Sunday, August 16, 2009

Angel's Season 2 Crisis of Faith - Part 1 - The Root of All Evil

A clue as to what attracts me to the Angel TV series is the fact that I consider Angel's "crises of faith" in Season 2 and Season 5 to be two of my favorite story arcs. It's interesting how both times he decided to go directly after Wolfram & Hart, with vastly different outcomes in each season. In a way, his Season 2 crisis acted as a warm-up to his final countdown in Season 5.

I won't go over all of the key events which led Angel to his confrontation with the Senior Partners in Season 2. Suffice it to say that Wolfram & Hart decided to make Angel's life miserable by bringing his vampire sweetheart Darla back from the dead in order to drive him crazy and eventually push him over to the Evil Dark Side. The grand plan was to have "the vampire with a soul" fight on the side of Wolfram & Hart during the Apocalypse, hopefully in fulfillment of the rather vague Shanshu prophecy.

Angel, for his part, was hoping for Wesley's interpretation of the Shanshu prophecy, where he would fight on the side of Good and, after many trials and battles, be rewarded by becoming human.

Up to this point, Angel had been working against Evil on somewhat of a street-level basis. Cordelia Chase had her visions from The Powers That Be, and Angel and the rest of the gang went out and rescued people from vampires and demons. Wolfram & Hart, the Evil demonic law firm, was busy at work representing the forces of Evil. At their worst, Wolfram & Hart directly preyed on the innocent. At their best, they sustained conditions that allowed Evil to flourish.

In both Seasons 2 and Season 5, Angel had to make a decision. At what point do you start attacking the root of all Evil? The innocents whom he was protecting on a daily basis certainly felt that he was doing a worthy job, since a lot of them would have been dead if he hadn't swooped out of the shadows and saved them. If Angel decided to directly attack Wolfram & Hart, wouldn't he in essence be stating that saving individual lives was trivial, and going after the Senior Partners was more worthy of his talents?

A key piece of dialogue occurred here:

Wesley: You may have turned your back on your mission, but we haven't......Someone has to fight the good fight.

(To himself.) Let them fight the good fight. Someone has to fight the war.
In reality, both men were correct. Like in any war, soldiers are needed to fight opposing soldiers on the battlefield, while commandos are needed to go after the enemies' headquarters and other strategic locations.

For his part, I think Wesley Wyndam-Pryce was being a bit naive for his insistence that the street-level mission was the only thing that was important. At this point in the series, Wesley was still somewhat of an idealist and, perhaps more accurately, an ideologue who had been shaped by his lifetime of Watcher training. As excellent as his training turned out to be, Wesley still needed to learn that there was a bigger world out there than what he had experienced. Wesley, who must have been raised and schooled in somewhat of a cocooned environment, seemed to have an innate need to operate within a world that gave him a clear mission statement and well-defined ground rules.

Angel could share a lot of the blame for not even attempting to adequately communicate with Wes and the others about the importance of keeping an eye on the big picture. While Angel Investigations was busy fighting vampires and demons in the back alleys, Wolfram & Hart could wreak their more hidden havoc with impunity. In the meantime, the Senior Partners had upped the ante and made the decision to go after Angel personally. No matter how much he might have wanted to, there was no way Angel could ignore Wolfram & Hart and take what they threw at him in stride.

I wrestle with the question of, how much of Angel's actions within this story arc were of a personal nature, and how much of his action were performed with the big picture in mind? Also, does acting out of personal motivations necessarily equate with being selfish? If someone is trying to destroy you, are you always acting selfishly if you try to defend yourself and go after the source?

Another key dialogue sequence occurred somewhat earlier when Wes, Cordy and Charles (whom I'll call "The Triumvirate" for the sake of convenience) confronted Angel over the fact that he allowed all of those Wolfram & Hart lawyers to be massacred by Darla and Drusilla in Holland Manners' wine cellar.

