Friday, February 26, 2010

Buffy on Hiatus at MTV

Unless I'm really missing something, Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes will not be aired on MTV in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. The MTV Schedule link only shows listings through Thursday, March 4, 2010, so I'd suggest checking later next week to see if they start re-broadcasting the series again.

At least I got my Wesley fix out of the way!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wesley's Memorable Turn on Buffy the Vampire Slayer

What makes it so challenging (and ultimately rewarding) to watch Wesley Wyndam-Pryce on Buffy the Vampire Slayer is that he was originally conceived as a buffoonish, stuffy Englishman who was supposed to be killed off almost as quickly as he arrived in Sunnydale. One can't help but wonder, would Wesley's character have been written any differently if he was originally intended to stick around for a while? Regardless, it's quite a tribute to everyone at Mutant Enemy, from Joss Whedon on down, for consistently coming up with rich and nuanced story lines for even the most minor cast members. Similar to how I previously wrote that I didn't think it was even possible for the directors to cast a weak actor in Angel: The Series, I feel that it must have have been equally impossible for the Buffyverse writers to create a weak character.

Jane Espenson left an intriguing little clue in her DVD voiceover of Angel's Season 1's "Rm w/a Vu" when she remarked that if a writer created a character and that same character was used in later episodes, the writer received additional money for every episode the character appeared in. I felt like I was missing a little bit at the time when I first heard the explanation, but now it makes a little more sense to me. This is a great way to make sure that shows aren't overly-burdened with one-note stock characters. Many sources point to Joss Whedon himself as being Wesley's creator, so I'm not sure if anyone got a little more money in their pay envelopes when Wes started showing up in additional episodes.

Watcher's Council. I wrote previously that: "Wesley certainly had a lot of self-confidence, even if he didn't have much to back it up with." It's hard to imagine that the Watcher's Council would send out such an inexperienced person to act as a handler to Buffy and Faith in Sunnydale, California. If anything, they should have made Wesley a Watcher-in-Training under Giles' direct tutelage. The Council's decision makes more sense taken within the context that Wesley was originally supposed to die a hilarious death after making just a few appearances. Since that angle didn't quite work out as planned, we're stuck with creating a backstory to try to explain away what seemed to be a very poor decision by the Council.

The Watcher's Council seemed to operate as an extremely exclusive secret society. I'm assuming that the Council didn't call just anyone to be a Watcher. As such, it appears that by definition it was a nepotistic organization, where the Watcher tradition was handed down from generation to generation.

There are certain advantages to keeping the Watcher profession all in the family, so to speak. A person can pick up a fair amount of knowledge during a few years of Watcher Academy training, but that can only go so far. Nothing can replace a lifetime of being steeped inside a family tradition of magic and demonology. (My personal analogy is that my son would have never gone to engineering school if I was a single parent. It took a lifetime of him hanging out with his dad to develop his particular talents.) Also, necessary secrets will be less likely to leak out into the public if the "need to know" knowledge is kept within a tight-knit circle. The main disadvantage of nepotism is that the pool of potential candidates can be disastrously small, with the real added danger that the ranks could be further weakened by inbreeding. An unqualified person can become a Watcher simply because Daddy was a Watcher. With such an insular organization, new ideas and fresh viewpoints can be very slow to seep through into the hierarchy.

I cannot discount the fact that the Watchers had many centuries to figure out the best ways to deal with vampires and demons. Institutional knowledge is quite valuable, and, in this case, lessons lost could have caused the needless deaths of thousands of innocent victims. Like the Roman Catholic church, the Watcher's Council had to walk a fine line between preserving necessary traditions and making themselves totally irrelevant to modern society as a result of their hidebound ways. The Council had created a perfect recipe for turning out a bunch of smug and arrogant individuals who felt that they were superior to everyone else in the world. Their members seemed incapable of acknowledging that there might have been better ways of doing things.

Wesley Carrying on the Watcher Tradition. I've written a few other posts about my conjectures regarding Wesley's background, early influences, training, and his failed Watcher experiences. I'd almost have to rewrite the entire posts just to summarize them, so if you're interested I'd highly recommend that you read: "The Unsinkable Wesley Wyndam-Pryce", which I wrote in regards to his overall character development; and "Ages and Stages", where I tried to guess Wesley's age, and at what time in his life he received his Watcher training.

By watching his appearances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I was hoping for additional insights about Wesley's background, but I haven't had any luck so far. My biggest burning questions are, how old was Wesley? Is my assumption correct that he received pre-university Watcher training? Did he even attend university? My only real clue is Wesley's conversation with Giles about how class proms seemed to be a new experience for him. Giles remarked that "At an all-male preparatory they didn't go in for this sort of thing."

My immediate thought was that Giles implied that Wesley's lifetime of experiences ended at prep school. Surely there must have been something resembling school dances at whatever university Wesley might have attended! However, I have to admit that I didn't attend anything resembling a high school prom in my college days, so the questions about how much formal education Wesley received are still wide open.

The Scoobies' Reaction to the New Watcher. My (not so) best guess is that Wesley was about 22 years old when he arrived at Sunnydale. He came across as being quite a comical figure, but it should have been obvious to all that he was overcompensating for his insecurities. No one could deny that he was extremely knowledgeable about the supernatural world! Overall, Wesley's demeanor suggested that he may have had some genuine managerial experience (perhaps at the Council level) beyond his "head boy" leadership role at the Watcher's Academy. By extension, he was perhaps somewhat older than what I had originally thought. One obvious explanation for his maturity is that actor Alexis Denisof was about 32 years old when he arrived on the Buffy set in 1998/1999.

Regardless of his age, Wesley's lack of skill in dealing with the Scoobies could have totally been explained by the fact that he had probably only been exposed to one style of leadership throughout his entire life. His father, Roger Wyndam-Pryce, was later revealed in Angel to have been quite dictatorial in his treatment of Wesley. However, all indications point to how that must have been the de rigueur leadership style for the entire Watcher's Council. Add the assumption that Wesley was probably exposed to strict regimens throughout his school years, and it becomes easier to understand why he hit Sunnydale with his "you jump when I bark out orders" attitude.

I honestly didn't think Wesley was all that bad. As a matter of fact, I could think of myself interrupting his first meeting with the Scoobies by giving him a big, deep passionate kiss, then telling him, "OK, let me tell you how we do things around here". That apparently wasn't a real option in Sunnydale, so everyone immediately took an "us against him" attitude as they closed ranks.

Seriously, I've run across many Wesley Wyndam-Pryces in my working career, and others who could be considered to be "outsiders" who "didn't fit in with the corporate culture". You have two options: you can totally exclude the outsider, to the total detriment of the team environment; or, you can work with the outsider and be prepared to make a few compromises. If the person is reasonable at all, the second approach actually works quite beautifully. (Of course, if the person is a complete asshole, all bets are off.) Wesley showed every indication that he could have been worked into the group, particularly when he sincerely stated a couple of times (usually after he had messed up quite badly) that he was willing to do anything to help out.

There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason as to when Wesley would be present when the Scoobies assembled. Obviously, if he called the meeting, he would of course be there with the rest of the group. Sometimes the group informed Wesley of their activities and made it a point to include him. Other times the Scoobies met without Wesley's knowledge and worked behind his back. This led to the disastrous sequence of events where Wesley, rightfully feeling excluded from the Scooby activities, made a unilateral decision to call in the Council operatives to capture Faith and send her to England to meet whatever fate awaited rogue psycho slayers.

It's interesting how the members of the Scooby gang, outsiders themselves, were in turn extra determined to keep another outsider, Wesley, out of the group. Giles, being perturbed at Wesley's pompous attitude, did make the effort to keep Buffy's sarcasm in check during the meetings. However, he didn't lift a finger to help Wesley in his professional development, which would probably have been a bit much to ask of someone who had just been fired.

I thought one of Wesley's finest episodes was "Choices", which featured Buffy, Angel and Willow breaking into City Hall to try to steal the Box of Gavrok away from the Mayor before his Ascension Day. Wesley, sounding like an old fuss-budget, insisted that they develop a real plan before barging into the Mayor's office. Giles overruled him and sent everyone on their way. Buffy and Angel did manage to retrieve the box, but Willow paid the price by being taken hostage by Faith and the Mayor. In a highly significant scene, for the first time we saw Wesley arguing for the needs of the many when he insisted that they destroy the Box rather than exchange it for Willow. His viewpoint sufficiently shocked the Scoobies, specifically Oz, but notice that Wesley was not calling for an outright sacrifice of Willow when he stated "Now I want to help Willow as much as the rest of you, but we will find another way."

