Saturday, June 20, 2009

Flirting with Evil

Of all of the marvelous Wesley/Lilah encounters in Angel: The Series, the one that occurred in the nightclub in "Benediction" was probably the least satisfying for me. Lilah Morgan most clearly had the upper hand in this episode, while Wesley seemed to be the most unsure of himself.

I actually liked how the scene was set up, where Wesley first received the email message, "782 W. Palm Terrace. 8:30 p.m. Come alone." I laughed at the incongruity of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce carefully pouring out a glass of wine just after he burned himself trying to tear the plastic covering off of his frozen dinner. As a sidebar, I noticed he had quite a display of (mostly filled) liquor bottles in the background. This fit in with a notion I had that he was probably hitting the booze a little too heavily, which Wesley had a tendency to do whenever his character hit some sort of low point.

The email itself intrigued me, because I'm used to the classic Microsoft Outlook-type varieties. Was it's way-too-simple appearance a typical example of bad computer graphics that always appear on TV shows and films? (By "bad computer graphics", I mean, whenever a character works with some sort of computer, what appears on the monitor usually looks like it was coded 20 years earlier.) Or was it some sort of nod to AOL? (I never had AOL. It seems like whenever I run into some sort of web-based home computer application that looks unfamiliar and out-of-date, it seems to have some sort of association with AOL.)

How come the email didn't indicate the sender or recipient? Was there any way Wes could have looked into the properties to try to trace the sender? Would the return path have indicated some sort of Wolfram & Hart server? (Pretty unlikely).

Anyway, Wesley dutifully showed up at 782 W. Palm Terrace at 8:30 p.m. I would never show up some place just because an anonymous email message told me to do so. However, Wesley had a few extenuating circumstances. First, he's a male who can handle himself in a fight, and the whole concept of being set up to be slaughtered by a crazed stalker was somewhat diminished. Second, Angel is filled with references to Wesley and his "contacts", so he might have been half expecting someone to show up with some sort of tip. Also, presumably he was establishing his own business at this time, so Wes probably would have been anxious to get things moving.

I don't think this was likely, but I need to at least mention the possibility that Wes was hoping some girl he had previously hooked up with sent him the message. Indeed, while he was looking down at the dancers from the upper level, he clearly gazed at two female dancers somewhat appreciatively before scanning the crowd for more clues. Based on his mildly disgusted reaction on hearing Lilah Morgan's voice, I'm convinced he was not expecting her to be there. (Either that, or he was hoping it wasn't Lilah who sent the email.)

Wesley clearly showed that he was seriously ready to bolt from the premises when he realized it was Lilah. Her snide sexually suggestive remark about how he could only "come alone" obviously didn't help her cause. In fact, she had to act quickly to keep him by her side, by making physical contact and telling him not to rush off. This is in contrast to their first encounter in his apartment, where Wes took only a few token steps to get her to leave right away. Wesley's more serious genuine attempts to leave Lilah at the club before she was finished with him somewhat blows a hole in my theory that Wesley was, on a certain level, actually enjoying these encounters.

Back to the scene. Lilah pointed out Justine, the woman who slit his throat a few episodes earlier, sitting down below at the bar. Again, Wesley tried to quickly leave. Lilah was in no position to physically stop him, so she had to rely on voice commands to get him to stay. Wesley wasn't wimpy enough to stay just because Lilah ordered him around. But he was intelligent enough to know that when a representative of Wolfram & Hart is talking to you, it behooves you to listen.

The dialogue between the two of them established that Wolfram & Hart informed Justine and a bunch of vampires that both would be at the club that night. Presumably, Justine, embittered because vampires murdered her twin sister, would be outnumbered and set up for easy slaughter. Wesley again attempted to leave, but Lilah stopped him in his tracks with this piece of dialogue.
Lilah: Like, will he go straight to his car, (as Wes was leaving) or will he stop to warn her first?

(Wesley paused, obviously kicking himself for being caught in a "gotcha" moment.)

Lilah: He has to think about it. That's good. That's all I really needed to know. You can go.
In one of the few moments where Wes tried to assert somewhat of an upper hand, he asked somewhat sarcastically, "A 'test', Lilah?" Like he was saying, "That's not very imaginative."

