Angel 5×14: Smile Time

[Review by Iguana-on-a-stick]

[Writer: Joss Whedon (Story) and Ben Edlund (Story and Teleplay) | Director: Ben Edlund | Aired: 02/18/2004]

“Smile Time” is one of the funniest hours of television produced in Joss Whedon’s long and illustrious career. I imagine that there are but a few fans of the series who would disagree with that statement. I certainly think it’s true. And yet, you wouldn’t know it if you watched its early scenes it for the first time. Puppets or no, you’d probably think that “Smile Time” is a Stephen King-style horror-story about monster-puppets as a metaphor for child abuse. And you wouldn’t even be entirely wrong.

There is more going on with this episode than just laughs. Not that I mean to ignore the laughter. Angel-as-a-Muppet remains one of the silliest, funniest, and most absurd conceits ever to appear on my television screen. However, this premise could easily have been just a silly gimmick, and at times it actually is. The reason “Smile Time” works —the reason we take it seriously despite the ridiculous concept— is that aside from being a comedy it also works as a drama and even at times as a horror story. The reason it is so funny is that the humour derives just as much from the characters’ own reaction to the absurdity on display, as it does from the absurdity itself.

If I compare “Smile Time” to “The Girl in Question” [5×20] – one of Season 5’s other mostly comedic episodes – this absurdity is the main distinction between the two. “The Girl in Question” [5×20] tries to be funny by forcing the protagonists to behave as Laurel & Hardy with everyone and everything around them somehow conspiring to throw more obstacles in their path. The result is an insult to the characters involved and only very rarely is the comedy actually funny enough to overcome my annoyance at the way characterisation is thrown out of the window. “Smile Time” occasionally derives a laugh from having Angel act as a hyperactive puppet, but mostly takes the characters we know and love, puts them in a strange situation, and lets the comedy flow naturally from there.

Even the choice of Angel being turned into a puppet is not as random as it appears. The abovementioned hyperactive antics aside, Angel’s entire arc this season is about his struggle to keep control over his own destiny as he gets estranged from his friends and loses his will to fight while being manipulated by everyone around him: Lindsey and Eve, the Senior Partners, even W&H’s many evil clients.

Back in “Lineage” [5×07] Roger Wyndham-Pryce’s facsimile wanted to make Angel his puppet in only slightly less literal a fashion, by sapping his will through magic. Roger even goes as far as to tell Wesley: “[Angel] is a puppet. He always has been. To the Powers That Be. To Wolfram & Hart. Now he’s ours.” Harsh, but accurate. It has been a long, long time since Angel could truly call his life his own. He believed Buffy was his destiny and followed her around for three years until a new and bigger destiny in the form of the Powers that Be and the visions they sent him drew him to LA. Since then he has only occasionally been able to assert his own will and pursue his own goals in spite of the demands of his mission and of the people around him. This played out disastrously in Season 2. In Season 4 he had slightly more success in that he saved Connor despite all the machinations Jasmine had put them through, but in return he signed his soul (figuratively) over to Wolfram & Hart and has been struggling to hold on to his sense of purpose ever since.

The irony of “Smile Time” is that being turned into a literal puppet actually helps Angel break free from his isolation for a while and lets him connect with Nina in a way he might not have otherwise. It is by no means enough to turn his path around, not even Cordelia in “You’re Welcome” [5×12] quite managed that. But it is a definite step forward, and it makes the episode serve a useful purpose in the season’s overall arc.

Puppetry aside the episode consists of three major plot-lines and one small but important side-plot for Gunn. The first is the Smile Time story itself about soul-sucking demons possessing puppets and attacking children. It’s essentially a simple but decent monster-of-the-week story. There isn’t much time devoted to the actual mystery or the action scenes, as this story mostly serves as a hook to hang the other stories from. Still, it starts off strong with a very creepy Polo-the-puppet manipulating a little boy and groaning in almost sexual-sounding pleasure as he sucks the energy out of him. Later there’s an effective horror-type scene where Angel investigates the derelict Smile Time studio all while being ignored by all the zombie-like employees and finding the Nest Egg. Afterwards the episode switches to mostly pure comedy, but the puppets are still entertaining in their over-the-top foul-mouthed banter and their Smile Time TV show is actually quite entertaining and believable as a Sesame Street pastiche. The puppets do not have real personalities, but this is no great loss.

No attempt is made to make the puppets seem like a real threat to Angel & Co., which I think is a good move. It wouldn’t have worked anyway. The big battle at the end is entertaining precisely because it takes place on-set and on-camera, with Angel interrupting a song about counting and the alphabet, Gunn throwing a puppet at the camera and another puppet hissing she wants to claw out his eyes. The puppet-action scenes are quite well done, and even if they cannot quite make it look like the puppets are really tossing humans across the room I can easily manage that extra bit of suspension of disbelief. The amount of “gore” (i.e. puppet stuffing) flying all over the place is also amusing. In the end the puppets can’t be dismissed as nothing but a joke and they serve their plot-purpose well. They don’t outstay their welcome and they don’t take much screen-time away from the character development that fills the rest of the episode.

The lion’s share of this development goes to Angel and his budding relationship with Nina. Last seen in “Unleashed” [5×03], Nina-as-a-character works much better this time around. For one thing she doesn’t have to carry the episode’s plot like she did in “Unleashed” [5×03]. For another she isn’t the damsel-in-distress. Nor does she have to go through life-changing shocks. Instead she interacts with Angel a lot and their scenes are —there is no other word for it— cute. Nina adds a nice note of innocence and mundane charm to the otherwise jaded Angel cast.

