[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: Jane Espenson | Director: Krishna Rao | Aired: 11/07/2000]
One of the brilliant Jane Espenson’s (very) few episodes on AtS, “Guise Will Be Guise” is a tight, enjoyable package. It’s one of the few outright comedic episodes of the series and while it doesn’t hit all the marks of say, “Spin The Bottle” [4×06], it’s still miles ahead of similar episodes such as [“1×06”], mostly thanks to a surprisingly insightful B plot. It’s not only genuine in its revelations, but is also well shaped to fit the light atmosphere without diminishing any of the impact; the most skillful trick Espenson performs here.
The main focus of the story is on Wesley, who up to this point in the series has been extremely useful, intelligent, but somewhat incompetent and bumbling. When he first arrived in S1, he was much like his persona from S3 of BtVS, and it took the writers a bit of time to find balance for him. On one hand, he had moments of courage and kick-assery (“The Ring” [1×16] ), but he was also prone to slipping on coffee beans like a moron (“She” [1×13] ). Especially in the latter of those two episodes, both sides of his personality implausibly played against each other, in which he stuttered repeatedly and later fought off several opponents.
The only theory that fits is that perhaps the presence of Angel (and Cordelia, to a lesser extent), in front of whom he feels he has to prove himself, shakes his confidence and his focus, though in situations of crisis or need he comes into his own and his instincts emerge. This episode fits with that theory, and while I do blame sloppy writing for the flaws in S1, if one can attribute them to that theory, then one can also see that the writers recognized their mistake, and with this episode put Wesley in a situation where has to face his self-consciousness in the presence of Angel by literally becoming him. It’s altogether a pretty smart move.
Angel is sent to a swami, the T’ish Magev, by the Host of Caritas, leaving Cordelia and Wesley alone in the Hyperion to manage the business themselves. The plot point that moves things forward is the kidnapping of Wesley, who poses as Angel when a thug threatens to kill Cordelia if he can’t see the ‘boss.’ This leads the black-coated Wes into the world of the Bryce family, whose patriarch requires personal protection for his daughter. Wes posing as Angel is, of course, played for some rather amusing and gimmicky jokes. The wit and timing of Alexis Denisof makes them really work, such as when he forgets about the mirrors, attempts to speak of vampires and grand heroics, or my personal favourite: spiking his hair up like Angel’s at the wizardry shop.
It’s not exceptional comedy, but it’s fun worth having and a welcome contrast to the five preceding episodes of the season thus far, which edged more into darkness the further we got (and with the next episode, we won’t be slowing down on that). The use of it is what it does for Wesley’s self-confidence, similar to what BtVS “Doppelgangland” did for Willow. Being in Angel’s skin and performing his duties are, to Wesley, more intimidating than having to prove himself to his boss directly. He’s, at first, very jumpy and in fact ignorant; forgetting cornerstones of vampirical existence such as the mirror and the cross. But what’s emphasized is that when critical situations arise, he is clear-headed and resourceful, using Angel’s image to scare off thugs and his combat training to defeat assassins.
His identity is eventually discovered and Angel returns, but due to having faced those insecurities from an extremely literal point of view, he gains not only competence but faith in that competence, and in his ability to do what he does well. Early on Cordelia remarks that he looks womanly in his clothes, and it gets to the heart of him; both Angel and Wesley are having problems with their image in this episode, and its Wesley’s discovery that he is a man beyond that image is what stays with him. Even after Angel’s return to the Hotel he’s utilizing what makes him most valuable, and it is his strategy and bravery that save Virginia’s life in the end.
Such an inner-strength-discovery plot strikes me as slightly cliche, and despite much of it being predictable (even Wesley going back to Virginia in the end) its delivery redeemed it all somewhat, as did its relevance to the characters. More to the point however, I would’ve much preferred more time spent on the B plot, as its contents are what elevates the episode greatly. Like Wesley, Angel is trapped in his image. People view Wesley as a traditionally quirky, bumbling Englishman, and Angel as a dark, emotionally impenetrable creature of the night.
The difference between the two men is the origin of those images; one has it given to him by others as a result of his insecurities, while the other creates his own, willingly, to hide them. Wesley’s is the former, whose presumed exterior makes him seem simple and idiotic (as in the teaser scene), and Angel’s is the latter, whose presumed exterior is overly complex to the outsider (leading to the ‘eunuch’ confusion) and inspires fear (such as with the thugs). Since he sometimes uses brute force to get the job done (“War Zone” [1×20] , it’s no wonder many confuse him for a darker force.
The T’ish Magev tells Angel that he is reflected in the people around him, and if that’s true then the image he is hiding behind is successful; Cordy comments that she’s glad to have him gone for awhile, as she’s sick of his constantly-brooding, cool guy attitude after all this time. By looking through this image, the Magev surmises that Angel is hiding a portion of himself, or trying to hold it back. He advises Angel that to win the battle within himself, he must not be divided, and should think of himself not as someone with a demon side and a human side, but a complete being capable of traits of both.
No different than his English co-worker, he must be a man who is something beyond his image, but because he is creating it himself the solution is not to overcome it but to let it fade away, and stop trying with such difficulty to put away the other side that he fears. Once again, I’ll go back to “The Prodigal” [1×15] to affirm this; Angelus was created out of spite of the traits of Liam, and Angel came to be as a result of everything Angelus did. All of these personality traits stemmed from one man, and Angel must realize he is capable of all of them if he is be a complete person and stop battling himself.
By acknowledging this unity, it also allows him to control, for better or worse, his demonic traits, for they’re not out of his reach if he believes them to be a part of himself. The fact that the Magev turned out to be a fake was irrelevant, as the experience clearly left Angel with something to think about (and does take into consideration). Although, looking at the season as a whole, perhaps this advice was dangerous since he really does take it to heart (“Reunion” [2×10] ).
I liked a lot of things in this episode, even if it did come off as a little cheesy here or there. But then again, a comedy episode of such a tone is needed every now and then, especially in the middle of all the doom and gloom (once again, “Spin The Bottle” [4×06] comes to mind). Best of all, we finally get a balance for Wesley, and from here on in the writers and producers get him entirely right. His character arc from S3 through S5 is one of the best in the Whedonverse, and look for shades of it to come soon this very season.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ The elevator scene: Angel’s plan, and Cordy; “Hello, lawyer!”
+ Cordelia, when Angel says he doesn’t have to sing: “Thank God!”
+ The fake swami. His character was both fun and interesting in how he advised Angel.
+ All the confusion about the curse, and the eunuch joke.
+ The magazine article featuring Wesley (the Wyndam-Pryce Agency?)
* Wesley, when he exudes more confidence, is an effective and intelligent leader. These capabilities will come in handy this season when he, Cordy and Gunn re-form the team on their own following “Redefinition” [2×11], and when they are trapped in Pylea.