledge in the background. Gunn wants to kill Lorne now, and when Wes tries to stop him, they end up in a very hilarious fight, which Cordy breaks up by kicking them both.
This gives Wes the opportunity to share his theory, which is that they’ve been put in a Clue-like variation of the Cruciamentum, so there is probably a vampire in the hotel and they have to find it and kill it to pass the test! Gunn doesn’t appreciate all these white people getting in his business. He doesn’t care about some stupid test. Cordy still wants to just leave. Liam thinks they can’t because something worse happened to them. Fred points out that none of them looks like a teenager. They’ve missed years of their lives. Cordy is very indignant about missing all her high school milestones. Liam is definitely starting to notice some of his non-human qualities, and they’re scaring him. I wish so badly I could hug him and tell him everything will be okay. That would be so horrifying.
They all agree that their best chance of going back to normal is finding this vampire and killing it so the Watchers’ Council will lift the memory spell on them. They split into two groups: Cordy and Liam go upstairs, and Fred, Wes, and Gunn stay on the ground floor. A stereo is playing in one of the rooms Cordy and Liam come across, and Liam is dumbfounded by the tiny minstrels in the little black box. He very much wants to go home and get wasted. Cordy would clearly like to pass the time by sleeping with Liam. But he vamps out at the sight of her neck, then gets really freaked out and runs into the bathroom. Shenanigans music is playing! I love the shenanigans music. He discovers he has no reflection, then locks himself in the bathroom to figure out what the heck is wrong with his face, shifting back and forth between vamp and human. At that point, Cordy tries to check on him and it’s an obvious masturbation joke. *eye roll* I’m noticing that there seem to be more of those in episodes by Joss Whedon than there are in non-Joss episodes. Classy. Liam is terrified that the others will kill him because he’s the vampire.
Narrator Lorne references the commercial break we just had, and then switches to talking sympathetically about Liam’s situation. Down in the massive kitchen, Gunn, Fred, and Wes are still looking for a vampire. Fred’s really worried that the government (or aliens) have been doing creepy things to her body while she was asleep. As she describes what she thinks might’ve happened to her, the wrist-mounted stake shoots out of Wesley’s sleeve. *protracted groan* As aroused/mortified as Wesley now is, he’s still sure their situation is the work of demons and/or the Watchers’ Council, so she shouldn’t be afraid of alien probes. Gunn is bored, so they leave the kitchen.
All of them return to the lobby. Liam tries to leave before anyone can kill him. Shocker, the door’s not actually locked, so he makes it out just fine. Cordy thinks his departure is a sign of her losing her sex appeal. They need to break this spell, stat! Wes is very worried about what Liam might be encountering outside.
It’s cars. He’s encountering cars. He’s completely terrified and runs back inside, yelling about the hundreds of shiny, screaming demons. There’s a great moment where Alexis and David both almost crack up and hastily look away from each other before they lose it. Wes has a new theory about the vampire in the hotel. It’s probably one of them! Liam tries to change the subject before he can finish saying this theory, but Wes refuses to be distracted. Because he thinks Gunn is the vampire. Gunn responds to Wesley’s cross with a punch to the face. Bahaha. Wes still insists on testing everyone with the cross. Cordy holds it, annoyed, then Fred passes it up and down her arms and legs like a scanner, and then Liam tries to pretend it’s not burning him. There’s still the matter of the smoke and the sizzling, though, but luckily Lorne wakes up, providing a handy distraction.
Unlike the rest of them, Lorne didn’t lose his memories. He’s not happy to be tied to a chair. He can tell things went horribly wrong with the spell, but he kind of makes things worse by outing Liam as a vampire. He punches him so hard the whole couch goes sliding across the lobby. Gunn and Wes both take fighting stances on either side of him. When Fred touches Wesley’s shoulder, his stake launches by accident. Oh, for crying out loud! WHY DO PEOPLE THINK THAT’S FUNNY?! Liam vamps out and fights back. He didn’t want to hurt anyone, but he’s decided that he might as well just live up to their expectations. Cordy is initially indignant when he seems indecisive about attacking her or Fred first. *snort* Wes gets an actual moment of awesome despite being an utter spaz, but Liam punches him and chases Cordelia without much trouble.
He finds her in the basement because he has night vision and super hearing. He grabs her and she unleashes her ungodly scream on him. He recoils a bit, and then Connor arrives and throws him across the room. Wesley catches up and encourages Connor, who tosses Liam through the window leading to the kitchen downstairs. Cordy offers to sleep with Connor if he kills Liam. Connor is totally fine with that! Great, that’s exactly what this situation needed: one more teenager.
Down in the kitchen, Liam and Connor fight. Liam is fed up with everyone attacking him. Out in the lobby, Lorne is awake again and he tries to gain Fred’s trust. It takes a bit of work, but he manages it. Liam notices that Connor has super strength. He starts ranting about how he’s been treated since he woke up (and how his father treats him). It strikes a serious chord with Connor, but Connor doesn’t particularly want to sympathize with his dad. As soon as Liam mentions he’d rather be sleeping with Cordy than fighting, Connor gets angry and possessive.