It’s a neat little arc they go through, from Angel’s initial panic through his inadvertent snubbing-by-hiding-under-his-desk when he’s a puppet to his finally making overtures, even though he’s still in puppet-form. It also has some of the best comedy: Locking your prospective date in a cage and then fleeing the room has to be one of the more effective but less subtle ways of saying “no.” Then we have Angel baring his soul, revealing his puppet-state and for once in his life opening up, talking about his hopes and fears… only to miss Nina changing into a werewolf and attacking him. Then there are some genuinely touching moments, such as Nina trying not to show how hurt she is by Angel avoiding her — trying to be the bigger person and accepting it – and then giving Angel a sympathetic ear and explaining why she likes him. When Puppet-Angel finally asks her to breakfast, I can’t help but smile.

It should be noted that Nina is the first person to actually ask Angel if he’s okay after the change. One aspect of being the big hero is that people rather expect you to be able to take any blow without flinching. Angel gets advice, help, and friendship from his people, but throughout the series there are remarkably few people relating to him on such a basic and human a level. In the final season this is worse than ever, with the original group scattered Wolfram and Hart. In this respect I think Nina is good for him, though she by no means is enough to solve the problem.

This isn’t ever going to be an epic or tragic love affair like Angel had with Buffy or Cordelia. It will not span years and continents. There will be no blood shed and no lives ruined. Even Angel’s curse is hand-waved away, but I think Wesley is right to do so. Perfect happiness isn’t really going to happen for Angel at this stage of his life. It’s nice to see him and Nina finding acceptable happiness instead.

The final major arc of “Smile Time” involves the budding relationship between Wesley and Fred, just in time for her tragic death next episode. Unfortunately it does not work nearly as well as Angel and Nina’s plot does. For one thing, for something that has been brewing in one form or another ever since Season 3, it is certainly abrupt.

A quick recap of their interaction to date illustrates this. Soon after Fred was rescued from Pylea, Wesley formed a crush on her. He occasionally tried to interact and help her out, but mostly admired her from a distance. She chose Gunn instead, who actually spent time with her having fun instead of dreamily fantasizing about her. Wes was crushed and went off on his downwards spiral which ended with Holtz taking Connor to a hell dimension. In Season 4 Wesley found his own path, but he continued to pursue Fred despite his estrangement from Angel Investigations and his relationship with Lilah Morgan. He did this callously and aggressively, trying to drive wedges between her and Gunn and treating Fred as a prize to be won rather than as someone he truly loved. He might have even succeeded in winning her too had Fred not learned of and been repulsed by his relationship with Lilah. In Season 5, after the memory-wipe, Wesley largely reverted to his season 3 schoolboy crush. He tried to find excuses to spend time with Fred by working together, but Fred wasn’t terribly interested. She preferred the company of her colleague Knox and treated Wesley as a platonic friend. Sometimes she was visibly uncomfortable being around him, when he showed himself to be unstable as in “Lineage” [5×07]. That was their last significant interaction before “Smile Time” — seven episodes ago.

And now we suddenly learn that Fred has apparently tried dating Knox and then decided he was evil after all and now is interested in pursuing a relationship with Wesley. Wes for his part seems to have given up on pursuing her. Suffice to say this comes out of the blue. Presumably the writers learned there would be no season 6 and had to suddenly run through the planned relationship on fast-forward. It is not convincing, it is not good characterisation, and it is not good television. This is the plot forcing the characters to act like marionettes, and not in the amusing “Angel is a wee puppet man!” way.

That said, their actual interaction in this episode isn’t that bad, it’s just the utter disregard for continuity that bring the storyline down. In “Smile Time” Fred (broadly) hints at her interest and Wesley ignores or misunderstands her, trying to graciously keep his distance so she can move on. This, of course, is meant to mirror Angel’s failure to deal with Nina’s attraction for him. The difference is that Angel fears starting a relationship because his rather unfortunate track-record to date, whilst Wesley wants a relationship but has long since given up hope it will ever come to pass and has (apparently, somewhere in that seven episode gap) schooled himself not to read anything into Fred’s actions. The scenes are reasonably entertaining. I quite enjoy how Wesley’s speech about Angel being a daft git for not going after Nina seamlessly segues into a ramble about Fred. For the most part the two are engaged in exposition scenes with some mild flirting and Knox-snubbing thrown in (which is fun to watch, knowing what a rat Knox is). In the end it just leaves me not caring all that much.

Gunn does not have as much to do in “Smile Time,” but at least he’s not ignored. The scenes he does get are compelling and form a key turning-point in his seasonal character-arc. For the first half of the season Gunn has been by far the most content with the move to Wolfram & Hart. True, Wesley and Fred’s reactions were never fully explored, and I’ll just ignore Lorne’s inanity of a character-arc for the first 90% of the season, but Gunn is the only one of the crew shown to actively enjoy his new position. The only niggle is that his friends no longer quite seem to trust him after the company messed with his brain. This too makes sense. In a way he has betrayed everything he once stood for, signed up with “the man” in return for… well, not money and nice suits. While Angel may be enamoured of his necro-tempered glass, viper convertible, and high-def flat screen plasma TV, Gunn – as is to be expected — doesn’t care for the material trappings. No, it’s a more insidious thing he craves: grudging respect or even admiration from all those who would have ignored or dismissed him or tried to step on him in the past, if they had even noticed him at all. It is the ability to play the rich and the powerful at their own game and win every time.

So it certainly is understandable why Gunn is desperate when his implants start to fade and he feels himself losing the place he’s gained. However, understanding this does not change the fact that this episode marks the point where he crosses a line. The original deal with W&H was Angel’s doing, going behind the back of his team-mates. Gunn might have accepted regardless, but at least his own deal was above-table and as honest as dealings with the Wolf, Ram and Hart ever get. This time Gunn is the one going behind everybody’s backs, agreeing to do the creepy doctor an (obviously illegal) favour with unknown parameters and, once fixed, pretending the problem never existed. Indeed, given their previous reaction it’s likely the others would have trusted him far less had they known about the deal.

