Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Who Needs Groupthink?

Did Angel and his crew make the right decision when they took over the Los Angeles branch of Wolfram & Hart? My answer is an unequivocal, yes! The Angel Investigations team, in rapid succession, had dealt with simultaneous attacks by Wolfram & Hart and Holtz & Co. (resulting in Connor's kidnapping), Angel's own kidnapping, a rampaging powerful entity called The Beast who was threatening to destroy the world in what looked an awful lot like a final Armageddon, and a demon who hijacked Cordelia's body, gave birth to itself and threatened to take over the world while sustaining itself by eating dozens of people per day.

The Angel Investigations team, coming back to a very messy Hyperion Hotel, was physically, mentally and spiritually exhausted. I don't think they had much fight left in them, and they still had to deal with a deranged Connor who was still on the loose, as well as the aftermath of a city whose collective hormones were crashing back down to earth after being disillusioned by the formerly beautiful Jasmine deity.

The Senior Partners could have easily moved in for the kill (their prime directive to keep Angel alive notwithstanding), but they instead conspired to keep Angel and his team going. Lilah certainly showed up at the Hotel with her offer at the right time! Although the Senior Partners always seemed to be in control, they must have received a bigger blow from the whole Beast/Jasmine affair than they were letting on. The last thing they needed was a renewed, reinvigorated and battle-hardened Angel Investigations team to start messing up their plans again.

Despite all of the references in Season 5 episodes to how Angel and his team knew what they were getting into, I don't believe it. The Senior Partners, being Evil and all that, weren't going to sit down and explain to Angel Investigations all of the implications of their decision. I do think that Angel and his team weren't naive enough to think that the Senior Partners had their best interests in mind, and they realized they had to keep their wits about them. Like I wrote in a previous post, Angel's modus operandi was to take action first, then deal with the consequences later.

I also wrote in another previous post that groups need balance in order to be successful. The problem with the Angel Investigations team that migrated over to Wolfram & Hart (Angel, Wesley, Charles, Fred and Lorne), was that every one of them completely bought into the Wolfram & Hart corporate lifestyle. Each of them had too much to gain and not enough to lose. Cordelia and Spike, who were not formal members of the group, were the only ones who were totally against the idea. If they had been active members, it's debatable whether they would have fallen into the trap themselves. Regardless, as outsiders, they performed the valuable function of acting as the consciences as well as devil's advocates, so to speak, for the crew.

As a side note, Angel was a special case, since he seemed like he was ready to walk away from the deal until he worked in the part about Connor's altered past and the mind wipe. Angel's motivations seemed to be the most selfish, which was something he had to live with every single day.

Although Spike was being "played" by Lindsey, the reason he so easily fell into Lindsey's trap was because he truly believed that Angel was slowly being sucked into the forces of Evil at Wolfram & Hart. Although Angel had quite a few "why am I here" moments in early Season 5, I believe this piece of dialogue from Spike marked a turning point or an opening salvo in the eventual final battle against the Senior Partners.

After making fun of Wesley and Gunn for their corporate lifestyles, Spike continued,
"Look...I told Angel, and I'll tell you. A place like that doesn't change... not from the inside. Not from the out. You sign on there, it changes you. Puts things in your head. Spins your compass needle around till you can't cross the street without tripping the proverbial old lady and stepping on her glasses. And it's not like I wasn't there, gents, like I wasn't watching you. Had to haunt the damn place. Remember?

snip

I can't believe Angel would sign off on that. Unless...he doesn't know you're here, does he? Hedging our bets, are we, boys? [After Charles Gunn denies that, Spike continues], And the compass needle keeps spinning. And the world gets murkier and murkier."
The scene wasn't complete until, while sitting in the offices at Wolfram & Hart, Fred insisted that they hadn't sold out but were changing the system from within. Charles then correctly stated, "You know, when you say it out loud, it sounds really naive." There certainly is something to be said about changing the system from within, but many times perception is reality. If you're working your butt off to effect change, and people from the outside don't see any progress, then it might be time to step back and re-evaluate your tactics.

