Monday, May 4, 2009

Thank You, Cordelia

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"). Season Five Up through "Why We Fight".

How bittersweet it was to see Cordelia (and equally, Charisma Carpenter) return to the Angel Investigations gang for the 100th episode of the series, "You're Welcome".

After seeing how the character of Cordelia was dreadfully misused during the 4th Season (and when I couldn't help but hate Charisma Carpenter almost as much as I hated Cordelia, no matter how illogical my reaction was), I was overjoyed to see both the "old" Cordelia and the "radiant" Charisma Carpenter for one last time in the series. There she was, Angel's equal, keeping him in line, fighting along side him, just like back in the old days.

Which brings me to the enormous challenges that must exist in putting on a successful TV series. I don't think anyone could ever accuse producer Joss Whedon of being formulaic. If he was, I never would have started watching Angel. As such, I recognize that he could hardly have been at my side consulting me in advance about how the show should have been written. If everything played out exactly the way I wanted, I know I would have gotten bored after a while and stopped watching the show altogether. I'm beginning to more fully understand the terrible burdens the creators have in balancing the desires of network executives and different audience members, while simultaneously trying to execute their own vision of the series and act as trustees of the integrity of the show.

Audience members can be the hardest to please, since they have so many opinions. I think audience members can be divided into three main categories (with considerable overlap, of course). The first category is people who are action-driven. These people love the immediate action of what's happening on the screen, whether it's car crashes, fight sequences or even rambunctious love scenes. Something usually needs to be happening in order to keep these people glued to their sets.

The second category is people who are plot-driven, who love to analyze the situations, and try to put together all of the scenes and story arcs together as though they are putting together pieces of a giant puzzle. The more puzzle pieces, the better.

The third audience category is character-driven people, like me, who primarily focus on the motivations of and interactions between the characters. You can also say we are dialogue-driven as well. We can love and hate characters, and usually understand or recognize them, even if we don't particularly identify with them. The worst insult we can hurl at a movie or TV show is that the characters are one-dimensional and undeveloped. Even someone who is supposed to be shallow, like Harmony, can still end up possessing a character blessed with richness and depth.

I can tell by looking around at old forums and episode reviews that all three types of audiences inhabit the Whedonverse. In fact, I'm always amazed at how someone could totally focus on fight sequences between Angel and Connor and completely ignore a steamy love scene between Wesley and Lilah. (Come to think of it, you'll never catch me focusing on a fight sequence.) I can go crazy with what I consider to be way too many dreadful story arcs in the Angel series, but I can tell that many audience members can't get enough of all of the wicked twists and turns the plots can take. I recognize that without the action sequences and the plot devices, I'd be left with what would probably be an unwatchable hybrid between The Andy Griffin Show and a Skinemax flick.

It's not to say that I don't appreciate action sequences and plot contrivances. My ideal episode would have my favorite characters lovingly interact with each other through most of the show while trying to unravel clues left by nefarious bad guys (and having minor skirmishes along the way), with the episode ending with an exciting fight sequence leaving the bad guys vanquished and the good guys (mostly) intact. It's just that in the Whedonverse, the good guys spend way too much being deceived by false or misleading clues, it takes way too long to get the bad guys vanquished (if ever), and the longest story arcs involve endless series' of gut-wrenchingly horrible things happening to my favorite characters. Why couldn't the characters in Angel start off with a correct hypothesis once in a while? Why did the main characters end up at war with each on such a regular basis? I realize their asymmetric information was a plot device used to insert more cliffhanger moments, but couldn't Angel Investigations occasionally still fight bad guys and deal with puzzling and misleading clues, even while mostly being on the right track?

What were some of the things I appreciated about "You're Welcome" being an atypical Angel episode? As far as action, I loved Harmony getting her mild torture fix on Eve, while a little later on Angel and Cordelia fought side by side against the zombies. Angel finally vanquished Lindsey after an exciting fight sequence. The plot twists involved the unmasking of "Doyle's" identity and Cordelia's spirit returning one last time before her death. For once, Wesley (with Cordelia's helped) quickly identified the meaning of the ancient runes and came up with the appropriate antidote spell, all on the first try. Nobody at Angel Investigations went to war against a team member, and, best of all, STILL NO CONNOR!

And, of course, the character interactions were the best, including Cordelia's warm initial greetings with the Angel Investigations team members, her chiding Angel for consorting with the enemy, her bitchy moments with Eve, her reaction to Spike, and finally, at long last, her passionate real kiss with Angel at the end of the episode.

I naturally found her interactions with Wesley to be the most interesting, since it confirmed my observation of the warm feelings they had for each other. They were less than lovers, but much more than being just friends. (I'll go ahead and say the "L" word - they loved each other in their own special way.) When Cordelia hugged Angel at the beginning of the show, I loved how she locked eyes with Wesley, as if telepathically saying, "I have a duty to spend quite a bit of time with Angel in a warm embrace, but I can't wait to get to you too!" When she and Wesley did embrace, there was nothing awkward about the moment. They were comfortable and spontaneous, full of joy and warmth, since Cordelia wasn't saddled with the emotional baggage that she had with Angel. When Wesley admitted, in so many words, that she looked hot, he looked adorably flustered, (flashes of the old Wesley I fell in love with), but you could tell they had that type of relationship where they could admit anything to each other without fear of suffering any consequences. Even more tellingly, they could get away with that mildly flirtatious moment without worrying about invoking Angel's jealousy.

It was also nice to see Cordelia and Wesley hitting the books the Old School way, even if they did act as though they hated flipping through a bunch of moldy old pages. Of course, what they were really remembering was how hitting the books was an excuse for them to enjoy many hours together in each other's company. It was also good to see Cordelia apologizing for Lilah's death, even though they both know Cordelia was not the person who killed her.

I've read a few dribs and drabs here and there that the writers felt they'd gotten as much mileage out of Cordelia as they possibly could, so it was time to get rid of her. I say, what a reflection of the true cruel world, where people can be discarded at will as soon as they've outlived their usefulness. But really, didn't the same thing happen to Glenn Quinn in Season 1? Didn't the loss of Glenn Quinn as Doyle lead directly to the addition of Alexis Denisof as Wesley? Don't think the irony is lost on me.

"You're Welcome" might not have broken any artistic ground, but at least the creators had the decency to allow Charisma Carpenter to bow out of the series with style. The Wikipedia link at the beginning of the article talks about how David Boreanaz' and Charisma's emotions were genuine during the taping of the final scene, with Charisma shedding real tears. It also allowed the audience a chance to give their warm goodbyes to a truly wonderful actress in the series.

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