Wednesday, July 1, 2009

There Is A Line.....

This scene from Angel's Season 4's "Habeas Corpses", where Wesley Wyndam-Pryce broke up with Lilah Morgan, was one of my favorite scenes in the entire series. Wesley was at his very best, being strong, gentle, and firm, admitting his flaws, but ultimately standing up for the side of Good. Lilah was achingly vulnerable, trying her best to stay strong, and succeeding remarkably well given the trying circumstances.

I mentioned in a previous post that

...Wesley seemed to follow the textbook example of how to best conduct yourself when you're breaking up with someone. Be gentle, be firm, and don't look back. There's no need for prolonged explanations and tearful regrets that would only needlessly give the other party reason to hope that they could get back together again. This fit in quite well with Wesley's general "cruel to be kind" actions he exhibited throughout the Angel series.
Wes certainly exhibited these same qualities during their official breakup, which must not have been easy for him.

It was telling how relieved Lilah looked when she showed up at his apartment and discovered that Wesley was still OK. She looked rather disheveled compared to her usual glamorous self, perhaps indicating that she had stayed up half the night with worry. If those actions didn't show that Lilah had strong feelings for Wes, then nothing would. It was also quite telling how Lilah had left "a couple hundred messages" for him the night before. Wesley had obviously received them, but opted not to call her back.

Breakups, almost like battles, are hardly ever staged on equal terms. One side usually has the advantage. Some of that advantage is pure luck, but a lot of the remaining advantage is achieved through strategy. Wes probably had a sleepless night himself, wrestling with the implications of what appeared to be the arriving apocalypse, how he viewed his role in the upcoming battles, the necessity of choosing a side, and whether Lilah would ever be able to fit into these plans. Wesley was simply incapable of talking to her until he had thought everything through and decided on a course of action. With all of his advanced planning, Wesley definitely had the advantage over Lilah in the breakup.

Since breaking up with Lilah was not something to look forward to, Wesley was probably guilty of procrastination. However, everything did end up working out for the best. Wesley might have called Lilah sooner, but phone calls to announce a future important discussion rarely work out without you tipping your hand in advance. If you're making the call, you either lie to put the other person off guard, or the other person drags the truth out of you before you get a chance to hang up. Breaking up over the phone is not always a good idea, so Wesley made a wise choice by not calling Lilah. He knew she would eventually come looking for him.

Lilah immediately tried to place herself in Wesley's arms when he answered the door. Wes didn't exactly treat her warmly, but he was gentle with her, evenly sincerely asking her if she was all right. While Lilah put her arms around him, Wes put his arms up momentarily, kind of like a final loving gesture, then turned away from her before finally breaking the bad news. I had also written in an earlier post how the success of a relationship often hinges on timing, and two people are seldom in the same place within a relationship. It seemed as though Wesley and Lilah were under some sort of enchantment, with Wesley being the first to wake up from the spell. Lilah would have eventually woken up on her own a little later on.

While Wesley delivered his dialogue that "It's over" and "the day of reckoning" has arrived, he was making the transition between Wesley the Lover to his natural Wesley the Watcher role. (Note: It's interesting that when I first did my post explaining my definition of "Wesley the Watcher", I included Lilah's name as one of his female "charges" as an afterthought.)

I've noticed that in all of their dialogue sequences, Stephanie Romanov talked a lot more than Alexis Denisof, but Alexis seemed to get a lot more mileage out of Wesley's fewer lines. Wesley's little bit of dialogue regarding "right and wrong", "black and white" and "good and evil" packed a powerful punch, ranking, in my mind, right up with some of David Boreanaz' great speeches that he delivered during pivotal moments of the series.

Stephanie Romanov delivered one her finest performances in this scene, where she alternated between acting tough and holding back her tears. I always admired her expressive eyes, and she used them to great advantage to show just how devastated the newly vulnerable Lilah truly was feeling during the breakup. She came to Wesley's apartment perhaps somewhat in denial that their relationship was on their last legs, and she certainly wasn't ready to hear that things were over between them. Wesley, who had planned this ahead of time, definitely had the advantage, and it was up to her to try to keep her head up the best she could during what was a very difficult time. Facing demons and vampires was nothing compared with the heartbreak of losing Wesley.

