Sunday, October 11, 2009

Wesley's Path to Betrayal

Note: This is the final installment in a series of posts where I try to piece together why Wesley decided to kidnap Angel's son Connor in Season 3's "Sleep Tight". My previous posts touching on his basic personality and his relations with his parents are here, here and here.

"Well, I, uh, don't think it's quite fair to condemn a whole program because of a single slip-up, sir." Air Force General "Buck" Turgidson to President Merkin Muffley, commenting on General Ripper's insane decision to send B-52's to drop hydrogen bombs on the USSR, which eventually led to the destruction of the entire world. Dr. Strangelove, 1964.
The above quote kind of sums up how I felt about Wesley Wyndam-Pryce's leadership role during parts of Seasons 2 and 3 of Angel. Aside from an ill-timed decision to kidnap Angel's infant son Connor, which ultimately led to Connor being raised in a hell dimension, Wesley actually had a good run as the boss of Angel Investigations.

In Season 2, Wesley was indecisive as he struggled in his new role as group leader. It didn't help matters that Angel often automatically stepped in and took charge, further eroding Wesley's self-confidence. The Pylea arc at the end of Season 2 was quite the turning point for Wesley as, after a little bit of convincing, he took charge of the rebel warriors and helped save the day by defeating the Wolfram & Hart priests who were running that particular dimension.

The start of Season 3 opened with Wesley being much more confident as he had grown quite nicely into his leadership position. Gone was the indecisive Wesley stumbling around for ideas, to be replaced by a much more calmly self-assured Wesley who quietly issued orders and, more importantly, expected them to be followed. The viewers were unable to witness this evolution which occurred between the end of Season 2 and the beginning of Season 3. Yet, somehow, Wesley had gained the respect of all of the members of Angel Investigations, including Angel, and all seemed to be unquestioningly following his lead.

There was a clear sequence of events that unfolded in Season 3 that eventually led to Wesley's downfall, which I'll discuss as belonging to a series of categories.

Leadership Style. I see three different types of people in leadership positions. The charismatic types, like Angel, who naturally draw followers to them; the ambitious types, like Wesley, who have a natural tendency to want to take charge, but have to work at developing their leadership skills; and those who have reached the end of the line in their careers paths and are somewhat forced into management if they want to continue making a living wage.

Charismatic leaders like Angel have no problem attracting followers, and these people will have the tendency to follow almost without realizing what they're doing. Leaders like Wesley repeatedly have to justify their decisions to everyone, and prove themselves over and over again on the battlefield in order to earn the right to maintain their leadership positions. Wesley eventually proved himself, and finally gained the confidence to be able to quickly formulate plans of action and to issue orders. More importantly, the Angel Investigations team grew to trust his judgment.

One scene that typifies Wesley's confident leadership style occurred in "Couplet", when Wesley handed out assignments for destroying the Senih'd demon from Cordelia's vision. Wesley gave the background information on the demon, and handed the reference book around to his staff so they could get an idea of what they were hunting. When the Groosalugg stated that he had experience hunting a similar type of demon, Wesley was able to quickly reformulate his plan, while confidently handling Angel when he objected to being paired up with Groo.

One thing that shocked me was that it took me way too long to make the connection between Wesley's demented treatment of Fred in "Billy" and how it was an indication of what life with his father must have been like. I had written previously in my "Misogyny" post that:

"......Wesley was being quite testy with Fred, but things did not yet look dangerous. Fred's reaction was quite interesting, where she was still being a very young, confused girl, trying to please her elder. I see this reaction in well-behaved children all of the time as they struggle to deal with slightly sadistic older adults who are trying to make them look stupid by engaging them in word games. The game is rigged against the child because she may have no idea what is happening, or where the conversation is leading to."
Instead of shouting at Fred and attacking her with an axe right away, Wesley started off with a cool but sinister cat and mouse game. Here's a sample piece of dialogue from "Billy" that clearly shows Fred being in a no-win situation with the more experienced Wesley:

Fred: So, however Billy is putting the mojo on people, the power seems to be in his blood. Which means it can also be in his sweat or his saliva or even his touch.

Wesley: Speaking of saliva, where is Cordelia?

Fred: What do you mean 'speaking of saliva?' How does saliva make you...

