Sunday, July 12, 2009

Instability

Since I'm doing a series of posts on each of the Wesley/Illyria encounters, this post will obviously be centered around those two characters. Happily, unlike most of the Wesley/Lilah encounters, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and Illyria are integrated quite tightly into the whole Angel Season 5 "Time Bomb" episode, so I won't feel I'm missing too much of the plot by just focusing on the two of them.

The episode started off with Illyria in fine form, rescuing Charles Gunn from the hell dimension. She showed off her powers and her intelligence by coming up with the ingenuous solution of how to get around the requirement that if one person left the hell dimension, another person needed to take his place.

In the next scene, Angel and Wesley were having a wonderfully frank discussion about Wes and Illyria's relationship. I appreciated these frank discussions because they gave the audience a lot more direct information about Wesley's state of mind regarding Illyria. (Contrast this with the lack of information we were given regarding his true feelings toward Lilah.) I also admired Angel for the balancing act he had to perform as a manager, where he was trying to be somewhat mindful of Wesley's obvious feelings for Illyria, while still having to make the difficult decisions that needed to be made in order to protect the group.

Quite honestly, Illyria would probably have been too powerful to have around even if she was a lot more mellow. The instability of the state of her physical energy was an effective metaphor for the inherent emotional instability of a once-powerful demon who found herself forced to inhabit the body of an inferior life form.

Angel knew right away that there was some sort of complicated emotional attachment going on between Wesley and Illyria. What I found interesting about the dialogue was that, although Angel and Wesley seemed to be talking about opposite ideas, both of them actually seemed quite correct in their assumptions. Wesley characterized Illyria as being an impetuous, self-important, ego-driven creature who looked down at the affairs of humans as being quite insignificant. He tried to downplay any attachment she might have had to him by passing himself off as providing her "..some amusement at the very least. It may be why she's still here."

Angel, on the other hand, portrayed Illyria as being emotionally connected to Wes, acting as his "helper", performing deeds as personal favors to Wesley. Angel also wondered about Illyria's motivations for rescuing Charles, and hinted that she was perhaps hanging around Wolfram & Hart looking to find a way to regain some of her former powers. Wesley expressed hope that he could persuade Illyria to become integrated into the group. At that moment, Illyria came charging in through an inter-dimensional portal, dragging Charles along as though he was her prisoner.

What happened next was fairly typical of what occurred whenever someone other than Wesley tried to deal with Illyria. Angel was bold and direct with Illyria, demanding that she let go of Gunn, which got him nowhere. Wesley, who knew her idiosyncracies, figuratively pushed Angel aside and dealt with her with his usual exaggerated politeness and diplomacy. Wesley knew exactly what she expected, a payment of debt, and she seemed satisfied with his acknowledgement.

The reason why I'm gravitating toward these "Wesley humoring Illyria" moments is because it reminds me of how I used to have to deal with an aging aunt. This aunt, due to illness and lack of mobility, had turned into somewhat of a hermit. She only spoke with a few family members, and had forgotten how to speak to and conduct herself around the general population. In essence, we had practically developed our own "language" with her and had to come along and "translate" for her whenever she went to a doctor or otherwise conducted business outside her home. Otherwise, she would have been totally confused, and the people she dealt with would have just dismissed her as being some sort of crazy old dingbat. Wesley, through his close association with Illyria, spoke her "language", and knew which buttons to push on her in order to diffuse some stressful situations.

Wesley seemed like he was somewhat drunk in Angel's office, and acted outright crazy in his own office as he skittered about. Wes was obviously not dealing very well with the triple whammy of the loss of Fred, the appearance of Illyria within Fred's form, and the re-emergence of his forgotten painful memories when the spell of the Orlon Window was broken in the previous episode. I couldn't help but think of Wolfram & Hart's Holland Manners in Season 2, where, being concerned with Lindsey McDonald's obsession with the vampire Darla, encouraged Lindsey to develop a "healthy" attachment. In fact, there's a noticeable parallel between both Lindsey and Wesley being somewhat in love, in control and unafraid of unstable, otherworldly females.