Lilah somewhat angrily assured Wes that her people would have pulled Justine out just in time so he wouldn't beat himself over whether he made the right decision to leave. That all became a moot point pretty quickly when Angel and Connor suddenly arrived and saved Justine from the vampires.

Clearly, Lilah was trying to recruit Wes to join Wolfram & Hart by trying to create doubt in his mind as to whether he was as firmly on the side of Good as he believed. By the expression on his face, he seemed quite bothered by the idea that, yes, he was ready to leave and allow Justine to be slaughtered! He misunderstood the nature of the test and thought he was being judged on whether he would actually enjoy witnessing her extermination. It didn't occur to him that perhaps he could have stopped the battle altogether. Lilah was being quite clever, and I could understand how Wes could have fallen into the trap.

What I didn't like was how Wesley appeared to be showing doubts as to whether he himself was still on the side of Good. The whole Dark Wesley story arc seemed to be set up to convey his "flirtation with Evil", so this episode with Justine at the club somewhat validated that concept. I never liked the idea that Wesley was, in fact, in danger of being turned to the dark side and was seriously considering the possibility that he might have been more Evil than Good. He should have realized that having serious doubts about your motivations and values can be a clear symptom of being "Good"! If you're too morally sure of yourself, you're probably closer to Evil even if you profess to be fighting on the side of Good. (Like Holtz and Justine.)

I've read numerous write-ups and articles that all clearly stated that Wesley was leaning towards Evil at that time of his life. Indeed, it makes a nice neat little story line, doesn't it? First he was Good, then he turned Bad. I say it's possible for someone to turn all Dark and get depressed about feeling the need to re-examine the very definitions of Good and Evil, and how the two sides are connected, without actually thinking he's turning Evil. Wesley might not have wanted to be part of the Angel Investigations family, but he could certainly branch out and fight Evil on his own terms. Even though I can honestly examine the scenes and state that I didn't see much evidence that Wesley was actually thinking of joining forces with Evil, I have to admit that the nightclub scene seemed to fit in with the "flirting with evil" meme.

When I first started this blog, I talked about how much I enjoyed Wesley's dichotomy, where, despite the fact that he fully represented the forces of Good, he was willing to be "ruthless" and make the hard decision that could possibly cause someone to suffer.

I know I also wrote somewhere how I always hated Wolfram & Hart for constantly trying to "prove" their point that if you do anything bad to a human at all, that's evidence that you're Evil. Good grief! You're surrounded by a bunch of humans who are trying to kill you and your loved ones, you can't go to the police for help, and you're not allowed to make preemptive strikes to protect yourself? Nice try, but I'm not buying into it.

As far as Wesley seemingly being willing to allow someone who tried to kill him get slaughtered? Well, excuse him for having a typical human reaction! Jesus Christ himself recognized that Evil was a part of every one of us. He even regularly chose to have dinner with sinners and tax collectors rather than with the good and the pious. Christ taught us that even the worst of us are capable of salvation and redemption as long as we truly believed in and trusted in God. Only someone associated with Hell would try to convince you that once you become Evil, there's no turning back.

Idle Thoughts. Alexis Denisof and Stephanie Romanov were again both outstanding in this episode, proving once again that their performances, although always quite good, were that much better when they appeared together. The erotic tension was just as palpable as ever. Romanov's Lilah clearly had the upper hand, although Denisof's Wesley gave a few hints that he was just temporarily ceding control, in kind of a "pick your battles" sort of way.

This clip about "And if a thing is not meant to be?" coincidentally features favorite Groo and Lorne dialogue sequences for me. I found myself doing a lot of scanning through the late Season 3 episodes, but I always stopped to see what Groo was up to. Once again, some of the best scenes in Angel involved favorite characters dealing with personal tragedies. This scene where Groo and Cordy broke up was absolutely heartbreaking in its beauty.

Were the casting directors of Angel even capable of casting a weak performer, particularly in their one-time only character parts? Deborah Zoe was absolutely hilarious as Mistress Meerna in "A New World"! I particularly liked the incongruity of a sorceress specializing in time dimensional magic donning safety goggles before performing her magic spell. I've attended parties filled with Mistress Meerna types, and they all looked at me as if I was the weird one.

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