Wes was unable to exert his authority, but was able to get somewhat of the last word with Buffy when she started to gloat a bit over the fact that Willow was able to retrieve a few of the pages from one of the Books of Ascension. He said, "Well, let's hope there is something useful in those pages. The Mayor has the Box of Gavrock. As of now, we are right back where we started. Wouldn't you say?"

I don't think this episode marked any sort of turning point for Wesley in his relations with the Scoobies. From that point on, for every moment of rapprochement that seemed to occur, something else would happen that would keep Wesley firmly detached from the rest of the group.

Wes and Cordy. One of my favorite story lines in Angel was the special friendship between Wes and Cordy. Naturally I was quite interested in how their relationship developed on Buffy, and how their awkward kisses influenced their relationship later on. Rest assured, that will be the subject of my next post.

Wesley's Legacy. We're all aware that Buffy decided to turn her back on the Watcher's Council, which ultimately resulted in Wesley being dismissed in complete disgrace over losing his two Slayers, Buffy and Faith. That's worth a whole new blog post regarding, how can you be blamed for losing two strong, independent women who have outgrown their need for the Council? However, for having appeared in only nine episodes, Wes certainly seemed to have left his mark on Buffy fans. I can hardly call this scientific statistical sampling, but in my occasional forays through Buffy-themed forums, it seems like Wesley's most commonly remembered as the failed Watcher in the third season of Buffy. When pressed, fans will add as an afterthought, "Oh, yeah - he also appeared in Angel." I'm also amazed at the incredible amount of fan fiction he seems to continue to generate regarding his brief stay with Buffy.

One thing I find disconcerting is that the man I've found to be just about the sexiest thing ever created (Wesley Wyndam-Pryce during his Bad Ass days on Angel) seems to be almost solely remembered as being the foppish nerd on Buffy. When I see Wesley during his earlier appearances, I can only smile and think "But I know what's hiding underneath all of that!"

Idle Thoughts. It's pretty amazing to be in a position to approach a subject matter all backwards, i.e, having watched Angel before Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In a way, it's sort of like getting two stories for the price of one. The first story is the one I make up when I "fill in the blanks" while trying to figure out what happened in the past, with the second story being the real story that I discover later on. I'm big on spoilers, so I often know what's happening just based on my internet readings. However, it's impossible to spend a lot of time reading the actual dialogue when I'm trying to figure out a backstory. Even if I do read some of the dialogue, it's simply not the same as seeing the actual acting performances.

I never consciously fabricate a previous story line when I'm trying to figure out what's going on in the "present". I try to make educated guesses based on the evidence that's available to me. Nonetheless, it's amazing how off the mark I can be when I'm finally presented with the real story. For example, I started watching Angel in late Season 2. By the time I got around to seeing the beginning of Season 2, I was amazed at how close Angel came to turning himself back into Angelus during his crisis of faith with Darla. After viewing that, all of a sudden a lot of his later dialogue with Cordelia started making more sense to me.

Finally, special kudos to Alexis Denisof for turning a throwaway character into one who had remarkable staying power through his five seasons on Angel. It was certainly fun to watch Alexis' few scenes together with future wife Alyson Hannigan (Willow) to see if I could spot any special spark that may have flared up between the two of them.

Happy Birthday Alexis

Happy 44th birthday to Alexis Denisof! Will his cute little red-headed Best Birthday Present In The World be helping him blow out the candles on his cake? Regardless, I'm sure birthday celebrations will be that much cheerier now that baby (and toddler-to-be) Satyana is around to help share in the excitement.

What a nice dress rehearsal for Sati, who will be celebrating her 1st birthday on March 24. Sati, of course, shares her birthday with mom Alyson Hannigan.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Quality of Mercy

"Forgiving" from Season 3 of Angel is another one of those episodes that traumatized me the first time I saw it on TNT. I couldn't watch it again later on without the liberal use of the fast forward button on my remote. Now that I've forced myself to see it all the way through one more time while watching all of the episodes in order on my DVD's, I found "Forgiving" to be deeply moving and rewarding to watch.

In this particular show, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce spent most of his time in the park across the street from his apartment building, close to death with his throat slit. Angel was frantically trying to figure out what he needed to do to retrieve his infant son Connor back from the Quor'toth hell dimension. To their credit, Fred and Gunn were just as frantically trying to unravel the mystery behind Wesley's acts of betrayal and, just as importantly, trying to find Wesley before Angel found him first. No matter how well-intentioned Wesley's misguided actions were in kidnapping Angel's son, which resulted in Connor being kidnapped from Wesley's arms in turn by Justine, his act of betrayal was a pretty serious "oops" moment.

Fred and Gunn. I particularly appreciated how Fred and Gunn refused to jump to conclusions about Wesley's intentions even after being handed some seriously damning evidence in the form of Lorne being knocked unconscious by Wesley, Wesley's kidnapping of Connor, and strong (but incorrect) circumstantial evidence that Wesley was going to hand Connor over to Holtz. "We want to hear his side" came from their lips more than once in this episode. They eventually solved the mystery when Fred's dumpster diving revealed Wesley's personal notebooks, including the proof that Wesley was struggling with the implications of the false prophecy of "the father will kill the son".

I thought this particular dialogue exchange (from the last link above) was quite revealing:
FRED: Wesley did the right thing, the only thing he could under the circumstances. We gotta find Angel and tell him right away.

GUNN: And he'll forgive Wesley for taking his son and giving him to his mortal enemy?

FRED: Well... maybe begin to forgive -- what else could Wes do? (re: diary) ...it's right here. I have to save them both. He had to save Connor from Angel and Angel from doing something unspeakable...

GUNN: Maybe.

FRED: Maybe? What would you have done in his place?

GUNN: I'd have come to us first.

FRED: I don't think we should mention that part when we explain it to Angel. And I think once he knows the truth, he'll come around. He's angry, he's hurting, but he's not crazy.
An obvious little conflict was starting to brew between Fred and Gunn over their opinions about Wesley's actions. Gunn, who had evidently learned a few lessons when he withheld key information from the group in "That Old Gang of Mine", correctly stated that Wesley should have gone straight to the group as soon as he translated the fatal passage. (I've covered in great detail in a previous post, "Wesley's Path to Betrayal", the sequence of events, including Wesley's increasing isolation from the rest of the group, which led to his disastrous decision to kidnap Connor.) Fred, although not condoning what Wesley did, could certainly understand his actions, and pushed for redemption and forgiveness. In other words, Fred was satisfied with the explanation that they uncovered; Gunn, not so much.

Angel. I'm always interested in how my attitudes change from one viewing of an episode to the next. The first time I saw "Forgiving" I could perfectly understand why Angel would want to kidnap and (threaten to) torture a human, and deal with dark magics in order to try to get his son back. Upon subsequent viewings, Angel's reckless instability was a lot more troubling to me, probably because I understood how his similar behavior during his Season 2 crisis of faith almost led to his complete downfall.

It might be an interesting exercise in "there are two types of people in the world" to do some sort of poll on whether fans could forgive Wesley for his actions. I'm actually quite a forgiving person, which is probably why I'm drawn to flawed heroes. Other people are not so forgiving, but I can understand their viewpoints. Fred was one of the forgiving types and, being the pure idealist that she was, was certain that Good Guy Angel would forgive Wesley simply because, well, that's what Good People do! Even Lorne, who evidently himself was able to forgive Wes, seemed to think he made some inroads into convincing Angel to reach inside himself to grant that same forgiveness. This made it all the more shocking when Angel tried to smother Wes to death with a pillow in his hospital bed when every other indication seemed to point to him reconciling with his friend. You can't force or talk someone into truly forgiving someone who has wronged him. That act has to come from within.

Hyperion Hotel. I always felt like the Hyperion Hotel seemed to have a soul of its own, in that it appeared to have the ability to reflect and project whatever emotions and activities were occurring inside its boundaries. For example, in Season 2, when Angel was withdrawing from the group, the hotel seemed cold and imposing. When Fred joined the group in Season 3, and particularly after the blessed event of the birth of Connor, the hotel seemed to all of a sudden take on a beautiful warm sunny glow. The Hyperion sustained a lot of obvious damage from both the fire in Angel's apartment and the various earthquakes that hit during those awful days in mid-Season 3. Angel's apartment was refurbished, but, as far as I remember, the earthquake damage was never really repaired in the reception and office areas of the lobby. Add to that how (again, if memory serves me), papers and books always seemed to be strewn about in an untidy mess, and how the pentagram on the lobby floor was never completely scrubbed away, you get a sense of how the Hyperion itself seemed to be suffering from the twin effects of the loss of Connor and the banishment of Wesley from the group.

