Sunday, January 31, 2010

Did Darla Have Much of a Choice? - Part 1

As a rule, I'm not really into writing posts about gender politics or mother figures within the Buffyverse. It's not that I don't care about these issues. It's just that I can't possibly come up with anything new. However, I'm finding that I can hardly avoid these subjects if I want to talk at all about the Darla maternity trilogy in Angel's Season 3 ("Offspring", "Quickening" and "Lullaby").

Darla's immediate storyline started with Season 2's "Reprise" and "Epiphany", where, according to Darla in Season 3's "Quickening", in speaking to Angel, " threw me through those glass doors, slammed me against the wall, pushed me onto the bed and took what you wanted." Of course, that was only her side of the story, seeing as how vampires like Darla supposedly liked that sort of thing. You can read the actual dialogue here and here to make up your own mind on what happened that night.

I often wonder why audiences are attracted to vampire stories. One undeniable aspect is how the subject matter allows creators to completely turn the rules around in defining what is acceptable and what is taboo regarding all sorts of behaviors. With vampire relationships, a writer can safely explore sadomasochistic and misogynistic elements without fear of censure, simply because demons (and by extension, vampires) are supposed to be evil and take enjoyment in not only inflicting pain, but perhaps in even receiving pain.

The last point about vampires enjoying receiving pain might be debatable, but both Cordelia and Spike seemed to think it was no big deal. When Cordelia punched Darla in the nose in "Quickening", she was quick to point out to her, "Oh, come on, tough girl. You're a vampire. A punch in the nose shouldn't hurt that much."

Even more provocatively, after Spike had his epiphany in Season 3's Buffy the Vampire Slayer's "Lover's Walk" as to how he'd be able to get his beloved Drusilla back after she broke up with him, he informed Buffy and Angel, "I've been all wrongheaded about this. Weeping, crawling, blaming everybody else. I want Dru back, I've just gotta be the man I was, ..... the man she loved. I'm gonna do what I shoulda done in the first place: I'll find her, wherever she is, tie her up, torture her until she likes me again...... Love's a funny thing."

It might be splitting hairs as to whether vampires really enjoy receiving pain, or if they just put up with it because they have no respect for entities that don't inflict pain. Regardless, even though Darla was an evil vampire, we can't discard or trivialize the hurt, anger and disgust she felt regarding how Angel not only failed to lose his soul on that stormy night with her, but how his soul actually became stronger as a result. Darla took it a step farther and looked at it both as a personal failure for not being able to turn him back into Angelus, and as an act of betrayal by Angel in refusing to allow the change to occur. Her abuse at the hands of Angel-turned-Angelus would have been perfectly in line with the relationship they had already enjoyed during his roughly 150 years of existence as a soulless vampire. The same treatment at the hands of a fully-ensouled Angel was thoroughly repellent to her simply because he represented everything that she hated.

Darla could have viewed abuse at the hands of Angelus as being consensual, while she could have viewed abuse at the hands of Angel as being rape. Deep down, I don't think Darla's treatment by Angel was her number one concern. The outcome of the abuse was the real issue for her.

Regardless of the exact circumstances, the conception of Baby Connor was hardly an act of love, so already the stage was set for a precursor to a Freedom of Choice v. Right to Life type of story.

Pregnant Darla started off making a few brief appearances in early Season 3, culminating in this scene from "That Vision Thing" where she told the Honduran shaman, "You're a difficult man to find, Senor. Do you know why I'm here? [The man nods]. You are my last hope. I've been told you're very powerful, very wise. I tried everything and I can't get rid of it, so I ask you: what is this thing - growing inside of me? And how's it possible?"

From this scene we know that Darla had no maternal instincts whatsoever and was doing everything she could to "get rid of it". To her, a vampire birth, as opposed to the act of siring a new vampire, was not a miracle to be celebrated. The shaman could not tell Darla what was inside of her and how it could have happened. This lack of information caused her a lot of anguish, and I doubt that Vampire Darla in that state would have been capable of bonding to anything growing in her body.

(In contrast, there are plenty of examples within the Buffyverse of female vampires developing strong maternal attachments to their sired offspring. Think of how thrilled Drusilla felt over the impending "birth" of Darla in Season 2's "Reunion", and the complex feelings Darla felt for her sired son/lover Angel throughout the series.)

Central to all of this is the question of whether Darla had a right to choose whether to carry her baby to term. Personally, if I found out I was pregnant with another species, like a litter of kittens or something, about the only thing that would stop me from terminating the pregnancy would be if the Angel Gabriel himself appeared in front of me and told me "Do not be afraid".

A person could be forgiven for thinking that nothing good could come out from the offspring of two vampires. Darla, being an evil vampire, wouldn't have been in the least bit thrilled if her baby had the potential to bring ultimate salvation. Come to think of it, Darla wouldn't even be in the least bit interested in an evil baby either.

I wrote a post last October called, "The Only Good Demon is a Dead Demon". In it, I openly wondered if demons in the Angelverse had a right to exist amongst humans and, by extension, if they had certain rights that should be enforced. One could easily compare demons to oppressed minority groups that exist within cultures, with vampires belonging to the lowest caste.

In Angel, vampires are so horrible, even other demons are creeped out by them. Humans and demons alike rejoiced when bad things happened to vampires. Does it follow that since Darla was an evil vampire, that forces should have lined up to carry her infant to term simply because anything bad that happened to Darla was automatically a good thing?

I'll cover this more thoroughly in a future post(s), but just about everyone in Angel Investigations ultimately supported the birth, albeit after a bit of cajoling from Angel. Interestingly enough, and probably quite predictably, Angel Investigations and Wolfram & Hart came to different conclusions as to the best way to handle the situation. Since Angel et al were not given clear instructions from The Powers of Be about the destiny of the baby, their attitude was to let the baby live and then deal with the consequences later. Wolfram & Hart, since they had no advance knowledge of this development, assumed that any significant occurrence that was not planned out in advance by the Senior Partners would probably end up being quite a challenge to deal with later on. They therefore decided that the best course of action would be to dissect both Darla and the baby to try to find out exactly how this "virgin" birth could have occurred.

I have to change gears in the middle of my post and address some issues I've always had with the whole Connor story arc, which culminated in the Beast/Jasmine fiasco. Unfortunately, these issues severely interfere with my enjoyment of the otherwise excellent Darla maternity arc. My biggest questions are, how much control did Jasmine have over Darla's pregnancy, and how were The Powers That Be involved? Also, did the writers start the Darla maternity arc with one story in mind, only to have to make drastic changes when they found out Charisma Carpenter was pregnant? I might as well come right out with it - did the creators plot out Jasmine's story at the same time as they created the Darla maternity story? Or did they create the idea of the rogue PTB Jasmine later on?

My best guess for describing the story arc, for what it's worth, is that Jasmine was protecting the pregnancy, and The Powers That Be were supplying Cordelia with the visions. I'm also guessing that The Powers That Be were either neutral or unable to control Jasmine. However, they did the best they could to ameliorate the situation by providing the visions to Cordy. Another way of looking at things is that TPTB couldn't give any indication as to whether the baby would work for good or evil simply because there really wasn't a clear answer.

Tim Minear's and Mere Smith's DVD commentary for "Lullaby" gave me a little bit of insight as to how far ahead the writers are thinking when they come up with storylines for upcoming episodes. According to Minear and Smith, Joss and the writers didn't come up with the idea for Darla's pregnancy until the summer break between Seasons 2 and 3, well after they wrote about her sexual encounter with Angel. This is important for me since, from here on out, the entire show limped along until all of the prophecies concerning the Tro-Clon, as translated from the Nyazian scrolls, were finally wrapped together into late Season 4's Jasmine arc. During the remainder of Season 3 and for most of Season 4, the creators served up one conundrum after another, with plenty of red herrings and false conclusions inserted on a regular basis in order to keep the audience as confused as possible.

I always (probably unfairly) had the sense that the writers were kind of making things up on the fly as they went along. In reality, they can't be that disorganized, because they need to have the storylines charted out far enough in advance in order to keep a tight production schedule. For example, I understand Charisma Carpenter's pregnancy caused a lot of last minute plan changes and, supposedly, part of, if not all of, the Jasmine story had to be written or rewritten as a way to incorporate Carpenter's pregnancy into the script. I don't know if that's true or not, but I do think it would have been cheating a lot if Connor was introduced into the show, under incredibly mysterious and mystical circumstances, without having an ultimate plan for how his character story arc was going to play out. In other words, it's not fair to make the audience try to guess what was going on with the vampire birth and other aspects of the Tro-Clan prophecies if even the writers didn't know the answers.

In my next post (posts?), I'll concentrate on Darla's changing attitudes regarding her child, Angel's thoughts about impending fatherhood, and the reactions of others within the Angel Investigations group.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Last of Dollhouse

From SpoilerTV, Copyright FOX

I can't do much of a formal review for Dollhouse's "Epitaph Two: The Return", since I never saw "Epitaph One". As such, I was mostly along for the ride and didn't spend much time trying to figure out what was going on. It would certainly help if I knew more of the backstory about Caroline being imprinted into the little girl!

Whedonesque has a good listing of reviews here, and I mostly agree with what all of the writers had to say. The series finale should have been stretched out over an entire season, but unfortunately, Whedon et al didn't have that luxury. In fact, I would say the last two episodes of Dollhouse had that "everything thrown in including the kitchen sink" quality that was actually quite effective. My only real criticism of "Epitaph Two" was I thought that the brownish tinged tintype lighting and the jerky "looks like an amateur shot this" camera work (sorry for my lack of knowledge about the correct terminology) came off as affectations. But other than that, I liked what I saw.

What was striking to me was how a lot of the threads were tied up by the end of the series in surprisingly upbeat ways. I was actually expecting a lot more tragedy. The world was saved; Topher died a hero; Adelle lost her moral ambiguity and was able to allow her mothering and nurturing instincts to come to the forefront; Alpha, who I always liked, finally was able to emerge as a good guy; and Victor and Sierra got back together. The only part that didn't quite ring true to me was what happened to Ballard and Echo. I could handle Ballard dying, but I wasn't convinced that the upload of Ballard's memories into Echo could really lessen the hurt she felt for not letting Ballard more completely into her life. However, if Echo was comforted by the "lie", all power to her.

