Monday, January 18, 2010

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.

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