Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lilah and Justine

I have a tendency to gloss over or completely ignore certain unpleasant plot developments in TV shows. Season 4's premiere episode of Angel, "Deep Down" gave me a two-for-the-price-of-one bargain.

I had to not only deal with the unlikely occurrence of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce being able to afford to (and know how to fully operate) a salvage trawler (or whatever they're called), but I also had to deal with the even more unlikely scenario of Wesley keeping Justine locked up as a slave girl in his bedroom closet.

I think as an audience we were supposed to go, "OMG!!!. Wesley, you're pure Evil!" when he opened the closet door. But my reaction was more like "Whatever." A couple of months ago, when I knew I eventually wanted to do separate posts about each and every Wes and Lilah encounter, I thought I'd just toss in a short paragraph about the Justine plot wrinkle in "Deep Down". Imagine my surprise when I discovered while doing a post a few weeks ago about Laurel Holloman/Justine ("The Trouble With Justine") that I was actually warming up to the topic!

But first.....

Lilah Morgan. Wes and Lilah seemed a lot happier in bed this time around. Presumably they'd been at it for 3 straight months and it was easy to tell that their relationship was progressing quite nicely. There were several moments in this episode where I didn't think the events quite fit in with the 3-month time frame between the end of Season 3 and the beginning of Season 4, and the Wes/Lilah scene contained a few of those moments. Presumably, if you've been sleeping with each other for 3 months, you should probably have gotten past the "What makes you think there will be a next time?" routine. Also, the whole "Where's Angel?", "I don't know and I don't care", and "Wow, you're cold" dialogue exchange would have seemed more appropriate a few months earlier.

I recognize that these slightly delayed-reaction events were put in by the series creators as plot devices to compress what had happened over the last 3 months into a few minutes of dialogue. In Wes and Lilah's bedroom sequence in "Deep Down", we found out that: the two of them were meeting on a regular basis, Lilah was still pumping Wes (pardon the pun) for information (though not as strenuously as before), and she still seemed to naively believe that Wes was "losing his soul".

I noticed that the whole "taunt Wesley and pump him for information" routine had softened by that time. Lilah was still doing her job, but she seemed to be just going through the motions. Wesley was used to Lilah's techniques by that time and had even developed a sense of humor about her actions. His "Wouldn't think kidnapping his son would have such a negative effect on our friendship" showed that he'd developed a gentle deflection technique to defuse any potential friction that her on-the-job activities could have caused between the two of them.

A lot of Wesley and Lilah's encounters have at least subtle references to kink, and this scene was no exception. I've mentioned before in my "The End of Wes and Virginia" post

One thing that fascinated me was how Wesley seemed to have this thing with both Virginia and Lilah where he would take a handful of hair and maybe give a gentle tug and squeeze, kind of like a very subtle caveman power play for dominance. This gesture seemed a little more pronounced with Lilah, and much more innocent looking with Virginia. Regardless, it does seem fun to pretend that such a harmless little quirk can give us just a little more insight into Wesley's character.
Lilah's reaction to his gesture was quite pronounced. When Wesley gave her hair a gentle squeeze when he informed her "...you can't resist me", Lilah playfully but quite overtly snapped his head backwards with "I think you have that backwards".

Then, if anyone had any doubts in their mind as to the existence of kink in that bedroom, as soon as Lilah left, Wesley opened his closet girl to reveal his bound and gagged slave-girl! Presumably, those mysterious handcuffs that Wesley almost told Angel about in Season 2's "Over the Rainbow" finally showed up on our TV screens.

The scene where Lilah informed Linwood that she wasn't sleeping with Wesley ("the chiseled jaw") for information seemed to be one of the more revealing dialogue sequences about the state of their relationship.

Lilah revealed to her audience that, far from gritting her teeth and thinking of her next promotion at Wolfram & Hart every time she hopped into bed with Wesley, she was viewing their relationship as a mostly social activity. If she had achieved the big breakthrough and found out where Angel was located, of course she would have submitted a report to Linwood right away. However, we were definitely witnessing a moment where she was actually protecting Wesley from her superiors. Linwood, kind of like a parent who knows everything, astutely observed that, rather than Lilah taking advantage of Wesley, it was Wesley who was taking advantage of Lilah!

Then, just to prove that Lilah wasn't getting too soft and sentimental, she had Linwood beheaded in their staff meeting and gave herself that promotion.

I mentioned in my last post that I still found it hard to believe that Lilah truly felt that Wesley didn't know and didn't care about Angel's whereabouts. I know, like any good employee, she was still on the lookout for clues from Wesley, but I think she was really starting to put her guard down. Although Lilah briefly acted like it didn't bother her that much later on, it quickly became obvious that she was quite upset with the notion that at the precise time she was starting to relax with Wesley, he was lying to her about his feelings for Angel and was secretly working behind the scenes to try to rescue him.

