Sunday, May 31, 2009

The End of Wes and Virginia

Episodes I've Seen So Far, In Order: (Season Two: "Over the Rainbow", "There's No Place Like Plrtz Girb". All of Seasons Three and Four [Except for "Peace Out"]. All of Season Five. All of Season One. Season Two: "Judgment" through "Epiphany", with the exception of "The Thin Dead Line", which TNT opted not to air).

Well, the Great Romance between Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and Virginia Bryce came and went without too much incident. I enjoyed it while it lasted though. Here's a recap of how I saw the beginning of their relationship:

I didn't sense that snack, crackle, pop electric current between Virginia and Wesley the way I did when Lilah first showed up at Wesley's apartment. I did sense two attractive, unattached young people thrown together under circumstances outside of their control, who rather liked what they saw in each other, and decided it would be fun to try to make a go of things.
If I had to describe Wes and Virginia's relationship in just one word, I would say "comfortable". That does not imply that they weren't deeply in love with each other or that their relationship was otherwise boring. It does imply that they were able to get along with each other in a mature way without all of the drama and baggage that comes along with the infatuations and unrealistic expectations that mar the beginnings of so many other relationships. If there were five phases of a romantic relationship, I would say that Wes and Virginia skipped Step I altogether and started off in the late stages of Step II.

A few other words I could use to describe the nature of their relationship could be "stability", "maturity" and "domesticity". Wes and Virginia could rely on each other for support during the down times, and they seemed to have easily settled into a routine where they accommodated each other in their daily lives.

The scene in "Happy Anniversary" where Virginia came across Wes, Cordelia and Gunn wallowing in their misery in their storefront office, seems to really illustrate the maturity of their relationship. When Virginia first walked in, Wes stayed firmly planted in his chair. He did not leap across the room to give her a hug and kiss. As a matter of fact, his expression didn't even change, much less light up at his first sight of her. Virginia did not pout and wonder why Wesley seemed to be neglecting her. She just carried on her conversation as usual. They both acted as though they've gone through the routine of entering within each other's personal spaces a thousand times before, and it was no big deal anymore.

Wes finally did get up, flashed his warm loving smile and gave her a quick but warm loving kiss. Brief as that romantic interlude was, I couldn't help but feel privy to something special, like witnessing a couple who had been married for ten years and were still deeply in love.

In a slightly earlier scene, from "Redefinition", Virginia acted the part of the supporting wife encouraging her husband to look for new opportunities, after Wesley explained to her how he (and Cordy and Gunn) had been fired by Angel. You could tell in that scene that Virginia was very comfortable in Wesley's apartment. Although there's no indication that she had moved in with Wesley, she acted quite natural in there, as though she had already spent a lot of time at his place. (Please also see Alexis Denisof's very literate take on their relationship on this BBC web page.)

Finally, similar to how I felt Virginia's "first" breakup with Wesley (when she found out he had been impersonating Angel) revealed a lot of her initial feelings about about him, the "real' breakup revealed a lot of the state of the actual relationship itself. Wesley and Virginia were both in his apartment. Wesley was sitting on the couch in his bathrobe (nice little domestic touch), and he still relied on his wheelchair to get around after being shot in an earlier episode by a zombie cop. The fact that Virginia was there at all is quite revealing in itself. Although it doesn't look hard, it can be quite difficult, or at least irritating, to take care of someone in a wheelchair. The duties aren't difficult if the person has at least a little mobility, but you do feel tied down by the fact that the person relies on you for almost all of their needs.

Many people who think they have a lot of friends will find out the hard way that no one will come over and help care for them when they're needed the most. The friends will be too busy partying to stay home with a sick friend. Virginia had quite the exciting and active social life, but she preferred to stay and take care of Wesley. She even brought a tea service to him on a tray! Of course, she could have been doing all of those nice things for him because she was ready to break up with him, but I think we can safely assume she would have been there for him regardless. One can certainly envision her doing the same things for Wes if he had the flu.

Virginia then sat down next to Wes on the couch for a nice cuddle, looking very much like they had been doing that very same thing for years. They had the obligatory "ooh, that hurts" moment, filled with smiles from both of them, as she tried to find a way to put her arm around his waist without irritating his wound. As an aside, they didn't look all that comfortable during their cuddle time, but that added to the realism of how difficult it is to be intimate when one person is wounded and in pain.

Wes and Virginia then actually had a very serious conversation, where Virginia discussed her fears about the dangers Wesley regularly had to face, and Wesley expressed doubts that she could ever be happy with someone who would leave a job he loved for a more comfortable lifestyle. Naturally, I was focused on their physical contact, as they gently stroked, petted and kissed each other while they spoke. Wesley seemed to have been a very good cuddler, as I had already noted in his post-coital moments with Lilah. He seemed to really enjoy playing with Virginia's luxurious head of red hair, kissing the top of her head and gently stroking her hair.

One thing that fascinated me was how Wesley seemed to have this thing with both Virginia and Lilah where he would take a handful of hair and maybe give a gentle tug and squeeze, kind of like a very subtle caveman power play for dominance. This gesture seemed a little more pronounced with Lilah, and much more innocent looking with Virginia. Regardless, it does seem fun to pretend that such a harmless little quirk can give us just a little more insight into Wesley's character.

It's been a long time since I've really said much about Alexis Denisof's acting skills. It almost goes without saying that he's a great actor. However, I'd be remiss if I didn't regularly praise Denisof for his performances since, quite frankly, without Denisof, I wouldn't be so infatuated with Wesley. Again, I was impressed with how Denisof could modulate his voice to get his point across, by making it softer, somewhat huskier, with a little catch in his throat, to betray his inner feelings and show his vulnerabilities. Denisof's Wesley could use his voice as a very potent tool for romantic foreplay.

I've also noticed that when Denisof was delivering his most dramatic short lines, particularly during his love scenes, all traces of his English accent could suddenly disappear. (For example, "leave them on" during the famous scene where Lilah attempted to take off her glasses while she was role-playing Fred.) (Also, when he confronted a bound and gagged Justine in his closet and informed her it was time for a boat ride. Not exactly a romantic moment, but,.....) The same thing happened with Virginia, where you hear what you would like to think is Denisof's real American voice as opposed to Wesley's voice saying "This is difficult for you, isn't it.........breaking up with me."

I can think of a few reasons why his English accent would disappear during those situations. The most obvious is, Denisof is not British, so it would make sense that the accent would desert him once in a while no matter how hard he tried to keep it around. It's also possible that his English accent didn't work out too well when he delivered little short bursts of dialogue. Denisof also could have just messed up at times, but the directors would decide not to reshoot the scenes since everything else came out perfect. I would like to think that Denisof perhaps was momentarily carried away while he was acting at times, and "became" the character. Denisof would perhaps stop acting and be himself for a brief instance, resulting in the loss of his accent. However, that seems more like wishful thinking on my part. I would also like to think that his American accent was occasionally used for dramatic effect, as an indication that it was a really important moment that needed to stand out. His accent, in other words, could have been used to startle the viewer! I can only say that, most of the time in life, things that look like there was a lot of planning and foresight involved actually just came about by accident. Regardless, the loss of his English accent was quite effective at times.

Back to the actual "breakup" dialogue. I was particularly impressed with how the writers chose to give Wesley the insight to sense the breakup almost before Virginia anticipated it. Wesley started off with a brave face, as though he'd be able to handle things quite admirably, but his voice modulations and pauses in his dialogue betrayed a huge crack that allowed us to look at his innermost emotions. His voice was absolutely dripping with heartache!

Another gift the writers gave us was Wesley's sensitivity to Virginia's plight, almost putting her feelings above his own. Wesley knew it would be difficult for Virginia to let the words spill out, so he generously supplied the words for her. He brought up the subject on his own, thereby giving her the green light to be able to finish the job with a minimal amount of difficulty on her part. Wes and Virginia's relationship was a lot deeper than I anticipated that it would be. They could even break up with a lot of maturity and class. Wes and Virginia were two beautifully matched people whose relationship was doomed way too early by a fatal flaw that seemed impossible to overcome.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Angel and His Kids

Episodes I've Seen So Far, In Order: (Season Two: "Over the Rainbow", "There's No Place Like Plrtz Girb". All of Seasons Three and Four [Except for "Peace Out"]. All of Season Five. All of Season One. Season Two: "Judgment" through "Happy Anniversary").

One would be less in danger
From the wiles of a stranger
If one's own kin and kith
Were more fun to be with.
-Ogden Nash-

I've never been able to get into the TV series Friends. I've tried to watch the show a couple of times because people with good taste whom I really admire absolutely adored the series. But, alas, I think the longest I could stomach watching an episode was about three minutes.

Which is too bad, because I always liked the basic premise of the series, in that, a bunch of attractive young people share their lives, loves, joys, sorrows and triumphs together just like a close-knit family. A lot of unmarrieds live this way, and I'm willing to bet that a lot more aspire to live this way with a group of beloved pals. It doesn't take much reading between the lines to figure out that Angel has turned into my surrogate Friends.*

Throughout Angel, there were many instances where a member of Angel Investigations would emphasize that "we're family". For example, when Angel first started drinking pig's blood in front of the group. Just like any family there were the inevitable breakups and squabbles, but eventually, the group would always pull back together again.