Angel was always the real leader of the group, yet Wesley himself left his mark in his own quiet way. Although he never struck me as being a particular neatnik, and he never seemed to enforce any sense of military order amongst his staff, Wes did exude an air of professionalism that seemed to rub off on all of the other members of the group. As I was watching "Forgiving", I remembered how I wondered why no one seemed to make any real attempt to tidy up the books and paperwork, much less try to lessen the obvious effects of the earthquake damage. I realize that Angel and his gang had a lot going on, and housekeeping was not a #1 priority. However, I personally understand how having tidy surroundings goes a long ways toward bringing forth a more positive work environment. The AI crew seemed to be in a constant state of shell shock and mourning, where they appeared to be simply going through the motions at times. As long as Wesley was estranged from the group, it appeared that both the Angel Investigations crew and the Hyperion Hotel were completely unable to instill any sort of order from the surrounding chaos.

Idle Thoughts. Although I originally took Angel's bankrolling of Cordelia's vacation with the Groosalugg as a selfless and noble gesture to enable Cordy's happiness, I'm starting to have second thoughts. Perhaps Angel was banishing her (and Groo) from his sight so he could work through his own feelings of heartache and disappointment. Wesley did not have that luxury, and he was forced to confront his feelings about Fred and Gunn's relationship on a daily basis.

Jeffrey Bell, who wrote "Forgiving", is another one of those writers whose name seems to appear on a lot of my favorite Angel episodes. Also, kudos to Turi Meyer for his fine direction of this episode.

JustJaredJr. is reporting that Pretty Little Liars (with Alexis Denisof starring as one of the dads)is set to premiere on ABC Family in the U.S. this June. I think that, prior to this announcement, all I heard was that the show would premiere later this spring.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My Boy's the #1 Whedonverse Hero?

I'm working on a few longish posts, and feeling guilty for not posting anything in the meantime, when, what do I stumble upon via Whedonesque? A list from the editors of Newicue of the "Top 10 Whedon Heroes".

Of course you know Wesley Wyndam-Pryce is listed as #1, otherwise I wouldn't be posting this. Let the controversies begin!

On Tuesday, February 23, Wesley and Cordelia are scheduled to smooch on MTV-USA at 9:00 am EST during the Buffy the Vampire Slayer "Graduation Day -Part 2" broadcast. After that I want to complete posts about Wesley's appearances in Buffy, a comparison of all of the women in Wesley's life, and my thoughts about Volumes 3 and 4 of Angel: After the Fall.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Few Random Buffy and Angel Thoughts

Buffy and Angel. As I'm working my way through Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on MTV, I'm realizing that Buffy and Angel were perfect for each other. Slayers and vampires aren't meant for each other? Oh, sure! It was totally unpredictable that the two of them would pair up, forbidden love and all that. (Dripping with heavy sarcasm, of course.) It kind of reminds me of how Wesley explained his relationship with Lilah to Fred in Angel's Season 4's "Players", "We were fighting on opposite sides, but it was the same war."

I couldn't imagine Buffy ever having a normal life, and she needed someone who could completely understand what she was going through. Who would have made a better partner than Angel?

This piece of dialogue from today's "The Prom" was particularly poignant, where Angel told Buffy she'd eventually want someone she could make love to, and to have children. Buffy claimed to not be interested in those things, which brings me to my next point. Buffy and Angel were about the only shows on TV that could convince us (or me at least) that not having a sex life was kind of a cool thing, and, in an odd way, even somewhat erotic. Of course, Joyce Summers and Angel were correct in that the odds were not in favor of a happy permanent relationship between Buffy and Angel. Having Angel turn into Angelus when he reached perfect happiness with Buffy was a pretty powerful argument against keeping the two of them together.

Finally, I was thrilled to hear Fatboy Slim's "Praise You" at the Sunnydale High School prom. "Praise You", of course, was also included in Cruel Intentions, a movie in which Sarah Michelle Gellar put in an absolutely terrific performance. That was the first time I saw Gellar, and I thought she was destined for stardom.

Angel Season 3 Stand-Alone Episodes. I've never hid the fact that I rather enjoy stand-alone episodes that switch up the pace a bit and give us a break from hard-hitting story arcs. I'm working my way through Season 3 of Angel on my DVD's and providing episode reviews on somewhat of a hit and miss basis. Just because I'm not reviewing an episode this time around doesn't mean I don't enjoy it. For example, I'm more convinced than ever that adorable (but admittedly light-weight) "Couplet" is my all-time favorite Angel episode. However, I've written so much about this show in the past (in bits and pieces), I don't feel compelled to write about it again.

Two other episodes I really enjoyed were "Dad" and "Provider" for their perfect blend of comedy and adventure. These are episodes that my non-Angel-obsessed family members can enjoy with a minimal amount of extra narration from me.

Loyalty. Every so often I need to include a "Wesley Wyndam-Pryce is incredibly hot" post, and it's time I did it again. I saw "Loyalty" today where Bad Ass Wesley made his official debut. I couldn't help but raise my eyebrows when I saw that Mere Smith wrote this episode. In the not too distant past, I wrote about how, in the DVD commentary for "Lullaby" she talked about how she decided that the show's creators needed to get Alexis Denisof out of his glasses, which, not so coincidentally, she did so in "Birthday" when Wesley appeared in Cordelia's alternate reality. In "Loyalty", Wesley kept his glasses, but the sexy three-day stubble on his face more than made up for it. My "Pause" button really got a workout on my remote.

Denisof did some of his best acting in "Loyalty", where he agonized over how he could protect both his friend Angel and baby Connor from what seemed like an inevitable tragic fate. I've seen this episode, how many times now? And I still had to keep dabbing at my eyes with a tissue.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Night at the Ballet



(The above YouTube video features Italian prima ballerina Carla Fracci, who is considered to be one of the all-time greatest Giselle's. This particular performance took place in 1968 when she was dancing with the American Ballet Theater.)

Regular readers know that, not so deep down, I'm a sucker for warm, soft, cuddly TV shows. This goes a long way towards explaining why I adore the first half of Season 3 of Angel. I've often thought that the only thing wrong with "Waiting in the Wings" is that it's not my all-time favorite episode, "Couplet". Regardless, these two make great companion pieces as they chronicle the ups and downs of both Angel and Wesley as they tried valiantly to win their girls, only to have to suffer through the heartbreak of losing out to their rivals.

What makes "Waiting in the Wings" so special for me?

Joss Whedon's Labor of Love. I posted not too long ago that many episodes or scenes in Angel that really touch that special place in my heart seem to have Joss Whedon himself stamped all over them. Whedon both wrote and directed "Waiting in the Wings". According to his DVD commentary, shooting this episode represented the "the best time I ever had in my life". Whedon said he felt like he was under a spell the entire time, with the romantic storylines and with all of the actors being all gussied up in their tuxes and gowns. Unsure as to whether he was imagining things or not, Whedon called Alexis Denisof and asked, was there a "thing" going on with this episode, or was he just high? Alexis reportedly assured Joss that yes, filming the show was truly a magical experience for everyone.

A person can tell from watching "Waiting in the Wings" that it must have been produced by a genuine dance lover. In his commentary, Whedon explained that, although he was not a ballet lover going into this project, he did enjoy shooting school dance performances while he was in college. Joss also called himself a "dance wannabe". When he found out that Amy Acker had danced ballet for 15 years, he immediately knew that he had to create an episode that would showcase her talents. Joss also explained that he had also just finished shooting a musical before he produced "Waiting in the Wings", so he was very much in a music mode at the time.

The rest of his story is probably quite well-known by now, but it's certainly worth repeating. Whedon set out to create a show that revolved around a comedy sequence where Wesley fantasized about dancing a pas de deux with the girl of his dreams, Fred. Joss actually filmed the sequence, which was danced with much gusto and hilarity by both Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker. However, as soon as production wrapped up, Whedon immediately knew that what he produced was simply not going to work. The episode came in way too long, and the fantasy ballet sequence was interfering with the narrative. Producer Tim Minear told him something to the effect that "You know you're going to have to cut out that scene", which Whedon reluctantly agreed to do.

Joss then went on to say that the only lesson he ever learned in writing is that if you've produced something that is just not working, you have to cut out what you love the most. Once you do that, everything will fall into place. And, of course, that's exactly what happened with "Waiting in the Wings". Joss realized that the story was not so much about Wesley fantasizing about Fred, but about Angel and Cordelia being forced by magical circumstances to "express emotions that they were not in a position to tell each other about yet."

Ballet. I'm a huge ballet fan, and I've long ago gotten quite tired of ballet being depicted in popular culture as one huge farce. I appreciate the fact that the dance sequences were taken quite seriously within the episode, with Summer Glaus's dancing woven in as a leitmotif within the surrounding plot. Amy and Alexis' ballet scene would have put the the whole episode in danger of becoming just one more "let's make fun of ballet" type of show.

