Monday, December 7, 2009

Our Plucky Trio Plus Two

I've written a lot about Cordelia Chase, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and Charles Gunn when they had their own detective agency during their Season 2 estrangement from Angel. (See my "Cordy and Wes and Gunn" tag to my blog posts.) Although I criticized Our Plucky Trio for their lack of compassion for what Angel was going through during his Season 2 crisis of faith, for the most part I enjoyed watching their energy and enthusiasm as they started out their new life away from "Dad" Angel.

The three of them acted absolutely delighted and astonished every time they successfully dispatched a horrible demon without Angel's help. Though they started off well, in "Epiphany", they were lucky to survive the night at the Sharp family residence when they were battling the Skilosh demons. Angel came through and saved the day just in the nick of time. Though they were too proud to admit it, our Trio wisely realized that it was time to quit pretending they were action heroes and wisely returned back to the "safety" of Angel's protection.

Cordy, Wes and Gunn's foray into setting up their own agency was more like a team-building exercise, but it was a valuable first step they needed to take to not only exert their independence from Angel, but to develop their own personal strengths and become a more cohesive unit. I've often thought that a necessary component of success includes the opportunity to have built yourself from the ground up. The Trio started in Cordelia's apartment, worked their way into their own little dingy storefront office, experienced their own version of a Hawthorne Effect bonding phase by having to work without electricity and phone service, all while being ready to battle vampires and demons at a moment's notice.

I'm in the process of watching all of the Angel episodes in order on DVD, so I'm catching several shows that I haven't seen since last spring. One of those episodes was the Season 3 premiere, "Heartthrob", where it was revealed that Angel had been in a Tibetan monastery for the past few months (mourning Buffy's death) while the Trio carried on the good fight while simultaneously babysitting Fred. This time, Cordy, Wes and Gunn looked a lot more relaxed in their role of superheros sans Angel, and were no longer slapping each other on the backs in astonishment after each fresh kill. In other words, they had reached a point where fighting evil was business as usual, which I found to be an admirable quality for them while they continued on their paths through adulthood.

Wesley in particular had a habit of doing a lot of offscreen character-building between seasons. Between Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3 and Angel Season 1, Wesley had toughened himself considerably during his tenure as a "rogue demon hunter". Between the end of Season 2 and the beginning of Season 3 of Angel, Wesley became more comfortable in his leadership position and had turned into a calm and steadying influence for the group. Cordelia in particular changed quite a bit, as she evolved from the shallow fairy-tale princess in the Pylea arc to a more well-grounded, mature (but still wickedly funny and bitchy) young woman in Season 3.

Similar to how I felt some of the timelines of events were a bit off in the beginning of Season 4, I felt some situations were a bit out of synch for the Season 3 premiere. Particularly, I find it hard to believe that the Trio allowed Fred to exchange one cave for another, from the old one in Pylea to the new one in her room at the Hyperion Hotel. I can certainly understand how they felt she needed time to overcome her fears and adjust to her new life, but not to the extent where they allowed her to deface the walls in her little apartment and live in what were most probably quite unsanitary conditions. Rats in the basement can quite easily turn into rodents nesting in the papers scattered in her room, and cockroaches feasting on her plates of taco scraps that she kept on the floor.

There was one dialogue sequence where we can look back in hindsight and think that perhaps both Wesley and Gunn were already starting to develop feelings for Fred. Unfortunately, how Cordy, Wes and Gunn treated Fred was probably close to borderline neglect. Just like I thought Wes and Cordy were a little too cozy and comfy with each other in Season 2 to notice how Angel was strangely sleeping up to 20+ hours per day, I think Cordy, Wes and Gunn were having too much fun being fully-established demon hunters to take much of an interest in Fred's well-being. They were like three young adults established in their careers and enjoying being completely on their own, not quite ready to tie themselves down with something that looked an awful lot like a domestic responsibility. Our Trio probably wanted to watch TV or head out to the clubs after a long day of demon-hunting, rather than tend to the needs of a shut-in.