Wesley: It's a simple question. Where is Cordelia?

Fred: I - I think she went out

Wesley: Out? Did she happen to mention where?

Fred: She just - ah - she said an errand.

Wesley: So when you say you 'think' she went out, what you mean is you 'know' she went out because you spoke to her.

Fred: Well, I suppose I...

Wesley: Suppose?

Fred: I - I did. Yes, I did.

Wesley: That's better. (Leans in to look through the microscope again) Lie to me again - and we're going to have a problem.
No shouting from Wesley, but delivered in that cool, sinister voice that meant he was deadly serious. Although Wesley was "infected" by the misogyny demon, we could easily recognize his same demeanor when he lectured Charles in "That Old Gang of Mine",

"If you ever withhold information or attempt to subvert me again, I will fire you. - I can't have any one member of the team compromising the safety of the group, no matter who it is. If you do it again you will be dismissed, bag and baggage, out of a job onto the streets."
Even more tellingly, Charles acted like he was afraid to confess to Wesley that he had withheld evidence from the group when he admitted to Lorne in Caritas, "I really don't feel like going over there [to Wesley's table]."

As a parent, I can somewhat relate to Wesley's disciplinary style. My kids swear up and down I'm shouting at them when in reality all I'm doing is talking in a carefully measured voice while glaring at them over the top of my eyeglasses. I'd found out many years earlier that these actions were much more effective than screaming.

Jealousy. At some point in early Season 3 (when he was protecting her at Caritas?), Wesley fell madly in love with Fred. I've speculated at length in prior posts that Fred must have represented the idealized vision of womanhood for Wesley, (or his idee fixe, as it were), which may have led to his shyness in approaching her. I've also speculated that Wesley didn't have any particular problem approaching other women, but preferred to worship Fred at a distance rather than risk being rejected by her. So when Charles and Fred became a couple, Wesley was not simply being a sore loser for losing just any woman. He had lost the ideal woman, the most wonderful creature in the world, the woman who was guaranteed to allow him to live the rest of his life in complete and perfect happiness.

As time went on in Season 3, relations obviously became more strained between Wesley on one side, and Gunn and Fred on the other. Wesley should have been man enough to give in gracefully and continue on with his life without Fred as his consort. On the other hand, Charles and Fred shouldn't have acted like goofy schoolkids trying to put one over on their dad.

When Wes and Gunn finally did have their man-to-man talk, Wesley performed his "calm and cool" and "I'm the boss" act, while Charles, who seemed to provide an opening to allow Wesley to talk about the issue a bit further, still allowed himself to be dismissed without attempting to ward off the future hostilities that were inevitably brewing.

Even Fred felt the brunt of Wesley's understated "wrath" when he advised her in "Loyalty", "Fred, we're not here to date. We're here to do a job. Now why don't you go to the pier and do your job."

A little later on, Gunn did some impressive posturing when he told Fred, "He [Wesley] said something to you, didn't he? Well, you-you-you got my back, right? You stood up to him and said we're two adults and what we do with our personal lives is none of his business, right?" (Of course Fred didn't.)

Yeah, Charles, just like you told Wesley off the night before, right? NOT!

Wes made the mistake of coming on way too strong about Charles and Fred dating. Although he was sending somewhat mixed signals, all signs pointed to Wesley making it clear that he preferred no dating at all within Angel Investigations. Just think of his comment to Cordelia in "Billy" regarding "office romances" and his similar comment to Angel about Cordelia and Groo in "Couplet". (Indeed, several sites report that actor Alexis Denisof turned down Alyson Hannigan during their Buffy days due to his qualms about dating coworkers. Alyson's wishes were granted when Alexis later joined the cast of Angel.) It's impossible to break apart two people who are attracted to each other. Wesley would have handled the situation much better if he would have acknowledged Fred and Gunn's relationship, while making it clear that it was of life-and-death urgency that they continued to act like professionals the entire time they were on the clock.

Quite poignantly, Gunn later on admitted that he wasn't really mad at Wesley, then went on to praise his leadership skills while acknowledging the pressures Wes was facing. "But I understand his position. He's the boss and we got to respect that. His job is to keep things tight and - that's a lot of pressure."

This was about the highest praise Gunn had ever given Wesley, and a few days later, that trust was destroyed forever.

