Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Let's Go to Work!

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 "The Bachelor Party".)

"Not Fade Away" was a wonderful series finale for Angel. The episode tied up a few loose ends, introduced a whole set of new ones for people who would like the series to continue on in their imaginations, and nicely played to the strengths of actor David Boreanaz by highlighting his heroic leadership qualities.

I can't talk about "Not Fade Away" without also talking about the end of the preceding episode, "Power Play", where Angel, with the help of a glowing crystal that temporarily showed an altered reality to Senior Partners' emissary Hamilton, convinced his team that he was not defecting to the bad guys. He then finished off with a rah rah speech to end all rah rah speeches. If David Boreanaz ever ordered me to jump out of in-flight airplane without a parachute for the betterment of mankind, I'd probably do it without question.

Here's a few random thoughts on the episode:

Harmony: Perky, yet still a vampire without a soul. She betrayed Angel, (and he probably could have been nicer to her all along), although she did do as ordered and capably "occupied" Hamilton for a while.

Lindsey: I hadn't seen Lindsey until Season 5. Based on what I've seen of him, I'm looking forward to enjoying Christian Kane's work in the earlier seasons. Does he have screen presence or what? I'm sure I'm in for a treat! To be honest, since I haven't seen some of the crucial episodes yet, I'm not exactly sure why Lindsey and Angel were at each other's throats (except for the obvious fact that Lindsey used to work at Wolfram & Hart.) Regardless, I would have loved to have seen him hook up as a real ally to Angel. It's just too bad it didn't work out that way.

Didn't Kane and Boreanaz work well together, regardless of the fact that they were enemies? It's only fitting that they both appeared together in the very first Angel episode and the very last. If Lindsey had survived, it could have been the beginning of a Humphrey Bogart/Claude Rains type of beautiful friendship.

Lorne: Andy Hallett's part seemed to suffer as Season 5 progressed, probably due to the addition of James Marsters' Spike to the cast. I was glad to see that Lorne was less clownish in "Not Fade Away", with the producers allowing Hallett to use some of his considerable dramatic skills to better use. The creators did a great job in springing the surprise of Lorne shooting Lindsey as soon as Lindsey had dutifully slaughtered his men. That moment really brought an earlier scene to life where Lorne disgustedly told Angel he would not be meeting up with him at the Hyperion Hotel alley after he completed his assignment.

Was it my imagination, or were Lindsey and Lorne starting to bond with each other before Lorne rubbed out Lindsey? (Although it must not have been too flattering to Lorne when Lindsey expressed his disgust that he was being finished off by Lorne instead of Angel.)

Lorne was definitely not the killer type. He, out of everyone, seemed to have the most continued doubts about Angel's motivations, particularly after he found out Drogyn was sacrificed for the cause. It's not surprising that Lorne told Angel not to bother to look him up after everyone had finished up their dirty deeds.

What a poignant ending to Andy Hallett's appearances on Angel, when he briefly reverted back to a somber version of his Host role and told us, "Good night, folks." What a simple line, in a simple moment, but powerful nonetheless. As far as I know, that was the final time we saw Andy Hallett on-screen before he passed away earlier this year.

Spike. I was a little disappointed he didn't have much interaction with Illyria in this episode since they were clearly getting along quite nicely. But, there's only so much you can squeeze into one hour. Instead, Spike was limited to a series of one-liners. But hey, I'm not complaining. James Marsters is as good as anyone at delivering an endless stream of one-liners, and a lot of them were pretty good. My favorite? When Spike found out he wouldn't be chosen to betray Angel, he asked, "Can I deny you three times?"

Although Spike's main purpose in life seemed to be to make Angel's life as miserable as possible, I was really pleased to see his absolute loyalty to both Angel and to the cause. He was the first to raise his hand to say he was "in" as far as the big finale, and it was only fitting that he was the first one to show in the alley after he completed his assignment. One can't help but think that between Angel and Spike, they must have drastically reduced the head count of the 40,000 demons that were converging on them at show's end.

Gunn. Of everyone in the group, Gunn seemed to be the most loyal to Angel after Angel made his plans known, even after finding out what had happened to Drogyn. Although, admittedly, Gunn was the one who asked the obvious question of whether Angel would have to sacrifice anyone else in order to prove his loyalty to the Circle of the Black Thorn.

Did Gunn put his absolute trust in Angel because Angel forgave him for his part in unwittingly setting off the chain of events that caused Fred's death?

He seemed to really enjoy the idea of getting back to Old School vampire hunting. It was good to see him regain his enthusiasm and go back to his street roots. I was also thrilled when he suggested that having Illyria on their side would be a pretty good idea.

I also noticed that Illyria singled out Gunn to tell him, "Try not to die. You are not unpleasant to my eyes." Was that some of Fred's old memories bubbling up to the surface?

In his final glorious moments as a vampire hunter, Gunn started off well, but seemed to get into a bit more trouble as his camera time came to an end at the end of the scene. In the final meetup, Spike mentioned, "You're supposed to wear the red on the inside, Charlie boy". Illyria also told him he only had about 10 minutes to live. Seeing as how he's revealed to have become a vampire in the comic book After the Fall continuation of the series. I can't help but think he might have already been turned while he was wiping out the evil Senator and her staff. (Although I didn't notice any neck wounds in the scene.)

