Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Will the REAL Dan Perrin Please Stand Up?

I knew the name Dan Perrin sounded familiar to me. The real Dan Perrin is a "Republican strategist", lobbyist, and president of the HSA Coalition, who's also been posting a lot about health care issues at the site. He's no friend to liberals.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Addendum. Whedonesque recently had a thread discussing how the walls between art and advocacy seem to be breaking down in Dollhouse. It remains to be seen whether what's going on with the show regarding health care issues will turn out to be heavy-handed propaganda from the producers or a witty commentary on how different media forms try to convert the masses.

Interestingly enough, I found out yesterday President Obama announced that $5 billion in stimulus money will be awarded for medical research via grants issued by the National Institute of Health. I wonder if Rossum Corporation will receive any of those funds?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Unsinkable Wesley Wyndam-Pryce

(This is the third in a series of posts where I'm trying to examine why Wesley made the decision to kidnap Angel's son Connor during Season 3. My previous posts are here and here.)

I talked quite a bit in my last blog post, "Wesley's Grumpy Old Curmudgeon Dad", how Wesley Wyndam-Pryce's less-than-ideal relationship with his father (Roger) must have affected his character and personality. Although Mrs. Wyndam-Pryce is seldom mentioned in the series, the producers did drop a few intriguing hints about her from time to time. It's a bit hard to interpret much from the written dialogue sequences here and here, but we can tell from the indulgent warmth in Wesley's voice in his phone calls to England that he probably got along with his mother quite nicely.

I have a picture in my mind that Wesley's mom used to bake his favorite cookies, and perhaps embarrassed him by trying to make him put on his rain slickers before he went off to school. Most importantly, Mrs. Wyndam-Pryce probably recognized Wesley's positive qualities and may have been quite instrumental in nurturing his considerable talents throughout his childhood.

Also note that Wesley's mother was given the wonderful loving title of "mom" or "mum" in his conversations, while Roger Wyndam-Pryce was referred to as "father" instead of "dad". Indeed, when Wesley spotted his "father" in "Lineage", some of the first words out of his mouth were, " Mom alright?"

I am puzzled by this dialogue sequence in "Fredless", where Wesley, while ostensibly talking about Fred's parents, was talking about his own situation when he remarked, "They loved her. Supported her. Didn't grind her down into a - tiny self-conscious nub with their constant berating. Their never-ending tirade of debasement, and scorn and..."

This statement taken by itself would seem to imply that Wesley could have been commenting about both of his own parents. However, there was never any other mention in the series about any alleged cruelty from Mrs. Wyndam-Pryce. Since Wesley obviously had huge father issues, it's possible he was only referring to Roger in this statement. (The fact that his mother apparently allowed Roger to treat their son so poorly is a different story.)

How can a father grow to despise a son? This can happen at a surprisingly early age. To back up a bit, one of the genuine joys of being a parent is watching a child's independent personality take shape. There have been many times when one of our children would do something at a very young age, and my husband and I would just look at each other and go "Where did that come from?" Case in point: my husband and I are both very poor negotiators and tend to not bargain down the price of anything. We have a son who is very shrewd financially, which started when he used to pretend he was a used car dealer when he played with his Hot Wheel cars. When we went with him to help him buy his first used car, he quickly took over the negotiations from us. Without his help, we probably would have gladly paid an extra $350 for his vehicle.

Children start to exhibit their personalities practically at birth. I can't even begin to speculate on what type of baby Wesley was, but it's possible Roger could have started to sour on his son at a very early age, particularly if Wesley was a colicky baby. You can get an idealized image of what life will be like with a baby in the house, and it can turn to disappointment quite quickly. For example, one of my favorite things to do is push a baby in a stroller while taking a walk on a beautiful sunshiny day. Naturally, one of my sons would scream from the moment I put him into the stroller until the moment I took him back out. Quite literally, Wes and Roger could have started out on the wrong foot with each other at the very beginning of their relationship, and it went downhill from there.

I mentioned in my previous post that Roger might have been expecting to raise a mini-Roger, only to be disappointed to find out he was raising someone much different from himself. Presumably, Wesley may have taken his dominant personality traits from his mother. Also, presumably, Wesley might have spent a lot more time with his mother because 1) Roger's work possibly kept him away from home for long periods of time and 2) his mother was more enjoyable to be with. I think of Wesley as naturally being curious, cheery, warm, sensitive, caring, polite, protective, optimistic and enthusiastic. I know I should back that statement up with more examples, but just think of Wesley in the first two seasons of Angel, and how he acted with Fred in the latter part of Season 5. I always considered the way Wesley acted during his tragically short relationship with Fred to be the "real" Wesley, since he felt comfortable bringing out his true gentle and nurturing personality around her.

If I was forced to describe Wesley using a few short phrases, I'd say "doggedly determined" or "unsinkable". No matter how badly he was taunted, or how many times he failed at something, Wes always immediately pulled himself back together and kept on going. The way his character reacted in Season 4's "Spin the Bottle" was a perfect case in point. He was insulted repeatedly ("head boy" jokes) and no one wanted to follow his lead (to the point where Gunn had enough of Wes and got in a fight with him), but Wesley just let everything slide off from him and continued on as before.

Wesley failed as a Watcher, and he failed as a leader of Angel Investigations in Season 3. When he led the group after they unleashed Angelus into the world in Season 4, his efforts weren't pretty, but he ultimately completed the mission. Whenever Wesley failed at something, he learned and grew from his experiences, but he was still unmistakeably "Wesley" no matter what the circumstances. That must have irritated his father to no end to see his young son fail at something and cheerfully keep on going after he picked up the pieces. (Think of how how quickly Roger beat down Wesley after he proudly informed his father he was named the leader of Angel Investigations.) The desired outcome would have been for Wesley to sink into his utter failures, beg his father for forgiveness, and make vows to act more like Roger in the future.

Although he was constantly being pulled down by his father, paradoxically, Wes seemed to have had an endless pool of self-confidence and egotism to draw from, which may have been distilled in him somewhat by his mother. Wesley knew his own self-worth, even when everyone around him viewed him as a failure. No matter how many times during the course of Angel Wesley was wracked with self-doubt, he was always able to pull himself through with his reserve strength. That egotistical streak that made him so insufferable at times was a great survival mechanism that kept him going through hard times. Wes knew he had something valuable to contribute. It was just up to him to find his niche in the world where he could play his strengths to everyone else's advantage.

Despite his obvious limitations, Wesley must have had at least one champion at the Watcher's Council. Otherwise he would have kicked out of the Academy or otherwise not have been allowed to travel to Sunnydale on his assignment. Although Wes was ultimately expelled from the Watcher's Council, he must have shown something in his Academy days to warrant him being sent out on active duty. Think what an awesome responsibility it is to send out a young person into the world to save everyone from Evil! Could Wesley's own father have acted as his champion? That brings up a whole new set of questions about nepotism and Roger's motivations for sending Wesley out on his own.

At times Wesley exhibited bullying tendencies as a leader, but one must remember how he acquired that style. His father was definitely a "my way or the highway" type of leader. Also, people who are bullied as children tend to bully others when given the opportunity. Wesley was willing to be a leader, which is 90% of the battle. Anyone who has ever joined an organization or worked on a group project knows that it's like pulling teeth to get someone to step up and take charge. When Wesley stepped up when no one else would, it was up to the rest of the group to deal with him and carry on with their activities.

Wesley may have had a rough start when people refused to take his orders in Sunnydale, but it was actually a form of on-the-job training. People in the field respond differently than lower-level Academy students when someone comes along and starts barking out orders. People also respond to different leadership and motivational styles. A good leader will adjust his or her tactics accordingly. At a certain point, though, the world doesn't have the luxury of waiting for a leader to find the right combination and sequence of motivational buttons to push on each employee. When the chips are down, people have to get off their butts and start doing their jobs.

In the next post(s) I'll focus more on Wesley's leadership style in Season 3 and focus on the events that led up to Connor's kidnapping.

Starbucks Wasteland

Via Barry Ritholtz' The Big Picture, I found out that Jason at did a post in 2005 where he wondered about the "Maximum Starbucks Density". As of this moment, Ritholtz himself seems to be the winner with 215 Starbucks outlets located within 5 miles of his Manhattan office.

I plugged my home address into the Starbucks store locator widget and came up with a measly 7 shops. Incredibly, I figure I have to travel a whopping 2.5 miles to get to the closest one! Apparently my part of the metro Detroit area isn't part of the fancy coffee fashionista crowd.

