Saturday, July 11, 2009

Perception is Reality

I'm continuing on with my series of posts exploring the relationship between Angel's Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and Illyria. Season 5's "Origin" explored the whole concept of repressed memories and the consequences we face when we're forced to tackle the truth.

In the very first scene of this episode, Wesley seemed to be warming up to his Watcher role a bit more as he was observing Illyria in the lab. Actually, it was a huge step for him to be able to drag himself away from the booze and get back to work. However, Angel let Wes know right away that he wouldn't be allowed the luxury of a slow recovery. Wesley needed to function at 100% capacity right away!

It was obvious to Angel that Wesley was obsessed with Illyria, not to mention the reasons for his obsession. (The ancient demon Illyria had taken over the body of the love of Wesley's life.) Angel reassured Wesley that other people could help him deal with Illyria, but Wes correctly pointed out that Illyria was difficult to handle. Wes had obviously built up a rapport with Illyria, and he was reluctant to turn her over to someone who, not knowing her particular idiosyncrasies, could get seriously injured. From his statements that "she's my responsibility" and "she needs someone to guide her", if was obvious that his Wesley the Watcher instincts were kicking in, giving him an approximation of a new sense of purpose in life.

As it turned out, Spike was the perfect man for the job of "testing" Illyria. Sometimes the best way to deal with those odd, handle-with-care individuals is to let someone like Spike loose on them like a bull charging around in a china shop. Humoring their little idiosyncrasies be damned! It was almost a good cop/bad cap routine, with Wesley being the "good cop" and Spike being the "bad" one. Spike was certainly in his element as he both physically and verbally sparred with Illyria, and one senses that there wasn't anything else on earth he would have rather have been doing.

Connor's bewildered "parents" showed up at Wolfram & Hart a little later on seeking information on their suddenly superman son, Connor. This obviously put Angel in a bit of a mild panic, to say the least, because he had worked out a deal with the Senior Partners to have all memories of Connor's real past erased, with a new set of memories created for Connor, his parents, and almost everyone else who ever had contact with Connor. Wesley, of course, had no idea why Angel would flat out reject a case that seemed to be right up their alley.

It's interesting how I tried to ignore the Connor mind wipe the first time I viewed Season 5 a few months ago. This time around, I'm able to face up to the significance of Angel's action and meet it more head-on.

As I've posted before, Angel was all set to turn down Wolfram & Hart's offer to take on the Los Angeles branch until he came up with the stipulation (off-screen) about the mind wipe. Unless I'm really missing something, and, please, someone tell me if I'm wrong, it seems that Angel verbalized the request to have the magic spell performed to alter everyone's memories so that Connor would think that he had a normal childhood. However, Lilah and the Senior Partners planted the suggestion into his head by showing him the news reports about Connor. Although I thought Angel made the right decision at the time, his real motivations were less than honorable. His decision was not about regrouping and trying to effect change while studying Wolfram & Hart from "inside the belly of the beast".

Was it all about sacrificing people's past realities for Angel's own selfish gains? In other words, was the issue the fact that the lives of many people were altered in order to save one single individual? In a way, Angel could pretend he was doing everyone a favor, since, up to that point, everything associated with Connor turned out to be a disaster. Could everyone actually be better off after the magic spell was cast?

I never fully subscribed to the idea that everything happens for a reason. However, I do feel that we as humans are summations of both the good and the bad that happens to us and exists inside of us. As a loved one told my family several years ago, we are always exactly where we're supposed to be in life. No one has the right to take away our pasts. In Wesley's case, he was supposed to be working through his feelings of guilt and anguish after he kidnapped Connor (in a mistaken notion he was leading him to safety) and was banished for a considerable amount of time from Angel Investigations. Tragically, Wesley seemed to be doing a good job of working through these feelings, and he was well on his way to being a more complete, integrated human being. He had a combination of experience, toughness and compassion that probably would have served him quite well.

It was interesting how Wes showed up in the training room, where Spike and Illyria were having their little bit of fun, acting somewhat like the great neutralizing force. Although Spike wasn't in any real danger of being destroyed by Illyria (she actually said she wanted to keep him as a pet later on), Wesley's appearance did seem to break the tension somewhat, kind of like what happens when a parent enters a room where two young siblings are having a rather overly-spirited pillow fight on top of one of the beds.

I also loved how Wesley exhibited deference and respect for Illyria after informing Spike "she's not a horse", in response to Spike's boast that he would "break" Illyria. It would have been easy to treat Illyria simply like she was some wild animal that needed to be tamed. Illyria, despite being violent and unpredictable, was still an extremely insightful and intelligent individual. A little bit of respect and ego stroking could go a long way with her.

Illyria then learned a little bit about democratic values, as Wesley explained to her how it was possible to disagree with an authority figure (Angel) but still show respect for the person. Although Wesley told Illyria that Angel earned his trust and his loyalty, could we sense just a tiny bit of hesitation in his voice? Wes was obviously thinking of Angel's strange behavior with Connor's parents. As with any leader, you should always feel free to question their decisions. Was Angel's strange behavior in deciding to turn down the request to help Connor's parents simply one more event that may have occurred that made Wesley question Angel's motivations?