One of my favorite moments occurred when, Stephanie, as vintage Lilah, challenged him on his "clear understanding" of the differences between right and wrong. But she immediately had to turn her head in an attempt to hide the fact that tears were forming, just before she attempted to seductively offer to "wear the glasses" one more time.

Wesley the Watcher then firmly, but lovingly reproached her by telling her to "Don't embarrass yourself." Lilah pulled back, humiliated, embarrassed, trying to keep herself under control. To her credit, Lilah didn't fall weeping into his arms. However, it's just too much to ask anyone who's ever been blindsided by a breakup to conduct herself perfectly under those conditions. Lilah couldn't help striking back one more time, and chose to drag Fred through the mud. While talking about the shades of gray between Black and White, Lilah finished up by taunting Wes that his Texas Gal Pal seemed to prefer Black.

Lilah walked out the door with that below-the-belt remark, which obviously made Wesley rather angry. She diminished herself in his eyes, but Lilah did the best she could under very trying circumstances. It would seem impossible to have a breakup without someone trying to hurt the other, and I believe Wesley realized that.

Although Wesley knew exactly what Lilah was all about, Lilah never could accept Wesley for who he was. Wes was a good man going through a particularly dark moment in his life. To push the obvious, his relationship with Lilah was a strong metaphor for his flirtation with Evil, before he finally got through his own crisis of faith and came out even stronger for the side of Good. Lilah couldn't seem to understand that mixing in more black to make stronger shades of gray does not equate with getting closer to Evil. Wesley had to do some experimentation to see what worked in his life and what needed to be discarded.

Unfortunately, a quick read on the relationship is that Wesley used Lilah during his crisis of faith, and discarded her as soon as she was no longer needed. I had speculated in the past that Lilah was forced by circumstances to build up solid walls of emotional defenses early on in her life. It must have been brutal for her to start taking down the walls with Wesley, only to be abandoned by him.

Although she sometimes showed signs of heading a little bit closer to the good side, Lilah was doing her own version of experimentation with shades of gray during their relationship. In her case, she was adding a little bit of white to the mixture. Perhaps one of the tragedies of the breakup was that Wesley denied Lilah the opportunity to finish her own journey of discovery through the various shades of gray. Regardless, Lilah always firmly went back to Evil at Wolfram & Hart, and there were no indications that she would not go back to the Senior Partners this time around. Wesley and Lilah would have always been on opposite sides. Taking turns betraying each was no way to maintain a long-term relationship.

Wesley's actions later in the show, where he rescued Lilah from The Beast, certainly brought out his best qualities. He showed that, despite his recent breakup with Lilah, he still had strong feelings for her. He was firmly in Wesley the Watcher mode, but he'd always have a little bit of Wesley the Lover mixed in. Lilah, in acting surprised that Wesley was there, herself showed a little naivete, but also a certain appreciation for the power of love and and the pure motivations that can govern a person who is working for the cause of Good.

The scene in the sewer, (after they escaped from Wolfram & Hart), in many ways was even more heartbreaking than their breakup. Wesley, as the Watcher, advised Lilah to change her name and go underground. But Wesley the Lover was ready to turn his back on a seriously wounded Lilah and walk away from her for good.

Lilah desperately called for him to wait. She was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, but being abandoned by Wesley was almost too much for her to bear. That look of hostility he gave her when he turned around to face her stopped her dead in her tracks. I'm convinced that she counted on him to take care of her, or at least bring her back to the Hotel, but she knew better than to plead her case. Instead, she informed Wesley that Connor was trapped in the conference room upstairs. Wesley's demeanor immediately changed. He showed his concern for Connor, but did not change his attitude toward Lilah. Wesley, who was too good to either apologize or thank anyone, gave her that stoic "I can't bring myself to thank you, but, thank you anyways" look, and they went their separate ways.