It was gratifying to see that most of the major characters were really enjoying themselves at the ballet. Cordelia was the lone exception. She liked to think that she was superior to others because of her moneyed upbringing, but she was hardly part of the cultural elite. Angel enjoyed ballet because, back in his day, ballet was a major form of entertainment! Wesley himself came from an erudite background and seemed quite at home at the ballet. I've mentioned in the past in my "The Last of Wes and Cordy" post just how easily Wes was able to "squire" his ritzy girlfriend Virginia Bryce around at Hollywood soirees, much to Cordelia's jealous displeasure. (This post also features a lot of my earlier thoughts on both "Waiting in the Wings" and "Couplet".)

For Fred, it was like a small-town girl finally getting a chance to play dress-up with the sophisticated big-city grownups. The whole evening functioned as an old-fashioned coming out party for her, with that camera shot of her 360-turn while gazing all wide-eyed at the architectural details of the beautiful Los Angeles Orpheum Theater being a particularly lovely moment within the show.

Charles had to make the obvious jokes about the men and their "packages", and also made a few grumpy noises about having to put on a tux. However, Fred's reassurances of how "pretty" he looked went a long way towards mollifying him. And once Gunn started watching the actual ballet performance, he became instantly hooked, just like so many unsuspecting males before him. This proved once and for all that ballet is not simply limited to the upper classes of society.

No one could even begin to pretend that the off-stage actions in "Waiting in the Wings" came close to mirroring the libretto to the featured ballet Giselle. However, Giselle does include the themes of love, hope, betrayal, heartbreak, tragedy and redemption, which is good enough for our purposes.

Finally, a few words about the ballet performance itself. The Bilenikoff (sp?) Ballet was obviously based on Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, which came out of Russia in 1909 some 19 years after Angel originally saw the original Bilenikoff Ballet performance. Many ballet fans are quite knowledgeable, and, logically, someone should have raised the alarm that it was impossible to have the same performers dance for over 100 years. Non-state supported ballet companies themselves don't even last 100 years! However, I'm always struck by the number of couples who surround my husband and I at performances who spend a couple hundred bucks on tickets, don't know anything about ballet, and complain the entire evening about how much they hate ballet. These people would have had no idea that the performers on stage should have been dead for over 60 years!

Cordelia - Not Quite Gone Yet. The character of Fred was obviously being pushed out front and center by this part of Season 3. It was also obvious that Joss Whedon was quite smitten with actress Amy Acker, calling her "the single most beautiful thing I've ever filmed"! However, terrific actors that they were, Charisma Carpenter and David Boreanaz were not quite ready to be shoved aside, and proved that they belonged on center stage by putting in magical and romantic performances of their own in the backstage dressing room. (Here, here, here and here.) Charisma and David were hot, romantic, tender, vulnerable and funny as they performed their scenes. Whedon said that David was quite sensitive with Charisma as they performed some of their sexier sequences on the enclosed set. As I hinted at above, Joss knew while he was filming their scenes that that he would need to re-build the story around the two of them rather than around Alexis and Amy.

Summer Glau. "Waiting in the Wings" was Glau's first real TV acting job, although Joss Whedon indicated that he thought she had done a few commercials. She did a wonderful job with both her dancing and her acting. The speech where she recounted her tale of woe, ending with her plea "Please - can you make it stop?" was right up a chivalric Angel's alley. At the end of the day, Joss said that everyone was so impressed with Glau's performances, both the crew and the extras gave her a standing ovation, much to her surprise.

Mystical Hot Spots. I've noticed that a lot of the mystical possessions within the Whedonverse, be they mystical hot spots, demonic curses, demonic possessions, etc., seem to bring out the innermost secrets of the characters being possessed. This really is a wonderful device to open up everyone's feelings and speed the plotlines along. Think of how horrified Wesley was when demon Billy's touch brought out some of his latent misogynistic tendencies. When Angel and Cordy were possessed, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that they were acting out their true emotions that they felt for each other. Likewise, when Wesley was possessed by the spurned Count Kurskov, we could easily imagine him acting out his devastation at losing Fred to Charles Gunn in a similar manner even if he wasn't possessed. I was particularly impressed with how Wesley had to force himself to pull himself back together to act as the leader during a critical moment in the show.

Potpourri. Joss rightfully praised Rob Kral for the original music that he composed for the episode. I don't have the music for Giselle memorized, particularly since Giselle was composed by someone who is considered to be somewhat of a hack. (Adolphe Adam). In Adam's defense, back in his day, ballet music was considered to be somewhat lowbrow, with the music ordered up according to the specific instructions of the choreographer. I remember at one point thinking, "I don't remember the music for Giselle sounding quite this good". In his DVD commentary, Joss confirmed that there were moments where the music we heard was written by Kral rather than Adam.

Whedon also meted out a lot of deserved praise to director of photography Ross Berryman and his crew for all of the great lighting and camerawork. I always refer to the "warm glow" of this particular stretch of Season 3 episodes, which I directly attribute to Berryman.

"Waiting in the Wings" also provided Alexis Denisof with a great opportunity to showcase his sword-fighting talents, which he apparently developed through several years of stage work in London. He also reportedly did a lot of fight choreography during those same years. I've heard in Season 2 DVD commentary (director Fred Keller in "Over the Rainbow"?) that Alexis is extremely athletic and performed a lot of his on-screen fight work (although he did have his own stuntman), as opposed to David Boreanaz who relied heavily on stunt coordinator Mike Massa. In David's defense, he reportedly would have liked to have performed a lot more of his own stunts, which was impossible since the producers couldn't risk having the star of the show getting injured.

Both Angel and Wesley had their own moments of "Waiting in the Wings" as they waited for the right times to profess their feelings for their ladies-in-waiting. Whedon spoke of how our hearts naturally went out to these two guys who were so unlucky in love. During his commentary, he abruptly stopped speaking during a particularly poignant scene toward the end of the episode, where Angel was trying to give voice to his feelings for Cordelia. Joss wisely let the action speak for itself when Angel almost uttered the right words to Cordy just before Groo appeared, and while Fred told Wesley of her surprise that Angel and Cordelia didn't get together. Wesley's look of utter heartbreak dissolving into his continued unbroken love for Fred came as a fitting end to a truly remarkable episode.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What a Bummer of a Birthday

It occurred to me while I was watching "Birthday" recently (from Season 3 of Angel) that "This episode is everything that's wrong with the series". That's a pretty harsh statement to make, which, by the way, doesn't stand up to too much scrutiny. Nonetheless, "Birthday" did mark a bittersweet time in Angel where it seemed like so many wonderful opportunities were beginning to open up for not only the character of Cordelia Chase, but also for actress Charisma Carpenter.

"Birthday" is almost too painful for me to watch. I know only too well that all of the lovely things happening to Cordelia in this episode (if you can call being knocked into a coma by a mind-numbing vision"lovely") were set in motion by Jasmine, the rogue Power That Be who was going to hijack her body and, in the process, set off a chain of events that would eventually kill her. It seems particularly cruel that it took the original audience more than a year to find out that the narrative of Cordelia choosing her higher calling of saving Angel and helping the helpless over choosing to have a brilliant acting career was all manufactured by Jasmine in order to bamboozle Cordelia into becoming part-demon.

Similar to questions I asked in my recent Darla maternity arc posts, I wonder, how much of the Jasmine story line did the creators plot out in advance of "Birthday", and how much of the plot was hatched out over beer shots several months later? I almost hate to admit it, but, "Birthday", and really, the rest of Season 3 and most of Season 4, started making a lot more sense after I finished watching the complete Jasmine arc. For a really outstanding analysis, I highly recommend Chief Seattle's separate "before" and "after" reviews of "Birthday", where the blogger wrote in great detail about how the inconsistencies in the episode were cleared up by the time the story arc was completed. Chief Seattle also has a great discussion on how Jasmine exploited Cordy's sense of vanity by convincing her she was being specially chosen to become a Higher Being.

It really was trite, juvenile, and borderline ridiculous that Cordelia was given the opportunity to make such a clear cut moral decision on how to live the rest of her life. My only excuse for swallowing this line is that anything is possible in the Buffyverse. The whole episode reminds me of those cute little moralistic stories I used to read in elementary school where the child sacrificed himself by doing the right thing, then was later bountifully rewarded for his efforts. (For example, I remember a story about a boy who arrived late for a Milwaukee Braves baseball game because he helped a mother find her lost toddler, only to win all sorts of terrific prizes after finding out he was the 1,000,0000th visitor to the stadium.)

One way to look at things is that all of the metaphysical claptrap Skip was spouting (here, here and here) in "Birthday" didn't really matter since it was all just a pack of lies. Which brings us to the heart of watching any show in the Whedonverse - should we even bother to break down and analyze any episode Joss produces since we're reasonably sure that our conclusions will be proven false later on?

