Wednesday, December 30, 2009

After the Fall Volume 1 and First Night - Part 4 - Wesley's First Night

(This is an ongoing series of posts where I discuss Angel: After the Fall Volume 1 and First Night Volume 2.)

We always know that things never come easily for Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, and the events that occurred in the Angel: After the Fall series proved to be no exception. Wes had apparently signed the standard "perpetuity" contract with the evil law firm of Wolfram & Hart and was doomed to spend the rest of eternity in their service.

One of Wesley's most admirable traits was how he was able to exude quiet courage and a sense of dignity even when he was suffering under the most horrendous or humiliating of circumstances. Two examples that quickly come to mind was his demeanor after he had been captured by Captain Narwek and his men in Season 2's "Over the Rainbow", and after he had been captured by Connor et al on behalf of Jasmine in Season 4's "Peace Out".

His father's (Roger Wyndam-Pryce) constant barrage of verbal abuse and criticism had toughened Wes to the point where he could take the worst indignities that were thrown at him and somehow eventually turn everything around to his own advantage. Even though Wesley was ostensibly serving the interests of the Senior Partners, it's obvious to readers that Wes was patiently playing the game while trying to learn everything he could about the Senior Partners and their ultimate plans.

In Volume 2's First Night (where the events chronologically occurred before the events of Volume 1), Wesley was supposedly reunited with Fred immediately after his death. During a dreamlike sequence, the two of them had a lovely conversation (actually, Fred did most of the talking) while they did wonderfully romantic things like embrace each other while overlooking a beautiful mountain vista and take a lovely horse-and-carriage ride through (presumably) Central Park. They eventually ended up in bed together, snuggling under the covers, when Wesley suddenly dropped the bombshell, "If only it wasn't a lie".

"Fred" looked utterly perplexed at first, then highly embarrassed as she asked how he was able to figure out the deception. Wesley replied that the real Fred would have asked how the others were doing. Wes also summed it up with "It's not this cliche". He, probably quite early on, was able to figure out that "Fred" was in reality an evil Temptress sent by Wolfram & Hart to make initial contact with Wes on behalf of the Senior Partners. The Temptress even admitted that they were going to make the big reveal while he was in the "throes of passion", but she also admitted that she knew that Wesley was too intelligent to be fooled.

I was profoundly influenced by Lindsey McDonald's admission in Season 5's "Underneath" that, while he was stuck in Wolfram & Hart's holding/hell dimension, it "Turns out they can only undo you as far as you think you deserve to be undone." In the Angelverse, I wonder how many hell dimensions existed (think of the Quor'toth dimension Connor was raised in), if they were all ruled by Wolfram & Hart, and if Lindsey's maxim applied to any or all of the other dimensions. With this in mind, I wonder if Wesley knew what was happening after he died simply because he had already named his own hell of once again being torn away from Fred.

Back to the evil Temptress. After the big "reveal", she no longer looked like Fred (although she was still a brunette), and she was in a constantly fluctuating state of dress and undress. While she was morphing back in forth into different wardrobes, serpents appeared and wove Wesley into a suit and tie while his glasses magically re-appeared on his face. Wesley took on the appearance of his old Watcher persona from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, doomed to forever act the part of the official corporate liaison for the Senior Partners.

All during this time, the Temptress advised Wesley that, if he ever wanted to see Fred again, he'd have to spy on Angel, advise Angel to stay within the confines of the ruins of the Wolfram & Hart offices, report to Wolfram & Hart on everything that Angel did, and do everything the Senior Partners ordered him to do. Of course, Wolfram & Hart could have been lying about his chances of seeing Fred again, but the Temptress correctly guessed that Wesley would carry out his orders because he clung to the faintest glimmer of hope that he'd be able to see Fred again.

Then, in my favorite part of this chapter, while the Temptress was having a conversation with unseen Wolfram & Hart representatives (was she talking to the Senior Partners themselves?), the Wolfram & Hart voices stated, in response to her expressing confidence that Wesley would perform his duties, "We can only hope. Besides..he has no idea why he's there, he can't. But he's the key to all of this. Wesley is the reason we'll win." These words could have just as easily been uttered by The Powers That Be!

This scene between Wesley and the Temptress was one of the instances where the limits of comic books seemed to come to the foreground. I really needed to hear the literal "tones of their voices" in order to figure out how the two of them were relating to each other during their encounter. Additional dialogue would have helped out immensely. Wes appeared to be playing things in his usual cool, unflappable way, while the Temptress, although undeniably evil, was approaching her work in a certain "business as usual" way. She wasn't giving Wes any good news to cheer about, but she could have made things a lot worse for him. The only indication I was given that the encounter wasn't completely dispassionate was when Wesley made a few veiled death threats, first by advising the Temptress that she might end up dead if she kept impersonating Fred, then when he threatened to wring her neck a little later on before she revealed that he was non-corporeal.

Brian Lynch wrote in the Notes part of First Night that there was a lot of fan speculation as to who exactly was this woman. Some people were guessing Season 5's Eve, while others were guessing it was Lilah. The woman was obviously not Eve, even though there was an undeniable panel where she wore a few appropriately-placed fig leaves. The Temptress, even though she had long flowing brown hair, was obviously not Lilah either. Interestingly enough, during one of her fluctuating wardrobe changes, she was wearing black pants and a silky brown blouse, not totally unlike what Lilah was wearing in Season 4's "Supersymmetry". Regardless, Brian Lynch revealed that the woman wasn't anybody in particular - she was just a woman. I can't help but note that Wolfram & Hart knew that Wesley seemed to respond best to attractive brunettes.

This scene also set me wondering one more time on the nature of Wolfram & Hart's emissaries. We know that both Season 5's Eve and Hamilton were immortal. Even Stephanie Romanov revealed that at one point she had set up a backstory for Lilah in which she was an avatar who had to be tough in order to be able to survive for such a long period of time. (This was from a 2003 Starburst article featuring an interview with Stephanie. I'm not linking to the Whedoncentric site where I got this information from because they have such God-awful pop-ups.) Were Eve, Hamilton and the Temptress alive? Or were they, like Lilah, undead creatures who got up and walked around solely by the graces of the Senior Partners? The only clue I have about the Temptress comes from when Wesley made one of his veiled death threats to her. The Temptress answered that they would both have something in common then (after he killed her), which implied that she was alive during her encounter with Wes. Personally, I think it's a waste of time to threaten a Wolfram & Hart employee. It doesn't seem to matter much if they're dead, alive, or undead. The only clue we have is that a lot of these Wolfram & Hart emissaries seemed to have an undeniable instinct for self-preservation and genuinely feared death. Whatever animated state they were in was usually clearly better than the alternative.

Closing Thoughts. I appreciated Wesley's image being on the front cover of First Night.

In both TV shows and comics, there are so many creative personalities involved, I almost hate to start handing out compliments. Once I start doing so, I feel like I either have to keep it up in finitum or risk slighting someone who genuinely deserves praise because I'm focusing more on the story than the creative process behind the story. First Night featured the work of many artists and colorists. Suffice it to say that I liked some of the artwork better than others. Just like I don't want to hand out too many compliments, I'm hesitant to criticize too much because I'm sure all of the creators are highly talented. It's all just a matter of personal taste.

It's disconcerting to write about Volume 2 first, then Volume 1. Even though the events occurred first (chronologically speaking) in Volume 2, I can't help but feel obligated to comment on Volume 2 based on the framework that was established in Volume 1. Unfortunately, my mind doesn't work that way.

First Night started off with a lot of exciting "POW" "ZOWIE" action sequences, then slowed down to a wonderfully sensuous, languid crawl for Wesley's chapter. It reminded me of how Wesley's Season 4 scenes with Lilah and his Season 5 scenes with Illyria often offered a complete change of pace from the frenetic action of the rest of the episodes.

I'm reasonably sure that Wesley caught on quite early on that "Fred" wasn't real. I thought it was a nice tribute to Illyria that he was able to live for the moment and live in the lie for a short period of time before he relinquished his time with "Fred".

Wesley exuded his own brand of quiet heroism, which was both comforting and realistic. Not all of us can conjure up superhero strength like Angel, and not all of us are scientific geniuses like Fred. Although Wesley was unquestionably brilliant, and possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of all things mystical and supernatural, what really kept him going was his humanity and his dogged sense of determination. At times it seemed like the harder he tried, the more things fell apart on him. However, Wesley never gave up, and always exhibited an amazing capacity to keep himself going despite all sorts of impossible odds.

Denying the Senior Partners a chance to devastate him by revealing that "Fred" was "a lie" was a perfect example of how Wesley was able to consistently get somewhat of an upper hand even in the worst of situations.

In my next post I'll talk about Wesley in Volume 1 of After the Fall.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

After the Fall Volume 1 and First Night - Part 3 - Angel

(This is an ongoing series of posts where I discuss Angel: After the Fall Volume 1 and First Night Volume 2. My first post is here, and my second post is here.)