Mind you, Gunn is not being corrupted in the obvious ways. He still cares, still stands with his friends, and still wants to use his powers for good. The first thing he does when he gets upgraded again is to track down the Smile Time demons and give the team the information they need to save the children. We can sense his pride and his joy at being useful, at making a difference, at blazing in to save the day with a skilfully located legal text.

Next episode he will learn he inadvertently gave Fred’s murderer the weapon he needed and it will all come crashing down. Soon he will be stabbed by his former best friend and then voluntarily spend a sojourn in hell. In guilt and disgust he will throw away everything he tried so hard to hold on to this episode. Put bluntly: it sucks to be Charles Gunn, but it does make for a riveting story.

This review has so far not mentioned Spike at all. This is because his role in the episode is limited to laughing at and then getting his arse kicked by Puppet-Angel. Spike’s glee at his grandsire’s predicament is infectious, but ultimately serves no purpose. I laughed and moved on.

In the end, Smile Time is an episode that works. It takes an outrageous concept and runs away with it without ever becoming a parody of itself or an empty gimmick. It manages to cram in a surprisingly large amount of character development in what is essentially a joke-episode. It has A, B and C plots that, together, keep the pace high and keep my attention from ever waning. It even manages to be creepy at times. And of course, the first time I watched this it made me laugh more than just about anything since Monty Python. The novelty of the puppets doesn’t quite carry over to re-watches, but it still makes me smile a lot and the more heart-warming moments between Nina and Angel actually work even better when I’m not distracted by puppet-giggles. It is not the deepest or most shocking episode of Angel, nor the most lyrical or beautiful, but it is an excellent hour of television that is only brought down by the forced nature of the out-of-character Wesley and Fred plot. It’s a pity the writers dropped the ball there, but even that annoyance fades in the face of the memory of Puppet-Angel in vamp-face.

 


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ The human creator of Smile Time actually being a hand-puppet, controlled by Polo sticking a hand up his spine.
+ Nina waking up and thinking she did eat Angel.
+ The mad doc referring to Gunn’s “acute ‘Flowers for Algernon’ syndrome. Good to know that Evil keeps up with classic Science Fiction.
+ Puppet Angel managing to be bad-### with a sword despite his felt condition.
+ The classic “Angel” style power-walk, with the camera panning down to reveal scary puppet-Angel in the lead.
+ I hate song-endings. See my “Unleashed” [5×03] review for details. But ending the episode with “Self Esteem is for Everybody” is just neat.

– Since when is Fred a medical expert who can analyse blood-plasma to determine whether anything is wrong on a sub-cellular level? Honestly, people. She’s an elementary physicist! Not a haematologist or a biochemist. It’s lazy writing to make your characters experts in whatever you need them to be.
– While on the subject of Fred, what’s with her wardrobe this season? Since when does she like mini-skirts under lab-coats? Oh, that’s right. Since Cordelia was written out.
– Fred wants a guy who makes her laugh, referring to Wesley. When has Wesley ever made her laugh?
– After writing this review and watching the episode three times, I have the “Self Esteem is for Everybody” song stuck in my head.


Foreshadowing

* The W&H doctor gets Gunn to help him procure an ancient curio. This will turn out to be Illyria’s coffin.
* Knox’s rejection here no doubt motivates him further to infect Fred with the essence of an ancient god in the next episode.


[Score]

90/100

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40 thoughts on “Angel 5×14: Smile Time”

  1. [Note: Seán posted this comment on March 21, 2011.]

    Haven’t time to read your review (I’ve mentioned on the forum that I’m procrastinating from assignments) but I’m so excited to see this up and published. It’s great to see some new stuff on this site. I pretty much agree with all your pluses and minuses so that’s a good sign that I’ll be agreeing with you once I get the chance to read the full review.

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  2. [Note: Seaman posted this comment on March 21, 2011.]

    First time poster, long time listener. Great review. I saw this episode years earlier in my youth and didn’t notice or pay attention to the subtle or obvious humor. I actually just watched this a few days ago as part of my Angel marathon before Netflix gets rid of it. My favorite scene has to be the serious campy walk of Team Angel and having the camera point down towards Angel. Puppet with sword is priceless.

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  3. [Note: fray-adjacent posted this comment on March 22, 2011.]

    Excellent review, as expected. This is another one I don’t remember so well, having only seen it once and more than a year ago, but great insight into Gunn’s motivations: he doesn’t want the material wealth of Wolfram & Hart (an interesting contrast with Lilah’s, “I want all my pretty things back” in Calvary), he wants to beat evil at its own game and show everyone they were wrong about him.

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  4. [Note: Seán posted this comment on March 22, 2011.]

    I had time to read the full review. Great points and I agree with you on pretty much everything. I like Angel and Nina together here too. She irritated me ever so slightly in “Unleashed” but I really like Nina in this episode and in “Power Play”.

    I think you’re right on the money when you say that the writers decided to rush Wesley and Fred together because of the cancellation. “Smile Time” was the first episode to air since the announcement was made that Angel would not be returning for a sixth season.

    I sort of love The Self-Esteem Is For Everybody song in a perverse way.

    “While on the subject of Fred, what’s with her wardrobe this season? Since when does she like mini-skirts under lab-coats? Oh, that’s right. Since Cordelia was written out.”

    Well the cynical side of me agrees with you and of course the show needs a sexy female lead now that Cordy’s gone but perhaps Fred may have chosen to wear the mini-skirt/labcoat combo because she wanted to make an effort for work. She’s no longer hanging around the Hyperion in her duds.

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  5. [Note: BlasterBoy posted this comment on March 22, 2011.]

