Monday, May 11, 2009

Tell Me Lies

Well, I seem to have survived Wesley Wyndam-Pryce's death without too much trauma. I think the circumstances under which I watched the Angel series finale, "Not Fade Away", helped me out a bit. Two nights ago I was hoping to watch my recording after everyone had gone to bed, but I was tired and wanted to go to bed soon, and everyone else in my family seemed like they were going to stay up all night. So, I ended up watching the episode with people interrupting me off and on while they wandered into the TV room and started conversing among themselves. If I had been watching "Not Fade Away" when I was completely alone in a darkened room, with a glass of wine in one hand and a box of tissues at my side, I probably would have reacted a lot differently.

I speculated in my last post whether I'd be watching Wesley's death scene over and over again, or if I'd just watch it once and be done with it. As it turns out, I've seen it a few times, but I don't feel the need to watch it a dozen more times. (Which is fine with me, for the sake of my sanity). Quite frankly. Wesley did not die a glorious death. (Unless you call being suspended helplessly in mid-air while your killer twists a knife in your gut a glorious way to go.)

In my mind, I thought Wesley somewhat mishandled the entire situation in his attempt to take out Cyvus Vail. For one thing, he fell into the Talking Killer trap, where he spent way too much time explaining what he needed to do rather than just doing it. Wes made the mistake of being too direct with Vail, (meaning, keeping Vail on his guard), rather than doing what he had done to perfection in so many past Angel episodes, where he would gently distract or otherwise get his victim off guard, then swiftly go in for the kill. Finally, I don't think Wesley brought his best magic to the table, so to speak. I think he might have been able to conjure up something a lot more powerful. Did the lack of preparation time hurt him? Should he have been hitting the books for inspiration for several hours rather than tending to Illyria?

After Wes was stabbed in the gut, he was able to invoke a much more powerful magical fireball than his original one and hurl it at Vail. Why couldn't he manage that when he was still being suspended in mid-air before he was stabbed? Wesley was unpredictable as a planner and a fighter. No one could deny his vast knowledge of occult subjects and prophecies, but he did have a habit of messing up in key situations, even when he became the New and Improved Wes. (I attribute a lot of this ineptitude to the need to keep the story arc moving and to reinforce his inferiority to Angel.)

Although Wes was far from being the most powerful fighter on the series, he did excel with his lightning-fast reflexes and deadly accuracy, both of which were in short supply in "Not Fade Away". Wesley needed to be at the top of his game in order to defeat Vail, and that night was not one of his better nights. Wes had the typical human frailty of not being 100% (100%) of the time, which led directly to his death. Thank goodness Illyria showed up to finish the kill.

What surprised me was that while Wesley was dying, the person I felt the most sympathy for was Illyria. When she was "lying" to Wesley by appearing in Fred's form (and saying that he would be reunited with Fred upon death), I didn't think for a minute that she had totally allowed Fred's past experiences to bubble up to the surface. I really felt those were Illyria's tears being shed, with Illyria telling Wesley that she loved him. (Update: Rather, I think Illyria was just playing the part by telling Wesley that she loved him, but she was moved by the feelings it conjured up for her when she spoke the words.) I think the great tragedy of the cancellation of Angel was that we, the audience, were not given the chance to witness more of Illyria's struggles as she adapted to a more human form. Even at death, I'm not sure if Wesley really appreciated the emotional depths of the gift that Illyria gave him. The one thing Wesley wanted was Fred, and Illyria loved (that word again) Wesley enough to want to provide him with the one thing he desired. It hurt her deeply that he kept rejecting the one gift she could grant him. When Wes finally accepted the gift, he appreciated the gift, he understood that Illyria was doing him a great favor, but I'm not sure he fully appreciated the sentiment behind it.

I actually viewed the death in three sittings over the course of two days. (And yes, I shed tears each time I saw the scene.) The third time I watched it, I focused on the "I love you" 's between the two characters. Although he didn't call her by name, I really feel that Wesley was saying "I love you" to Fred. But perhaps Wesley was being more generous in death than I'm giving him credit for? Giving the gift is only half of the transaction. Gracious action upon receipt of the gift is the other half. If Illyria had given the gift (the transformation of herself to Fred), and Wesley only half-heartedly pretended to accept the gift by not fully playing along with it, that would have been hurtful to Illyria and not have been a successful gift exchange. However, Wesley accepted the gift and allowed himself to be totally consumed by it, which probably gave Illyria a sense of profound satisfaction.

Tough question. If that was the scenario, who was being the most generous? Illyria, for transforming herself into Fred? Or Wesley, for accepting the lies?

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