"SPIN THE BOTTLE." DVD Commentary.
Series | Season | Disc
Angel | 4 | 2
Commentary By: Joss Whedon & Alexis Denisof (Wesley)
As the commentary begins, our "commentary buddy" Joss Whedon explains that "Spin the Bottle" grew out of his desire to see the return of "bumbling moron" Wesley, who falls down a lot. In the episode, present-day Wesley of the cool James Bond weaponry and tortured alienation is contrasted with the enormous ponce that is teenage Wes. Whedon explains how much he also enjoyed seeing the return of teenage bitch queen Cordelia. The episode also presents teen Angel, or Liam, rather, who is amazed to have lost his Irish accent. Whedon notes that this joke resulted from his wish to free David Boreanaz from speaking with an accent throughout the episode. Fred and Gunn are also regressed to age 17, which as Alexis Denisof remarks, is the audience and cast’s first look at these characters at this age.
The plot of "Spin the Bottle" shares similarities with Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s "Tabula Rasa" in that both episodes feature magic spells that cause amnesia. Whedon explains that the "high" caused by Lorne’s spell in "StB" was meant to make this memory spell different. And the spell’s side effects were meant to resemble a mushroom-induced altered mentality. In the episode, Cordelia "ruins the shroom trip" by stomping on the bottle containing the spell ingredients, to which Denisof comments, "Don’t harsh my melon." The episode features the return of the younger versions of Cordelia and Wesley that were most prevalent on Buffy, which is perhaps why Whedon included references to Buffy, such as Cordelia’s first reaction to Angel: "Hello, salty goodness." As Whedon notes, this is a call back to Buffy’s fifth episode, "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date."
Lazy, Self-Indulgent Writing
Whedon calls the memory spell "lazy writing," meaning that Lorne’s can’t-fail spell was simply meant to set the plot in motion. He also refers to himself as "the laziest man alive" for keeping all of the major plot within the hotel setting and in framing Connor’s fight scene from one side. His defense is that he loves to "shoot the talking," as opposed to the fighting. Cost and time were also issues in these choices. During a later scene in the hotel featuring the whole group, Whedon comments on how he stacked everyone into the shot and shot from one side, a "proscenium shot" used to move the story along faster. He refers to the amazing frame narrative established by Lorne in the night club as "insane self-indulgence" because he says he just wanted to create a wrap-around cabaret act. However, he later comments that he wanted the artificiality of the night club and the strange, postmodern aspects of the episode to foreground the alternate reality caused by the spell. For example, he planned the screen wipe leading from Lorne in the night club to Cordelia coming out of the shower to be artificial and strange. "StB" is unusual in that it, as Whedon says, "break[s] the fourth wall." One of his favorite lines is Lorne’s comment about the commercials that would have aired during the act break, an element that is less effective on the DVD.
The Director’s Vision
As director, Whedon endured much for this episode. He cut a scene between Fred and Gunn because his script was too long. He is proud of many shots, including a "big one-er" in the hotel and the 180 degree shot that frames Fred, Wesley, and Gunn: "Not the most original, but not wrong." However, he berates himself for a complicated crane shot during the beginning of the spell that took a long time to shoot and ended up cut from the episode. He says he, of all people, should know better than to do that unless it is vital. Some firsts for Whedon in this episode are the split screen of Lorne and Fred/Wes/Gunn (he placed tape on the monitor to help line the shot) and the out of focus shot of Cordelia walking away from Angel. He explains that she was blurry because "she’s beyond us" focally. Whedon says this lets him introduce his theme of "we’re all alone."
During Wesley and Gunn’s fight, Whedon attempted to put as much in the frame as possible. Those who have viewed his commentary on Firefly will recognize this method. According to Whedon, Fox thought his show tried to put too much visual information in certain scenes. "Spin the Bottle" shows how this can be difficult. According to Denisof, he and J. August Richards had to perform the scene many times (and be repeatedly kicked, without shin guards, by Charisma Carpenter) because Amy Acker and Andy Hallett kept giggling in the foreground of the shot.
The cast seemed to be the most trying aspect of the episode for Whedon. Along with Acker and Hallett’s giggling, Denisof and Boreanaz prolonged shooting for an hour and a half by laughing. Denisof blames Whedon for writing a script that invited the cast to be incredibly silly. Denisof explains that he and Boreanaz ultimately resolved not to look at each other so shooting could continue (after line producer Kelly Manners scolded them). However, this pact was not completely successful, and the commentary buddies point out shots where Boreanaz is failing to keep a straight face. Denisof also tortured Hallett by tickling him and tightening his bonds. In many scenes, Whedon also had to restrain Denisof’s acting. Whedon speaks directly to the audience, needing to assert that the "buffoon" that we see was actually a toned-down version of what Denisof presented. In reference to Wesley’s karate demonstration, he says, "Or you could’ve gone big!"
Whedon does praise Denisof for his insanely funny portrayal of the Watcher Academy’s Head Boy, as well as his serious scene with J. August Richards. This scene took many takes, but ultimately worked because of Denisof’s "blink" at the end. Whedon explains that this scene, in which Wesley explains his changed demeanor, could have been self-pitying, but Denisof turned it into a powerful statement of fact. Also, Richards receives praise for his subtle but effective portrayal of teen Gunn, and Boreanaz is said to be convincing during fight scenes, despite rarely participating in the actual fighting. Whedon also says that Boreanaz and Carpenter had never been better than during their scene at the end of the episode: "They gave me everything."