    Great review! I loved reading it. And I agree with most of your points, too, but you seem to like the episode much, much more than I did. I think Smile Time is a decent, silly episode. But not much more. And the Fred/Wesley nonsense irked me much more than it seemed to irk you.

    I guess one of the only things I disagree with was that I didn’t find the episode particularly funny. I felt like the humor was simply, “Heee, Angel’s a puppet!” I found bits and pieces funny, but as a whole, I think the episode didn’t really deliver in terms of the humor. You said: “‘Smile Time’ occasionally derives a laugh from having Angel act as a hyperactive puppet, but mostly takes the characters we know and love, puts them in a strange situation, and lets the comedy flow naturally from there.” I kind of disagree with this because I found most of the humor to be from the fact that Angel is a puppet. This description kind of sums up my feelings for “Spin the Bottle” because it reverts these characters back to their former selves, puts them in one room, and just lets the episode be hysterical because of their interactions. “Smile Time” tries to make me laugh simply because of the situation and that doesn’t work for me at all.

    I did think parts were funny, though! My favorite funny bits were Spike’s response to Angel being a puppet and the last quote you have on your list about how the puppets have to uphold a certain quality of entertainment. That one had me laughing for a bit. And I basically agree with you about everything else. GREAT point about how Angel is acting as a puppet for W&H so this situation fits his character at the time perfectly. It’s one of my favorite parts of the episode because I find it pretty clever. And I agree that the MOTW works really, really well as slightly threatening, slightly hysterical, and slightly creepy. It’s a really good mix. And again, fantastic points about Gunn that made me look at that story closer and in a new way. My one problem about Nina in this episode is that I don’t really care. I think it has some good development for Angel, but I don’t care for Nina at all, in either a positive or negative way. She’s one of the few characters that I really just don’t have an opinion on, she’s just kind of there, and since she has a large part in this episode, it sometimes had a hard time interesting me. It’s well done, but I don’t think the show did a good enough job to make me care about Nina. But that’s really just for me, personally.

    And ugh, thanks for bringing up the whole Fred/Wesley thing. Just like you, I really think it came out of nowhere. After two years of Wesley pinning after Fred and fantasizing about her and having her shoot him down EVERY time….she suddenly is in love with him…? I really don’t buy it. And the fact that they didn’t even spend any time trying to make it feel believable is really sloppy. Maybe it’s the fact that the Wesley/Fred story has such a huge effect on the story (seeing as the next episode is AHITW and all) that makes me incredibly annoyed. But this disregard of characterization and continuity bring down the episode greatly, for me, and brings down the next episode even more. With that said, I loved it ending with the song “Self-Esteem is for Everybody”. What can I say, I just couldn’t stop grinning!

    So overall, I pretty much agree with you about everything, but I found the episode not as funny as you did, Nina bored me more, and the Fred/Wes thing seemed to bug me more than you, too. It sounds like I hate the episode, but I swear, I don’t. Despite all these things, the episode is pretty entertaining and has a few really great ideas (character and plotwise). I would probably give the episode anywhere from a 70 (C+) to an 80 (B). I know, quite a large range, but I’m still a little unsure whether the fun of the episode makes me entertained enough to bring it up or if the Fred/Wes stuff is annoying enough to bring it down. Hmmm, not sure.

    Either way, thanks for another really great and well-written review! And wow, sorry for such a long comment, heh.

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  6. [Note: Giles_314 posted this comment on March 22, 2011.]

    I think that Gunn is probably the biggest missed-opportunity character.

    It seems like through so much of the series, they really had no idea what to do with him. They introduce him as the kind of guy who would never abandon his gang, his family. And what has he done by the end of the very next season? Ditched his old family to hang with his new one. This could have been done with so much more finesse and attention to character.

    I do enjoy his arc in Season 5, but I feel like it hadn’t been built up enough before then. I think his whole story of feeling under appreciated kind of came out of the blue somewhere in season 4, with little to no justification. Considering how important that feeling ended up being for the character’s story in S5, I really wish it had been established better and more thoroughly earlier in the series.

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  7. [Note: Iguana-on-a-stick posted this comment on March 23, 2011.]

    Everybody: Thanks for the feedback!

    Fray: I don’t think Gunn needs the upgrade just because he wants to help people. He may tell himself that, but it’s not what’s really at work. He was always doing more to help the city than any dozen lawyers. I think the need to be respected and perceived as someone who matters plays a bigger role here. He wants to have it all, have it both. This is the lesson he learns later in the season, when in “Not Fade Away” he spends his last day helping Anne in the shelter. My point was more that he had not forgotten about his mission, not turned his back on it, but just lost his path.

    Seán: Since when are mini-skirts office dress-to-impress code? I’d have believed that argument if she had started wearing Lilah-style power-suits.

    Giles: I quite agree. Gunn was never dumb muscle, he was a leader stuck in a hopeless fight who turned to Angel both in hopes of finally making some headway in the fight and perhaps to escape the desperate situation his gang was in, particularly after his sister’s death.

    None of this was ever explored to any great extent. “This old gang of mine” made a rather shoddy effort and after that Gunn was “Fred’s Love-interest” and started to suffer from self-esteem issues.

    That said, I don’t think it brings his arc in this season or this episode down at all. (Not like Fred/Wesley, which came out of nowhere even in the context of season 5. Gunn’s issues have been building since season 4, even if they did come out of nowhere there.) I’d definitely have more to complain about in a review of Charles Gunn’s entire 5-season character arc. Here I’m just glad they’re finally using him in a way that’s really interesting.

    BlasterBoy: Long comments are anything but unwelcome. To address your points:

    The Fred and Wes romance does irk me a lot. To quote myself: “It is not convincing, it is not good characterisation, and it is not good television. This is the plot forcing the characters to act like marionettes, and not in the amusing “Angel is a wee puppet man!” way.” It definitely brings the score down. I give them a little slack because of the series’ cancellation, and more because they don’t take up that much screentime, but it certainly irks me. I’ll have a lot more to say on the subject when I get around to reviewing “Hole in the World.”

