Sunday, August 23, 2009

Angel's Season 2 Crisis of Faith - Part 3 - Reprise

The ensouled Angel had been around for about 100 years before we got to know him in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel:The Series. We've been given some tantalizing clues as to how he lived his life before the mid-1990's (feeding from the blood of criminals, serving in a special capacity for the U.S. military in WWII, somehow having the means to rent rooms in the Hyperion Hotel in the 1950's, hanging out with the Rat Pack in Las Vegas, living off of rats, etc.), but we really don't know about the pathway he traveled on his own personal journey of self-discovery during those years. Angel seemed to have lived a life of ups and downs, culminating in how Whistler, the balancing demon, discovered Angel feeding off of rats in New York City in 1996.

Suffice it to say, whatever path Angel was on, he seemed to be taking a rather circuitous route.

It would be unfair to say that Angel didn't really learn a lot or grow as much as he should have in his 100 years or so of ensouled existence. For one thing, Angel showed a type of wisdom that only a century of living could produce, particularly in his deep-rooted understanding and acceptance of human frailties. It's possible that he had learned many things in his lifetime, and unlearned them as later events seemed to disprove some of the special insights he might have acquired. With this in mind, Angel's apparent naivete in his single-minded quest to go after Wolfram & Hart in Season 2 starts to make a little more sense.

Angel started Season 1 in Darkness and was rapidly reverting back to Darkness in Season 2. Although Angel had a soul and could probably technically tell the difference between Right and Wrong even in his Dark states, the fact that he put himself in a position to not allow himself to be accountable to other humans seemed to be his downfall. In Season 2, Angel felt he knew what needed to be done, and his centuries of existence, ensouled or otherwise, allowed him to understand the Big Picture much more clearly than the "kids" he was hanging out with. (Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn.) In reality, the "kids", through their idealism, were correctly seeing what needed to be done at that point in time with crystal clarity and focus. Angel himself was caught in a weird hodgepodge of wisdom, naivete, idealism and realism, all of which he was desperately trying to sort out.

Although Angel was more than capable of distinguishing the shades of gray that existed between the black and white of Good and Evil, he realized that the extremes of Good and Evil still existed on their own terms. In retrospect, his decision to try to destroy the Senior Partners of Wolfram & Hart seemed childish and foolhardy, but something must have happened to make him think it was possible. For one thing, the youthful idealism of Cordy, Wes and Gunn couldn't help but rub off on him a bit. His "realism" in looking at the overall picture of how Evil operated in this world was tempered by his idealistic approach to fighting "the war".

Also, the Shanshu Prophecy, as translated by Wesley to possibly mean that the "vampire with a soul" would become human after fighting in the Apocalypse, meant more to Angel than he could possibly ever let on. The Shanshu Prophecy showed his purpose in life, and acted as a road map to his final destiny. Life was worth living for a specific reason. His years of ensouled suffering for the misery he brought to hundreds of people, and his century of atonement for his actions, would bring him to his final reward.

"Reprise" did a wonderful job of showing how Angel obtained the information he needed in order to try to put an end to Wolfram & Hart, and perhaps the forces of Evil, once and for all. Angel knew something was up from all of the black magic rites that were being performed around Los Angeles. Lorne, who considered himself to be somewhat of a neutral, betrayed his true feelings for the forces of Good by telling Angel about the 75-year review at Wolfram & Hart and the Senior Partner performing the review. Lorne also informed Angel that there was a possibility that the Senior Partner could be killed in our dimension, and how the Senior Partners resided in a dimension called the "Home Office".

Later on, Angel received more valuable information from Denver, the delightful bookseller from "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been", before the old man was tragically killed by Darla. Denver told Angel that the Senior Partner would probably manifest himself as a Kleynach demon by wearing a ring called the "band of Blacknil". In order to get to the Home Office, Angel would need to defeat the Senior Partner and obtain the "band of Blacknil". Angel had to kill the demon by using a certain blessed glove of a worthy knight, which Denver just happened to have in his possession. (Angel, to his credit, at first thought Denver was making things up.) Unfortunately, Darla showed up, killed Denver, and took the glove for her own power play purposes.

Before being killed, Denver pointed out something that Angel probably already knew: Angel was on a suicide mission to "destroy the whole lot of them" in Hell!

If interested, I'll let you read how Angel fought Darla for the glove at the offices at Wolfram & Hart, and how Angel pushed the Senior Partner/Kleynach demon through a window, allowing both of them to fall 15 stories, resulting in the Kleynach demon's complete disintegration during the fall.

Is this sounding like a children's fairy tale adventure so far?

After Angel put the band of Blacknil on, things really got interesting. Right on cue, the deceased Holland Manners appeared in a hitherto unknown outside elevator and indicated to Angel that he was there to transport Angel to the Home Office as a reward for defeating the demon.

Angel, of course, was shocked to see Holland Manners standing there, and that is the first we knew of how the contracts of Wolfram & Hart employees continued on after their deaths.

I've mentioned before that what fascinates me about Holland Manners is that the advice he meted out can often be applied equally to the forces of both Evil and Good. I'll let this dialogue exchange between Holland Manners and Angel do the talking, as they're heading dozens of floors "Down" on the elevator:

Holland: Well, this is exciting, isn't it? Going straight to the source. So, what's the big plan, Angel? Destroy the Senior Partners, smash Wolfram and Hart once and for all?

