Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Angel's Season 2 Crisis of Faith - Part 4 - Epiphany

I've mentioned more than once that this scene between Angel and Kate Lockley in Season 2's "Epiphany" is incredibly moving and could possibly be my favorite scene in the entire Angel TV series. The scene was well-acted by both Elisabeth Rohm and David Boreanaz, and turned out to be a poignant ending to their on-screen relationship. I wrote about it once before from Kate's point of view here.

Producer Joss Whedon was apparently profoundly influenced by the works of the French existentialist-leaning author Albert Camus, as shown by this piece of dialogue:

Kate: I just couldn't... My whole life has been about being a cop. If I'm not part of the force it's like nothing I do means anything.

Angel: It doesn't.

Kate: Doesn't what?

Angel: Mean anything. In the greater scheme or the big picture, nothing we do matters. There's no grand plan, no big win.

Kate: You seem kind of chipper about that.

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.

Angel: I keep saying that. But nobody's listening.
Joss Whedon himself stated (please note - there were several typos that I chose to correct without the usual markups):

"One of the few times I really got to sort of say exactly what I think about the world was in the second season of Angel, episode 16 ["Epiphany"] when he'd gone all dark, because he does that, and that he was getting better, and he basically decided -- he'd been told: 'The world is meaningless, nothing matters.' And he said: 'Well then, this is my statement: Nothing matters, so the only thing that matters is what we do.' Which is what I believe: I believe the only reality is how we treat each other. The morality comes from the absence of any grander scheme, not from the presence of any grander scheme." [Emphasis mine.]
It was while all of this was swirling through my head a few weeks ago when I decided to re-read some of the old posts written by the late, great Tanta at Calculated Risk, and I ran across this reply that she made to a reader comment. It says, in part,

You know, ...., my niece took physics last semester, so I just got my memory refreshed on what it's like to be 18 and convinced that there is nothing we can know with certainty, therefore there is nothing we can know, therefore there is nothing we can do, and what the hell are we going to do now? I explained to her that if she had only read Camus in high school like her Tanta she'd have already been through that by the time she got to college, and might have been more entertained by Schroedinger's cat."
I have to admit that Tanta's sly comment deflated my balloon somewhat, since it reduced my blog post about what I thought was a very profound moment in the Angel series to a high school book report.

What really raised my eyebrows was when I read this next paragraph of hers, since it comes pretty close to the same solution to a conundrum that I came across with this episode. Tanta, in referring to what she considered to be an inferior Washington Post article, and also commenting on the decline of newspapers in general, continued on:

Of course no narrative account in a newspaper is going to give us Objective Unambiguous Truth. So? There is still better and worse, we can still act as if words have meaning, and we can still do something about what appears, more or less, like injustice, a word that can certainly still mean something, Heisenberg or no Heisenberg. We may have to do it from a somewhat less steely-eyed sanctimonious messianic perspective than the True Believers, but I see this as actual gravy, not something to mourn the loss of."
What was my conundrum? Was Holland Manners telling Angel a series of bald-faced lies when he took him for that elevator ride in "Reprise"? Or was Holland Manners simply giving Angel a variation of the truth, since perhaps there is no such thing as an Objective Unambiguous Truth? Even if the advice Manners meted out better served the enemy camp, should everything he said have simply been discarded without a second thought? Or was there intrinsic value in his advice that transcended all boundaries between Good and Evil? Perhaps Manners' words were a necessary starting point for Angel to pause, regroup, and go forth to renew his battles against injustice?

When we think of "apocalypse", we commonly think in terms of the final Apocalypse, where the forces of Good and Evil wage their final battle for control over whatever universe we're talking about. Everything we're doing up to that point is supposedly in preparation for the final battle. Holland Manners avoided talking about why Wolfram & Hart routinely scheduled apocalypses, but he did make clear that there's no Final Apocalypse that will ultimately bring victory to the forces of Evil or the end of the world. My interpretation is that the Senior Partners ordered up battles (or little mini-apocalypses) off and on in order to consolidate their gains (or to dispose of major nuisances, like Angel), then continue on as before.