I thought that, throughout this episode, a lot of hints were being dropped that Illyria might have been part of this Final Apocalypse that was silently raging, or somehow associated with the Senior Partners. It was quite the coincidence that Illyria arrived to wreak considerable havoc during a particularly touchy time for Angel Investigations. Charles Gunn openly wondered why someone who killed one AI team member would turn around and rescue another. Gunn, like everyone else, seemed to be working blindly in the dark, with only the faint glow of a defective moral compass to guide him through.

Charles, like Angel, assumed Wesley had some sort of control over Illyria, (on a "leash"). Again, Wesley demurred, claiming she was "monumentally self-possessed. She still thinks she's the god-king of the universe."

Was Wesley falling victim to the "doth protest too much" syndrome? Perhaps, but he was performing some very delicate work with Illyria. If he made any claim at all, even to himself, that he had any control over her, that might have created a false sense of security leading up to deadly consequences. Illyria would have to earn everyone's trust.

In the next scene, Spike and Illyria were again mentally and physically sparring in the training room, with Spike getting somewhat of the upper hand this time around. Presumably, Spike was landing a few more punches because Illyria was weakening, although it wasn't all that apparent at the time.

I thought this piece of dialogue was intriguing:
ILLYRIA: This shell... you had affection for it, for Fred.

SPIKE: Tons. Loved the bird.

ILLYRIA: Yet you strike at her form without sentiment.

SPIKE: You ain't her. I can see it. Lord knows I can smell it. And I got no problem hitting it.
I'm sure it was clicking through Illyria's brain that, though both Wes and Spike dearly loved Fred (although, obviously Fred and Spike weren't lovers), their reactions to Illyria were quite different. Wes was firm with Illyria, but also soft, gentle and deferential. Spike was rough and tough with Illyria and mocked her quite severely. (Although it would be a mistake to deny that Spike was developing some sort of feelings for Illyria.)

A few moments later, while Spike was talking to Angel, Illyria doubled over in pain, giving the first hint that things were not going well for her. A few moments after that, Angel was in a meeting with Spike, Wesley and Gunn, where they were discussing how to handle their Illyria situation.

Again, a bit more directly this time, Angel noted that Wesley was "bonding" with Illyria.Wesley acknowledged that Illyria was "...unpredictable, dangerous, too powerful a being, too close to being an enemy..." and later also seemed to agree that Illyria should be killed. When Hamilton came in and described, in great detail, how he was not happy about all of the the damage Illyria inflicted when she went after Gunn, and how the damages would be paid from their division, people must have really been wondering about her ties with the Senior Partners.

When Illyria was alone with Wesley in his office, she finally let it be known that she was not pleased that Wesley had again tried to kill her, when he hoped that the release of the Orlon Window magic spell would bring back Fred. Her choice of words were significant, in that she mentioned that Wesley was her guide, (which he modestly said "apparently"), then called him her "betrayer". "Betrayed" implies that she had established a bond of trust with Wesley, and she assumed he would be loyal to her. And, once more, Wesley was honest about his failed attempts to kill her.

Wesley pointed out the obvious, that she seemed to be becoming more human in her ways. I had mentioned before that she seemed to shake off all of his prior attempts to kill her as though they were insignificant occurrences, but this time, she was puzzled about her feelings. In her words, she was bothered because she was bothered.

The end of this conversation was cute, when, after she insulted humans one more time while denying any personal similarities to them, Wesley, ever the Watcher/Guide, said in that loving paternal voice, "Now, now. Manners."

As the scene continued, Illyria experienced what we ultimately found out was some sort of time travelling event. She witnessed a scene that occurred later in the episode, where Wesley aimed a Ghosthunters-type of weapon at Illyria. When Illyria came back to the "present", she attacked Wesley and accused him of trying to kill her one more time! Wesley, of course, had no idea what she was talking about, but significantly added that he didn't want to see her dead.

