Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Family Affairs

Episodes of Angel I've Seen: All except "The Thin Dead Line", "Through the Looking Glass", "Heartthrob", and "Peace Out".

I keep trying to work in the idea of the differences between family and friends in my posts, but it never works out. In Angel, friends are family. It seems like the most that the members of the Angel Investigations crew are able to do is move from one family to the next. The big difference in Angel is that the characters are somewhat able to choose which family they will decide to join.

One of the best episodes to bring that point home was "Belonging", which explored family issues (and I use the word "family" loosely) with every single one of the major cast members.

Cordelia. It's pretty obvious that Cordelia Chase and Angel were developing feelings for each other by the time "Belonging" rolled around. However, officially, Angel was still the overly protective Big Brother threatening people who disrespected Cordelia, while Cordelia was the Little Sister chafing to get out into the world on her own.

I don't recall that Cordelia ever made contact or mentioned making contact with her real family members at any time during the Angel series (as opposed to talking about her relatives in the past tense.) When she did mention anything about relatives, it was mostly used as filler in some of her throwaway lines. I think that out of all of the characters, Cordelia seemed to be the one who most identified with Angel Investigations as being her de facto family.

Throughout Seasons 1 and Seasons 2 we saw little glimpses of Cordelia trying to establish an acting career. Although these attempts were unsuccessful, she never gave up on her dream until she was treated like trash by the odious director in "Belonging".

When she came back to the Hyperion Hotel after her humiliating experience of being treated like a piece of meat, it was pretty obvious that she had recognized for good that her acting career was over and that she wanted to return back to the family fold.

(As an aside, I loved the scene where a disgusted Angel was describing to Wesley and Gunn the "flimsy swimsuit" Cordelia was forced to wear, and the not exactly brotherly looks on all of their faces as they were enjoying the sight in their imaginations.

Also, Cordelia had to endure being like a "slave" not only in "Belonging" but also in the very next episode, "Over the Rainbow".)

Angel. I've written before about Angel being a father figure to the rest of the kids in Seasons 1 and 2. I would add that throughout Season 5, he could also have been considered to be the father figure as he ran the L.A. branch of Wolfram & Hart. I mentioned directly above how Angel acted as a Big Brother to Cordelia, which he also had a tendency to do when Cordelia went out on dates. At other times, Angel directly cut himself off from his family (when he fired Wesley, Cordelia and Gunn). He was even occasionally the Black Sheep Cousin, like when he went to work for Angel Investigations as atonement for his abandonment of the group during his Season 2 Darla crisis.

Although there was every indication that Angel loved his "family", and that this was perhaps the only real "family" he had since he regained his soul in 1898 (as opposed to hanging out with the Rat Pack in the 1950's), we're always mindful that for Angel, all relationships are doomed to be temporary. He had outlived a lot of people, and would continue to outlive a lot more. In his line of work, life spans were brutally short. In the five seasons of Angel alone, he outlived Doyle, Cordelia, Fred, and Wesley, who were all extraordinarily close to him. I always figure that in the end, Angel will always be the solitary figure perched up high, gazing out over the dark Los Angeles skyline.

Wesley. After seeing (close to) the entire series, I was shocked to realize that out of all of the characters (with the exception of Fred, who came later), Wesley Wyndam-Pryce seemed to have the closest real family relationship at the time of "Belonging". We know that Wesley's father was a sadistic SOB who took great pleasure in mentally torturing his son. Expectations, and the failure to live up to expectations, had nothing to do with his treatment of Wesley. One has the feeling that Roger Wyndam-Pryce's biggest enjoyment in life was to inflict as much mental cruelty on his son as possible.

Under those conditions, of course Wesley was probably pretty glad to leave England. Out of everyone in the group, Wesley was probably the most appreciative of being a part of the Angel Investigations family, where he could receive almost unconditional love and support. As a result, being cast out of the group late in Season 3, after his misguided attempt to kidnap Angel's son Connor, was the worst punishment that could possibly have been inflicted on him.

I thought I've seen hints here and there within Seasons 1 and 2 that Wesley had some sort of social life outside of Angel Investigations. To be a successful demon-hunter you have to put in a tremendous number of hours. Either Wes was unable to maintain these friendships (if he had any), or the nature of the friendships were such that he couldn't call upon these people when he was in trouble. It was quite telling that Wesley had no one to drive him home from the hospital when he was released after Justine had slashed his throat. Although friends are a lot more fun to be with, we almost always rely on our families to bail us out during difficult times.

Back to Wesley's parents. We had hints that Wes got along quite well with his mother, which was probably why he didn't completely shut himself off from his family. In spite of his dreadful childhood, Wesley still called his father on his birthday, and still seemed like he wanted to please him.

