Wednesday, December 30, 2009

After the Fall Volume 1 and First Night - Part 4 - Wesley's First Night

(This is an ongoing series of posts where I discuss Angel: After the Fall Volume 1 and First Night Volume 2.)

We always know that things never come easily for Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, and the events that occurred in the Angel: After the Fall series proved to be no exception. Wes had apparently signed the standard "perpetuity" contract with the evil law firm of Wolfram & Hart and was doomed to spend the rest of eternity in their service.

One of Wesley's most admirable traits was how he was able to exude quiet courage and a sense of dignity even when he was suffering under the most horrendous or humiliating of circumstances. Two examples that quickly come to mind was his demeanor after he had been captured by Captain Narwek and his men in Season 2's "Over the Rainbow", and after he had been captured by Connor et al on behalf of Jasmine in Season 4's "Peace Out".

His father's (Roger Wyndam-Pryce) constant barrage of verbal abuse and criticism had toughened Wes to the point where he could take the worst indignities that were thrown at him and somehow eventually turn everything around to his own advantage. Even though Wesley was ostensibly serving the interests of the Senior Partners, it's obvious to readers that Wes was patiently playing the game while trying to learn everything he could about the Senior Partners and their ultimate plans.

In Volume 2's First Night (where the events chronologically occurred before the events of Volume 1), Wesley was supposedly reunited with Fred immediately after his death. During a dreamlike sequence, the two of them had a lovely conversation (actually, Fred did most of the talking) while they did wonderfully romantic things like embrace each other while overlooking a beautiful mountain vista and take a lovely horse-and-carriage ride through (presumably) Central Park. They eventually ended up in bed together, snuggling under the covers, when Wesley suddenly dropped the bombshell, "If only it wasn't a lie".

"Fred" looked utterly perplexed at first, then highly embarrassed as she asked how he was able to figure out the deception. Wesley replied that the real Fred would have asked how the others were doing. Wes also summed it up with "It's not this cliche". He, probably quite early on, was able to figure out that "Fred" was in reality an evil Temptress sent by Wolfram & Hart to make initial contact with Wes on behalf of the Senior Partners. The Temptress even admitted that they were going to make the big reveal while he was in the "throes of passion", but she also admitted that she knew that Wesley was too intelligent to be fooled.

I was profoundly influenced by Lindsey McDonald's admission in Season 5's "Underneath" that, while he was stuck in Wolfram & Hart's holding/hell dimension, it "Turns out they can only undo you as far as you think you deserve to be undone." In the Angelverse, I wonder how many hell dimensions existed (think of the Quor'toth dimension Connor was raised in), if they were all ruled by Wolfram & Hart, and if Lindsey's maxim applied to any or all of the other dimensions. With this in mind, I wonder if Wesley knew what was happening after he died simply because he had already named his own hell of once again being torn away from Fred.

Back to the evil Temptress. After the big "reveal", she no longer looked like Fred (although she was still a brunette), and she was in a constantly fluctuating state of dress and undress. While she was morphing back in forth into different wardrobes, serpents appeared and wove Wesley into a suit and tie while his glasses magically re-appeared on his face. Wesley took on the appearance of his old Watcher persona from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, doomed to forever act the part of the official corporate liaison for the Senior Partners.

All during this time, the Temptress advised Wesley that, if he ever wanted to see Fred again, he'd have to spy on Angel, advise Angel to stay within the confines of the ruins of the Wolfram & Hart offices, report to Wolfram & Hart on everything that Angel did, and do everything the Senior Partners ordered him to do. Of course, Wolfram & Hart could have been lying about his chances of seeing Fred again, but the Temptress correctly guessed that Wesley would carry out his orders because he clung to the faintest glimmer of hope that he'd be able to see Fred again.

Then, in my favorite part of this chapter, while the Temptress was having a conversation with unseen Wolfram & Hart representatives (was she talking to the Senior Partners themselves?), the Wolfram & Hart voices stated, in response to her expressing confidence that Wesley would perform his duties, "We can only hope. Besides..he has no idea why he's there, he can't. But he's the key to all of this. Wesley is the reason we'll win." These words could have just as easily been uttered by The Powers That Be!

