Monday, June 22, 2009

On Many Levels and With Great Intensity

It's hard to pick out my favorite Wesley Wyndam-Pryce/Lilah Morgan encounter, but the one that occurred at the seedy bar in "Tomorrow" comes pretty close.

Stephanie Romanov was at her most alluring self in this scene. The camera started in on her long legs as she swiveled her way up to Wesley, then panned up to show that she had unbuttoned the jacket to her power suit. That, along with her slightly relaxed hair and makeup stylings, gave her a softer look than when they had met at the nightclub earlier in the evening.

Wesley himself appeared to be totally self-absorbed, mixing his whiskey and beer as he catatonically stared straight ahead. Most of the time he avoided eye contact with Lilah, almost as though he was trying to pretend she wasn't there. When he did look at her, it was only to give her one of his steely "dirty looks". Of course, the audience knows better, since he was obviously on edge, ready to pounce at any second.

I wrote at length about Wesley's personality during this time in my previous "Man With No Name" and "Lone Wolf" posts. Alexis Denisof himself said that Wesley was,
"...flirting with and investigating the dark side of himself. He's looking at his relationships with all the people and with Angel, and he's definitely looking at his whole purpose and trying to figure out how he wants to be...."
This fine essay (or recap of Wesley's "Dark" episodes) from "Watcher Rogue's" LiveJournal profile gives us another term I've been studiously avoiding for way too long, and that term is "self-loathing". I am constantly struggling with the concept of why Wesley put up with, and, at times, even seemed to accept Lilah's cruel tauntings about his plight. Here are some key excerpts from Watcher Rogue's "Bio":
The most fascinating aspect of this visit [Lilah's first visit to Wesley's apartment] is [the] seductive manner of Lilah's derision. She doesn't try and hide her motives, but attempts to use Wesley's own self-loathing to show him that he belongs with her kind. For his part, Wesley clearly understands what she's trying to accomplish, but is struggling with his own view of himself.
(I wrote previously about Lilah's first visit to Wesley's apartment here.)

This paragraph not only describes Lilah's first contact with Wesley, but several of her subsequent visits. I myself would respond more to someone trying to inflate my ego rather than trying to drag me down. If I was Lilah, I would be focusing on how Good and Evil aren't really that far apart, and how much more he'd be able to accomplish at Wolfram & Hart. The only way I could describe the reasoning for a lot of Lilah's tactics was their similarities to Marine Corps boot camp training, where the drill sergeants completely break down the recruits in order to build them back up.

To back up a bit, Lilah was starting to follow a different line of tactics in the bar, by talking about the moral implications behind different ways of dealing with Connor, and Wesley's "great big brain" going to waste. When Lilah stated that she "cared" about Wesley, as "one human being to another", I died laughing when, after Wesley gave her one of his deadly sexy dirty looks, she said "Just kidding." That feline smile on her face was absolutely priceless!

I can understand Wesley beating himself up over how his actions caused Connor to be kidnapped. I can certainly understand Wesley thinking of at least briefly heading over to Wolfram & Hart to spite his former friends for abandoning him. However, I can only superficially understand the concept of how his low self-esteem could make him think that he was permanently cast out from the forces of Good, with Wolfram & Hart being the best he deserved. The best analogy I can think of is how T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) had such a poor opinion of himself, he reportedly put himself through all sorts of flagellation rituals, both literally and figuratively. I can acknowledge that certain people can respond to this sort of playing on their emotions, but I'll never be able to understand this behavior on a gut level.

I'd be remiss if I didn't add that Wesley's lifetime of verbal abuse from his father, along with his less-than-brilliant career as a Watcher, could have had a lot to do with his feelings of abject failure.

Watcher Rogue states later on (after describing Wesley and Lilah's encounter at the nightclub):
While Angel deals with the return of his son, Wesley still remains alone... except for Lilah. Once again, she pays him a visit, this time catching up with him in a pub ("Tomorrow"). By now, the tone of their encounters has been well established, characterized by biting sarcasm with an undertone of sensuality. She asks if he'd mind if she joined him. He replies, "On many levels and with great intensity." (This line is a pretty good summation of the way these two relate to each other.) This time, she tries to use Connor to get under Wesley's skin, implying that if Connor actually proved to be dangerous, Wes' former friends wouldn't be prepared to handle it. She wonders if Wesley would be prepared to kill him, in spite of the fact that he was Angel's son? She twists the knife by implying that Connor might harm Fred, and says she's glad she doesn't have a conscience. Wesley remains silent, but then she goes one step too far, asking what it felt like when Justine slit his throat. Wes reacts by grabbing her by the throat and asking if she really wants to know."
This paragraph is actually the one that attracted me to Watcher Rogue's site, which I found while doing a Google search for Wesley's brilliant line (when Lilah asked if she could join Wesley), "On many levels and with great intensity." Watcher Rogue correctly states that "This line is a pretty good summation of the way these two relate to each other." Wesley delivered his line way too quickly, as though he was fully expecting Lilah to join him at any second. Indeed, Wesley seemed to often exhibit an "eyes in the back of his head" trait, and I'm sure he could sense her as soon as Lilah walked into the bar.

Excuse me for turning into a stark-raving nympho every time the subject of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce comes up. But honestly, am I not suppose to think joining Lilah "On many levels and with great intensity" is a double entendre? Lewis Call, in another work that has greatly influenced me, "Sounds Like Kinky Business: Subtextual and Textual Representations of Erotic Power in the Buffyverse", talks about Wesley's violent reaction to Lilah when she seductively asked what it was like when Justine slit his throat:
She seduces Wes by asking him what it was like when Justine cut his throat. By way of reply, Wes grabs Lilah's throat. [Wesley replies] "You terribly anxious to find out?" ..... The punchline is that yes, she is anxious to find out. These intense negotiations land Wes and Lilah immediately in bed.....
I hope to do a post on this some day, but throughout their dealings, Wes challenged Lilah with several variations of the line "You think you know me?" Sometimes she does, and sometimes she doesn't. However, I can't help but think that Lilah somehow recognizes Wes as a kindred spirit in more ways than one. Perhaps Lilah is(was) filled with self-loathing and knew how to exploit that character trait to the fullest. Lewis Call himself describes Lilah Morgan as being "unsurprisingly kinky". It takes one to know one, and Lilah may have been one of the few people to recognize that the quickest ways to seduce Wesley was by exploiting domination/submission tactics. By pushing Wesley to the breaking point, (in this case, by capitalizing on his self-loathing), Lilah knew he would eventually snap and go into full erotic power play mode.

Wesley obliged Lilah (when she asked about how it felt when Justine cut him) by abruptly leaving his self-absorption and shooting his arm across to grab her by the throat. ("You terribly anxious to find out?) At that point, Lilah finally had his full undivided attention. I'm convinced that he caught her totally by surprise, but I'm also convinced that she quickly recognized this moment as an important breakthrough.

I'll still maintain that part of his seeming acceptance of her tauntings was, on perhaps an subconscious level, a recognition that her continuous advances on him was a form of extended foreplay. The fact that he eventually did sneak out on Lilah at the nightclub could have been a tactic to prolong the foreplay. Part of his self-loathing could have even come from how much he hated himself for enjoying Lilah's attentions!

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