Continuity is for Wusses
"Spin the Bottle" advances many of Season Four’s storylines. The episode begins with the continuation of the final scene of "Supersymmetry," the preceding episode. This created problems involving continuity. Whedon relates that Carpenter, having not seen the script for "StB," asked if she could get a haircut between episodes. Boreanaz, however, did not ask, and thus has shorter hair, though hardly noticeable. More noticeable is the facial wound that make-up artist "Dave" forgot to reapply. Denisof fanwanks this as miraculous vampire healing. In this first scene, Angel attempts to answer Cordelia’s question from the previous episode: "Were we in love?" Whedon notes that "StB" ends with Angel asking her the same question, which she can now answer since her memories were restored. Whedon states that this question "bookends" the episode.
One of the storylines of the episode is the tension among Fred, Gunn, and Wesley. Before the spell is cast, Gunn confronts Wesley about events in "Supersymmetry," in which Wesley helps Fred take revenge on Professor Seidel. Gunn knows that Wesley is in love with Fred, and he is afraid Fred might come to love Wesley because they have more in common, both being remarkably intelligent and well-educated. Gunn wonders to Wesley what his place is in Angel Investigations, and decides that he is the muscle. Whedon explains that this exchange resulted from the show writers’ dilemma about Gunn; they themselves were unsure what Gunn’s purpose was on the show. This scene was lit with Whedon’s direction to make Gunn look like Michael Corleone in The Godfather III; Gunn actually is not lit, making his appearance dark to match his mood.
The relationship between Connor and Cordelia also advanced in "StB." Whedon notes that while writing this episode, he already knew that they were going to have sex ("Apocalypse, Nowish"), but the story had to move faster than he had originally planned because Carpenter became pregnant. (However, in Tim Minear and Vern Gillum’s commentary for "Apocalypse, Nowish," Minear says that the storyline was rushed because "AN" was airing before the December break.) Whedon comments on Connor’s vulnerability in his scenes with the prostitute he rescues and memory-wiped Cordelia. Pubescent Connor’s frustration with women and adolescent angst become the metaphor underlying the episode.
Male Sexual Ridiculousness
This metaphor deals with "male sexual ridiculousness," which is tragic for Connor but hilarious when applied to the children-in-adult-bodies that the rest of the cast becomes. Whedon points out the "high brow" humor and "booby jokes" that build this metaphor. Wesley and Angel succumb most to the loss of control and feelings of alienation common to adolescents. Wesley suffers symbolic erections as his sexual excitement prompts phallic images to erupt from his sleeve; all of these occur during his interactions with Fred. Whedon and Denisof comment on how these accidents were unavoidable during their own teen years, though Whedon’s comment about the boys’ locker room may or may not be truly autobiographical. Upon discovering he is a vampire, Angel locks himself in the bathroom to experiment with his vampire face. The squeaking noises that result from switching from human to vampire face create a "sort of Jane Austen" masturbation joke."
During this scene, Whedon refers to Angel as the episode’s emotional center. Angel’s emotional conflict in "StB" is that he feels he is different from the other characters, and their alienation of him makes him defensive. Connor, who has not lost his memory and really is a teenager, is surprised to hear Angel express his own feelings of frustration. Denisof refers to this as a "flip-flop" of their roles as father and son. Whedon says that this flip-flop is heightened by Mike Madison’s use of the location in Connor and Angel’s fight scene; they exchange positions by leaping to each side of the kitchen counter.
Not Just a Gay Romp
Despite the comedy that is rampant in "StB," the episode is, in Whedon’s terms, not just a "gay romp." That is, the trick of the episode was in combining the silly and the dramatic, such as with Wesley’s pop-up sword that is either "007" cool or very silly, depending on the moment. According to Whedon, Angel’s belief that the stereo is filled with tiny minstrels is "as broad and silly" as he has ever written. But this comedy ends with the return of Cordelia’s memories, including a vision of a horrible and mysterious creature that becomes the Big Bad in the next episode. Denisof remarks that he barely had to act in the scene after the spell was broken because he was sad that the fun of making the episode was over.
The commentary ends with Whedon and Denisof singing their own lyrics to the theme song:
Angel is a vampire, who solves crimes (yes, he does) with his friends (with the gang).
Wesley will never get a leather jacket cuz he will never be cool (aww!) no matter what he
does (this episode sucked).
Whedon expresses much joy at Wesley’s fall. Denisof says, "John Cleese has a lot to answer for."
"Did I really say ‘harsh your melon?’" Denisof asks.
Denisof asks the DVD audience to excuse his cold. Whedon asks the DVD audience to excuse his chlamydia.
Whedon says that the Greek community sent many pleased letters after Cordelia’s "moussaka" remark.
Denisof jokes that he was originally wearing a tank top in the scene where he tries out his new weapon. Whedon says that changed because "you can’t be stronger or more beautiful than Angel."
Comments on the opening credits: Boreanaz used to be skinny, Acker is ugly.
Whedon can "talk fancy" with random French phrases.
Random Backstage Information
Lorne’s night club scenes were filmed in a night club that happened to be near the alley where Connor rescues the prostitute.
And old Los Angeles restaurant was the location for the hotel’s kitchen.
The corridor outside of Cordelia’s room goes nowhere for about 12 feet.
Wesley’s misbehaving sword was done with CGI. When he pulls the sword later to attack Angel, CGI was used to make the sword appear in his hand. Sparky the props guy was kneeling out of frame to give him a sword he could grasp.
Taping Lorne to the "poof" was Amy Acker’s idea.
The demon cars that scare Angel were really moving slowly. Special effects were added to make them appear fast.
Gunn’s homemade axe was hard to capture in frame, which is why he shifted it often.
Whedon switched to hand-held shots to shoot Angel stalking Cordelia because it’s "creepy."
Whedon compares Fred using the cross like a metal detector to Xander shaking the cross to make it work in episode 16 of Season Three ("Doppelgangland") of Buffy.