In real life there's always tension between the desire to hang out with friends and the obligation to spend time with family. Many holidays have been ruined for people who are pretty much forced to mingle with unpleasant relatives at family gatherings. On a personal level, my married co-workers and I often feel a twinge of regret when we see others traipsing to the clubs and pubs after work, while we dutifully head home to our family obligations.

The situation in Angel seems pretty realistic in that the family atmosphere sprang up spontaneously on-the-job. When you spend so many hours of the day with people you work so closely with, you can't help but develop a bond with these people. It's an added bonus if you have something in common with your co-workers and everyone loves their jobs. The Angel family always logged in a lot of hours. They would often head home in the middle of the night, and seemed to get back into the office at a fairly reasonable hour the next morning. I know that Angel's nocturnal habits and their caseload would often dictate their working hours (one can't knock off work at 5:00 pm when a wild pack of demons are still on the loose), but I was always under the impression that the Angel crew spent so many of their waking hours together because they loved being with each other. Ever the pragmatist, I often wonder when they managed to clean their apartments and do their laundry, (not to mention how Wes managed to hook up with nameless bleach blondes during his off-duty time.)

I speculated in an earlier post how the addition of J. August Richards as Gunn would affect the family unit. Technically, I wondered how it would affect the strong bonds between Wes and Cordy, who often acted like two unruly teenagers testing the limits of their indulgent but always-in-control dad, Angel. As an aside, I often thought Wes wanted to be more man-to-man with Angel, but Cordy had a way of getting under his skin and bringing him down to her level. One of my favorite Angel/Wes/Cordy pieces of dialogue occurred in "Untouched", when Angel came across the squabbling duo and asked "Hey, what the hell is going on here?" After Cordelia informed Angel they were discussing whether they should pay Gunn for his work, and Angel's denial of that, Wesley finished with, "Well, our discussions tend to go about three minutes, then it's strictly name calling and hair pulling."

I thought the producers were quite wise to introduce the character of Charles Gunn into the mix quite slowly. (For the record, I think it was a great idea to add Gunn, because they needed the extra muscle. He also added the element of being able to offer up great comic one-liners during battle situations.) With his street background and natural abrasiveness, attempts to integrate him too quickly into the group would have been disastrous. Gunn had little in common with the pampered and relatively inept Wes and Cordy, and he was too much of the alpha male to jump at Angel's commands. For their part, Angel, Wes and Cordy made it very clear that Gunn needed to change to fit into the group, since the group wasn't going to change to accommodate Gunn. It was only after he had brief encounters with the group over a prolonged period of time that Gunn was able to slowly develop personal attachments and really see the possibility of becoming a part of the family unit.

When Angel fired Wesley, Cordelia and Gunn at the end of "Reunion", it seemed like a parent disowning his children. In retrospect to Angel, it could have seemed more like a parent pushing his children out of the nest so they would be forced to make it on their own. Angel must have ultimately been quite proud to see that, instead of each going off in separate directions, Wes, Cordy and Gunn opted to stay together and even start their own version of Angel Investigations. One of Angel's unintended consequences was to end up with a group that was much stronger, competent and closer-knit than when he first pushed them away. They all meant so much to each other. Family was everything to Angel, as we saw in that achingly beautiful imagined banquet scene in "Deep Down" at the beginning of Season 4.

Back to Gunn. I thought J. August Richards was a bit awkward as Gunn at the beginning. He seemed rather unconvincing as a street thug, and didn't seem comfortable delivering his lines. Ironically, it seems that the longer he stayed with the Angel family, the better he became at establishing his street cred. By the time I first saw him in "Over the Rainbow", he was practically knocking me dead with his wicked one-liners.

I'm particularly interested in this particular story arc I'm watching right now where the kids are separated from their dad Angel. I know Wes and Gunn didn't get along initially, for obvious reasons. I know they're bonding now, but by the time I started watching the series for the first time in "Over the Rainbow", they seemed to be back at each other's throats again. I'll be looking to see if they were some sort of affection between the two of them in the Pylean story arc that maybe I missed the first time around. Regardless, it all became a moot point after Fred came on board.

As far as Wes and Cordelia? I seem to sense that they are starting to separate in mid-season 2, but not because of the introduction of Gunn. For one thing, they aren't getting as much camera time since the episodes are mostly focusing on Angel these days. Obviously, there could be a lof of off-the-camera warmth that the audience just isn't seeing. However, Cordelia seems even more cutting in her remarks about Wesley than usual during this story arc. It's obvious that she's acting jealous of Wesley hobnobbing with the stars due to his association with Virgnia. However, is Cordelia jealous of Virginia? Or, did Cordelia always feel superior to Wesley, and is having a hard time accepting the fact that he's hitting her with the triple whammy of having a sex life, a loving relationship, and a celebrity lifestyle?

What about Wesley and Virginia? They're acting like they have a normal relationship, but Wes still seems to spend an awful lot of time with Cordy and Gunn. People who become couples tend to spend way too much time together at first, but not Wes and Virginia. I prefer to think they are acting like grown-ups and have quickly settled into a healthy, ordinary routine.

(*Footnote: I consider this to be a continuation of my post, "The Good Fight", when I outlined my reasons for falling completely under the spell of Angel.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger

Episodes I've Seen So Far, In Order: (Season Two: "Over the Rainbow", "There's No Place Like Plrtz Girb". All of Seasons Three and Four [Except for "Peace Out"]. All of Season Five. All of Season One. Season Two: "Judgment" through "Redefinition").

I continue to be astounded by the Angel/Darla arc, even though it represents what I consider to be some of the worst aspects of the Angel series, namely, self-absorbed, way-too-long story arcs featuring ugly machinations from Wolfram & Hart. Every time I start getting a little bit bored with Angel's obsession with Darla, something happens to perk up my interest. Like, Lindsey and Lilah make an appearance, or, Angel locks a bunch of human lawyers in a wine cellar and allows a couple of vampires to feast on them.

Sometimes I wonder if I should start a couple more blogs, like, "I Heart Lindsey and Lilah" or "I Heart Moral Ambiguity", since I seem to be writing a lot about those topics lately. The latest Season 2 Angel episodes that I've seen, "Reunion"and "Redefinition", seem to offering me non-stop helpings of those subject matters lately.

Moral Ambiguity. I've recently discovered that Wolfram & Hart brought back Darla and Drusilla so they would start a reign of terror within Los Angeles. The theory was, Angel would be so obsessed with hounding Darla and Drusilla, he would ignore the more lucrative evil-doings that the lawyers were involved with. The questions is, was Angel playing into Wolfram & Hart's hands by obsessively going after Darla and Drusilla? Was he guilty of dereliction of his duties as Wes, Cordelia and Gunn maintained? Or was Angel outfoxing the foxes and taking the war directly to Wolfram & Hart?

One line of thinking that's always bothered me in Angel is that humans needed to be protected at all cost, no matter how much destruction they've caused. I've noticed that the lawyers at Wolfram & Hart were particularly adept at bringing up that tired old saw, then hiding behind it in order to have their way with Angel. The first analogy that comes to mind is the sniper in the church bell tower that shoots his victims outside, then gets all high and mighty and outraged when he is captured and/or shot within the sanctuary.

I did have to stop and think about this line of thinking when Angel came across Darla and Drusilla (D&D) at Holland Manner's wine tasting party, then opted to leave the lawyers to their fate instead of responding to Lilah Morgan's plea to rescue them.

I felt sorry for all of the lawyers at that point and I fully expected Angel to protect them. For one brief moment, all of the evil humans in the room believed in goodness and humanity (so to speak) and trusted Angel to do the right thing. Yet Angel locked the doors, thereby dooming almost all of the lawyers to the fate of being massacred by D&D. This is that lovely moral ambiguity I always look forward to, where Angel shows he's not always the Knight in Shining Armor. Although I disagreed with his decision, (as did Wes, Cordy and Gunn), I recognized that Angel might have known what he was doing and was following either his finely honed instincts or some other master plan, similar to how he operated at the end of Season 5.

Angel had learned a lot about human nature in his 200+ years on the planet, and he knew that he wouldn't be rewarded for his generosity and mercy. In other words, he knows as well as anyone that no good deed goes unpunished. Instead of reforming themselves or, at least working out some sort of truce, the lawyers of Wolfram & Hart would have simply used their salvation as an opportunity to redouble their efforts to carry out whatever nasty plans they had in store for Angel.

Again, we have the classic situation of both sides trying to outsmart the other side by switching the poisoned drinks. Wolfram & Hart wanted Angel out of their hair, and wanted him distracted by Darla and Drusilla. However, they possibly wanted him to think that by going after Darla and Drusilla, he'd be lured away from some other sort of devious plot. Better yet, Angel might eventually start torturing himself over his decision to turn his back on the innocents who were being slaughtered while he continued on his obsessive quest of eliminating D&D.