    As for the humour, that’d be the difficulty of reviewing a comedy episode. Mileage’ll vary considerably depending on what your sense of humour is. I’ve a healthy appreciation of the absurd , which this episode delivers in large doses, and I don’t mind silly. When I first watched this episode I couldn’t stop laughing, and anything that does that is going to get a favourable assessment. An episode that is clever and does interesting things with (most of) the characters on top of that is going to be rated among the best.

    Anyway, I stand by my assessment. Some of the funniest exchanges, such as Angel locking Nina in the cage and his subsequent conversation with Wesley come well before the puppet antics. Angel so absorbed by his own troubles he doesn’t notice Nina is changing even as he’s promising to pay more attention to what goes on around him is part silly-puppetry (the Angel-puppet getting all torn up and chew-toyed) and part classic Angel obliviousness. I also love observing the characters’ reactions to Puppet-Angel. For some reason Nina’s very understated attempts not to freak out amuse me the most (after Spike’s schadenfreude, of course.)

    Finally Nina: as I said in my review of “Unleashed” she indeed never gets established all that well. But in this episode she functions just fine as a kind of everywoman and foil for Angel. Angel is still the main character, we don’t know all that much about Nina, but I’d feel for anyone who gets treated the way Angel does her and still tries to stay mature and composed and polite about it. Still, I don’t expect anyone to get truly absorbed by her.

    Anyway, thanks for all the comments people. It makes reviewing a lot more fun.

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  8. [Note: fray-adjacent posted this comment on March 23, 2011.]

    Hmmm, I don’t think we were ever disagreeing about Gunn’s motivations, Iguana. Anyway, I agree with both you and Giles about lack of attention to Gunn, though I would add that Fred gets even less attention. However, when the writers introduce Gunn’s insecurity about being the “muscle” in Season 4, it mostly works for me. This is first because it dovetails with his and Fred’s breakup and Wesley’s manipulations thereof. Gunn was afraid Fred would leave him for Wesley because Wesley is better educated (and, in Gunn’s mind, smarter). This plays into insecurities that it’s easy imagine Gunn having — growing up a poor black orphan in LA, his opportunities for education and in life in general were few and far between. This brings me to the second reason that this development of Gunn in S4 works for me.

    That reason is that Gunn is a black character on an otherwise all-white (and green) show (and, speaking from his character’s perspective, a black man in an otherwise all white group). Gunn’s insecurities about being the “muscle” act on an almost meta level that I am inclined to think was intentional. This is most apparent in “Home”, the S4 finale.

    Two scenes in particular come to mind: the first when Gunn’s Wolfram & Hart tourguide walks him past the security department and he assumes that is his final destination. It makes sense: not only is this how Angel has often treated Gunn (more on that in a minute), but the role of security guard also a very likely place to see a bald-headed black man on American television (including “Angel”, Gunn himself excepted).

    The second scene is when he goes to the white room. I hardly think it a coincidence that he found a black panther up there. (And he himself is wearing light blue, one of the Black Panther Party’s colors! Though that part might be unintentional.) Not having started S5 yet on my rewatch, I don’t recall if we the audience ever learned what happened in that room, but I think it’s safe to interpret that scene, and Gunn’s ready acceptance of his W&H offer afterward, as saying that he views this as an opportunity for self-empowerment as a black man, something AI didn’t offer him.

    Which brings me to my final comment, which is the part of this that I find hardest to believe is not Gunn’s development per se, but the way that others in AI treat him, which leads to that development. It actually starts in S2, when Angel fires everyone and Wesley becomes the leader with little or no discussion. Whenever I watch that I want to shout at the screen that *Gunn* is the character who actually has years of experience leading a group of demon-fighters. More experience than Angel, actually. Anyway, by S4, when others are referring to Gunn as the “muscle”, I find it a little puzzling, since he played a number of other significant roles in AI: his charisma gave clients trust in him, he was a good reader of social situations, and so forth. So in that sense I think the “Gunn=muscle” thing sort of came out of nowhere in S4.

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  9. [Note: G1000 posted this comment on March 26, 2011.]

    Great review, as always. This is, in my opinion, the single funniest Whedonverse episode (although “Buffy’s” “Something Blue” is a close second).

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  10. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on March 27, 2011.]

    Iguana, awesome job. Your review is really good and I kind of agree with Wes and Fred. In fact, they are one of the reasons the beginning of S5 seems so weird for me. And I totally agree with you about Gunn. He has a great arc this season and you are spot on.

    ” it will not span years and continents. There will not be blood shed and lives ruined”.

    I may be wrong, but this is Logan´s speech to Veronica, isn´t?

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  11. [Note: Iguana-on-a-stick posted this comment on March 27, 2011.]

    *snigger* Oh, yes it is. Or rather, the inverse of his speech. I was waiting for someone to catch that, figures it would be you.

    Oh, and thanks for the comment. And G1000 too, of course. If I had to name the funniest Whedonverse episodes those two probably would be my top picks.

    Fray: Those are some excellent points on Gunn, questions I confess I never thought to ask regarding season 2. In part because I was busy asking why he stayed with the group in the first place, in part because it was so… casually assumed by everyone that I never put two and two together. I’ll keep it in mind for future reviews.

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  12. [Note: Giles_314 posted this comment on March 27, 2011.]

