Thursday, June 25, 2009

More on Justine

(This is a continuation from my previous post, "Lilah and Justine". Justine's and Wesley's dialogue sequences from Angel's "Deep Down" are here, here and here.)

My first thoughts when I first saw Justine bound and gagged in Wesley's closet in "Deep Down" were, how long had she been there, and was she always bound and gagged? Unless I'm totally wrong, I would guess she had been kidnapped by Wesley about three months prior, (Wesley made reference to knowing whose door to kick in as soon as he heard Angel was missing), and that, yes, she did spend most of her time in the closet. (Justine had made her own reference to having nothing better to do than to fill her bucket.)

Did Wesley just bind and gag Justine when he had visitors? Otherwise she'd hardly be able to move when it was time to take their "boat rides". Did Wes let her out to take showers? As soon as he found out that Angel disappeared, did Wes go to Home Depot in the morning, build the cage and install the soundproofing in the afternoon, then kidnap Justine in the evening? Wesley was perfectly capable of taking on Justine in hand-to-hand combat, but it still must have been difficult to grab her, transport her back to his apartment and then stuff her in a cage, unless Wes used associates and/or chloroform to help him with his scheme.

In fact, I see so many logical flaws to the whole slave-girl thing, I still find it very hard to take the whole idea seriously except as some sort of huge metaphor for her being a slave to her overwhelming desire for revenge. The only redeeming value to the whole Justine-as-slave thing was that finally Wesley got to take his own revenge for getting his throat slit and being left to die by Justine.

I made a reference in my last post to how the writers seemed to compress a lot of events that happened a few months prior to Season 4's premiere episode, "Deep Down", into just a few short minutes of dialogue.

To back up a bit, I'm under the impression that Wes and Justine had been combing the ocean floor for quite a while (close to three months?) looking for Angel. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. Just like Wes and Lilah's bedroom conversation in "Deep Down", I thought a lot of Wes and Justine's dialogue would have been more appropriate if it would have occurred a few months earlier. You would think that they would have been beyond the tit-for-tat about "justice" versus "revenge" by that time. And didn't Justine seem to overreact when Wesley let her know it was time to dive again? She acted as if it took her by surprise! However, the dialogue scenes did provide the valuable service of bringing the audience up to date.

There were two aspects of the whole Wesley/Justine sequences that interested me. First, Wesley didn't seem particularly bothered by Justine's constant needling. Listening to Lilah yammering for the last few months about losing his friends and his soul must have toughened him up. He might have also realized that it was a valuable release for Justine to be able to speak freely and pour out her frustrations about the situation. Better to let her talk than have her go all wildcat on him.

Another thing that interested me was, despite the fact Justine tried to hit Wesley on the head with a wrench, she seemed remarkably acquiescent to his demands. One example was how quickly Justine acted when Wesley needed her help getting the lid off of Angel's coffin. She also didn't try to escape by jumping overboard, or swim away from the boat when she dove into the water. And why didn't Justine lie to Wesley about finding Angel's coffin? She could have said something like "Just an old cargo box" and went on her way.

The key to Justine's seemingly compliant behavior was that she probably tried very hard to escape in the beginning, but was unable to do so. Wesley was just too cunning and too skilled a fighter to let her get away. The whole sequence where Justine tried to sneak up on Wesley and hit him over the head with a wrench was probably inserted just to show that no matter how hard she tried, Justine just couldn't escape. It served her best interests to find Angel as quickly as possible so she would be released.

I'd also like to think that, although Justine hated her situation, she wasn't fearful. Perhaps deep down she knew Wesley was a good man and could be trusted to do the right thing.

I thought the end of Wes and Justine's "relationship" was quite effective. Wesley had just handcuffed Justine to the dock, (again, that would have been tough to do if Justine was fighting with all of her strength). Justine, defiant to the end, and not at all impressed with the TLC Wesley was providing Angel, taunted Wesley by saying that Angel would turn on him, and all of his friends.

Wesley responded with a simple, "You can continue being a slave, Justine, or you can live your life. Your choice." He tossed her the keys to the handcuffs, and with that, he drove off with Angel.

We'll never know what happened to Justine. Presumably she got home and possibly hooked up with some of her old revenge buddies. Did she learn anything from Wesley's "guidance"? Would anyone ever change her ways and become a perfect person if someone kidnapped her and kept her locked in a closet for three months? If nothing else, Justine learned to not mess with the wrong guy.

I would have liked to have have seen at least one little sign that there was hope for Justine, but I'm also glad that the series avoided the cliche of having the victim starting to identify with or even start falling in love with her captor. Justine remained strong throughout the entire ordeal and remained true to herself, repulsive as she may have been. Maybe that independent streak would have served her well if she ever started down the road to recovery.

Idle Thoughts. Although the whole concept of having Justine locked in a closet while Wes and Lilah were making love just a few feet away sounds pretty kinky, I think we can safely assume Wes had no desire to use Justine for sex. My take on it is that Wesley's life had been turned completely upside down and he was busily re-examining his entire world. Rather than just taking what was being given to him, Wesley decided he would take an active part in creating his new world. In essence, Wes was trying new things to see if they worked before discarding them.

Lewis Call, in his essay that I'm constantly quoting, "Sounds Like Kinky Business to Me", had some interesting ideas (which influenced me quite a bit) on the whole Justine/Lilah/bondage situation.
Dark Wes has a girl in a cage, and her name is Justine. Season Four of Angel (which corresponds to Season Seven of Buffy) represents a late Buffyverse narrative moment. The kink is textual; the Sadeian system is expressed in its own terms and with its own name intact. Dark Wes has no concern whatsoever for Justine; she is, at most, an animal to him. (He also claims, at this point, to have no feelings for Lilah, though this is belied by affectionate subtextual gestures and his later textual affection for her.) Dark Wes experiments with the Sadeian system of ethics and finds that this system, with its utter lack of interest in consent, lacks eros. He releases Justine. His experimentation immediately resumes (this time with Lilah) in a consensual, erotic mode.
I watched Season 4's "Calvary" last night, where Wes and Fred were this close to getting together, before Angelus ruined everything by revealing Wes had been "banging Lilah for the past six months."

What was it with the ladies of Angel Investigations? First, Cordy got upset with Angel for banging Darla (in hindsight, that did set up an awful chain of events for her, didn't it?), and then Fred got upset with Wes for banging Lilah. Did Fred really expect Wesley to be taking cold showers the entire time she was with Charles Gunn? Why did these ladies expect perfect chastity from their beloved menfolk before they agreed to start going out with them? Did they really want all of their guys to be unspoiled virgins?

Season 4's "Awakening" was absolutely heartbreaking. As I told my husband, I'm not sure if it's a favorite or least favorite episode of mine. I was really fooled and drawn into it the first time I saw it, and I was absolutely crushed to find out that all of the wonderful things that were happening was just part of a dream sequence that Angel experienced before Angelus emerged.

I should add that Alexis Denisof pulled off another fine performance in "Deep Down", where he was successfully able to tie together the threads of being both a potentially unsympathetic slave-owner and a heroic and noble friend. As badly as Wesley was treating Justine, Denisof let the audience know that Wesley was still doing what he thought was right in order to help out the Good side.

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