I almost didn't watch "Epitaph Two" last night, because I thought, what's the point? I don't know that I'll ever purchase the DVD's simply because I don't have any compelling curiosity to learn more than what I already know. One of my main criticisms of the series was the fact that I couldn't really get absorbed into the characters. However, I totally agree with what A.V. Club reviewer Scott Tobias had to say:
It’s a frantic rush to the finish, no question, but “Epitaph Two” proved a thrilling, twist-filled hour with real emotional resonance. I’ve always found the idea of this show engaging on a pure, abstract sci-fi level, with its themes of identity, corporate control, and human exploitation. But I’m newly surprised by how much I’ve come to care for these characters and where they wind up in the end. And that’s a small miracle, given how the main complaint many have had with the show is how the ever-shifting identities of the characters made it impossible to glean who they really were. In the home stretch, I think we have a pretty strong grasp to care about their destinies. (I’ll confess that the Caroline/Ballard relationship didn’t quite resonate with me in the end, though I loved the romantic notion of her “letting him in.”) And at the end of the bleakest network TV series I can recalls, I’d say a little hard-won hope and happiness is well-earned.
I certainly am grateful that the producers and the FOX network let me say goodbye to the series by giving me something that looks an awful lot like a happy ending. The acting in "Epitaph Two" was also uniformly excellent. Dollhouse certainly had a good run, and, more importantly, gave its audience a lot of food for thought. I think the series will go down as being definitely worthy of holding one of the more prominent spots within the Whedonverse body of work.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Pretty Little Liars Coming to ABC Family; and Happy B-Day Stephanie

Under the late news (as opposed to late-breaking news) category: I just found out that ABC Family announced on Wednesday, January 27, that they've ordered 10 episodes of Pretty Little Liars, and the series will debut some time later this year. You can check out Zap2It and The Futon Critic (which has a transcription of the official press announcement) for more info.

Alexis Denisof, of course, will be playing one of the dads of the teenage girls. Congratulations on the great news! I'm assuming Alexis will be off to Vancouver, British Columbia to film these episodes. If he and lovely wife Alyson Hannigan need any help with looking after their adorable 10-month old baby Satyana, I'm sure they'll be no shortage of volunteers.

Also, a belated Happy Birthday to Stephanie Romanov, who turned 41-years old on Sunday, January 24. I hope she had a wonderful day with her family and friends.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

We All Scream for Spike (and Angel)

I wasn't going to miss Spike's "first" appearance on Buffy the Vampire Slayer on MTV today in "Lover's Walk", like how I accidentally missed Faith's "debut" last week. And was I ever pleased with what I saw, since he was definitely that same drunken, brawling, dangerous, comic, incredibly wise, romantic poet sort of vampire I fell in love with on Angel.

I don't know too much about Spike's previous history on Buffy, except that: he made a lot of appearances in Season 2, he could never quite get around to killing anyone in the Scooby Gang, and he seemed to have a certain sweet spot for Joyce Summers. From what I can gather, Spike and Dru certainly were memorable in Season 2! Was a relatively Spikeless Season 3 somewhat of a letdown for fans?

Sometimes I think it's a mistake for producers to develop strong characters for only limited runs, then kill them off or otherwise drive them away from the set. I don't know the history involved, but the best scenario I can come up with is that the Buffy creators were blown away by fan reaction to Spike in Season 2, either couldn't quite snare James Marsters or weren't quite ready for him for Season 3, then brought him back to the series as soon as they could for Season 4.

What was nice about "Lover's Walk" today was that David Boreanaz finally got something to do as Angel. A few days ago, my husband caught sight of him on TV and said, "I liked him better when he was on his own show", and pantomimed a muscle-bound Angel striding down the alleyway. I know he must have made stronger appearances in earlier seasons, but for the early part of Season 3, Angel appeared mostly as how a dream lover would appear to a prepubescent schoolgirl. The only thing missing were rainbows and unicorns. (Though Buffy putting a shirtless, muscular beast/Angel in irons and chains was a nice touch. My, my, my - suitable for taming?) It must have killed David Boreanaz to not be able to release any testosterone for several weeks.

Some of my favorite moments in this episode include, Spike asking Joyce, "You got any of those little marshmallows?"; Spike mugging behind Joyce when Angel was trying to warn her about the terrible dangers that she faced, while Buffy snuck in from behind and threatened to stake Spike right then and there; Spike taking Buffy and Angel to task for the two of them claiming they were "just friends"; and that lovely, lovely fight where Buffy, Angel and Spike teamed up to take on those dozens of vampires at the magic shop (where Spike, unfortunately, murdered the shop owner a little bit earlier). I always love the theme of uneasy alliances among enemies, and this episode featured one of the best examples.

I've been mildly interested in the Willow/Oz, Xander/Cordelia and Willow/Xander pairings, but I know I'd understand these scenes a lot better if I had seen more of Willow and Xander's past friendship. Despite the fact that I love Cordelia, I don't much care if Xander cheats on her. However, Oz seemed really sweet and I hated to see him get hurt. Having said that, I don't feel any animosity towards Willow for her behavior, since she was obviously feeling so miserable over everything that was happening.

What is it with Buffy being a haven for bland British actors? Yesterday's "Revelations" had a lot of potential, but Serena Scott Thomas' Gwendolyn Post was so boring! Wouldn't someone like Olivia Williams have been terrific in that role? I never know if it's fair to blame the actors or the directors, but note to Tony Head and Serena Scott Thomas: it wouldn't have hurt to go over the top a bit in your performances. I absolutely adore Giles, but what I'm adoring is the potential for his character (as in fanfic fodder), not so much the actual character. I'll be curious to see if Head picked up the pace a bit more later on. I'm also beginning to realize that Alexis Denisof must have provided much-needed energy and comic relief in the school library when he joined the cast later in the season as Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.

While I'm at it, why did Giles act so cowardly when Gwendolyn Post appeared on the scene? Was the Watcher's Council so scary it seemed safer to accept just anyone who came along and claimed to be a new Watcher, rather than put in a phone call to London (did Giles have email?) and find out if the new person was legit?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pleasant Surprises about Buffy

I'm having a lot of fun working my way through Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with the last episode I've seen being Band Candy. I still wonder about MTV's motivations for airing Buffy, since it's heads and shoulders in quality better than all of those I'm 16 and Stupid types of shows that seem to be a staple of their network. Did MTV pick Buffy to help raise the overall quality of their broadcast schedule, and to teach young women the values of empowerment and self respect? Or is MTV just trying to cash in on the vampire craze that has inexplicably broken out around the world?

One pleasant surprise for me is Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia Chase. I had read a lot of somewhat negative online comments about her character, and the meme seemed to be that she wasn't "that good" on BtVS, Cordelia was too obnoxious, and that she was a lot better on Angel. Normally, the biggest channel-turning moment that occurs for me is when the inevitable teenage bitch queen shows up. Although Cordelia isn't really supposed to be all that likable, I think Charisma Carpenter came up with the finest portrayal of the Teenage Bitch Queen to ever hit the screen. Cordelia's obnoxious, cutting, selfish, and wickedly funny, but has that spark of humanity and a heart of gold that reassuringly lets you know she'll always do the right thing in the end.

I don't think I'll ever get tired of moments like the ones that occurred in "Homecoming" where Cordelia and a gun-toting Buffy mixed it up with the evil demons and assassins, all while beautifully attired in their prom dresses. Although Buffy did most of the work to dispatch the Baddies, Cordelia's sense of vanity saved the day when she bluffed her way through her Faith the Slayer impression when the last remaining vampire was about to kill her, Buffy and Giles.

Another pleasant surprise for me, which I guess I've already mentioned in a prior post, is how much I'm liking Sarah Michelle Geller as Buffy. I was expecting to simply be able to tolerate her presence while I really get caught up with Cordelia and the rest of the cast. To me, Geller seemed all wrong as Buffy, since it seems that Buffy needed to be more Amazonian and less a small, slight wisp of a girl. Geller had that perfect combination of porcelain beauty and charm, intelligence and a cocky attitude that really carried the show.

I'm glad that I didn't have to wait long for the make-out scene between Joyce and Giles while they were under the influence of the teenage behavior-inducing chocolate bars in "Band Candy". Although the scene was way too brief, it was definitely worth a few scan back, slow motion and freeze frame looks. Alas, in the Whedonverse, even when the right people get together, it's for the wrong reason. I'm really liking Giles, but he's still way too low-keyed for me.

Although I'm sensing that it's still too early in the season for much to have happened, it still seems BtVS hasn't progressed as much as I would have thought after being on the air for that amount of time. As much as I'm enjoying the show, it seems odd that Buffy is still stuck in a "girl is a normal teenager by day, a slayer by night, and kills the Baddies by the end of the show" loop.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Just When I Thought I Was Done With Billy

I'm finding that I seem to be focusing a lot on two particular episodes in Season 3 of Angel. One is "That Old Gang of Mine", with its themes of divided loyalties, conflict between Gunn and Angel, the basic rights of demons to live within our dimension, and the consolidation of Wesley's status as a group leader.

The other episode is "Billy", with its own themes of misogyny and violation of trust between Wesley and Fred, female empowerment, and Alexis Denisof's terrific character break-through acting performance.

Just when I thought I couldn't possibly write anything more about "Billy", I had to go ahead and listen to writers Jeffrey Bell's and Tim Minear's Season 3 DVD commentary for the episode. I'm not going to talk about all of the cool things they said because that would just take too long. Instead, I'll focus on information that helped clear up some of my misconceptions and gave me a better understanding of the episode in general.

I've noticed that it seems like more often than not, whenever something in Angel really touches that certain spot inside of me, Joss Whedon himself seems to be behind it. Examples include how he wrote that lovely phone sex scene in "The House Always Wins", and how he wrote two completely opposite but equally beautiful episodes, "Waiting in the Wings" and "A Hole in the World".

This time, I found out Joss Whedon wrote two of my favorite scenes in "Billy", both of them involving evil Wolfram & Hart lawyer Lilah Morgan. The first scene was when Angel paid Lilah a visit at her apartment, and was genuinely shocked at her bruised and battered appearance. The second scene was when Cordelia Chase visited Lilah, which featured that wonderfully witty dialogue about shoes and the title of "vicious bitch". (I wrote extensively about these moments here.) It turns out that Joss wrote these scenes as somewhat of a favor for the writers when they were running out of time. Although I'm not sure if Joss himself came up with these particular storylines, notice how both of these scenes feature Lilah in two of her most sympathetic moments of the entire series.

Speaking of Lilah, it's amazing how Stephanie Romanov could still look gorgeous even when the makeup artists tried to make her look like a hideous cyclops. And what about that ugly two-piece dress she wore in those two above-referenced scenes? My first thought was that she wore it for comfort, since the outfit looked kind of stretched out as though she'd been wearing and laundering it for several years. Yet, she was also wearing stacked-heeled sandals. If I was recovering from severe injuries I wouldn't be wearing a dress and high-heeled sandals, but that just might be me. Regardless, the bruising, the ugly outfit, the casual way she tied back her hair, and the sandals all seemed to fit together in an odd way.

Another interesting aspect of the episode was the controversy involving how Billy's misogyny mojo actually worked on men. Did Billy's touch inject anger into the men, in that he gave them emotions they never had before? Or did Billy's touch cause a latent primal (or "primordial") emotion that already existed in men to come up to the surface? (Bell and Minear discussed this in terms of whether men were naturally Civilized or Barbarians.) I always maintained the latter explanation, because I felt that was why Wesley was so upset after he tried to kill Fred. Wes absolutely knew that Billy's touch brought something to the surface that he'd kept buried all along, even though, as Fred correctly said, he didn't really want to kill her when he was in his normal state. It was bad enough that he turned into something that wanted to kill the girl of his dreams. As a distraught Wesley confided to Fred in this dialogue sequence, "I don't know what kind of man I am anymore."