In essence, maybe the partners and associates at Wolfram & Hart weren't following any coherent master plan, but were simply playing mind games with Angel by insuring that whatever course he took would result in tragedy. It might be too early for me to tell, but I prefer to think that Angel consistently refused to swallow that bait and instead charted his own plot to keep playing his own games with Wolfram & Hart. One way to think about it is, no wealthy client was underwriting the expenses associated with fighting Angel and his crew. The hours devoted to making Angel's life miserable were strictly unbillable, which is anathema to law firms. Wolfram & Hart could try to keep devoting their resources toward re-directing Angel's attention, but as long as he kept popping up, he caused them his own endless amount of expensive grief.

Lindsey and Lilah. I've been doing a lot of of these Lindsey and Lilah subposts. Haven't they been delicious lately, with the stakes higher than ever now that they are the only two survivors of the D&D massacre? I thought it was just too funny when Lindsey thought he was the sole survivor. You could just feel the disgust emanating from Lindsey when he saw Lilah emerging from the carnage. When he said "Lilah!" I couldn't help but think of Jerry Seinfeld whenever he hissed "Newman" at his nemesis.

I thought I was in for a real treat when Lindsey and Lilah came this close to kissing each other. Unfortunately, Lindsey stopped just in time to reach into Lilah's blouse (an interesting little gesture in itself) and pulled out the mini-microphone she had wired into her bra.

It was still a hilarious scene, even though we were cheated out of seeing a hot love scene between two attractive actors (Christian Kane and Stephanie Romanov). The scene also reinforced my theory that Lindsey was the smart associate, and Lilah was the ruthless one.

I was fascinated with how both Darla and the Senior Partners all planned on keeping both Lindsey and Lilah around to literally find out who would end up as the last one standing. In hindsight, it appeared that Angel unwittingly set up a situation where whoever survived the massacre and emerged as the victor would come out much stronger as a result.

One more observation I have about Angel is how he seemed totally oblivious to the fate of the lower-level Wolfram & Hart apparatchiks in both "Reunion" and in Season 5. In many instances, they might have been working at Wolfram & Hart simply because they needed jobs. In my previous career, I was a kindred spirit of those low-level apparatchiks. HAH! Angel could have stormed into my place of employment, and I would have been dead by the time he flew out the window.

I'm still trying to figure out Lindsey. From Lindsey's total lack of fear when D&D arrived at the wine cellar, and his stated admission that he really didn't care what happened, it appeared that Angel was correct in his assessment of Lindsey in an earlier episode when he stated that Lindsey didn't feel anything. Lilah, through her very visible fear, showed that she was very capable of feeling strong emotions. I'm left to wonder, who is the more dangerous opponent? The one who has nothing really to live for? Or the ambitious one who lives to get ahead?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sweet Virginia and Wesley the Watcher

Episodes I've Seen So Far, In Order: (Season Two: "Over the Rainbow", "There's No Place Like Plrtz Girb". All of Seasons Three and Four [Except for "Peace Out"]. All of Season Five. All of Season One. Season Two: "Judgment" through "The Trial").

Wesley and Virginia. I don't know how to spell it, but I'll try.

Mmmh, mmmh, mmmh!

What beautiful sweet kisses the two of them shared in "Guise Will Be Guise".

I enjoyed seeing the contrast between the beginning of Wesley's relationship with Virginia as opposed to the beginning of his relationship with Lilah. I also got a chance to observe Wes in action, to see how he made his moves on women. With Virginia, we were able to see the buildup of the relationship, starting with their first introduction, followed by their very nice little flirtations leading up to their final moments of intimacy. With Lilah, the action was much more abrupt. They were literally at each other's throats (rather, Wes was at Lilah's throat) one minute and finishing up in bed the next. Wes and Virginia's romance seemed so natural and normal!

Virginia reminded me a lot of Cordy, in that she was quite spirited and not afraid to speak her mind. (I loved the "You go girl" look Cordy gave her when Virginia punched her Dad's lights out.) Virginia may have been manipulated by her father into leading a sheltered life, but she knew a lot about how the world operated. She also didn't suffer fools gladly, and she couldn't help but be mildly disgusted with Wesley's initial fumblings as he tried to establish himself as the real Angel. However, after Wes saved her life a couple of times, first at the wizard supply shop, then from the thugs who were supposedly guarding her bedroom, Virginia recognized Wesley's bravery and started to allow herself to have feelings for him.

(As an aside, I wonder why Wes didn't stress throughout the episode that he impersonated Angel only because the thug who kidnapped Wes threatened to kill Cordy if they didn't produce Angel right away? Even a lot of the episode recaps I've read fail to mention that fact. That scenario is a lot different than the implication that Wes was impersonating Angel just for the thrill of it.)

I didn't sense that snack, crackle, pop electric current between Virginia and Wesley the way I did when Lilah first showed up at Wesley's apartment. I did sense two attractive, unattached young people thrown together under circumstances outside of their control, who rather liked what they saw in each other, and decided it would be fun to try to make a go of things.

Wesley the Watcher. Key to the whole episode was Alexis Denisof performing in what I'll call his Wesley the Watcher mode. I think Wesley was a natural-born Watcher, and it was too bad that throughout Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, he was never allowed to fully develop the skills he needed to perform that role to the best of his ability.

What do I mean by Wesley the Watcher, besides the obvious BtVS context? To me, I think of how Wesley seemed to have a natural affinity for nurturing and protecting young women. In other words, he adored women! He was gentle and caring while offering them the necessary guidance they needed in order to allow themselves to reach their full potential. Sometimes he actively advised his women, while other times he led by example or was simply there for them (like with Cordy). Of course, he was always around to try to rescue them when they got into trouble. Wes could admonish his girls, be forceful, and also be downright abusive (think of his dealings with Bethany and with Faith in Season 4), but he usually only acted that way when he was attempting to achieve a higher goal.

By the way, if Wesley Wyndam-Pryce told me to eat my vegetables and go to bed at 8:00 pm, I'd probably do it.

Off the top of my head, I can think of Wesley acting his Watcher role (sometimes, with only brief durations), with Cordelia, Rebecca in Season 1's "Eternity", Faith, Bethany, Virginia, Fred, Justine (in an odd but still unmistakable way), and Illyria. (Update: As an afterthought, I'll add Lilah, particularly after they broke up.) Some of the girls accepted his guidance a little more graciously than others. (Think of the contrast between Faith in BtVS and her Season 4 appearances in Angel.)

Wes only had romantic relations with Virginia and Fred, but sometimes, while watching the episodes, I felt like screaming at his women "What's wrong with you? Lean over and kiss the guy!" Virginia was the only one who was smart enough to figure out what a terrific guy he was and make a move on him right away. (It took Fred forever to figure that out.)

I've said before that one of the biggest tragedies of the cancellation of the series was how we were cheated out of enjoying Wesley the Watcher work a miracle with his biggest case, the ancient demon Illyria. By that time, Wesley had gone through a lot and toughened himself up considerably. He was older and wiser, and, although tragically flawed, would have been the perfect guide for Illyria. Illyria could sense that aspect of Wesley and was more than willing to put herself into his hands. In essence, Illyria could have been his biggest triumph.

Wesley and Virginia. OK, back to Virginia. Right away, after meeting Virginia, Wesley went into his Watcher mode and gently set some ground rules that she seemed only too willing to accept.

I also loved the acting and the dialogue in her bedroom after they came back from the aborted shopping trip. Virginia sat cross-legged on the bed while Wesley walked across the room and sat next to her. Smooth operator that he was, while acting all concerned and asking how she was holding up (actually, he was pretty sincere), he sat right next to her, then shifted his leg over ever so slightly so it was resting up against her knee. I thought that was a nice touch, and it left me wondering again, was that carefully choreographed by the director, did Alexis Denisof miss his mark and have to move his leg over so he'd be making physical contact, or was that an improvised move?

Believe it or not, I think my favorite piece of dialogue had to do with when Virginia admitted:
VIRGINIA: I think about getting my own place, a little apartment. A job, something silly like, um, a perfume sprayer, or working at a tire store. (They both laugh.)

WESLEY: A tire store?

VIRGINIA: I told you it was ridiculous.

WESLEY: No, no. It sounds wonderful! Rotating tires and inflating -- things ... Your father would not allow it I'd imagine.....
The way Wesley's face lit up when she said "tire store" and the sheepish grin on her face, coupled with how Wesley leaned back with joyous laughter, was adorable. Wes was not laughing at her or making fun of her. He was absolutely delighted that she trusted him enough to be able to open herself up and reveal her silly little innermost secrets. Her secrets weren't in the least bit glamorous or even mysterious!

Virginia put her head on his shoulder, and Wesley had to be thinking that things were working out as planned, but I think she surprised him just a tiny bit by kissing him first. "Virginia!" he mildly exclaimed, but kissed back eagerly enough. During the whole kissing sequence, I laughed at how he quickly settled into the routine and was warming up quite nicely, only to be forced to pause a bit, a minor inconvenience, when the subject of the "the curse" came up. I also loved how he went from kissing, to pausing to talk a little too much, trying to keep "in character", only to keep interrupting himself by throwing himself back into her kisses.