    Personally, I think that the fact that Wes, Gunn, and Cordy didn’t try to help Angel, and instead decided to embark on their own at all was stupid. Sure, he fired them, and clearly didn’t want them to help him, but I don’t think that would be enough considering they all knew he was in a really dark place. I suppose I never really thought that Gunn should have been their leader because I thought it was so stupid that they teamed up in the first place, but it makes sense. Frankly, I don’t know why Gunn didn’t just bail then. He even said that it was just a part time gig for him anyway, but then turns up in Caritas as lost as everyone else. I just don’t get it.

    I do agree that his character arc in season 5 is awesome, I simply regret that it had to come so out of nowhere. It would have been really nice if they had thought about where they wanted to take the character long before season 4.

    Although, for all my whining about Gunn, I really think that Fred is by far the least developed character on Angel, which is clearly evident in this episode. That makes me sad because Amy Acker is so awesome. Maybe that’s why Joss gave her such an interesting role in Dollhouse.

    Also, I neglected to say it in my last post, but this is a great review. Good job, Iguana.

    Like

  13. [Note: JammyJu posted this comment on March 27, 2011.]

    I’m currently on a re-watch of Angel at the moment, and I’ve just finish Reprise.

    Anyway, these comments and review have saddened me somewhat; not because Gunn eventually meets a sticky end, but he all along has a good heart throughout S5, even though people begin to begrudge and lose faith in him.

    I dunno, I guess he’s such an honest character it’s a shame he doesn’t have a huge destiny or potential to fill out like the others do.

    Anyway, good review Iguana! x

    Like

  14. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on March 28, 2011.]

    Gunn may tell himself that he wants to help but he likes his new status, that he is not just the muscle. Reminds me a bit of Sam in S4 of Supernatural: he says he wants to help people but he really likes the rush the blood gives him, the control over his own life.

    Like

  15. [Note: fray-adjacent posted this comment on March 29, 2011.]

    Giles, I agree, the writers didn’t do much to convince us that Gunn would have wanted to stick around after Angel fired them. It makes more sense after “The Thin Dead Line,” when Gunn and Wesley bond. But how they got to that point in the first place is an open question.

    I just watched “Smile Time” and had “Self Esteem” in my head for several hours afterward. 🙂 Also, the doctor that puts the law in Gunn’s head totally reminds me of Mr. Rogers.

    Like

  16. [Note: Miscellaneopolan posted this comment on April 20, 2011.]

    Great review, Iguana! I especially enjoy your discussion of the sudden Fred-Wesley relationship.

    About Fred’s short skirts. I agree that they’re not appropriate work-place attire, but weren’t they explained within the context of the episode? I remember some dialogue between Angel and Wesley about how women send “signals” that men may or may not notice. I thought Fred’s wardrobe was a take on that. She was trying to send Wesley signals that he was missing. It doesn’t mean that the clothes make sense for Fred’s character, but they did have a point.

    Fray: Hey, why DIDN’T they make Gunn the leader back in Season 2? I never thought of that! Perhaps the writers (and myself, apparently) were guilty of a little subconscious prejudice.

    Like

  17. [Note: Iguana-on-a-stick posted this comment on April 21, 2011.]

    Giles, Misc: Thanks!

    The signal explanation would work except the short skirt thing already starts back in the second episode of season 5. I just mentioned it here because it fits in with the rest of the criticism about her development, and it’s particularly blatant in this episode.

    Like

  18. [Note: fray-adjacent posted this comment on April 24, 2011.]

    I’m not sure they should have made Gunn the leader back in S2, and anyway I suspect the network execs wouldn’t have allowed it. But it would’ve been nice for them to at least discuss it. The argument in favor of Wesley would be that he’s been a core part of the group for longer and is more familiar with the day-to-day running of AI. Though by that logic, Cordy should’ve been the leader. 🙂

    On the topic of short skirts: I noticed some (more subtle) changes in Fred’s look much earlier, around the time of her and Gunn’s breakup. Very suddenly, in the middle of the blotting-out-of-the-sun arc, her hair was much more styled looking and she was wearing visible makeup. I think the real reason for this is along the lines of what Iguana wrote in this review: they were making Fred the new hot girl to replace Cordy. But a fan-wanky interpretation could be that on some level she was already trying to look good for Wesley. Not sure I believe it myself, though.

    Like

  19. [Note: TheTuna posted this comment on July 31, 2011.]

    This is indeed an excellent episode. There was one thing which bothered me, however; the handwaving of Angel’s curse.

    Sure, maybe Angel will only have “acceptable” happiness for Nina. But he CANNOT take that chance. If he starts sleeping with her on a regular basis, and something goes wrong once, even ONCE, the very first thing Angelus is going to do when he opens his eyes is kill her.

    Angel simply cannot take that risk. While I don’t think he shouldn’t pursue a relationship, there’s no way he can possibly chance sleeping with somebody given the curse.

    And god, the end of this episode is heartbreakingly tragic when you know what’s coming next. Wes and Fred smiling and the happy music…it’s utterly depressing.

    Like

  20. [Note: Louisa posted this comment on August 1, 2011.]

    Please continue reviewing the rest of the Angel episodes. I enjoy reading them, and I’ve been reading your reviews before watching them so I won’t miss anything. I appreciate the point of view, the reference material, the big picture, the commentary. Good job!

    I think the curse is lame, by the way. It’s essential to Angel’s character, true, or it was, but it’s hard to sustain belief in it’s power when Spike got his soul back without a curse, and when the curse was done by a witch. Someone as powerful as Willow should be able to edit the text and lose the perfect happiness clause. Willow was just a beginner and in the hospital with brain trauma the first time she re-cursed Angel, after all. Wesley should be able to handle it. Does season 4 tell us that the curse has a “higher purpose” in keeping Angelus on standby? Well, maybe if there had been an Angel Season 6. . .

    Hey, what about reviewing FireFly or Dollhouse while you’re at it? Yup, asking a lot.

    Like

  21. [Note: Iguana-on-a-stick posted this comment on August 2, 2011.]