As Minear explained it, the writers did not resolve the issue and left everything open to interpretation. However, after the original airing of the episode, this issue caused a lot of controversy on internet forums, since Angel had supposedly reached a somewhat different conclusion in a previous scene. According to Angel, "Well, that thing that Billy brought out in others? - The hatred and anger... that's something I lost a long time ago." Also, "I never hated my victims, I never killed out of anger, it was always about the - pain and the pleasure." Personally, I think Angel's statement fits my interpretation better, in that Billy couldn't draw out something that wasn't there to begin with. If anyone gets something else out of Angel's statements, please let me know.

Another raging controversy involved Angel's statement that he didn't feel any moral responsibility for the people who died due to Billy's touch. (Angel was forced to release Billy from a hell dimension at Lilah's command. In return, Lilah released Cordelia from her suffering that was caused by the brain-shattering and skin-burning false visions inflicted on her by a bizarre mind-bender type of person.) I'll let you read the dialogue, but Angel strongly maintained that he would do it again in order to save Cordelia. Cordelia felt responsible because Angel unleashed Billy onto the world on her account, and went after Billy herself.

I guess I can technically see how people could think that Angel should have felt morally responsible for his actions. (Tim Minear himself unhesitatingly said Angel made the right decision.) However, this is one of those fuzzy gray areas that you need to explore and think through the implications. Women were horribly killed because of Billy's demon touch. However, if Cordelia had died, Angel would have lost his connection to The Powers That Be, and many more people might have died as a result.

An additional important consideration is that Angel probably knew that Billy could potentially cause people to die, but he had no specific knowledge that it would actually happen. Remember, Angel had to make the same moral decision in Season 5's "A Hole in the World" and "Shells", where hundreds of thousands of people could have died if steps were taken to remove Illyria's soul out of Fred's body, thereby possibly allowing Fred's soul to reclaim her body. This is one instance where Angel grimly decided to sacrifice a loved one for the greater good, because of the certainty that a large number of people would have otherwise died.

Jeffrey Bell and Tim Minear also talked about how "Billy" started off with the potential of Wesley and Fred pairing up. Wesley confessed his feelings to Cordelia at his apartment in this scene. Then, Wesley and Fred appeared to be flirting with each other during this scene while they were starting to examine Billy's blood under the microscope. (I had trouble interpreting this scene at first, where Fred gave Wesley the slide and Wesley smiled at her. At first I thought it was all harmless, then I thought Wesley's smile was forced and he was starting to get irritated with Fred. I'm glad Bell and Minear cleared it up and informed us that everything was still OK at this point.)

This "flirtation" strikes at the very heart of the problem I have with the entire Wesley and Fred relationship. Wesley obviously adored Fred and couldn't imagine life without her. Fred seemed to like Wesley enough to be a little flirty with him (as opposed to overtly teasing him), but I never sensed she felt anything close to the same depth of emotions as he did. In a desert island situation, where they were the only two inhabitants, etc., she would have been happy enough to live with him forever (as opposed to one of millions of other guys), but there was no indication that he was The One for her. Wesley was a Nice Man who did Nice Things for her, and she wanted to do Nice Things in return. Beyond that, Fred didn't seem to suffer through any particular angsty moments about her feelings for him, outside of a little confusion when he starting hitting on her in a big way in Season 4. That's why I find Angel and Cordelia's doomed relationship that much more believable. Angel was visibly quite smitten with Cordelia, and Cordelia, having seen Angel at his very worst, spent the entire series obviously working very hard to deny her feelings for him.

Even the exquisitely beautiful last scene in "Billy", where Fred visited and tried to comfort Wesley, didn't convince me that Fred had any particular strong feelings for him. Wes was obviously horrified with how he treated her, and was unable to pull himself together enough to allow her to get close to him. By the same token, Fred didn't force the issue either, and probably wisely left him alone a few minutes later. I'm sure that if she would have stayed with him for a while she might have developed feelings for him, but I can only conclude that it wasn't meant to be. This was just another instance of her wanting to do Something Nice for the Nice Man.

Think of the possibilities that could have been explored in subsequent episodes. Fred could have stopped looking at Wesley as the always-in-control boss. Fred could have tried to talk to Wesley later on about the incident, or Wesley could have had difficulty relating to Fred on the job after that horrible night. Except for the fact that Wesley started to explore his dark side in "Billy", you can't tell in any of the following episodes that anything tragic had happened between the two of them. If we took "Billy" out of the rotation, we wouldn't see any change in their relationship, except for the fact that she eventually hooked up with Gunn.

As an interesting sidenote, "Billy" was filmed right after the September 11 attacks in 2001. Bell and Minear even spoke of how they weren't sure they'd be able to film airplanes taxiing down the runway since all planes were grounded for several days after the attacks. Another problem was trying to figure out if the audience would believe that security was lax enough to allow Cordelia and Lilah to go onto the tarmac with their various weapons. The creators got around that little problem by realizing that the episode was obviously filmed at a small airport rather than at a large one like LA International, and everyone would figure out that the security procedures would have been different for these two types of airport.

In the very last scene of "Fredless", which was the episode aired immediately prior to "Billy", Charisma Carpenter wore a T-shirt with a tiny U.S. flag sewn on it while everyone was painting Fred's room at the Hyperion Hotel. I've often wondered if that scene was also filmed after 9/11 as well, since what Charisma was doing was a common patriotic gesture. Before 9/11, it wasn't nearly as common. If her T-shirt was a 9/11-inspired wardrobe piece, then I think that was the only overt nod to 9/11 in the entire series. The 9/11 attacks profoundly influenced the US for many years, and it was often in the forefront of our thoughts. I haven't exactly been looking, but I haven't noticed any other veiled references to 9/11 in the program. I'm actually quite grateful for that, since those references would have had the potential to date Angel quite badly. At their worst, the producers could have done something quite clumsy like try to compare Wolfram & Hart to al-Qaeda. It's to Joss Whedon's credit that he and his writers were able to give the audience a timeless series that should successfully live on for many more years to come.

Closing Thoughts. After listening to other DVD commentaries about how well Lilah's scenes worked when Stephanie Romanov was filming with several other actors, I'm starting to realize that Stephanie was somewhat wasted in spending most of her time working on the Wolfram & Hart sets. Lilah really came into her own when she came out of the offices and interacted with other characters, whether they were Angel Investigations staff members or allied bad guys. Think of her various Season 3 scenes with Angel, Cordelia, Holtz, Sahjhan and Wesley. This is just yet one more example of the rather nice dilemmas that the creators faced when they assembled an unusually talented cast for their show. They just couldn't possibly put everyone in as many scenes as they deserved.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Early Thoughts on Buffy: or, A Decade Late to the Party

I'm trying to pretend that I'm not heartbroken that I forgot to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer on MTV today, particularly since it was the episode ("Faith, Hope & Trick") that introduced Faith to the series. She just happens to be one of my favorite characters in the entire Buffyverse.

My official story is that I'm hoping that I don't get hopelessly stuck on the series so I will not feel compelled to watch each and every episode. That way I won't spend time that I don't really have writing an infinite number of blog posts about Buffy. So, I'm stuck on having watched a grand total of two episodes of the series so far, and holding.

Lack of official knowledge has never held me back from posting anything, so here are my impressions on BtVS after having seen Season 3's "Anne" and "Dead Man's Party".

Buffy: the Series. I've been waiting my entire life to see something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, seeing as how I went through most of my childhood without finding the perfect female role model to admire. I finally found the fantastic Diana Rigg performing as Emma Peel on reruns of The Avengers during my senior year in high school in the early 1980's, but by that time it was too late. It's ironic that when Buffy arrived on television, I had to wait well over a decade before I could finally start watching the series.

(Advice to anyone out there contemplating parenthood: having young kids running around underfoot really puts a crimp in your TV viewing schedule.)

It's unfair to compare one series against the other, and I find myself in the unusual position of comparing Buffy to Angel, rather than the other way around. Having said that, I'm preferring Angel because it's darker, more mature, more philosophical, and, in an odd way, appears to have a deeper sense of humanity.

The biggest drawback to me in Buffy is how it seems to be a typical high school adventure series where the collective interests of the clique are more important than the individual needs of its members. That was the facet that I really hated in Angel's Season 2 crisis of faith (in Angel: the Series), where Angel was constantly criticized by his friends and forced to atone for the fact that he'd had enough of Wolfram & Hart's machinations and felt the need to do something about it.

However, in the grand scheme of things, that's just nitpicking, and I'm willing to enjoy Buffy based on its own merits.

Buffy Summers. I had read how the TV Buffy, as played by Sarah Michelle Geller, is a lot more thoughtful and introverted than the Buffy that was played by Kristy Swanson in the movie version. In 2003, Jonathan Rauch wrote a piece in The Atlantic called "Caring For Your Introvert". I've always intended to use this article as the basis for yet another Post That Will Probably Never Be Written, this time involving AtS Season 1 Angel and Cordelia. According to Rauch and social scientists, introverts are not necessarily shy or spineless. Introverts usually hold their own in conversations and are even capable of shining at parties for a few hours at a time. However, introverts need their alone time to unwind, collect their thoughts, and regroup for the next round of social interactions.

In "Anne", Buffy seemed to enjoy her anonymity in the Big City. In "Dead Man's Party", she was more than a little miffed when her small dinner party, which she didn't seem all that thrilled about to begin with, turned into a big party-crashing "hootenanny". Ignoring the fact that it's not a good idea for young underage women to be living on their own, in both instances Buffy was castigated for ducking her responsibilities and abandoning her friends. Particularly with the party scene, there was the general subtext that all teens should enjoy brain-deafening music and having their homes trashed by a bunch of unknown peers. Instead of making a federal case out of things, maybe everyone should have just periodically left Buffy alone for a while.

Joyce Summers. Kristine Sutherland, the actress who plays Buffy's mother Joyce, looks remarkably a lot like actress Blythe Danner. More importantly, she looks a lot like Sarah Michelle Geller, which is why I find them almost believable as mother and daughter. Joyce seems like she makes a valiant effort to keep the lines of communication open with Buffy, but will often slip back into the habit of mouthing off empty platitudes to her daughter, probably due to the time constraints she faces as a single mom.

Joyce doesn't seem like the right person for the job of being a mother to a slayer, but then she hardly signed up for that tour of duty either. Despite being irritatingly too accepting of a bunch of kids trashing her house, I was more than thrilled to see her acting quickly and quite bravely in helping to drive away the attacking zombies. She didn't hesitate to pick up large heavy objects and start whacking away!

I'm also grateful that I'm spared, at least for a little while, the drama of Joyce discovering, "Oh, how horrible, my daughter's a slayer!" and "You've been doing what in the middle of the night?"

Rupert Giles. So far I'm a little disappointed with Rupert Giles. I'm not sure if I can blame it on Anthony Stewart Head or not, but I'm finding Giles to be a little bit too bland. And I have an extremely high tolerance for blandness! On the upside, I'm finding promising potential in how he further interacts as Buffy's father-figure, as a mentor for the Scoobies, and as a not-quite Almost Something or Other for Joyce.