Here are the posts I've been waiting for, where I get to go into greater detail about what's going on with the characters of Angel in After the Fall.

Angel - Angel was able to get through the First Night (after his grand battle against the 40,000 monsters and demons unleashed by Wolfram & Hart) by befriending the huge flying dragon that he wanted to kill at the end of the TV series finale. Angel even flew around the city on the back of the dragon throughout Volume 1. The medium being used shapes the plot and narration of a story, and Angel flying around on a dragon fits right in with a comic book series. The sight of a green-screened David Boreanaz flying around on a fake dragon would have been way too silly for a TV show.

The Senior Partners, understandably pissed off that Angel decided to declare war on them, somehow turned Angel into human form in a way that had nothing to do with the Shanshu prophecy. (As you remember, Angel signed away his chance of turning into a "real boy" at the end of Season 5.) He suffered serious injuries, and the Senior Partners wanted to make sure he felt considerable pain while he slowly healed. At this point I'm not sure if Angel's really human or if he's in some sort of humanoid form that only higher powers can conjure up. Regardless, Angel was completely out of commission for a "few" months after the series finale battle, which serves the function of explaining why Volume 1 started a "few months" after the series finale.

On the night of the "First Night" battle, The Senior Partners also somehow teleported Angel back to the ruined offices of Wolfram & Hart (the building that collapsed around him and Hamilton in the series finale). Their intentions were to keep him there as long as possible, where they could keep an eye on him and keep him out of trouble. (Although Angel seemed to be able to leave the offices at will when he put his mind to it.) As it turned out, Angel's "final stand" against the Senior Partners did nothing to free him from their sphere of influence. The Senior Partners still considered Angel to be a part of their Wolfram & Hart family, and from that point on they were treating him like a wayward employee.

Wesley, as the Senior Partners' incorporeal ghostly messenger, cared for Angel the best he could using all sorts of bizarre Wolfram & Hart devices, treatments and concoctions that he was able to scrounge up from within the ruins. The comics also hint at how there was some sort of device that put on some sort of glamour spell so Angel could still have the overall appearance of being a vampire (presumably with all of his vampire strength) at the appropriate times.

Angel and Wesley seemed to derive a considerable amount of comfort from each other's presence, even though they were technically on opposite sides. Angel had to naturally distrust Wesley somewhat (even pointedly leaving Wesley behind in one scene while he made his rounds), but didn't seem to hold the fact that Wesley was a Wolfram & Hart lackey against him. Indeed, Wesley stepped in and helped diffuse potentially deadly situations between Angel and the various creepy "lords" of Los Angeles. Wesley's duties were still being defined and evolving, so Angel had to learn about Wesley's role practically at the same time Wesley did. It was quite telling that we never saw Angel grill Wesley about his motivations and what he was up to. It's possible Angel understood that Wesley, and even Angel, didn't have any real choice in the matter, and was tolerating Wesley's presence because it was better to have the lines of communication open with Wolfram & Hart than to be operating totally in the dark.

After Angel had sufficiently healed from his wounds, he emerged from the rubble to find that Los Angeles had been divided up into different districts, each controlled by (mostly) heinous demons. The human population that hadn't been devoured was enslaved, except for small groups that were lucky enough to live in safehouses or isolated benevolent enclaves. Conditions were brutal, and even the Senior Partners were supposedly upset with what they were seeing. The Senior Partners had set the events in motion, but were not firmly in control of all of the forces that had been unleashed.

Angel, being Angel, killed the son of one of the obnoxious lords. Naturally, the lord got pretty upset and he, along with most of the other ruling lords, decided to take revenge on Angel. Each lord designated a champion to fight in his place, and ordered Angel to do at a specific place and time. Angel, always the good guy, was feeling sufficiently angsty and guilt-ridden for being responsible for turning Los Angeles into a living hell. As such, Angel was determined to fight these champions all by himself, even if it meant certain death. At the end of Volume I, at the last minute, all of the characters whom we were busily catching up with throughout the two volumes converged on the battlefield to help out their friend Angel.

Similar to how his character was used in the TV series, the title character of Angel himself seemed to be overshadowed by others in the first two volumes of After the Fall. It's not that Angel wasn't getting enough face time or not being put to good use. It's just that there are so many other strong characters and interesting sidestories, sometimes the main event can pale in comparison. In one of the commentaries to the Angel DVD collection, one person mentioned how David Boreanaz was incredibly generous and unselfish to allow other characters to get so much airtime on the TV series. That sense of a strong ensemble allowed Angel to be a great TV series, and allowed After the Fall to become what appears to be a pretty good continuation series.

In my next post I'll talk about Wesley.

Closing Thoughts. As everyone knows, nothing is really what it appears to be in the Whedonverse. Anyone who writes a review or tries to analyze plotlines runs the risk of looking like a complete idiot unless the person has seen an entire series or read an entire line of comic books. That didn't used to bother me too much, because I used to be able to live in the moment and enjoy taking the time to really think about what was being presented to me in the abstract rather than in terms of how everything fit in with the rest of the events. Now I'm just irritated with the feeling that what is being presented to me in Volumes 1 & 2 is just a smokescreen for what will probably really be happening in Volumes 3 & 4. My feeling is, why bother being caught up in the events if everything's just going to be pulled out from underneath me later on?

I've really enjoyed After the Fall Volumes 1 & 2, but I don't have a special feeling that these comics are a faithful continuation of the TV series. Although I'm tremendously influenced by what is happening in the comics, I don't think a true fan of Angel would have to feel obligated to accept After the Fall as being what "really" happened. By all means, use your imagination to resurrect Wesley and Fred, and let them start raising their family on a nice little farm in Iowa.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Spam Comments

I've been removing a lot of spam comments lately, which is no big deal for me. However, spammers are very good at leaving comments that don't really look like spam. So, I've developed a policy of delete first and don't ask questions later. Obviously, if you leave a legitimate-sounding comment and link back to a pharmaceutical or penis enlargement site, bye-bye to your comment.

A few minutes ago I deleted a "nice site - could use some improvements" comment by an Anonymous reader. Again, no big deal. The "could use some improvements" is actually a legitimate statement. However, I could feel some sort of "I can improve your site for a fee" comment coming next, so I deleted it.

So, the moral of the story is, if you leave what you think is a legitimate comment and I delete it, my apologies in advance.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

After the Fall Volume 1 and First Night - Part 2 - Working for the Senior Partners

(This is an ongoing series of posts where I discuss Angel: After the Fall Volume 1 and First Night Volume II. My first post is here.)

I've said in a few prior posts that I'm not convinced that Angel and his crew fully realized what they were getting into when they joined the evil law firm of Wolfram & Hart for Season 5 of Angel: The Series. Either that, or I was the one who was clueless. Regardless, Lilah, the deceased messenger for the Senior Partners, seemed to represent the arrangement as though the Angel Investigations team would have full control of the Los Angeles operations, with very few strings attached. It appeared they'd be able to carry on as usual, rent-free, at the LA Wolfram & Hart building, with the entire law firm's staff at their disposal. Lilah certainly de-emphasized the fact that they would in essence become an integral part of Wolfram & Hart, totally indistinguishable from any of the other parts of the organization.

In retrospect, it's painfully obvious that the AI team simply joined Wolfram & Hart in a naive attempt to reform from within. Of course it's equally obvious that doing any business at all with Wolfram & Hart is never a good idea. Yet for various reasons (and many of the reasons were quite good), the Angel Investigations team accepted the offer. They had gone through unimaginable horrors in Season 4, and were literally ill-equipped to continue on in their current state. This decision fit in quite nicely with Angel's philosophy (which was shared with varying degrees of acceptance by all of the other team members) that quite often the best course of action is to act now, and deal with the consequences later.

As any fan knows, the decision to join Wolfram & Hart had a lot of disastrous consequences, which became that much clear in the After the Fall comic continuation series. Because Angel and his followers decided to make their final stand against the Senior Partners in the final season of the TV series, Los Angeles became a literal hell dimension, demons ruled the city while most humans were turned into slaves, and, in something that was never revealed in the TV series, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce had signed the standard Wolfram & Hart contract where he agreed to serve the Senior Partners "in perpetuity."

I have only read the first two volumes of After the Fall, so my apologies for any errors that I make. However, the obvious questions include, why did Wesley sign the agreement? Did all of the other members of Angel Investigations sign the same agreement? And, for the people who signed, were they fully aware of what was in the contracts? I'm not sure if the answers to these questions were ever fully revealed.

(Just as an aside, I've finished writing a series of posts at my Wolfram & Hart Hall of Fame blog about mortgage industry practices that touch on being fraudulent. During my research, I found one lawyer who answered the holier-than-thou critics who state that "people who lost their homes should have read their mortgage contracts more carefully". The lawyer pointed out that nobody reads those contracts, even the free market fundamentalists who ardently oppose any restrictions on the mortgage industry.)

I quickly found out that in comic books, the creators don't go into a lot of explanation on the particulars of why things are happening. They state it, you accept it, and everyone moves on. In this way we found out Wesley (who died in the TV series finale) had signed the "standard perpetuity" contract, but we didn't find out anything else beyond that.