Lorne dabs some kind of cure potion onto Fred’s tongue. It’s nasty, but it works! Just in time for her to call Gunn off from attacking Lorne. Liam and Connor are still fighting, and Liam wins. Then he walks off, grumpy and surly about the whole situation. Connor gets up and they have possibly the most amiable exchange since they sparred in the alley behind the club in “Benediction.” Then Fred pokes her head in the shattered window.
Next, everyone’s walking morosely around the lobby, cleaning up the mess. They have their memory back. Cordy is the last one to get the potion. When her memories return, she flees down the corridor. Because she saw a huge lava demon waking up.
Narrator Lorne closes his piano and winds up his tale. There’s a small smattering of applause. Seems like things are going to be heading steeply downhill soon. In the hotel, Angel follows Cordy, but she doesn’t want him to. She says they were in love, then continues to run out, because whatever she remembered is just too much to process right now. Angel watches her go, close to tears. Narrator Lorne leaves the karaoke bar, which is completely empty.
“Spin the Bottle” has always been one of my favorite Angel episodes. As memory loss shenanigans episodes go, it is much better than “Tabula Rasa,” which made no sense. It’s much harder to get a narrative off the ground when no one remembers anything, but if they’re all just suddenly teenagers, there’s a lot more to work with. The memory loss, the regression to teenage mentality, and the framing device of Lorne telling the whole story make the episode feel like “Band Candy,” “Tabula Rasa,” and “Storyteller” all rolled into one (minus most of the annoying things from the latter two). It was great seeing original recipe Cordelia and Wesley again, Liam is hilarious yet sympathetic, and Fred and Gunn were also pretty great. The plot is essentially driven by Wesley’s harebrained ideas, but it works. (Certainly much better than a literal loan shark.) And what makes it all even better is that it’s one bright spot of silliness sandwiched between a truckload of misery and angst. Wacky adventures might’ve succeeded in getting Cordy’s memories back, but they didn’t fix the problems between Wes and the gang, between Fred and Gunn, or between Angel, Connor, and Cordelia.
Angel’s behavior as Liam seems to support my theory that merely having a soul isn’t necessarily enough for a vampire to fight against the evil instincts of the demon. The memories of what he did without a soul are a huge ingredient in achieving the motivation to suppress those instincts. Which is why Marcus, the old body-swapping hedonist guy from “Carpe Noctem” was totally fine with embracing vampirism. Angel remembers everything Angelus did pre-soul (and Spike is in a similar situation now), and he never wants to do something like that again, but poor 17-year-old Liam is just a dumb, angsty kid who hates his life so much that he hasn’t paid much attention to the people around him. How’s a kid like that supposed to muster the moral willpower to resist the bloodlust of a vampire? Particularly when everyone’s being mean to him before he even does anything wrong.
Teen Cordelia is way more suggestive with her flirting than she was in the early seasons of Buffy, which largely skated around the matter of her sexual activity. It just seems like if she dated Xander for most of a year without sleeping with him, she probably wasn’t having a ton of sex in high school in general, but here she is trying to get Liam to sleep with her and then flat out offering to reward Connor with sex for killing Liam, even though she isn’t attracted to him. All this excessively hormonal behavior from Cordy and Wes in particular raises an interesting question. Did that spell merely affect everyone’s memories, or did it also rewire their brain chemistry to match the hormone levels of actual teenagers? Because I would think that teenage brains would be a bit more even-keeled if not under the influence of floods of hormones their bodies aren’t used to yet.
Gunn has mellowed out quite a bit since he was a teenager. It seems odd that he wouldn’t be worried about his sister if he randomly woke up somewhere and couldn’t remember how he got there. He spends the whole time he thinks he’s 17 being incredibly belligerent, but concern for Alonna would’ve given him a good reason for it.
Teenage Fred’s characterizations strike me as a bit odd. Shouldn’t she have been a huge bookworm nerd type? I’m okay with her being a conspiracy theorist who thinks they’ve been abducted by aliens, but she seems kind of...dumb? Instead of asking for weed, she should’ve been spouting off just as many theories as Wesley about what was happening. Or maybe attempting to use the phone sitting right there in the lobby to call her parents? It’s all still entertaining, I’m just not sure it matches who Fred is.
Connor still isn’t giving me any reasons to root for him. He’s just a great big ball of misplaced rage and creepy sexual frustration, and it’s super annoying. I suppose it’s good he chooses to take it out on a nest of vampires, but he barely blinks when Wes and Cordy ask him to kill Angel. It’s interesting to watch him relating to Angel against his will when he’s talking about how much his life sucks and how much he hates his dad.
Oh, spastic early seasons Wesley, how delightful it is to see you again! That stuff is freaking hilarious (though I could’ve done without all the gags about how sexually repressed yet horny he is), and it majorly highlights how much he’s changed. That ego is pretty much completely gone, and he’s not a clutz anymore. Would teenage Wesley be happy to know that in about a decade and a half, he’ll be a stone cold badass? He’s been through a ton of suffering to get where he is, though, so perhaps he’d prefer to remain a pompous dork. Anyway, it hurts to see how cold Wes is to Gunn. They used to have a best friends handshake! And he also doesn’t seem to have any qualms about pursuing Fred even though they’re both in relationships.
“Hello, salty goodness.”
“Sorry! ...I mean, HA!”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.