That Old Gang of Mine is heavily flawed, but on a purely superficial level is probably the most entertaining episode this season so far. It features the most interesting villains, seems to be experimenting with heavy story ideas, and exploits 'hostage crisis' conventions for all they're worth. The latter is interesting because I ordinarily dislike hostage episodes of any TV show, but the Caritas showdown here is mightily affecting, presumably because the place itself is so welcoming and pleasant.
Where the episode stumbles is in Gunn's characterization. I didn't entirely buy that he would still sympathize with the opinions of his old friends, especially after a year of discovering that demons come in all forms and have varying levels when it comes to morals. Equally strange is his coda to all of this: that he'll never be able to be true friends with Angel because he's a vampire. Doesn't that kind of undermine the message of this episode? It feels a little jarring, and (honestly) a major downer.
Tim Minear's script attempts to tackle various different subjects, and it would be foolish to say that he was entirely successful. But Gio makes for a compelling villain (though horribly one-note), and the couple of acts at Caritas are full of tension and angst. I just wish the resolution didn't feel so thrown together. It's like parts were cut out.
Fred continues to be adorable, and I loved her interaction with Cordelia ('I swear to god she picked out the song herself'). Equally fun was Angel's attempts to reconcile with Merl. I even got a little saddened when he got torn to pieces like that. Poor beat-down Merl. That Old Gang of Mine falls apart a little when you over-analyze it, but in general it's a fun little filler episode. B-
Guest stars Andy Hallett (Lorne); Jarrod Crawford (Rondell); Khalil Kain (Gio)
Writer Tim Minear Director Fred Keller