Cordelia Chase. I love Charisma Carpenter, and I adored Cordelia Chase in Angel, but it was a relief to find Cordelia somewhat in the background in Buffy, subsumed by the group. An analogy is, sometimes it's nice to find the "down" button in the volume controls. What I find absolutely amazing so far is how much more courageous Cordelia seemed in Buffy, rushing in to mix it up with the vampires and demons almost without thinking, in contrast to her, "I'll stand back and let Angel do all the work" attitude in Angel. I think it was a mistake for the producers to have her act much more timidly in Angel. Admittedly, as the series went on Cordelia became a much more effective fighter, but it's debatable as to whether she ever reached the same level of reckless abandonment that she achieved in Buffy.

In the creators' defense, Cordelia was working within a well-oiled machine with the Scooby Gang, where everyone knew their coordinated roles. In Angel, the demons seemed a lot more dangerous, and Angel needed lots of room to manoeuvre. Cordelia would have run the risk of being accidentally cold-cocked by Angel if she would have gotten too close to the action.

Willow Rosenberg. Alyson Hannigan is kind of an idiosyncratic actress who I think takes some getting used to. Once you get over her idiosyncrasies, she's actually quite delightful to watch. I thought I'd find Willow to be rather boring, but I'm happy to find that she's quite sweet and courageous. I'm enjoying her interactions with Oz, and I'm already kind of sad to know that she'll be coming out of the closet in a relatively short period of time. I think I'd accept her lesbianism a lot more if she had been gay all throughout the series run.

I'm also saddened to find out she'll be much more of a witch later on (in more ways than one), because I like her just the way she is right now. However, having her become skillful in witchcraft undeniably opened up a lot more possibilities for future plotlines.

Oz Osbourne. To me, Seth Green will always be Dr. Evil's son from Austin Powers. I'm therefore delighted that he seems to be the same laid-back, laconic character in Buffy. You hate to see any actor being typecast, but Seth plays this type of guy so well, you hate to ever see him change.

Xander Harris. The jury's out on him. He seems to be the alpha member of the Scoobies (excluding Buffy) with a lot of wonderful qualities. He's intelligent, funny, and sensitive, and shows a lot of great leadership qualities. However, I didn't appreciate how he took charge of the "Let's pile the guilt on Buffy" incident in "Dead Man's Party".

Perhaps he's just a little too sure of himself and of his moral superiority?

Angel. So far he's just been Buffy's dream boy. It's interesting to see him through Buffy's eyes, rather than as a powerful figure in his own right.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

That Object of Desire

"Fredless" in Season 3 of Angel marked the transition between Angel being the man of Fred Burkle's dreams to the race between Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and Charles Gunn for her affections.

I actually wanted to start off by saying the episode marked the transition between focusing on Angel's and Wesley's feelings for Fred over to focusing on Wesley and Gunn vying for her attentions, but that wouldn't be totally honest. Since I'm a fan of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, I know I tend to focus on his on-screen reactions more than any other character's reactions. In the early Season 3 episodes, Angel was basking in the glow of Fred's hero-worship, while Wesley was obviously starting to fall in love with her. It was also obvious, judging from a few references scattered throughout, that Gunn was quite smitten with Fred as well. Although I could be rightfully accused of ignoring or downplaying Gunn's feelings, I still think the camera was focusing more on Wesley's reactions to Fred. Otherwise, the tragic circumstances surrounding Wesley's demon-inspired attacks on her in the next episode, "Billy", would not have had quite the same dramatic impact.

In my post from a few days ago, "And Fred Makes Five", I focused on how Cordelia might have felt about the addition of Fred to the group. Today it's the boys' turn.

Angel. Despite the fact Angel could totally lose his head over Darla and Buffy, he could be remarkably controlled over his feelings toward other women at other times. This isn't as harsh as it may sound, but Angel's "relationship" with Fred was more about his happiness at being the object of her hero-worship than his actual feelings for her. (Though he really was quite fond of her.) Men and women fall in love with or develop crushes on other people all the time and don't feel compelled to act on their feelings. Instead, they are content to just sit back and enjoy the other person's company as a pleasant little diversion.

Angel wasn't exhibiting enormous self-control to "deny" himself of Fred's company. His only fault was that he perhaps stepped a little too much into her fantasy world of handsome champions rescuing damsels in distress. As I've pointed out many times in the past, although he could do it as well, if not better, than anyone else, negotiating his way through a world filled with shades of gray could get quite tiresome at times. For Angel, if felt good to enter a world of black and white where the dangers were obvious, and all he had to do was concentrate on saving the Fair Ladies in his life.

Much has been made about how Angel was a product of the 1700's who had old-fashioned attitudes about chivalry. That's undoubtedly true, but he didn't have those values simply because he came from olden times. Many men today have the same values, which seemed to really rub feminists the wrong way in the 1960's/1970's when they correctly derided the notion that women couldn't take care of themselves. Think of Angel's stifling effect on Cordelia's love life in Season 1 when he insisted on personally vetting her dates. (With good reason, as it turned out.)

As a real-life example, my husband and one of my bosses will swear up and down that they don't constantly fret about my safety. However, whenever come back to town after a long road trip, I feel like I almost have to call both of these men and let them know when I have to stop to use the restroom. They think they know exactly how long it takes for me to get back to Detroit after I meet with a client. If I don't check in by a certain time, they're on their cell phones calling to make sure I'm OK. The problem is, they both seem to think I should be driving down the freeway at 85 mph.

Angel exhibited the same chivalric concerns for just about everyone, but he undoubtedly cranked things up a notch when a pretty girl was involved. Although I used to find that type of behavior quite irritating, I now recognize it as a natural instinct that is somewhat akin to protective parenting instincts. Trying to change the man's behavior is almost like asking him to cut off his arm, since suppressing that natural instinct would be asking the man to cut out a huge part of himself. That behavior needs to be challenged if it becomes too obsessive and controlling, but understanding and accepting someone's need to protect will go a long ways toward being able to deal with that behavior.

What Fred brought out in Angel was the freedom to act the hero and save the girl on a regular basis in front of an appreciative audience, without Cordelia's constant (albeit funny) wisecracks. Even though Angel and Fred never became lovers, his affection for her never waned, which become that much more obvious in Season 5.

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. Although he lacked Angel's specific melodramatic, swashbuckling flair, Wesley also exhibited some unmistakable old-fashioned chivalric behaviors of his own. Like Angel, Wesley would have helped anyone, male or female, yet he too exhibited that extra little spark whenever a beautiful young woman was involved. (Think of Rebecca Lobo in Season 1's "Eternity" and Virginia in Season 2's "Guise Will Be Guise".)

I've talked at great length about Wesley's watcher instincts, where he had an innate need to cherish, protect and guide young women that went way beyond being a Watcher for vampire slayers. (You can click on my Wesley the Watcher tag for more of my thoughts.) Everyone knows that when Wesley lectured Angel in "Smile Time" about hiding behind his curse to avoid women, he was really talking about his own affection for Fred when he said, "...if there's a woman out there... who you find truly attractive, who you think about, let's say, most of the time, who represents even part of what you think makes the world worth fighting for and who doesn't view you as an entirely sexless shoulder to lean have to do something about it."

This piece of dialogue, this time from Season 5's "A Hole in the World" was even more revealing about Wesley's feelings, when he told a dying Fred "I've loved you since I've known you. No, that's not—I think maybe even before."

Wesley's rescues were a lot more subtle than Angel's. Presumably through his good breeding, he was usually careful to be correct and keep an appropriate distance from these rescued women (both physically and metaphorically) in every way. When Wesley was protecting Fred in Caritas in "That Old Gang of Mine", there was nothing remotely romantic in his treatment of her, even though she spent a considerable amount of time being held tightly in his arms. To Fred, Wesley was the latest in the line of Nice People who were doing Nice Things for her since she arrived back from Pylea. Fred was also the only one of the Angel Investigations team who only knew Wes as The Boss, and that he represented a sort of protective Father Figure/Authority Figure to her. For his part, although it wasn't overtly manifested on the screen, we know that Wesley obviously couldn't help but feel a certain thrill from holding a beautiful frightened young woman in his arms.

Wesley looked upon brainiac Fred as being a kindred soul, and was delighted that she was more talented than he was in many ways. Angel admired and respected Fred's abilities as a survivor, but one senses that he thought she was a rare exception to the rule. Wes looked at Fred as more of an equal than Angel did, probably due to his lifetime exposure to the Watcher lifestyle, where Watchers were forever in contact with young women who possessed extraordinary abilities. (Notice how I didn't come out and say that Wesley fully accepted Fred as an equal, which Fred noted a few times in Season 5, particularly in this scene. Wesley himself was old-fashioned to the core. Although he could recognize and accept Fred's abilities, he would always place himself above her in the totem pole through his self-appointed role of mentor.)

Charles Gunn. In his DVD voiceover for Season 2's "Over the Rainbow", director Fred Keller praised J. August Richards for his extraordinarily natural acting abilities in his portrayal of Charles Gunn. The key word here is "natural", since, in many ways, Charles Gunn was the most "natural" and realistic person in the group. In real life, no one is a vampire like Angel, no one is as smart as Wesley or Fred, and no one has visions like Cordelia. Even though Gunn had exceptional fighting abilities, we do have a feeling that if we devoted to ourselves to a vigorous training regimen, we'd be able to fight vampires and demons just like him.

Just like our moods would lighten up a bit whenever we saw Lorne enter the scene, we would also relax a bit whenever Charles showed up. We couldn't help but think that a little bit of sanity and common sense was finally headed our way. Although this might not be strictly the truth, we never sensed anything tortured or complicated in Gunn's attitude towards Fred. Instead, we saw how any other young man would react to a sweet and beautiful kick-ass woman who entered his life. Gunn saw a pretty girl, fell in love with her, went to breakfast with her every morning, and later made his move on her (in "Waiting in the Wings") in the most natural and uncomplicated way possible.

Fred recognized fairly quickly that her feelings for Angel were simply a fairy tale infatuation. With Wesley, she always felt like had to mind her p's and q's around him. Although I don't actually recall seeing this too much (if at all), one has a feeling that if she made one little mistake, he'd be right on top of her to correct her, albeit kindly and lovingly. Also, Wesley's personal life was probably remarkably a lot like his professional life. We sense that after he spent a hard day at the Hyperion Hotel reading musty old books, he probably went back to his apartment to kick back and relax by reading musty old books.

Fred seemed to be able to compartmentalize her personal and professional lives. When she was off-duty, she probably enjoyed swimming, playing tennis, watching TV, painting her nails, building ax-hurling devices and playing video games. With Charles, she didn't have to constantly worry about creating a good impression. She could laugh, be silly, tell bad jokes and otherwise be free to relax and be herself. Those mornings at the diner created some wonderful bonding moments for the two of them where they could talk about their lives and complain about work a little before psyching themselves up for another big day.

