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3x18: "Double or Nothing"
Review by Ryan Bovay (Ryan-R.B.)
Posted on July 23, 2007
Writer: David H. Goodman | Director: David Grossman | Air Date: 04/22/2002

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Spoiler Warning!
This is a retrospective review and may contain spoilers from anywhere in the series. Read at your own peril.
Review

Here is another episode like "Forgiving" [3x17] with a large burden on it shoulders. The main arc of the season has been resolved, so now we need to ask the question: where do we go from here? "Double or Nothing," for what it's worth, does a superb job of answering the question and moving this new section of the season forward. It's quite far from being a superb episode, but it's overall a solid piece of character work that introduces and solves a good episodic conflict. The plot takes Gunn to an important new place while putting Angel in a situation that's relevant to his current dilemma, and weaves it all together to form an entertaining, and sometimes surprisingly potent hour.

The setup is another from the monster-of-the-week library: A demon that runs a casino sends his repo man to collect Gunn's soul; a deal which Gunn willingly made. This is, of course, the weakest part of the episode. Jenoff and his demons inspire no fear in us as an audience, and we can tell they're headed for an unpleasant dispatching. Along with the episode's too-quick dismissal of a major issue, they're the major stain. But the fear they put into Gunn is what makes them worthy devices; worthy enough anyway. Seeing Fred's ability to find an upside to everything (such as with the grumpy demons), to be unstoppably happy and affectionate, and just realizing how well they work makes Gunn realize for the first time in his life he sees a future for himself: Fred.

I've never been a particular fan of the Fred-Gunn pairing; its best use is in the conflicts it creates for Wesley, and neither Gunn nor Fred becomes terribly interesting until next season. But I've never hated them being paired up either, and here the relationship is portrayed as something loving, stable and having potential for a long life. These are some qualities you often don't see on this show (especially stable), so the episode manages to earn my affections for these people based on that. And the horror of a being losing its soul is one we're not unfamiliar with, so the general conflict is intriguing enough.

For as long as we've known him Gunn has been a man preoccupied with death, whether that be dealing it or suffering through it. His inaugural episode ("War Zone" [1x20]) showed him fighting a daily, desperate war against vampires, which had given him a fixation with death and had worn him to the point of even wanting it sometimes. We knew that version of Gunn well: dressed in a vest and du rag, ready to take on whatever stupid scheme came his way. He even carried on the latter 'stupid-scheme' trait into S2. But this season has seen him come to terms with his issues with Angel ("That Old Gang of Mine" [3x03]) and bond strongly with Wes and Cordy.

Angel Investigations has at last become a home. And with Fred now in the mix, he sees an entire life there. This is why his utter pain at having to so harshly deject her works well. In a heartbreaking scene, he flies off the handle at her to get her away, knowing the danger he'd put her in once he all but 'died' upon losing his soul. That he is willing to go so far to selflessly deprive himself shows a stark contrast between who he once was: a man who sold his soul for a truck. We knew that Gunn in "War Zone" [1x20]. His entire life was a desperate situation full of impossible decisions.

He barely had a childhood, and was forced to grow up as a soldier, which is why he had never been one for well laid plans, for a soldier thinks in the now only, or he or she is as good as dead. Given that, it's not a stretch to imagine that he would trade his soul for something practically useful; a means to the ends of saving the lives of the people around him. A soldier is the most fearless when he already assumes he's dead, and that was Gunn's life. I feel the only problem with this is the ridiculousness of Gunn's entire life being caught in the balance over a truck, and this revelation coming very late.

For the plot of the episode to be hinged on this we should've been informed of it as early on as possible, because by the time we get to the reveal we've been wondering so long about an answer it feels like a letdown, especially in an episode about love and hope. Moreover the episode should've taken greater steps to justify it, because unless you remember Charles Gunn the soldier from "War Zone" [1x20], you'd probably wince at this idea. I almost did even on my re-watch, which put the episode in a far more favourable light than my first watch through did.

But what really elevates the episode to a more relevant height is Angel's plot, which takes up a significantly less amount of screen time than Gunn's, yet does so much more with nothing but quiet stares. For the first three scenes Angel is in, he does nothing but quietly and painfully watch Connor's charred crib. These scenes are heart-breakingly effective; with nothing but David Boreanaz's misty eyes to go on, we can see into a man utterly destroyed and filled with hopeless longing. Angel sees his son, his prospect for a real future and a deep connection to this world gone. Cordelia reads at his side with the deepest understanding, and the two of them sitting, doing nothing, is so powerful.

