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)'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.

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