    Glad to hear it. Do note though that the Angel reviews are done by a bunch of different people nowadays, since the guy who originally did them wasn’t able to complete the project due to real-life issues.

    Mike would love to see more shows reviewed on this site, as long as such reviews meet the standards he sets, but for the moment we don’t have anybody lined up to review Firefly or Dollhouse.

    I’m a bit surprised you read these -before- watching, however. Doesn’t that make the reviews hard to understand and doesn’t that spoil all kinds of developments for you? Still, to each his own.

    As for the curse: Yes, it’s strange that Angel never tries in any way to get out of the happiness-clause, or at least that nobody ever mentions the possibility.

    However, I do think it is in-character for Angel not to want to remove that part of the curse. Angel is a man who strongly believes in the concept of penance. He will not accept redemption in any way, shape or form unless he has to crawl through broken glass first. That’s why he destroys the Ring of Amara. It’s part of why he turns back time and becomes a vampire again after the whole Mora-Demon incident. So I don’t think there’s a “higher purpose” to the curse, but I do think there’s a… well, more personal purpose. I imagine that Angel would wave away any attempt to fiddle with it claiming it’s “too risky” while subconsciously panicking at the very thought of not having it as an excuse anymore.

    Tuna: I’m not too sure that sex is the only possible way to fulfil the perfect happiness clause. The characters think so early on, leading to a lot of eunuch jokes, but the evidence is hardly conclusive. Not to mention the whole “Eternity” thing muddling the waters.

    Like

  22. [Note: nathan.taurus posted this comment on August 19, 2011.]

    The Good:

    -The sign on the door for the Nest Egg. “DON’T”

    -Everyone’s introduction to puppet Angel, especially Spike and Fred.

    -Puppet Angel does not have puppet cancer. First time I have ever heard of such a disease.

    -The ‘Self Esteem’ song is so catchy and one of the best kids songs ever. It has real meaning.

    -The evil red headed puppet with Dora the Explorer sidekick….I’m kidding.

    -The closest to nudity the series has come.

    The Bad:

    -The pedophilic intro. How did nobody catch it during filming or editing?

    -Whedon’s way of destroying happiness even before a date happens. Damn you.

    The cast/crew found out the series was cancelled during filming of ‘Underneath’, so the happenings here are just bad writing/plotting. Good job writing Iguana!

    Like

  23. [Note: Keaton posted this comment on October 22, 2011.]

    Nice review, but again, I have some objections. 😉

    First, to me this was not as funny as some of the earlier episodes this season, not even close. It was funny and I enjoyed it but the puppets are kind of a cheap way to make you laugh.

    “It is by no means enough to turn his path around, not even Cordelia in “You’re Welcome” [5×12] quite managed that.”

    She did, she reassured him to believe that he is strong enough to overcome any evil schemes W&H might have plotted, even from the inside. She said sth about him coming through all of this in the end, don’t remember exactly.

    Nina is smoking hot btw, but still, I kinda miss Cordy. ;(

    Anyone else picturing Angel sleeping with Nina, while in the same time he constantly tries to brood so he doesn’t risk to reach the state of perfect happiness? I do and I find the thought just hilarious! XD

    “Then we have Angel baring his soul, revealing his puppet-state and for once in his life opening up, talking about his hopes and fears… only to miss Nina changing into a werewolf and attacking him.”

    I also thought of this scene as the funniest in the episode… besides the hooting sounds from the trumpet-nosed puppet that seem to be some kind of complex language which can only be understood by evil puppets.

    About Fred:

    Noooooooo!!!!!! (not because of a spoiler, already saw the next episode)

    Crap… Why? Why?! Why?!!! ;(

    Well, guess I have to get over it.

    “That said, their actual interaction in this episode isn’t that bad, it’s just the utter disregard for continuity that bring the storyline down.”

    The Fred-Wesley relationship surely is messed up because with this memory wipe we can’t know what they know or feel (because we don’t know how exactly the senior partners have altered their memory). In S05 it seems that Wes completely gave up to court Fred and we just don’t know why. In Lineage one of the reasons he shot his father so furiously and let Fred walk away with Knox (Wes saw how afraid she was of him) was because of his love for her, which obviously was very strong and selfless.

    The thing is, when I can deduce stuff like that, Fred can do it too and so she could have gotten over Wesleys actions on the rooftop and realized how much she meant to him. Of course the upcoming episode is the main reason for her behavior in this one but it still makes sense in a complicated way imo.

    Knox is unimportant btw, Fred doesn’t care about him.

    “She preferred the company of her colleague Knox”

    Doesn’t mean anything, she might have felt uncomfortable around Wes as you said, but she wasn’t dating him anyway.

    “No, it’s a more insidious thing he craves: grudging respect or even admiration from all those who would have ignored or dismissed him or tried to step on him in the past, if they had even noticed him at all.”

    And that’s the sad thing about the whole Gunn arc, he wasn’t introduced as some kind of insecure school dropout who envied the rich folk, he was a proud hero in his community who always was in charge of his own life and “didn’t take shit from anyone”. I really don’t like his arc, but I don’t care about him that much anyway.

    “Mind you, Gunn is not being corrupted in the obvious ways.”

    Yes he is! 😛

    “Since when is Fred a medical expert who can analyse blood-plasma to determine whether anything is wrong on a sub-cellular level?”

    Ummm, let me guess, head of the science department? Doesn’t matter if she can do it herself, if not, she just instructs one of her minions.

    Still, nice review, looking forward to read you next one. 🙂

    Like

  24. [Note: Alexei posted this comment on February 24, 2012.]