I love that after all this time Cordy is the one who understands Angel the most, perhaps even better than Buffy ever could have, simply because of the point in their lives the two women have known him. Angel finally opens up to her somberly, his ability to pin the blame for Connor's demise on someone in "Forgiving" [3x17] a failure, and confesses the extent of his pain. Like Gunn he thought he'd finally had a future. He'd built up a circle of friends around him and found a purpose, but in the existence of someone else Angel had found a far more potent way for him to really live on. And as a vampire, he'll never have another child.

So his one and only chance for a real life beyond life, even his immortal one, was his son. With Connor he felt he could survive anything, and even got through losing Cordelia to the Groosalug in "Couplet" [3x14], but he's rendered so inert now compared to the previous episodes that it's shocking to see. This man of action has been reduced to almost nothing, and has no reason to go on. Until his plot intersects with Gunn. Angel makes a similar decision to the one he made last episode: selfishly indulge in his pain or overcome it for their sake. And even from his place of terrible pain, he's able to burrow his way out.

The final scene at the casino is surprisingly potent as Angel lays his entire future on the line for someone else's. And in a nice touch, Cordy, who has always been the most ready to stake Angel with the threat of Angelus' return hanging overhead, instead is ready to stab Jenoff; the score has changed from the old days, and she knows as well as we do that Angelus is long gone. This is Angel, and he fights for his friends. Watching him chop Jenoff's head off was such a balls-out moment that I think I jumped up and yelled out a 'hell yeah' the first time I saw it. The Angel of yore, who takes no prisoners and suffers no fools.

The episode ends with Gunn securely returned to his place of happiness, knowing firmly what he's realized, and Angel ready to begin moving on. Again the lessons of S2 and his dealings with Darla inform his experiences; all he can do is move on. And cold, alone, in the dark, Wesley is left with no other option. He still has a lot of pain to come.

Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+Groo taking over the front desk. "Hail to you, potential client!"
+Wesley being absolutely destroyed in one scene. Poor Wes.
+Pancake kiss!
+Angel CHOPPING Jenoff's head off. Pure awesome.
Foreshadowing
  • Angel's sheer-force and gutsy methods impress Jenoff as much as him having a soul. In "Not Fade Away" [5x22] Lindsey commends Angel, saying that his 'big brass testes' are worth just as much that soul of his.
70/100C+
N/A

DEPTH
N/A

EMOTION
N/A

CHARACTER
N/A

PLOT
Quotes
FRED:Don't forget your machete!
GUNN:(with a smile) Yes, dear. (leaves)
GROOSALUG:(watching, to Lorne) He is very fortunate to have such a woman looking after his weapon.
LORNE:I'm not touching that one.

ANGEL:(about Connor) I think he was gonna be left-handed. The way he would hold on to your fingers? His left hand always squeezed just a little bit tighter. - Kid had a grip. He was gonna be a south paw for sure. - When you live as long as I do, you eventually lose everyone. - I'm not saying you get used to it but - you expect it. You deal. - But he was just... - - He was just a little... (Sighs) - You think you know something about living because you have this really long life. - And that's really all we have, I mean, in my case anyway. And one day you wake up - and you have something else.
CORDELIA:A future.

GUNN:Something wrong with your shake? It's your favorite
FRED:I'm kinda full.
GUNN:(surprised) Oh my God, this is serious.

CORDELIA:Fred, are you sure he didn't? I mean, those things you said he said to you...
FRED:(tears in her eyes) I know I said he said those things to me, but he would never say those things to me.
CORDELIA:Those things he said?
FRED:Exactly! That's why I know he's in trouble.
ANGEL:Let me get this straight. (a pause) You and Gunn are dating?
FRED:NOT ANYMORE, I GUESS!

GROOSALUG:(the demons all approach them) Now we fight.
ANGEL:(looks around, looks at Jenoff) Anybody else in here owe this guy? (They consider, and RUSH JENOFF)


Comments (15)
All Comments | Link1 | DingdongalisticJul 24, 2007
"It’s quite far from being a superb episode, but it’s overall a solid piece of character work "

What?

"that introduces and solves a good episodic conflict. "

What?!

"The plot takes Gunn to an important new place "

WhHAT!?!

"while putting Angel in a situation that’s relevant to his current dilemma, and weaves it all together to form an entertaining, and sometimes surprisingly potent hour."

Don't sell your souls for a big truck kids, because it might come back and bite you on the ass. But don't worry, because as long as you have cut off the heads of your enemies all will be fine.

Sorry, but even I can't make anything out of what the episode's supposed to be about, or what message it's supposed to be preaching. It just seems convoluted and contrary. Go with a message, a philosophy, and stick with it, go with a consistent narrative. If you're going to introduce consequences for an action, stick with it, instead of just avoiding them in a different way at the end.
All Comments | Link2 | Ryan-R.B. | WRITERJul 24, 2007
I found the theme a little obvious at points, actually. I don't know what you're missing, dingdong. At times you seem to hit the nail on the head but here you just seem angry and baleful. Needlessly, even.