Lindsey, in Season Five, set Angel straight (as far as we know) by telling him that the Apocalypse was already happening, and had been happening for many years. Angel acknowledged that Holland Manners' had given him the "hell on earth" speech three years before, but Angel also seemed to imply that he hadn't fallen for the speech. I'm not sure if that's totally accurate, but it was true that by Season 5, it was clear that Angel wasn't simply content to sit back and take what the Senior Partners were dishing out to him. He was back to going after the source of all Evil. Although Angel had been duped by the Senior Partners into working for them, his motivations were unchanged. If there was going to be any Final Apocalypse, he planned on fighting for Good.

It's safe to say that Holland Manners was being highly misleading to Angel. Lilah even reported triumphantly in a meeting a few episodes later that Angel was ".. back with his group, sir. According to my sources he's doing better, in the sense that he's not currently spending all of his time alone on the warpath trying to kill, well... us." The implication was that Manners helped deflect Angel's attentions away from Wolfram & Hart and back to helping out the innocents.

However misleading he was, Manners was still telling a certain version of the truth. As Lindsey stated in Season 5, "What'd you think, a gong was gonna sound? Time to jump on your horses and fight the big fight? Starting pistol went off a long time ago, boys." Instead of the world being covered by blackened battlefields as the forces of Good and Evil waged continuous battle, little skirmishes were being fought here and there. Practically no one would have had the ability to connect the dots and be able to tell that there was an overall pattern to all of the little outbreaks occurring on our "hell on earth".

More importantly, Manners did Angel a huge favor by turning him away from his quest to go after the Senior Partners. I believe there were little hints sprinkled here and there that The Powers That Be helped Angel out with his "moment of clarity" and his "epiphany" after his sexual encounter with Darla. Instead of bringing him perfect happiness and turning him back into the evil Angelus, Darla brought Angel total despair. This despair helped Angel focus on how he needed to renew his dedication to the cause of Good by helping out the innocents. It would be a huge stretch to say that The Powers That Be helped the Senior Partners conjure up Holland Manners in the elevator, but it was nonetheless pivotal that Manners came along right at that precise moment. Manners talked Angel out of instigating a direct confrontation with the Senior Partners, and helped push him further down his path of total despair.

The Powers That Be, quite frankly, weren't ready for Angel to fight the Final Battle, and did what they had to do to bring Angel back into his earlier lifestyle of helping the helpless.

In my next post I'll talk about the religious implications of living your life in expectation of a final reward versus simply living for the moment, and how Angel became a better person after going through his crisis of faith.

Closing Thoughts. As far as I know, Angel was never able to go directly to the Senior Partners' dimension. Darla mentioned that the "ring" (the band of Blacknil) didn't work. Lindsey responded that "...of course it doesn't work, because after Angel stole it there was a disenchanting ceremony. It took half the meeting." Was the disenchanting ceremony completed by the time Angel met with Holland Manners? It would appear that it should have still been functional, but did the band of Blacknil really work as advertised for Angel? Or was there some other magic that prevented Angel from meeting face-to-face with the Senior Partners?

In Season 5, Lindsey told Wesley et al that the Senior Partners were on a different plane, which was why they had the Circle of the Black Thorn do their bidding on earth. Anyone reading this blog is probably used to the idea that it's never impossible to travel to a different plane in the Buffyverse, provided you chant enough magic spells and defeat the requisite number of 3-headed monsters. Is it possible that the band of Blacknil only worked for the Senior Partners?

Lorne might not have been hearing voices in "Epiphany", but he still handed out masterful advice to Angel in Caritas. Lorne and Angel made a great duo, as shown by this scene and how well they worked together in "Happy Anniversary".

Just like with "Reprise", the creators did a terrific job of fitting in all of the necessary story elements in "Epiphany". They probably could have ended the series right there if they wanted to. Thankfully, Angel continued on for three more seasons.

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