It would make sense if all of the members of Angel Investigations had signed the contract. Otherwise the Senior Partners might have never approved the final deal. Each member would have had his or her own reasons for doing so. Angel would have signed the contract to save his son Connor, just as other parents would do whatever was necessary to save a child.

Charles might have signed the contract because he was thrilled that he was undergoing the brain-altering procedure that would turn him into a great legal mind. Remember, Charles had a prior history of dealing with the devil, so to speak, when he signed away his soul as a 17-year old in order to buy his pickup truck.

I find it hard to believe that Fred would sign the contract just so she could have a state-of-the-art lab. Possibly, she and Lorne would have signed just because everyone else was doing so. With Lorne, I can't see him signing a "standard perpetuity" contract, particularly since he left his home dimension mostly because Wolfram & Hart were firmly in charge. You could make a case that Lorne signed the contract because he was in a particularly weakened state at that time. His drinking problem certainly wouldn't have been helping his decision-making processes either. Regardless, if everyone signed the contract, it might have been part of their "do it now and deal with it later" mindset.

That leaves Wesley, whose decision to sign probably made the most sense. He might have felt a lot of guilt and anguish for not being able to save ex-lover Lilah's life or her soul. (Here's the lovely "burning the contract" scene where he tried to release her from her eternal servitude with Wolfram & Hart). In his mind, joining Lilah in her fate would have served as atonement for his failures. It's tough enough for a man to operate when he has one woman in his life, but it becomes damned near impossible when he has two women to deal with. We have no idea when Wes signed the contract, which is crucial. If he had signed on when he first joined the firm, (which is my gut instinct), his feelings for Lilah would have been a huge motivation. Later on in Season 5 he lost Wini(Fred) Burkle, the love of his life, and as far as he knew her soul was destroyed when the ancient demon Illyria took over her body. Moving on to wherever good people in the Whedonverse move on after death would have meant nothing to him if he had no hope of ever joining Fred. Wesley might have felt that he might as well just sign the "standard perpetuity" contract with Wolfram & Hart after her death since he had nothing to look forward to. If he did sign the contract before her death, he wouldn't have felt much motivation to fight it at a later date.

As far as I know, Wesley never stumbled across Lilah in hell. I'm not sure she was even mentioned in After the Fall except possibly as a passing reference. If Wesley was expecting to meet Lilah in hell, or if he was disappointed that he never saw her, the readers never found that out. Wesley, who could be completely clueless at times, could be incredibly wise and intuitive at other times. I could imagine that Wesley would expect not to see Lilah, since it simply wouldn't be Hell if he was ever reunited with a "loved one".

Random Thoughts. In After the Fall, Wesley, because of the "standard perpetuity" contract that he signed, became a non-corporeal ghost messenger for Wolfram & Hart. I won't go into a lot of detail just yet, but part of his responsibilities was to report on Angel's activities and do his best to somewhat keep him in line. This is the part about working for the Senior Partners that I don't understand. In some ways they appeared to be omniscient and all-knowing. In other ways, it seemed characters could operate in secrecy from the Senior Partners as long as they weren't being spied on. My best guess is that the Senior Partners were way too busy keeping the world Evil, and they concentrated on different areas at different times. They probably checked in on Angel some of the time, but relied on Wesley and others to keep them informed as to what Angel was up to when they had their backs turned.

Monday, December 21, 2009

After the Fall Volume 1 and First Night - Part 1

A few months ago I received Angel: After the Fall Volume 1 and Angel: After the Fall: First Night Volume 2 as gifts. I had a little difficulty getting started with these two volumes, primarily because the only comic books I'd picked up in the past 15 years were Archie comics. As I wrote in a post from last July
I'm of an age where I still tend to think of comic books as being strictly for kids. To me, those are things that you buy at the drug store along with your candy bars. I'm a lot better about my prejudices against comic books since several people have educated me about how the best of them can be considered [to be] high art forms in their own right. They can even come in hard-covered books!
After the Fall Volume 1
I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I'll spill it all out in the off-chance that there's at least one other bewildered kindred soul out there who stumbles upon this post. I have these 40-something-year old eyes that seem to defy the effectiveness of corrective lenses. I had a hard time reading Volume 1 due to the combination of the small (read: average-sized) print and the dark, murky colors. The images were too busy on the pages for my eyes, and my vision seemed to oscillate back in forth in rapid succession trying to adjust to too many things at once. I just flat out had a hard time focusing. I was forced to put my book down on one of my "bad" days and pick it up and read it again on one of my "good" days.

Also, I had a hard time figuring out the rhythms and the correct reading order of the dialogue balloons and boxes. When I first started reading it, I had to constantly re-read panels and pages in order to get the dialogue sequences in the correct order, which obviously killed the enjoyment of the narration. I felt like a little kid who can't figure out what the story's about since it takes him too long to read the individual sentences. It's also like reading lines of Shakespearean sonnets in random sequences and having to shuffle them back together in the correct order. Luckily, the second time I read Volume 1, this particular problem seemed to disappear.

Someone like me almost needs to read synopses of comic books ahead of time in order to figure out what's going on. Obviously, a lot of the action is visual, and there were several times that I couldn't figure out what was going on in the pictures. For example, there was one scene where some bad-ass demon was destroyed, and I couldn't tell if I was looking at a pulverized demon or a pile of rubble. I found out a page or two later that the demon was dead, so I had to flip back and go, "Oh, that's when it happened."

I realize I'm not the target audience for these types of books. so I hesitate to call these factors drawbacks to Volume 1. I am an inexperienced comic book reader, so it's hard for me to come out and say certain aspects are "good" while others are "bad". I can only report based on my past experiences. (Hah! Though I will admit that I wasn't fond of all of the scantily-clad women in both volumes. It looked like the artists drew bikinis on their subjects by using a straightened end of a paperclip!)

Brian Lynch's introduction to Volume 1 also set off some warning bells. He talked about how he was a major Angel fan when the series was first being aired, and how he would always watch episodes with friends. However, the episode that really blew his mind and convinced him of the greatness of the series was Season 3's "Sleep Tight", when Wesley kidnapped Connor, which ultimately led to Wesley getting his throat slit while baby Connor ended up in a hell dimension. Of course, this was the episode that broke my heart and almost completely destroyed my enjoyment of the series. Despite that, Brian Lynch is an excellent storyteller, and we're fortunate that a true fan of the series was associated with the continuation. After I worked through a few of my personal issues, I enjoyed Volume 1 immensely. In a nutshell, Angel pissed off some "lords" of Los Angeles, and at the very end of the volume, most of his old friends joined him at the last minute and helped him fight his epic battle against the hand-chosen champions of the "lords".

As you can tell from my last sentence above, I'm always more character-driven than plot-driven when I read a book or watch a movie. Even though I consider Volume 1 to be rather plot-driven, there was still a lot of excellent character development, which I'll explore in my next posts. My only real criticism of Volume 1, and this is such a minor point I almost don't want to bring it up, is that I was a little disappointed with how the characters turned out in the drawings. However, I could quickly figure out who was who, so it didn't impede my enjoyment of the book at all.

After the Fall: First Night Volume 2
Brian Lynch stated in First Night that there was obvious discussion on whether the plot for the continuation comic books should have picked up immediately where the TV series left off. Lynch said that Joss Whedon was insistent that Volume 1 start a few months past the ending of the TV series so that fans would immediately be drawn into the thick of things in the Los Angeles hell dimension. I personally found it easier to understand Volume 1 after I read First Night Volume 2. However, I also found that, thematically speaking, Whedon's instinct was as correct as usual. Volume 1 told a real story, whereas Volume 2 tied up some loose ends and caught us up on all of the action. It's better to start off a new series with a bang rather than with a series of housekeeping chores.

On first reading, I enjoyed Volume 2 a lot more than Volume 1. I obviously wanted to find out everything that happened on the night of the big showdown between Angel, Gunn, Spike and Illyria and those 40,000 demons, and the book didn't disappoint in that regard. The colors were brighter, the images seemed more direct, the characters looked more like their TV images, and the dialogue and story boxes seemed to be much more logically arranged. I could read the text straight through without having to unscramble the order and re-read everything. I can imagine that the fact that the narrative in Volume 2 was not as strong as in Volume 1 could turn off some readers, but it didn't bother me at all. I'm always kind of a sucker for these "behind the scenes" features anyways.

What really won me over to Volume 2 was the fact that it featured more pure text than in Volume 1. While I appreciated Brian Lynch's intro in Volume 1, I loved the Groosalugg's witty introduction in First Night, where, among other tidbits of information, he gave an explanation as to why he didn't appear in that particular volume. I also highly appreciated the text at the end of the book, which was really annotations on what we had just seen and read in the comics portion. The notes gave a lot of good information and helped me understand the two volumes much more clearly.