Just on a lark I decided to check out a few more locators.

Walmart - Zero stores in 5 miles. 4 stores within 10 miles.

McDonald's - 4 stores within 5 miles.

CVS - 6 stores within 5 miles.

Home Depot - 3 stores within 5 miles.

Nordstrom - 1 store within 5 miles.

Value City Furniture - 1 store within 5 miles.

Family Dollar - Zero stores within 5 miles. 5 stores within 10 miles.

Office Max - 3 stores within 5 miles.

I've determined I have to drive a little ways to save money, (unless I'm remodeling my house), but I can always stop off on the way for a hamburger or a chocolate bar if I get hungry.

Monday, September 28, 2009

In the Rupert Murdoch Dollhouse

I just noticed that Senator Daniel Perrin is following a healthy mixture of Democrats and Republicans on his Twitter page. Unless I'm completely misreading Perrin and it turns out he's a right-wing Republican, it's ironic that left-leaning Joss Whedon et al are compelled to follow Fox News as well, seeing as how Dollhouse appears on the Fox Network.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Virginia Democrat Daniel Perrin?

I discovered via Aly Denisof's Twitter page that Alexis' Dollhouse character of Senator Daniel Perrin has his own Twitter page and website.

I looked at the "About" page on the website and found a Senator after my own heart.
United States Senator Daniel Perrin has made a name for himself by standing up for what he believes in – that no company is above the law, that information should be free, and that we are all personally responsible for society. Senator Perrin believes he was elected because of his dedication to the fight for truth and transparency, at a time where both are sadly lacking.
Fans are pointing out that we don't know if Perrin is a Democrat or Republican. So, is he the next Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul?

In his speech in the Dollhouse season premiere, Perrin spoke about how health care is a huge issue for him. This is pretty ironic for me, because I've had it up to here with talk about health care reform. I still decided to click on this link for a presentation he delivered to his constituents (and where I found out he represents the state of Virginia.). The presentation turned out to be a Scribd document showing various charts and graphs from what appear to be genuine sources (like the Congressional Budget Office and the President's Council of Economic Advisors) chronicling our exploding health care costs in the U.S. Two of the charts come from Families USA, which is a healthcare lobbying group founded by Ron Pollack, a former President Clinton appointee. That, coupled with the fact that the home page of their official website has a brief introductory statement from the late Senator Ted Kennedy, would naturally lead one to assume that Senator Daniel Perrin is a Democrat.

The fact that Alexis Denisof and Joss Whedon are both known Democratic supporters certainly helps bolster the case.

This whole Twitter/webpage thing for a TV character fascinates me, as it certainly has every appearance of serving the dual purpose of 1) promoting more interest in the show and 2) offering a more direct way to push a certain genuine political agenda. But hey - I'd rather be lectured to about healthcare costs than have mansion-dwelling jetsetters constantly exhorting me to reduce my carbon footprint.

Season 2 Premiere of Dollhouse

Adelle DeWitt in Ten Years?
Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love

Well, I survived my first episode of the season of Dollhouse. Since this is only the third episode I've seen of the entire series, I can't comment on the existing plotlines too much since I'm guessing that I'm misinterpreting roughly 50% of what I'm seeing. So, just a few random observations.

Alexis Denisof as Senator Daniel Perrin. The Dollhouse was put on notice that they have a new challenge to face when Senator Perrin stood on the U.S. Capitol steps and announced his crusade against Rossum Corporation. Boyd Langton duly noted that Perrin comes from a wealthy and powerful family, has a lot of important connections, and, more importantly, has ambition. I had to laugh at myself for how Perrin's pedigree automatically makes him someone to fear. The grass-roots, woefully underfunded Band of Merry Populists I belong to probably operates more as comic relief for our opponents rather than a ferocious organization that threatens to blow the lid off of their nefarious activities.

First off, doesn't Alexis look great as he travels through his 40's? I also liked his voice, which sounded like Eastern Seaboard Establishment to me. I'm grateful that Alexis didn't come across as someone like Senator Jack S. Phogbound out of Dogpatch, Kentucky.

Perrin appears to be your stereotypical well-dressed, hairsprayed politician whose every move is designed to fit into 10-second prepackaged media soundbytes. I'm hoping his hair gets mussed up later in the season, with Eliza Dushku doing the mussing.

"Sincere senator" appears to be a contradiction in terms. Right away we were clued in that he might have some sort of hypocritical agenda in mind when he cited the tragedy of his mother's Alzheimer's disease as his reason for interest in medical research. We suspect he takes on these lofty causes just to help advance his career. Boyd speculated that someone put Perrin onto his new cause. That immediately brings to mind, if someone introduces me to a cause, are my aims somehow less noble just because I didn't stumble onto the cause on my own? Also, if I perform good deeds to advance my career, (e.g., I volunteer to work for a charitable cause because I think it will help me get a promotion), are my actions less valuable than the deeds performed by someone who does charitable work for its own reward?

Do people born into wealth and privilege operate at somewhat of a handicap because they have to work twice as hard to convince people of their sincerity? Just think of how the Lady of the Manor is treated with disdain in English novels when she drops in to offer aid once a month to the less fortunate parishioners in her district. However, if she doesn't visit the poor, she's castigated for not fulfilling her obligations. A lot of times the rich are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

The older I get, the more I get the feeling that the conflicts between opposing parties are somewhat orchestrated to get people to focus their energies on less threatening agendas. I thought of this the other day when I saw a panel on CNBC reduce our entire economic meltdown into a "debate" about people making $30,000 per year buying $300,000 homes. Is Perrin taking on Rossum Corporation in some sort of smoke-and-mirrors ruse cooked up with their executives for some unseen future purpose? Or is Perrin just trying to get himself into a better position to make some financial deals with the corporation? Tellingly, DeWitt and Boyd immediately thought of Ballard when wondering about who tipped off the senator about Rossum's activities. Shrewdly, Ballard asked Boyd if he was the one who might have had a chat with Perrin recently.

Needless to say, I'll be interested in seeing how Perrin's character and motivations evolve during the season.

Olivia Williams as Adelle DeWitt. DeWitt challenges Echo as being my favorite character on Dollhouse. She actually reminds me a bit of Lotte Lenya in From Russia With Love, which doesn't sound all that flattering. However, DeWitt is sinister, highly intelligent, cool and elegant, with just a hint of muted sexuality. Although she works for an evil organization, she seems surprisingly caring about both her employees and her dolls, in a "let's protect the corporate interest" sort of way. I can't help but admire her dedication in her devotion to the cause. Olivia Williams is a good actress. She's one of these people who always make me perk up when her character of DeWitt appears on the screen, simply because I know something interesting will happen.

Tahmoh Penikett as Paul Ballard. Penikett is another strong actor on the show. One overall criticism I have of the series is that I'm acutely aware that most of the actors are saying their lines. When Penikett takes the screen, I get lost in the story. I like Ballard's single-minded determination, though I question the pureness of his motivations at times. I enjoy his scenes with DeWitt where they circle around each other, trying to ferret out the other person's next move.

Amy Acker as Whiskey/Dr. Claire Saunders. Joss Whedon announced that he wanted to give Amy Acker as much screen time as possible in the few episodes she'll be appearing in this season. I know Whiskey/Claire is suffering an existential crisis as she works her way through the implication that everything she knows and feels has been programmed into her by Topher. Acker's acting was sturdy enough, and her dialogue was thought-provoking. Unfortunately, I'm just not moved by her character.

Fran Kranz as Topher Brink. Topher is someone I like more than I should. Kranz doesn't really have a commanding presence, but somehow, the more I seem him in an episode, the more I like him and his character. Was his angstiness with Whiskey/Claire a new thing for him? Or has this been building up for a while?

Eliza Dushku as Echo. I've always described Dushku as someone who naturally dominates every scene that she's in. I think she's remarkably versatile, but I was more than happy when she turned into "Faith" at the end of "Vows". You go girl! The only complaint was her dialogue at the end of the show, when she talked about not knowing who she was. Again, the written dialogue itself was sharp, but I felt she was just delivering her lines at that point. I have a sense that the filming was rushed, where perhaps the director should have called for a 2-hour break and let Dushku drink a couple of glasses of wine to help her relax. As much as I like Penikett and Dushku as Ballard and Echo, I don't think they really bring out the best in each other.

Overall Impressions. I got more into "Vows" as the episode went on, but I simply could not get into the subplot surrounding Jamie Bamber as Martin Klar the arms dealer. I thought Bamber did a nice job, but the story seemed rushed to me, as though the producers should have focused a bit more on the overall structure and turned it into a 3-episode story arc.