Angel and Wesley. Early Season 3 of Angel marked a profound deepening of the friendship between Angel and Wesley. I realize it was a device to make their breakup over Connor's kidnapping that much more dramatic, but it was still way too gut-wrenching for me to handle at the time.

There were little hints throughout the series that Angel thought Wesley was somewhat less than a man, thereby making him definitely inferior. (The producers went out of their way to have Angelus give voice to these feelings, as in this scene in Season 1's "Eternity" and and this scene in Season 4's "Soulless".) It's no coincidence that their deepening friendship coincided with how they became the most equal they had ever been during the entire series. Both Angel and Wes were leaders of Angel Investigations, and their different leadership styles complemented each other perfectly. Wesley was methodical in his research and planning, and was ideally suited for performing the administrative functions required of a manager. He looked like such a natural sitting behind his desk in his office, as Fred alluded to a little later on in "The Price".

Angel was not the official boss, but there was no doubt he was still the de facto leader of the group who retained his followers through his courage and his convictions. Both Wesley and Angel were comfortable with their roles, and more importantly, were comfortable with each other's roles. In one of my favorite Angel/Wesley moments of the entire series, Wesley sincerely assured Angel while they were in the bookstore,

"...Angel, - you're the reason we've all come together. It's your mission which animates us. We each contribute, it's true, but you - you're unique. (Indicates the shelves.) You're like one of these rare volumes. One of a kind."
One of the most moving aspects of early Season 3 for me was Wesley's poignant observations of Angel interacting with baby Connor. I'd like to think that Wesley was simply moved by the interactions between father and son, and the contrast between Angel the Champion and Angel the soft-hearted adoring dad. I'm also sure there was an element of how Wesley wished his own father had taken as much delight in his presence. One of the most effective scenes depicting Wesley's thoughts about fatherhood took place in "Sleep Tight", where Wesley observed the joy of the father/child reunion at the end of the dad's long work day. At some point Wesley was probably imagining a wonderful ordinary life with Fred, where Wesley would be greeted like a hero each evening at 7:00 pm by his adoring wife and children.

In one of those awful ironic twists, Wesley's fatal lapse in judgment occurred precisely out of his deep loyalty and devotion to Angel and his pure enjoyment at witnessing the Connor/Angel relationship. Wes probably could not have screwed up more if he had tried. He observed all of the signs that Angel would fulfill the Tro-clon prophecy that "the father will kill the son", including Angel's growing instability, and his (joking) remark about eating a roasted Connor.

Sadly, Wesley was in the act of dealing with Holtz behind everyone's back when it was revealed that Wolfram & Hart had spiked Angel's pig's blood with Connor's blood.

Wesley's Isolation and Loneliness. It would be misleading to say that Wesley went on a power trip after he was named the leader of Angel Investigations and separated himself from everyone else. However, there was an unmistakable divide between Wesley the Boss and the rest of the group. He was probably the closest to Cordelia, who was unfortunately out of town with Groo during a very crucial part of Season 3. I attach a huge amount of significance to Wesley asking if anyone had heard from Cordelia during his opening dream sequence in "Loyalty".

I had wondered why the special Wes/Cordy relationship, that seemed to disappear toward the end of Season 2, seemed to reappear again in Season 3 in episodes like "Billy", "Waiting in the Wings" and "Couplet". Although it allowed Wesley to give voice to his growing love for Fred, it's possible the relationship was brought back into focus as a way to further emphasize Wesley's isolation after she left on her 2-week vacation with Groo.

In many ways, I compare the storyline of the spiking of Angel's pig's blood with Connor's blood to Season 2's storyline of Darla appearing to Angel at night to give him the powder that made him sleep up to 22 hours per day. Strange things were happening in both cases, but no one seemed to be taking the initiative or taking the proper steps to find out the causes. In Season 2, Angel had distanced himself too much from Wes and Cordy, and they seemed to be increasingly intimidated by him. As a result, Wes and Cordy grew closer together and forged an "us against him" mentality in dealing with Angel. I had also speculated that Wes and Cordy might have also been having too much fun goofing off with each other to take Angel's problem seriously. Gunn was in the picture, but was not yet completely integrated into the group. He popped in once in a while as requested, but didn't feel that it was his place to question anything or upset the apple cart. I discussed this more in my "Angel as the 'Dopey Dad' " section of a previous post, "A Few Mid-Season 2 Thoughts".