Although Charles was every inch as chivalrous as Angel and Wesley, and certainly did his part of protect Fred, he rarely made a big production out of it. When we saw Charles taking care of Fred, he wasn't making any bold statements. He was simply doing what he had to do at that moment in time to protect the girl he loved. In hindsight, Fred didn't have to make any choice at all between Gunn and Wesley in Season 3, since Gunn was the frontrunner all along.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Familiar Faces on Buffy

In my last post I wondered how well it work for MTV to start off their run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the U.S. with Season 3 episodes. From my point of view it worked just fine, since I was happy to see a lot of familiar faces from Angel in the Buffy Season 3 premiere, "Anne". (Full disclosure: I'm the one person in the universe who, prior to today, had seen all of the Angel episodes but had not seen any Buffy episodes all of the way through.)

In "Anne", besides the usual suspects of Buffy, Angel, Cordelia, Oz and Willow, I also recognized Julia Lee as Chanterelle/Lily/Anne, and Carlos Jacott as Ken. Julia Lee, of course, put in some memorable performances in Angel as Rachel in Season 1, and as Anne the youth shelter coordinator in Seasons 2 and 5. Carlos Jacott later appeared as Richard Straley, Doyle's ex-wife's fiance, in Season 1's "Bachelor Party".

Julia Lee is a fine actress who seems to specialize in portraying characters who have enormous impacts on TV series way out of proportion to the number of episodes she actually appears in. I was pleased to see a little bit more of her character's backstory in Buffy so I can fully appreciate how far she had progressed a few years later in Angel. Carlos Jacott is, shall we say, almost normal looking, but has an unmistakable odd bent about him. This makes him the perfect actor for those Buffyverse human-to-demon roles.

I wasn't loving the school scenes in the beginning of the episode, but then I never cared for high school dramas even when I was in high school. (Although I thought all of the lead actors were fine, and I loved the kids' vampire-staking escapade in the park, culminating with Xander and Cordelia's kiss). It was almost a relief to see Buffy, since it provided a nice change of pace to the frenetic action of the school hallways. I was never blown away by Buffy's crossover appearances in Season 1 of Angel. It was nice to find that Sarah Michelle Geller was outstanding as Buffy when she appeared in her own series, and now I understand what all of the fuss was all about. It's always a relief to find out you actually like the star of a show. My only regret was that I would have loved to have seen a lot more of her girl-power kick-ass action, but I guess it wouldn't work if we had too much of a good thing either.

Rupert Giles didn't wow me, although it's too early for me to shut the door on him. However, I did enjoy that wonderful "Is there something going on?" tension between him and Kristine Sutherland's Joyce Summers.

As I expected, there was some food-for-thought dialogue that I think will help me understand the Buffyverse a little bit better, particular with "Ken's" "What is hell but the total absence of hope?"

"Anne" was written and directed by Joss Whedon. Whedon always serves up a nice frothy little souffle, and I always enjoy these types of episodes as stress relievers. Personally, I would be perfectly fine if all episodes of Buffy were like this, so I wouldn't get obsessed about seeing every single show. Like I've said earlier, I don't have time to get sucked into another series. I was telling myself I should probably see all seven seasons before I start writing posts, just so I won't make a fool out of myself by writing about things that I think are happening, only to be proven wrong at a later date. Unfortunately for me, I have my doubts about how long I'll be able to hold out before I start writing about Buffy again.

Closing Thoughts. I loved the theme music and the opening credits for Buffy. Speaking of opening credits, I was surprised to see that a shot from "Anne" (the woman standing on the curb looking out over the street in Los Angeles) ended up in the Season 1 opening credits of Angel.

I had to suffer through a bunch of ghastly promos for upcoming original MTV shows. I mentioned a few posts ago that I have a hangup about Grandpa Having Sex. I have just as much of a hangup, if not more so, for unattractive pea-brained White Trashy Kids having sex. I'm going to have to keep a puke bucket nearby if I keep watching Buffy on MTV.

Monday, January 18, 2010

MTV Starting Out with Buffy Season 3?

I just checked out Zap2It's TV listings for Buffy the Vampire Slayer's inaugural appearance on MTV in the U.S. tomorrow, and it appears that, for whatever reason, they'll be starting off with Season 3 episodes. At least I won't have to wait long to see Wesley Wyndam-Pryce!

I have no idea if MTV's broadcasting schedule ties in with Logo's schedule at all, since Logo is currently showing early Season 3 episodes. Regardless, it might not be a bad idea to start broadcasting a series in the middle of its run, when presumably some stronger episodes will appear. (Though it's arguable as to whether Season 3 is the best starting point.) That's how I started watching Angel and got hooked on it.

I'll finally find out for once and for all what all of this fuss about Buffy has been about.

And Fred Makes Five

"Fredless" is another one of those episodes of Angel I had only really seen once, before I saw it again on DVD a few weeks ago. Upon first viewing, the show seemed to be a harmless, pleasant little diversion - a nice way to pass the time for an hour or so, but nothing to get excited about.

I now include "Fredless" in that pantheon of early Season 3 episodes that I adore simply because it includes the Fab Five of Angel, Cordelia Chase, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, Charles Gunn and Fred Burkle as one happy little family. Also, like other early season episodes of Angel, it tends to get somewhat maligned for (you guessed it) just being a stand-alone show that doesn't belong to some oversweeping story arc. In reality, this is a typical one of those "stand-alone" episodes that was quietly setting the groundwork for events that happened later in the season.

Quick recap: Fred's parents tracked her down and wanted to bring her home. Fred freaked out when she saw her parents since they represented reality. Their appearance could only mean that her five hellish years in the Pylea dimension really did, in fact, happen. Fred eventually agreed to return home with her loving parents, only to discover that her true calling was to work with her friends at Angel Investigations. After a few tears, (and after doing her part to save her friends from getting killed by giant bugs), Fred told her parents about her decision, then started her new life as a permanent resident of the Hyperion Hotel.

I've already written about this episode a few times, and I don't like to repeat myself. If interested, you can read my thoughts about Fred's and her parents' journey through alternate realities in my post "Through the Looking Glass; or Welcome to My Nightmare", and a little blurb, including a bit about Fred's awkward hug with Wesley, towards the end of "The Only Good Demon is a Dead Demon".

One subject I've mentioned a few times in the past is how Cordy seemed to be a little more testy with Fred's neurotic ramblings than the men of AI. This would fall entirely within her Bitch Queen personality, although Cordelia had softened up considerably by the time Season 3 came along. What fascinates me about the early part of Season 3, and with "Fredless" in particular, is the tension I saw between Cordelia acting as a loving, protective older sister to Fred, and having to cope with the impending loss of her solo Queen Bee status.

Prior to Fred's appearance, Cordelia, who I always maintain was a commitment-phobe, had the undivided attention of three gorgeous, strapping young men (more or less). Hormones were swirling unabated all around the Hyperion Hotel, and her flirtations probably provided her with a necessary release. Then Fred came along, and the three men suddenly had a fresh new pretty face to enjoy. Although I was shocked to discover while researching my "Ages and Stages" post that Fred could have possibly been the oldest of the living humans of AI, she represented sweetness and innocence who, against all odds, still seemed to remain basically untouched by the evil flourishing around her. To Wesley in particular, but to Angel and Gunn as well, Fred represented the reason why they were fighting the good fight, to protect people like her from the forces of darkness.

I'm fond of this dialogue sequence which occurred after Fred left the Hyperion Hotel with her parents. Angel, Cordy, Wes and Gunn were relaxing in the lobby and reminiscing about their times together with Fred. I'm sure Angel was speaking for all of the gentlemen when he stated: "I'm gonna miss her. She was just this nice, quiet kind of crazy. - I found that - soothing."

I'm always fascinated with dichotomy, and Cordelia illustrated a classic case with her feelings about Fred. She seemed to bristle at the suggestion that perhaps she wasn't soothing like Fred. Cordelia continued on, ".........Personally, I'm glad she's gone. It's gonna be a load off not having to worry about crazy taco lady anymore." Yet almost immediately, she got excited when Angel suggested that Fred would come back some time to visit them.

To Cordelia, having Fred around was like bringing home a new puppy or a new sibling. They're cute, lovable and adorable, but can also drive you crazy. Of course the men could tolerate Fred's nuttiness because she was cute and, personality-wise, the total opposite of Cordelia. (Let's face it - Cordelia could drive everyone crazy at times). Cordy didn't have the option of becoming smitten by her, but she did seem to relish taking on the role of acting like the big sister to an admittedly older Fred. I didn't realize this until I started this post, but Fred was actually the one who brought out the softness in Cordelia in Season 3. Fred brought out Cordy's nurturing/protective instincts just as much as she brought out the protective instincts in the males.

Family dynamics also played a huge part in this episode, where Fred's parents were presumed evil until events proved otherwise. I thought it was quite clever how Angel, Cordy, Wes and Gunn had come from such dysfunctional families, they couldn't even recognize a normal family when they saw one. You can click on the "family" tag at the end of this post if you're interested, but I've also written quite extensively about the "family" atmosphere of Angel Investigations. I had tried to write a post about the differences between the AI "friends" and their "families", until I found I had to start all over again when I realized that Angel and his crew really was a family in their own right.

One part of Cordelia wanted to see a happy ending for Fred, where she went back to her own loving and protective parents. Naturally, Cordelia was enormously jealous that Fred had two wonderful parents, and probably couldn't understand why anyone would want to leave such nice people. However, Fred had seen and experienced too much in her five years in Pylea to be able to go back to a normal life. She then made the momentous decision to trade one family for another, and to become a permanent member of Angel Investigations.

While I was thinking about the Angel "family", I was trying to assign different roles and, by extension, a pecking order. In Season 1 Angel was like the much older brother to Wes and Cordy, and in Season 2 he become the Dad to the group, with Gunn being somewhat of a foster child or adopted son. When Angel abandoned his "kids" in Season 2, the dynamics changed around a bit, with the roles being a bit more difficult to define. By the time Season 3 rolled around, Wes was the boss and unmistakeably a father figure at times. However, Angel was definitely not a "son" to Wes.

Even though Wes was ostensibly Angel's boss, everyone knew that Angel was still the real leader of the group. So perhaps Angel could have still been considered the "Dad", with Wesley being the much older son who had been granted authority to take charge of daily operations, but Angel's designation doesn't stand up to much scrutiny. It would be hard to place either Cordy or Gunn as being "older" than the other, although Cordy was obviously higher up in the pecking order due to her personality and seniority. Fred was definitely the youngster, even though she was quite possibly chronologically older than all of the humans in the group! Suffice it to say, at the least, the Angel Investigations "family" for a short while consisted of a group of brothers and sisters.

There were a few instances where Gunn's relatively low status within the group stood out in sharp relief. One was where he suggested they start looking for Fred at the taco stands. After Angel, Cordy and Wes looked at him as though he had just sprouted horns, Gunn said, "Joke!- kind of." Personally, I thought it was an excellent suggestion and I was surprised they didn't immediately rush off to the taco stands. Gunn's only sin was that he never assimilated into the group-thinkiness of the main core (Angel, Cordy and Wes), and came up with original ideas once in a while. Of course, even though Gunn would have ultimately been proven wrong, it was still a good hunch.

