Joss Whedon, as much as he's known for misery and apocalyptic doom, is also pretty darn silly. And it's said silliness that he runs with in Spin the Bottle, a lightweight diversion in which our Angel protagonists are struck down by a misfiring magic spell that renders them all teenagers again. Joss wears his Band Candy/Tabula Rasa source material on his sleeve, and manages to improve on the weaker elements of those episodes. Like the finest comedy, Spin the Bottle works because the funny is derived from our own knowledge of the characters. There's a definite sense of the show almost pining for the days when its protagonists were a little less complicated, but it never exactly harms the hour itself.
For most of the cast, we've already sort of met their youthful incarnations, so the fun is seeing the sudden contrast between, say, the badass lone wolf Wesley of today and the bumbling moron of yesteryear. The only character that really surprises is Fred, who is just as adorable as she is awkwardly intuitive. I loved her gleeful remark of "Slayer? The band?", while the decision to make her some huge teenage pothead is truly inspired.
Cordelia, who's become a cold fish of late, is back to her bitchy finest, casually undermining everybody she's around and coming onto everybody with just as much reckless abandon. Charisma Carpenter seems to be having fun once again, and there's a definite sense of Earshot-era vapidity that runs through every line of her dialogue here. Alexis Denisof is also a wonderful comedian, and his dialogue sparkles with in-over-his-head marvel, similarly bringing to mind his Buffy season three persona, notably in his interaction with women. Angel and Gunn's teenage personas are less well drawn than their counterparts, but I loved the tension between Gunn and Wes, as well as Angel's bathroom 'experimentation'. Heh.
Connor's appearance feels initially superfluous, but it also feeds into the overarching themes at work. His interaction with 'Liam' shows him how similar he and his father really are, and that even the most adjusted adults had those days when they were just as confused and irrationally angry as the kids they now find themselves ordering around.
Away from the comedy, it's actually the wraparound narrative as well as Joss' trademark directorial flourishes that make the episode what it is. Lorne is a wonderful narrator, riffing in a nightclub as he tells us all what happened that night at the Hyperion, as well as how important the events were in the grand scheme of things. Joss' direction is equally boundary-pushing, notably in that arresting sequence where he pings the camera back and forth between Wesley, Gunn and Fred, each of them viewing circumstances from vastly different perspectives.
Angel and Cordelia's romance book-ends the episode, and it's hard to not feel something when Cordelia tells him that they were in love -- emphasis on the past tense. As rough as it may be, this is the beginning of a new incarnation of the show. Cordelia's made up her mind, Wesley is seemingly back in the fold, and a horrifying new character has apparently awakened. Spin the Bottle is an hour of Joss playing around with his toys, and it's actually really successful as a thematic story. It could have easily turned out pretty terrible, what with the cast locked in a room and acting wacky, but it proves to be one of the funniest Angel hours. A
Guest stars Andy Hallett (Lorne); Vladimir Kulich (The Beast)
Writer Joss Whedon Director Joss Whedon