Parting Gifts
Written by: David Fury and Jeannine Renshaw
Directed by: James A. Contner
Air Date: Dec 14, 1999

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As a direct follow-up to “Hero”, “Parting Gifts” trumps every last moment the previous episode brought to the table. All of the emotion, all of the loss, all of the compassion for Doyle is used up in this episode, rather than using any of it during the episode he actually kicks the bucket in. And I know, I know… if they’d killed Doyle halfway through they would have had to spend the rest of the episode moping. But this episode doesn’t mope for long, and when it does mope, really, it spends that time by developing characters, relationships, and story lines. No, in every way, shape, and form, this episode is a masterpiece and a glorious send off, even without Doyle showing up, even in a flashback of any kind.

A empathy demon named Barney, played perfectly by Maury Sterling, is on the run from Wesley (yes, THAT Wesley) and attempts to hire Angel to protect him. This leads to the pair (Angel and Wesley, mind you) teaming up to find a missing demon that attacks them at Barney’s apartment. The revelation, of course, is that Barney was actually after the nasty demon for his horn, a demon body part that can steal life force. This is the same demon the pair left behind with Cordelia who – oh yeah – inherited Doyle’s visions. Barney, as it so happens, sells magic imbued body parts at a horrible auction at a stupid hotel where no one asks questions, though these people all look “normal” (by certain means) so its all good. The “eyes of a seer” go for a high price, mostly because Cordelia, in a comedic show of self-preservation, drives the price up. But who buys? A sharp dressed lawyer from Wolfram & Hart, the shadowy law firm we’ve been hearing of since the first episode.

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The narrative itself is pretty damn great, overall. The end fight, as well as the brutal-as-fuck fight in Barney’s apartment are all filmed and choreographed well, and – above all else – its interesting. But the thing that really drives this episode to such a high score is the way it handles the fallout of a main character dying. Cordelia laments the loss by looking for something – anything – that belonged to Doyle to remember him by. She’d just developed feelings for him and she regrets that she doesn’t have anything that meant something to him. She also has problems in her audition for a commercial, hilariously crying in a seriously human way before spazzing out from pain over her very first vision. Angel, on the other hand, hides his desire to be in pain in company as Cordy leaves for her audition and then shuts Wesley down when he offers to help Angel track a demon, stating that he won’t lose anyone else to the cause.

Loss isn’t only specific to our main characters, though; Wesley has to deal with the loss of being booted out of the Watcher’s Council after the events of Season 3 of “BtVS” – and, as such, kinda like Giles in his life a bit, he has to deal with losing his purpose in life. He hunts demons across country, but you know that, if this isn’t his first attempt at hunting one, he really sucks at it. He can’t keep track of which demon he is actually hunting, he can’t really translate that well, and, in a fight, he’s about as worthless as can be. Its awesome, knowing what I know about the end of the series, that we see his character reintroduced as pathetic and meek, overall. The development he goes through would be nothing of interest if he didn’t come from such a small beginning.

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Maybe the best two conversations, though, take place between Cordelia and the unwanted house guest, Barney. The first when she reveals to him that she received Doyle’s visions as the titular “Parting Gift” and then the other being when he threatens her prior to kidnapping her. The former conversation is actually kinda sweet and nice, and really provides Cordelia with a moment to realize that Doyle DID leave her something nice, though painful. She will carry a part of him with her for the rest of her life. The other conversation is equally awesome because it finally cuts deep at feelings the characters are having, even if its only with regards to Cordy. He pesters her guilt, her pain, and her sorrow, and messes with her by revealing the very human feelings we go through when we deal with loss. Its touching in its own way, and reminds us that even though we are dealing with super human characters, the word “human” is critical.

By the end of the episode, the first vision is framed, Wesley fills a gap, and the new core set of characters begin to flesh each other out. The episode as a whole is a breath of fresh air, offering fun as well as emotion. The previous episode faltered because, while it offered human emotion and pain and suffering, it lacked fun. It lacked Buffyverse flair and charm. I understand that sometimes the episodes are dark, but when its so over-the-top, its hard to enjoy watching it. I don’t mind “grim” narratives, but I really, really enjoy it when the story is enjoyable. This story covered sad topics while maintaining a balance. Kudos.

Episode Rating: 91

Additional Notes:
-The audition directors watch Cordy cry and are like “……interesting choice”
-Wesley’s rant about being a failure is the first step for him to develop into quite the badass later
-Cordelia kisses Wesley to see if she can pass the visions to him, and the kiss goes so much better than the last time they tried
-”What’s a rogue demon?”
-Barney gets a horn in the back
-Wolfram & Hart are going to develop from here into a series-long force