Monday, July 13, 2009

As You Wish

It's amazing how the very worst episode (in my opinion) of Angel, "The Girl in Question", also has some of the best scenes in the entire series, courtesy of Amy Acker as (Wini)Fred Burkle/Illyria and Alexis Denisof as Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.

The first time I saw the episode, I really tried to get into the Angel v. Spike rivalry over Buffy, but I just couldn't do it. I thought every joke and sight gag absolutely fell flat on their faces. Plus, those Italian accents were horrible. I've seen my share of Fellini movies, so it's not like I'm just not getting it. I finally had to give up and start scanning through to the Wesley/Illyria "good parts". The second time around, a few days ago, I didn't even try to sit through the Angel/Spike scenes, and, again, I just scanned to the "good parts".

I'm keeping this episode around for posterity, and I'll try to wade through it at a later date. I'm consistently finding that the episodes I didn't care for the first time around get better on subsequent viewings.

Wesley's first scene with Illyria occurred when Illyria was noticing that she could no longer hear the "song" of the plants. Wesley, probably fully aware that Illyria could hear him, explained to Lorne how her powers had been reduced. Just as an aside, through the last three episodes of Angel, we got a pretty good explanation of what she could no longer do, but I don't think we ever got a good feel for what she could do.

Illyria accused Wesley of reveling in her defeat. Wesley challenged her by asking, "Is that how you view it? You've been defeated?". To me that falls somewhat under the "duh" category, because, even though Wesley saved her life, of course she was going to be very upset that she lost most of her powers. I really should dig up some other examples, but I also noticed that this was a continuing pattern, where Wesley was consistently making Illyria back up her claims and give voice to her frustration. This might have been part of ongoing exercise organized by Wesley the Watcher to get her to try to work through her feelings and start the adjustment process.

Illyria went on with her usual tirade about how she was suffering a fate worse than death, blah, blah, blah, when Wesley interrupted her and firmly suggested that she head back to the lab. Illyria of course took that as an order (which it really was), and came this close to telling Wesley where to stuff it. Wesley then (little psychological mind-gamer that he was) told her he was merely suggesting that she head back to the lab for testing that "...might lead to knowledge of how to help you function." Illyria then attempted to save face by stating that "I go because it suits me."

Wesley astutely remarked to Lorne that Illyria was "..overcompensating, posturing", which he recognized from her defiant statements immediately after he drew her excess energy from her in the previous episode. He also cautioned Lorne that they had to be careful not to agitate her, which really meant, she's going through a rough time, so humor her until she gets a chance to adjust.

Wesley really would have made a great parent. I think a large percentage of discipline problems with kids come from power play struggles. If you are respectful to your children and allow them a chance to save face, you can diffuse difficult situations without a lot of needless drama.

I still can't get over how there was never any mention on the show on how to break the "death" of Fred to her parents. Cordelia would have insisted that someone contact them right away!

Regardless, I think we can argue forever as to whether Wesley should have informed the Burkles of what happened to their daughter. To his credit, Wes was about to tell them, when Illyria stunned him by walking into his office looking exactly like Fred! I don't know about anyone else, but I'm perfectly capable of losing my composure and not knowing how to act during a particularly rough "WTF?" moment! Honestly, how do you say, this woman is not your daughter? Please meet Illyria, an ancient god-king demon who took over your daughter's life form, and I had no idea until right now that she can change herself to look exactly like Fred?
And think of how Illyria would respond to being unmasked, so to speak, particularly since you just made the decision that she would make a valuable ally?

I don't know if Wesley made the best decision, but I don't think he made a terrible mistake, either. There would certainly be an opportunity to inform the Burkles what had happened at a future date.

When Illyria first spotted the Burkles, she certainly had a somewhat mischievous look on her face. She may have wanted to avoid seeing further grief, as she told Wesley, but she also may have wanted to use that moment to see if she could convincingly pass herself off as Fred. Wesley suspected as much when he asked her, "Did you get what you needed from that experience?" Illyria answered, "Yes, it was most informative". He then flabbergasted her by demanding that she never do it again!

Wesley seemed to be in better shape while Angel and Spike were gone, being closer to normal. Hopefully, he wasn't drinking quite as heavily since he was the Man in Charge during Angel's absence. I loved how he kept up his casual attire at Wolfram & Hart during late Season 5, permanently banishing the dress shirts and ties. While the Burkles were around, I thought Alexis Denisof correctly portrayed Wesley as being polite, but pensive and reserved. He could have given into false cheer, but instead, he smiled and joked very little, and only volunteered the bare minimum information. I would have thought the Burkles would have been more alarmed at his attitude than the subtle changes that Trish noticed in Fred/Illyria. (Though a mother always knows.)

