Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Soul of the Matter

It's somewhat of a relief that Wesley didn't have much to do with Illyria in Angel's "Power Play", since it gives me a chance to delve into the mystery of what happened to Fred's soul.

I've been working on a series of posts regarding the encounters between Wesley and Illyria. In "Power Play", in a nutshell, Illyria couldn't understand why Wesley had been avoiding her ever since she morphed into Fred, Spike explained the best he could how devastating it was for Wesley to see a living vivid reminder of a lost loved one, and Illyria had a hard time reconciling her notion that she didn't require attention from humans with the fact that she was hurt by Wesley's lack of interest in her.

I was hoping that after watching all of the Fred/Wesley/Illyria scenes one more time, I'd be able to get a better handle on exactly who is inhabiting Illyria's body. Is it simply Illyria, with Fred's past memories playing through her brain? If so, is she feeling human emotions simply by the fact that she's inhabiting a human body? Or is she feeling human emotions because she is being influenced by Fred's memories?

Or is Fred's soul still inhabiting the "shell" in one form or another, and is bubbling to the surface once in a while?

The one thing holding me back is that I don't have a clear belief on what exactly constitutes a soul. I'm greatly influenced by my childhood Christian upbringing, where I learned that our souls (our spirits) are what individually define us and continue to live on after our deaths. Our bodies die, and our souls go up to heaven. The older I get, the less I know. I now think of a soul as a unique identifier that helps define our individuality. I am different from you not only because I look different, but because we have differing souls. Our souls also act as our conduits to communicate with the Life Force of the universe. I was raised Christian, and I still attend a Christian church. However, I believe all religious people worship the same Life Giver or Life Force in differing ways. The name I personally give this Life Force is God. I know God is real because I feel His presence on very rare occasions. I haven't been able to figure out a damn thing beyond what I've typed up above.

I believe our souls are noncorporeal. Is it possible to destroy Fred's soul? Is it possible for two souls to inhabit the same body? Can souls be shattered into many little pieces? If so, can the soul grab those tiny pieces and rebuild itself?

I had to look at the dialogue for clues on what Angel & Co. believed had happened to Fred's soul.

Wesley, having witnessed Illyria's takeover of Fred's body, did not mention Fred's soul per se, but was absolutely convinced that Fred was completely gone.

Angel and Spike (with Gunn being hopeful) were pretty certain that Fred's soul had simply left her body, and it was just a matter of reinserting it back into her body.

The doctor who inserted all of the legal knowledge into Gunn's brain claimed that "There's nothing left to bring back. Miss Burkle's soul was consumed by the fires of resurrection. Everything she was is gone."

As an audience, we have no way of knowing whether the doctor was telling the truth or even knew what he was talking about. In my mind, I don't think it's possible to destroy a soul. However, everyone seemed to believe the doctor, and I admit I took that statement at face value the first time I saw the episode. Regardless, from that point on, no one seemed to take an active interest in trying to re-insert her soul.

To me, this is the key dialogue in the whole Fred/Illyria arc. While Illyria was herself convinced that no one could bring Fred back, she acknowledged, "Yet there are fragments. When her brain collapsed, electrical spasms channeled into my function system... memories."

Can memories exist without a soul? I'm vaguely aware how electrical activity in a human brain continues on for some time after death. If another soul and life form takes over your body, I could assume a living host would be able to keep experiencing those memories if they were, in fact, transmitted by those electrical spasms.

I've said many times that Fred was not my favorite character, and I would just as soon that she disappeared forever. But by being honest with myself and examining things simply based on my personal beliefs, I have to logically conclude that Fred's soul still existed simply because I don't think it's possible to destroy a soul. The only question is, was it still in her "shell", or did it disappear someplace else?

If I examine my Christian beliefs further, they tell me that a soul moves on to heaven upon the moment of death. In the Whedonverse, souls end up in all sorts of weird places, but I think we're supposed to believe that's the exception rather than the rule. Fred was a pretty normal person, and if anyone's soul was predestined to pass on up to heaven, it would be Fred's.

But what about this intriguing scene, which was Wesley's dream sequence with Fred? Fred made this cryptic remark, "This is only the first layer. Don't you wanna see how deep I go?" In a previous post, I stated that the dream, "...was a manifestation of how he [Wesley] was busily sorting out the many questions (which may have possibly existed on just a subconscious level) that were swirling around inside his head." I did not take it as some sort of direct message from Fred. However, if one wants to make a case for the existence of Fred within Illyria's body, this would be the scene to point to. Let's face it: any conclusions I make base on fictional events that probably cannot occur in real life aren't any more valid than anyone else's conclusions.

In this scene, Illyria and Wesley talk about how humans are defined by their memories.

ILLYRIA: You are a summation of recollections. Each change is simply a point of experience.

WESLEY: We are more than just memories.

ILLYRIA: And yet Fred changed the moment her memory did.

WESLEY: (shocked) Fred's memories were changed?

