Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Character Turning Point

To be honest, the first time I ever saw Angel was about three years ago, when I turned on the TV to see if Charmed was on. (Charmed is another show I didn't discover until it was well into syndication.) I didn't see the whole Angel episode, but looking back, it appeared to have been one of the episodes where the crew goes to Pylea to rescue Cordelia, and, ultimately, also rescues Fred. Regardless, I really loved what I saw of my brief glimpse of the show. The series struck me as light-hearted and funny, while still being a show with a gloriously dark premise about vampires and demons, and the struggles between good and evil.

It wasn't the right time in my life to take up following another TV series, so I let the episode pass by. I didn't even bother to find out the name of the series back then. However, I never forgot the show, and I hoped I would re-discover it again later on.

It doesn't surprise me that the first time I really saw the show a few weeks ago, (meaning, I took notice of the show and became hooked on it), happened to be from the same episode arc, if not the exact same episode ("Over the Rainbow") as I had seen several years earlier. It always happens to me where it seems I can only catch the same few episodes over and over again in syndication. Because of my past history, I didn't attach a whole lot of importance to the coincidence, but I did note it as one more sign that I could give myself permission to sit back and really enjoy (or become obsessed) with the Angel series.

What about Wesley? The Pylea arc appeared to be a major turning point in his character development, and I regret that I only saw two of the episodes. I know from my research that Wesley must have been a bumbling idiot in the Buffy the Vampire series, which continued on into the Angel series. I loved his boyish ineptitude in "Over the Rainbow", but I also loved the apparent dichotomy in how he also exhibited great bravery, became a warrior, and was ready to take charge at a moment's notice. I recognized that the idea of taking a leadership role was still a new concept for Wesley, but I admired how he took to the task right away and became the defacto hero of the entire rescue operation.

I'll digress a bit. If I had first seen Wesley in Buffy the Vampire series, would I have liked his character? I know he was supposed to be an annoying irritant, but it is precisely that type of character that can completely turn me away from a TV series. (Kramer in Seinfeld, Latka in Taxi , Chrissy in Three's Company, are examples.) The idiotic, or very idiosyncratic, character is a stock character for TV shows. This device seems to work for a lot of viewers, and seems to inspire audience high ratings. However, if the character isn't portrayed absolutely perfectly, like how Larry Linville was able to pull off being Major Burns in M*A*S*H, it becomes enough to drive me completely drive away from a series. So, if I would have caught Wesley in Buffy, or during the "wrong" time in the Angel series, would I have ever given him a second look?

Back to the present, which for me, is the Pylea arc through the very early days of Connor's life. I missed Wesley's early days as a group leader, but it sounds like his character has matured very rapidly since then. I also see that the Pylea arc, particularly the introduction of Fred in his life, has moved his character development along that much more rapidly. In particular, the "Billy" episode, where he was affected by the misogynist demon and tried to kill Fred, seemed to have left a huge impact on his psyche, where he maybe started to experience doubts as to what type of person he really was. He expressed his doubts quite clearly at the end of "Billy", but I haven't seen any overt signs since then in the early part of Season Three.

I've noticed that since "Billy" and up through "Dad" (the last episode I've seen), Wesley's role, though still quite prominent, isn't quite as front and center as the other episodes I've seen. Particularly in an ensemble show like Angel, a character can have face time onscreen that does not necessarily translate into quality time. In that regard, I've been a bit disappointed in "Lullaby" and "Dad", though rest assured, I'm more disappointed in the fact Wesley's part necessarily needs to recede once in a while than with Alexis Denisof's acting. Indeed, if Wesley played an important part in every episode, I'd probably be too emotionally exhausted to keep up with the series! It's bad enough that I have to try to watch two episodes almost every single day of the week.

I have several favorite Wesley episodes so far. "Over the Rainbow" with Wesley's "Eureka" moment is one I've already blogged about. I also enjoyed "There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb", where Wesley is "convinced" by the rebels to become the leader of the attack against the fortress. I absolutely adored him when he wailed, "Why do people keep putting me in charge of things?" , (Gunn: "I have no idea".) Wesley still had a lot of vestiges of his old, cowardly, foppish self at that moment, but he quickly progressed into becoming a competent, but ruthless, leader.