In this scene, Wesley had a rather interesting encounter with Hamilton, where Hamilton, in his faux-charming way, let it be known that the Senior Partners did not get along with Illyria in past encounters, and hinted that Angel Investigation should go ahead and kill her. (Hamilton, being Hamilton, never gave clear direct orders, just so he could later claim that Angel Investigations made the final decisions regarding any dirty work that needed to be done.)

Even Hamilton made the connection to how Wesley and Illyria were almost friends, which again Wesley denied. Then, mysteriously, Hamilton clued Wesley into the fact that he should be looking at the "low-emanation scanner readouts". Something seemed to click inside Wesley's head at that point. Was it the fact that, if the Senior Partners wanted her gone, would it perhaps be beneficial to keep her alive? And did Hamilton unwittingly give Wesley the idea on how he could achieve his goal of keeping her alive?

In the meantime, Illyria dragged Angel out of a meeting and accused him of engineering her instability and of trying to kill her. Angel correctly denied all of her accusation, which she acknowledged to be true because it was "too early".

Angel found Wes and Spike working in a lab, and Wes explained that Illyria was "...unstable. Overloading, to be more accurate. The fusion between her demon essence and her host's body seems to be deteriorating. It's as if the human part of her can no longer contain the demonic power within." Spike more succinctly described the situation as "...she cracked her engine block and now she's leakin' petrol all over the building." Regardless, Illyria was on the verge of literally blowing up at any moment, which would result in the destruction of at least three city blocks worth of property, if not more.

Wesley showed Angel his Mutari generator "weapon" that Illyria had seen in her earlier time travels, and explained that it would drain all of the energy out of her. When Angel directly asked Wesley if the device would kill her, Wesley replied "Yes".

And with that, the audience witnessed Angel, Spike and Wesley heading toward the training room to deal with Illyria, followed by several minutes consisting of Wesley trying to aim his weapon at her, Illyria killing everyone (Spike, Wesley and Lorne) except Angel, and several excellent scenes where Illyria and Angel travelled back and forth between different points on the time line. If nothing else, I thought these scenes allowed Angel and Illyria to develop some sort of a bond as they both tried to work their way through the problem at hand. Most significantly, Illyria gave some great commentary about Angel's position at Wolfram & Hart, and pointed out, "If you want to win a war, you must serve no master but your ambition."

After Illyria "exploded", Angel again found his way striding toward the training room with Spike and Wesley. Angel pushed Spike out of the way at a crucial moment, thus avoiding the start of Illyria's killing spree. Angel and Illyria asknowledged that they had both been a part of that scene before, and Angel tried to convince Illyria that he needed to get rid of her in order to avoid a great catastrophe, noting that she would do the same thing if she was in his position.

Wesley piped in at this point and assured Illyria that the device he was using to draw away her energy would not kill her. Angel, of course, did a double take, but Wesley admitted that he lied to Angel earlier. The only thing the device would do was drain away a signficant amount of her energy so she would become more stable. (Odd random thought of mine, kind of like when a pet becomes much more calm after being spayed or neutered?) That was the obvious reason why Wesley was somewhat sneaking behind Angel's back, and pretending that he and Spike wanted to take care of Illyria alone because they knew Angel was busy.

After some additional drama, Wesley finally aimed his weapon at Illyria and drained a considerable amount of energy from her, leaving her exhausted on the floor. Defiant to the end, Illyria proclaimed, "Touch me and die, vermin."

Spike sardonically remarked, "Not a very dramatic difference, really" while Wesley sympathetically responded "Everything's different." In addition to all of Wesley's other abilities, he also seemed to be an astute judge of human nature who developed sympathetic qualities probably as a result of suffering years of mental cruelty at the hands of his father. Wesley's heart reached out to the once-glorious god-king demon who was now reduced to a pathetic creature huddled on the training room floor. The men wisely let her stay on the floor to recover in peace as they all left the room.