When he mistakenly thought he killed his father in Season 5's "Lineage" (Wes actually killed a cyborg instead), he called his real father as soon as possible just to hear his voice. Although you can't really tell from the written dialogue, I had the feeling that Wesley had grown tremendously from the experience and was showing signs of starting to feel as though he could start approaching his father man-to-man rather than as a trembling schoolboy in front of a domineering father. Although Wes never saw his parents again, one hopes that he at least felt a little bit better about his relationship with his father before his death.

Wouldn't Wesley have made a terrific father?

Gunn. Charles Gunn presented an interesting case, as he was torn between two different "families"; one from his old impoverished neighborhood, and one at the Hyperion Hotel. In "Belonging", Gunn was in the early transitional stage of moving his loyalties between the neighborhood family and Angel Investigations. In Season 2, Angel Investigations was more like "work", and his old gang was his "family". In essence, Gunn was caught in the classic conflict of balancing demands between "work" and "family".

Charles seemed somewhat reluctant to become a full-fledged member of Angel Investigations, although he did appreciate the money. Gunn sort of fell into becoming a part of Angel's group, but, in a way, he was seduced into it. His "family" was a known quantity, where they protected themselves from vampires who tended to roam around in the poorer sections of town. From what I can tell, demons were a bit more upscale and would often show up in the ritzier neighborhoods. Although Gunn was not part of their world, there was probably a lot about Angel Investigations that attracted him to the group.

First of all, there was that bad ass vampire with a soul, Angel. What could be cooler than a vampire-hunter teaming up with a centuries-old vampire to kill more vampires? (And demons, of course.) Then there was that funny-talking English dude (Wesley) who seemed pretty dorky at first. But the more you got to know him, the more you got to learn a lot more about demons and other dark forces that you'd only heard about in stories before. Besides, Wesley turned out to be a courageous fighter as well. Then there was that vision girl, Cordelia, who sent them out on a lot of their exciting missions. The fact that she was bright, funny and attractive was an extra bonus. Although money was tight with the group, they tended to dress well and go out to eat at expensive restaurants once in a while. That really wasn't a bad way to live!

In my last link above, Gunn had to make a direct choice as to what came first, "work" or "family". His choice of "work" led to disastrous consequences, as it possibly could have led directly to the death of his friend George.

By definition, "work" takes up most of your time, although "family" obligations may be more pressing. Think of trying to work and take care of a special needs child (or any child) at the same time. The crisis came to a full head in "That Old Gang of Mine" when Wesley threatened to fire Charles if he ever chose "family" ahead of "work" again. That standpoint obviously came back to bite Wesley in the butt later in the season when he spoke to Holtz behind the group's back, which ultimately led to his temporary banishment.

Lorne. The Pylea arc is probably one of the finest depictions I've ever seen of conflicts between individuality and family traditions. Poor Lorne, who was born to be a nightclub singer, was forced to live in a musicless world filled with brutish fighters before he escaped through a time portal. Although his family seemed pretty nasty by our standards, in many ways they were quite honorable, (particularly Lorne's cousin Landok). Lorne's family respected and valued hard work, bravery, traditions and above all, loyalty to the clan.

I know first hand some of the conflicts that can arise between individuality and tradition. My own parents, although I wouldn't go so far to say they nurtured individuality, definitely tolerated it, and my siblings and I all went on to vastly different lifestyles and career paths. Holiday get-togethers are not mandatory (although they're always appreciated), and we have an attitude that whoever shows up is just fine. The advantage is that potential family conflicts are held to a minimum. The disadvantage is that we're not as close to each other as we should be, family traditions are quickly dying out, and we always have doubts as to who we can rely on if we're in need of some serious help.

I married into a family where family is everything. It's fortunate that my own parents are somewhat lax about the timing of holiday meals, since my husband's family is pretty rigid about attendance. There's an attitude that if you marry into my husband's family, then your first loyalty goes to his family. The disadvantages are the loss of flexibility in your lifestyle, the constant pressure to conform, being forced to spend large amounts of time with people you don't particularly like, and the necessity of living within a strict pecking order where you are perpetually "beneath" certain members of the family. The advantages include a constant continuation of family traditions, and almost unconditional love and support as you always know people will be there for you, no matter how much inconvenience you put them through.

In a lot of families, conformity is probably the biggest value, even over family traditions. If you're not like everyone else in the family, and if you have a completely different set of interests, then you're out of luck. In real life, I see a lot of Sons and Lovers types of conflicts, where a working class parent may have no patience for the artistic child's dreams of heading out into the bigger world.

I love how, with Lorne's family, you can't possibly get a larger conflict than between Lorne's lifestyle and his family's traditions. Lorne is not a brutish fighter who loves to regale people with stories about his heroic triumphs. He's a (possibly) gay nightclub singer who owns a karaoke bar. His home planet of Pylea is one-dimensional, whereas on Earth, even the most narrow-minded of people realize that even the blue-collar class needs a place to be able to drink and listen to music.

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