I was even more startled (Lorne was definitely having a bad night) when Lorne in no uncertain terms agreed that it wouldn't be a bad idea if Gunn waited outside when they all went to look for Fred at Caritas. Lorne didn't come out and order Gunn out of his sight, but he didn't need to either. Of course, Lorne was still smarting over the fact that Gunn's old friends destroyed Caritas in a previous episode, "That Old Gang of Mine". I suppose it was Gunn's fault in the sense that none of that would have ever happened if Gunn had never been born. But pinning the blame on Gunn for his friends' actions seemed needlessly cruel.

Backing up a bit, interestingly enough, Lorne was the only one who didn't cosset Fred. Although his conversation with her in the ruined Caritas nightclub was entirely within his direct and to-the-point personality, it still seemed a bit jarring to see him acting somewhat sharply with her. And what was it with the advice for her to keep running? Was he just trying to get rid of her? This scene was a typical example of how Lorne wasn't exactly all-seeing and all-knowing, and often handed out dubious advice that masqueraded as being cryptic. Even if he wanted to be mean to Fred, I can't imagine he'd send her off all by herself to a bus station on the mean streets of Los Angeles.

"Fredless" also featured an enormous red herring. The Burkles insisted that they received a letter from Fred, sans return address, telling them she was OK and that they shouldn't come looking for her. Naturally, they hired a private detective, who eventually traced Fred to the Hyperion Hotel.

As Gunn and Cordy pointed out, it seemed impossible for Fred to have taken off at some point to post a letter. It seemed equally impossible for a detective to have tracked her down. I was positive that either the letter was a fake, as Angel hinted, or that Wolfram & Hart was somehow involved in tracking her down. Adding to the mystery was the fact that Fred never came out and admitted that she wrote the letter. I was sure that the implications of these events would somehow materialize later in the series. However, as far as I know, nothing ever happened.

Closing Thoughts. The scene in the beginning where Wes and Cordy were imitating Angel and Buffy didn't work for me. It seemed like the director had to cut to Gunn laughing just to prove that it was "funny". I think after a few more takes Alexis and Charisma might have nailed it.

Cordelia had her own issues about whether she was special enough to belong in the group. (Gunn and Fred often had their doubts as well.) It was therefore gratifying to see that Fred unhesitatingly described Cordy as being "the heart" of the group, which was perfectly true. Cordy had the visions, but she realized that the receipt of the gift was more dumb luck than anything. As Girl Friday, Cordy kept the operations running and kept everyone on track. More importantly, she kept her eye on the mission, which became that much more apparent when a Cordy-less group accepted the offer to work for Wolfram & Hart in Season 5.

Most of the time I don't mind a little bit of obvious symbolism. Wasn't it a beautiful shot of Fred at the close of the episode when she finally painted over the pictogram she had drawn of her and Angel riding on the horse, which depicted what had happened when he rescued her in Pylea? Of course, she was leaving one stage of her life behind while looking forward to the next.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Body Switching

About a month ago I saw some early Season 3 episodes for the first time since April of last year. One of the episodes I'd deliberately missed in the re-runs was "Carpe Noctum", where Angel's body was taken over by Marcus, the frail and elderly evil inhabitant of the retirement home located across the street from a fitness club.

This episode ran with two strikes against it the entire time I was originally viewing it. First, I hate Freaky Fridayish body-switching comedy shows, since they seem to run with the same script over and over again. The worst aspect is "I'm being set up and nobody believes me." Second, I'm one of those people who has a "Grandpa having sex" hangup, and the entire time I saw David Boreanaz (almost) having sex on Wesley's desk, all I could think of was the distasteful image of old man Marcus jumping Lilah instead.

I did catch bits and pieces of the episode on TV later on, and I gradually realized that I was approaching things from a completely wrong angle. Instead of focusing on the characters, I should have been focusing solely on David Boreanaz' marvelous acting performance as the Wild and Crazy old guy having the time of his life.

"Carpe Noctum" was framed by how it was becoming necessary for Angel to address Fred's increasing puppy love for him. All he had done was be the handsome man who rescued her from the wicked Pylea dimension, just like any old fairy tale prince would do. I haven't put much thought into this, but I suppose you could make a comparison between Marcus and Angel's body-switching performance and Angel's switches between being the happily-ever-after handsome hero and his real-life persona of being the tortured vampire-with-a-soul.

Fred was the only person who took up Angel's offer to go to the movies with him, an event which took on tremendous importance for her. Fred got carried away with the concept of going on a date with Angel, while Angel, in a much more subtle way, was getting a little too comfortable with leaving the shades of gray behind and settling into the simpler world of a black and white hero. Regardless, Fred's retelling of her evening out with Angel was one of my favorite scenes where Wesley, instead of getting annoyed with her constant prattling, seemed to rather enjoy her eccentricities, somewhat like an indulgent father with a toddler.

To go off on a real tangent, I had done a post last September, "Ages and Stages", where I tried to come up with the correct ages of the human characters of Angel. I wanted to come up with a similar post about how the undead appeared to be products of very specific points in time, but I doubt I'll ever get around to writing it up. Regardless, I've often thought that if I didn't know any better, at certain times I could guess Angel was a baby-boomer who was about 5-10 years older than myself, making him specifically a child of the 1950's. I'm saying that solely based on certain pop references of TV events that would have been remembered and appreciated more by my older siblings than by myself.

One reference was the 1963 Bob Hope Desert Classic golf tournament, when Angel was reminiscing with Fred's dad about Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player in "Fredless". Another reference was Lorne Green from Bonanza, when Lorne finally revealed his real name in "Belonging".

"Carpe Noctum" has another such cultural reference from a baby-boomer's prime movie-viewing days, where it featured Angel's excitement at the prospect of watching the Charlton Heston double feature with Fred featuring 1971's The Omega Man and 1973's Soylent Green. Just as a sidenote: even though both movies were initially released in theaters (I think), both were staples of TV viewing for kids throughout the 1970's.

To belabor the point a little bit further, although I realize that someone who had been born before the 1950's would know about these cultural references, Angel's enthusiastic reminiscences would be more appropriate for someone who enjoyed seeing these movies when he was either a kid or an extremely young adult. If Angel acted any older, he would have been more excited by a double-feature of 1958's Touch of Evil and 1959's Ben-Hur. I attribute a lot of Angel's cultural identity to the relative ages of the writers and producers of the Angel series. (David Boreanaz, who was born in 1969, would be a little too young to appreciate these references unless he had older siblings to guide him through.)

David Boreanaz' near-sex scene with Stephanie Romanov was a shear joy to watch. I particularly liked the part where Lilah Morgan was finishing her drink, with her gorgeous legs stretched provocatively to the edge of Angel's desk. Boreanaz was hilarious with his lounge lizard "Oops" when he blocked her exit, and Romanov was equally funny with that coy and innocent look on her face that she gave in return.

I'd speculated before that Lilah didn't have many chances to have sex, and she certainly seemed pretty eager to get things going with Angel. There are numerous references to how Lilah didn't think of herself as being particularly evil, and by extension, didn't see herself as Angel's natural mortal enemy. If you really want to stretch things a bit, perhaps she considered Angel to be a natural ally who needed to be shown the correct path. I've also noted in the past that Lilah seemed overly sensitive at times at the thought that Angel might actually want to kill her. If Lilah thought about it for just a second, she shouldn't have been shocked at all that anyone would want to kill her for the way she treated people in the line of duty for Wolfram & Hart. If you take it a step further and realize Lilah might have had a secret crush on Angel, her feelings of hurt would start to make sense.

Once again, Angel's crew was slow to figure out that something was wrong with Angel, similar to how Wes and Cordy were slow to figure out that something was dreadfully wrong when Angel started to sleep over 20 hours per day in Season 2. It was quite the contrast between the slowness of the Angel Investigations team to figure things out and the quick-wittedness of Marcus-turned-Angel, for how he was able to reason things out and go with the flow with remarkable ease. One terrific example was where he mistakenly thought Wesley was gay. This scene could have come off as being horribly cliched, but the creators and the actors were able to bring a certain freshness to the moment.

In Wesley's defense, I think he was the first to catch on that something was seriously odd about Angel, and he did solve the problem relatively quickly. Wes just seemed to keep his suspicions to himself as he started keeping track of Angel's odd behaviors.

The only explanation I can give for the Angel Investigations team being a bit slow on the uptake was that Angel had been unusually chipper lately, particular at the beginning of this episode. He was still basking in the glow of being Fred's hero, and she had given him somewhat of a new lease on life. When Angel showed up with Marcus inside his body, the AI team might have taken his behavior as a natural progression while he continued on his journey to apparently becoming more of an extrovert.

When the gang finally did figure things out, they made a lovely entrance together into the retirement home when they rescued Angel. This scene was all the more poignant because about a dozen episodes later, the gang would be broken up when Wesley was expelled from the group.

I know I've talked about this way too much, but that is precisely why I love early Season 3 so much. The core group was sensational, (Angel, Cordelia Chase, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, Charles Gunn and Fred Burkle). In my opinion, the series really took off when Fred was added to the team, and the creators really should have kept everyone together throughout the duration of the series.

Closing Thoughts: I've noticed that the "vintage Cordy" moments from Seasons 1 and 2 were getting fewer and fewer by early Season 3. One magnificent throwback moment occurred in the fitness center when Cordelia started interviewing the muscle men, even going so far as to ask for their phone numbers.

Another magnificent "vintage Cordy" moment occurred off-camera when Cordy went ahead and had "the talk" with Fred about her forbidden love for Angel. In Fred's words, "Cordelia explained it to me. She said you'd probably just screw it up."

I appreciated how Angel and Cordy were free to ask questions and move around relatively unimpeded at the health club without people questioning their credentials and otherwise trying to kick them out. It helped the storyline move along much more quickly.

One slight irritation was the depiction of the retirement home as being somewhat like the insane asylum in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", complete with a male version of Nurse Ratched. Seriously, threatening the residents and withholding phone privileges? I've received plenty of phone calls from Alzheimer's sufferers in my working and personal lives, and I sometimes prayed that their phone privileges would be revoked, which of course never happened.

When I first started watching the series, the Wolfram & Hart players were Lilah Morgan, Gavin Park and Linwood Murrow. I liked Lilah and Gavin and enjoyed their interplay, though I never cared for Linwood. On subsequent viewings, and particular in contrast to Lilah's scenes with Lindsey McDonald and Holland Manners, I could finally recognize just how weak her scenes were with Gavin and Linwood. I should be a good little reporter and try to find the link, but I do remember reading or hearing on a podcast that Stephanie Romanov thought it was a mistake to try to bring in Daniel Dae Kim to replace Lindsey as her new foil. (Not that she thought he was a bad actor. She just felt that the producers were trying to set him up as the next Lindsey.) Romanov even stated that Kim seemed to be intimidated by her when they first met! To be honest, I liked Gavin best when he was terrified of Lilah!

I thought the gratuitous Buffy crossovers were getting tiresome by this point in Season 3 (Cordelia: Buffy's alive!). I remember on first viewing thinking I was missing quite a bit by not having seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now I know that I really wasn't missing that much until Season 5 when Spike hit the scene. Wow! Was I ever confused by that amulet thing, and I'm still confused!

