[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: David Fury and Jeannine Renshaw | Director: James A. Contner | Aired: 12/14/1999]
“Parting Gifts” is the logical and necessary addendum to “Hero” [1×09], since in the time around a major character’s death there’s usually an episode or two spent dealing with the pain and consequences. Doyle was no Buffy, and so you won’t see Angel or Cordelia wailing for three weeks post-his-death, but it’s clearly had an impact and we get to see them cope through continuing to fight the good fight, and hey – Wesley arrives! This episode is pretty fun, and its strength is in the surprising competency of the plot. The writers take careful aim to keep us just off the scent of the right trail and when we do get the answers we want and need we’re not disappointed by either the execution or the entertainment milked from the situations.
Both Angel and Cordelia are left in emotional chaos now with Doyle’s passing, and they both react appropriately. Angel, despite the common misconception, does not just sit around and brood all the time. His character is not one of withdrawal, but reaction and explosion. We’ve seen it in “City of” [1×01], when Tina’s death, the loss of a necessary human connection, drove him into attack mode against the vampire Russell Winters. Here he’s lost someone even more important to him, and arrogantly takes on the Gods (or at least their figureheads) themselves, demanding that the Oracles restore Doyle’s life.
How they respond to him is a good commentary on the fallacy of many fantasy and horror shows which treat death so casually, and commonly bring characters back from the dead: “To what end? To nullify his noble death? To leave his atonement unfulfilled?” If Doyle presto’d back into existence, none of his development, history or sacrifices would matter, and that would go beyond cruel manipulation against the viewers along for the ride. It’s why shows like Buffy, Angel and Firefly always come first for me: the understanding and respect they have for their characters and decisions. I’d love Doyle back as much as Angel and Cordy would, but never in this way.
As for Cordy, she’s handling the grief exactly in character as well, lamenting how Doyle left no things of tangible value behind. Having defined her entire life and sense of self worth by what she owns (see: BtVS “The Prom” and “Rm w a Vu” [1×05] ), it shows how much she really cared for Doyle when her desire is that there be more material items of his to remember him by. She places a great value on his life, and that, to her, requires reflection in the price-marked physical.
While not as focused on Cordelia as “Rm w a Vu” [1×05] or “Expecting” [1×12], this episode is still important to her development in learning to transcend the material and put value where it belongs. She realizes, due in great part to Barney (in a really touching scene), that she indeed has the most valuable thing Doyle ever ‘owned:’ the means to the ends of his redemption. As for her new gift, Barney, in his more psychotic scene with her, perfectly outlines how she feels: guilty, in that perhaps having been grossly self-involved (here she tries to pass on the visions simply because it’s an inconvenience) and ignorant of Doyle, she may have even contributed to his demise.
Cleverly, like Angelus would have, Barney lied with the truth to manipulate Cordelia’s feelings and it did indeed strike a chord. Though not entirely happy about it, by the end of the episode she has accepted her gift as an actual gift, in part to honour her fallen friend and make up for her perceived wrong doings. And she’s not the only one looking to make amends.
In perfectly cool fashion, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce makes his first appearance on AtS. He ties in with the plot efficiently, having been tracking a Kungai demon, which he believes to be stealing the life force of other demons. At first, before we know the “demon hunter” is Wesley, Barney leads us to believe he is being trailed by a relentless killer. After we meet Wesley we then suspect the Kungai, but then later find out Barney is indeed the thief, and Wesley was chasing the wrong demon. Good twists, all of them.
There’s not a whole lot to say about ‘English’s’ first appearance, except that he’s as much fun to have around as ever, and is used very effectively, both as a counterpoint to Angel and as a character in his own right. Wesley is reacting in a profound way to what he sees as a great failure on his part (being canned by the Watcher’s council following the events of BtVS S3), having taken to the streets to fight demons and is in fact, very insistent in his mission; his personal form of redemption. He’s quite adamant to Angel about it too: “The hell you say! This demon is mine, Angel!”
Angel’s development ties in with his arrival. He’s lost a vital human connection, and the closest friend he’s had in hundreds of years, and like both Wes and Cordy, lays the burden onto his shoulders for what’s transpired. He’s regressing back into himself as a result, forcefully keeping Wesley away from the demon hunt since he blames himself for letting Doyle die. His arc is simple but important, and the realization that Wesley has skills he lacks, skills which also prove to be imperative to saving Cordelia’s life, keep him from going back to the way he was before “City of” [1×01] which is extremely important to his mission.
My final thoughts on the episode linger on Barney, who is a great, and surprisingly frightening little villain for this episode, and he makes the plot tick with ingenuity by playing us (the viewers) as well as he plays Angel and his victims. Early on he mentions the gambling/cheating use of his empathic abilities as ‘playing to his strengths,’ and he’s very right as it’s what he does. He can sense and experience human emotion but is in fact, a demon, and despite his defense of himself he really is evil, not “evil, but not EVIL.” In point of fact, he’s one of the most unrepentantly sadistic demons to appear on the show thus far.
It’s most evident in exactly how he manipulates Cordelia, one minute softly probing her to let him in and the next going on a brutal, and very cruel assassination of her character so he can put her right where he wants to. What’s sickest about it, as I’ve seen it pointed out, is that we see that he does indeed have the ability to use this power for a positive means; Cordy is absolutely glowing when Barney puts Doyle’s sacrifice into perspective for her. As a demon, he uses his gift to manipulate even those positive experiences, and that does make him really evil. That he looks as innocent and gutter-harmless as he claims to be from the outset makes the twists work too and I really liked how he fit in the story.
The entire episode is a surprisingly good capper to “Hero” [1×09], and is entertaining in its own right while paying proper respect to the dead (the previous episode, of course). I didn’t particularly like how much of bumbling Wesley we got, as I was giddy at seeing him badass in a leather coat at the near-midpoint of the episode. Still, it’s not entirely out of character, if a bit over the top and it doesn’t go into the territory of cheese. And all things considered, it was all a really fun time.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ The second appearance of the Oracles. This builds the strength of how they’re used in the season’s continuity later on.
+ Cordelia’s speaking about not going anywhere, leaving, and then accusing Angel of trying to use reverse psychology.
+ Angel getting offended by the ‘coffin’ stereotype.
+ Wesley insisting on being called a Rogue Demon Hunter
+ The demonic Auction: Twisted and funny.
+ Cordelia stalling for time at the auction; this was a hilarious way to combine her vanity and sense of self-preservation.
* Angel has interfered with Wolfram and Hart yet again, and from the reaction of the lawyer, we see it’s the last straw. They’re soon to make their presence known to him in big ways in “The Ring” [1×16] and “Five by Five” [1×18].
* Wesley, despite his failings, believes he is needed by the world and must play the lone hero himself. This is the key to his tragedy in S3, when he steals Angel’s son Connor (“Sleep Tight” [3×16] ) for ‘the greater good’ without even mentioning the Nyazian prophecy to anyone else.