During the next scene, when she was sleeping in bed, and he was along side her, resting on one elbow, gazing down at her, I wondered if what they shared was a "typical" night for him. As I mentioned in a previous post, Alexis Denisof himself brought up the possibility that Wesley's sex life might have been a little bit wilder than what he was letting on. I also mentioned how Wes seemed to have compartmentalize his women into the "naughty" and "nice" categories, with the "bleach blonde" and "Lilah" easily falling into the "naughty" categories. Interestingly enough, Wesley seemed to put Virginia into the "nice" category, although she herself probably would have put herself into the "naughty" department.

I know I'm letting my imagination really run wild here, but I'm thinking the "nice" girls were the ones he allowed himself to fall in love with (which is how I interpreted his expression while he was gazing down at Virginia), while the "naughty" girls were the ones he enjoyed mostly for sex. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, as long as that's all the girls were after.) (Which also caused all sorts of confusion for Wes in Season 4 when he discovered he had fallen in love with his sexmate Lilah).

SO, I'm interpreting his moments with Virginia as showing us that he obviously had experience with women, but was still vulnerable and sweetly just a little unsure of himself whenever the "right" girl came along. (Remember how hopeless he was with Fred? It seemed like the more Wesley truly loved a girl, the more inept he became as a suitor.)

Another surprise for me was that, in a way, the scene where Wes sneaked out of Virginia's bedroom was in some ways just as erotic as their kissing sequence. They both had that delicious afterglow that lovers exhibit after they share a nice warm night of sex, right down to the one extra parting kiss. Unfortunately, the moment was interrupted by Cordy's arrival, which resulted in the "unmasking" of Wesley.

Ironically, at that moment, we were left with the best clue as to just how much Wes meant to Virginia, when she angrily declared, "I talked to you. I trusted you. You lied to me. Come to think of it, you actually put my life in danger. I was walking around thinking I had vampire protection. Here's the funny part: I finally thought I had a friend."

It's doubtful that she ever had any of these feeling for any of her previous lovers (the chauffeurs and bodyguards).

In a way I kind of wish I hadn't watched most of the other episodes of Angel before viewing this one. Then I could have been delightfully surprised when Wesley took charge at the Hyperion Hotel and started ordering Angel, Cordy and Gunn around while explaining his plans for rescuing Virginia. I could have also been once more surprised by his bravery as he courageously fought to protect the woman he loved.

As it was, I could still appreciate these "Wesley the Brave" scenes for what they were, as important plot points that showed the continued growth of Wesley's character.

Back to Wesley the Watcher again. I'm still struggling to put these ideas into words because I simply don't have a lot I can compare this aspect of his character against. This shows that either Alexis Denisof was quite skilled at inventing a very unique character, or I just haven't seen enough movies and TV shows.

I mentioned above how Wesley adored women. Stereotypically, this can occur when someone grows up feeling particularly close to his mother. (I talked about this aspect a bit in this post.) I've lived long enough to have seen several men like Wesley who, although they are not effeminate, seem to prefer to hang out with women, as opposed to a bunch of testosterone-dripping alpha males. The "He-Man" types tend to feel threatened by or feel jealous of men like Wesley. They tend to hurl insults at them and openly question their manhood. "Gay" is a typical label these alpha males will attach to the Wesleys of the world. For the most part, women will adore men like Wesley, although they themselves (like Cordy) may also fall under the spell of the stereotypes and make constant remarks, teasing or otherwise, about these mens' sex lives and manhood.

It might be easier to describe what Denisof's Wesley the Watcher is not rather than is. Wesley is not a diabolical Svengali-like character controlling a woman's every move (with at least one notable exception). I've used the word "paternal" before to try to describe his interest in Fred, but also admitted that, no, that's not quite right either. Wesley is not simply a teacher or mentor or even a boss, because those words imply a certain emotional distance between him and his charges. I can't even say Wes is a master manipulator who uses every means necessary to get his girls to do his bidding because, most of the time, they tend to keep showing their independent streaks.

Ironically, his biggest success story might have been his slave-girl Justine, the one girl who hated him the most. As much as she kept hurling verbal abuse at Wesley, she ultimately did exactly what she was told with minimal threats from Wesley. (Now, I know he kept her chained and locked in a closet during a particularly dark period in his life, but when she was on shipboard with Wesley, she obeyed him 100% even though she seemed to have ample opportunity to escape or inflict serious injury on Wes.)

I might be on the right track if I throw out the idea that Wesley might have been getting some sort of mild erotic charge out of dealing with these women, with the playful interplay between his attempts at domination and the women's (usually sucessful) attempts to avoid submission. Safe sex at its finest, I'd say.

Cordy came pretty close to hitting the nail on the head in an episode I saw today, "The Shroud of Rahmon", when she complained, (after Wesley read out-loud for the billionth time in his life about virgin sacrifices), about how it's always female virgins who have to be sacrificed in the rituals.

She then snapped, "This has nothing to do with purity. This is all about dominance, buddy. You can bet if someone ordered a male body part for religious sacrifice the world would be atheist (snaps her fingers) like that." Alexis Denisof gave her this fantastic uneasy look that, besides contemplating the horrors of losing a "male body part", perhaps also meant, "If I didn't get to read about virgin sacrifices all of the time, then these books would just be way too boring."

So, unless I can get something else figured out, I may just have to admit that, just maybe, Alexis Denisof added a new stock character to the screen.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lindsey and Lilah

Episodes I've Seen So Far, In Order: (Season Two: "Over the Rainbow", "There's No Place Like Plrtz Girb". All of Seasons Three and Four [Except for "Peace Out"]. All of Season Five. All of Season One. Season Two: "Judgment" through "Darla").

I'm sometimes guilty of putting together blog posts in my head about certain episodes before I've actually viewed them. I batted .500 today as far as whether the shows panned out the way I thought they would. In "Guise Will Be Guise", just as I predicted, I wanted to give Wesley Wyndam-Pryce a great big hug and kiss every time he did something adorably inept, my heart fluttered out of control when he romanced Virginia Bryce, and I was thrilled with how he took control over Angel and the rest of the team while they went back and saved the woman he loved.

What really surprised me was "Darla", which I'll talk about in this post. (Don't worry. I'll get to Wes and Virginia soon, hopefully tomorrow.)

The whole "Darla" thing had all of the trappings of everything that bugs me about the Angel series. These annoying things include unpleasant story arcs that just go on way too long; Angel's flashbacks (as much as I love David Boreanaz, I'm not thrilled with his Irish accent); Angel and his crew being too stupid to figure out when Wolfram & Hart was up to something (i.e., when Angel was sleeping 20+ hours a day and constantly dreaming about Darla); and episodes dealing with Wolfram & Hart's evil-doings or other internal problems rather than rockem' sockem' demon-hunting client issues.

Boy, was I ever wrong about "Darla"!

First, I was impressed with the settings of the flashbacks, as they occurred during historically significant (but little-known in the U.S.) moments in history, as opposed to just generic "France A.D. 17XX(whatever)" or something like that. I found out that Darla ended her human life as a whore in the Virginia Colony circa 1609, possibly during the Starving Time at Jamestown. I won't go too much into the history of that era, particularly since I don't know much about it, but I don't think too many white Englishwomen were living in the Virginia Colony at that time. However, it would certainly make sense that some of the women could have turned to prostitution given the grim living conditions of the times.

Sometimes our history books are a little too discrete about these matters.

Another flashback took place during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China when the Chinese were revolting against outside Western influences. With the Rebellion raging all around, Angel hunted down Darla in an attempt to get back into her good graces after he received his soul two years earlier in Romania courtesy of the gypsy curse. Darla challenged Angel to prove his loyalty to her by feasting on an infant she had kidnapped from Western missionaries. Angel, of course, did the right thing by rescuing the baby, and presumably returned the child to the parents.

What really saved this episode for me was Christian Kane's performance as Lindsey. Even though he positively oozed raw sex even when he was dressed in a suit and a tie, I was still pleasantly surprised to find Lindsey developing feelings for Darla and even kissing her (although the extremely brief romance ended rather badly for him). I was also happy to see Lindsey gallantly trying to protect Darla from the evil clutches of Wolfram & Hart.

I just knew he was going to get in touch with Angel to let him know that Darla was in danger. And once again, Angel rewarded Lindsey by beating him up. One of the few things I disliked about Angel was his total mistrust in Lindsey (which I blogged about previously). This episode didn't give me any more insight as to why Angel hated Lindsey, although I think it did reinforce my belief that Lindsey was bewildered as to why Angel kept totally rejecting the idea that he was capable of performing good deeds. Was this little more than the predictable outcome of what happens when two alpha males butt heads?

As long as I'm talking about Wolfram & Hart, I might as well talk about Lilah Morgan in "Untouched", where she pretended to befriend the young woman with telekinetic powers, but was actually trying to groom her to work as an assassin.