Luckily for us, even though the Whedonverse tends to change the rules in the middle of the game, we also find dichotomy and universal truths amidst the swirling chaos. For example, I wrote in one post that a lot of what Holland Manners told Angel in his famous Season 2 elevator ride made a lot of sense even though Manners was obviously trying to mislead Angel. I've even written before that I'll take what's given to me at face value unless later events prove otherwise. In a post that I did called "The Powers That Be and Jasmine - A Dividing Line?", I hinted that I was profoundly influenced by what Skip revealed in "Birthday", in that "Inside every living thing there is a connection to The Powers That Be. Call it instinct, intuition. Deep down we all know our purpose in this world." I've interpreted that statement to mean that The Powers That Be are a universal force within the Angelverse rather than minor deities who influence only a relatively small number of people.

My above-referenced blog post also discusses constant questions I have where I wonder, at what points within the episodes are The Powers That Be involved, and at what points is Jasmine directing the events? To simplify things a bit, I've pretty much concluded that The Powers controlled Cordy's visions while Jasmine controlled just about everything else. In "Birthday", I'm still bothered by the vision that Cordy had of the 17-year-old girl on 171 Oak Street in Reseda. If TPTB brought her the vision, and if all of the things that happened during Cordy's alternate TV star reality was just a big fat lie, then what happened to the girl? Did the TPTB wonder, hey, isn't anyone going to come in and rescue the girl? Or did Jasmine provide a false vision? If Jasmine stepped in and provided the vision, that's disturbing to me since it obviously puts my too-tidy theory in doubt. I guess I'll just have to pay attention as I work through the DVD's to see if I find any other clues.

Idle Thoughts. The Season 3 DVD features the sitcom scene that was deleted from the actual "Birthday" episode. According to the excellent audio commentary from Tim Minear and Mere Smith, the scene was cut because "it wasn't funny enough". Smith, the writer of the episode, was adamant that they needed something that looked like an actual high-quality sitcom rather than a parody. (Although Minear correctly joked that most sitcoms look more like parodies anyway.) The creators wanted to portray Cordelia as being genuinely successful. Including her in a below-par sitcom simply would not have produced the desired effect.

Personally, I thought the deleted segment was kind of cute! However, I'm not a good judge of sitcoms since I prefer dramas with heavy doses of humor.

"Birthday" also gave Charisma Carpenter a wonderful platform to showcase her talents. I think she would have made a wonderful sitcom star! When viewing Seasons 3 and 4, I can't help but weave the fortunes of Carpenter together in with the fortunes of Cordelia. I've already talked way too much about how much I was enjoying the New and Improved Cordy of Season 3 (before she got too saintly), only to have to sit through the disappointment of having both her and Carpenter ground up and spit out like hamburger at the end of Season 4. "Birthday" should be one of my favorite episodes. In reality it's one of my least viewed episodes because I can't help but think of all of the ensuing disappointments for the character.

Another disappointment with "Birthday" is that it contained one of the few scenes within the series that acknowledged that Wes and Cordy almost had something going on between them back in Sunnydale. It's too bad that it happened during the "alternate reality", which meant it was really a "fake" moment of reality. If MTV ever gets around to airing Wes and Cordy's Sunnydale kiss during their Buffy broadcasts, I'll comment on that aspect a little bit more.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Treat for Buffyverse Fans

Buffyverse fans are blessed with an enormous treasure trove of literature to choose from for their reading pleasure. It almost seems as though every Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fan in the world has published or posted something at one time or another. Trying to keep track of all of these works can be a daunting prospect, but Lane County (Oregon) Community College reference librarian Don Macnaughtan is certainly up to the task. He is currently hard at work compiling his Bibliographic Guide to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, which is slated to be published by McFarland & Co. in 2011.

According to Macnaughtan's website, Navigating the Buffyverse, his goal is to produce "... a complete guide to everything published. I have collected & annotated thousands of items, and I am beating the bushes for any stray work that may still be out there." I'll let you look at his site for the types of works he's looking for, and for information on how to contact him if you have any items that might be suitable for inclusion in his bibliography.

I am absolutely astonished at the large number of exceptional Buffyverse works that are out there. According to an email exchange I had with Macnaughtan, he thought that with the exception of Star Trek, there probably aren't too many other TV shows out there that generate as much commentary as Buffy.

My own Buffyverse collection is starting to get large enough for me to start thinking about buying a pair of bookends. After his Bibliographic Guide is published, I hope I'll eventually have to buy a whole new bookcase.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

MTV Plays Hide and Seek with Buffy

MTV doesn't seem all that committed to showing Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the few short weeks they've been airing Season 3 episodes in the U.S., they went from a M-F 11:00 am time slot, to a M-Th 11:00 am time slot, and then to a M-Th 9:00 am time slot. The latest wrinkle, according to their online schedule, is they'll broadcast one more episode tomorrow, Thursday, February 11, then won't bring Buffy back until Tuesday, February 16. Sheesh! They show, what, four episodes a day of about four different series and they still can't squeeze in an hour of Buffy?At this rate, I'll be lucky to see Wesley Wyndam-Pryce kiss Cordelia Chase by the end of the month.

As much as I'd love to do a daily "Gee, Wesley looks cute" post while MTV broadcasts his few appearances in the series, I'll wait until they finish airing all of the Season 3 episodes and post something that hopefully ties everything together.

Daniel Dae-Kim and Amy Acker Updates


Daniel Dae Kim. Per Whedonesque, I found out that Daniel Dae Kim (aka odious Wolfram & Hart lawyer Gavin Park in Angel, and Jin-Soo Kwon in Lost) has been cast as Detective Chin Ho Kelly in the CBS remake of the original Hawaii Five-0 TV series (1968-1980). I'll let you read The Hollywood Reporter and E! Online for more details. (Note: The Hollywood Reporter site was down when I tested the links after publishing the post. Hopefully it will be back online soon.) I understand that if everything goes according to plan, the new pilot might air later this spring. Alex O'Loughlin from Moonlight and Three Rivers is supposedly in talks to take over Jack Lord's character of Detective Steve McGarrett. Best wishes to Kim on the success of the new series!

By wild coincidence, I'm currently watching Season 1 of Hawaii Five-O on DVD. My 1960's TV knowledge might be a bit hazy, but I'm thinking this series might have set the standard for later TV detective shows? Regardless, I love watching the beautiful scenery and seeing the old cars and hippy fashions circa 1968. Admiring a nice-looking James MacArthur as Danny "Book-em Danno" Williams is an added benefit. I can't help but mention that the opening theme to Hawaii Five-O (shown in the YouTube video above) ranks right up with Angel as best TV intro.

My family's favorite character from the series was the stoic "Kono" as played by native Hawaiian "Zulu" (or "Zoulou"). "Kono Power!" is a familiar chant in my household as he tackles multiple bad guys at once at the end of an episode. There are various versions floating around as to why Zulu left the series after the fourth season. I probably can't make a fair judgment just based on seeing half of the Season 1 episodes, but Kono's character seemed to be severely underutilized, as was also the case for most of the other characters. From what I've seen so far, the series was very much "The Jack Lord Show". Regular readers know I prefer TV shows with strong ensemble casts. Regardless, I hope they put in a "Kono" character in the remake.

Although Oahu was already highly developed by the time the series came on the air in 1968, you could tell there was still a lot of vacant real estate. It will be interesting (and probably quite sad) to compare the scenery between the 1968 and 2010 versions of Hawaii Five-O.

Here's some interesting trivia. According to the DVD I'm watching (but I can't confirm this), it appears that the excellent pilot movie for Hawaii Five-0 was the first pilot movie ever made for a TV series. Also, the character of Danny Williams was originally played by actor Tim O'Kelley, who appeared as the mass-murderer/sniper in the excellent Peter Bogdanovich horror movie Targets. (Targets is another great period piece out of 1968, particularly if you're into 1960's cars and streetscape scenes). He was replaced by James MacArthur when a test audience correctly stated that they didn't care for O'Kelley's characterization.

Amy Acker. Kelly over at My TV posted a lovely little interview with Amy Acker (Fred from Angel and Whiskey/Claire Saunders from Dollhouse). In it, Amy reminisced about her Shakespeare readings with Alexis Denisof and J. August Richards at Joss Whedon's house, talked about her upcoming appearances on ABC's Happy Town, said she'd love to work with Alexis Denisof again, and picked Wes over Gunn in her Fred/Gunn/Wesley love triangle!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Did Darla Have Much of a Choice? - Part 3

(This is the final post in an ongoing series about Angel Season 3 episodes "Offspring", "Quickening" and "Lullaby".)

