Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Daniel Holtz Arc

TNT is currently showing all of the Angel episodes featuring the demon Sahjhan and Angel/Angelus' vampire-hunting nemesis, Daniel Holtz. A quick synopsis: In 1764, in York, England, Darla and Angelus murdered Holtz' wife and infant child, and turned his young daughter into a vampire. To complete the horror, Holtz was forced by circumstances to toss his daughter into the sunlight and watch her burst into flames.

Naturally, Holtz devoted the rest of his life to hunting down Angelus and Darla in revenge for destroying his family. In 1773, the demon Sahjhan approached Holtz with an offer to deliver Holtz to Angelus and Darla, through "black magic and sorcery", two hundred years into the future, with the caveat "that when the time comes you will show them no mercy." Holtz readily agreed to the offer, with the story arc officially beginning when Sahjhan incanted the magic words, allowing Holtz to emerge from a crumbling statue into early 21st century Los Angeles.

What I enjoyed the most about the Holtz arc was the fine acting and interplay between Jack Conley as Sahjhan and Keith Szarabajka as Holtz. Both actors were able to transcend their roles into something much more fascinating than what the bare bones profiles of their characters would indicate. Conley delivered perfect dry wit and humor to his part, and he became another one in the long line of fine actors in the Angel series who could make my face light every time I saw him on the screen. Although Sahjhan could be quite funny at times, the creators would routinely bring up situations that would remind us just exactly how evil he really was.

Szarabajka delivered a lot of layers and nuances to Holtz' character. (Just his craggy face alone let us know he was a man to be reckoned with.) Holtz, working with the Catholic Inquisition, was purportedly a man of God, but probably enjoyed his work a little too much for modern sensibilities. Just as an aside, I tend to equate the Inquisition (and their Protestant counterpart programs) with the 15th through the 17th centuries. I also tend to think that witch-hunting and demon-slaying were fast disappearing by the time the 18th century's Age of Enlightenment came into full swing. However, I also know from the history books that the Church's active Inquisition phase lasted a lot longer than we would normally think. Regardless, if Angelus and Darla were ravaging my neighborhood today, I'd feel a lot safer knowing men like Daniel Holtz were around.

In other words, Szarabajka/Holtz delivered up a fine plate of beloved moral ambiguity to my table. As an arguably "good" man who understandably went berserk after his family was slaughtered, he crossed way over the line by not only focusing on exacting revenge on Darla and Angel/Angelus, but also by hurting many innocent people in the process (including Wesley and Connor, plus Justine and the other miserable souls whom Holtz shamelessly exploited for his own gain.)

Sahjhan and Holtz brought a lot of food for thought to my table, but ultimately, I was left unsatisfied with the banquet. I know Joss Whedon and his creators love to torture us viewers in the name of "challenging their audiences", but I will have a hard time enjoying the rest of the Holtz arc simply because it was the opening salvo in a longer series of Unfortunate Events that almost ruined Angel for me. If Wesley had not been cast out of the group, and if Connor had turned into a normal human being a lot sooner, I'd have felt a lot better about the whole storyline.

I'll enjoy watching Angel up through "Couplet". However, for the next several days after that, through the end of Season 3 (I'll ignore Season 4 for now) the only bright spots for me will be Jack Conley and Keith Szarabajka's fine acting, David Boreanaz' glowing portrayal of Angel as the new father, the last days of Charisma Carpenter's Cordelia before she was 1) cast into oblivion and 2) turned into an evil demoness, Mark Lutz' performances as The Groosalug, my continued enjoyment of Stephanie Romanov's performances as Lilah, the early stages of Wesley turning to darkness before he kidnapped Connor, and the beginning of the Wesley and Lilah "relationship". Again, I'm wondering if I'll bother to watch all of the episodes, or if I'll conveniently forget to record a few of them.

A couple of quick thoughts about Alexis Denisof as Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. In Season 2, Denisof delightfully portrayed Wesley as the improving, but the still not 100% heroic nerd. In Season 4, Denisof successfully portrayed Wesley as the impossibly sexy, to-die-for, New and Improved tough guy. As we know, changes do not occur in a vacuum. Season 3 skillfully bridged the Old and New Wesleys in ways that almost slipped underneath our radars. Wesley became the true, heroic, confident leader of Angel Investigations while Angel was on his spiritual retreat at the beginning of Season 3. Although he could still be the bumbling idiot at times, Wesley was well on his way into becoming a more integrated, complete and balanced character.

Similar to how I mentioned in a previous post how David Boreanaz was often in danger of being lost in the shuffle (since Angel was such a steadying influence), you could make a similar case about Alexis Denisof as Wesley through most of Season 3. A good actor can transcend limitations in his roles (or rather, having to play a "normal" person when playing an eccentric one can be so much more satisfying.) I continue to be amazed at how Alexis Denisof had the ability to keep Wesley's character so fresh and alive during his almost invisible character transformation throughout most of Season 3.

(Note: I highly recommend "Holtz Ramblings", the not-quite-an essay which appears at the Buffyverse Dialogue Database site.)

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