I sometimes get carried away with fictitious story lines where I don't think twice about evil humans getting blown away. However, it's crucial in this scene that The Triumvirate were still following a code of ethics that did not allow for the killing of humans, no matter how many crimes they'd committed, and no matter how far outside the law they were operating. Charles flat out told Angel that he "went too far". All three of them recognized that Angel was knowingly choosing a path that was bringing him closer to Darkness, which would inevitably bring him closer to Evil.

On a more practical level, the Triumvirate had to be concerned that if Angel was leaving dead bodies stacked up in his wake, at some point the rest of them might be charged by the police for hiding evidence, or with being accessories to murder.

I've said many times before that I don't think Darkness necessarily equates with Evil. Wesley's crisis in the latter part of Season 3 and through most of Season 4 is a perfect example of how someone can withdraw into himself and re-examine long-held beliefs about Good and Evil without actually being in danger of actually turning to Evil. Angel must have been a special case, since Angelus still resided deep within.

Since being ensouled, Angel must have had to wrestle every single day with staying within his limits, which brings me some insight as to how, in some ways, Angel seemed to have a deeper sense of humanity and forgiveness than other members of the group, particularly Wesley. In a way, I can't help but wonder if Angel was somewhat overcompensating for his demon origins by making extra efforts to try to fight unambiguously on the side of Good. Angel didn't have the luxury of acting like a reformed alcoholic who stays strictly with lemonade and orange juice. Angel had to perform violent actions on a daily basis and find the strength to keep Angelus at bay.

In Blood Money, Anne, (who ran the teen shelter) was more than a little bit perturbed with Angel for using her to go after Wolfram & Hart.

Eventually, Angel gave her all of the money and other loot that Wolfram & Hart raised (and Boone stole) from the charity fundraiser. However, it took a giant leap of faith for her to be able to trust Angel, and he just about completely destroyed her trust by failing to let her in on the fact that the "evidence" tape he gave her that supposedly showed Wolfram & Hart's duplicity in the charity scam was in fact simply a tape of Cordy and Wes goofing off.

Again, I don't have a problem with what Angel was doing, but he was definitely letting his people skills slip. Describing the plot to Anne, while risking losing her assistance, was just too much of a touchy-feely task for Angel to have to bother with at the moment. Time was of the essence, and Angel apparently didn't feel he could afford the luxury of making the effort to cultivate her trust.

As an aside, after Angel delivered the money, I thought he and Annie were friends. I was therefore shocked when Anne told the Triumvirate later on that Angel tried to help her out once, "But it turned out it was just a scam to screw this law firm."

In both instances, when Angel allowed the lawyers to be massacred, and when he "used" Anne to go after Wolfram & Hart, how much was Angel acting out of personal motivation, and how much was he acting for the greater good while keeping an eye on the big picture? Is it morally wrong to act with a dual purpose, where you're helping an individual and going after a big organization at the same time? Was I asking too much of Anne to simply put her blind trust in a man she barely knew and who seemed to have questionable motivations?

Again, and I know I'm repeating this way too much, when I first saw Angel's Season 2 crisis, (and after already seeing Season 5), I had more confidence that he was operating with the big picture in mind. After seeing the entire story arc, and particularly after he admitted to Wes, Cordy and Gunn later on that he fired them because he could feel himself falling into Darkness, I'm forced to admit that Angel was probably working more out of personal motivation than I had originally thought. I still think that Angel had the bigger picture in mind and recognized the conflicts between reacting out of personal motivations and taking actions with the big picture in mind. He knew what he was trying to accomplish. He just had no idea how to get there.

Wolfram & Hart were masters at mind games, and they knew how to exploit the code of ethics that the forces of Good followed. If Evil operates outside the law, should the Good operate outside the law in order to tame Evil? If you keep personally attacking someone who is working for Good, will the person be abandoning his mission if he stops to defend himself? Season 2 gave Angel a good dress rehearsal and allowed him to learn from his mistakes before he embarked on his Final Countdown against the Senior Partners in Season 5.

(In my next post in the series I'll be talking about how Cordy was trapped by her visions from The Powers That Be.)

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