With the help of the "extra" information in Volume 2, I could go back and re-read Volume 1 with a lot more enthusiasm. It was only then that I could recognize the strengths of Volume 1 and the "weaknesses" of Volume 2. Volume 1 was a rousing adventure with an appropriately exciting cliff-hangerish ending that left you asking for more. Volume 2 was a diversion from the narrative, albeit an extremely necessary one that finally answered a lot of burning questions.

In my next posts I'll focus on the characters of the two volumes, which will hopefully give you a lot more information about the plots.

Closing Thoughts. I was quite thrilled a couple of months ago when one of my children informed me that an Erudite Somebody-or-Other told an audience on C-SPAN that the last book he had read was Angel: After the Fall. It's too bad I have no idea who that guy was.

I'm almost a little disappointed that I'm enjoying the Angel continuation series. I don't want anyone to think I'm destitute, but I have to admit that spending just shy of $20.00 for each volume in a series of comic books is a bit hard to swallow. I not only have to worry about After the Fall, but all of the other canonical (?) publications (e.g., Spike's series). I'm hoping that when my oldest son graduates from college, he'll get a good job right away and a nice house with a finished basement. My husband and I could move into his basement, and I could use my new-found time and increased cash flow to buy and read comic books all day long.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Wesley and Faith Forever

It's too late to do a full review of the two Dollhouse episodes featuring Eliza Dushku (Echo) and Alexis Denisof (Senator Daniel Perrin) (2.05 "The Public Eye"/2.06 "The Left Hand"), and it's too early to do a retrospective. Instead I'll just focus on the early Christmas gift that the producers gave us a few weeks ago when they brought Wesley and Faith back together again.

You have to hand it to the Mutant Enemy creators for hitting all of the right notes. Let's go down the checklist.

In flagrante delicto. Although Echo and Perrin didn't enjoy any steamy love scenes as some fans would have hoped, they did appear in various stages of undress amongst the rumpled bedsheets as Echo did her best to videotape the Senator in compromising positions. Needless to say, Alexis looked terrific!

Let's hear it for the age 40 and up crowd!

Cutting. Remember Faith torturing Wesley in Season 1 of Angel by giving him all of those shallow little cuts with the broken pieces of glass? Perrin and Echo got to take off their clothes again (Alexis Denisof shirtless, Eliza Dushku wearing a bra) and start cutting each other as they removed the GPS tracking devices that were embedded in the backs of their necks.

The way Echo turned her back on Perrin, and the way he cut into her neck as tenderly as he could, was awfully reminiscent of one of the most erotic scenes for me in Season 4 of Angel, where Wesley carefully checked out Faith's wounds after she had a rough go-around with Angelus. (The dialogue here doesn't do the scene any justice.)

Meaningful dialogue. Wes and Faith's pairing in Season 4 of Angel, although quite exciting, didn't give us much in the way of thought-provoking dialogue between the two of them. (Though I think this scene where they brought their past conflicts out into the open was quite powerful.) I appreciated the writers giving Echo and Perrin a chance to talk about the nature and implications of being dolls. I particularly liked their dialogue when they visited Perrin's childhood home. Echo and Perrin both agreed they liked themselves as they were, and were reluctant to have their current identities taken away, regardless of how unnatural their whole situation was.

Wesley's revenge. I don't think Wesley was ever able to get even with Faith for all of the torture (both physical and psychological) she put him through. Perrin finally got his chance to get a few punches in on Echo while he was operating in the "assassin" mode. It was Echo's turn to turn the other cheek and take what he was giving out because Perrin was the one who had turned all psycho against his will.

All in all, I think the writers did a wonderful job in creating a long-overdue homage to the wonderfully complicated Wes/Faith relationship.

Closing Thoughts. I was terribly disappointed in these episodes the first time I saw them. I wrote quite a nasty little mini-review, where I even denigrated Alexis Denisof's acting ability. When I saw the episodes again about a week ago I enjoyed them a lot more. The mistake I made during my initial viewing was that my standards were set way too high. I hadn't seen Dollhouse for an entire month, and I had to re-learn all over again that the episodes always come off as being somewhat haphazardly cobbled together. The series rarely draws me in closer to the characters. As a matter of fact, there seems to be an underlying (and slightly annoying) undercurrent of melodrama throughout, manifesting in a particular sort of stylized over-acting. Viewed within this context, some of Alexis' more cringe-worthy moments as the bewildered Senator Daniel Perrin seem to make more sense. As long as I put myself in a sort of Matinee at the Bijou mindset where I get past, and even accept, the overall style of the series, I can enjoy myself a lot more.

It would be harsh to say that I have to lower my standards when I watch Dollhouse. I just need to adjust or recalibrate my attitude.

I thought Stacey Scowley was terrific as Cindy Perrin! I loved it the moment she showed her true colors and became the Professional Evildoer working on behalf of the D.C. Dollhouse. It's too bad she wasn't up to the job of masquerading as Mrs. Daniel Perrin. I think I would have been able to perform her duties with a lot more enthusiasm.

My timing, as usual, is impeccable. I'm still talking about episodes that aired two weeks ago, and I just finished watching yet two more awesome episodes tonight, 2.09 "Stop Loss" and 2.10 "The Attic". It's like I showed up at the Christmas feast with the green bean casserole just about the time the pies were being cut for dessert.

I told my husband that the key to watching Dollhouse is to always trust Adelle and her staff, no matter how many creepy deeds they perform. Tonight's episodes were no exception, although I do have this heavy and ominous "waiting for the other shoe to drop" sort of feeling hanging over me.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

So Many Thoughts, So Little Time

I seem to be putting out a lot of these "don't hold your breath waiting for my next post" posts lately. I'm hard at work on an article for my other site, but I hope to be posting back here at I Heart Wesley W-P by early next week. I still have lots of ideas swirling around in my head.

Peace and love to everyone in the meantime.

Buffy's Back!

Via Whedonesque, I found out that Buffy the Vampire Slayer will return to U.S. television starting January 2010. The series will kick off January 1 on Logo with an 18-hour marathon between 6:00 am and midnight. MTV will start the series on January 10 with an "8-hour marathon starting at 11:00 am".

I'll let you look at the Sitcoms Online link referenced above for more broadcast details. Logo will give the series more extensive airtime, with MTV limiting their coverage to weekdays at 11:00 am.

I don't think I have Logo on my rock-bottom tier cable package, so it looks like MTV for me.

Will the networks air the episodes in chronological order, or will they just air them at random? If they do show the episodes in order, I assume that I'll have to somehow catch all of the shows during the marathon session, since I don't think they will re-air the marathon episodes when they start their regular broadcast schedules.

It will be a daunting task to try to view all of the marathon episodes, plus try to keep up with recording the ones in the regular timeslots. It's doable, but I'll hate having to play what could possibly be several weeks of catch-up. Which leads to me to my next dilemma. I simply don't have time to be obsessed with another series. If Buffy is as great as advertised, (I've only seen bits and pieces of the series before, but it looked great), I'll want to see all of the episodes in order.

Will I be content to just catch the series on a semi-regular basis as time permits, like how I was hooked on Charmed for a while? Or will I instantly know that I have to watch each and every episode so that I'll gain maximum enjoyment, like what happened to me with Angel?

In a way, I'm hoping MTV does just air random episodes. It would help my daily schedule and my sanity a great deal.

This will present a good opportunity for me to fill in some of my appalling knowledge gaps in the Buffyverse. (Buying the entire Buffy series on DVD is not in the cards for me at this time.) This will also give me a chance to compare my interpretations of the Angel series before and after seeing Buffy. In the meantime, I'm not looking forward to seeing my husband roll his eyes when I tell him the good news.

UPDATE January 4, 2010: I just found out per Sitcoms Online that Buffy the Vampire Slayer will not start with a marathon session on MTV on January 10, 2010 or on any other day. Instead, the series will simply start its daily airings on Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 11:00 am, unless the network schedulers change their minds again. WHEW! That's actually a relief for me, since I really don't have time to start getting obsessed with Buffy at the moment.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Little Respect

I seem to be stuck on the number 3 lately, as today I've been thinking about the something-a-trois between Angel, Charles Gunn and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce in early Season 3 of Angel: The Series.

What got me thinking about this is that I just saw Season 3's excellent "That Old Gang of Mine" for the umpteenth time. I've written previously about the episode here, and talked about it in dribs and drabs in a few other blog posts.

I think the reason why I'm fixated on this episode is that it seems to key in on a few vital aspects of the series in which, although I've been able to rationalize things and come up with a few explanations, I've never been able to resolve to my complete satisfaction.

Angel and Gunn. When Gunn was first introduced into the series in late Season 1, I've often mentioned that the producers took great pains to promote the similarities between him and Angel, right down to their extreme alpha male personalities and their long flowing black coats. The natural assumption is that since the two of them were so similar in personalities, they were bound to butt heads on a regular basis. After a few early minor clashes and little misunderstandings, I thought they settled into a rather good mutual working relationship. (Think of the number of times Gunn strode into the Hyperion Hotel, all ready for a good fight after being summoned by Angel.)