In a few of her earlier episodes, Lilah actually exhibited some signs of tentative behavior and actual deference to her superiors, while showing her soft side toward others (particularly in some of her first conversations with Darla). She continued her (faux) gentle ways with Bethany the Telekinetic Girl while Bethany was crashing at Lilah's apartment.

Although we didn't find out any particulars about Lilah's early days in this scene (as opposed to when we earlier found out about Lindsey's poverty-stricken childhood), we do get a hint that Lilah had to overcome considerable early adversity in order to become successful. I'm starting to get a picture that Wolfram & Hart preferred to recruit people who had rough beginnings in their lives. If they could survive their childhoods, then they'd be that much more likely to survive whatever horrors Wolfram & Hart could throw their way.

To get really sidetracked, I was fascinated with Lilah's apartment, since it looked like part of some sort of shabby chic-makeover of an old industrial building. I know she lived in a different apartment in later episodes. Another thing was, Lilah/Stephanie Romanov was drop-dead gorgeous with her hair tied back in that cute little scrunchy thing while she had on her casual yoga attire. It wasn't the usual power-suited Lilah we're used to seeing! Too bad Wesley didn't show up right then and there.

Finally, what an incongruous sight to see Lilah carrying a laundry basket and then folding clothes!

In several scenes, I've noticed Holland Manners unfavorably comparing Lilah against Golden-Boy Lindsey. It seems that Lindsey had the natural talent whereas Lilah had to somewhat learn the ropes the hard way. In the episodes I'm seeing right now, the very ambitious Lilah, although perhaps lacking in natural ability, is making up for her deficiencies by honing her skills in being cunning and ruthless. It's easy to see that Lindsey's conscience is periodically going to hold him back during crucial moments, while Lilah won't be afraid to go for the jugular (perhaps due to self-preservation instincts as much as anything else). As much as I like Lindsey, I can see why Wolfram & Hart wasn't big enough for the two of them.

So far, I'm enjoying the adversity Angel is going through and his devotion to Darla. However, I do see this as a foreshadowing of things to come, where the writers started getting enamored with their non-stop series of dreadful story arcs (only to mercifully interrupt them once in a while by giving us amusing stand-alone episodes, like, "The House Always Wins".)

Mid-to-late Season 3 is going to start the downward slope for me. Angel and Co. will be forced to deal with that nasty Holtz and Justine business; Wesley will have his throat slashed, be left for dead, and will be abandoned by his friends; Connor will make his sickening appearances; and that whole Beast/Jasmine endless story arc will drag on forever. I'll be enjoying the glow for a few more weeks, it seems, and then I'll have to wait until Season 5 rolls around again before I can really start enjoying the series again.

Or, now that I'm seeing the series sequentially from the beginning, will I gain a new appreciation for all of the upcoming horrifying events? Stay tuned, I guess.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Two Potential Characters

Episodes I've Seen So Far, In Order: (Season Two: "Over the Rainbow", "There's No Place Like Plrtz Girb". All of Seasons Three and Four [Except for "Peace Out"]. All of Season Five. All of Season One. Season Two: "Judgment" through "First Impression").

While watching Angel, it occurred to me that the series could have benefited from two more characters who could have shown up once in a while for guest appearances: a computer geek and a doctor.

David Nabbit. Well, they already had a computer geek who showed up from time to time. David Nabbit (played by David Herman) was the socially-challenged, thinly-disguised Bill Gates-type character who made his first appearance in "War Zone" when he needed Angel's help in securing some compromising photos of him taken at a demon brothel.

Cordelia, on cue, went completely ga-ga over him simply because of his money.

Nabbit appeared again in a very uncomfortable scene in "To Shansu in LA" where he showed up unannounced to hang out with Angel, Wes and Cordy, apparently because he didn't have any other friends.

I say the scene was very uncomfortable, not because it was purposefully written to be awkward, but because the scene just did not work at all. It didn't seem to fit into the rest of the episode, and all of the actors acted as though they just wanted to recite their lines and get it over with right away. The scene had all of the hallmarks of being hastily written and filmed in order to pad out the rest of the show. It could have only worked if David Nabbit showed up later on and did something to redeem himself with the team.

Nabbit's character appeared for the last time in "First Impressions", where he was summoned by Angel to give some rather simplistic financial advice, and then he went on to offer the services of his money guy. And with that, David Nabbit was gone for good.

I happen to think David Herman's a pretty good actor. It's too bad his character seemed to be deliberately written (or directed) to be as unlikeable as possible. Let's see, he was a computer geek who dressed badly, had bad hair, was slightly overweight, had no known people skills, had no friends except people he hired to show up at parties, was unhealthily obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons (which I thought disappeared around 1980), and could only get female companionship at demon brothels. Have we left out any other cliches?

To make matters worse, David Nabbit couldn't even come across as being shy or wistful. Instead, he come across as an annoying buffoon. Done correctly, the character of David Nabbit could have been very likable, as the generous misfit who could have been taken under the wing of Angel Investigations. Let's face it - he could have fit in since, in a way, all of the members of Angel Investigations were misfits. Maybe Nabbit wouldn't have been a superhero demon slayer, but he could have been of use to Angel in any number of ways. Nabbit could have cracked Wolfram & Hart's encrypted files instead of Willow. He could have come through with the financing on the Hyperion Hotel, helped set up a community foundation in Charles Gunn's neighborhood, and paid everyone's medical bills. (More on that below.) David Herman didn't have to appear in the opening credits, but the David Nabbit character would have come in handy whenever any number of gaping plot holes appeared which left us wondering "Where are they coming up with the money for this?"

One consolation is that Nabbit was indirectly responsible for yet one more of my favorite Wes and Cordy moments, when Wes purchased the dreadful whipped cream coffee at the little stand in the park (and scooped most of the whipped cream onto the grass), while Cordy made a fool of herself by prattling on about "prostituting" herself to David Nabbit.

Wesley was in his element as the slightly older friend and confidante with whom Cordelia could light-heartedly explore yet one more aspect of sexuality under safe parameters. The dialogue was hardly profound, but I just loved this scene as an example of how Cordelia could comfortably talk about just about everything under the sun with Wesley without fear of ridicule (except for maybe a mild ribbing at her expense.)

Is There a Doctor in the House? Since Angel Investigations was in the very dangerous business of killing demons and vampires, it was only natural that team members would routinely get injured badly enough to need hospitalization. It's funny how I can suspend reality long enough to accept a world of demons and vampires, but I can't accept a world where anyone can march into a hospital and demand immediate lab tests and ultrasounds without doctors' orders. (I could just imagine Cordelia needing an emergency mammogram for whatever reason and being told she'd have to wait a month.) I also can't accept a world where people drag themselves into the ER with multiple stab wounds and the hospital staff does not bother to contact the police department.

Oddly enough, about the only "realistic" scene I can remember is when they snuck Darla into the hospital for an ultrasound and Wesley magically knew how to work the equipment.

And how did everyone pay their medical bills? I don't recall anyone ever whipping out an insurance card. In my part of the world, if you don't have insurance or if your insurance doesn't pay for doctor's visits, it can cost you about $350 just to walk in to see a specialist. It would be a lot more expensive in Los Angeles. Can you imagine how much it would cost to have an ultrasound or spend a few days in ICU? That's where billionaire friend David Nabbit could have come through. He could have either paid their hospital bills, set up a health insurance plan for Angel Investigations, or put them on his company's payroll just so they could take advantage of the benefits package.

It also would have been beneficial if Angel Investigation team members had a regular doctor whom they could meet with at the hospital or at a well-equipped private clinic. This doctor would ideally have experience in treating wounds inflicted by demons or, at worst, not ask any questions and shield the team from messy red-tape and paperwork. If it would have been impossible to bring the same actor in each time a doctor was needed, then, by all means, the creators could have invented a rotating cast of on-call partners. It's TV. Anything's possible.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Crisis of Faith

Episodes I've Seen So Far, In Order: (Season Two: "Judgment", "Over the Rainbow", "There's No Place Like Plrtz Girb". All of Seasons Three and Four [Except for "Peace Out"]. All of Season Five. All of Season One.)

I detailed in a prior post how one of the reasons I'm attracted to the Angel series is because its constant examination of the shades of gray between the black and white of good and evil. Ironically, one of the best episodes I've seen that explored that theme was "Blind Date", where Lindsey McDonald suffered his crisis of faith after learning Wolfram & Hart was sending out a blind hitwoman (Vanessa Brewer) to assassinate three blind children who were considered to be future enemies of the Senior Partners. I say "ironically", because a lot of the most thought-provoking dialogue came not from Angel or any of the other Good Guys, but from Bad Guy Holland Manners.

Having said that, I'll contradict myself and say that the best dialogue came from Angel in this scene, where he's pouring out his frustrations to Wes and Cordy for being unable to do anything to put Vanessa behind bars.

Angel: How am I expected to do battle if I can't even get into the ring?

Wesley: You have a place, Angel. Our battle will be fought elsewhere.