I was horribly disappointed with Wesley's callousness toward Lilah's predicament, but it was typical Wesley all the way. He always had to be tough in making the right decision, and he was known for his "cruel to be kind" tendencies. Having anything more to do with Lilah would have needlessly been the same as stringing her along. Wes needed to get back to Angel Investigations right away to help plot the next course of action, I also didn't realize until a few episodes later that his relationship with Lilah was unknown to everyone except Angel at that point, and Lilah's appearance certainly would have put the Hyperion Hotel in a complete uproar. Wesley's loyalty would have immediately been suspect just when it was crucial for everyone involved that he work his way back into the group.

How often can I say that Alexis Denisof is a great actor? In "Habeas Corpses", he was heroic, in control, stoic, gentle, decent, firm and decisive. Wesley had wrestled between Good and Evil and was making his stand. Despite the fact that he abandoned Lilah, he did the best he could in handling a difficult situation. There was nothing "win-win" about the breakup. Wesley was the clear winner, but he did his best to minimize Lilah's losses the best he could.

Idle Thoughts. "Habeas Corpses" had a great scene between Connor and Lilah, further showing me what a terrific actor Vincent Kartheiser is. Connor certainly took after his dad Angel in his grand entrance into Lilah's office at Wolfram & Hart.

I was fascinated with how, even though Lilah was about to have Connor taken prisoner and dissected, Connor appeared to be protecting Lilah when The Beast made his own grand entrance. (Again, like father, like son.) Although in each instance you could make a case that Connor was simply in the right place at the right time, he definitely did save Lilah's life when she was about to be disemboweled by The Beast. There was something about Lilah that made good people want to take care of her. I can't help but think of Simon the Likable in Get Smart, who people couldn't help but like even though he was a bad guy. Although Lilah wasn't really in the least bit like Simon the Likable, people did seem to instinctively protect her and recognize that she was more valuable, as a known entity, alive than dead.

"Habeas Corpses", with Wesley's "inside man" at Wolfram & Hart, gave us one more maddening hint at Wesley's mostly unknown and unseen network of contacts. Wesley seemed to have an extensive secret life outside of Angel Investigations where we could only use our imaginations to guess at what was happening.

I was thrilled to finally see Season 4's "Peace Out" yesterday. I had missed this episode the first time I saw the series because TNT showed it in an atypical time slot. I mentioned above how I enjoyed David Boreanaz' inspirational speeches, and he delivered a great one when he talked about how, we, as humans, have the right to make choices with our lives. Without choices, we are nothing. This point ties in a lot of what attracts me to the Angel series, in that the show helps me expand on and strengthen my own personal philosophy. The religious denomination I belong to does not have freedom of choice as a creed, but it does have many writers who talk about how we should not allow our freedoms to be curtailed just because we might make mistakes. It's better to live under the consequences of our own mistakes than to live under the enlightened tyranny of others.

Gina Torres was fantastic as Jasmine, effortlessly going back and forth between being the serene goddess and the evil villainess. I hope to do a whole post some day on the implications of how there appears to be a need for balance between pure good and pure evil.

Unless I really missed something, was there ever any really explicit idiot-proof explanation of how Jasmine was one of the Powers That Be? It was hinted at a lot, and Jasmine talked a lot about how she was better than the other Powers, but, honest to God, the first time I saw the Jasmine arc I had no idea that she was a rogue member of the Powers That Be. (Keep in mind I missed "Peace Out" during my first viewing of the series.) There are so many weird characters floating around in the Angel universe, she could have been anybody. I read somewhere, (and the person supplying the information might have been making it up), that the unproduced Season 6 of Angel was going to reveal that the Powers That Be were really every bit as bad as Wolfram & Hart, and were only using Angel and his gang to promote their own nefarious schemes. That would certainly make a lot of sense to me, since I could never figure out why Angel and others never really questioned the motivations of the Powers before.

I've always been reluctant to watch an episode where bad things happen to Wesley. However, I learned very quickly that Alexis Denisof often brought his best acting performances to scenes where Wesley was going through some particularly trying times. Like some of the moments during the Pylean arc, Wesley showed great heroic qualities while he was facing his captors in "Peace Out", particularly when he thought he would be executed by Connor. I'm telling you, it's never easy being a Wesley fan.

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