I can't help but think that Wesley derived an enormous amount of satisfaction out of bringing down a once-powerful creature to someone who would now be under his control. I wouldn't call Wesley a classic control-freak, but there seemed to be somewhat of an erotic element to how he first ultimately put Lilah under his control, then Illyria. It was certainly different from dealing with alpha males! Wesley's actions with the ladies seemed to be a perfect illustration of the eroticism within Wesley's natural-born Watcher instincts, where he absolutely loved women and wanted to guide and protect them. In both instances, with Lilah and Illyria, he not only wanted to turn them into playmates of sorts, he genuinely wanted to "save" them and improve their lives.

Being powerful women, both Lilah and Illyria (more so Illyria) put up resistance. Whereas Angel, with Faith, converted her through the shining example of the goodness in his heart, Wesley converted his women through his very gentle, subtle but definitely seductive manner. Wes wasn't out to bed every woman that he wanted to save, but he was definitely allowing himself a considerable amount of personal enjoyment out of the process.

I don't consider Wesley's actions to be part of any sort of oblique anti-feminist agenda, since many times men have to bring other men under control. (Think of Angel and Spike, and how Spike was ultimately brought into the Angel Investigations fold.) Both men and women will instinctively resist the power plays involved, but can ultimately be persuaded to accept the need to be brought under someone else's control. Different techniques are required depending on whether men or women are involved. In other words, the person making the necessary power move will use any means necessary to achieve his or her goal.

The next scene had another one of those wonderfully frank discussions between Angel and Wesley about Wesley's feeling toward Illyria. This time Angel seemed less like management to Wesley and more like a friend. Angel was obviously relieved that Wesley was going to stay with Illyria, but couldn't help but feel qualms about the very nature of the relationship. (Wesley admitted he had the same qualms.) This was again reminiscent of Holland Manners' discussions with Lindsey about Darla. However, Angel was less judgmental toward Wesley, while still trying to retain some sort of pragmatism toward the situation.

Wesley assured Angel that he did not love Illyria, but he still needed her. I thought that was the defining moment in his entire Wesley the Watcher persona, where he bared his deep-seated instinct and need to nurture and protect women. This moment also brought together the perfect alignment of both Wesley's and Angel's desires to keep Illyria around at Wolfram & Hart. Wesley would be able to perform his Wesley the Watcher routine on her, while Angel would be able to use her counsel in his final battle against the Senior Partners. "Serve no master but your ambition", Angel repeated.

Idle Thoughts. Tongue-in-Cheek Message to the creators of "Time Bomb": do you think you could have been a little more obvious in your theme that uppity females are inherently unstable and do not deserve to be be placed in positions of power? And, they need to have their powers reduced so they can safely come under the permanent domination of male authority figures?

I don't think Angel was ever 100% set on killing Illyria. He simply could not see any alternatives. His time travels with Illyria certainly gave him the perfect opportunity to bond with her and envision her great potential for being an ally to their cause. Illyria was no longer simply the interloper who took over Fred's body.

Angel's and Wesley's quiet moments were getting few and far between in Season 5, and I appreciated "Time Bomb" for allowing us to witness Angel's validation of Wesley's feelings. Angel could have certainly acted much differently by ordering a simple cold-blooded execution of Illyria. He handled a very difficult situation with a considerable amount of tact and senstivity. Fortunately, Illyria was able to be kept alived.

I wonder if Spike knew ahead of time that the Mutari generator device would not kill Illyria? Wes and Spike certainly acted like two kids sneaking behind Angel's back when they were working together in the lab. The only thing that makes me doubt Spike's prior knowledge was his wisecrack to Illyria that "It's not murder if you say yes." I'd have to review the scene to see if Spike shows any sort of reaction when Wesley admitted that the device would not kill her.

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