In Season 3, Angel was totally wrapped up in Connor while Cordelia was busy concentrating on the Groosalugg. Fred and Gunn were totally wrapped up in each other and were content to simply act when given orders. Wesley was the only one working on the problem of the (false) Tro-clon prophecy, but was unable to step back far enough to see the big picture and guess that outside forces were manipulating events. I suddenly realized why it was crucial for Lorne to more or less formally join the team when it became apparent that he was the only one who could spot the obvious by pointing out that Angel had been heavily hitting the blood lately.

Fred quickly jumped in and tested the blood, but she needed the insight provided by someone else before she could make the connection. As an aside, I can think of at least one other instance when Lorne was the only one who could figure out the obvious when he realized the Hyperion Hotel was bugged in "Dad".

I know that Lorne, being an anagogic demon, had some special psychic abilities. However, I would have hoped that even lowly humans would have been able to figure out something was amiss. Since Wolfram & Hart was out to destroy Angel Investigations, their offices might be the first place to look when strange things began to happen.

Similar to how Angel was obviously head and shoulders above everyone else in ability in Season 2, Wesley might have been a little too competent as a boss in Season 3. Although he had no problems delegating tasks, Wes was nonetheless the first one to arrive in the office in the morning and the last one to leave at night. He was a master translator, and everyone assumed that if they just left Wesley alone long enough with his books, he'd be able to solve the various mysteries surrounding the Nyazian scrolls. Eventually he'd be able to set the group on the correct path to once again save mankind.

At one point, Angel interrupted his Connor-gazing long enough to notice, "Wes, what's going on? You've been on edge for days. Talk to me." Although Angel was somewhat giving Wesley an opening to spill his guts, Angel gave up quickly enough when Wesley replied, "I just wanna make sure everything's okay [with Connor]." Sadly, the friendship seemed to be somewhat one-sided, with Angel opening up to Wesley, but not being receptive to Wesley in return.

Wesley knew that his suspicions about Angel wanting to kill his son would absolutely destroy Angel. Angel's heartfelt reply that "Hey, Wes. Thanks. You're a good friend." probably helped solidify his resolve to save Angel the agony of having to live with the guilt of destroying his own son. Angel seemed to have every confidence in the world that Wesley would do the right thing, and Wesley desperately didn't want to let him down.

Although Wes was a good friend and great admirer of Angel, it must have gone to his head somewhat that he was the official leader of the group and pretty close to being Angel's equal. Since Wesley had no one to bounce ideas off of, he was unable to formulate a more complete picture of what was happening or, more importantly, think through the implications of certain actions he was about to take. No matter how much Wesley tried to verify what he discovered, and no matter how much he tried to convince himself he was trying to disprove the Tro-clon prophecy, (by talking to the Loa, the supernatural inhabitant of the giant hamburger, for example), in reality, all he was doing was confirming the same belief system that he had all along. Think of how Wesley interpreted certain events as the fulfillment of the Loa's prophecy, "The first portent will shake the earth. The second will burn the air. The last will turn the sky to blood." Wesley became confined by his formal academic Watcher training at a very crucial time, and felt that all of the answers to their problems could be found inside the books and through magic.

One of the great characteristics of the human brain is how, no matter how desparately we try to figure out what is really happening in the world around us, we consistently reject all logical explanations that do not fit our preconceived notions and cling to weird notions that make no sense at all. It takes a giant jolt to get us to change our ways, and there was nothing in Wesley's life capable of giving him that much-needed jolt.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, Bad-Ass Wes made his first appearance in this story arc when he first visited Daniel Holtz' base of operations. Wesley had become an extremely skilled fighter, and, coupled with his new-found confidence as leader of Angel Investigations, was probably getting a little too cocky for his own good. The translation of the (false) Tro-clon prophecy was only part of the equation: formulating a plan on what to do about it was another matter. Instead of consulting with the group in order to determine the best course of action, Wes felt it was up to him to take charge and take necessary actions by himself. One senses that, although Wes wanted to protect Angel, Connor, and all of the rest of the members of the group from Holtz' minions, it was equally important to him that he be able to rescue everyone single-handedly.