This scene between Wesley and the Temptress was one of the instances where the limits of comic books seemed to come to the foreground. I really needed to hear the literal "tones of their voices" in order to figure out how the two of them were relating to each other during their encounter. Additional dialogue would have helped out immensely. Wes appeared to be playing things in his usual cool, unflappable way, while the Temptress, although undeniably evil, was approaching her work in a certain "business as usual" way. She wasn't giving Wes any good news to cheer about, but she could have made things a lot worse for him. The only indication I was given that the encounter wasn't completely dispassionate was when Wesley made a few veiled death threats, first by advising the Temptress that she might end up dead if she kept impersonating Fred, then when he threatened to wring her neck a little later on before she revealed that he was non-corporeal.

Brian Lynch wrote in the Notes part of First Night that there was a lot of fan speculation as to who exactly was this woman. Some people were guessing Season 5's Eve, while others were guessing it was Lilah. The woman was obviously not Eve, even though there was an undeniable panel where she wore a few appropriately-placed fig leaves. The Temptress, even though she had long flowing brown hair, was obviously not Lilah either. Interestingly enough, during one of her fluctuating wardrobe changes, she was wearing black pants and a silky brown blouse, not totally unlike what Lilah was wearing in Season 4's "Supersymmetry". Regardless, Brian Lynch revealed that the woman wasn't anybody in particular - she was just a woman. I can't help but note that Wolfram & Hart knew that Wesley seemed to respond best to attractive brunettes.

This scene also set me wondering one more time on the nature of Wolfram & Hart's emissaries. We know that both Season 5's Eve and Hamilton were immortal. Even Stephanie Romanov revealed that at one point she had set up a backstory for Lilah in which she was an avatar who had to be tough in order to be able to survive for such a long period of time. (This was from a 2003 Starburst article featuring an interview with Stephanie. I'm not linking to the Whedoncentric site where I got this information from because they have such God-awful pop-ups.) Were Eve, Hamilton and the Temptress alive? Or were they, like Lilah, undead creatures who got up and walked around solely by the graces of the Senior Partners? The only clue I have about the Temptress comes from when Wesley made one of his veiled death threats to her. The Temptress answered that they would both have something in common then (after he killed her), which implied that she was alive during her encounter with Wes. Personally, I think it's a waste of time to threaten a Wolfram & Hart employee. It doesn't seem to matter much if they're dead, alive, or undead. The only clue we have is that a lot of these Wolfram & Hart emissaries seemed to have an undeniable instinct for self-preservation and genuinely feared death. Whatever animated state they were in was usually clearly better than the alternative.

Closing Thoughts. I appreciated Wesley's image being on the front cover of First Night.

In both TV shows and comics, there are so many creative personalities involved, I almost hate to start handing out compliments. Once I start doing so, I feel like I either have to keep it up in finitum or risk slighting someone who genuinely deserves praise because I'm focusing more on the story than the creative process behind the story. First Night featured the work of many artists and colorists. Suffice it to say that I liked some of the artwork better than others. Just like I don't want to hand out too many compliments, I'm hesitant to criticize too much because I'm sure all of the creators are highly talented. It's all just a matter of personal taste.

It's disconcerting to write about Volume 2 first, then Volume 1. Even though the events occurred first (chronologically speaking) in Volume 2, I can't help but feel obligated to comment on Volume 2 based on the framework that was established in Volume 1. Unfortunately, my mind doesn't work that way.

First Night started off with a lot of exciting "POW" "ZOWIE" action sequences, then slowed down to a wonderfully sensuous, languid crawl for Wesley's chapter. It reminded me of how Wesley's Season 4 scenes with Lilah and his Season 5 scenes with Illyria often offered a complete change of pace from the frenetic action of the rest of the episodes.

I'm reasonably sure that Wesley caught on quite early on that "Fred" wasn't real. I thought it was a nice tribute to Illyria that he was able to live for the moment and live in the lie for a short period of time before he relinquished his time with "Fred".

Wesley exuded his own brand of quiet heroism, which was both comforting and realistic. Not all of us can conjure up superhero strength like Angel, and not all of us are scientific geniuses like Fred. Although Wesley was unquestionably brilliant, and possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of all things mystical and supernatural, what really kept him going was his humanity and his dogged sense of determination. At times it seemed like the harder he tried, the more things fell apart on him. However, Wesley never gave up, and always exhibited an amazing capacity to keep himself going despite all sorts of impossible odds.

Denying the Senior Partners a chance to devastate him by revealing that "Fred" was "a lie" was a perfect example of how Wesley was able to consistently get somewhat of an upper hand even in the worst of situations.

In my next post I'll talk about Wesley in Volume 1 of After the Fall.

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