Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Why "She" Doesn't Work For Me

Prototype for Oden Tal Women?
Ursula Andress in Dr. No. (1962)

If I had to describe Angel's Season 1 episode "She" in one (hyphenated) word, that word would by "heavy-handed". The creators seemed to have approached this episode with good intentions, but just couldn't seem to deliver the goods.

Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed watching the episode as a pleasant one-hour time killer. I particularly enjoyed the beginning, where Angel struggled through Cordelia's party and performed his famous Dorky Dance. I also loved the ending, where Wesley groveled over the spilled coffee beans. I do have plenty of criticisms though.

1. Female Genital Mutilation. This episode is an obvious commentary on African female genital mutilation, which must have been the cause celebre of the week at that time the show originally aired. By making it the main theme of "She", the producers seemed to have cheapened this disturbing subject matter by turning it into something worthy of an appearance on the Lifetime channel.

2. Faux Feminist Issues. "She" featured everything that would make a strong, independent woman's blood boil, including: women being forced into complete servitude to males; women having all sexual desires eliminated so they would not be tempted to stray from their individual male masters; males justifying their self-serving torture of women by supposedly knowing what's best for women, and also supposedly knowing that women would be happier after they were "unmade"; and uppity independent women being viewed as menaces to society who must be defeated at all costs.

Actually, the whole episode screamed, "Let's do one for the ladies". I've often wondered, do producers really think women enjoy watching shows about other women being exploited and abused? If the same logic was applied to men, a lot more movies like Deliverance would have been produced over the years.

And don't get me started on this weird fascination moviemakers seem to have with women being impregnated by demons, and the fact that the spinal columns of women from Odel Tal lit up like Christmas trees every time they become sexually aroused.

So instead of a classy discussion on gender inequality, we were instead treated to naked women falling from the ceiling, women getting all hot and bothered and not being able to control their sexual desires, and women "on ice" dressing in bulky bikinis similar to what Ursula Andress would have worn circa 1962. At times, "She" seemed more like a Roger Corman B-grade movie.

I have a sense of humor. B-grade movies have their place in society, and I like good camp as much as the next person. I just think the creators should have made an either/or decision regarding whether to make this episode serious or campy, then stuck with the idea until the end.

3. Unsympathetic Female Character. Jheira, played by Bai Ling, reminded me of Laurel Holloman's Justine, in that she was unsympathetic, unappealing, and completely lacking in humor. Bai Ling's Jheira was also a little too androgynous. The makeup, quite frankly, didn't add any touches of mystery and actually made her look like a freak. I thought her costume was cut to show a fair amount of cleavage simply because otherwise the audience might not have been able to figure out that Jheira was supposed to be a sexy siren.

4. Lack of Sexual Chemistry Between Angel and Jheira. I hate posting things without including my sources of information, but I'll have to do it one more time because I couldn't find a link I found a few months ago. I read somewhere that in Season 1, David Boreanaz was cast with different "females of the week" to see if any sexual chemistry would develop. The implication was that, if there was any sort of onscreen sizzle, the female(s) would possibly be brought back for later installments. According to this Wikipedia link, Bai Ling was quoted as saying in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer Magazine interview,

"After that episode aired, David [Greenwalt] called me. They were so pleased by it, they wanted me to come back. I'd very much like to go back to Angel, because we all had a great time, and they loved the character. I don't know what the schedule is; I guess they're still working on it, so we're gonna talk about it when it is ready. I'm looking forward to contributing something."
This sexual chemistry thing obviously didn't work out since, to my knowledge, no female was brought back in any recurring roles as a romantic interest for Angel. I'm not saying this actually happened, but I couldn't help but think that a lot of the scenes featuring David Boreanaz and Bai Ling were rewritten and re-directed because the sexual tension was totally non-existent during the original, more subtle, takes. This comparison will only work if you've actually seen these episodes, but contrast this heavy-handed scene between Angel and Bail Ling, which featured a lot of sweating and panting from the two leads, to this scene with Wesley and Lilah, where Lilah showed up at Wesley's apartment for the first time.

Wes and Lilah practically wrote the book on smoldering sensuality while simply discussing Dante's Inferno. In "She", the producers felt compelled to add a scene where Wes and Cordy caught Angel toweling off from a cold shower, just in case the audience didn't quite catch on to the fact that Angel was supposedly turned on by Jheira in their earlier scene.

5. Any episode that makes Wesley look like a complete idiot gets a black mark in my book. Most of the time, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce could pull off being a complete idiot because he had his boyish good looks and charm to fall back on. This moment from "She", where Wesley was totally lacking in self-control and was furiously hitting on these unfortunate ladies who were trying to keep their cool in their ice baths, was just flat out embarrassing!

Closing Thoughts. "She" had a fairly good dose of my favorite moral ambiguity, where Jheira felt compelled to let some humans die as collateral damage in her quest to rescue women from her home dimension. Angel and Jheira had some fairly decent dialogue regarding this topic, including this closing piece where Angel warned Jheira he'd be keeping an eye on her just in case she decided to cross over the line. It's too bad that this potentially redemptive part of the episode didn't quite work out simply because the Jheira character had too many faults to allow this scene work as intended.

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