(It just occurred to me. All three of them had their own apartments at this point in the series. Did they leave Fred alone in the Hyperion Hotel at night?)

In their defense, dealing with psychotic crazy people isn't a lot of fun, and they probably didn't want to force Fred into anything she wasn't ready for. It's amazing how time flies, and the Trio were probably as shocked as anyone that three months had passed and she had yet to make any progress at all.

Ironically, the three of them used to accuse Angel of not caring enough for people. When Angel came back to LA, he was the one who took charge right away and took responsibility for her therapy. My only concern is that it seemed like a bit of an indulgence for someone to take off to a monastic retreat for several months after receiving the bad news of the death of a loved one. Although if anyone deserved to get away from it all it was probably Angel, it still smelled of shirking one's responsibilities. There were times I dearly would have loved to have left my family behind and retreated to a nunnery somewhere.

It was inevitable that Fred was going to join the team, with Cordelia probably having the most to lose. Cordy was obviously loving being the Queen Bee to three good-looking worker-drone males. I always thought of Cordelia as being somewhat of a commitment-phobe. She loved being adored by males, but didn't want to put in the effort to having a real relationship. Between Phantom Dennis at home and working with three, handsome co-workers at the Hotel, she certainly had put herself in an ideal situation. Cordy could satisfy her innate need to dress up in sexually provocative clothing, and flirt and tease to her heart's content, all while being pampered in an utterly safe and protected environment. Adding Fred to the mix would naturally remove some of the attention away from Cordy.

Random Thoughts. Season premieres of Angel (with the exception of the Season 4 premiere) tended to be somewhat weak, and Season 3's premiere was no exception. I thought, particularly in the scenes at the beginning of "Heartthrob" that occurred before Angel's return, that the writing, the acting and the pacing was a bit off. Charisma Carpenter, Alexis Denisof and J. August Richards seemed to be reciting their lines somewhat, almost as though they needed a little time to get back into the swing of things after a summer break. I fully understand that their characters were tired after a big fight, and perhaps suffering from a bit of malaise due to the absence of Angel. I just don't think what they were trying to portray came off successfully.

I also realize that the Trio's failure to help Fred was a plot device to show that, although they were coping quite well without Angel, it was still necessary for Angel to come back and take charge of the group again, even though Wesley was still the nominal leader. Angel was the catalyst who got everyone moving on their correct paths.

I've never shied away from admitting that Fred is one of my least favorite characters on Angel. I also admit that the show really took off when Amy Acker was added to the cast, as though she was the last piece of the puzzle. I compare it to when a married couple is perfectly happy, and perhaps even already has a baby or two, but instinctively know that they need one more little one added to the mix to make the family complete.

I wonder if Cordy, Wes and Gunn learned some lessons when they almost lost their lives at the Sharp residence in Season 2? Like, maybe the importance of covering each other's backs and being in constant communication? Although the Trio certainly would have appreciated Angel's vampire assistance at the beginning of Season 3, one gets the feeling they were getting along just fine without him. I'm sure there was certainly an element of picking their own battles, but would the wrong battle eventually have chosen them? The Trio certainly might not have been in a position to pick and choose what came through the front door of the Hyperion Hotel.

I'm always fascinated by what I'm not seeing in a series. Just like I would have loved to have seen more of Cordy, Wes and Gunn on their own, I would have liked to have seen Wesley on his own when he was estranged from the group in Season 4. In both instances, the characters seemed to have lived extremely rich (if somewhat lonely) lives that will forever be fodder for fanfic writers.

Angel is the first series I've run across where I don't seem to gain any enjoyment from watching random episodes. It seems like I have to watch the series in order, or not watch it all. There's certainly nothing wrong with the individual episodes, but it's almost as though I'm watching an episode out of context if I don't watch several of the other ones leading up to it.

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