I've read a lot about Wesley's "ruthless" streak, but that is not a turn-off for me. In "There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb", much is said online about Wesley's willingness to sacrifice Angel and a few of the rebels as evidence of his "ruthlessness". I loved his gentle but firm explanation that sometimes sacrifices need to be made in order to save the majority. A trite line, but pulled off quite nicely by the writers and Denisof. I actually tend to admire qualities like that, where the character, who shoulders enormous responsibilities, must try to put aside all emotions in order to make the right decision. It's almost a relief when the character makes the "ruthless" decision and keeps the plot moving to a satisfying conclusion.

I almost can't emphasize enough that this is part of Wesley's dichotomy that draws me to him. I think my favorite film character is the flawed hero, who is continually faced with situations where he is forced to choose between the lessor of two evils. This is particularly difficult when the consequences of his choices are not readily apparent. Whatever choice he makes will lead to horrible consequences. Sometimes the lessor of two evils will cause the most personal suffering for the hero and perhaps even the people closest to him, particularly when other characters, perhaps falsely, start thinking of the hero as being cold-hearted, and yes, "ruthless".

Another episode I loved was "Billy". I was fearful of how I would react to Wesley being the misogynist trying to kill Fred. I almost had to force myself to watch the show, but I'm glad I did. I thought Alexis Denisof was brilliant in how he managed the transformation from acting mildly irritated with Fred, (Wesley had had a bad day, and Fred was still gratingly neurotic at the time), to becoming more and more hostile towards her, to becoming violent, finally leading up to when he tried to kill her. It's quite a coup when an actor is able to keep a person's sympathy even when his character is at his very worst. That was another point where the potential was there to turn me away from the series forever, but the scene was saved by Denisof's performance. I particularly appreciated how there were obvious parallels to Jack Nicholson's scene in The Shining when Wesley hacked his way through the hotel room door, but the director and writers (and Denisof) chose not to exploit that moment.

The end of the episode featured yet one other possible series killer for me, when Fred sought out Wesley to get him to come back to work. Denisof's portrayal of Wesley's pain, doubts, shame and tenderness was absolutely gut-wrenching. I knew that Wesley, although he had sexual liaisons from time to time throughout the series, would ultimately never get the girl of his dreams. Could I stand to see such a pivotal moment that drives the point home so forcefully? Fred sought out Wes, Wes is full of tenderness, but they do not become of a couple. Would I be able to stand the fact that a character I've fallen in love with is all alone? I survived, and my admiration for Wesley's character and Denisof's acting only became stronger. I just don't know how much more of Wesley's disappointments I can put up with though, and I know things are about to get a hell of a lot worse for him.

Finally, I loved the "Quickening" episode. Again, Wesley needed to navigate the path through ruthlessness and tenderness, particularly where he had to balance his true sympathy for Angel's emotions as the vampire-with-a-soul contemplated fatherhood, with the need to keep the world free from Angel's potentially evil spawn. Really, I'm not a vicious person, but I loved the scene where they were discussing Darla's and the baby's fate, and Wesley, seemingly being sensitive to Angel's tender emotions, in the next sentence declares that they needed to cut the baby's head off as soon as it was born! His ruthlessness is somewhat mitigated when the rest of the team members chime in with their own diabolical responses to the baby's birth. Again, what a great acting moment for Denisof in a truly funny scene.

And the lovely moment during the ultrasound when Wesley tenderly informed Angel the baby was a human, baby boy? Words cannot describe.....except, maybe my heart turned into a big gooey puddle.

Later on, I loved how Wesley took control of the situation when Darla was seemingly about to give birth in the back seat of the convertible. He kept a watchful, paternal eye over the group, while also taking control over the birthing process. It was only a fleeting moment, but I enjoyed how Wesley gently laid Darla back into the seat and was obviously read to take charge of the baby's birth right then and there. It's too bad the scene didn't continue, because I was curious to see if Wesley could have continued through, or if he'd revert back to his old cowardly self and have Cordelia and Fred take over.

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