When I first started watching Angel on TNT late last March, I honestly didn't notice much of anything about the video quality. The more I watched the series, the worse the video quality seemed to be getting. I caught part of an episode earlier this week where the video quality was probably the worst I'd ever seen. I'm fearful that if TNT doesn't solve their problems, the series might soon become unwatchable.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Google's Chinese Adventures at My Other Blog

This was my day to post to inappropriate blogs. Earlier I posted "Race to the Bottom", which I should have probably posted to my The Wolfram & Hart Hall of Fame blog. A few minutes ago I just posted a blog post, "Don't Be Evil" which I probably could have gotten away with posting over here.

In "Don't Be Evil", I equated Google's Chinese adventures to Angel's Season 5's premiere episode, "Conviction". If you're interested, please head over to my other blog.

Race to the Bottom

I took a mean-spirited little swipe at competing U.S. states' (and by extention, over-the-border provinces') film tax credits in one of my posts the other day when, speak of the devil, the Tax Foundation, a "non-partisan, non-profit research organization" came out with a study today written by William Luther, "Movie Production Incentives: Blockbuster Support for Lackluster Policy".

You can read the Cliffs Notes here and here.

I am less than thrilled with the tax incentives being given out for up to 42% of in-state production costs by my home state of Michigan, where the Detroit Free Press reports that "Michigan's government forecasters estimated earlier this week the state's film incentives would result in a net loss of $98 million this year and $120 million in 2011."

It's interesting how each of the 44 states involved in the race think they are uniquely qualified to become the next seat of the nation's film industry.

Either you're interested in this topic or you're not. If you are interested, Luther's report debunks a lot of the canards about how giving out these tax credits will supposedly generate bagfuls of additional revenue for the states and provide lots of jobs for the unemployed. I do want to point out one particular favorite part of the report, where Luther notes (see page 11 of the .pdf file in the first link above):
State pride is commendable but it is wishful thinking that places like Lansing, Michigan will become the next Hollywood. However,that's what a series of TV spots pushed by Governor Jennifer Granholm (and starring actor Jeff Daniels) describe as happening if the struggling state keeps its film tax incentive program. Lured by film production credits, the argument goes, the rich and famous will flock to Michigan, boosting the state's economy and image in a single effort. The probability of such a transformation actually occurring is extremely small, but the dreams of Tinsel Town can die hard for citizens and statesmen.
If a company shoots on location because it's germane to the script, that's fine. But there's no need to uproot actors and production staff out of California on a wild goose chase looking for the best sweetheart deals just so you can wriggle out of paying your fair share of the costs for mundane and non-glamorous things like roads and sewer systems.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

After the Fall Volume 1 and First Night - Part 6 - And the Rest

(This is an ongoing series of posts where I discuss Angel: After the Fall Volume 1 and First Night Volume 2. My other posts are Part 1, which acted as an introductory post, Part 2: Working for the Senior Partners, Part 3: Angel, Part 4: Wesley's First Night, and Part 5: Wesley's Job Description.)

In my previous posts about Volumes 1 & 2 of After the Fall, I've written at great length about Angel and Wesley. Now it's time to talk about the other characters.

Betta George. With my luck, the first character that crops up in my alphabetical listing is a huge telepathic fish. This character, who had been happily swimming around in an amusement park aquarium up until the First Night, seemed to be able to theoretically float around at will (when he wasn't being held in captivity) within the L.A. hell dimension, probably due to the profound changes in atmospheric conditions.

I don't like to dwell on this character too much, since I didn't like how he spent most of his time being mistreated by various baddies. Plus, I honestly couldn't figure out the timelines for when he was a captive of Charles Gunn and when he was a captive of Kr'ph, the Lord of Westwood. Although Betta George was kept in miserable surroundings, he seemed like quite a free-spirited and feisty character who was psychologically capable of handling quite a bit of abuse. I understand Betta George first appeared in some of the Spike comics, so the fish is obviously being set up to play a larger part in later volumes of After the Fall.

Charles Gunn. In many ways, Gunn is the most fascinating character in After the Fall, and perhaps I'll do a longer blog post about him after I finish reading Volumes 3 & 4. Since Gunn seemed to have the most personal hatred against vampires, it's poetic justice, in an exceedingly perverse sort of way, that he was the character who was turned. His fate also ties in with another blog post I've wanted to do for a long time about the nature of souls in the world of vampires, based on Scott McLaren's excellent essay at Slayage, "The Evolution of Joss Whedon's Vampire Mythology and the Ontology of the Soul."

As viewers of the TV show know, Gunn was moments away from death at the end of the series finale. Angel, Spike and Illyria naturally had their hands full while fighting the giant battle, and Angel was unable to keep an eye on Charles the entire time. While Angel was working on making the flying dragon an ally, Charles was set upon by a group of vampires led by an unusually charismatic leader (who looked an awful lot like a cross between Angel and the Groosalugg), and was turned before Angel had a chance to notice what was happening. Somewhere during this time frame, Angel was teleported by the Senior Partners back to the ruined offices of Wolfram & Hart, so readers aren't sure if Angel could have saved Charles even if he wanted to do so.

Charles the Vamp naturally blamed Angel for his fate, which remained a running theme throughout Volumes 1 and 2. Gunn was nursed back to something resembling good health by the charismatic vamp, whom we knew had some sort of grand plan for Charles. However, a grief-stricken Charles dusted the vamp before we had a chance to really find out what the vamp was up to.

I've noticed that the Whedonverse never seems to provide us with a thorough explanation of what happens to human souls after they get turned into vampires. Presumably, as Charles understood what happened to his sister, the vampire retains the appearance and the memories of the deceased person, but the human body is actually taken over by a demon spirit at the moment it's turned. With Charles, we don't get any sort of explanation that the soul of Human Charles has left (or where it might have ended up), and that a different soul is now inhabiting his body. Regardless, whatever entity was inhabiting his body had the cruel fate of being wracked by the guilt and memories of Human Charles, his hatred of vampires, and the excruciating self-loathing that went along with all of a sudden turning into the very thing he'd fought against all of his life. Angel not only left Charles to die, he left him to his worst fate imaginable.

Interestingly enough, Vampire Charles set out to try to take back the city of Los Angeles from the rulers of the hell dimension. His heart, so to speak, was in the right place, as he went after evil lords and destroyed the ruins of Wolfram & Hart. However, we know how truly conflicted this character was when he would bring his gang in to supposedly rescue humans from their terrible fates, only to turn on the humans and embark on blood-sucking orgies after winning the battles. Vampire Charles felt no remorse, nor did he recognize the contradictions in his actions, leaving us to believe that the real Charles Gunn was no longer in the picture. Add the fact that Vampire Charles was using Slayers (presumably kidnapped and held against their will) for training purpose, and that can only equal one huge Not Good.

At the end of Volume 1, Charles and his gang were playing close attention to the battle between between Angel and his allies on one side, and the lords' champions on the other, which obviously foreshadowed an upcoming meeting between the two.

Connor and Kate Lockley. I was quite pleased that the Connor who appeared in After the Fall was the same likable Connor who showed up in Angel's Season 5. He tried to make it out of the city in First Night, but was captured by a band of demons who were late to the party. As Connor noted, it seemed as though all of the demons knew who he was. He tried to bravely fight off the demons, but Connor, who still seemed to have less than the full strength he enjoyed during his feral Season 4 days, was no match for them. Luckily for him, Kate Lockley came along and drove off the demons with an impressive arsenal of firepower.

Kate's appearance was a welcome surprise for fans, since the creators had allowed her to get over her hangups about the supernatural world and concentrate on helping "people who fall through the cracks". I also appreciated the creators allowing Kate to explain how "someone" turned her life around by explaining to her (which she paraphrased) "In the greater scheme, or the bigger picture, nothing we do matters. There's no grand plan. No big win. If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do, because that's all there is." What a nice homage to what could possibly be my favorite scene in the Angel series.

Connor, of course, had no idea who spoke those words, but did humorously mention that it was surprising she never ran into one of his "three dads".

Later on, it was revealed that Connor was going around rescuing people and bringing them to the Hyperion Hotel, which had been turned into a safehouse by Nina Ash, Gwen Raiden and himself. Connor, of course, eventually met up with Angel, duly noted that since Angel had killed the son of one of the lords it put a "big target" on his head, helped Angel out in various brawls, got warned off by Angel about joining him in the big battle against the lords' champions, and, happily, was one of the people who joined his dad in the rumble at the end of Volume 1.

(the) Groosalugg. I absolutely adored the Groosalugg in Angel. Of all of the minor characters who showed up in After the Fall, I was probably happiest to see him. I thought he fit in quite nicely with the Angel Investigations group, and I also thought they could have used his fighting abilities in their subsequent battles throughout the rest of the series. Here's a post that I did about him last June where I talked about his wonderful qualities and how heartbroken I was when he left the series.

I always thought that Groo fit perfectly into the L.A. lifestyle, in that sort of "no one fits in L.A." sort of way, and was glad that he didn't leave for any other dimensions. After First Night hit, Groo eventually become Lorne's champion, which is appropriate since the characters' actors, Mark Lutz and Andy Hallett, were reportedly very good friends in real life. Groo certainly seemed pleased to hit the battlefields again in After the Fall, and was a sight for sore eyes when he made his grand entrance to the comic book series astride a black winged steed.

Gwen Raiden. Gwen was always a giant puzzle for me. The Angel creators introduced her to audience members with great fanfare in Season 4, only to have her fizzle out after three (albeit substantial) appearances. Not only did her personal story arc fizzle out, each individual appearance in each episode left me feeling that there was some sort of giant buildup for her that led absolutely nowhere.

I liked Gwen, and I thought Alexa Davalos put in wonderful acting performances. Unfortunately, her character was just a little too disconnected and amoral to be truly interesting. Her "I always lie because I'm a thief" shtick got old pretty quickly. I always felt Gwen was meant to have a greater role in the Angelverse, and the comic continuation series seemed to offer the perfect opportunity for her. Obviously, an electrical freak of nature is tailor-made for comic books, right?

Unfortunately, Gwen's characterization in After the Fall seemed to follow the same script as in the TV series. In Volume 2: First Night (which occurred chronologically before Volume 1), an entire chapter was devoted to her, as it described a romantic encounter she was experiencing on the beach at the Santa Monica Pier (I think) courtesy of the "L.I.S.A." device she and Charles Gunn had lifted in Season 4's "Players". Gwen was actually having a pretty disastrous evening, but was wistfully happy she had the ability to have a disastrous evening without electrocuting her date. As Los Angeles went to hell, unfortunately the anti-electrical properties imparted to her from the L.I.S.A. device seemed to disappear and she ended up frying her date to a crisp. Again, she had a good beginning, but after that, she was basically making "extra muscle" appearances for the duration of Volumes 1 and 2. I understand she played a much larger role in Volumes 3 and 4.

