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.

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