Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Top 5 Favorite Wesley and Lilah Scenes

I always agonize over my Top 5 or Top 10 Favorites lists because I always feel bad about the items I need to exclude. This post proved to be no exception. I have to impose a considerable amount of self-control to keep from turning this into a Top 10 List of Favorite Wesley and Lilah moments, with about 5 honorable mentions.

What was it like the first time Angel fans saw Wes and Lilah in bed together in Season 3's "Tomorrow"? In retrospect, their pairing shouldn't have been too shocking. It would only be natural that Lilah would pay Wesley a visit after she found out he'd been banished from Angel Investigations. They were two intelligent, attractive people, roughly the same age, who weren't currently in committed relationships. More importantly, they both loved living on the edge, with the more kink involved the better. What would have kept them apart?

I've mentioned many times that I was happily surprised when I read the spoilers and found out that my darling Wesley would be hooking up with the deliciously evil Lilah. If they hadn't have become an item, I probably would have abandoned the series soon after Connor's kidnapping. I was tired of Wesley getting kicked around, and it was about time he got a little something for the effort.

The creators were wise to get Wesley and Lilah in bed together just a few minutes after Wesley threatened to strangle her in the pub. If the creators had dragged things out another week (by putting the scenes in an earlier episode), or waited until the Season 4 premiere, fans probably would have had time to figure things out, which would have ruined the surprise.

When compiling this list, I was surprised to find that I wasn't simply rating how Wesley's naked torso looked against the rumpled bedsheets. Trust Joss Whedon and his writers to ruin things by giving the Weslah scenes a lot of subtlety and depth, as opposed to simply giving us gratuitous sex scenes at random intervals. Wes and Lilah's story arc had a definite beginning, middle and ending, as their wary initial contacts turned from mutual manipulation to the two of them genuinely starting to care for each other. Their relationship finally ended when, taking Alexis Denisof's analogy to Icarus flying too close to the sun, Wesley was the first to come crashing back to earth when he realized they simply could not continue on as before.

Even a Wesley/Lilah scene that was written by Joss Whedon as a true time filler (the phone sex scene) marked a definite advancement, and in some ways, the high point, in their relationship. As fun and kinky as the phone sex was to listen to, there was a wistfully sweet subtext to the whole conversation. With the "scowl and burnt pot roast", Wes and Lilah seemed to be having fun pretending that there could at least be the possibility of having something resembling a normal relationship.

To paraphrase Lilah, "What are you waiting for? This list won't compile itself."

So here is, for better or worse, my Top 5 Wesley/Lilah moments.

5. Wes and Lilah's Initial Meeting in Season 3's "A New World". (My review here.) I can just imagine my husband's crestfallen face if I told him, "You want to see something really hot?", then showed him the scene where Lilah showed up for the first time at Wesley's apartment, bringing the gift of "Dante's Inferno."

As I wrote in a post last June, "Smoldering sensuality doesn't even begin to describe what I saw." Alexis Denisof never looked better as Wesley, with that sexy 3-day stubble on his chin and that perpetual "don't mess with me" look. At one point he informed Lilah "I think you should leave now". If he had picked her up off her feet, it might have been a crapshoot as to whether he tossed her out the door or onto his bed.

Lilah was quite the seductress in this scene, constantly making cutting remarks to Wesley while using her body language to convey some unmistakable "come hither" messages. I loved how Wes and Lilah seemed to be participating in an elaborately choreographed courtship ritual as they both circled warily around each other, looking for weaknesses in each other's defenses. Although their initial meeting set the stage for the rest of their encounters, this scene was still one of their best.

4. Lilah Dressed Like Fred in Season 4's "Apocalypse Nowish". (My review here.) I loved the acting from both Stephanie Romanov and Alexis Denisof in this scene. Stephanie played Lilah as someone who was acting uncharacteristically out of sheer desperation, as she dressed up like Fred in an attempt to try to keep from losing a man who was slowly slipping out of her grasp. Alexis played Wesley as a guy who, although upset that Lilah was mocking his beloved Fred, still couldn't help being amused and turned on by her delightful performance.

Stephanie gave the best explanation of why Lilah acted this way in an interview that appeared in back in 2004:
"I think it was jealousy, absolutely. Feeling threatened, so you make a joke out of that which hurts you. And if she can present it right in his face, she can get a better clue as to how much of a threat it is. It was also trying to get the inside scoop."
The scene also featured one of my favorite moments of kink in the series as Wesley pawed at her, ripped her blouse open, and ordered her to "leave them on" when Lilah tried to remove her glasses, all while they had at it right then and there on his couch.

3. Wesley Breaks Up With Lilah, from Season 4's "Habeas Corpses". (My review here.) This scene contains some of my favorite dialogue from Wesley in the entire series, including "There is a line, Lilah. Black and white, good and evil." Alexis Denisof didn't have nearly as much dialogue as Stephanie Romanov, but every line he delivered packed a powerful punch. Even his simple "I can't do this anymore" was emotionally gut-wrenching.

Again, both actors put in some of their finer performances. Alexis portrayed Wesley as being someone who had to be gentle, yet strong, unyielding and firm as he broke the bad news to Lilah, while being forced to suffer through witnessing her moments of humiliation and anger. Stephanie showed Lilah as being someone who was absolutely stunned and heartbroken by Wesley's decision. Lilah had been tough and in control almost all of her adult life, but came pretty close to losing it when she found out Wes was breaking up with her.

