Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Charles Gunn cracks me up.

Seriously, I feel like he’s got the best lines on the show. Why? Because everyone else is always expressing themselves in this hyper-verbal Buffy-speak all the time. You know, it’s quick-witted, lightning fast, etc.? But Gunn sort of just tells it like it is, flat out, short and to the point. And the contrast always cracks me up.

I’m a fan of Gunn’s inclusion on the show because I like the idea that he’s a vampire hunter and not a vampire slayer. Gunn is no lightweight despite not being some magical child of destiny born to fight vampires. He’s just a guy who's had to fight off vampire attacks his whole life to survive. He hasn’t got Buffy or Faith’s powers, but what he does have is some slick moves and some ingenuity. The LA of the Buffyverse sort of seems to exist--demons included--in this Jim Henson, don’t question it, sort of way. Still, some of the show’s dialogue leads us to believe that while the majority of people live somewhat insulated lives, never knowing about the seedy underbelly of demons afoot in LA, others are not quite so fortunate.

As one character mentions to Gunn, he intends to "be off the streets before dark, like my momma taught me." Gunn and his friends don’t have Buffy the Vampire Slayer running into to save them. The impoverished and the unfortunate are easy prey in the Buffyverse’s LA, but a few people end up finding a way to survive. And I also like to point out that the kind of people who have to fight demons to survive are sometimes dangerous people. See, demon hunters aren’t mystically called paragons of virtue; they’re people who’ve had to kill to look after their own necks. Gunn’s previous companions threatening a bar full of demons--Angel included--in season three is compelling in my opinion. Of course, as the show continues, I’m often left feeling like there’s a lot of missed potential for Gunn.

See, one of the things I like most about the character is the obvious tension between him and Angel. Gunn has fought vampires his whole life, so of course he isn’t going to entirely trust Angel. As he tells Cordy and Wesley: "If the evil Angel walks through that door, I will kill him in two seconds flat." It seems to me that a good Angel/Gunn fight looms on the horizon early in the show but never quite happens. Gunn and Fred’s relationship seems questionable to me at best. I’ve never quite bought the idea that these two would click, but it at least gives us a chance to see a different side and a little more about Gunn, learn something else about him and how he does things. Still, the idea that Gunn is not entirely loyal to Angel and company--that he sometimes has his own agenda and own ideas about what needs to be done--is what makes the character interesting to me. And it seems like he too easily just becomes part of the crew after a while.

The other thing I love about Gunn is this idea that while from the outside looking in, Gunn might appear like a street thug or common criminal, yet he's one of the guys doing the most good on the streets of LA while the esteemed, well dressed, and well-paid employees of Wolfram and Hart appear like upstanding citizens (even though in actuality they play with people’s lives like chess pieces). See, to me, this drives home one of the biggest points of the show: it’s hard to distinguish good and evil. Wolfram and Hart does a very good job of making evil LOOK good (or, at least, legal). It would be an easy thing for W&H to sic the police on Gunn, even though he’s the one out there fighting evil. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s what in the Angel universe. And of course, the show’s protagonist, has a difficult time deciding for himself whether he can be the champion people hope he’ll be or a monster that does more harm than good.

What I am going to say about Gunn is that like all the characters on the show, in that it's clear that he has suffered by its end. Whatever mistakes Gunn makes, he pays for them over and over. And it’s in this that Gunn shows his true colors as a character appropriate for the show. It’s all right there in the last season, when Gunn gets back on that table and says ‘This heart isn’t going to tear itself out’. It kills me everytime. He doesn’t break. He never stops trying to make up for what he’s done.

I'll admit, the direction Gunn moves in for After the Fall is interesting. The idea that Gunn is sort of the new big-bad is compelling and frankly a fitting explanation for his presence in After the Fall. And it finally brings the Angel/Gunn conflict to a head in a way that’s satisfying. The other thing I like about this is that soulless vampire or not, Gunn seems to make some good points in After the Fall. He blames Angel for what’s happened to LA, to everyone, and can we sit here and say that Gunn is wrong? It’s a painful finale to this character’s evolution, but I understand why they did what they did with it. It’s all in keeping with the show’s big themes: it’s not just that it’s hard to tell good and evil apart, it’s that good and evil aren’t even so simply distinguishable as we’d hoped. Having to face that realization is, to me, one of the biggest challenges in our lives as human beings. And why I stick by this show.


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