Perhaps Gunn did a certain amount of trash-talking to show that he couldn't be pushed around, but that was mostly harmless posturing. He acted that way with Wes and Cordy, as well as Angel.

It appeared the producers may have thought Angel and Gunn were straying too far from their "can't get along" storyline when they cooked up Season 2's "Shroud of Rahmon" in order to allow Gunn to directly disobey Angel's orders and work undercover with him in the museum heist. Except for the fact that Gunn was included in Angel's mass firing a few episodes later, and Gunn did the obligatory "You were mean to us, Angel" after Angel got back together with Cordy, Wes and Gunn, they seemed to be working well together until "That Old Gang of Mine" aired in early Season 3.

Again, I was a little surprised at the timing of this episode, because I really thought Charles would have been beyond the "I'll work with you, but I'll never be your friend because you're a vampire" stage. I certainly didn't see anything in the episodes leading up to this point that would indicate that Charles would have serious issues about working with Angel to help find indiscriminate demon killers. On the contrary, I've said all along that Charles was upwardly mobile and latched on with Angel and his group as a way to escape from his poverty-stricken wretched neighborhood.

My only explanation for the showdown at Caritas in "This Old Gang of Mine" is that it was probably important for the series to have Gunn's conflict between his loyalty to his old gang and his responsibilities with Angel Investigations finally come to a boil. His old gang might have outlived their usefulness in the series, and it was time for Charles to leave that part of his life behind. The producers of the series were quite generous to give Charles that "closure", since otherwise they could have simply kept Rondell and the other gang members out of the script for the rest of the series without explanation.

Charles' clearing the air with Angel was also probably viewed as a necessary part of Gunn's character development. He said goodbye to his past, and worked through a few issues of his own (primarily involving co-existence with the demon world) before he finally made the final commitment to permanently surrender his life to Angel Investigations.

Gunn and Wesley. I could never quite buy the story that Gunn and Wesley had become close friends in Season 2, and I could never quite figure out why Gunn seemed to quite readily accept Wesley's authority while he was in charge of Angel Investigations. (I've speculated in the past that Wesley, being somewhat older, and with his vast knowledge of the demon world, earned his title of boss of the group.) Again, like with Angel, Gunn went through some posturing and occasionally tossed a few choice insults toward Wesley, but for the most part did what he was told.

As I saw the scene again today where Wesley acted as the mediator between Gunn and Angel, it suddenly occurred to me that Gunn could have possibly been acquiescent to Wesley, not so much because he accepted his authority, but as a way to spite Angel. In a way, he was exploiting his friendship with Wes. I also wonder if Gunn gave Wesley somewhat of a free ride simply because it was more exciting and manly to have conflicts with Angel rather than with Wesley. Fighting for dominance with Wesley might have been like fighting for dominance over an uppity grandmother. Gunn might have run the risk of looking rather silly trying to get the upper hand with Wesley, rather than looking heroic after asserting his dominance over Angel.

Wesley gave his closing speech to Gunn, where he warned him about turning Gunn out "bag and baggage" out into the street if he ever tried to subvert Wesley or withhold information again. Gunn had made his choice between his old street gang and Angel Investigations, and with that choice came certain responsibilities. Perhaps Gunn needed to be informed that it was time to end his fun and games in using Wesley as a pawn in his struggles against Angel, and that Wesley was now firmly in charge.

I've also talked at great length about the "consent of the governed", in which the title of leader was granted to Wesley based on the authority vested in him by the rest of the group. A cynical way of looking at it as that Wesley was made group leader as an indulgence, similar to how the youngest kid can be made captain of the flag football team at the family reunion picnic. Wes may have taken this opportunity to impress upon Charles the importance of giving him the respect he deserved, and how the failure to allow Wes to act as a real leader could mean the difference between life and death.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Our Plucky Trio Plus Two

I've written a lot about Cordelia Chase, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and Charles Gunn when they had their own detective agency during their Season 2 estrangement from Angel. (See my "Cordy and Wes and Gunn" tag to my blog posts.) Although I criticized Our Plucky Trio for their lack of compassion for what Angel was going through during his Season 2 crisis of faith, for the most part I enjoyed watching their energy and enthusiasm as they started out their new life away from "Dad" Angel.

The three of them acted absolutely delighted and astonished every time they successfully dispatched a horrible demon without Angel's help. Though they started off well, in "Epiphany", they were lucky to survive the night at the Sharp family residence when they were battling the Skilosh demons. Angel came through and saved the day just in the nick of time. Though they were too proud to admit it, our Trio wisely realized that it was time to quit pretending they were action heroes and wisely returned back to the "safety" of Angel's protection.

Cordy, Wes and Gunn's foray into setting up their own agency was more like a team-building exercise, but it was a valuable first step they needed to take to not only exert their independence from Angel, but to develop their own personal strengths and become a more cohesive unit. I've often thought that a necessary component of success includes the opportunity to have built yourself from the ground up. The Trio started in Cordelia's apartment, worked their way into their own little dingy storefront office, experienced their own version of a Hawthorne Effect bonding phase by having to work without electricity and phone service, all while being ready to battle vampires and demons at a moment's notice.

I'm in the process of watching all of the Angel episodes in order on DVD, so I'm catching several shows that I haven't seen since last spring. One of those episodes was the Season 3 premiere, "Heartthrob", where it was revealed that Angel had been in a Tibetan monastery for the past few months (mourning Buffy's death) while the Trio carried on the good fight while simultaneously babysitting Fred. This time, Cordy, Wes and Gunn looked a lot more relaxed in their role of superheros sans Angel, and were no longer slapping each other on the backs in astonishment after each fresh kill. In other words, they had reached a point where fighting evil was business as usual, which I found to be an admirable quality for them while they continued on their paths through adulthood.

Wesley in particular had a habit of doing a lot of offscreen character-building between seasons. Between Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3 and Angel Season 1, Wesley had toughened himself considerably during his tenure as a "rogue demon hunter". Between the end of Season 2 and the beginning of Season 3 of Angel, Wesley became more comfortable in his leadership position and had turned into a calm and steadying influence for the group. Cordelia in particular changed quite a bit, as she evolved from the shallow fairy-tale princess in the Pylea arc to a more well-grounded, mature (but still wickedly funny and bitchy) young woman in Season 3.

Similar to how I felt some of the timelines of events were a bit off in the beginning of Season 4, I felt some situations were a bit out of synch for the Season 3 premiere. Particularly, I find it hard to believe that the Trio allowed Fred to exchange one cave for another, from the old one in Pylea to the new one in her room at the Hyperion Hotel. I can certainly understand how they felt she needed time to overcome her fears and adjust to her new life, but not to the extent where they allowed her to deface the walls in her little apartment and live in what were most probably quite unsanitary conditions. Rats in the basement can quite easily turn into rodents nesting in the papers scattered in her room, and cockroaches feasting on her plates of taco scraps that she kept on the floor.

There was one dialogue sequence where we can look back in hindsight and think that perhaps both Wesley and Gunn were already starting to develop feelings for Fred. Unfortunately, how Cordy, Wes and Gunn treated Fred was probably close to borderline neglect. Just like I thought Wes and Cordy were a little too cozy and comfy with each other in Season 2 to notice how Angel was strangely sleeping up to 20+ hours per day, I think Cordy, Wes and Gunn were having too much fun being fully-established demon hunters to take much of an interest in Fred's well-being. They were like three young adults established in their careers and enjoying being completely on their own, not quite ready to tie themselves down with something that looked an awful lot like a domestic responsibility. Our Trio probably wanted to watch TV or head out to the clubs after a long day of demon-hunting, rather than tend to the needs of a shut-in.

(It just occurred to me. All three of them had their own apartments at this point in the series. Did they leave Fred alone in the Hyperion Hotel at night?)

In their defense, dealing with psychotic crazy people isn't a lot of fun, and they probably didn't want to force Fred into anything she wasn't ready for. It's amazing how time flies, and the Trio were probably as shocked as anyone that three months had passed and she had yet to make any progress at all.

Ironically, the three of them used to accuse Angel of not caring enough for people. When Angel came back to LA, he was the one who took charge right away and took responsibility for her therapy. My only concern is that it seemed like a bit of an indulgence for someone to take off to a monastic retreat for several months after receiving the bad news of the death of a loved one. Although if anyone deserved to get away from it all it was probably Angel, it still smelled of shirking one's responsibilities. There were times I dearly would have loved to have left my family behind and retreated to a nunnery somewhere.

It was inevitable that Fred was going to join the team, with Cordelia probably having the most to lose. Cordy was obviously loving being the Queen Bee to three good-looking worker-drone males. I always thought of Cordelia as being somewhat of a commitment-phobe. She loved being adored by males, but didn't want to put in the effort to having a real relationship. Between Phantom Dennis at home and working with three, handsome co-workers at the Hotel, she certainly had put herself in an ideal situation. Cordy could satisfy her innate need to dress up in sexually provocative clothing, and flirt and tease to her heart's content, all while being pampered in an utterly safe and protected environment. Adding Fred to the mix would naturally remove some of the attention away from Cordy.