Lorne. Of course it was wonderful to see Lorne pop up again in After the Fall, particularly since he made it clear to Angel in the series finale (in reaction to being given the assignment to knock off Lindsey McDonald), "Hey, Angel, uh, I'll do this last thing for you, for us... but then I'm out, and you won't find me in the alley afterwards. Hell, you won't find me at all. Do me a favor. Don't try."

It's always hard to say goodbye to a character. But in this case, part of me says it might have been a good idea to keep Lorne out of After the Fall, particularly since his appearance tended to water down the dramatic impact of his departure from the series ("Good night, folks".) In spite of that, I'm still quite happy that Lorne showed up in After the Fall, since he's such a larger than life figure.

Lorne's chapter in Volume 2: First Night cleverly captured his spirit. His story was told completely in rhyme, with the illustrations utilizing bright colors, all drawn with an almost childlike simplicity. Even his "down" times at the beginning of his First Night narrative had a rather peculiar upbeat quality. A very depressed Lorne was trying to make his way out of Los Angeles. He was disgusted with the act of killing Lindsey and with violence in general. Fortunately for him, he seemed to manage to get through the Los Angeles hell dimension pretty much unscathed, probably because he was a demon and not a human.

The next part was what I found to be quite astonishing, in that it seemed to upset the Angelverse stereotype of human victims. When Lorne made it to the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles, humans actually seemed to be banding together and fighting back against the demon oppressors. Lorne was so impressed with their courage, he let loose with his famous brain-shattering vocal cords and drove the demons away from that little corner of hell. From that point on, the locals made Lorne the Lord of Silver Lake, and he was one of the few "lords" who acted on the side of Good.

Another revelation for me was Lorne's attitude towards Angel. I really thought that in the series finale, Lorne was not only upset with the constant violence, but was also becoming rapidly disillusioned with Angel. I felt he was starting to equate Angel with violence a la Kate Lockley in Seasons 1 and 2. I was pleasantly surprised to find in After the Fall that Lorne still admired Angel for being a champion and still considered him to be a friend. Lorne had walked away from Angel in the series finale for exactly the reason he stated - Lorne and violence just didn't mix.

A final note about Lorne, which I know I've stated before in the past. I think it was somewhat of a mistake for the creators to allow Lorne to give up on his Caritas karaoke bar in Season 3 and join forces with Angel Investigations. Although I never considered Lorne to be a part of the core team (Angel, Cordelia, Wesley, Gunn and Fred), he certainly was close enough to function like an auxiliary cadet. By joining the team, Lorne seemed to give up all appearances of impartiality, lost some of his sharpness, and became somewhat of a cheerleader for the cause. When Lorne was still at Caritas, whenever he gave his approval to the actions of the Angel Investigations team, we knew that whatever they were doing was meeting Lorne's extraordinarily high standards. By becoming Lord of Silver Lake, Lorne seemed to be taking steps to becoming his old strong, independent, neutral self again. As such, he did some fancy side-stepping to break ranks with the other "lords" and gather up Groo, Spike, Illyria, Connor, Nina, and Gwen to all join Angel in his big brawl at the end of Volume 1.

Nina Ash. I'm always under the impression that Nina the Werewolf wasn't a particular fan favorite in Season 5, but I always liked her. Admittedly, she probably arrived too late in the series to make much of an impact. It also doesn't seem fair that someone introduced fairly late in the series would become a regular in the comic continuation, while others who had a lot more face time in the series either didn't appear at all or just made brief appearances in the continuation series.

Regardless, the romance between Angel and Nina represented a lot more than two people bound together by their supernatural freak statuses. What Nina really represented to me was the possibilities for new beginnings in life where you attempt to leave your past behind and take a few baby steps forward. Angel was forever encumbered by "the curse" where he would revert back to the evil Angelus if he should ever experience 100% total happiness. He was almost completely destroyed when he experienced that moment of perfect bliss with Buffy. Buffy was the first love of his life, and Cordelia was the second. With Nina, maybe she wouldn't have ever been "the one", but it was certainly nice for two people to do something incredibly ordinary like bat their eyelashes at each other, get to know each other, and see how things worked out from there.

Unfortunately, Nina was introduced as Angel's "ex-girlfriend" in After the Fall. We're not sure of the circumstances of the breakup, but having one party deliver a major metropolitan area to a hell dimension would potentially be a real relationship killer. For Nina, one of the physical properties of the hell dimension, where both the sun and the moon were continually in the sky at the same time, left her on the continuous verge of turning into a werewolf. Although she wasn't hideously hairy, she was left in a permanent undignified state of exhibiting a lot of animal behaviors, in which she sniffed and licked the humans left in her care at the Hyperion Hotel, and otherwise crassly violated people's personal spaces.

About the only positive thing about Nina's state in After the Fall was the fact that she was able to channel her animal instincts to help turn her into an effective fighter.

Spike and Illyria and Fred Burkle. After the Fall brought us a familiar storyline with Spike, where he started out as a completely uncaring asshole and ended up every bit the champion, with his journey from Point A to Point B naturally being quite entertaining.

In First Night, just like Angel, Spike was teleported away from the battle and was surprised, but happy, to see a badly frightened Fred huddled on the floor in front of him. After the obligatory "I'm retiring from all of this", which lasted all of about ten minutes until he and Fred come across a group of humans being terrorized by demons, we saw Fred transforming into Illyria, who used her still considerable powers to dispatch the demons quite handily.

From that point on, Spike and Illyria were somewhat of a team, as they stumbled onto a group of bikini-clad women led by a woman named "Spider". Spike was made Lord of Beverly Hills, and he claimed to have trained these buxom beauties into an elite Amazon fighting force. In reality, the women seemed to have put Spike under their control.

When Gunn and his gang of vampires massacred the group of humans they were supposedly rescuing, all signs pointed to Spike and Illyria. Angel went to confront the two, with the predictable result of Angel duking it out with Spike. As usual, they had their scuffle and were on the verge of making up when Illyria decided it was her turn to fight Angel. Illyria was incredibly enraged at Angel for........who knows why. However, he was pretty close to death before his dragon buddy swooped in to save the day.

Although I had hopes that Illyria would progress under Spike's guidance after the TV series finale, I was saddened to see that things were not going well for her. First, I was disappointed with her comic book appearances. Whereas the TV version of Illyria had a certain softness and vulnerability (thanks to Amy Acker's excellent acting performances), the comic book Illyria was all hard lines and grim determination. Spike, for all of his good intentions, could not work with Illyria and she was deteriorating quickly. It appeared that, whereas the TV Illyria could turn herself into Fred at will, the comic book Illyria was finding it very difficult to control her inner Fredness.

Although I don't think it was ever brought out into the open in the first two volumes of After the Fall, Illyria seemed to have been suffering from the double whammy of losing Wesley and not being able to control Fred. Spike might not have been the ideal person to act as Illyria's guide and tutor, but he should have been able to do a passable job under the right circumstances. However, trying to humanize a demon in the middle of a hell dimension was an almost impossible task. When Spike brought Illyria to Angel's big battle against the lord's champions, Spike pretended that the only reason he came was so Angel would reciprocate the favor and take Illyria off of his hands. Spike couldn't make any headway with Illyria, and it was doubtful Angel would have been able to do much better since their biggest and most impossible fault was that neither of them was Wesley.

During the last pages of the book, ghost Wesley appeared in the battle, and a big mystery was solved for me. I had read in other reviews that Spike said he never would have shown up if he knew that Wesley was going to be there. I interpreted that statement to mean that the two of them had never been particularly close friends, and that Spike was disgusted that Wesley was now an envoi for Wolfram & Hart. I now know that an already unstable Illyria was going to have to learn to deal with the world without Wesley's guidance, and any hopes for progress in her rehabilitation would probably disappear with any reunion she had with ghost Wesley.

I'll repeat for the benefit of any new visitors to this site that I never cared for Fred in Angel: the Series. The best I could do was tolerate her presence, which I could only do after giving myself a pep talk that I shouldn't despise someone just because she comes across as being naively sweet, good-hearted, innocent and otherwise perfect in every way. As such, I have an obvious ulterior motive in trying to believe that any appearances by Fred after Illyria had taken over her body occurred only as a result of biochemical discharges that brought her embedded memories up to the forefront. (I wrote about this at length back in July with my post, "The Soul of the Matter".)

You could also compare the Fred takeover by Illyria to Gunn being taken over by a demon spirit.

I say the "real" soulful Fred has left the building unless I'm given positive signs that prove otherwise. As such, one of my biggest motivations for reading the After the Fall series, and for continuing on with Volumes 3 and 4, is to see if I'll read any proof that the "real" Fred still resided within Illyria's body. I have a feeling I'll find that out soon enough after I use up my Amazon gift card that I received as a Christmas present.

Victims. I noted in a post I did last August called "Faceless Victims and First Responders" that the producers of Angel seemed to go out of their way to avoid assigning any identifying characteristics or features to their victims, which resulted in the audience being hard-pressed to feel any empathy for these people. After the Fall carried on the tradition by showing humans mostly as feral sheeple, particularly lacking in any intelligence that would allow them to recognize the peculiar dangers they faced and take the necessary actions to protect themselves. If I knew the city of Los Angeles better, I'd be better qualified to address the special signficance as to why the residents of Silver Lake were the only ones who seemed to have the gumption to fight against the demons who threatened to take over their neighborhood.

There's a definite difference between portraying humans in such a way that we can sympathize with their suffering, and showing them in various stages of degradation where we can only turn our heads in disgust.One particularly pathetic bunch were the slaves of the skeletal Kr'ph, Lord of Westwood. As the Buffy Wikia site in the above link so succintly noted, "Like many of his fellow Lords, Kr'ph held in his power a number of human slaves, which he employed as a harem, in the case of the women, and gladiators, in the case of the males." These slaves were also humiliatingly (and scantily) dressed as dictated by their roles. Particularly with how the women were "dressed" (and they all seemed to be Hollywood starlets), I was given yet one more message loud and clear that "Miriam, you are not part of our target audience."

Closing Thoughts. I was happily surprised to see so many minor characters from the series show up in After the Fall. By including so many of these people, the creators gave validity to our feelings that these characters made important contributions to the TV series, and were not simply forgotten when their names stopped showing up in the scripts.

I keep reading that Los Angeles was sent to a hell dimension. To me, that implies the city was physically transported from one place to another. I think a more accurate description would be that a hell dimension was unleashed on the city of Los Angeles. I also wonder what an outsider would see if he stood on the outside of the city limits and peered into Los Angeles. I guess it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, but I just find the choice of terminology of being "sent" to hell quite interesting.

I wonder how the actors feel about having their characters live on in comic books? Do they buy and read the comics, or just ignore them and try to get on with their lives? I'm under the impression that some of the actors are more attached to their former characters than other actors, and I wonder if they feel any disappointments about how things have turned out in After the Fall.

Via Whedonesque, and Chris Ryall's blog, IDW is releasing a 48-page tribute comic to Lorne/Andy Hallett. Apparently Hallett's real life good friend Mark Lutz (the Groosalugg) will also be making some contributions. I think it's wonderful that Lorne will be getting a well-deserved send-off, since having Lorne without Andy Hallett around just doesn't seem right. I'm looking forward to reading the tribute.