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series of posts, I discussed Darla's and Angel's reactions to the arrival of their "miracle" child. The biggest question (or, perhaps a better word would be "worry") was, would Darla and Angel's offspring grow up to become the scourge of mankind as seemingly prophesied in the Nyazian scrolls? A more immediate question was, in the absence of conclusive evidence (I admit this question was a bit more relevant before the ultrasound was performed), should the offspring be killed immediately upon birth?

Darla tried everything she could to terminate the pregnancy (or, more honestly, she tried to kill the baby before it was born), but was unable to do so. Something (Season 4's Jasmine?) was protecting the child. Darla had no alternative but to bring the child to term. When she later came to Angel Investigations to enlist everyone's aid in finding answers to the mystery of the baby created by two vampires, she also lost out on the opportunity to become the sole decider of what would happen to the baby once it was born.

Angel, of course, was a vampire with a soul, and became a lovable softy when faced with the prospect of becoming a father. "They'll be no throwing of flames", Angel insisted in one memorable scene. It appeared that all of the members of the Angel Investigations team had some initial worries about the meaning of the upcoming birth. However, despite some "thinking out loud" blood-thirsty utterances, no one in the group strongly advocated killing the child outright. Ultimately, the decision was made to let the child live in the absence of any strong proof that the baby was destined to become an instrument of evil.

Even though the AI team appeared to be of one mind, there were still some interesting variations on their reactions to the upcoming birth.

Cordelia Chase. Cordelia was the one who was the most hurt by Darla's announcement, with this scene clearly showing her anger with Angel and her exaggerated (although still undeniably heartfelt) concern for Darla.

Just prior to Darla's arrival at the Hyperion, Angel and Cordelia had a few of those "are they finally going to get together?" moments here and here. Cordy's explanation that she was upset because his conduct was an admission that he had actively sought to surrender himself to the dark side, although valid, rang a little bit hollow. Although Cordelia was the one who always maintained she was not interested in Angel as a romantic partner, she obviously felt that Angel personally betrayed her by sleeping with Darla.

Of course Cordelia got her comeuppance when Darla attacked her in an effort to get enough blood to try to satisfy her extreme vampire thirst. In turn, Cordelia got her revenge when she punched Darla in the nose just before she started to apparently go into active labor.

Since the creators were focusing on Cordelia's reaction to Angel's "betrayal", we really don't know too much about her initial reactions about the child itself. Presumably, she was firmly in the "let's not kill the child unless we find out it would be a really good idea to do so" camp. A real turning point for Cordelia occurred when she thought through the implications of the vision that she had while simultaneously being attacked by Darla.

Everything started to make sense to Cordelia once she realized the child had a soul. Indeed, the existence of a soul was a real game changer for just about everyone, even though, as Sahjhan wisely noted about the nature of souls in general, "So Angel has a soul. Big whoop! So did Attila the Hun!" Angel's betrayal took a back burner as Cordelia realized there were more important things to concentrate on, such as, how the child fit in within the Tro-Clon confluence, and whether the child would ultimately work for the side of good or evil.

Cordelia enthusiastically embraced her visions from The Powers That Be, since those visions gave her purpose and meaning in life. As such, she wasn't getting any sort of clear-cut message from The Powers that the child was evil. When you add the fact that she was clearly influenced by Angel's emotions regarding his impending fatherhood, Cordelia was firmly committed to bringing the child to term, despite a few murmurs of doubts she professed here and there.

Angel was somewhat preoccupied with Darla during those times, with her being the mother of his child and all. However, Cordelia was clearly starting to open herself more to Angel since their mutual realization that the baby had a soul created an unmistakable additional bond between the two of them. Cordy certainly embraced the role of being the de facto mother to baby Connor after his birth. Taking it a step further, Angel and Cordelia's relationship definitely grew stronger once they became active partners in raising the child.

Charles Gunn. In contrast to Cordelia, Charles was the most vocal with his doubts concerning the baby, even after the discovery that the child had a soul. Gunn seemed to have the most personal animosity towards the demon world, and he always maintained somewhat of a shoot first, ask questions later attitude. When the ultrasound at the hospital proved that the child was human, Gunn's first spoken thoughts were, "Human as is in humanoid? As in cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers?" Even more tellingly, in his response to Angel's assumptions that The Powers had been protecting the baby all along, Gunn said what had to be said, even though Cordy chewed him out afterwards for his lack of sensitivity:
Gunn: We don't know that. We don't know that it's the Powers that's been protecting it. Angel, I'm sorry, but what if what Darla's carrying is the thing in the prophecies? That scourge of mankind that's supposed to plunge the world into ultimate darkness? What if... what if what's happening to Darla now, what if that's the Powers? Finally stepping up to the plate and doing something for once!"
Gunn was referring to the fact that the baby had come almost completely to term, only to start dying once Darla's contractions ceased. I had mentioned in a previous post, "And Fred Makes Five", that Charles was the least group-thinky member of Angel Investigations, and was the one who was most likely to think outside the box. Unfortunately for him, his relatively low status within the group ensured that his ideas were seldom carried out. Nevertheless, Gunn correctly guessed that The Powers That Be were not the ones actively protecting the baby, albeit they weren't exactly actively advocating the baby's murder either.

If Gunn was in a position of power I really don't think he would have ordered the baby's execution. When you're not the group leader, and particularly when you're the member of the group who's taken the least seriously, you have a certain freedom to run off at the mouth a bit with minimal risk of retribution.

Winifred Burkle. Fred seemed to offer the most visible support for the birth of the baby during the entire process. In fact, I don't recall that she said anything at all to suggest that it might have possibly been a good idea to get rid of the baby even before she knew the child had a soul. The worse things she managed to say about the baby was to suggest in one scene that maybe the baby didn't have a head, while in another scene she suggested it might have had two heads. Even then she came across as being rather non-judgmental about these concepts. Quite strikingly, when Fred asked Darla how she knew something was protecting the baby, and Darla responded "Because I can't get rid of it", the camera seem to pause an extra second on a visibly shaken Fred as she replied, obviously expressing Pro Life sentiments, "Sorry I asked". That wasn't the first time I noticed that the creators gave Fred a few gentle characteristics befitting a young woman who was raised in a Bible Belt region.

Even more tellingly, during an earlier scene in Caritas when there was much discussion as to the ultimate destiny of the child, Fred stated in her own inimitable way, "Can I say something about destiny? Screw destiny! If this evil thing comes we'll fight it, and we'll keep fighting it until we whoop it. 'cause destiny is just another word for inevitable and nothing's inevitable as long as you stand up, look it in the eye, and say 'you're evitable!' - Well, you- you catch my drift."

I can't help but mention that Cordelia would never have been able to get away with making such a ridiculous statement. However, all of the gentlemen in the group absolutely adored hearing those words spill out of cute little Fred. Even more importantly, Fred was espousing the birth of the child, to give it a good sporting chance to prove itself while dealing with the potential negative consequences later on.

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. My best guess is that Wesley was skeptical about baby Connor's future, but did a good job of keeping an open mind about the child's fate. A good leader must be able to think logically while putting his or her own personal prejudices on the back burner. The leader should also be open and sensitive to the feelings and opinions of individuals while keeping the safety and interests of the overall group as his top priority. It's a delicate balancing act, but Wesley had a knack for that sort of thing. I was fascinated with the subtle shifts in the balance of power that were occurring in the top levels of Angel Investigations during the Darla maternity arc.

For the most part in late Season 2 and the early part of Season 3, Wesley was the nominal leader of Angel Investigations while Angel retained his position as de facto leader. I wouldn't go so far as to say that dynamic completely flip-flopped as Angel warmed up to the idea of being a father. However, Wesley found that he had to step up his leadership role quite a bit when it became obvious that Angel was becoming preoccupied with his son Connor. I had hinted in a post I did not too long ago, "Some Welcome Themes in 'Gingerbread' " that parents develop huge blind spots in their logical thinking when the welfare of their children is involved. Wesley had the sole responsibility of keeping the safety and interests of the group in the forefront. He could no longer rely on Angel to keep an open mind as to the potential for both good and evil in Connor.

Just as Angel made some obvious conscious efforts to step back and let Wesley take over, there were hints that Wesley was allowing Angel to take over at times in order to keep up the appearance that he still wielded considerable control over Wesley and the rest of the group. It was up to Wesley to keep researching the implications of Connor's birth and to keep asking the difficult questions. If he was going to maintain Angel's backing and to stay in his good graces, he'd have to maintain a deferential attitude towards Angel while continuing to humor him by allowing Angel to concentrate on Connor's best interests.

It was not obvious at the time that Connor's best interests and the group's best interests were one and the same. As I noted in my post, "Wesley's Path to Betrayal", Wesley became increasingly isolated from the rest of the group to the point where he had no one he could bounce his ideas off of. Unfortunately, this led to the tragic series of events which resulted in Wesley's kidnapping of Connor.