Angel: It's still their world, Wesley. Structured for power -- not truth. It's their system, and it's one that works. It works because there is no guilt. There is no torment, no consequences. It's pure. I remember what that was like. Sometimes I miss that clarity.
There is so much truth to that. If you pick a side and are firmly committed to that group's causes, the answers come so much more easily without the need for time-consuming introspection. I think blind (pardon the pun) devotion to either Good or Evil is unhealthy, but I can't help but think that taking the path to Evil is a much easier way to go. The reasons for joining the forces of Evil are so deceptively simple and seductive. (This is how the world operates. It's easy. Other people are weak or stupid for not taking what's so readily available.) You have to be a much stronger person to even commit to taking the road to Good, since you are forced to make moral decisions every step of the way.

One of the hallmarks of someone suffering a crisis of faith is the feeling of ennui, or, as Holland Manners explained so well,

Holland: .....Now I have to say, you don't seem that happy lately. Could I take a wild stab as to what I think that might be?

Lindsey: Sure.

Holland: It's your age. You're a young man. You've hitched your wagon to our star. Oh, and it's a bright star. But now you're starting to feel a little 'Is that all there is?'

Lindsey: Sometimes you question things, but I mean it's no big --

Holland: Yeah, I did a lot of crazy things when I was your age -- searching and all. Took me a while to realize how the world was put together and where I belonged in it. And actually the world isn't that complicated. It's designed for those who know how to use it.

Lindsey: Yes, sir.

Holland: Don't give me that 'yes, sir' crap. I want you to think about these things. You're not going to be happy until you find your place in the scheme of things. Okay, enough of the old guy's lecture......
What's remarkable to me about this exchange is that Holland Manners did not expect blind loyalty from Lindsey. As a matter of fact, he probably would have been disappointed if Lindsey simply followed orders, like the colorless attorney Lee. The best way to perform your work is to take the initiative, and the best way to develop your sense of initiative is to question everything, by constantly asking "What if?"

It's obvious that Holland saw a lot of himself in Lindsey, and recognized what Lindsey was going through. I don't normally like to cut and paste a lot of dialogue into my posts, but I'm making an exception one more time for this remarkable exchange.

Holland: ....Well, then you're in a crisis, son. A crisis of faith. Do you believe in love? I'm not speaking romantically. I'm talking about that sharp, clear sense of self a man gains once he's truly found his place in the world. It's no mean feat, since most men are cowards and just move with the crowd. Very few make their own destinies. They have the courage of their convictions, and they know how to behave in a crisis.

Lindsey: Like now?

Holland: Like now. You have everything it takes to go all the way here -- drive, ambition, excellence -- but you don't know where you belong. And until you do, I guess we both have some important questions to answer. Now, my first one is, do I nod to my friend behind me? No, I don't. Because I know you, and I know a little something about character. I think what you actually need is a few days off to think about it. And I'm sure once you have, you're gonna do the right thing.

Lindsey: I can -- I can go.

Holland: You can go. Lindsey, I believe in you. Look deep enough inside yourself --you'll find that love.
What's amazing to me is that this same dialogue could have been used by a couple of people working for the side of good!

One of the worst mistakes someone who is comfortable in his or her beliefs can do is to try to prevent someone else from questioning her own faith. A classic example is a religious parent giving her child grief because the child starts to doubt the existence of God. There comes a time when a child has to stop hearing about the existence of God and start discovering God on her own. A necessary part of the process may be denying that God even exists! The child can then begin her journey of discovering what a world is like without God. Eventually, she may realize that, although she can find a lot of the answers on her own, there is still something missing, which is a unifying purpose for our place in the universe. Could that "something missing" be God? A lot of the strongest believers I know went through their very own protracted crises of faith. In essence, their periods of doubt ultimately strengthened their beliefs!

A religious parent can be horrified at what the child is going through. What if the child never comes back to God? What if the child makes all of the wrong decisions, and despite the parent's best efforts, chooses the road to Evil? My first response is that some of the most morally responsible people in the world are atheists, and some of the worst people in the world attend church every Sunday. My next response is, no one has the right to take complete control or responsibility over another human being. No one can possibly take his place in the world if he is constantly second-guessing himself by asking "What would my parent want me to do?" That person would be caught in a perpetual state of arrested development, and wouldn't be of much use to anyone, including himself. And besides, do you know how much work it would take for parents to be the constant thought police for their children?

This is a very roundabout way of saying that Holland predicted great things from Lindsey, but knew Lindsey wouldn't even begin to scratch his potential until he grew stronger after surviving his crisis of faith. The Senior Partners risked losing Lindsey, but the rewards of getting a bigger and better Lindsey out of the deal was well worth the risk. I can't help but think that Holland ordered the very bland Lee to be killed not because of something he did, but to drive home to both Lindsey and Lilah that sometimes trying to do your very best without challenging yourself is just not good enough.

Lindsey told Angel of his own motivations for choosing his path in life. He came from a dirt-poor background, and was disgusted how his father just let the authorities come in and take the house away when Lindsey was just seven years old. Even worse, his dad even joked with the guys during the deed-signing. To Lindsey, and to a lot of the power-hungry, there's nothing worse than human weakness. If you lose, or if you choose to lose out on material possessions, you're a loser for life. Which brings me to another fascinating aspect this episode brings up, on how two different people, being faced with the same crisis of confidence, can choose different paths. Angel was constantly questioning his beliefs and always came back to protecting the innocent and the poor. Lindsey could have thrown his lot in with protecting the poor and perhaps ultimately could have become a public defender. He obviously chose the more lucrative path of representing wealthy (and immoral) paying clients.

From everything I've seen, I've always been disappointed with Angel's attitude towards Lindsey. He could never accept that Lindsey might change, and failed to allow his natural faith in redemption to manifest itself. I know part of it has to do with the fact that I think Christian Kane is a marvelous actor who turned Lindsey McDonald into a likable, nuanced character. I also have to accept that Angel had been around for 200 years and just maybe knew a lot more about human behavior than I do. He'd probably run into a lot of Lindseys over the years. Besides the obvious consideration that Lindsey could have just been setting up a trap, Angel might have known that even bad people have their good moments. Just because someone has a soft spot, (in this case, Lindsey did not want to see children getting hurt), doesn't mean a person is basically good.

Angel could probably recognize that Lindsey was rotten to the core. At best, they could work out uneasy truces in order to temporarily fight certain battles on the same side. And really, Lindsey did exhibit a certain sense of honor when it came to keeping his word. You just had to watch your back when the smoke cleared. But, just as Angel predicted, Lindsey pretty willingly went back to Wolfram & Hart, particularly after Holland offered him the big promotion.

Back to Lindsey and his soft spot for children. In general, people whom I will simplistically call "Bad" have no sympathy for the plight of disadvantaged children. Lindsey's particular soft spot obviously came from his miserable childhood, when he couldn't figure out why anyone would willingly raise their children under such horrible conditions. Also notice how Lindsey was given the assignment of manufacturing a wretched childhood for Vanessa, to be used the next time she had to face a judge.

Usually, the Bad Guys don't completely fabricate evidence. They are very skillful at taking what's available and twisting the truth to serve their needs. (The Good Guys are very capable of doing the very same thing.) With the normal unpleasant experiences and playground scrapes we all go through while growing up, it would be pretty easy to paint even a perfectly normal childhood as being as awful as anything Charles Dickens could come up with. In essence, it's very easy for the Bad Guys to come up with reasons to justify their actions (e.g., if we don't protect the Captains of Industry, we'll have no industry, ad nauseum.)

I'll end with another terrific quote from Holland (spoken to Lindsey):

Holland: I handpicked you when you were a sophomore at Hastings, not because you were smart, not because you were a poor kid who had to do better than anyone else, but because you had potential -- potential for seeing things as they are. It's not about good or evil, it's about who wields the most power. And we wield a lot of it here, and you know what? I think the world is better for it.
I think that wraps everything up in one tidy package. "It's not about good or evil, it's about who wields the most power." When you throw your lot in with the Bad Guys, you're completely off the hook as far as having to make difficult moral decisions.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Getting Better All The Time

(From Buffyworld)

Episodes I've Seen So Far, In Order: (Season Two: "Judgment", "Over the Rainbow", "There's No Place Like Plrtz Girb". All of Seasons Three and Four [Except for "Peace Out"]. All of Season Five. All of Season One.)

I was all set to do primarily a post about Lindsey McDonald and his moral ambiguities. But then I saw Wesley's pub scene at the beginning of "Judgment" to kick off Season 2, and now I'm going, "OH MY GOD THAT MAN IS FRICKIN HOT I'M ON FIRE SOMEONE CALL THE FIRE DEPARTMENT!!!!".

Geez, what's a girl to do when she sees Alexis Denisof wearing that unbuttoned yellow shirt with a half-untucked undershirt underneath, playing darts like he's a world champion, and casting suave glances at the blonde sitting at the bar? When I saw Wes, I just wanted to reach in and untuck the rest of his undershirt. Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, at the start of Season 2, is well on his way to being the New and Improved Wesley.