Angel:
Something like that.

Holland:
Hm-mm, now tell me just what do you imagine that would accomplish? In the end, I mean.

Angel:
It'll be - the end.

Holland:
Well, the end of you, certainly. But I meant in the larger sense.
Holland Manners was roughly half the age of the ensouled Angel, yet he seemed infinitely wiser. Manners was certainly starting to hint that Angel was perhaps being reckless and naive in his quest to destroy Evil.

Angel: In the larger sense I really don't give a crap.

Holland:
Now I don't think that's true. Be honest. You got the tiniest bit of 'give a crap' left. Otherwise you wouldn't be going on this Kamikaze mission. Now let me see, there was something - in a sacred prophecy, some oblique reference to you. Something you're supposed to prevent. Now what was that?
Holland wasn't buying the idea that Angel had simply gone all Dark and was going after the Senior Partners in a blind rage.

Angel: The Apocalypse.

Holland:
Yes, the Apocalypse, of course. - Another one of those. Well, it's true. We do have one scheduled. And I imagine if you were to prevent it you would save a great many people. Well, you should do that then. Absolutely. I wasn't thinking. Of course all those people you save from that apocalypse would then have the next one to look forward to, but, hey, it's always something, isn't it?

Angel:
You're not gonna win.

Holland:
Well - *no*. Of course we aren't. We have no intention of doing anything so prosaic as 'winning.'

Angel:
Then why?

Holland:
Hmm? I'm sorry? Why what?

Angel:
Why fight?

Holland:
That's really the question you should be asking yourself, isn't it? See, for us, there is no fight. Which is why winning doesn't enter into it. We - go on - no matter what. Our firm has always been here. In one form or another. The Inquisition. The Khmer Rouge. We were there when the very first cave man clubbed his neighbor. See, we're in the hearts and minds of every single living being. And *that* - friend - is what's making things so difficult for you. See, the world doesn't work in spite of evil, Angel. It works with us. It works because of us.

(The elevator stops. The doors open and Angel looks out to see the plaza in front of the Wolfram and Hart Office building in LA. They're back where they started.)

Holland: Welcome to the home office.

Angel:
This isn't...

Holland:
Well, you know it is. You know *that* better than anyone. Things you've seen. Things you've, well... done. You see, if there wasn't evil in every single one of them out there (Angel watches as some people in the plaza start yelling at each other) why, they wouldn't be people. They'd all be angels.

(The glove drops from Angel's hand to land on the floor of the elevator and Angel slowly shuffles out of it.)

Holland:
Have a nice day.
If what Holland Manners was saying was true, we create our own Hell on Earth. There's no reason for the forces of Evil to order up any sort of Final Apocalypse. Evil doesn't want the world to end any more than Good does. Angel, who'd spent a lifetime in what we would consider to be a make-believe land of demons, vampires, spirits and magic, was all of a sudden forced into reality. In this world, there was no room for champions fighting the forces of Evil. Evil was necessary to keep our world in a balanced state. Angel's purpose in life was abruptly yanked out from under his feet.

Holland Manners brought despair to Angel and pushed him over to total Darkness. Realizing that there was no ultimate reward in life, Angel chose to end it all by turning to Darla and re-emerging as Angelus.

In my church Bible studies classes, many of us are of the opinion that the story of Adam and Eve is not that women are evil temptresses who brought sin, misery and sorrow into our world. The real story is how Adam and Eve chose to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and in doing so, learned about the very existence of Good and Evil. Instead of being animals who are tenderly cared for by God (notice how Holland Manners more charitably substituted "angels" for "animals"), we became human! We live a life of choosing between Right and Wrong, and Good and Evil. The only way we can learn true Goodness is to explore or fight Evil. The trick is to learn the difference between the two forces and try to keep lurching down the path of Good.

As horrible as Evil is, it acts as a valuable point of reference on our moral compasses.

In my next post, I'll talk about my thoughts on Angel's "Epiphany".

Idle Thoughts. I wonder if the lawyers of Wolfram & Hart became suspicious of Lorne when he spent so much time talking to Angel in Caritas?

Did Angel, in fact, destroy a Senior Partner, or did he just destroy the shell of the Kleynach demon? In other words, when the Kleynach demon disintegrated into dust, did the Senior Partner simply emerge unscathed in whatever "Home Office" dimension he came from?

It seemed that the protagonists in Angel repeatedly believed whatever lines Wolfram & Hart dished out to them. Why did Angel believe what Holland Manners was telling him? Wolfram & Hart lawyers often did tell the truth, but mostly when it suited their purposes. It begs the obvious fact that the Senior Partner had to emerge from somewhere, and l don't think the streets of Los Angeles was where it came from.

Wasn't that elevator Muzak about the most evil thing you ever heard?

"Reprise" was probably one of the best all-around episodes in the entire Angel series. I'm simply amazed at how many story lines were seamlessly woven into that one-hour show. It's only fault was that Angel didn't experience his "Epiphany" until the next episode.

For a truly great review of "Reprise", I highly recommend "Jenoff's" Peripheral Visions website for the author's Summary and Analysis.

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