Idle Thoughts. I loved that scene in "Quickening" where everyone except Angel put in their two cents worth about killing Darla and Angel's offspring immediately after its birth. It provided a nice moment of black humor. Unfortunately, upon reviewing the episodes, it appears that this scene appeared in the wrong place on the timeline. Even though this scene occurred before the ultrasound when everyone received proof that the baby was human, they had already found out in the prior episode that the baby had a soul. By this time, Angel Investigations was already firmly committed to finding out everything they could about the baby before making a judgment about his life.

In "Lullaby", an out-of-control Darla sent Wesley, Cordelia, Fred and Gunn flying off in different directions in the alleyway by the Hyperion Hotel. In the audio DVD commentary for this episode, writer Mere Smith mentioned that she really liked how Alexis Denisof/Wesley looked without his glasses while he was waking up out of unconsciousness. It can't be that much of a coincidence that Mere Smith wrote "Birthday" (which aired a few weeks later), where an incredibly handsome Wesley appeared without glasses in Cordelia's alternate reality.

Sorry, Blythe Danner Fans

Through the vagaries of spiders and gremlins, Google is directing readers who are clicking on a particularly lovely image of Blythe Danner in Google Images to my main URL instead of to the correct site. In a previous post I mentioned that Kristine Sutherland, the actress who played Buffy's mother Joyce Summers, looked a lot like Blythe Danner. I then included a hyperlink to a photo of Danner that appears at a NPR/PBS station website out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I did not post the actual photo or hotlink to the site. Unfortunately, Google Image mentions both the radio/TV station URL, and my URL, then directs the reader to my site when he or she clicks on the image. I deleted the link in my post, and I hope the problem eventually goes away.

Wesley's Debut on Buffy

So, what were you expecting? I'm too emotionally biased to give an objective review of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce's debut in Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Season 3's "Bad Girls". I thought he was absolutely adorable, while everyone else was mean to him!

All kidding aside (well, sort of), Wesley certainly had a lot of self-confidence, even if he didn't have much to back it up with. His first meeting with Buffy gave me a flicker of insight as to some intriguing future possibilities they could have had together. Unfortunately, Giles and Faith were around, so their appearances kind of watered down Wes and Buffy's initial contact quite a bit. In a way, it's too bad Wesley didn't stick around Buffy and eventually successfully grow into his Watcher role. Buffy and Wes could have learned a lot from each other: he about humility and treating Buffy with consideration and compassion; and she about patience and respect as she helped train the rookie Watcher Wesley in his new position.

I'm also saddened by the unraveling of the Buffy/Faith relationship in this part of Season 3, since I thought they had an interesting yin-yang thing going on. I'm really enjoying Angel swooping in on a regular basis to help save the day, and I can definitely see why David Boreanaz needed his own show. There were too many great things going on in Buffy to be able to fit everything in. It's just too bad Eliza Dushku didn't find a similar outlet for her "Faith" character.

P.S. Didn't Alexis Denisof put in a nice performance in his Wesley debut?

(Wesley's image is from The Buffy Body Count.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Did Darla Have Much of a Choice? - Part 2

(This is an ongoing series of posts about Angel Season 3 episodes "Offspring", "Quickening" and "Lullaby".)

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about how Darla was not at all pleased with the idea of giving birth to a "miracle child". Angel, once he got over the initial shock of seeing a pregnant Darla make her appearance at the Hyperion Hotel, warmed up to the idea of fatherhood quite quickly. However, he was still realistic enough to be able to admit that "I don't see how anything spawned by Darla and me could be good."

Right away, we notice that cultural stereotypes (not that I agree with them) were turned upside down, where the expectant mother should be thrilled with the child she's carrying while the father is typically ambivalent at best with unplanned pregnancies. The device the writers used to flip-flop this polarity was the concept of soul; the existence of one in Angel's case and the absence of one in Darla's. The presence of a soul supposedly brings not only a sense of right and wrong, but also strong parental bonding instincts. Darla, without her soul, was totally incapable of feeling any love for her child.

(I'm not sure if the writers had this in mind, but think of the implications. Only an inhuman monster could hate her own child. Also note how Angel took ownership of his son, with the implied right to compel an unwilling Darla to carry the child to term.)

Angel must have had a thousand thoughts swirling through his head. Although he was pragmatic and cautious at first, he quickly interpreted Darla's pregnancy as a positive development. Angel always held out hope for redemption and rewards for performing good deeds. After all he'd gone through, he probably felt he had earned the right to be able to father a child. Of course, pride over being awarded a trophy child and true parental love for a child are two different things.

I was grateful to see Buffy the Vampire Slayer's "Gingerbread" episode while I was drafting this post because of the insight it gave me as to how Angel felt about families in general. In this dialogue sequence, he told Buffy in so many words that children and families are what we fight for. We also got a strong sense through the Darla maternity trilogy that the arrival of a child brought the promise of filling a huge void in his life. Fred nailed it in this scene when she said "....his child. The one thing he can never have, even if he lives forever." Although the dialogue doesn't exactly spell it out, it's clear that Fred was implying that the lack of ability to be able to raise his own family probably weighed quite heavily on Angel. Regardless, any questions we may have had over Angel's motivations for wanting Darla to carry the child to term were answered when we witnessed his absolute joy with infant Connor for those few short weeks before the child was kidnapped to the Quor'toth dimension.

One specific challenge the writers faced was, how would Darla treat the child after he was born? She was a wicked vampire who, after unsuccessfully trying to terminate the pregnancy, might logically be expected to kill the child after she gave birth. Since Darla was a soulless vampire, there was no way she could have ever been motivated to care for the baby. Being influenced by Angel's good example or relying on some maternal instincts that would magically kick in was simply out of the question. Allowing Darla to be influenced by her baby's soul was an excellent solution, since it gave her the will to carry the baby to term, and to make the ultimate sacrifice to save Connor's life by staking herself when it became apparent she would not be able to give birth.

I'm always interested in a vampire's confusion while attempting to come to terms with the fact that he or she has gained a soul. Darla had already covered this territory in Season 2, when she was resurrected back to life by Wolfram & Hart. It appears that the act of gaining a soul does not automatically give a person perfect moral clarity. It appears the person has to make an active effort to sort things through and re-classify his or her values.

How did Cordelia and Angel simultaneously make the mental leap from noting Darla's craving for children's blood to figuring out that the baby had a soul? In Cordelia's case, The Powers That Be felt it was important for everyone to know that whatever was inside Darla had a soul. In Angel's case, when he was comforting a frantic Darla who was pleading with him to kill her at the amusement park, he put two and two together when he discovered the baby had a heartbeat and thought about Darla's insatiable craving for blood. Personally, I might have equally been likely to think that the child was a blood-sucking demon with a heartbeat, but Angel knew simply because he understood how newly-ensouled vampires would react to certain situations.

From this point on, it became apparent to most of the people involved that the existence of a soul in the baby was a real game changer. Although the ultrasound showing that the child was human solidified the idea in just about everyone's mind that the baby needed to come to term, the knowledge that the baby had a soul helped guide the Angel Investigations team into the right direction.

Julie Benz and David Boreanaz were absolutely extraordinary together. The two scenes where Angel comforted a distraught Darla, first at the amusement park in the link mentioned above, then on the rooftop of the downtown Los Angeles hotel, provided us with two of their finest performances. These scenes particularly allowed Boreanaz to do what I thought he did best in Angel, which was to give comfort to those who were suffering from total despair. It was quite touching how Angel, at least momentarily, had faith that Darla had it in her to be able to love and cherish the child, and somehow he and Darla could make everything work out. Darla knew the cruel truth, as noted in this exchange:
DARLA: What do I have to offer a child, a *human* child, besides ugly death?

ANGEL: Darla.

DARLA: You know it's true.

ANGEL: No. What I do know is that you love this baby, our baby. You've bonded with it. You've spent nine months carrying it, nourishing it...

DARLA: No. No, I haven't been nourishing it. I haven't given this baby a thing. I'm dead. It's been nourishing me. These feelings that I'm having, they're not mine. They're coming from it.

ANGEL: You don't know that.

DARLA: Of course I do! We both do. Angel, I don't have a soul. It does. And right now that soul is inside of me, but soon, it won't be and then...

ANGEL: Darla...

DARLA: I won't be able to love it. I won't even be able to remember that I loved it. (Starts to cry) I want to remember.

ANGEL: (holding her) Shh...

(...)

DARLA: You won't let me hurt it, will you? You'll protect it, right? From me, I mean.
I have some questions about why outside forces brought the baby almost completely to term, only to almost allow it to die, but I'll address this topic more in a later post. Suffice it to say, the producers needed to kill off Darla in such a way that would also allow for a decent send-off for the marvelous actress Julie Benz. They couldn't have picked a finer way than to allow Darla to sacrifice herself as part of the "one good thing" she and Angel ever did together. Although she initially didn't have of a choice in her pregnancy, Darla did ultimately make one good choice through her desire to save her child.