I enjoyed Dollhouse more than I thought I would and I look forward to seeing it again next week, even though the whole series could use a bit more spit and polish. I actually enjoy a little bit of unevenness in an inaugural season, but by Season 2, a series should already be in its groove. A one hour show should be like a symphony, with a few distinct movements, with the final movement tying everything together. Although the movements have different tempos and melodies, there needs to be an overall cohesiveness to the piece. With Dollhouse, I feel that one more determined rewrite per week, and perhaps a little more solid direction and editing, is needed to take each episode to the next level.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Brief Hiatus

I won't be posting to this blog for an unspecified period of time since I'm busy doing research regarding a Kansas Court of Appeals/Kansas Supreme Court decision for my Wolfram & Hart Hall of Fame site. Rest assured, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce/Alexis Denisof fans, I'll be back.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wesley's Grumpy Old Curmudgeon Dad

Although all of the characters of Angel were profoundly shaped by their childhoods, Wesley's experiences seemed to leap out the most at us. In a way, he spent the entire series trying to extract himself from the psychological controls set up by his father.

According to this Wikipedia entry, (using information that originally appeared in Darryl Curtis' article "Wyndam of Change", from the October 2003 edition of Angel Magazine),

[regarding Wesley's fussy, by-the-book persona in Buffy the Vampire Slayer] .....Denisof came up with a background story for Wesley regarding his father to explain "why he was so repressed." The writers used this story in the show, alluding to it in early Angel episodes such as "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "Belonging". While discussing Wesley's character development over the course of Angel, Denisof explains: "I decided that Wesley was internally confronting his father and that released him a little bit and made him less repressed."
Later in the same Wikipedia article, Denisof talked about the appearance of Roger Wyndam-Pryce in Season 5's "Lineage", (per Abbie Bernstein's "Pryce Challenge", from the August 2004 edition of Angel Magazine),

"I had mixed feelings [at first]. It was a lot of pressure to have to define something that had been speculated about for many years. I was worried that by making it specific, it would lose its power, both in the mind of the character and in the minds of the audience. All my concerns disappeared as soon as I read it. There are responses to powerful figures in your life, like your parents, that you can't necessarily control. Wesley's a very controlled person on the exterior and presents a very collected persona to the people around him, being with his father he would no longer be able to control his responses. That's one of the things I wanted to explore with this, the subtle ways in which you respond to the conditioning of your parents. Wesley has difficulty around his father on a physical level, on an emotional scale, and on an intellectual scale. He is extremely intimidated by his father, and at the same time, still seeking the approval that we all essentially want from our parents when we're children. The shooting [of the cyborg Wesley believed to be his father] was an exhilarating moment in which there was the most dangerous person in his life on every level, and there is a woman he is obsessed with. And to have the woman jeopardized by something as dangerous as his father - I played that moment as a moment of pure instinct. Wesley is centered in his intellect and is more uncertain in his emotional life, but in that moment, he becomes pure instinct because he has to choose between the woman he loves and his father."
Long story short - Wesley was raised by a domineering father who constantly belittled his son, and Wesley spent almost the rest of his life trying to win approval from his dad. The key to Wesley's little quirks is the fact that when you spend your life living on someone else's terms, it hinders your ability to develop a sense of self in your own right. You're stuck in an unrelenting conflict between trying to nurture your own abilities while simultaneously trying to satisfy the demands of others. In Wesley's case, he turned inward, which seemed to have affected his ability to form normal attachments and healthy relationships. Through most of his growing up years, apparently Wesley was "not like the other kids". Fortunately for him, this actually became a source of strength as he developed rare skills that were much needed within the Angel Investigations group.

When writing a post a few months ago called "Family Affairs", I was shocked to discover that Wesley appeared to have had close ties with his parents. I pointed out that Wesley still called his father on his birthdays, and one of the first thing Wes did after he "killed" the cyborg version of Roger was to call his dad just to hear his voice. To me that indicates that there was at least the possibility of a little bit of affection in his feelings towards his dad, which explains Wesley's lifelong quest for approval. Whether Roger harbored any true feelings of affection for his son is debatable.

Roger Wyndam-Pryce was definitely what I considered to be an "old school" type of dad, or more specifically, an old school dad to the nth degree. By old school, I mean, a father who constantly criticizes and avoids meting out praise in order to make the child work harder to achieve higher levels of achievement. The worst fate to befall an old school dad is to raise what he perceives to be a mediocre child. In order for that type of childrearing to work, a father has to make it abundantly clear that he still offers unconditional love. Also, the father has to give out praise at least once in a while in order to keep the child's spirits up. When praise is granted on rare occasions, the child feels he or she must have done something extraordinarily well in order to warrant the praise.

My perfect example of an old school dad is Clifton Webb's portrayal of Frank Gilbreath in the 1950 movie, "Cheaper By The Dozen". Although Webb/Gilbreath barked out orders and ran his family like a buffoonish marine corps drill sergeant, there was no mistaking the love that he had for his wife and children.

In Roger's case, did he dangle just the possibility that Wesley could earn his affections? Did Roger make sure that he kept his standards high enough to always be out of Wesley's reach? Instead of pushing and encouraging Wesley to reach those standards, he evidently cruelly taunted him for his failures every step of the way. It's a bit hard not to conclude that Roger was a vicious, conniving, sociopathic son-of-a-bitch who kept at least a veneer of respectability in order to keep stringing Wesley along. If he thought Wesley was such an idiot, why did he allow Wesley to go to the Watcher's Academy? I can forgive someone for concluding that psychologically torturing Wesley was Roger's reason for living.

Except, for whatever reason, I sensed at least a faint glimmer of goodness and affection in Roger, particularly when he related the story to Fred of how Wesley tried to resurrect a bird when he was six or seven years old. Some people cannot be pleased, no matter what, and Roger Wyndam-Pryce was an uber-curmudgeon. He could be semi-tolerable to be around professionally and on social occasions, but impossible to live with as a father. Although I'm convinced he loved Wesley in his own way, it seemed beyond him to ever be able to admit that maybe Wesley was capable of doing something right once in a while.

People like Roger are power freaks. They're completely lost if they're not bossing around everyone in sight. As Buffy found out, the Watcher's Council possibly exerted too much control for their own good. Their pushy attitudes might have attracted Roger to the Watcher's Council, but it's possible Roger himself shaped this domineering aspect of the modern version of the Watcher's Council. Another way of looking at this is, as a Watcher, you must always be on the lookout for weakness, in both your charges and your enemies. Any sign of weakness, or any errors committed, can literally become a matter of life or death!

If people like Roger become fathers, they can allow their need for dominance and control to run unchecked. There was literally nothing Wesley could have done to please his father since his father would always be able to spot an imperfection. Wesley was taught from birth to believe that he was required to do everything he could to please his father. Learning to recognize and break that pattern is a part of growing up, which Wesley finally figured out in this dialogue sequence from "Lineage",

Wesley: I've done everything you ever asked, and I've done it well.

Roger: I asked for this, hmm? I wanted to be humiliated?

Wesley: No, I suppose I don't know what you really wanted. You never had any use for me as a child, and you can't bear the thought of me as an adult. Tell me, father, what is it that galls you so, that I was never as good at the job as you... or that I just might be better?

Roger of course scoffed at this, but Wesley brought out another good point. People on power trips need to feel that they are better than everyone else. They need to be smarter and more capable than anyone else in the room. Wesley's mother recognized her son's unique abilities, but Roger, ever the alpha male, obviously couldn't stomach the thought of competition. Or rather, it was plainly obvious that Wesley was never going to be a newer version of Roger. Wesley was his own separate personality, which probably pained his father to no end. Roger could not see fit to identify Wesley's strengths and continue to nurture him. Instead, he chose to constantly berate Wesley for not being the person Roger wanted him to be.

In my next post(s) I'll talk about some conjectures I have about Wesley's mother, his natural personality and outlook, the effect Wesley's overall personality might have had on his father, his ruthless streak, and the development of his leadership abilities.

Idle Thoughts. In Season One's "I've Got You Under My Skin", Ryan/the Demon taunted Wesley by saying "All those hours locked up under the stairs, and you still weren't good enough. Not good enough for Daddy, not good enough for the Council." Obviously, the implication that Wesley had been locked up for hours under the stairs is huge! Was Wesley locked up by his dad as a punishment for wrong-doing or as a sadistic thrill? Did Roger lock him in the closet as a way to make him study? Did Wesley accidentally lock himself in the closet and his dad kept him in there just to teach him a lesson? Or did Wesley lock himself in the closet and nobody missed him? Unfortunately, as serious a charge as that is, I'm forced to somewhat ignore it since I don't have enough information to draw any definite conclusions.

