Saturday, April 11, 2009

Two Women in Wesley's Life

Episodes I've Seen So Far: (Season Two: "Over the Rainbow", "There's No Place Like Plrtz Girb". Season Three: "That Vision Thing" through "Sleep Tight".)

Charisma Carpenter is positively radiant! I cannot believe how the whole screen lights up whenever she appears. Carpenter seemed to really grow into her Cordelia character after she turned into a half-demon, and I'm not really sure of the reason. Was it because the writing and/or direction was getting better in these episodes? Was she overall getting more comfortable with her character? Or was she improving as an actress?

Charisma's performances seemed quite uneven through most of the episodes that I've seen so far. Charisma could be warm, funny, lovably giggly, and strong, confident and dramatic when necessary. It just didn't work for me when she reverted back to what I guess was her ditzy cheerleader persona. There were also times when Carpenter just could not seem to successfully pull off some of her lines. In her defense, these were scenes where the writing was supposed to be either light-hearted and humorous, or dark and profound, but came off instead as sounding wooden and clunky. All of the actors on the Angel series have had problems with these clunky moments, except for Alexis Denisof. Of course I might be horribly biased, but I really do think that Denisof has been the most consistent actor on the series so far.

Charisma was at her best when she was given what I call the "Cordelia" arcs, where the plots seemed to revolve mostly around her. The Pylean arc, and the episodes "Birthday" through "Couplet" are good examples. Normally, I'm not moved by a pretty face (in a girl, that is), but when she's on, I think Charisma is absolutely spell-binding.

I've read how Cordelia has traditionally been a bitchy character, and there have been a few times where she made some cutting wisecrack remarks that really bothered me. Thankfully, those moments passed quickly and I was quickly able to get back to enjoying her performances.

I understand that Cordelia's character became a little less bitchy and perhaps a little warmer just before the Pylean arc. Indeed, in the Pylean arc, I was tremendously impressed with how Cordelia stood up to her captors and how she tried to comfort and protect Fred. It's too bad I absolutely hated her character when she was turned into a princess! All of her warmth and softness vanished as she reverted back to her spacey cheerleader persona. I particularly didn't like how annoyingly goofy she acted around the handsome and masculine (and humorous) warrior Groosalug. "Is Cordelia going to be the character that completely turns me off from the series?" I wondered. Thankfully, just in the nick of time, she became her more mature, bold, decisive self.

Cordelia's reaction to Fred back on Earth really interested me. At that time, Fred was still pretty crazy and quite frankly, got on my nerves. Cordelia was nice enough to Fred, but I could tell she wished Fred would just disappear somewhere, and even admitted as much on-screen. I could even empathize with Cordelia, since I know what it's like to be enjoying your status as a queen bee around a bunch of men, only to have some other woman, and in this case, a sniveling, quavery neurotic little girl, barge in on the arrangement. It was particularly bothersome for Cordelia when Angel kept asking her to have little "talks" with Fred, simply because a woman-to-woman's touch was needed. Luckily for everyone, Cordelia was able to pull off these "talks" with all of her usual aplomb.

I love Cordelia's relationship with Wesley. There was a lot of tension between them, but in a nice sort of way. Cordelia was very supportive as the sister/confidant when she was advising Wesley on how he could and should approach Fred - right away. In "Couplet", the depth of their friendly affection for each other came to full fruition, particularly when Wesley asked Cordelia, "Why can't you have sex?" (With Groosalug.) When Cordelia mentioned she didn't want to lose her "virginity", Alexis Denisof pulled off probably the best line of the series so far when he said with controlled bemusement, "Well, if that's how you want to play it." (Or course Cordelia answered right away that she didn't say "virginity", she said "visionity", or her vision thing.)

Almost painfully for me, (since it truly marked the end of a beautiful era where the Angel Investigations team enjoyed a warm, loving, family atmosphere), the "Couplet" episode has turned into my favorite show of the series so far, all because of Charisma Carpenter's acting. Well, no, that's not true. David Boreanaz was equally funny and lovable as the jilted and slowly seething lover, while Alexis Denisof was excellent as the disappointed lover (having lost Fred) attempting to cope the best he could with something approaching humor and grace. There's no denying that Charisma's performance was definitely the catalyst for the whole glow surrounding "Couplet". She could have potentially turned everyone off with her insensitivity to Angel's hurt feelings. However, she was insensitive only because she was radiantly and blindingly in love with Groosalug, not because of any malice towards Angel. Carpenter pulled off the perfect acting performance. Instead of acting like a ditzy young cheerleader losing her head over Groosalug's muscle-bound body, she became a confident mature young woman losing her head over Groosalug's muscle-bound body.

I wish I had seen the episodes where Wesley had a relationship with the character of Virginia Bryce. I shouldn't even speculate as to how the ending of the relationship affected him, except to say that it probably would have given me some insight as to how he reacted to Fred's character.