In my next post I'll talk about the attitudes that other members of Angel Investigations had towards Darla's pregnancy.

Closing Thoughts. In the DVD commentary for "Lullaby", writer Mere Smith noted how in this scene, Darla called the baby "he" for the first time instead of "it" when she said, "My boy. My darling boy." (Darla had called Angel her "darling boy" many times in their many years together.) Mere said that as story editor, she insisted that Darla consistently call the child "it" so it would be that much more powerful when she finally acknowledged the love she felt for her unborn child. Great call, Mere!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Some Welcome Themes in "Gingerbread"

(Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes I've seen so far: From the beginning of Season 3 through "Gingerbread", with the exception of "Faith, Hope & Trick" and "Amends".)

I found out while I was still watching Angel on TNT that I have a particular knack for missing episodes that are either crucial for establishing storylines or otherwise hold special significance for me. With my MTV scheduling fiasco from yesterday, I unfortunately missed one of those episodes I absolutely couldn't wait to see, which was "Amends" from Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

This particular episode featured the "Christmas miracle", in which a rare cloudy/snowy day in Sunnydale prevented Angel from immolating himself by walking directly into the sunlight. Other themes that attracted me to "Amends" were strong Christian symbolism, a strong foreshadowing of later appearances of The Powers That Be in Angel: the Series, the fact it was an Angel-centric episode, and Willow's and Oz's early attempts to rebuild their relationship.

Although I'll have to wait to see "Amends" at a later date, today's airing of "Gingerbread" (written by Jane Espenson and Thania St. John) went a long way towards comforting me. First off, I've become a huge fan of writer Jane Espenson ever since I heard her DVD commentary for Angel's Season 1's "Rm w/a Vu". She's a well-spoken, intelligent woman who not only described the on-screen action, but taught me a lot about the entire TV production process. Although Espenson only wrote two episodes for Angel, they were both quite memorable: Season 1's "Rm w/a Vu", (with David Greenwalt's aid in writing the story), where Cordelia ended up with Phanton Dennis as a roommate in her new apartment, and Season 2's "Guise Will Be Guise", where Wesley was forced to impersonate Angel and ended up winning the lovely Virginia Bryce as his reward.

"Gingerbread" not only featured a great story in its own right, it also touched on a lot of great themes that I enjoyed exploring in Angel. Here are some of the highlights of the episode for me:

Stepping Through the Looking Glass. One of my favorite themes is how ordinary people react when they face the alternate world of vampires and demons. In this post, I wondered, are people able to step back into their worlds and deny the existence of the supernatural, or will they always be stuck on the wrong side of the looking glass? Although, unfortunately, events were being manipulated by a dreadful demon who took the shape of dead little Hansel and Gretel-type children, this is the best episode I've seen so far that tackles this issue head on. One of the key dialogue sequences for me was here, when Joyce chided the townspeople for trying to deny the evil that was all around:
This is not a good town. How many of us have, have lost someone who, who just disappeared? Or, or got skinned? Or suffered neck rupture? And how many of us have been too afraid to speak out? I-I was supposed to lead us in a moment of silence, but... silence is this town's disease. For too long we-we've been plagued by unnatural evils. This isn't our town anymore. It belongs to the monsters and, and the witches and the Slayers. I say it's time for the grownups to take Sunnydale back. I say we start by finding the people who did this and making them pay.
For Joyce, there was no going back after she stepped through the looking glass. She warned the townspeople that those who refused to acknowledge the existence of evil did so at their own risk. Which leads to:

What's the best way to tackle evil? This is another issue I've written about at great length. (See "Angel's Season 2 Crisis of Faith - Part 1 - The Root of All Evil"). What's the best way to fight Evil? Do you react to the consequences of Evil after the fact? Or do you try to cut it off at its head? There's no good answer to this question, which is why the Buffyverse creators repeatedly revisited the topic. This dialogue sequence between Buffy and her mother speaks volumes, particularly this excerpt:
BUFFY: Mom, I hate that these people scared you so much. And I-I know that you're just trying to help, but you have to let me handle this. It's what I do.

JOYCE: But is it really? I mean, you patrol, you slay... Evil pops up, you undo it. A-a-and that's great! But is Sunnydale getting any better? Are they running out of vampires?

BUFFY: I don't think that you run out of...

JOYCE: It's not your fault. You don't have a plan. You just react to things. I-i-it's bound to be kind of fruitless.

BUFFY: Okay, maybe I don't have a plan. Lord knows I don't have lapel buttons...

JOYCE: (exasperated) Buffy.

BUFFY: ...and maybe next time that the world is getting sucked into Hell, I won't be able to stop it because the Anti-Hell-Sucking Book isn't on the approved reading list!
Joyce fell into a common trap where people are desperate to do something but have no idea what to do. Slayers and Watchers had learned over the centuries that the best we can hope for is to maintain some sort of equilibrium where, while the monsters aren't completely vanquished, they're at least held in check. Non-champions have their own crucial jobs of functioning without fear in as normal an environment as possible. If people cowered in their homes their entire lives, then they might as well just hand the world right over to the demons on a silver platter.

In a park scene that delightfully foreshadowed Angel's Season 2's "epiphany" conversation between Angel and Kate Lockley in the garden at the Hyperion Hotel, Angel had this exchange with Buffy:
BUFFY: My mom... said some things to me about being the Slayer. That it's fruitless. No fruit for Buffy.

ANGEL: She's wrong.

BUFFY: Is she? Is Sunnydale any better than when I first came here? Okay, so I battle evil. But I don't really win. The bad keeps coming back and getting stronger. Like that kid in the story, the boy that stuck his finger in the duck.

ANGEL: Dike. It's another word for dam.

BUFFY: Oh. Okay, that story makes a lot more sense now.

ANGEL: Buffy, you know, I'm still figuring things out. There's a lot I don't understand. But I do know it's important to keep fighting. I learned that from you.

BUFFY: But we never...

ANGEL: We never win.

BUFFY: Not completely.

ANGEL: We never will. That's not why we fight. We do it 'cause there's things worth fighting for. Those kids. Their parents.
Parental Concern: All parents want what's best for their kids and will do everything within their power to achieve that goal. In spite of their parents' best efforts, most kids still turn out fine. Joyce Summers and Sheila Rosenberg tried their best to get closer to their daughters (or in Sheila's case, at least show more interest in Willow's life), but their inability to approach matters with an open mind doomed their attempts. It was just too easy for them to fall onto past habits and communicate with the girls by mechanical rote. We are all overpowered by the emotional parts of our brains. It can become almost impossible at times to approach things in a logical manner, even if we think we're making a serious attempt. When we try to search for the truth, we end up just looking for evidence that will support our own theories.

Predictably, all of this narrow-mindedness resulted in intolerance for the lifestyles of others, mass hysteria, book-burning and scapegoating.

Joyce was more than the Dopey Mom. I'm surprised that I spend a lot of time talking about Joyce, since I always thought she was a fairly minor character. I don't think it's because I relate to her that much as a mother. Joyce seemed to play a vital role within the series of acting as a catalyst who brought the key issues out into the open. She strikes me as the type whose heart was in the right place and could at least see the issues. Formulating and executing effective solutions seemed to be a problem for her.

Willow and Oz. I'm glad to see that these two were at least temporarily back together again. Both of them were so sweet and seemed ideal for each other. I know Oz was supposed to be laid-back and quiet, be he was a little too laid-back and quiet. I was just hoping to see Seth Green given the opportunity to expand his acting range a bit more.

And, ooh-la-la! Naughty Vamp Willow playing with her "puppy" in "The Wish"! I wonder if that's one of hubby Alexis Denisof's favorite scenes?

"Band Candy". This episode, also written by Jane Espenson, is not one of my favorites. However, one redeeming quality is that we were able to see Joyce and Giles as teenagers with their hormones raging out of control.

Giles. It's gratifying to see father-figure Giles coming through to save the day on a regular basis. One of the best rewards of being a parent is seeing how your children take you for granted and absolutely knowing that we'll always be there to make things right. I can tell already that whenever the kids (including Buffy) got into trouble, Dad Giles was the first person they called.

Cordelia. I wrote a few days ago that no matter how obnoxious Cordelia was, and despite having some ignoble motivations, she always ended up doing the right thing. I loved her interactions with Giles at the end of "Gingerbread" when she joined him in another swooping-in -to-save-the-day routine.

Speaking of Cordelia, I thought it was a nice twist to have her killed in "The Wish" before she had a chance to see all of the consequences of what life would have been like without Buffy.