I don't even care that he accidentally hit someone with a dart as he tried to impress the blonde by attempting a blind shot. He could have entirely missed the board on all of his tries and I wouldn't have minded.

While we're at it, wasn't that a cute, cute beginning to "Judgment", where Cordelia and Wesley answered their 911 pages, met up with Angel at the health club, strode down the pathway between the exercise equipment like the Almighty Triumvirate while acting like they owned the joint, scared the crap out of the health club attendant when he found out Angel didn't show up in the mirror, then beat up the demons and rescued the this-close-to-being-sacrificed humans? I also thought Wesley fought quite nicely in that scene, taking out that creepy-looking humanoid without too many problems.

We found out in "Sanctuary" that Wesley was no stranger to darts and pubs, (he ran into the Watchers Council hitmen there), giving us our first proof that he did, in fact, leave his apartment and 3-D crossword puzzle books behind once in a while. We also heard Wesley protest to Cordelia in "The Ring" that he had a rich and varied social life, despite her insistence that his idea of a social life was watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune while swigging down hot cocoa.

Wesley also seemed to know all about Madam Dorion's demon brothel, explaining that "The Watcher's Council is rife with stories about it." I loved the look Angel gave to Wesley when Wesley first mentioned the brothel, causing Wesley to come up with the "heard it from the Watcher's Council" explanation.

Wes was also the one who introduced Cordelia and Angel to Lorne's/The Host's Caritas karaoke bar, giving us yet one more hint that he might have occasionally left his apartment as soon as Wheel of Fortune finished up.

I'm not saying that Wesley picked up a girl, human or otherwise, for wild sex every time he went out for the night, but I do recall this interview with Alexis Denisof at a BBC site where he talked about Wesley finally able to "get a little" in Season 2 (with Virginia Bryce. Mein Gott, I'm looking forward to that.) Denisof went on to say that

"It had been a pretty dry area for him.

Although, there are allusions made to his sex life from time to time, that he may be more than meets the eye in that department, he's going out and having a wild time and keeping it quiet."

I'm looking forward to some more "allusions" as the seasons progress. I know about Angel sensing the "bleach blond" in one upcoming episodes, and the fact that Wesley almost slipped out that he owned a pair of handcuffs (which, presumably, we finally saw when he held Justine as a slave in Season 4.)

Always keep an audience guessing, right? The fact that Wesley might, in fact, might not have been suffering in that department could explain why he wasn't going all swoony over Cordelia. He did seem to have a history of compartmentalizing his women into the "naughty" (Lilah) and "nice" (Fred) categories. Although Cordelia didn't strike me as the straight-laced type, she was perhaps a bit more inexperienced than she was letting on. She might have been really shocked to find out what Wesley was up to, which might have jeopardized their friendship. Wesley probably wanted to protect her from the truth, and contented himself with happily keeping things "nice" with her.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

More on Faith

In my last post, I forgot to address one really touching scene in "Five by Five" where Faith, who was on the verge of slaughtering Angel, fell weeping into his arms, begging Angel to kill her. I seem to also recall that Faith pleaded in either "Five by Five" or "Sanctuary" that she wanted to be good. Either I'm making it up or I just can't find the dialogue. Regardless, the implication is clear. Faith was absolutely miserable because she just could not control her behavior. Old habits just came much too easily to her.

As a mother, I can't help but think that Faith was acting like a grown-up version of an out-of-control toddler. Both of my children have had their destructive temper tantrums when they were two to four years old. They were absolutely miserable during these outbursts. They literally had no idea how they were supposed to deal with their anger and frustrations.

Parents who deal with temper tantrums by simply punishing their children for their immediate behaviors are missing the point. Something I've heard a lot over the years from not only my kids but other kids are sobbing pleas of "I want to be good" and "I can't help it". Toddlers literally can't control their actions and they are badly frightened. Grownups punish them for being destructive, but don't understand that the toddlers would give anything to be able to stop themselves from doing the bad things. A toddler's absolute misery at not being able to control her actions is punishment enough.

The first steps in dealing with an out-of-control toddler involve making sure the toddler won't harm himself or others. The next step is to make sure the toddler does not cause property damage. After that, it's best to let the toddler keep blowing off steam until his private little storm runs its natural course. The parent must act with a lot of love and patience as he or she guides the toddler through the tantrum, then gives reassurance to the toddler after he has calmed down. After that, a firm but gentle explanation should be given to the child on why the behavior was unacceptable, followed by guidelines on how these actions can be avoided in the future. I don't think it's possible for a parent to ward off every tantrum, but an alert parent can go a long ways toward averting a lot of the more destructive behavior.

Like I said, Faith is an overgrown (and vicious) toddler. I can't say that I blame them, but everyone else (including Buffy, the Watcher's Council, Wesley and Cordelia) were focused on meting out punishment or gaining revenge. Angel was the only one who acted like the concerned parent trying to give her the skills she needed to avoid the worst of her behaviors, for which Faith was eternally grateful. As odd as it seems, I can't help but think of her time in prison as being one long, protracted time-out.

A Few Mid-to-Late Season One Thoughts

Episodes I've Seen So Far: (Season Two: "Over the Rainbow", "There's No Place Like Plrtz Girb". All of Seasons Three and Four [Except for "Peace Out"]. All of Season Five. Season One through "Sanctuary".)

I've been away on business for a few days, so I'm trying to play catch-up with the episodes of Angel that I've missed. Wesley Wyndam-Pryce is starting to make himself more useful to Angel, though for every heroic deed he performs (e.g. in "The Ring", shooting the bad guy's gun out of his hand by pinning his hand to the wall with a crossbow bolt), he's sure to mess things up twice as many times (by losing the horsehair unlocking mechanism to the demon, and allowing Darin McNamara to wrestle the gun away from him). I've said before that the writers needed Wesley to periodically screw things up so he could A) keep the scene from ending too quickly and B) reinforce his inferiority to Angel. Although things gradually improved for Wesley over the years, his ineptitude never entirely went away. If you're a major Alexis Denisof fan, it tends to get tiring after a while.

Otherwise, Wesley's character has developed quite nicely over the last several episodes. In fact, I can almost say his character has developed by leaps and bounds in each and every episode I've seen over the last week, culminating (so far) in his declaration of his complete loyalty to Angel in "Sanctuary" by double-crossing the Watcher's Council goon squad and helping to protect Faith (in spite of being recently brutally tortured by her). As Wes stated, he wasn't putting himself on the line because of Faith, but because he trusted Angel.

In the meantime, Wes is starting to gradually become a little less dorky (although there's certainly a lot of room for improvement.) I live for those special camera shots of his lovely smile where, despite his horrible wardrobe, there's no way anyone can disguise the fact that Alexis Denisof is one helluva handsome guy!

Wes and Cordy. I'm enjoying the interplay between Wes and Cordy while I can, since I'm betting that their warm friendship might recede into the background once Charles Gunn is added to the team. Even when they're squabbling, it's easy to tell how much they mean to one another.

It would have been nice if the two had become romantically involved at some point during the Angel series. I don't think Cordy would have been too eager to jump into a relationship with Wes due to his stuffiness and lack of style sense, but I'm sure Wes would have thrown himself wholeheartedly into a relationship if Cordy had given him the least little bit of encouragement. For all of Cordelia's apparent superficiality, she has consistently shown that she's capable of great emotional maturity. With a little bit of finesse from Wesley, I'm sure he would have found a way into her heart, similar to how Doyle was able to do so.

But really, why mess up a good thing by becoming lovers? Don't men and women dream of having a Wes and Cordy type of relationship? It's a lot easier for men and women to become lovers than to develop an affectionate friendship. Two people may talk themselves into thinking that nothing will change if they have sex, but really, there's no going back once a couple become bed partners. By being a romantic pair, Wes and Cordy would have had to have dealt with a lot of new emotions bubbling to the surface. This new dynamic would have required a lot of work and commitment on their part just so they could figure out how to handle their new feelings and put them into perspective.

Although Wes and Cordy as a great team really came to fruition in "The Ring", a particular favorite Wes/Cordy moment occurred in "Eternity" when Wesley came to Cordy's apartment after he received several of her pages. Cordy knew she had messed up by giving the still young but not-getting-any-younger actress a lot of information that could potentially be used to turn Angel into Angelus. Cordy recognized she had a problem, and she unhesitatingly turned to Wesley for help. They were unquestionably a "team" by then, and Wesley rushed to his friend in need as quickly as he could. They then rushed to the office in order to rescue Angel. Now, I realize that Cordelia really didn't have anyone else to turn to, and since they were both in Angel's employ there was a certain "us against him" attitude at play here, but I still think it was pretty obvious that they were firmly in the Best Pals category.

More on "Eternity". This was one of the more annoying Cordelia episodes, since she acted like such an idiot around the Hollywood celebrities. Thankfully, Charisma Carpenter somewhat redeemed herself with her comedic performance as the God-awful Hedda Gabler at the beginning of the episode.

