Monday, August 17, 2009

Angel's Season 2 Crisis of Faith - Part 2 - Idealism Versus Pragmatism

After watching this phone scene between Wes and Cordy one more time in Angel's Season 2's "Reprise", I think I'm starting to understand what was happening a little bit better. The first time I saw the scene, I interpreted it to mean that Wes and Cordy were failing to emotionally connect with each other. I wrote previously that:
.........Wesley, who was still recovering from his gunshot wound, had just broken up with Virginia. He ostensibly called Cordelia to let her know he wasn't coming into the office the next day, but it was clear he was calling because he was emotionally down and needed to hear a friendly voice. Cordelia assumed that Wesley would be spending his evening with Virginia, so she kept the conversation short and simple, albeit rather abrupt. It was telling that Wesley didn't feel comfortable telling Cordelia right then and there that he had broken up with Virginia. It was equally telling that Cordelia, who admittedly seemed a bit preoccupied, couldn't sense that something wasn't quite right with Wesley. I felt it was a clear signal that Wes and Cordy's special relationship was effectively at an end, with just a few brief (but warm) flareups rising up after that.
Later on, Wesley informed Angel in "Epiphany" that Cordelia Chase was no longer the "...carefree creature she once was" and had become a "solitary girl". He continued on:
"...It's the visions, you see. The visions that were meant to guide you. You could turn away from them. She doesn't have that luxury. She knows and experiences the pain in this city, and because of who she is, she feels compelled to do something about it. It's left her little time for anything else. You'd have known that - if you hadn't had your head firmly up your... place that isn't on top of your neck."
Now I realize that, far from simply feeling rejected by Cordelia and wallowing in his own misery after his breakup with Virginia Bryce, Wesley was thinking about how, in many ways, Cordelia had given up more than anyone else in order to continue on with the mission. While Wesley was on the phone with Cordelia, he was probably thinking that the heartbreak of his breakup with Virginia paled in comparison to Cordelia's complete lack of a social life.

It was clear, and quite touching, that Wesley seemed to identify much more closely with Cordelia than with Angel. The special "Wes and Cordy" relationship might not have been quite as overt by this part of Season 2, but the bonds were still quite strong. Wes could have made the testosterone-soaked decision to follow Angel in his quest to take on Wolfram & Hart. Instead, he stuck by his friend who was still getting the visions from the The Powers That Be, and still needed help dealing with them. I might as well add that Wesley probably still had some fond memories of that winsome Cordelia Chase he had fallen for back in Sunnydale.

Cordelia, for her part, was completely transformed by her visions. They gave her purpose and meaning in life, which she seemed to accept quite willingly despite her frequent grumblings. Cordy even seemed quite proud of her special gift, and repeatedly resisted any suggestion that perhaps she was better off without the visions.

Instead of being aimless and totally focused on the trappings of wealth, for the first time in her life Cordelia was experiencing the novelty of living a life of discipline and self-sacrifice. It must have been somewhat like the street punk who joins the Army and relishes the routine of a Spartan-like military existence. Cordelia was busy exploring a brand new world where she found actual pleasure in putting the needs of others ahead of her own selfish desires. It would have been difficult for Cordelia to lose her visions, but more importantly, she didn't want to. The last thing she wanted to do was get rid of the very thing that made her life worth living and start exploring a world of darkness and chaos with Angel.

Regardless, Wes and Cordy were still stuck in the "us against him" mentality of kids revolting against their dad. Angel was the grim pragmatist, while Wes and Cordy were still the fresh idealists. Angel could certainly understand Wes and Cordy's point of view, but he chose to abandon them rather than try to explain what he was going through. Perhaps Angel instinctively knew that Wes and Cordy simply weren't ready to start exploring the shades of gray that exist between the Black and White of Good and Evil.

Charles Gunn was an interesting case because he didn't have the same history with Angel that Wes and Cordy had. With his Season 1 introduction, the creators went through great pains to compare Gunn with Angel, by making him a creature of the night who showed strong leadership abilities as he led his gang against the vampires who were terrorizing his neighborhood. These similarities ultimately did not lead to strong emotional bonds between Gunn and Angel. At first Gunn barely tolerated the relatively inept Cordelia and Wesley, but he eventually grew to accept them, then finally established a strong friendship with the two of them.

Gunn quickly ceded alpha male territory to Angel, simply because it was overwhelmingly obvious that Angel was the alpha male. With Wes and Cordy, Gunn was outnumbered, as they made it clear that he was going to have to change to fit in with them. Although no one could accuse Gunn of not being pragmatic and realistic, all he knew was a life filled with search-and- destroy missions waged against a single type of enemy. Branching out into a world that had hundreds of different types of demons was a bit beyond his capability at that moment. Going after the Big Kahuna would have to wait until he got some experience under his belt. Gunn was probably guided not so much by youthful idealism but a pragmatic realism that he'd be better off sticking with what he knew he could handle.

For his part, Gunn could have easily abandoned Wes and Cordy after he was fired by Angel and gone back to his old neighborhood pals. Instead, I'm convinced that Gunn had bonded with Wes and Cordy, and was fascinated by the whole new world they had opened up for him. I had speculated before that Charles had some dreams of upward mobility, and had decided that life with Angel Investigations offered him a leg up from his old world.

Angel simply did not have the people skills necessary to talk to Wes, Cordy and Gunn about what he was going through. Although there was no way Cordy could have walked away from her visions, Angel could certainly try to convince her that there were other things that needed to be done besides answering the calls of The Powers That Be. He could have tried to explain to Cordy and to the others that just because he had a separate agenda, it didn't mean that he was abandoning the group. Although there was a distinct possibility that the three of them still might have disagreed with Angel or not been able to understand his line of reasoning, the all-important lines of communication could have still been left open.

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