The theme of the episode is about the future. There's a clear parallel between Gunn and Angel, two people who've lost or found their ways to a full, long life (figuratively for Angel). Angel is left completely inert by the loss of the deepest human connection he's ever known to the world, and Gunn celebrates the rich one he's found in someone he loves.

When what Angel knows to be valuable is threatened, he manages to climb out of his deep hole of pain to take action to help save Gunn by putting his own soul on the line. When that doesn't work, he improvises as he always does. You can say that the episode is crippled by its plot issue, and I'd believe accept your point, but to say there's no message or a convoluted theme just makes me think you're not looking at all.

You've given me no solid rationale to back up your opinions; it's just bile, of which I'm not a fan.
All Comments | Link3 | DingdongalisticJul 25, 2007
"I found the theme a little obvious at points, actually. I don't know what you're missing, dingdong. At times you seem to hit the nail on the head but here you just seem angry and baleful. Needlessly, even."



Sorry. Maybe I was a little over-the-top, but I just find this episode to be a little insultingly unintelligent.



Thing is, from the beginning, it appears to be all about consequences, but it abandons this right at the end for no good reason, as if this was no problem at the beginning at all. There just appears to be no point by the episode at all, and this confuses and frustrates me.



"The theme of the episode is about the future. There's a clear parallel between Gunn and Angel, two people who've lost or found their ways to a full, long life (figuratively for Angel). Angel is left completely inert by the loss of the deepest human connection he's ever known to the world, and Gunn celebrates the rich one he's found in someone he loves."



Well, I see where you're coming from, but Angel's theme has always followed through actions with consequences, but this episode doesn't appear to follow through with that at the end.



"When what Angel knows to be valuable is threatened, he manages to climb out of his deep hole of pain to take action to help save Gunn by putting his own soul on the line. When that doesn't work, he improvises as he always does. "



The point is: why does he even try in the first place then? Why doesn't he just cheat at first, if he's got no desire to cooperate when things go badly? There'd be less on the line then, and in fact showing what he does to succeed removes any point from the episode in the first place. There's no consequences, so there'd have been no consequences if Gunn had just gone out and killed the demons to begin with, and thus there wasn't a problem with his actions in the first place. If the episode wanted to go with that, it should have done so from the beginning and at least been consistent about it.



"You can say that the episode is crippled by its plot issue, and I'd believe accept your point, "



Ah well, every cloud has a silver lining. ;)



"but to say there's no message or a convoluted theme just makes me think you're not looking at all."



Well, what I'm looking at is the theme in the beginning of the story that actions have consequences, and its subsequent contradiction by the end of the story. If you're going to introduce a theme, stick with it and follow it through, don't abandon it, and certainly don't contradict it by the end of the story.



"You've given me no solid rationale to back up your opinions; it's just bile, of which I'm not a fan. "



Well, I was a little OTT, and I apologise for that (I occasionally get a little worked up about things I detest this much) but I was attempting to show clearly the contradition and meaninglessness of the theme and message by the end of the story.
All Comments | Link4 | AaronJerAug 23, 2007
"Thing is, from the beginning, it appears to be all about consequences, but it abandons this right at the end for no good reason, as if this was no problem at the beginning at all. There just appears to be no point by the episode at all, and this confuses and frustrates me."



Dingdongalistic... why do you think the consequences have to be followed through on? It's not like the real world or the BtVS/AtS universe are fair. What do you mean for no good reason? The reason was that Angel 'cheated' and very unfairly killed the guy to help his friend. It managed to be a fun dose of realism. Yes, Gunn really did deserve to lose his soul, he willingly offered it for something stupid... but that doesn't mean he can't cheat. The reason he didn't kill him earlier is because Jenoff was clearly very dangerous and he probably couldn't have done it alone, not to mention people (especially people like Gunn) have a sense of morality which would further his lack of desire to cheat. Since he didn't want to get his friends involved he really had no choice...