When Cordelia returned to Angel in "You're Welcome", she had no qualms about letting everyone know she felt that taking over the LA branch of Wolfram & Hart was a horrible idea. Since she was in a coma for several months, she certainly had no idea of the circumstances surrounding Angel's decision. However, she offered a potent reality check by forcing everyone to re-examine their thoughts on why hooking up with the enemy was the right thing to do.

I always thought Cordelia spoke quite simplistically about Good and Evil, and in "You're Welcome" she continued on in that Black and White vein. In this scene, she let it be known to Angel that she admired Doyle enormously because he refused to compromise his principles. (Unlike what Angel appeared to be doing.)

I had mentioned in a previous post that I thought Cordelia was being somewhat unfair because she wasn't fully appreciating the subtleties of what Angel and his team were trying to accomplish. However, Angel needed someone from outside of the groupthink sphere to kick him along once in a while, give him a different perspective, and inspire him into action. Angel fully admitted that he was lost and needed Cordelia's guidance. On a certain level, I believe Angel agreed with Cordelia and just needed the external feedback. When he asked her to "remind" him of who he was, Cordelia answered,
"Uh, no. That's for you to figure out, bubba. I can tell you who you were. A guy who always fought his hardest for what was right, even when he couldn't remember why. Even when he was miserable, which was, let's face it, a not small portion of the time. He did right. And that gave him something. A light, a glimmer. And that's the guy I fell in— That, um... the guy I knew. I see him around here, then maybe I'll start believing."
Angel had fallen off the tracks somewhat from what he had learned in Season 2's "Epiphany", where he discovered,
ANGEL: "Well, I guess I kinda worked it out. If there is no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. 'cause that's all there is. What we do, now, today. - I fought for so long. For redemption, for a reward, finally just to beat the other guy, but... I never got it.

KATE: And now you do?

ANGEL: Not all of it. All I wanna do is help. I wanna help because I don't think people should suffer, as they do. Because, if there is no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.

KATE: Yikes. It sounds like you had an epiphany.
Somewhat before this scene with Kate, Angel had become tragically disillusioned when he learned from Holland Manners that there was no Master Plan for a Final Battle between Good and Evil. The world doesn't work in spite of Evil, according to Manners, but because of Evil. In my personal opinion, without Evil, I believe we lose a lot of our free will to make choices.

After his Epiphany in Season 2, Angel decided to fight against Evil one small step at a time. In Season 5, Angel again suffered a crisis of faith and needed Spike, Cordelia and Illyria to set him on his way. He certainly went through an interesting evolution, where he went from trying to take the fight directly to the Senior Partners in Season 2, deciding to concentrate on doing Good one step at a time a little later on, and then went back to deciding to take the fight back to the Senior Partners again towards the end of Season 5. It will be interesting to see the path Angel took on his way to making his final decision.

Idle Thoughts: I hinted above that Angel, Wesley, Charles, Lorne and Fred suffered from groupthink. No one in the group was questioning Angel too closely about his motivations and the overall mission. Wesley Wyndam-Pryce might have shown more of an independent streak if his memories of his bad-ass days hadn't been severely altered during the Connor mind wipe. Charles Gunn, although he could do a lot of posturing as the tough guy, was deep down an upwardly mobile individual trying to distance himself as much as possible from his miserable street days. Lorne was too easy-going to rock the boat too much, and Fred Burkle was flat out too eager to please.

I wrote extensively about Charisma Carpenter's performance as Cordelia in "You're Welcome" in this post. If I ever get around to a Top Ten Favorite Episodes list, I'm sure "You're Welcome" will be on it.

I saw "Smile Time" again yesterday, and the episode just seems to get better and better with each viewing. I wrote here how TNT aired "Smile Time" and "A Hole in the Wall" as back-to-back episodes last spring, which just about broke my heart. (Interestingly enough, I hated "Smile Time" in the first viewing, but fell in love with it upon watching "A Hole in the World".) This time around they opted to show the episodes on separate days, which is a little bit easier to take. My husband had to bring some tissues to me while I watched "You're Welcome" a few days ago, so he'll probably have to bring me the whole box while I watch "A Hole in the Wall" today.

Watching "Smile Time" and "A Hole in the Wall" back-to-back is like watching a baseball double-header where your team wins the first game and loses the second.

I look forward to examining Wes and Illyria's relationship more closely in future blog posts.

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