Friday, June 19, 2009

Lilah Morgan: Mother Love

As I'm re-watching these late Season 3/early Season 4 episodes of Angel on TNT, I'm doing a lot of fast-forwarding to the (you guessed it) Wesley/Lilah scenes. Naturally, since I've seen most of the episodes now, I find myself focusing on different aspects this time around. And the thing I'm really focusing on this time around is Stephanie Romanov's performances as Lilah Morgan.

The obvious question is, since I'm madly in love with Alexis Denisof's Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, would I be paying as close attention to Romanov's Lilah if she didn't become Wesley's love interest? Believe it or not, I can honestly say "yes", since I specifically remember being fascinated by Lilah's character early last spring even before I knew she would hook up with Wesley. So, for me, Lilah's relationship with Wesley is the delicious icing on the cake.

I've really enjoyed watching Lilah's character develop through the seasons. Romanov/Lilah grew from what I thought was a tentative Season 1 beginning to a character becoming more battle-hardened in Season 2 through her competition with Lindsey. She really started hitting her stride in Season 3 as she became the more well-established alpha bitch at Wolfram & Hart and started focusing more on her rather playful relationship with Angel.

The episodes "Loyalty" and "Sleep Tight" seemed to be pivotal episodes for Lilah, as those episodes started showing a few genuine cracks in her evil femme fatale demeanor. (In contrast to a few faux cracks that appeared in Season 2's "Untouched".) Both of these moments centered around Lilah's concern for her mother, who possibly had Alzheimer's disease.

The first moment occurred in "Loyalty" where we witnessed Lilah's telephone conversation with her off-screen, obviously confused elderly mother. Lilah seemed to be talking to her mother with genuine tenderness and concern. You could hear her almost break down a little bit as her mother started crying on the phone.

The second moment occurred in "Sleep Tight", which, coincidentally, also contained probably her finest dialogue sequence with David Boreanaz' Angel. Lilah spoke quite forcefully and emotionally about her mother "who no longer recognizes me" and who also has "the best room at the clinic". Clearly, Lilah is implying she's putting her "game face" on every morning for the sake of her mother, though, deep down, I'm not so sure. Regardless, it's very expensive to keep aging parents in the best facilities, and Lilah seemed perfectly content to lavish her hard-earned wages on her mother's care.

To really go off on a tangent, it's telling that Lilah and her mother were obviously not living in the same city. For whatever reason, I'm under the impression that they were not even living in the same state. If a daughter was really devoted to her aging, sickly mother, shouldn't they have been living in the same city, or at least within easy driving distance from each other? Surely, the Los Angeles area would have had some fine facilities that would have done an excellent job of taking care of her mother. Besides, unless there were unknown relatives around to keep an eye on Lilah's mother, I can't imagine any devoted daughter trusting complete strangers to keep her mother's interests in the forefront.

I can actually think of several extenuating circumstances that would have made it advantageous for Lilah and her mother to live in separate cities, not the least of which revolved around making it difficult for Lilah's enemies to even find her mother. (Not to mention how difficult it would be to uproot an extremely ill person from her comfortable surroundings and move her some place new.) There are no easy answers, so we'll just have to draw our own conclusions.

Regardless, deep down, I do feel that Lilah did genuinely care for her mother, and tried to work out a workable system to satisfy both of their needs the best she could.

In my "Lindsey and Lilah" post, I talked about how, in contrast to what we learned a lot about Lindsey's poverty-stricken background, all we learned about from Lilah was that she had to overcome considerable early adversity in order to succeed. Per Bethany, the Telekinetic girl, Lilah was someone who "got out" (out of grinding poverty?) and was one of the people who "made it by themselves". Whatever Lilah's background, unless she was telling bald face lies (always a distinct possibility), she at least led a life that provided good material for inspirational speeches to high school students.

Lilah herself told Angel in "Sleep Tight" that her "game face" became her real face several years before. If I'm interpreting things correctly, Lilah might have started out life as a fairly decent human being, but somehow felt forced to put on her evil "game face" early on as a survival tactic. Why would someone feel compelled to turn evil? Perhaps if she had been mistreated by "good people" at an early age? Lilah never mentioned a father, so maybe her mother raised her as a single parent? She mentioned to Wesley in Season 4's "Calvary" (one of their last encounters) that all she wanted, among other things, was to have her pretty things.

To some people from impoverished backgrounds, having "pretty things" can be a huge motivator in and of itself.

Speculation on what might have happened to turn her to Evil would be almost irresponsible, since we're given such little information. All we know is that Lilah seemed to be quite comfortable with who she was and did not want to be saved!

Much as I love to look for clues and let my imagination do the rest, I figure I can't possibly ignore what the actors themselves have to say about their characters. They're the ones who've spoken to the writers and have (hopefully) put the most thought into who they're portraying.

In a BBC interview which was conducted probably just before she saw the "Sleep Tight" and "Loyalty" scripts that described her mother, Stephanie is quoted as saying:

"...I think for me I figured that she must have been either orphaned [or] not really had much family contact, so therefore she has no real ties or ability to have major ties.

That's what makes it easy for her to be in this world where it's about power and about just getting ahead, because it seems that she must have been a child of survival, having to survive and therefore that his her main goal. That's my take on it, that makes her more... a bit like a robot."

The fact that the writers made her somewhat devoted to her mother doesn't necessarily totally destroy Romanov's scenario. Lilah's mother may have been forced to place her with relatives or in foster homes, and Lilah might have been shunted from household to household during her entire childhood. As Romanov herself pointed out, Lilah certainly had problems establishing ties with anyone. It's possible that early on in life she was doomed to be abandoned or betrayed by everyone she placed her trust in. She might have needed to have come up with some pretty cunning survival strategies from a very early age, where she might have learned to manipulate people in order to get even her most basic needs satisfied.

(I read a newspaper article that quoted a social worker in a story about an extremely cute little toddler girl who was brought into a police station by a concerned citizen. It appeared that the little girl was routinely abandoned by her crack-addict mother. According to the social worker, she suspected that the little girl made herself adorable so that the neighbors, and strangers (!) would take her in and care for her. I'm not saying Lilah was a cute little girl, but she probably had to do whatever was necessary to get by.)

The skills she possibly developed at an early age would have served her well at Wolfram & Hart. She could lie and manipulate to her heart's content, as long as she put the Senior Partners' interests first. For the first time in her life, loyalty to an entity would bring her tangible rewards. If she looked after Wolfram & Hart, Wolfram & Hart would look after her. If Lilah was unable to form attachments with anyone, unlike Lindsey, she wouldn't have been encumbered in performing her duties by being held back by feelings of empathy or sentimentality. Lilah's street smarts, not to mention her ability to think fast on her feet, would take her far in her power struggles during her rise to the top. Wolfram & Hart didn't want blinding loyalty. They wanted deadly ambition!

I started off this post hoping to focus more directly on the Wesley/Lilah scenes in Angel, but I quickly found out I had to work through some of her background issues before I could continue. In my next post I'll speculate about her love life prior to her hookup with Wesley. Only after I get that out of my system will I be able to start writing more about their romantic encounters.

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