Wesley's speech to Charles Gunn in "That Old Gang of Mine" about "withholding evidence" and "subverting" him came back to haunt Wesley as he became guilty of the very same crimes. In Wesley's mind, the key difference was that Gunn was actively working against Angel Investigations while Wesley felt he was working for the group. However, the outcome was the same in both cases. Everyone's lives were seriously at risk directly due to the consequences of information being withheld from the group. Ironically, if Wesley had felt a little more attached to the group and hadn't been out trying to be the great Dealmaker with enemy Daniel Holtz, he would have found out the answer to the mystery of why Angel seemed to be acting like he wanted to eat his son.

From that point on, it became a series of lost opportunities, as Wesley never had a chance to run across any member of the group who could tell him what was truly happening. Wesley could have found out from Lorne that someone had been spiking Angel's blood, but he knocked Lorne unconscious before Lorne had a chance to finish explaining the situation. Wes was too set on completing his self-imposed mission of kidnapping Connor to save him from Holtz.

Closing Thoughts. During Wesley's reign as leader of the group, I also enjoyed the Wes and Cordy interactions during their more mundane moments. They made a great team while they worked together, passing paperwork back and forth between Wesley's office and Cordelia's workstations. In fact, I've often wondered if either Alexis Denisof or Charisma Carpenter ever had any substantial experiences working in an office setting. It's one thing to be able to emote effectively during difficult Shakespearean soliloquies. It's quite another thing to be able to act like an ordinary working stiff if you've spent most of your adult life on stage or in front of a camera.

The audience was never given any indication that Wesley had made plans for Connor after he kidnapped him. Lorne made it clear to Angel that Wesley was going to take the baby away "for good".

Was Wesley simply going to lay low with Connor for a while, tell Angel the baby was safe, and bring him back when things had settled down? Or was Wesley planning to raise Connor on his own? Although I think Wesley had genuine affection for Connor, I don't think he ever connected with the baby on a one-on-one basis. I believe Wesley was responding more to the contrast between Angel's deep love for Connor and Wesley's own wretched childhood. On this level, Connor represented the perfect embodiment of how every child should be raised with plenty of love. Given the right circumstances (probably marriage to Fred), Wesley would have made a wonderful father. I just don't think he was acting strictly out of paternal instincts for Connor.

The first time I saw this story arc, I was so traumatized by Wesley's betrayal I could barely follow the storyline. By the end of "Sleep Tight", I was convinced that Wesley had agreed to give Connor to Holtz and Justine to raise in Idaho, and betrayed them (in addition to Angel Investigation) by trying to run out on them. As it turns out, Wesley agreed to no such thing. He didn't believe that Holtz and Justine would simply let him take Connor out of the picture, and he fully expected them to try to kidnap Connor! Someone from Holtz' organization must have researched Wesley's chivalrous instincts toward women, since they used the ploy of Justine as the innocent victim of Holtz' brutal attack to get Wesley to lower his guard. She slit his throat, left him for dead, took Connor, and started the chain of events that led Connor to be raised by Holtz in the Quor'toth hell dimension.

To say I have mixed emotions about the whole baby Connor story arc would be an understatement. I think Alexis Denisof put in some of his best performances during this stretch of Season 3, particularly in "Loyalty" and "Sleep Tight". I also believe that Wesley's betrayal was the turning point of the whole series, where it became a convenient reference point to describe events in Angel as happening "before" and "after" the betrayal. This turns all sorts of rules upside down, where the hero (Angel) was not the main center of attention, and where the supporting character (Wesley) became the "protagonist" during his biggest moment of failure. This turn of events was good for Alexis Denisof the actor, but became quite the gut-wrenching experience for Wesley Wyndam-Pryce the character.

From that point on, Angel was not the only one who had to spend the rest of his lifetime seeking redemption. Wesley had to live with his guilt and self-loathing, and fight and claw his way back to something resembling the uneasy good graces of the rest of the group. As everyone was ever mindful that Angelus lurked just beneath the surface of Angel, they were equally aware that Wesley was perfectly capable of sneaking behind everyone's back and betraying the group yet again.

(Made several minor revisions 1/22/10.)

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