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, "...is 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.

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