...that however... brings me to the part I dislike. The fact that Gunn didn't just go to his friends and ask them to help is RETARDED. Their entire organization exists for the purpose of helping people, so why the fuck wouldn't he be okay with them helping him?! Given the characters in AtS I can't see any reason why any of them other than Angel (because he's commonly afraid of getting the poor easily-damaged humans killed) would pull the whole "This is my fight, stay out of it" bullshit except in the case of pride. There was no pride involved with the whole Jenoff thing, so it was just stupid.
All Comments | Link5 | buffyholicMar 11, 2008
Fred and Gunn just feel happy together. Too bad that won´t last long. Great review, Ryan.
All Comments | Link6 | buffyholicJan 20, 2009
One small complaint: Why did Cordelia ignored Wesley? They´ve been through so much and she should have visited him. In this way, it feels like she doesn´t care much and that makes things even sadder.
All Comments | Link7 | Suzanne BJan 20, 2009
I know alot of people hated Groo, but I thought he was hilarious. When Fred is explaining what happened with her and Gunn, he's just so confused. And when she said that they're not broken up, he says " That is good. I am relieved." I crack up everytime!
All Comments | Link8 | LeeluMar 7, 2009
@buffyholic:



I assume she refrained from visiting Wesley out of respect to Angel.
All Comments | Link9 | KittyJun 15, 2009
I actually quite like Gunn & Fred as a couple. As you said, they have that stable, nice feeling to them and I enjoy stability on a show like this. I also never felt that Fred/Wesley was quite as epic as they tried to make it. (Although I also liked them as a couple in season 5.)



Also, good for them for ignoring Wesley. This whole arc with the baby-stealing didn't win him any points with me. I mean, the whole thing could have been easily avoided if he'd just TALKED to someone (on the side of GOOD) and did a little more research. After all, he of all people should know that prophecies aren't always inevitable.
All Comments | Link10 | EmilyJun 21, 2009
buffyholic, I completely understand why Cordy wouldn't visit Wes. Like Leelu said, it's out of respect for Angel. But IMO, it's not only that. Cordy loved Connor like a mother- and Wesley betrayed them all by kidnapping Connor and being in cahoots with Holtz. I would never visit Wes in the hospital after he did something like that- good intentions or not.
All Comments | Link11 | AliceNov 7, 2010 @ 4:09am
I get the whole "respect for Angel" deal but wasn't Cordy supposed to have some great empathic power at this point? I expected her to visit Wesley and have an insightful chat with him. Perhaps she was too involved with Angel's problems.
All Comments | Link12 | JonnyDec 12, 2010 @ 11:39pm
Re-watched this episode last night and was mostly bored. Knowing the outcome completely undercuts the scene between Gunn and Fred - although both actors do a great job with the scene. The only thing that saves it for me are the minutes (seconds?) of screen time given to Wesley. He is far and away the most interesting character during these final episodes of Season 3.
All Comments | Link13 | JohnJul 29, 2011 @ 10:54am
Why did they change Cordy's hair? It's a small thing, I know, but it's all yucky in this episode. Short and blonde does not become her.
All Comments | Link14 | KeatonOct 5, 2011 @ 3:57pm
So Angel stares at the crib, inert and silent.
Makes it somewhat moving, right. But then we have some couch talk with Cordy and Angel finds back his compass in no time, is out helping Gunn and everything is moving on to the next episode, which now could as well be some useless monster of the week plot with Angel hacking some critter into tiny little pieces like everything was alright except Wesley won't do the research this time. Sry, not moving enough for my taste.

And the casino plot is silly and not even funny. Gunn sells his soul for a truck? Thanks for hitting the audience on the head with a sledgehammer, we already forgot that Gunn didn't think he had a future. ^^
To get rid of this soul trade they just have to walk into the casino and chop the demons head off. I'm there with Dingdongalistic again, all this leads absolutely nowhere meaningful, it's just a botched comedy attempt.

At least Fred was wonderful again. I looooooved her logic that Gunn hurting her must mean that he wanted to protect her from something bad. <3
Most of the Fred-Gunn scenes where pretty nice.
And then I thought that Groo was funny. But I always like Groo anyway so that doesn't mean this episode was anything but abysmal for me.
All Comments | Link15 | MonicaFeb 11, 2014 @ 10:28pm
The B-plot of this episode is totally great material. The scenes with Angel mourning the loss of Connor were well-written, beautifully acted, and really effective. I would have much rathered the episode focus on Angel and Cordelia dealing and having us get a larger scope of their deep connection, as well as a bigger focus on the fact that Wesley is completely alone, instead of what we got.

The A-plot doesn't really succeed on too many levels with me. The theme is dealt with well, but I feel that since the theme is strong the writers could have serviced it by giving it a plot it deserves. I also don't care for the scenes between Gunn and Fred at all (and obviously Gunn with his demons) because I found it oddly silly, over-the-top, and cutesy. I buy Gunn and Fred as a couple, and even moderately like them together, but it's too much for me in this episode. It seemed a bit corny and clich├ęd to me. I'm happy that Wesley and for-the-most-part Angel and Cordelia were able to steer clear of the main storyline, because I really felt all their scenes were fantastic.

Angel taking apart the crib was particularly moving for me, a great way to end the episode.
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