The final straw occurred when Wesley tracked down the source of the demons that attacked Connor and his parents shortly after they met with Angel. These demons were minions of the warlock Cyvus Vail. Angel seemed quite unwilling to discuss the topic for very long, and forcefully announced he was going to visit Vail on his own, with no backup. Wesley, out of natural concern for Angel, decided to pursue his own inquiries into the matter. It didn't take him long to find out that Wolfram & Hart paid Vail a considerable sum of money on the very day Angel Investigations decided to take over their LA branch!

In a scene reminiscent of when Wesley broke into the file storage area in an unsuccessful attempt to burn Lilah's contract, Wesley and Illyria went to a similar file storage area in order to find the contract that was signed on that fateful day. From this point on throughout the rest of the episode, Wesley and Illyria seemed to be buddies, working together as a great team. I could almost say they were soul mates. Although Illyria was obviously just tagging along, Wesley seemed to enjoy her company since she offered a lot of valuable insights into the problem at hand.

Wesley finally figured out, somewhat incorrectly, that "reality had changed", but he had no idea of the implications, or the reason why the spell had been cast. We found out a little later on that he was hoping that if the spell was broken, perhaps everything would go back to the way it was. Illyria would be gone, and Fred would be back. Wes simply did not understand that the past had not been changed, simply our perceptions of the past.

Illyria correctly pointed out that, in many ways, perception is reality. As she put it, "You are a summation of recollections. Each change is simply a point of experience." Wesley tried to point out that we are more than just memories, but Illyria had the stronger argument. We become different individuals if we are unable to remember key events in our lives. We have to look no further than Alzheimer's patients to see what a cruel effect the loss of memory can have on people.

Illyria then shocked Wesley by informing him. "And yet Fred changed the moment her memory did." I'm having a hard time working through the idea that Wesley was shocked that a person's memory would change if reality had been altered, but Illyria's statement did offer confirmation that things were not as they seemed, and it sparked him into action.

While Connor, (who was brought by Cyvus Vail to defeat archenemy Sahjahn, as prophecied long ago), was unsucessfully fighting aganst Sahjahn, Wesley and Illyria showed up unexpectedly to confront Angel. The two of them certainly looked like the Dynamic Duo, fighting as one. They seemed to be an even better pair than Wesley and Faith, since Wesley and Illyria acted more like equals rather than Watcher and Slayer. Wesley threatened to break the cube that contained the spell of the Orlon Window. Angel tried to explain that the whole spell was about protecting Connor, but Wesley wasn't in the mood to listen. He was too intent on bringing back Fred, which didn't go unnoticed by Illyria. When Wesley broke the cube, all of his memories came rushing back. Fortunately, Connor became his old self, turned back into his super warrior mode, and chopped off Sahjahn's head in no small order.

Although the flood of memories had a profound effect on Wesley, Connor, probably because of his youth, just shook off the effects. The happy fake memories were still mixed in, and Connor was able to find balance between the real and the false. Connor seemed to embrace reality, despite the horrors, and left us with a sense that he'd be able to put his memories to good use.

Wesley had a harder time shaking off the effects of his new-found memories. The tables had turned a bit and Illyria seemed to be acting as Watcher and guide. When Illyria asked him if the returned memories turned him back into Wesley, Wes seemed to sidestep the issue by saying "At least I know what happened". He was still suffering the loss of Fred, and couldn't seem to see any upside to finding out he was also a kidnapper and traitor. Instead of being angry at the false memories, Wesley seemed to take comfort in the fact that he could take refuge in them in order to soften the blow, or to "endure" the truth, as he put it.

From watching "Origin" (or maybe one of the following episodes?), I was under the impression that Fred's memories had come rushing back to Illyria. If true, that gives us a pretty strong argument that Fred's soul was still somehow attached to Illyria. Seeing as how I know next to nothing about what a soul really is, that gives me a lot of food for thought if I ever find myself meditating in a desert cave for any period of time.

Idle Thoughts. From watching "Time Bomb" and "The Girl in Question" after watching "Origin", I became disappointed with how Wesley and Illyria seemed to be adapting and bonding to each other in "Origin", only to have their relationship literally blow up in front of us in "Time Bomb". I think it would have made sense to have the "blow up" first, and then the bonding. Regardless, all of the Wesley/Illyria encounters were outstanding.

Although Illyria appeared in many group scenes, there were many scenes between the two of them that reminded me of the Wesley/Lilah encounters. While catastrophes were raging all around at Wolfram & Hart, the tempo would slow down considerably as we witnessed Wesley and Illyria in their own little world.

Angel must have really been worried when he saw Wesley and Illyria working together at Cyvus Vail's house, particularly when Illyria informed Angel that Wesley didn't follow him anymore, and then smacked Angel across the room. Angel had a difficult decision to make at that point. Should he have Illyria killed, or use her rapport with Wesley to recruit her to Angel's side?

I always liked Connor in spite of the horrible things he did in Season 4, and I was happy to see him turn into a well-adjusted kid. In addition to how we were cheated out of witnessing the growth of Wesley's and Illyria's relationship, the cancellation of the series prevented us from seeing the New and Improved Connor in action.

"Origin" gave us a few more examples of Wesley looking better when he was supposedly in bad shape. Didn't Alexis Denisof look damn hot in the opening scene when Angel asked him when was the last time he slept, and when Spike mentioned later on that he reeked of 12-year-old Scotch?

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