I thought guest star Tamara Gorski (who played actress Rebecca Lowell), although quite attractive, had an odd look about her. I was sure that she was already some sort of vampire or demon, but no, she just wanted to be one in order to keep her youth. I couldn't help but think that this episode must have really hit home for Charisma Carpenter, since she was a 29 to 30-year old actress portraying a young woman just slightly out of high school. As much as I love Carpenter, I never found her convincing as a woman in her late teens, and it must have been a killer for her to try to keep away all of the signs of aging.

Two things about the episode really struck me. One, was when Rebecca was in Angel's apartment trying to seduce him into turning her into a vampire (with considerable help from some sort of potent recreational drug). Angel temporarily turned into Angelus and tried to kill her, after thoroughly terrorizing her, of course. I thought it was one of the better depictions I've seen of the young virginal coquette who's eager to have fun and games with the older man, and shamelessly leads him on, only to become frightened at the thought of actually "going all the way".

Another part I loved was when Rebecca escaped from Angelus through the elevator, only to be gently pulled to safely by adorable Wesley. (I was reminded a little bit of Cary Grant pulling Eva Marie Saint to safety at Mt. Rushmore in North by Northwest.) I can't imagine anything more wonderful than to be rescued by collapsing into Wesley's arms! What a sight that was. I also loved how Cordelia immediately broke the spell by reminding Rebecca that she did something horribly evil to Angel. It turned into a pretty good Good Cop Bad Cop routine by my favorite non-couple.

Lindsey and Lilah. Christian Kane is a fantastic actor. He looks like he's performing so effortlessly on the screen, and I'm so glad his Lindsey McDonald character is starting to hit full stride in Season 1. One of my major regrets in starting to watch Angel halfway through the series run was not being fully aware of the background history between Lindsey and Angel by the time Lindsey reappeared in Season 5 (which was the first time I saw him). As much as Lindsey's character immediately blew me away, I knew I wasn't getting the complete picture. I look forward to seeing his character and his relationship with Angel develop over the next few weeks.

I was a bit disappointed at Lilah's debut, partly because she was appearing at such a seedy venue (the demon fight club in "The Ring".) I'm also thinking she looked incredibly dowdy in Season 1, as though someone was deliberately trying to make her look unappealing. So far, I can tell that Stephanie Romanov and the creators were still working on her unmistakable "Lilah" characteristics, but it looks like Romanov didn't look as comfortable in her role from the very beginning as Kane did with his Lindsey character. We all know Romanov eventually took over her part so commandingly that, in several episodes, the best scenes all involved Lilah! As with Lindsey, I'm looking forward to watching Lilah evolve, and I'm looking forward to what promises to be a great contrast between the two characters.

Faith. Isn't Eliza Dushku fantastic? My God, whenever Faith makes an appearance, the whole show threatens to blow up from the increased energy levels. I loved how, even though she took money from Wolfram & Hart in "Five by Five" and "Sanctuary", she in no way answered to them. When she appeared at the Wolfram & Hart offices, she refused to buckle under Lee's power grab over her. I wasn't sure what I enjoyed more: Faith smashing Lee's head against the table, or Lindsey and Lilah's bemused reaction to the whole scene.

My darling Wesley suffered mightily in the Angel series, so being tortured by Faith was just one more moment of suffering for him I had to endure. It's even more remarkable that Wesley came through for Angel and Faith in "Sanctuary" as I mentioned above. Similar to how I knew I was missing something from Lindsey's performances in Season 5, I knew I was missing something in Wesley's and Faith's performances in Season 4, starting from when Wesley sprang her out of jail.

What's remarkable is that, in Season 4, Wes and Faith had a very nuanced relationship based on not only a basic mutual respect, but something looking an awful like an attraction between each other as Wesley took on his natural Watcher role. I was surprised that, although Faith protested vociferously at times, she ultimately always followed his orders, even though it was pretty obvious he was exploiting her. To be honest, I don't think their interactions in Season 1 provided me with the clues on why Faith so willingly came under Wesley's control in Season 4. I know her primary motivation was to help Angel, but was Faith simply blown away by the complete transformation of Wesley? Did she fall under the spell of his new-found good looks, sexy dark side and commanding personality?

I might as well bring it up now, since I don't know if I'll be able to work it in any place else. There's a scene in "Release" where Faith is at Wesley's apartment and she's all cut up and bleeding. Wesley, in his inimitably sensuous way, is trying his best to attend to Faith and offers to bandage her up. Faith gently but firmly rebuffs him and asks to take a shower instead. What were the inner secrets of that moment? Did Faith rebuff him because, by tending to her, it would have dredged up too many unpleasant memories of when she tortured Wesley?

There's something about Wesley's healing touch, as I alluded to in an earlier post when I wrote that his applying the bandages to Illyria was one of the most erotic moments for me in the entire series. Might the continuing subtext of Faith's possible lesbianism also have had something to do with her drawing away from Wesley? Like, "I'm not emotionally ready for any type of involvement with you?" I'm not saying that they would inevitably have ended up in Wesley's bed, but I do think it would have added one more complicated layer to their relationship. Faith was on emotional overload at that point, trying to sort out her feelings, and didn't need to add anything more to her plate. Although she struck me as the type who was always ready to jump onto a guy for instant gratification, it seemed like the very thought of emotional intimacy was just too frightening for her.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Good Fight

In a way, this blog isn't so much about Wesley Wyndam-Pryce or Angel or Alexis Denisof, but an exploration of why someone as "average" as me can all of a sudden be completely blown away by a TV series. Why did I completely fall in love with Wesley/Alexis at first sight? What is it about the plot lines of Angel that appeal to me so much? Why is it that I'm making time to spend almost two hours per day watching a series that's been off the air for five years?

Wesley. First, it's pretty obvious from the name of my blog that I've completely fallen head-over-heels in love with Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. I don't think I need to go into too much explanation on why that is. (Nobody wonders why a guy would fall in love with Tori Praver!) Just look at the pictures at Spuffy_Girl's Livejournal site to get a clue on why I think he's so impossibly sexy (particularly the picture of badass Wesley halfway down the page.)

BTW, aren't those adorable pictures of Alexis, Alyson and Satyana?

If it wasn't for Alexis Denisof, I'd probably just be occasionally tuning in to catch part of the show rather than recording each and every episode.

Black, White, and Shades of Gray. A second reason why I'm attracted to the series is that I love the whole premise of idealism being mixed in with pragmatism which, if you're not careful, can cross the line into consorting with the enemy. I really need to do a Season 5 post, but these issues really came into the forefront during Angel & Co.'s stint with Wolfram & Hart. For quite a bit of my career, I worked in various capacities with lobbying groups and associations that represented one particular industry group. In my early years, I worked wholeheartedly for this group's agenda, even though I sometimes felt a certain twinge of regret at some of their antiworker/anticonsumer sentiments. I sold my soul to a certain point and was decently compensated for my efforts. In my defense, I felt this group was pretty pragmatic and acted with the knowledge that they could go a lot farther toward achieving their goals if they worked with the opposition for mutually agreeable solutions.

As years went on, I found that the leadership of the industry group I helped represent became more strident in their demands. They moved away from a "Let's work this out" stance to "Hell, we're powerful enough to screw the American public. Let's just do it." Since I did a lot of research for them, I was being increasingly pressured to come up with information that justified their positions rather than gave them a clearer understanding of how the real world actually operated. I flat out couldn't work for them anymore.

I could have thrown in my lot with the enemy opposition, since I felt they were becoming less radical, less impossible to deal with, and more reasonable with their demands. Except, by then I realized that the opposition group that supposedly supported workers/consumers was busily selling out their constituency by focusing on minor problems while refusing to attack the root causes that were dragging down my state and my nation. The opposition group leaders were issuing press releases by day denouncing the industry representatives, while attending dinner parties with them at night and planning new ways to screw the public while still pretending to represent their interests.

I now volunteer some of my time with an extremely loosely organized confederation of individuals where we share our research and try to keep the issues out in the open. We can't say we're making any headway, but we hope we're doing our small part to make sure things won't get any worse, either.

So the whole David versus Goliath aspect of Angel really appeals to me on a personal level. It's not fair that the forces of Evil are so well-organized and powerful, even to the point of controlling most of the information that reaches the public. It's not fair that they can successfully thwart Good at almost every level by throwing more money at their causes. However, at a very basic level, most people are Good and will fight back when pressed. Whenever the forces of Evil go too far, they risk incurring a fierce backlash that can set their cause back by several years. If I want to be really honest with myself, instead of focusing all the time on how much longer we need to fight, I should allow myself to step back once in a while and be amazed at how much time and money the Bad Guys need to devote to their cause just to maintain the status quo.

I know this can sound pretty odd for a person my age (let's delicately say my 20-year high school class reunion was longer ago than I care to admit), but Angel's final battle with the Senior Partners at the end of Season 5 really energized me and gave me reason to continue fighting my own battles. And really, that shows the true beauty of fiction. I can read motivational pieces by learned scholars all day long on why I should continue to fight the good fight. However, it sometimes takes a good dose of fantasy to get the blood flowing, bring a sense of immediacy, and motivate a person to action.

(Update: I consider "Angel and His Kids" to be a continuation of this post.)