Amy Acker portrayed Fred quite vivaciously, and did an excellent job slipping back and forth between her Fred and Illyria personas. I think we got a small taste of how Illyria may have appeared in Season 6, since, goodness knows, I wouldn't want any actress to be forced to dress up like Illyria all of the time.

It was easy to guess that another thing going through Illyria's brain was wondering how Wesley would react to seeing her in Fred's form. We have to remember that Illyria was a wise and ancient demon trying to adapt to her new world. She was constantly testing to see what worked and what didn't. Illyria was obviously falling for Wesley. Whether she was influenced by vestiges of Fred that might have remained in her body is debatable. Regardless, Illyria not only loved Wesley, but wanted to please him as well. Similar to how Lilah dressed up like Fred in Season 4's "Apocalypse Nowish", (with mixed results), Illyria was also approaching Wesley in his office looking exactly like the real Fred. In her mind, Wes loved Fred and missed her terribly. Wouldn't it be a wonderful to give Wesley the gift of the girl of his dreams?

Illyria didn't seem to be too adept at picking up clues from body language, and she kept pushing her desire to "explore" the idea further. Unfortunately, Illyria had no idea how badly her reactions were hurting Wesley, despite the fact that she probably sensed that he really was somewhat attracted to her form. Emotional subtleties were completely lost on her.

When Wesley walked out of his office, demanding that she never morph into Fred again, quite tellingly, she responded "As you wish." She loved Wesley, and she was willing to do what he asked in a desire to please him. If one thing didn't work with Wesley, maybe something else would.

This is as good a place as any to speculate on the whole issue of what exactly was inhabiting Fred's body. When Illyria morphed into Fred, she didn't seem surprised that she had that particular power, indicating that it was nothing new for her. She treated this talent simply as one more thing she was pulling out of her bag of tricks. However, Illyria not only looked like Fred, she was also able to re-create her speech habits and her mannerisms. Was she simply drawing from Fred's memories, which were a series of electrical discharges manifesting themselves by running through her brain like a bunch of short video clips? Or was Fred's soul buried deep within Illyria in one form or another, with little segments bubbling up to the surface once in a while?

I prefer the "memories as a series of electrical charges" theory myself, but I can't ignore the fact that hints were being dropped on a steady basis that Fred's soul had not been completely destroyed. Fred certainly was a very popular character, and it probably behooved the creators to give the audience at least a glimmer of hope that Fred could eventually make a return. (I know that at this time the series had already been cancelled. Without Fred completely dying out, she had a chance to live on in people's imaginations.)

I think that Wesley was certainly hoping that Fred would be able to come back somehow. Plus, he certainly was feeling some complex emotions over Illyria. I believed Wes when he said he wasn't in love with Illyria, but he might have had feelings that were crossing over into somewhat forbidden, but definitely unexplored territory. He was terrified of the implications, and was simply unable to go down that route. Feelings of disgust and self-loathing for even thinking of the alternatives were probably in the forefront of Wesley's mind.

Wesley had this somewhat distressing habit of leaving panting, unfulfilled women in his wake, but he definitely wasn't afraid of women or tried to avoid them. For example, it didn't take him long to warm up to both Virginia and Lilah! With Fred, it took him quite a while to approach her simply because she was the girl of his dreams and was afraid he would mess things up. With Illyria, I think he was flat out content with how things were going, and maybe needed a lot of time before he could become comfortable taking the relationship any further. The tables were turned a bit, as Wesley took on the role of the confused girl inadvertently teasing and leading on the older male. In essence, Illyria was challenging him to leave his Wesley the Watcher comfort zone and wander into his Wesley the Lover territory.

Although it was never discussed in the series, presumably Illyria approached sex the same way she approached living and breathing. Religious hangups about sex simply hadn't been invented yet back in her day. To her credit, she repeatedly, in so many words, approached Wesley about sex, but didn't press her case too hard. Although she was confused, not knowing the ground rules in her new world, she knew what pleased Wesley and eventually figured out when to back off.

Idle Thoughts. I love how in Season 5, and, indeed, throughout the series, we learned that whenever Lindsey showed up, something big would happen.

Mercedes McNab was consistently a joy to watch as Harmony, the vampire who almost had a soul. A little of her went a long way as the dumb blond, so it was good that the creators didn't spend too much time exploiting her ditiziness. It's too bad that her character wasn't allowed to grow and become more integrated into the team. I can't help but think that her promotion into the opening credits towards the end of Season 5 was a nice gesture by the producers to help her pad out her resume. She was a delightful actress in Angel, and certainly deserved more work after the series ended.

Adam Baldwin was quite effective as the villain Hamilton, but he seemed to lack that little spark that's necessary to make a character interesting. Although I liked him a lot better than Eve, I always felt a little disappointed when he showed up on the screen. I never perked up with anticipation that something exciting was about to happen.

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