I'm not completely cold-hearted about what a wretched experience it must have been for a very young girl to be forced to hide in a cave for five years. It's too bad I still found the early Fred to be a particularly annoying character. And that was even before I did all of my reading and found out she would choose Charles over Wesley. I know Fred was supposed to act all quirky and socially inept and psychotic and all of those other psychological terms, but I didn't think actress Amy Acker was up to the challenge. I know Acker had extensive dance training in ballet, jazz, etc. before turning to acting, as if that had anything to do with anything. I've just noticed that ballerinas don't as a rule make particularly good actresses.

Rather than putting Acker through her paces through her rough early episodes, the producers should have either casted a slightly stronger actress in the role, or re-written the part to make Fred's character less rainmanesque. Fortunately, after the first few episodes, Fred started to become more "normal", much to my relief.

Amy Acker actually did quite well in several scenes, particularly when she was being sweet and vulnerable in order to allow Alexis Denisof to be able to gaze on her with his unparalleled love and tenderness. Acker's character of Fred certainly brought out the best in Wesley during her early episodes.

In my "Misogyny" post, I mentioned Fred's childlike qualities. "Childlike" is the key word in this context, in both her behavior and Wesley's (and even Angel's, and heck, even Cordelia's and Charles') parental reactions to her. I'll give an analogy. A small child will babble about this and that all day long and not give a mother a moment's rest. By the end of the day, it can start getting on a mother's nerves, no matter how adorable the child is. The father can come home from a rough day at the office and look forward to a quiet peaceful evening. Instead of being able to sit back and read his paper, he is continuously interrupted by the child who needs his undivided attention at all times. The behavior that can set the mother completely on edge by the end of the day can have the completely opposite effect on the father. You can actually see the tension gradually easing from the father as the evening wears on, even after he's been forced to read "The Pokey Little Puppy" for the tenth time in a row.

That's how I observed the characters treating Fred in her early episodes.The behavior that creaped out Cordelia, such as when Fred started talking to a bush, had the completely opposite effect on the men, particularly with Wesley. Paternal is not the word I'm looking for, because of its negative connotations of incest. However, with Wesley, he certainly did seem to be looking on Fred with something akin to paternal pride whenever she solved a particularly difficult math or computer problem. Wesley definitely gazed at Fred with loving patience and paternal indulgence whenever she went on one of her long, rambling verbal sprees where it took her forever to get at the heart of what she was trying to say. Fred was the sweet, lovely, innocent little girl whom Wesley instinctively wanted to cherish and protect.

Fred's last scene in "Billy", where she was attempting to comfort Wesley and talk him into coming back to work, was particularly effective for me, and marked the high part of the whole series for me so far. Amy or Alexis could not have possibly played that scene any better. Acker hit the perfect notes with her gentleness, her vulnerability, and her slight awkwardness in being a little unsure as to what to do next.

That scene marked a personal turning point (pardon the pun) for Fred's character, where I believe she matured tremendously in that scene alone. And, am I imagining things, or did Fred start to get somewhat of the upper hand over Wesley from that point forward? Before the attack, Fred was a dutiful student striving to please her mentor. After the attack, Fred forgave Wesley out of the goodness of her heart for what he did to her. She showed genuine tenderness and compassion for Wesley while she was trying to console him. Yet she definitely had the power to give or refuse forgiveness, which could possibly be used as a bargaining chip later on. (Though I haven't seen any real evidence of Fred holding that over Wesley's head.)

I thought Fred could have been falling in love with Wesley in that scene, but perhaps it was just sheer sympathy?

There are so many things going on in the Angel series, I just can't keep track of it all. However, I can't wrap my mind around how and if and when Fred and Charles ever got a clue as to how their affectionate behavior towards each other was hurting Wesley quite badly. In the last few episodes I've seen, the two of them were acting more like kids sneaking around their parent's back than two adults trying to be discrete in front of their boss. Truthfully, by the time "Sleep Tight" rolled around, they weren't even bothering to be sneaky anymore, but were being the rebellious teens showing their parent (Wesley) that he can't order them around.

A couple of times I noticed that Fred seemed to be smirking at Wesley and even flaunting her relationship with Charles. Was she being totally clueless? Did she realize how much she was hurting Wesley, or did she even care? I tend to think that Fred didn't intend to hurt Wesley per se, she was just exerting her right to express her affection for Charles openly, like any normal person would. In some of the earlier episodes, didn't Fred seem to acknowledge, mostly by her body language and facial expressions, that she was aware of Wesley's feelings toward her, and she was trying to be gentle with him? Ah, the challenges of trying to keep track of everything going on, and sorting out what really happened and what you think had happened.

In general, Fred's character just doesn't quite ring true to me, unlike Cordelia's character. By "ringing true", I don't mean reality versus sheer fantasy. If Fred was part human and part demon, like Cordelia, I could accept that. I have a harder time believing Fred to be a sweet innocent little creature who happens to be a sheer genius in math and the sciences, and isn't afraid to mix it up with the vampires.

But truthfully, couldn't just about the same thing be said about Wesley's character?

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