Random Thoughts. Season premieres of Angel (with the exception of the Season 4 premiere) tended to be somewhat weak, and Season 3's premiere was no exception. I thought, particularly in the scenes at the beginning of "Heartthrob" that occurred before Angel's return, that the writing, the acting and the pacing was a bit off. Charisma Carpenter, Alexis Denisof and J. August Richards seemed to be reciting their lines somewhat, almost as though they needed a little time to get back into the swing of things after a summer break. I fully understand that their characters were tired after a big fight, and perhaps suffering from a bit of malaise due to the absence of Angel. I just don't think what they were trying to portray came off successfully.

I also realize that the Trio's failure to help Fred was a plot device to show that, although they were coping quite well without Angel, it was still necessary for Angel to come back and take charge of the group again, even though Wesley was still the nominal leader. Angel was the catalyst who got everyone moving on their correct paths.

I've never shied away from admitting that Fred is one of my least favorite characters on Angel. I also admit that the show really took off when Amy Acker was added to the cast, as though she was the last piece of the puzzle. I compare it to when a married couple is perfectly happy, and perhaps even already has a baby or two, but instinctively know that they need one more little one added to the mix to make the family complete.

I wonder if Cordy, Wes and Gunn learned some lessons when they almost lost their lives at the Sharp residence in Season 2? Like, maybe the importance of covering each other's backs and being in constant communication? Although the Trio certainly would have appreciated Angel's vampire assistance at the beginning of Season 3, one gets the feeling they were getting along just fine without him. I'm sure there was certainly an element of picking their own battles, but would the wrong battle eventually have chosen them? The Trio certainly might not have been in a position to pick and choose what came through the front door of the Hyperion Hotel.

I'm always fascinated by what I'm not seeing in a series. Just like I would have loved to have seen more of Cordy, Wes and Gunn on their own, I would have liked to have seen Wesley on his own when he was estranged from the group in Season 4. In both instances, the characters seemed to have lived extremely rich (if somewhat lonely) lives that will forever be fodder for fanfic writers.

Angel is the first series I've run across where I don't seem to gain any enjoyment from watching random episodes. It seems like I have to watch the series in order, or not watch it all. There's certainly nothing wrong with the individual episodes, but it's almost as though I'm watching an episode out of context if I don't watch several of the other ones leading up to it.

Alexis Denisof Cast for "Pretty Little Liars"

Per this December 6, 2009 Hollywood Reporter piece, Alexis Denisof and Laura Leighton have been cast in the pilot episode of ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars.
"Liars," based on Alloy Entertainment's series of novels, revolves around four teen girls -- Aria [Lucy](Hale), Emily [Shay](Mitchell), Spencer [Troian](Bellisario) and Hanna [Ashley](Benson) -- who begin to receive mysterious messages, seemingly from a girlfriend who disappeared three years before.

Leighton ("Melrose Place") will play Hanna's mother. Denisof ("Angel") will play Aria's father, with Kelly ("Yes, Dear") and Peeples also playing parents.
How exciting! I've just been thinking recently that Denisof would make a great TV dad. Best wishes to him and the rest of the cast on the success of this new series.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Well, That Sucked!

Sorry if I offend anyone out there, but I thought Alexis Denisof was terrible in last night's Dollhouse, and the entire The Public Eye/The Left Hand episodes played out like a third-rate Mission Impossible rip-off. These were by far the worst Dollhouse shows I've ever seen.

No, I'm not disappointed that Senator Perrin turned out to be a Doll with his "wife" Cindy being his handler, since that was pretty predictable. I know Perrin was supposed to be an intellectual lightweight, but Denisof didn't have to act like a simpering weasel! What were the producers trying to do - sabotage his career? I didn't like the writing, and I didn't like the editing or the pacing either. Dollhouse was overly melodramatic in this episode arc and the show took itself way too seriously.

It was amazing how uneven the acting performances were. Each actor took turns putting in a few fine moments, but then later on they'd settle in for a few more "Let's mumble our lines and get out of here" routines. I might have to blame the director for that. Like I've mentioned several times before, the episodes always look like they've been rushed through production.

And what was up with Summer Glau? The only time I'd ever seen her was when she played the ballerina performing Giselle in Angel's Season 3's "Waiting in the Wings". As Bennett in the Washington, D.C. Dollhouse, she came across as Evil Genius Crazy Fred who had possibly only emerged from her Pylea cave about 15 minutes earlier. From all of the buzz that I read when Glau's Dollhouse appearance was first announced several months ago, I was expecting to see Bette Davis reincarnated.

I don't know if I'll do a more comprehensive post later on, but it doesn't seem sporting to keep beating a dead horse. As usual, I saw a lot of promise in the themes and plotlines, but the execution was horrible. I plan on watching the episodes again and I'll see if my opinions change at all.

I caught the previews to next week's episodes and they naturally looked fantastic! Will I watch them? I probably will, just because I'm still somehow hooked on the series. Plus, I'd hate to feel obligated to purchase the DVD's if I miss any of the episodes.

One bright spot - didn't shirtless Alexis look mighty fine when he was in bed with Eliza Dushku? Too bad that scene was about the most unerotic thing ever filmed. It doesn't even begin to compare with their smoking hot pairing as Wesley and Faith in Season 4 of Angel.

Update 12/13/09: I must have been particularly dyspeptic when I first saw these episodes. I watched them again last night and enjoyed them a lot more on the second viewing. It just goes to show that once I get hit by a particularly nasty "WTF?" moment, it tends to skew my opinions on the remainder of the show. I hope to do an updated review later this week.

Update 12/21/09: I was in a much better mood when I re-reviewed these same episodes a few days ago.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Alexis' LA Times Interview

Alexis Denisof/Eliza Dushku
Fox Publicity Promo for Dollhouse 2.05 "The Public Eye: The Left Hand"


Via Whedonesque, we have one more excellent Alexis Denisof interview, this time from the Los Angeles Times - Shadow Tracker blog.

I could comment at length about this piece, but it would just be overkill and I would only be detracting from what he had to say. I will allow myself to note that Alexis mentioned:
"... I have a melancholy feeling that Wesley perished [in the Angel series finale] It's a sweet melancholy, but I was very attached to the character."
It's very rewarding that Alexis is still willing to talk about Wesley and Angel even five years after the show's cancellation. It's frustrating reading his (and other people's) Dollhouse interviews because they have to be so careful not to reveal any spoilers. After the final episode airs in January, I hope Alexis, Joss and others continue talking about Dollhouse since I'd like to see what they have to say within the context of the entire series.

I'll be recording both of Alexis' Dollhouse appearances tonight and watching them over the weekend. The series touched on so many themes that will never be fully explored, not the least of which is how, in so many ways, we all live in a Dollhouse controlled by powerful forces outside of our control. Despite my reservations about the series as a whole, I feel privileged that I was at least able to get a glimpse of some of Joss Whedon's fascinating ideas.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Gone, But I'm Not Forgetting

There's not much going on here at I Heart Wesley W-P, though I am slaving away at my other site, The Wolfram & Hart Hall of Fame. I would like to recommend a blogger who's just finished reviewing all of the Season 4 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all of the Season 1 episodes of Angel. You can check out his excellent posts at The Daily Drew.

Cheers!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Blogging Problems


I'm having so many problems with Blogger lately I can't even take the time to describe everything that's going wrong. I tried to finish up a lengthy post at my Wolfram & Hart Hall of Fame site today, but I might just have to re-type the whole thing from scratch. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this happy update on the story of Howard the Combine Kitty, the little black kitten who lost his two front paws in a farm combine machine accident last July.

I'm going to leave Blogger alone for a few days and see if all of the problems magically disappear. I obviously won't be posting anything new for a while yet.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Working on Other Projects

Posting will be light here for a while as I take another stab at coming up with a series of blog posts at my other site, The Wolfram & Hart Hall of Fame, regarding a recent Kansas State Supreme Court case involving an organization called Mortgage Electronic Registry Systems, Inc. (MERS). I tried to come up with a post last September, but the case wasn't quite as cut and dried as the early pundits were breathlessly proclaiming.

In the meantime, feel free to look at some of the 140+ posts I've already come up with for this blog. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at mirjonray (at) live dot com (you know how to de-obfuscate my email address) or use one of my comment boxes.

Best wishes to everyone out there.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Not Your Usual Fare at Marginal Revolution, and, Praise for Alexis Denisof's Podcast


Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution (which is basically an economics blog) writes on a wide range of subject matters. However, I still raised my eyebrows a bit when I discovered he had done a blog post, "Why Do Vampires Attract So Many Readers and Viewers?". His post in turn is based on an article that appeared at the Washington Post.

Although I didn't see anything horribly original in either the main post or the comments, it still made for an interesting read, particularly to see the wide range of reactions to the vampire genre. Joss Whedon, David Boreanaz and James Marsters even showed up in one of the comments!