I chose to take Roger's personality at face value in "Lineage" even though he was a cyborg. As Wesley and Angel pointed out, whoever was behind the cyborgs (the Circle of the Black Thorn?) probably had access to old Watcher's Council files, background information, character assessments, and psychological profiles. Wesley was fooled, so I'm allowing myself to think that cyborg Roger was a more than acceptable substitute for the real thing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wesley Returns To My Blog

I've noticed that for someone who has a blog called "I Heart Wesley W-P", I've been neglecting the poor boy of late. Luckily, I'm working on a series of blog posts where I'm trying to examine what led up to his tragic decision to kidnap baby Connor in Season 3's "Sleep Tight".

I quickly realized that I cannot analyze Wesley's decision without examining his overall personality and character development throughout the series. Fortunately, actor Alexis Denisof, through various interviews, has provided us with a treasure trove of information on Wesley Wyndam-Price and how the character evolved over the five seasons of Angel. Denisof is intelligent and well-spoken, and had obviously put a lot of thought into his portrayal of Wesley. A few months ago I read a fan's review of the 2004 Vulkon Slayercon in Oakland, California, and the consensus was that Alexis had stolen the show. He impressed audience members with the completeness of his answers to their questions, which indicated to many that he not only simply collected a paycheck for acting in Angel, he was also a true fan of the show!

I have to admit that some interviews I've read of other Buffy/Angelverse actors have left me scratching my head somewhat. I don't want to accuse anyone of making ignorant statements. I just think that they were perhaps more of the "come in and just say the lines" types of actors, who perhaps never analyzed their performances within the larger context of the series. I also have a distinct impression that some of them also had a tendency to oversimplify their statements since it was obvious that a lot of territory needed to be covered in the interviews.

With Alexis, I feel like I have to really pay attention to what he said about his character. If he said something startling or something I disagree with, I feel the onus is on me to do the research to try to prove him wrong. So far, I don't think I've been able to catch him in any "gotcha" moments. Of late, I've been starting to take the lazy way out, dispense with the research, and say to myself, "If that's what Alexis said, then it must be true."

It's quite gratifying to me that I've been able to find out that Alexis Denisof the man is just as fascinating as Wesley Wyndam-Pryce the character. I've even found a few parallels in their lives. Wesley attended the exclusive Watcher's Academy as a schoolboy, and Alexis Denisof attended a prestigious Ivy League boarding school in New Hampshire starting at age 13.

As far as we know, Wesley did not attend a university, but he presumably received some outstanding continuing education through the Watchers Council. Alexis Denisof didn't attend Harvard or Yale, but he did receive some pretty decent training at the (there's that word again) prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. (He may have been awarded some sort of degree at the end of his training.) I'm sure publications edit out the occasional "ah's" and "umms" that he probably utters once in a while. But, assuming journalists aren't doing massive rewrites, Alexis' printed interviews are of extremely high quality. It would take me a week of editing to come up with a blog post that would come close to what comes trippingly off his tongue. His spoken interviews I've seen on YouTube confirm how effortlessly he can speak at consistently high levels.

In what I think is the highest tribute to his interviewing talents, Nikki Stafford, the author of Once Bitten: An Unofficial Guide to the World of Angel wrote that:
I conducted several interviews for this book....but when I spoke to Alexis Denisof, he gave me such thorough answers I didn't want to break up the interview. Wesley is one of the most complicated characters on television, and the best way to explore the character is to start at the beginning and interpret the entire series through his eyes. Denisof has done just that in this interview, so I decided to run it in its entirety to give readers a sense of one actor's interpretation of his character.
What I don't think this paragraph fully conveys is that Stafford couldn't possibly improve on Denisof's narrative. Instead, she decided to simply publish his entire interview in full rather than write this particular chapter on her own with snippets from his interview interspersed throughout. (Update: the last paragraph on this page gives another outstanding description of how Stafford decided to use his interview in its entirety.)

With the season premiere of Dollhouse coming up soon, I'm happy to say that I'm hoping to start a transition from "I Heart Wesley" to "I Heart Alexis". I don't pass along a lot of buzz-worthy news about his personal life or his upcoming episode appearances since a lot of other people can do that a lot better than me. Besides, I know in general a lot of inaccurate information gets leaked out, and my built-in bullshit detector for celebrity and entertainment industry news needs some calibration. I am curious about one thing. I've said before that I stopped watching Dollhouse after two episodes last season. Will I become hooked on the series this fall and finally run out of ideas for Angel blog posts?

Speaking of his personal life, I feel somewhat guilty about enjoying online pictures of Alexis, Alyson and Satyana. They are such an adorable family! Looking at their pictures almost acts like an antidote du jour for me a la Yves Smith's Naked Capitalism site.

I hate to think of Satyana not being able to live a "normal" life while she's growing up. I want her to be able to throw tantrums, learn how to ride her bike and skin her knees in privacy. Do photogs focus mostly on babies and tend to leave toddlers and older kids alone? I sure hope so.

There's a lot of snarky speculation in comments sections as to whether the Denisofs (and other celebrity parents) call the photographers every time they go out for a family stroll. This world is so beyond me I can't even speculate in good conscience. My best guess is that there are just as many barely employed photographers wandering the streets of LA as there are actors. Even if it is true, (and I'm not saying it is), we have to keep in mind that this is all part of the game that's been played ever since Mary Pickford's heyday. There's no guaranteed employment in Hollywood, and careers can be brutally short. Actors need to keep their names and faces out in the public so that people (fans and producers) will remember them. This would just be one necessary piece in a well-oiled publicity machine.

Epilogue. Could we please have a moratorium on fan reactions to Satyana's name? If I read one more "I don't like S-a-t-y-a-n-a because it reminds me of S-a-t-a-n", I'll scream!!!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Through the Looking Glass; or, Welcome To My Nightmare

written by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Sir John Tenniel

Virginia: ... I guess - before all this happened [when Wesley was shot by the zombie cop] I never really considered just how dangerous your work was.

Well, of course what I do is dangerous. You forgetting how we met? You were strapped to a sacrificial altar while the goddess Yeska was called forth from the nether regions to consume you.

Virginia: But I grew up with all that sort of stuff. Creepy crawlies and scary monsters I can handle. But guns? Kind of makes it all a little too real, you know?

(From Season 2's "Reprise".)

One reason I mourned the premature breakup of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and Virginia Bryce in Season 2 of Angel is because they came from such similar backgrounds. We know that there's no such thing as vampires, monsters and demons, but Wes and Virginia grew up learning the exact opposite. In a way, both of them would have been ill-equipped to survive outside of their elite world of magic. Wesley even went so far as to admit to Virginia, after he was fired by Angel, that there wasn't much he could do outside of being a "renowned specialist in...supernatural aid and rescue".

Contrast Wes and Virginia's attitudes with people who come in contact with supernatural forces for the first time against their wills. It's clear that most ordinary people within the Angelverse did not recognize the demon world. (Think of how Lorne had to disguise himself every time he went out in public.) Wes, who had a firm grasp on how he lived within an exclusive secret society, was the one who seemed to defend these people when their denial systems went into overdrive. In Season 1's "The Prodigal", in referring to police detective Kate Lockley, he told Angel,

"Well, she'll come around. I think you'll find most people require some period of adjustment after being confronted with the dark forces which surround us."
In Season 2's "Reprise", Wesley asked for understanding for a client who refused to pay her bill when Wes, Charles and Cordy removed the third eye growing out of her daughter's head.

"No, let her go. Clearly it's easier for the Sharps to cast us as con artists rather than to accept the grim reality that Skilosh spawn nearly hatched full grown out of their child's skull."

I wonder, once you step through the looking glass and start to notice these supernatural forces, is there a way to step back out? Can you go back to your normal world of "reality", or will you continue to be haunted by ghosts and demons for the rest of your life? Throughout the Angel series, Angel and his crew rescued countless numbers of almost faceless victims in very brief scenes.

Did these people become true believers in the supernatural after these attacks? Or did their denial instincts kick in, where they attributed everything they saw to poor lighting and/or too much alcohol? Although we can be blinded our entire lives with an overactive sense of denial, it can also act as a self-defense mechanism that allows us to keep our sanity.