ILLYRIA: In places.

WESLEY: Can you see what they were before?

ILLYRIA:: No. They're gone. Does this change your view of Fred? Is she still the person you thought she was?

WESLEY: No. None of us are.

Although this scene is not discussing the existence of Fred's soul, Wesley still made the correct point that we are more than just a collection of memories. Even if Illyria still had all of Fred's memories stored away, she still would not be Fred, particularly if Fred's soul was no longer in her body.

In a later scene, after memories of Connor were returned to everyone after the Orlon Window magic spell was broken, Illyria remarked, "There are 2 sets of memories--those that happened and those that are fabricated. It's hard to tell which is which." Had Illyria received Fred's prior memories? Or was she simply commenting on Wesley's situation of his newly inserted memories? This scene is crucial, because I would think that memories would return to a person's soul rather than to a body. As I explained above, I feel that the soul acts as a person's unique identifier, not the body. If memories were whooshing around trying to find a place to go, it would go to Fred's soul, since that would be the vessel with her name on it. I simply cannot be certain that Illyria did in fact receive Fred's prior memories. When the Burkles arrived to check on their daughter, Illyria would have been drawing on memories that were unaltered by the Orlon Window spell, simply because Fred's parents never came in contact with Connor.

Probably the best clues I can draw from are from interviews given regarding plot lines that were being developed if episodes for Season 6 had gone into production. Amy Acker is quoted in Stuff We Like as saying:
All I know is he [Joss] was going to have Illyria have the ability to switch back and forth to Fred, like a Superman/Clark Kent kind of thing between Fred and Illyria. She was going to be transforming into different people which I was excited about, not having to do 3 hours of make-up.
Even more intriguing is what Alexis Denisof had to say about continued plans for his relationship with Illyria. According to this Wikipedia entry, which quotes from an article entitled "Parting Gifts" from Angel magazine,

Denisof talked with Whedon about what storylines would have been in place had the television series received another season; Wesley would not have died, and he and Illyria would have featured in an arc in which the transformation of Illyria to Fred would have been extended over many episodes and taken to a "much deeper, darker place" than it briefly was in the late fifth season episode, "The Girl in Question". Denisof continues, "They would have progressed the relationship between Wesley and Illyria in such a way it would conflict with his own feelings for Fred, in a much more profound way. And then we would have gone into the switching of Fred and Illyria and having these two people that he was having these strong feelings about. That was going to be a fairly long journey in the following season, all of which got abbreviated tremendously when [the WB] decided to cancel the show."

Amy Acker's account does not mention the return of Fred's soul. Alexis' account is a bit vague as to whether Fred's soul was involved in this switching back and forth between Fred and Illyria. I've read several non-authorative comments in fan threads where people came right out and said that Wesley would have had the opportunity to re-insert Fred's soul back into Illyria's body, and chose Illyria (or Fred), and Joss Whedon decided all along that Fred was always inhabiting Illyria's body, etc.

To further muddy the waters, this Wikipedia entry states that, per an Amy Acker interview appearing in Dreamwatch/Titan Magazines,
Despite Fred's soul supposedly shattering in the process of Illyria taking over her body, Joss Whedon originally intended for Fred and Illyria to be split in two had Angel gotten a sixth season, as revealed by Amy Acker in an interview: "As I’m playing this new character now, it was just some stuff that he was going to do with her and bringing Fred back and getting to work with both characters."
I might be missing the obvious, but I still don't see any explicit reference to Fred's soul making a return.

So, in my mind, the question remains. Was Illyria 100% Illyria? Or was there a little bit of Fred inside of her? My best guess is that it was 100% Illyria, but there was always a glimmer of hope that Fred could make some sort of comeback. Although it's fun to play "what if", it does somewhat cut down on the enjoyment of a situation if you can't figure out what the character represents. For this reason alone, the entire Fred/Illyria story arc remains somewhat unsatisfying to me.

Idle Thoughts. I enjoyed "Power Play" more than the series finale, "Not Fade Away", because I enjoyed the buildup leading to the final countdown. I also enjoyed Wesley's leadership and the teamwork involved when the Angel Investigations team was trying to figure out which side Angel was on. Plus, Angel's speech at the end of "Power Play" was probably the highlight of the whole series for me!

I have a warm spot in my heart for way too obvious sophomoric jokes, and Illyria and Spike provided me with one of the finest. I loved Spike's classic double-take when Illyria informed him that she and Wesley were no "longer having intercourse".

I have a hard time figuring out night and day on Angel, and I have an equally hard time figuring out the passage of time. When Wesley was busy ignoring Illyria during "Power Play", where did she spend the night? Or was that even as issue since his cold treatment toward her perhaps only lasted for less than a day? And during the final episdoes of Season 5, did Illyria go back and forth with Wesley between Wolfram & Hart and his apartment? We never saw Wesley sleeping on the job, yet we never really saw him go home, either.

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