I had to laugh at Don's comment,
Vampires are a total absurdity, annoyance, and waste of time. Proof that our cultures have too much prosperity that people can waste their time and thoughts with such drivel.
Anyone who admits to harboring a trivial thought risks getting shot down as being a threat to all civilized society as we know it.

I can't come up with a definitive answer for the attraction, but I have noticed that, for whatever reason, production values seem to be a lot higher than usual in a lot of vampire TV shows and films. I also think the subject lends itself quite easily to whatever metaphor du jour is being explored, which also allows the creators to push the envelope a lot further without the risk of being too obvious or absurd with their messages.

Finally, Whedonesque finally posted a link to Alexis Denisof's recent interview for Somewhere in Vegas on BlogTalkRadio. I blogged about it previously here. Regular Whedonesque poster Simon gave a short but flattering review of the show, calling it "One of the best interviews that he's ever done"!

Somewhere in Vegas host MarQ Piocos (sorry for all of my previous misspellings of his name) did a nice job posting highlights of the interview here. Here's a link to the feed at Podcast.com.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Five Seasons of Angel

Here's my ranking of Seasons 1-5 of Angel, in reverse order of favorites. (Note: you can find links to episode recaps here.)

Fifth Place - Season 4. Although I often feel bad when I put something in last place, in this instance, it is entirely appropriate for me to rank Season 4 as my least favorite season. As I stated in a previous post,
Wow, Season 4 was a challenge for me! I like to pride myself on watching shows and movies that dwell on the dark side and offer no easy choices, but I found out that even I have my limits. Between Wesley being estranged from the group for a while, Cordelia being lifted to a higher plane, Connor acting like an out-of-control monster brat, Angel existing in a watery grave, Skip the Demon telling the Angel crew that just about every choice they made was actually a preordained chess move (I choose not to believe him), Cordelia and Connor getting all "couply", Cordelia being first channeled by and then giving birth to whatever entity was controlling The Beast, my favorite character being forced to chop the head off of his lifeless "loved one", The Beast destroying everything in sight with the Angel Gang being completely helpless to stop it, Angel turning into Angelus for way too long, and the whole Jasmine deal.......I didn't think the season would ever end.
Season 4 offered a lot of instances where I thought things would finally start getting better, only to have my hopes cruelly dashed time and time again. Just think of the number of times Connor acted like he was about to start functioning like a normal human being, only to resume his teenage reign of terror. Instead, Season 4 turned out to be a collection of horrible events happening one after another, to the point where I was beginning to seriously wonder how the members of Angel Investigations could possibly continue to function. About the only way I can justify the dreariness of Season 4 was that it gave me the only reason I could come up with for why it was a good idea for Angel and his crew to take over the LA offices of Wolfram & Hart. In Season 5 they had a chance to rest, regroup, and start afresh.

There were still a number of bright spots in Season 4, including Andy Hallett's poignant performance in "Spin the Bottle", the Las Vegas interlude in "The House Always Wins", Wes and Faith's sensational pairing in their hunt for Angelus, and, the story arc that saved the series for me, Wesley and Lilah's love affair.

I'm not sure if I can include the Jasmine episodes as a bona fide "bright spot", but I have to admit, her arc offered a welcome respite from The Beast/Angelus fiasco.

Fourth Place - Season 1. In this case, I am sorry that I have to rank Season 1 in second to last place, because it implies that perhaps I didn't enjoy the episodes. On the contrary, I adored Season 1. Highlights for me include: Doyle's brief interlude at the beginning of the series; the Buffy crossovers, including appearances by Spike, Oz, Faith and Buffy herself; Wesley's rapid integration into the group and his continuous character development; Kate Lockley before her "I can't handle the supernatural" shtick became too intense; the cozy (but cramped) office and "bat cave" sets; the lovely, warm, glowy family atmosphere created by Angel, Cordelia and Wesley; the early stages of my beloved Wes/Cordy relationship; and entertaining early appearances by Lindsey McDonald, Lilah Morgan and Holland Manners.

Much has been written about how Season 1 started as a series of stand-alone episodes dominated by a dark, broody, character (Angel). The producers then decided to lighten up the character a bit and introduce story arc elements into the series. Arguably, the early episodes may have been a bit rough around the edges, but I enjoyed the element of tension where the producers were obviously experimenting to try to figure out what to keep and what to discard. I'm curious if I would have held Season 1 in such high regard if I had started watching the series from the very beginning, rather than starting from the end of Season 2 and continuing up through Season 5, before looping back to Season 1.

For me, Angel really took off to the next level in the 17th episode, "Eternity", when Tamara Gorski appeared as Rebecca Lowell, a TV actress who attempted to halt the effects of aging by having Angel turn her into a vampire. From that point on, I thought the core group of Angel, Cordelia and Wesley really started to gel. Although "Eternity" was still ostensibly a "victim of the week" episode, as writer Tim Minear put it according to this Wikipedia entry,
".....it's really about our core people, and by the end of the episode the client's gone. There's not even a wrap up scene at the end with the actress. It's all about Angel being chained to the bed and Cordelia not untying him."
In essence, "Eternity" marked a turning point in the series where the main cast was no longer simply reacting and commenting on the "victim of the week", but actually becoming the main focus of the series.

By the time "War Zone", "Blind Date" and "To Shanshu in LA" came about, I was amazed at how far the series and characters had progressed. It got to the point where it became hard to believe that these three episodes were actually still a part of Season 1.

Third Place - Season 3. It pains me to put Season 3 in third place, simply because the first half of the season provided me with my favorite run of consecutive episodes, from "Heartthrob" to "Couplet". I really should include "Sleep Tight" and "Loyalty" since they featured brilliant performances from Alexis Denisof. However, the juxtaposition between the light-heartedness of warm and glowy "Couplet" and the impending doom in "Sleep Tight" was just too much for me to handle. From that point on, Season 3 became an endless series of "let's see who can kick Wesley the hardest" contests between various cast members.

Although Alexis Denisof had plenty of moments to shine as Wesley in the first half of the season, particularly in "Billy", for the most part it seemed like he was just kind of "there". I remember being puzzled when I first started watching Season 3. I thought Wesley was used to great advantage in the Pylea arc (which were the first episodes I ever saw), yet the producers had kind of dropped the ball on his character. After seeing the rest of the episodes in that part of Season 3, I now understand that he was being held somewhat in reserve since he would play such a crucial role later on. Whereas before I considered Wesley to have been relegated to the background, I now view him in these episodes as being a quiet, steadying influence on the rest of the group as he settled quite nicely into his leadership position.

Charisma Carpenter was the real star of the first part of Season 3, as she appeared in what I considered to be roughly the "Cordelia arc" that started with the Pylea episodes in Season 2. She was making the transition from a ditzy, bitchy (though wildly funny) young girl into a warmer, more confident, mature young woman, while still allowing her inner-bitch-goddess personality to come out at appropriate times. Why the writers decided to mess with her natural personality development and turn her into, first Saint Cordelia, then killer Jasmine, I'll never know.

Let's not forget Julie Benz and her memorable turn as Darla, being first the blood-thirsty mama vampire, then gradually turning into a tragically loving mother-to-be who literally sacrificed herself for her baby.

Second Place - Season 5. Season 5 was almost a reverse image of Season 3 for me. I didn't really care for the first part of the season, then, almost as if someone switched on a light, the episodes leaped exponentially in quality as the series started concentrating on Angel's powerful series-ending crisis of faith story arc.

The first time I saw Season 5, I actually liked the beginning stand-alone episodes simply because they were welcome respites from the doom-and-gloom story arcs of Season 4. (I also understand the network had insisted on the return of stand-alone episodes.) Unfortunately, the second time I saw Season 5, I was actually quite bored with the first four episodes, ("Conviction" through "Hellbound"), with my enjoyment of the next seven episodes being spotty at best. Of the first 11 episodes, my favorites were "Life of the Party" (though I enjoyed it less on the second viewing), "The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco" (which I consider to be a nice, old-fashioned, family-oriented throwback), "Lineage" (with yet one more amazing Alexis Denisof performance), and particularly, "Harm's Way", which I consider to be the best portrayal of underappreciated administrative assistants ever filmed.

It's only fitting that Charisma Carpenter's farewell appearance in "You're Welcome", (episode 12 of the season, and Episode 100 of Angel) jump-started not only Angel himself, but the entire series. From then on, the show was at its highest quality during its entire run (with the exception of what I considered to be the only unwatchable episode of the entire series, "The Girl in Question"). This made it all the more cruel when WB announced Angel's impending cancellation. At least the series ended on a high note.

First Place - Season 2. I had just a little bit of difficulty naming this my favorite season since there are very few episodes or story arcs that stand out as being my top, top favorites. Regardless, Season 2 was absolutely top-notch from beginning to end, from Lorne making his karaoke-demon debut to my sentimental favorite episodes, the Pylea arc. Although Darla always had the potential to ruin the series for me, with her nasty habit of turning up every time good things started to happen, I always found her performances and the episodes she appeared in to be almost breathtaking. It was as though everyone, from the writers, actors, and the rest of the production crew, stepped it up a notch whenever Julie Benz appeared on the set.