Kate Lockley. Kate's fellow police officers came across demons on a regular basis, but always seemed to chalk up strange happenings as unexplainable events. Angel even recognized that tendency, as he explained to Kate, "Kate, you’ve seen this kind of thing before, probably a lot. You just didn’t have a name for it, that’s all."

In fact, there seemed to be an unwritten code that the officers shouldn't investigate these occurrences too strenuously. There could have been many reasons for this, but it would all have eventually boiled down to one fundamental element. The officers all could have been telling Kate: "Just trust us. You don't want to know." It certainly didn't help that the upper echelons of the police force had ties to Wolfram & Hart!

Kate's downfall perhaps wasn't so much the fact that she recognized the supernatural, but as a true professional, she further investigated what was happening in order to find out the truth. Kate not only dealt with these dark forces when they crossed her desk, she went looking for them. In other words, the officers peered into the looking glass, then walked away. Kate stepped all the way through.

Angel forced the world of the supernatural onto Kate. (Although I don't blame Angel for this, since, in his best judgment, he did what needed to be done.) I believe that any other person could have made the choice at that time to break ties with Angel and continue on as before. Kate did not have that luxury. She was intelligent, analytical and flat out too good at her job for her own good. She had learned as a detective to find clues and examine all of the evidence, and see which direction her conclusions led her.

Kate was eventually able to find peace, but only after falling all the way to the bottom during her suicide attempt. We have no idea how much of the supernatural world she mingled with after leaving the force in Season 2, although I vaguely know her character appears in the Angel continuation series After the Fall.

Random Observation. I also wonder if, after you step through the looking glass, is it somewhat like undergoing a religious conversion? Do you become indoctrinated into a new way of thinking, and start observing things that you simply did not notice before? Where, vampires and demons start appearing in what used to just be empty dark alleyways? Carrying the religious analogy a bit further, I'm not a Catholic. As such, I guarantee you I will never have a vision of the Virgin Mary or start bleeding from stigmata wounds. If I decide to convert to Catholicism later on, all bets will be off, and I'll likely start noticing images of the Virgin Mary on my grilled cheese sandwiches.

It's possible that I'm being bombarded on a daily basis by holy signs, visions and symbols from Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Bahaism. I might not notice a thing, simply because of my lack of knowledge of those cultures and religions.

Winifred "Fred" Burkle was another major Angel character who underwent a forced conversion. With her, I could make a case that she willingly stepped a little too closely to the looking glass and didn't like what she found.

We have no real clues on her religious upbringing, except for the fact that she grew up in a normal family in Texas. Since that state is firmly within the Bible Belt, Fred might have gone to church with her parents when she was growing up and attended Sunday School as a child. In Season 4's "Spin the Bottle", we found out that as a teen she was fascinated by the idea of government conspiracies and space aliens.

After Fred moved to California to study physics as a grad student, presumably she was working on some ideas about space-time continuums before she got sucked into the portal into Pylea. I believe Fred was already interested in the theoretical possibilities of time travel and portal hopping when she unfortunately found out the hard way that the theories were only too real. Although Fred didn't like what she found, (be careful what you wish for), what might have helped sustained her for those five years was the knowledge that some of her suspicions had come true.

When she first came back to our world, Fred had had enough of make-believe land and desperately wanted to return to a "safe" reality. Of course, if you're hanging out with Angel Investigations, that's an impossibility.

After a bit of prodding, in Season 3's "Fredless", Fred was more than willing to return back with her parents to resume a normal life in Texas. Tellingly, her parents didn't seem all that nonplussed when they were attacked by the giant bugs. Indeed, they seemed rather pleased by the whole event, which indicates that Fred had inherited some of their enthusiasm for an alternate reality.

Fred had her own "epiphany" when she realized that the crystals from the giants bugs were actually eggs, and she made her parents drive her back to the Hyperion Hotel to help save the day. After Angel congratulated her on her good work, Fred said, "Aw, it was nothing. Just a stunning revelation of my true path in life, that's all."

More tellingly, she went on:
"Look - I could go home with you and pretend the last five years didn't happen. - I could even pretend to have a normal life. - But the truth of it is... Well, I'm not normal anymore. I guess what I'm getting at is... - I-I missed you both so bad [talking to her parents]. But - I belong here. (Turns to the gang) Un-unless I don't. Which if- if you all don't wanna put up with me, I completely understand..."
Fred had probably sensed all of her life that "we are not alone". Since her suspicions were undeniably confirmed, she took the intelligent view that she could never go back to living the life of a sheltered young girl. In other words, she had grown up. My only question is, if Fred had gone back to Texas, would she have continued to run into supernatural activity, since her awareness level had been raised considerably? Her own parents certainly seemed to equate Texas with "safety", while equating Los Angeles with "danger".

Connor. I didn't intend on writing about Connor when I started this post, but I just happened to catch part of Season 5's "Origin" where he was re-introduced back into the series as a well-adjusted normal youth. It's obvious that Connor's "parents" had never knowingly bumped into the supernatural world until they witnessed their "son" being pinned to the side of the garage by a speeding van - and he only suffered a few superficial injuries!

Connor was being set up by demon conjurer Cyvus Vail to kill his mortal enemy, Sahjhan, in fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. Vail was the same conjurer who had performed the mindwipe for Wolfram & Hart to erase everyone's memories of Connor's real life, and gave Connor the illusion of having been raised in a normal family environment.

Connor took the news that he was some sort of superhero in stride, but clearly wanted to protect his family from further grief. It appears that it was for that reason only that he agreed to go into battle against Sahjhan.

Later on, in dramatic fashion, Wesley broke the cube of the Orlon Window, which released all of Wes and Connor's repressed memories. Connor, returning to his more feral personality, cut off Sahjhan's head, and immediately proclaimed that he wasn't cut out for fighting. Connor had every reason in the world to go back to his previous ways and devote his life to defeating the supernatural forces of Evil. Instead, he appeared to be one of the few people in Angel who stepped into the looking glass and was able to step back out, as this dialogue sequence shows:

Angel: We still haven't found Vail, but we will.

I'm not too worried about him. Nothing he can show me I haven't already seen. Anyway... I just wanted to say good-bye. I gotta go back to my life now.

Angel: you really have to leave? I mean, right now?

I kinda think I should. I need to take care of my parents. This isn't their world. They really don't feel safe here. (looks meaningfully at Angel) You gotta do what you can to protect your family. I learned that from my father.

Unlike the Burkles, Connor's family obviously didn't embrace the existence of the supernatural world (although they didn't deny it). Also, unlike Fred, Connor didn't feel the calling to join Angel and his crew. Instead he preferred to help shepherd his parents back into something resembling the "real" world. Connor did help out Angel in his fight against Marcus Hamilton in the series' finale, but one has a feeling that Connor would forever be able to step into the looking glass at his convenience, and jump right back out again.

Idle Thoughts. I've always been fascinated by that scene in Season 3's "Couplet" where Groo slayed the demon in broad daylight in full view of a few dozen people in a public park. Although a woman was obviously being viciously attacked, the onlookers acted the entire time as though they were watching a staged spectacle, similar to when "warriors" break out into "spontaneous" combat in the middle of a renaissance festival. They even broke into applause at the conclusion of the event! I wonder how both the victim and the onlookers were able to explain away the events in their own minds after their experiences? I have a feeling that a lot of people told friends and family "I saw the craziest thing today", then promptly forgot about it.

Notice what happened to the Sharps in Season 2's "Reprise" and "Epiphany" when they tried to jump back out from the looking glass after Wes, Cordy and Gunn eliminated the third demonic eye growing out from the back of the daughter's head.

(Minor revisions 10/24/09).

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Dollhouse Set

This link to "Ohnotheydidn't" shows some serious bad-assery on the set of Dollhouse. Alexis Denisof and Eliza Dushku look magnificent!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ages and Stages

I'm kind of surprised that I haven't paid closer attention to the ages of people on Angel. I'm always fascinated by the differences between a person's chronological age and his or her apparent level of maturity. A further wrinkle with TV shows and films is how most actors do not share the same ages as their characters, which can throw my perceptions off a bit. Here are some thoughts that I have about a lot of the human regulars on Angel, along with their presumed ages. (Since birthdays fall in different times of the year, I'm not going to be too obsessed with wondering if I'm off by a year.)

Any corrections or additional insight from readers will be much appreciated.