Justine Cooper. I don't steal from my same old post twice very often, but here's a different passage from my "The End of Wes and Virginia" post link above, I mentioned:
I've also noticed that when Denisof was delivering his most dramatic short lines, particularly during his love scenes, all traces of his English accent could suddenly disappear. (For example, "leave them on" during the famous scene where Lilah attempted to take off her glasses while she was role-playing Fred.) (Also, when he confronted a bound and gagged Justine in his closet and informed her it was time for a boat ride. Not exactly a romantic moment, but,.....)

.....I would also like to think that his American accent was occasionally used for dramatic effect, as an indication that it was a really important moment that needed to stand out. His accent, in other words, could have been used to startle the viewer!
You certainly couldn't get more dramatic than "Let's go for a boat ride"!

I had complained in my "The Trouble With Justine" post mentioned above how Justine seemed like a thoroughly repulsive character with no redeeming values whatsoever. Even Wesley noted in this dialogue sequence that both she and Holtz had a "....deep seated lack of anything approaching humor".
I also acknowledged that
Oddly enough, some of her [Justine's] later appearances seemed to bring out the best in Alexis Denisof's portrayal of Wesley. I plan to blog more about this later on, but I will say that she seemed to bring out some of his best tough guy qualities along with some of his always fascinating latent Watcher tendencies. I'll also discuss how, in one particular circumstance, her unsympathetic character actually seemed to work in her favor."
I still feel guilty about being somewhat less than flattering about Laurel Holloman's acting abilities in that post. If Justine had been remotely attractive or likable, or if she exuded even just a glimmer of erotic energy, her slave-girl sequence would not have worked at all. The scenes would have seemed cheaply exploitative and our sympathies would truly have been directed toward Justine. By making her character almost animal-like, the audience could almost get over the fact that Wesley had turned her into a slave. We could then more easily understand the larger picture that the scenes were trying to convey, in that, the whole sequence was a metaphor for Justine being a slave to her own deep-seated desires for revenge.

I had tried (somewhat unsuccessfully, I felt) to describe my feelings in a previous post about Wesley the Watcher, where he seemed to have an innate need to act as a protector and guide for young women. This went far beyond what he seemed to have trained for at the Watcher's Academy.

In many ways, his dealings with Justine seemed to have been the most fully-fleshed version of his Wesley as Watcher role. I noticed that almost from the moment they first met, Wesley was trying to point out to her how her one-track desire for revenge was ruining her life. In "Sleep Tight" alone, he sympathized with her for the loss of her sister, he told he respected her as a soldier for a cause and warned her against Holtz, then seemed genuinely upset for Justine when he thought she had been attacked by Holtz.

Although Wesley had a habit of exuding hostility towards women (bordering on mysogyny) in a lot of these situations, it actually seemed like more of a shock technique to get their attention. In other words, if he wasn't beating you up figuratively or literally, he didn't care for you!

I didn't fully appreciate when I first watched the series how, like Angel, Wesley also seemed to have a highly-developed noble desire to bring redemption to other people's lives and to save their souls. (Which, coincidentally, seemed to impress Lilah the most about Wesley very late in the series.) If Wesley didn't care deeply about Justine, he wouldn't have treated her so shabbily and made her a slave girl. Far from taking revenge on her for slitting his throat, this was the only way Wesley could figure out how to get her to turn her life around.

This is also a good a time as any to point out one of the things that attracted me to Wesley, which was the dichotomy of his character. He could seem so gentle and kind at times (where it seemed he could be taken advantage of), but could become being cold and ruthless when he truly couldn't see any other alternatives.

I'll talk more about Justine in my next post.

A Few More Idle Thoughts. I seem to be enjoying Season 4 a lot more this second time around. It's too bad I can't spend two hours a day watching Angel anymore, so I'm having to be more selective in my viewing, and use the scan forward button a little more often than I'd like. That's too bad, because I'm losing out on my chance to figure out what the hell was happening in Season 4!

I'm also really enjoying Wesley as the outsider joining forces with Angel Investigations. It's too bad the audience never saw any of his informants or learned more about the inner workings of his own operations.

Wasn't Alexis Denisof impossibly hot when he put on his jeans and opened up the closet door to reveal Justine? I'm sure there's a great screen capture here somewhere - I just don't have time to look for it.

With all of his steamy moments with Lilah, it was ironic that I think Wesley revealed his best look of the series with one of my least favorite characters. Like I mentioned above, Justine seemed to always bring out the best in Wesley!

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