Angel's crisis of faith, as he tried to do battle with the Senior Partners and Wolfram & Hart, also made for compelling viewing.

I have to admit that I thought the first four episodes of the season were a little weak, but that's just a minor quibble in comparison to the rest of the season. Another mild complaint is how I thought Wesley regressed a little bit at the beginning of Season 2, but I'm pretty sure that was done just to more fully contrast the "old" Wesley with the newer improved Wesley that emerged later on.

How can I summarize the high points without doing recaps of nearly every remaining episode? Top-notch standouts in my mind include: "Guise Will Be Guise", where Wesley was forced to impersonate Angel, gained new confidence in his fighting abilities and won over the lovely Virginia; "Darla", with all of the outstanding flashback sequences; "Reunion" and "Redefinition", where Darla and Drusilla went on their rampage, and Angel left a wine-cellar room full of Wolfram & Hart lawyers to their bloody fate; "Blood Money", for just the sheer enjoyment of watching Angel and an old demon pull one over on Wolfram & Hart; "Happy Anniversary", for being an outstanding Angel-and-Lorne-as-sidekicks episode; "Reprise" and "Epiphany", where Angel gained a new sense of purpose in life after reaching rock-bottom during his crisis of faith; "Disharmony", for Mercedes McNab's unique take on the "dumb blond" persona; "Dead End", for being a brilliant showcase and send-off for Christian Kane's Lindsey McDonald; and the final four "Pylea arc" episodes, for setting up Angel Investigations into a new era with the addition of Fred, and for allowing Wesley to gain increased confidence in his leadership and planning skills.

I have to also give praise to the delicious interplay between deadly rivals Lindsey and Lilah, the contrasting cozy little relationship/friendship between Wes and Cordy, the not-so-easy integration of Charles Gunn into the group, and the valuable insertion of Lorne into the cast as the incisive comic relief.

About the only low points I can think of were Detective Kate Lockley's increasingly shrill screeches against supernatural forces; Wes, Cordelia and Gunn's naive attitudes about how Angel was handling his crisis of faith; and the trio's insistence that Angel perform absurd penance after he returned to the group. Even so, I recognize that Wes, Cordelia's and Gunn's attitudes were crucial to the story line, which allowed their later action in the series to stand out in more of a stark contrast.

Closing Thoughts. An easier way to try to pick a favorite season would be to ask myself this question. If I could only purchase one season of Angel on DVD, which season would it be? You can quickly see my dilemma, since my answer would clearly be "Season 4", simply for the Wesley/Lilah episodes, even though it's clearly my least-favorite season. Joss Whedon et al had a particular skill of mixing in the good with bad, by putting in outstanding episodes into lackluster seasons, (like, including "Spin the Bottle" in Season 4), and placing favorite scenes into lackluster episodes (like Wesley's "It's not always about holding hands") into Season 4's "Players".

The creators also had a particular knack for carrying over certain story arc elements from one season to the next, making it nearly impossible to buy just one season's worth of DVD's. For example, I said above I'd buy Season 4 just for the Wesley and Lilah scenes. However, if I was really serious about the story arc I'd have to buy Season 3 as well.

I've often thought that a logical ending to the series could have occurred at the end of Season 2's "Epiphany", when Angel and Kate Lockley revealed their own personal miracle stories to each other. Lindsey's last appearance in Season 2 ("Dead End") also would have provided a decent ending for the series. As it turns out, with the exception of the Pylea arc, Season 2 was the last season that I saw when I first watched the complete Angel series on TNT. I wonder how much of my affection for Season 2 and the sense of finality I get stems from the fact that, for me, it really was the last of the series?

Dollhouse Finally Cancelled

What can I say about Dollhouse's cancellation? I had not-so-high hopes that the series would continue on, yet I'm not surprised that it's turning into a mid-season casualty. Abysmal ratings speak louder than anything.

Apparently, all 13 episodes will air, with the last episode supposedly airing on January 22, 2010.

Although I have enjoyed watching most of Season 2, I must admit that the only way I would be heartbroken by the cancellation is if Alexis Denisof had become a regular cast member. As it is, his two remaining episodes should be airing back-to-back on December 4, 2009, so I at least have that to look forward to.

I looked forward to watching Dollhouse every week, but I never fell in love with it. I hate to pile on the criticism, but my biggest disappointment was that it took too long for the show to get anywhere. All of the creative floundering I'm seeing and the sense of how the series is trying to find its voice should have taken place in Season 1. (And how much of the problems were caused by network interference, we'll never know.) At best, Dollhouse provided tantalizing glimpses into its future potential. It's just too bad that the series never fully delivered. Perhaps if Dollhouse had a firm commitment for at least one full season, things would have been a lot different.

Best wishes to Eliza Dushku, Joss Whedon, and all of the other actors and creative people associated with the show. I look forward to seeing everyone's future projects.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Phantom Dennis

I always considered Cordelia Chase to be somewhat of a commitment-phobe. In this regard, her relationship with roommate Phantom Dennis during a large part of her adult life was pretty close to ideal.

I did a post several months ago called "My Top 11 Biggest Goofs" about some of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started watching Angel. One item I should have included was a notion I concocted that Phantom Dennis was a former boyfriend of Cordelia's who hung around with her at her lovely Silver Lake apartment. As creepy as that sounds to me now, I took that in stride initially since I knew that it was virtually impossible for the members of Angel Investigations to have normal social lives.

As it turns out, Phantom Dennis Pearson was the ghost of a young man who died in Cordelia's apartment in the 1940's when his mother tied him up and bricked him into a wall. Mrs. Pearson was hell-bent on stopping his marriage to a woman she considered to be a social inferior. In a poetic twist of fate, his mother died of a heart-attack almost immediately after she finished her masonry work. Their story is told in Season 1's. "Rm w/a Vu".

Phantom Dennis Pearson (aka actor B.J. Porter) went on to become enshrined in the opening credits of every single Angel episode.

Cordelia struck me as the type of girl who didn't like to be alone. She needed to be pampered and cherished, and Phantom Dennis seemed to go out of his way to care for her. We know he drew her baths and was quite handy with the loofah. One of the most touching scenes in the entire series for me occurred in Season 1's "Expecting", when Dennis pulled up the bedsheets and handed her the box of tissues after Angel and Wesley found a badly frightened (and pregnant) Cordelia huddled up in bed.

One regret I have about how the writers treated Dennis (besides the fact they dropped him too abruptly in Season 4) was how they never allowed him to successfully warn anyone of immediate danger. In Season 1, he did his best to spoil Cordelia's evening with the photographer before the guy impregnated her with demon spawn. Later on in Season 1, Phantom Dennis tried to prevent Wesley and Cordelia from being ambushed by psychotic Faith. Finally, in Season 2, Dennis tried to warn Cordelia about the dangerous Harmony the Vampire. He was able to wake up Cordelia when Harmony crept into her bedroom, but Cordelia didn't figure out until it was almost too late that Harmony was an evil vampire.

With regards to the photographer, I don't know if we were sufficiently clued in as to whether Dennis was jealous of her being with other men (as Cordelia claimed), or if he had a knack for sensing an evil presence. I tend to believe the latter since those were the only situations that were presented to the viewers. However, regardless of whether the potential danger came from males or females, if Dennis provided too many false alarms, Cordelia would obviously have stopped paying attention to him after awhile.

Except for an instance when he flung a book toward Wesley a little too enthusiastically, Dennis was more than comfortable with the good guys associated with the Angel Investigations crew. He helped provide companionship for a very miserable Angel at Cordelia's Season 1 party. Significantly, we're not aware that Dennis had any issues when the Groosalugg moved in with Cordy for a short time. Dennis might have possibly been quite happy to see that Cordelia was being cared for.

I would have liked at least one scene in the series where Cordelia et al were successfully warned of danger by the very useful Phantom Dennis. He deserved to be the hero in at least one episode.

One of the first times I "saw" Phantom Dennis was in this scene in Season 3's "Birthday" when he greeted Gunn and Fred at Cordelia's apartment (thinking it was Cordelia returning home) "wearing" a party hat and blowing a noisemaker. I actually had a lot of high hopes for the potential of his character at that point.

The writers had Gunn and Fred treat Phantom Dennis very much like a human when they broke the news to him that Cordelia would not be returning to her apartment to celebrate her Season 3 birthday with him. Dennis reciprocated their kindness by showing them where Cordelia was hiding her powerful prescription drugs.

I thought it would have been nice if the AI crew could have celebrated Cordelia's birthday and perhaps other occasions at her apartment so Dennis could have been included in the festivities. Which leads me to some issues that I should explore on a future rainy day. Was Dennis always "there", or did he tend to just pop in and out? Should ghosts be encouraged to interact with humans? And, should ghosts always be treated with just as much respect as humans?