One final note: I appreciate how the producers made sure that the years in the TV series usually roughly matched the same years as the air date. For example, if you see a piece of paper in Angel and it gave the year as being 2002, that was probably the same year that the episode originally aired.

Cordelia Chase (1999-2004). Ages 19 - 24. Actress Charisma Carpenter (born July 23, 1970). My ages for Cordelia are based on several fan sites claiming she was born in 1980, and on the fact that her character turned age 21 in the 2001-2002 season. Just as an aside, I remember in Season 1 she hinted that her birthday was in May when she was giving Angel the password to the security alarm. However, her 21st "Birthday" episode originally aired on January 14, 2002, leaving me to wonder. When did she turn 21 - in 2001 or 2002?

I've blogged before how surprised I was when Cordelia turned 21 in Season 3 since actress Charisma Carpenter looked considerably older. With Cordelia, I probably had the hardest time reconciling the age to the character. I had only started watching Angel towards the end of the second season, and I wasn't aware of the timeline of Cordelia being a high school cheerleader in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Although she was ditzy, I thought Cordelia's character was really quite mature at times.

Although I love Cordelia as a character, and I love Charisma Carpenter as an actress, it looked like Carpenter had a bit of a challenge portraying someone 10 years younger than herself. Although I thought she pulled off that feat quite well in Season 1, I never lost sight of the fact that it was an older actress trying to act like a teen.

Which brings me to a pet peeve of mine. If a producer is casting someone to be 20 years old, why not cast someone who's close to being 20? If they need a more mature actor with better acting skills, why not rewrite the part so the character is closer to the actor's real age? It's not the end of the world if a TV series is populated by the 30+ crowds rather than 20-year-olds.

Although Cordelia was a flighty, self-centered bitch, her character was also capable of a great deal of emotional maturity. She certainly seemed a lot older than Connor when they had sex in Season 4. In general, I'll say that Cordelia Chase was closer in maturity level to actress Charisma Carpenter.

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. (1999-2004). My best guess based on dubious evidence- ages 23 - 28. Actor Alexis Denisof (born February 25, 1966). In my short forays around the web, I was surprised that I wasn't able to find one reference to Wesley's age anywhere. (I could swear that, somewhere or another, I heard or read that Wesley was 22 years old when he arrived in Sunnydale.) The only clue is that when he arrived in Sunnydale in 1999, he appeared to be a recent, inexperienced graduate of the ill-defined Watcher's Academy. Since he was "head boy" at age 17 per this dialogue clip from Season 4's "Spin the Bottle", one would assume that at least part of his training was pre-university.

I have no idea if, when he was 17 years old, he was in his first year of training, his final year of training or his only year of training at the Academy. My best guess is that he had Watcher schooling in his pre-university years, and attended some sort of Watcher Council finishing school afterwords, where he received more practical training in the use of firearms, hand-to-hand combat, etc. I doubt that Wesley actually attended a real university, since it was never mentioned in the series, though it's possible he attended a university and received his Watcher Council training concurrently.

Wesley was unquestionably brilliant, and seemed to have had a great classical education to match. He had the demeanor of a university graduate, but he may have been self-taught in many areas since he was a hopeless bookworm. The Watcher training might have possibly equalled something close to a university education as well. Regardless, I doubt if the Watcher's Council would send out an 18-year old into the world on his own, so I'm guessing Wesley was sent to Sunnydale after he reached the age of 21. I'm also making a wild assumption that he reached Sunnydale at age 22, and hit Los Angeles at the age of 23.

Another clue that could leave me to believe he was in his 20's was in "Guise Will Be Guise", when it was revealed to one and all that Wesley and Virginia had slept with each other. (Virginia had told Wesley she was 24 years old). Wesley stammered in his defense, "Things happen. Two young people, danger ... ", which to me implies that they must have been close together in age. I know that when I was in my 30's, I never called myself a "young person", but that could just be me.

I made a comment in a previous post that I found the idea of Wesley being in his early 20's even more unbelievable than the thought of Cordelia being in her early 20's. However, for whatever reason, the shock of that idea has worn off somewhat, (though I still find it pretty unbelievable). Wesley always looked like Alexis' age. As far as maturity, as the series went on, Wesley certainly acted like he was much older than his mid-twenties. Although he could be incredibly naive, I figure his lack of maturity in some areas could be explained by the fact that he started off his life in an extremely sheltered, upper-class environment. He could have arrived at Sunnydale at age 30 and still have been quite believable.

Of all of the major Angel characters, I think Wesley's age is the biggest enigma for me. (He could have been an avator for all I know.) In my mind, he was always roughly somewhere in his early 30's.

Lilah Morgan (2000 -2003). Ages 28 -32. Actress Stephanie Romanov (born January 24, 1969). I was startled to find out that Stephanie Romanov was the actress who was the closest to her character's (somewhat) verifiable age. Our clue is that in one of the episodes, Lindsey McDonald pulled up her personnel file on the computer screen and we found out she graduated with highest honors from the fictitious Mortenson School of Law in 1994, presumably at the age of 24. I mean no offense whatsoever, but I thought Stephanie Romanov looked older than both her actual and her character's age in Angel, particularly in Season 4. When I first saw her in Season 3, I thought she was a well-established professional, rather than someone who had just nicely graduated from the new, rising-star junior associate role.

I had guessed that Lilah was supposed to be slightly older than Wesley, based on some half-assed guesses on their ages that I made earlier. In reality, I thought the two characters were perfectly matched in both age and maturity. Lilah might have seemed like she had the upper hand early on, possibly due to her (supposed) older age. She was the one who was on the hunt, and Evil people always initially seem more cunning than Good people. However, it was easy to tell almost right away that Wesley was simply watching (and perhaps appreciating) how she operated before he made his moves.

Charles Gunn (2000-2004). Ages 22 - 26. Actor J. August Richards (born August 28, 1973). This one was easy to figure out, since we found out Gunn was 24 years old in the Season 3 episode "Double or Nothing", which aired in 2002. (He had cut a deal with a demonic loan shark seven years earlier when he was 17 years old in order to buy his pickup truck.)

Again, I was surprised at Charles' young age when it was revealed in "Double or Nothing" since I figured he was a bit older. When I see Richards in some scenes, I have a distinct feeling that he was trying to portray someone younger than himself. The writers even made a big deal out of his recklessness, which is a stereotypically youthful trait. For the most part, I just sit back and enjoy his acting. I'm not totally convinced that Gunn's a younger person, but I'm not distracted by the idea either.

Winifred "Fred" Burkle (2001-2004). Ages 27 - 30. Actress Amy Acker (born December 5, 1976). Fred was the only major human character on Angel that I'm aware of who was portrayed by a younger performer. We know that in 1996, she was a physics grad student at UCLA who got sucked into Pylea, where she stayed until she was rescued in 2001. Presumably she was about 22 years old when she disappeared, but she could have been older, since we don't know how long she had been a grad student when she disappeared.

It really is startling to see how old Fred was in relation to the other characters, particularly since she was so naive and girlish. She looked quite young too. I realize that she may have suffered from a considerable case of stunted development (or perhaps even regression) after disappearing into a near-hell dimension for five years, but her age still doesn't quite ring true with just that explanation alone. We also know that she was a much-loved but pampered only child, which may have done a lot to help her keep her innocent charm. Similar to Wesley, Fred spent a lot of her time in an insulated academic environment, which would also have prevented her from getting jaded by the real world.

I think the creators introduced the idea that she was a pot fiend at the age of 17 in "Spin the Bottle" as a device to shock the audience and to try to take some of the impossibly bright goodness away from her. It didn't quite work for me, though, and it really didn't change any of my attitudes about her.

Cordelia was much younger than Fred, but seemed much more mature, simply because she was more worldly than Fred. Wes seemed much older than Fred, almost like a father figure at times, and his maturity level in relation to Fred's gives me my best argument that he must have been much older than my best educated (but non-convincing) guesses. Wesley couldn't have possibly been younger than Fred! She seemed younger than Charles, but their ages didn't seem that far apart either. I thought Charles had the higher maturity level, but that could be explained by the fact that his poverty-stricken background forced him to grow up a lot quicker than Fred.

Connor (2002-2004) Ages 18-20. Actor Vincent Kartheiser (born May 5, 1979). At some point, while everyone was still at the Hyperion Hotel, it was revealed that Connor was 18 years old. I believe the producers dropped that little tidbit in so that we knew he was of legal age when he slept with Cordelia. I choose to believe he was 18 when he first came back from Quor-Toth, but he could have been 17. Although Kartheiser was a little older than his character, he brilliantly portrayed a troubled teenager. To be honest, when Connor first showed up at the Hyperion Hotel, I thought he was closer to 15 or 16 years old, but, like with Fred, that could be explained away because he was raised in a hell dimension. As the show went on, I thought he acted more like his character's chronological age. Kartheiser wins the award for looking and acting the most like his character's real age.