Regardless, I'm deeply grateful to the creators for allowing Gunn to say to Angel in one of his final pieces of dialogue, "You take the 30,000 on the left." This was a direct homage to a similar quote he made in "Over the Rainbow", which was the very first Angel episode I ever saw.

Connor. Another tragedy of the ending of the Angel series is that we were unable to spend enough time enjoying the Good Connor. I got to the point where I really enjoyed seeing him on the screen instead of wanting to hurl something at the TV whenever he showed up. His final "before the storm" moments with his dad were very ordinary, yet still quite touching.

Connor seemed remarkably mature and well-adjusted. It's ironic that the New and Improved Connor came courtesy of Cyrus Vail, the demon who ultimately killed Wesley. It was wonderful that Connor made an appearance just in time to temporarily tie up Hamilton when it appeared he was just about ready to end Angel once and for all. I'm just disappointed Angel talked Connor out of joining him for the last hurrah.

Wesley and Illyria. Wesley and Illyria's scene where they were spending their last day together provided us with a completely different change of pace in relation to the relatively predictable scenes allotted to the other characters. Whereas Lorne's, Spike's and Gunn's last day seemed rushed, and Angel's final moments with his son seemed somewhat incomplete, the scene between Wesley and Illyria was soft, unhurried and languid. We didn't need to see how they spent the rest of their hours because those few moments provided us with everything we needed to know.

Wesley made it clear once again to Illyria that although he wanted nothing more than to be with Fred, he wasn't quite ready for her to "lie" to him by turning into Fred during his final hours before battle.

It took me a day or two to think of the possibility that Illyria's offer to change herself into Fred could have been an offer for Wesley to have sex with Fred/Illyria. (I'm not always terribly quick-witted.) His answer to the offer was actually a pretty good quote. "The first lesson a watcher learns is to separate truth from illusion. Because in the world of magics, it's the hardest thing to do. The truth is that Fred is gone. To pretend anything else would be a lie. And since I don't actually intend to die tonight, I won't accept a lie."

Through the magical powers of Alexis Denisof's acting, most of the time I'm not really sure if I can take what Wesley's saying at face value. As I watched the scene, while he described how there was no other way he wanted to spend the day, I couldn't help but wonder, did he, perhaps, prefer to spend his time with Illyria rather than Fred? Although I really believe he was drawn to her as his last direct link to Fred, I can't help but think that he was equally drawn to Illyria as a person (or demon, or whatever). The way he pushed her hair away from her wound, and the way he gently touched her as he applied the bandages, he was certainly acting as though he cared for her very much. I actually thought that was one of the most erotic scenes in the whole series.

Amy Acker certainly held up her part of the scene as well as Stephanie Romanov could ever manage as Lilah. I thought Acker did a tremendous job showing her barely concealed vulnerability and confusion as Illyria struggled to understand all of the implications of Wesley's actions, (along with the strange emotions of grief she felt after his death). And Wesley certainly didn't make things easy for her! I'm beginning to think that Alexis Denisof really brings out the best in his leading ladies, probably with that "edge of the razor mystique" that always keeps everyone guessing.

Oh, and if anyone has any doubts on how Wesley chose to spend some of his hidden free time throughout the series, his theoretical choice "to have a go with Mistress Spanks-a-Lot" on his last day on earth should provide a few answers. I don't want to get too hyperbolic on everyone, but, if you (conservatively) put ten monkey in a room with ten typewriters and come back ten months later, I doubt if any one of them would have typed up "Mistress Spanks-a-Lot".

Didn't Illyria look great when she was lit up by the headlight of the car just before she killed her quota of Circle members? And wasn't it disappointing that we didn't actually see her in action? All we saw was her stalking away from the burnt hulk of the vehicle.

Angel. What can I say? David Boreanaz put his all into the series finale. He was forceful, heroic, quick-witted, ruthless, compassionate, loving. What more could you ask from somebody?

I've mentioned before how much I appreciate dichotomy in a character, particularly when a character struggles to deal with his own actions.

I know it's bad form to quote myself, but I wrote,

I think my favorite film character is the flawed hero, who is continually faced with situations where he is forced to choose between the lessor of two evils. This is particularly difficult when the consequences of his choices are not readily apparent. Whatever choice he makes will lead to horrible consequences. Sometimes the lessor of two evils will cause the most personal suffering for the hero and perhaps even the people closest to him, particularly when other characters, perhaps falsely, start thinking of the hero as being cold-hearted, and yes, "ruthless".
Angel really showed that quality in "Not Fade Away", when he was forced to sacrifice both Lindsey and Drogyn in order to serve the greater good. Sacrificing Lindsey is something I can almost understand. Sacrificing Drogyn was almost too much for me to take. It took an enormous amount of courage for the character of Angel to have to make those decisions, which Boreanaz pulled off to perfection.

I did a very recent post about favorite Angel/Wesley moments, and "Not Fade Away" didn't disappoint me. That final look between Angel and Wesley was gut-wrenching. The fact that these were the only two characters to exchange those looks made the experience that much more poignant for me. Denisof raised his head and held it in a long pause, which is something I don't ever recall seeing before in a parting scene between any two people, much less two heroic leading men before. As often happens, I wonder if it was the director's idea or the actor's idea. I also wondered if that moment had some sort of hidden meaning that I just couldn't figure out. Regardless, that gesture was a moving final tribute to the magnificent friendship between Angel and Wesley.

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