    There are sooo many people that love this episode but i find it one of the worst in S5. I have read this review and some others aswell but i just can’t get myself to enyoj it. Plot? Bad. Puppets? Bad. Angel puppet? Bad. Humor? Bad. Horror? Bad. Character development? Decent. I don’t mean to bash, but how can someone compare this to episodes like Damage,Lineage, Not Fade Away, Underneath, You’re Welcome ??

    Like

  25. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on February 24, 2012.]

    I’ve always found “Smile Time” to be a little overrated, Alexei, but I do find it pretty funny, although not quite the funniest Whedon has produced, imo. I think it’s a pretty good episode overall, but it’s certainly not perfect. Iguana’s A- might be a smidgen generous for my taste, but fairly reasonable nonetheless.

    Like

  26. [Note: peter posted this comment on March 27, 2012.]

    Does Nina ever come back after this episode ? Also since no one has reviewed the next episode ,I just want to say Andy Hallet playing a threating Lorne against Eve was amazing he pulled it off very well considoring Lorne rarly engages in violence

    Like

  27. [Note: wytchcroft posted this comment on June 11, 2012.]

    Smile Time is also a great commentary on tv in general and Angel in particular. Not for nothing does David Fury play the show creator who turns out to have the hands of hidden vested interests up his puppet-hole.

    Like

  28. [Note: Ben posted this comment on August 23, 2012.]

    Really glad you highlighted the whole Fred/Wesley issue. I understand why they did it and the next episode is heartbreaking because of it, but it just so comes out of nowhere.

    Nothing happens to make Fred suddenly love Wesley. Nothing. Everything is the same as its been for the past 3 years for both characters, the 3 years where Fred felt no romantic feelings for him. It’s like she just wakes up one day and suddenly loves him. It just doesn’t feel right.

    Like

  29. [Note: Dave posted this comment on November 18, 2012.]

    David Fury acting in an episode? Excellent. Spike’s reaction to puppet Angel is one of my favourite moments in the series.

    Like

  30. [Note: nathan.taurus posted this comment on January 20, 2013.]

    This episode teaches children to follow instructions and don’t break and enter. Angel ignores the sign ‘DON’T’ and ends up being punished by being turned into a puppet. See kids, reading signs can save you from felt hell.

    “I’m gonna tear you a new puppet hole, bitch!” Hilarious.

    Self esteem is for everybody. Self esteem is for everyone. You can dream and be anybody but, self esteem is how you get it done.

    Like

  31. [Note: Biogirl posted this comment on August 22, 2013.]

    For everyone commenting that Fred’s attraction to Wes is out of the blue, I agree, but also can’t help but feeling the same way about Angel & Nina. I know Angel has had like a season and a half to heal from the ‘what if’ idea of a relationship between he and Cordy, but she JUST died. It seems a little soon to be interested in dating, no matter how much he deserves quote acceptable happiness.

    “While on the subject of Fred, what’s with her wardrobe this season? Since when does she like mini-skirts under lab-coats? Oh, that’s right. Since Cordelia was written out.”

    Fred also knows she has 2 hot guys after her and an ex on the property. Who wouldn’t dress up a little (ok a lot) in those circumstances?

    Like

  32. [Note: Iguana-on-a-stick posted this comment on August 23, 2013.]

    You have a good point on Nina. A disadvantage of this system where we all write randomly picked reviews out of order is that it hadn’t registered quite clearly enough to me just how soon after “You’re Welcome” this episode is.

    Like

  33. [Note: Biogirl posted this comment on August 23, 2013.]

    It’s Ok, Iguana, I consider it a small price to pay for having reviews at all.

    Thanks for all your – and everyone’s – hard work!

    Like

  34. [Note: Nebula Nox posted this comment on January 17, 2014.]

    I love how the title Smile Time is similar to Happy Days, with a similar meaning and construction.

    Like

  35. [Note: nathan.taurus posted this comment on April 14, 2014.]

    Just watched it again and agree that it marked the final point that Knox made the decision to create Illyria. Had he not lost Fred to Wesley I doubt he would have gone ahead with his plan.
    And seeing the big mistake Gunn makes. The upgrades were meant for the first case in ‘Conviction’ and he felt useless without them. The choices we make.

    Enjoy the final fun episode before the pain.

    Like

  36. [Note: naoss posted this comment on January 7, 2015.]

    After reconsidering the Fred/Wes affair, even if it would have been frustrating, i think the showrunner could have brought this at the last minute and still be more convincing if Fread had revealed her feeling in the subsequents episodes.
    Upon realizing she was screwed, she could have mentioned a relationship with Wes amongs the many things she could have done if she had more time. She wouldn’t have to emphasis how much she would want it as the whole point is to break Wes even more, not to actually provide him the relationship.

    Like

  37. [Note: Iguana-on-a-stick posted this comment on January 7, 2015.]

    You know, that would have made me like both this episode and HitW much better.

    Missed opportunities and could-have-beens would have made the ending of that episode even more tragic. And moreover, it would have been about -Fred’s- choices. It would have been -her- tragedy, not Wesley’s. Her path not taken. And HitW sorely needed that.

    And, as you point out, it would still have kicked Wesley down suitably hard. Especially if Fred then comes back as an alien evil god.

    Yeah, I like it.

    Like

  38. [Note: LouisLittForEmperor posted this comment on January 15, 2016.]

    Is it me or could Puppet Cancer make a good name for an edgy Jim Henson appreciation group. At the very least it could make a good band name.

    Like

  39. [Note: Flamepillar112 posted this comment on September 16, 2016.]

    This episode alone should have guaranteed Angel another season, at least. It has to be the most absurdly brilliant concept Whedon ever came up with.

    Like

  40. [Note: flootzavut posted this comment on October 12, 2016.]

    I always find the Fresley relationship deeply unsatisfying, for all the reasons you mention here, except you’ve articulated it so much better than I’ve ever been able to.

    Like

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