Lindsey McDonald (1999-2001; 2004) Roughly Lilah's age, 28 - 33? Actor Christian Kane (born June 27, 1974). I feel like I should know Lindsey's approximate age, but I don't. I don't even know where to look outside of Googling "How old is Lindsey McDonald?". Christian Kane is and looks younger than Stephanie Romanov. I could make a case that Lindsey's character is a few years younger than Lilah, even though they were of roughly equal rank at Wolfram & Hart. I was always under the impression that Lindsey was on the fast track at Wolfram & Hart while Lilah had to work her way up. Unfortunately, my best guess is that he had been out of law school at least a few years by the time we saw him in Season 1.

Holland Manners (2000 - 2001) Ages 48-49. Actor Sam Anderson (born May 13, 1945). When Wolfram & Hart hosted the fundraiser for Anne's teen shelter in Season 2's "Blood Money", they flashed Holland Manners' name, image, and "1951 - 2000" across the big screen during a short tribute to him. Sam Anderson was fairly close to Holland Manners' age. My only quibble is that I'm close to Holland Manners' age when he died, and I don't look nearly as old as he did. (Or so I like to tell myself.) I just hope an entire generation of the world's youth don't think that people in their late 40's are as gray and wrinkled as Holland Manners.

Kate Lockley (1999 - 2001) Ages 26-28? Actress Elisabeth Rohm (born April 28, 1973). Similar with Lindsey, I feel like there must be some clue as to how old Kate was in the series, like, a reference to how many years she'd been on the force. The most information I could find was in Kate's Wikipedia link above where Elisabeth Rohm referred to Kate as being "an incredibly powerful young woman". "Young" women are usually in their 20's. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that her character's age is roughly the same age as Rohm's age. Kate seemed more mature (like she was at least in her younger 30's) because she was quite an experienced detective. However, that might have been because she got a lot of training when she was younger from her dad. There were many times I looked at Kate and remarked to myself "She looks really young." Kate and Lilah are co-winners of the award for actors who are probably closest to their characters' ages.

(Photo above via Shorpy.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Maintaining the Balance

This is probably the closest thing to fanfic you'll ever see from me.

When I started watching Angel, the thought suddenly occurred to me that the series could use some sort of neutralizing force, someone who was supposed to try to keep the world in balance between the forces of Good and Evil.

Coincidentally, this neutralizing force would be an ordinary woman from the Midwest named Miriam who suspiciously looks a lot like me. Miriam would be mystically drawn to the Hyperion Hotel, and she would be blessed with some sort of protection so that she could carry out her mission without fear of injury, and she and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce would fall madly in love with each other, and Wesley wouldn't mind a slightly older woman, etc.

Wolfram & Hart would constantly be complaining that the neutralizing force (Miriam) was spending too much time helping Angel Investigations. Miriam would explain that instead of being a true neutral party, she was supposed to work for one side exclusively if that's what it took to keep the two sides in balance.

In Season 5, when Lindsey explained that the Apocalypse had already arrived, he could say (after he accused Angel of being too stupid to figure things out on his own), "You know, Miriam's the only one who understands what's happening. The Senior Partners are winning, so the Great Neutralizer decided to throw in her lot with the Good Guys." Later, Miriam would admit to Angel that she had no idea an Apocalypse was raging, but she decided to side with Angel Investigations because she instinctively knew they needed her help.

One dilemma I have with my alter-ego Miriam is that I'm trying to figure out a good backstory to explain her martial arts expertise. She could be an ex-cop, but that's just too convenient. Miriam as a housewife who's devoted to her Tae-Bo classes would be way too silly. I'm still working on this part of my fantasy, but I'm leaning more toward the law enforcement angle. Miriam could earn her walking-around money by taking on occasional bodyguard jobs from women who are being haunted by demons.

While I was thinking about my story, I had this nagging idea in the back of my mind that this balancing entity territory had already been covered. (I'll remind readers again that I've never seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) After a few keyword searches on Google, I was pleased to find that there really was a balancing entity. He was a demon named Whistler who appeared in the last two episodes of BtVS' Season 2.

In 1996, Whistler came across the down-on-his-luck vampire-with-a-soul Angel in Manhattan. He brought Angel to California to observe Buffy, whereby Angel immediately agreed to help her out with her slayer duties. Later on, Buffy correctly guessed that Whistler was "just some immortal demon sent down to even the score between good and evil".

Several sources say that if actor Max Perlich had been available, he would have repeated his Whistler role in the early episodes of Angel in place of Glenn Quinn's Doyle. Although implied in BtVS, it would have finally come out in the open in Angel that Whistler was in fact working for The Powers That Be.

That shocked me. I always equated The Powers That Be with Good, since they were the direct counterparts of the Evil Senior Partners of Wolfram & Hart. As one of The Powers, Jasmine represented how unchecked Good could be just as destructive as Evil. I then had to re-examine my beliefs and found out rather quickly that The Powers That Be were perhaps more about creating order out of chaos, with goodness and a sense of decency being desirable side effects. This, more than anything, probably explained why The Powers That Be didn't spend as much time as Wolfram & Hart in directly muddling with human affairs. As I mentioned in my last post, Skip the Demon made it clear that every human already had a direct line to The Powers That Be.

My discovery also cleared up a mystery I had about Lorne. I could not figure out why Lorne, whom I considered to be a true neutral, so eagerly threw in his lot with Angel Investigations. If I'm correct, Lorne was not so much about neutrality but about balance in our world. In Season 2's "Belonging", Lorne explained to Angel,

"Talk about screwed up values. A world [his home dimension of Pylea] of only good and evil, black and white, no gray. No music, no art. Just champions roaming the countryside, fighting for justice. Bor-ing. You got a problem? Solve it with a sword. No one ever admits to having actual feelings and emotions, let alone talks about them. Can you imagine living in a place like that?"
Remarkably, this world that disgusted Lorne and seemed to please Angel so much was in fact run by the priests of Wolfram & Hart.

This Wikipedia entry comes right out and says that Lorne (along with Wes, Cordy and Doyle) "appeared much more concerned" with doing the will of the Powers than other members of the group.

The Wikipedia entry also makes a pretty good case that there's a strong implication that Lorne was himself somewhat of a conduit to the Powers That Be through his karaoke-reading talents. Although I don't think Lorne ever came out and admitted that he was a disciple of The Powers, he certainly encouraged and enabled other members of Angel Investigations to do their bidding.

Another remarkable dialogue exchange occurred in Season 4's "Peace Out", when Jasmine gave this startling admission to Angel:
"There are no absolutes. No right and wrong. Haven't you learned anything working for the Powers? There are only choices. I offered paradise. You chose this!"
I'll let you read the rest of the dialogue, but Jasmine went on to explain that she wanted to get rid of the fuzzy gray areas (that seemed to have been allowed to flourish under The Powers That Be) and offer a form of paradise on Earth. Angel summed up everything about our own existence when he replied,
"The price was too high, Jasmine. [Jasmine's domination of the world.] Our fate has to be our own, or we're nothing."
In other words, Angel gave another version of the story of the Garden of Eden. Humans chose to eat the fruit from The Tree of Knowledge so they could make moral choices between Good and Evil, rather than be lovingly cared for by God for the rest of eternity.

Idle Thoughts. The Pylea arc offered several poignant moments where Angel seemed to get somewhat carried away with the notion of living within a dimension where nothing existed between Good and Evil, and where champions roamed the land. I don't believe for one moment that Angel truly wanted to stay in a world like that. However, he had to be absolutely crushed by the weight he carried on his shoulders from always harboring doubts as to whether he was journeying down the correct path. I couldn't help but think of what he said in Season 1's "Blind Date", when he declared, (after the blind assassin was acquitted of a murder charge):
"It's still their world, Wesley. Structured for power -- not truth. It's their system, and it's one that works. It works because there is no guilt. There is no torment, no consequences. It's pure. I remember what that was like. Sometimes I miss that clarity."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Powers That Be and Jasmine - A Dividing Line?

It's quite ironic that in the Angelverse, we seem to know a lot more about the evil Senior Partners of Wolfram & Hart than the more benevolent Powers That Be.