I've read a lot of online criticism at how Lilah debased herself by offering to put the glasses back on. The character of Lilah probably hated herself for acting like an idiot, which helped explain her stormy exit. I saw it as a woman who was rather unsuccessfully trying to deal with the emotional turmoil of not only being worried sick that Wesley had not survived the Night of Fire, but the devastation of a quick and sudden end to a relationship with someone who had probably been the love of her life.

I'm sure Lilah had other relationships before, but her time with Wesley represented a few precious moments where she could explore her softer and more vulnerable side. Then, in an instant, Lilah found out she was being rejected for being herself and for everything she stood for. As much as she should have seen the breakup coming, Lilah felt like she had been sucker-punched, and started acting out of pure, irrational, emotional instinct as much as anything. There aren't too many people in the world who can gracefully accept sudden devastatingly bad news.

2. The Burning the Contract Scene from Season 4's "Home". (My review here.) I feel guilty for not making this my favorite scene, since it had a lot of lovely qualities. This scene provided some closure to their relationship not only for Wesley and Lilah, but also for the audience. Earlier scenes in this episode somewhat puzzled me, since Wesley seemed to be spewing out a lot of inappropriate venom toward Lilah. Although his harsh words didn't seem to come from any sort of logical buildup in the episodes leading up to this, I wonder if he said those things to Lilah because he had to. It was not an appropriate time to accuse her of not being capable of feeling anything during their relationship, and Wesley couldn't have possibly believed it himself. However, he certainly must have felt those thoughts at one time or another, and never had the opportunity to really let his suspicions and frustrations bubble over.

One thing Wesley and Lilah were cheated out of was a chance to have a real knock-down drag-out fight at the end of their relationship. (Although Lilah hinted during their breakup scene, with the talk of the "broken furniture", that they might have had a few fights like these during their relationship.) (Come to think of it, the "broken furniture" could have happened as a result of making up after their arguments.) Circumstances didn't allow them to shout and fling accusations back and forth, and spill out their heartbreaks and disappointments before making their final peace with each other. This moving "burning the contract" scene was a more than acceptable substitute, as Wesley finally betrayed his love for Lilah by trying to release her from having to serve Wolfram & Hart "in perpetuity".

Stephanie Romanov has talked about how much the scene affected her, in how that was the first time in Lilah's life anyone ever put himself on the line for her. She was going back to Hell, but she at least knew that her relationship with Wesley did have purpose and meaning for both of them.

The juxtaposition of Lilah's more ruthless-as-ever stance with Angel and her more vulnerable and gentle-than-ever stance with Wesley was really quite effective. Lilah had plenty of opportunities to meet Wesley's venom with some memorable zingers of her own. Although she gave a little bit of it back to Wesley, her attitude was more in the line of meting out gentle reproaches. Perhaps she was doing her part to leave Wesley on the best possible terms, as well as to try to atone for some of her past actions.

1. Beheading Lilah, from Season 4's "Salvage". (My review here.) I can fully appreciate the irony in which Wesley beheading Lilah turns out to be my "favorite" scene. Luckily, all true Whedonites understand how some of the most beautifully moving scenes can occur under the most tragic and bizarre circumstances. Either that, or I'm hopelessly warped.

Both Alexis Denisof and Stephanie Romanov put in superb acting performances, with Denisof's Wesley being totally consumed by heartbreak and pain, and Romanov's Lilah supplying him with loving words of comfort. At one time, I thought Lilah herself was providing at least some of her own words, but now I have my doubts. My only disappointment (which almost made me put this scene in second place on my list) is that I'm about 90% sure that Wesley was providing all of Lilah's words, which somewhat diminishes the impact since we're not certain that this scene provides insight as to how Lilah truly felt when she was still alive.

Denisof's acting was the deciding factor in making this absolutely gut-wrenching scene my favorite, as he had to sort through his feelings of guilt for not being able to protect her and despair at not being able to bring her redemption. He had to overtly reject all notions of "love" and a "relationship" as a defense mechanism, which might have explained his apparent bitterness towards Lilah in "Home". Lilah had her chance to share her true feelings about Wesley in the "burning the contract" scene, while Wesley was able to pour out his emotions (much as he tried to deny them) just before he brought everything to an end with his axe.

Closing Thoughts. I can't help but notice that the majority of my Top 5 favorite Wesley/Lilah moments took place during and after their breakup. In many ways we discovered more about their feelings for each other after their breakup than when they were still together. The fact that Wesley risked his life to rescue Lilah from The Beast, who was rampaging through the offices of Wolfram & Hart almost immediately after their breakup, had to mean something. The raw emotions they exhibited made for searing drama as they laid their souls out for the whole world to see.

It was also telling how Wesley and everyone else validated their relationship after her death. Wesley referred to her as a "loved one", then rather unsuccessfully tried to cover it up by saying it was just a "figure of speech". Even his reference to "the last girl I was with", although not a ringing endorsement, was still what I considered to be a healthy acknowledgment that Lilah had been a significant part of his life.

Angel came out not just once, but twice, with his condolences to Wesley on his loss. Gunn's and Cordelia's condolences were less overt, but still nonetheless quite sincere. Only Fred, forever the wide-eyed idealist, couldn't seem to find it in her heart to offer any words of comfort to Wesley.

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