In the "Idle Thoughts" portion of a post that I posted in early July, I wrote,

I read somewhere, (and the person supplying the information might have been making it up), that the unproduced Season 6 of Angel was going to reveal that the Powers That Be were really every bit as bad as Wolfram & Hart, and were only using Angel and his gang to promote their own nefarious schemes. That would certainly make a lot of sense to me, since I could never figure out why Angel and others never really questioned the motivations of the Powers before.
So, I decided it was time for me to figure out, who exactly were The Powers That Be? In short, they were a collection of unseen entities who seemed to be working on the side of Good, as a counterpoint to the Evil Senior Partners at Wolfram & Hart. People should clearly be forgiven for equating The Powers That Be with God and his angels, and for equating the Senior Partners and Wolfram & Hart with Satan and his minions. (With Heaven and Hell serving as their respective dwelling places.)

Jasmine herself explained the origins of The Powers That Be in Season 4's "Shiny Happy People":

"In the beginning, before the time of man, great beings walked the earth. Untold power emanated from all quarters—the seeds of what would come to be known as good and evil. But the shadows stretched and became darkness, and the malevolent among us grew stronger. The earth became a demon realm. Those of us who had the will to resist left this place, but we remained ever-watchful."
In this piece of dialogue from Angel's Season 3's "Birthday", Skip the Demon revealed that:

"Inside every living thing there is a connection to the Powers That Be. Call it instinct, intuition. Deep down we all know our purpose in this world."
Skip had a bit of a credibility problem, seeing as how later in Season 4 it was revealed that he was a mercenary working on behalf of Jasmine, a renegade member of The Powers That Be. (Except she didn't have a name at that time.) However, like with Holland Manners from Wolfram & Hart, I feel like I need to take what he said at face value unless it was disproved otherwise later on. The Powers were clearly universal, and not some minor deities who connected with just a tiny percentage of the population. Skip's statement also gave insight as to how, far from being weak, The Powers were firmly entrenched in the hearts of everyone on Earth. This explains why the Senior Partners, through the law firm of Wolfram & Hart, had to spend so much time and effort to corrupt as many people as possible.

I'm sure that every member of Angel Investigations felt totally abandoned at times by The Powers That Be, similar to how Jesus Christ felt abandoned by God the Father while he was hanging on the cross. If what Skip said was true, and every living thing had a connection to The Powers That Be, then The Powers must have really had their hands full. In order to deliver visions to people or step in once in a while to perform minor miracles, The Powers must have had to draw upon an extraordinary amount of reserve energy. The Powers That Be flat out could not micro-manage every little thing and grant every single request, as Angel found out the hard way when he visited both the Oracles and the Conduit to the Powers.

And besides, The Powers might have felt that people were already more than adequately equipped with whatever tools they needed to get through their various crises.

What I get totally confused by is, at what level were The Powers That Be directing things on Angel and at what point was Jasmine running the show? Skip stated:

"You really think it stops with her [Cordelia], amigo? You have any concept of how many lines have to intersect in order for a thing like this to play out? How many events have to be nudged in just the right direction? (looks at Lorne) Leaving Pylea. (looks at Gunn) Your sister. (looks at Fred) Opening the wrong book. (looks at Wesley) Sleeping with the enemy. (beat) Gosh, (chuckles) I love a story with scope."
According to Skip, just about every important thing that happened to any of the Angel Investigations characters was carefully orchestrated by Jasmine. Interestingly enough, according to this Wikipedia entry, when Cordelia came back to Earth in Season 4 after being raised to a higher plane, The Powers That Be locked her memory so that Jasmine would not be able to take control of her. When Lorne and everyone else made the huge mistake of restoring her memory in "Spin the Bottle", Jasmine was awakened and started her reign of terror from within Cordelia's body.

My next question is, was Jasmine acting totally independently from The Powers That Be, (a fallen Power, as it were), or was she just running a little sideline business while still operating as a full-time Power?

Jasmine claimed that The Powers became "...little more than observers" and that she "...couldn't bear to just watch all the suffering". Were The Powers simply cheerleaders sitting on the sidelines routing for us humans? Jasmine clearly stated that she intended to end suffering on Earth and to bring peace, although it became clear later on (with all of her "bwahaha" moments) that she was really just interested in running a global dictatorship. My best guess is that once you're one of The Powers That Be, you're always a Power That Be. In this respect, The Powers That Be reminded me of the Greek pantheon of gods and goddesses, where each deity exhibited his or her own particular quirks and had a tendency to go off on little misadventures. As far as we know, there was no Zeus-like entity leading the pack.

When Cordelia returned in Season 5's "You're Welcome", I was shocked that she was still loyal to The Powers That Be. By that time, I figured that The Powers had pretty much turned their backs on Angel Investigations and left everyone to their own devices. However, I have to admit now that Angel Investigations did save the world from an evil dominatrix, so perhaps The Powers had a hand in that after all. Like Cordelia said, the Powers "owed" her one, and she came back to Earth to get her guy "on track". As a final favor, she was allowed to pass a vision of The Circle of the Black Thorn to Angel during their final kiss, signifying that The Powers That Be were finally ready to have Angel take on the Senior Partners and Wolfram & Hart.

There's just enough ambiguity about the dividing line between Jasmine's actions and The Powers That Be to allow audience members to come up with their own conclusions. I'm beginning to think that perhaps The Powers couldn't control Jasmine, but they could at least to try to use her actions to suit their own purposes. For example, thanks to Jasmine, Angel Investigations became a cohesive, highly-skilled fighting operation that became powerful enough to take her on and eventually defeat her. In my interpretation, Cordelia was used as a pawn by Jasmine, but The Powers That Be perhaps really did find her worthy of receiving their visions and becoming a Higher Being.

In my next post I'll talk about how I'm finally figuring out that The Powers That Be weren't so much about representing Good in the fight against Evil, but were more about representing a balancing force in the universe.

Final Thoughts. If the rumor was true that The Powers That Be were really just as Evil as Wolfram & Hart, I'm not seeing a lot of direct evidence as I review Angel: the Series. Maybe The Powers appeared to be slow to react, and were perhaps misunderstood by us mere mortals, but they were not obviously Evil. A real Season 6 would have been valuable in that it would have allowed audience members to observe how The Powers would have acted without a Jasmine-type renegade to muck up the works. Only then could we have seen a pattern emerge regarding how they operated and what their true motivations were.

Without putting a lot of thought into this, it appeared that Wes, Cordy and (surprisingly for me) Lorne seemed to accept The Powers That Be the most unquestioningly. Angel couldn't help but accept their assistance, though he wasn't above going after them once in a while in a bull-headed, alpha male sort of way.

Gunn and Fred seemed to be the most ambivalent about The Powers, with Gunn calling them "....the Powers That Sit on their Behind sending us useless, cryptic messages...", while Fred referred to them as "The Powers That Screw You". Presumably, Gunn and Fred accepted The Powers simply as part of the rules of the game, or as part of their job description, so to speak. They couldn't deny that The Powers existed and helped them at times, but Gunn and Fred seemed to lack strong bonds with The Powers simply because they were latecomers to the party.

I don't recall that any ancient texts were attributed to The Powers That Be, and I'm not aware that they were associated with any sort of code of ethics on the order of what was written in the Christian Bible. There were no inferences that The Powers needed to be worshiped (at least until Jasmine came along), although presumably there would have been consequences if all of the members of Angel Investigations completely turned their backs on them. Perhaps humans were free to develop their own narratives about The Powers, and came up with the major religions of the world.

For an outstanding essay about Jasmine, I highly recommend Neosnowqueen's "Being Fred, Coming Out Atheist Among the Faithful". Anything that starts out with, "Season Four of Angel was a season of wtfuckery if I ever saw one" will automatically rank quite highly in my book.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Russian Color Photography Circa 1910

At Naked Capitalism, I came across a wonderful link to the U.S. Library of Congress' collection of the color photography of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, aka, Photographer to the Tsar. The website is a little unclear as to the dates, but Prokudin-Gorskii apparently went on several expeditions between 1907 - 1915 to conduct photographic surveys throughout the Russian Empire.

Here's the link to the page that includes a small description of the young Russian peasant women featured above. This page gives a description of the techniques Prokudin-Gorskii used to produce his amazing color photograhs.

I know this post has little to do with Alexis Denisof or the Angel series, except for the fact that he's of Russian descent. It also helps that one of the guest stars of the series was Tamara Gorski, who appeared as Rebecca Lowell in Season 1's "Eternity".