Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Andy Hallett Tribute Links Update

I've collected some links to various Andy Hallett tributes and have included them at the end of my previous post, "Top 5 Favorite Lorne Episodes". I'll add more links as I find them, so be sure to check back once in a while if you're interested. In the meantime, if you find some more tributes that you'd like me to include, please email me the links or leave me a comment.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Top 5 Favorite Lorne Episodes

Andy Hallett as "Lorne"
(August 4, 1975 - March 29, 2009)

I had this weird Circle of Life vibe going for me about a year ago. I fell in love with Angel:The Series (not to mention a certain character on the show), plus I learned via the MSN homepage about the death of Andy Hallett and the birth of baby Satyana Denisof, all on the same day. Far from being bittersweet, it seemed only fitting that we could allow ourselves to be saddened by the loss of Hallett, while still being able to totally rejoice in the celebration of a new life.

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce was the character I fell in love with on Angel, but Andy Hallett as Lorne was the person who first drew me into the show and helped keep me hooked. Prior to last year I had seen Angel in bits and pieces, literally while I was walking in and out of the family room, and I always recognized it as "Oh yeah, here's the cool show with that funny green guy." When I sat down to really watch the show for the first time about a year ago, (I was flipping through the channels trying to find something to watch so I wouldn't fall back to sleep after a rough night at work), I got really excited when I spotted Lorne! I was so happy that I'd finally be able to sit down and enjoy the show that I would eventually find out was called Angel.

I always seemed to find Angel while the network was showing the Pylea episodes, which, as we know, was a highly Lorne-centric story arc. In one of life's wonderful coincidences, the Pylea arc was being broadcast again on TNT immediately after Hallett's death was announced to the media. It was only fitting that some of Andy's best work was being featured on TV at that time.

This is another one of those Top Lists posts I've wanted to do for quite a while, with this being my Top 5 Favorite Lorne episodes on Angel. Without further ado, and in chronological order:

1. Happy Anniversary (Season 2). This was the episode where Angel and Lorne (then called "The Host") palled around as an unlikely Dynamic Duo in their ultimately successful quest to stop a pathetic physics grad student (Gene) from unwittingly ending the world. Angel was going through a particularly dark time in his life, while Lorne had to talk Angel into helping him find the kid who sang the sad song the night before at the Caritas karaoke bar. Some of the best scenes in the entire series centered around Angel's interactions with Lorne, and I think this episode featured a lot of their best moments.

Highlights of this episode include: Andy Hallett giving one of the best renditions of the "Star- Spangled Banner" I've ever heard in my life, which he sang in the lobby of the Hyperion Hotel; Lorne's conversation with Angel while he described what happened at Caritas the night before; Angel warning the bartender, "Oh, you know, he's a demon. You better do what he says or he might ... talk your ears off." (And let's not forget that dirty look Lorne gave to Angel); Angel and Lorne's visit to the university library and their subsequent encounter with the Lubber demon; and Angel and Lorne's post-disaster rap session with Gene that also doubled as another counseling session between Lorne as psychoanalyst and Angel the patient.

2. Pylea Arc (Season 2). ("Belonging", "Over the Rainbow", "Through the Looking Glass", and "There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb"). I'm usually a horrible cheater with my Top 5 lists, so naturally I've lumped together an entire story arc as one episode. In "Belonging" we learned all about Lorne's backstory and his escape from Pylea, while in the remaining episodes we journeyed back with him to his home dimension. There are just way too many highlights, but here's my best shot:

From "Belonging": Lorne being not-too-forthcoming with information while simultaneously trying to get Angel and the gang to hunt down the Drokken demon that appeared through a portal in Caritas, including a favorite line of mine, "Are you gonna help me or do I have to break out my Champion Rolodex?"; Lorne's hilarious reunion with his warrior-cousin Landok who himself burst through a portal in the Los Angeles public library, in which we found out for the first time, among other things, that The Host's real name was Lorne; in another great Lorne/Angel moment, Lorne explaining the screwed up value systems of Pylea while Angel wistfully dreamed about living in a world of black-and-white with not a shade of gray in sight; in the same scene, Lorne telling Landok "What do you want, a medal?" after Landok explained how he determined the direction the Drokken was heading.

From "Over the Rainbow": Lorne's detailed explanation of how he left Pylea, including the part where he said succinctly, with accompanying shadow-puppet hand gestures, "gift horse...mouth"; Lorne in one of the rare moments where he was the client in a counseling session, when the marvelous Aggie informed him, "And be honest. Deep down you've always known you'd have to take that one last trip back home."; when Lorne marveled "You mean he actually really says 'Eureka'? " when Wesley had his "Eureka" moment (which is the exact scene where I fell in love with Wesley and Angel: the Series); when Lorne tried to weasel out of returning to Pylea at the last minute; and Lorne's great line "Back up, Copernicus. [Points to the sky] That's suns. Plural." when Angel was wondering why he wasn't bursting into flames in Pylea.

From "Through the Looking Glass": Lorne's hilarious reunion with his mother and the rest of the family, which coincidentally featured Joss Whedon's equally hilarious performance of Numfar's Dance of Joy.

From "There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb": Lorne's talking head debut; Lorne getting uncomfortably close to certain parts of Groo's body; Lorne's surprising reunion with Angel, Wesley and Gunn, and his introduction to Fred; and Lorne's not-exactly-a-Hallmark-moment farewell to his mother, including his explanation of how he realized that LA was his home, because no one belongs in LA.

3. "The House Always Wins" (Season 4). This was Andy Hallett's ultimate showcase, though I don't think it featured his best, best work. Having said that, he still did a marvelous job with his Las Vegas stint, and reportedly enjoyed himself tremendously while filming this episode.

Highlights include: Lorne singing "It's Not Easy Being Green" and "Lady Marmalade" while working the casino crowd like an old pro; life as a prisoner inside his dressing room (I thought it was wonderful how was still able to be sweet to the Lornette who brought him his drink despite his predicament, since he knew she had nothing to do with his fate); when he chided Fred for not recognizing that "Fluffy - the nonexistent dog" was the "The universally recognized code for I'm being held prisoner. Send help!"; and Lorne helping Fred and Gunn get out of a jam in Glitter Gulch along Fremont Street when he grabbed the microphone and made everyone double over in pain by giving his patented ear-splitting screech.

4. "Spin the Bottle" (Season 4.) It's not often that I can easily pick a favorite in any category, but this one was a no-brainer for me. Andy Hallett, somewhat revisiting his Host of Caritas persona, showed off all of his best qualities in this episode, with his warmth and humanity shining through from beginning to end. What a wonderful device it was to have Lorne frame the entire episode as he poignantly described the absolute hope and faith that Cordelia's memories would be completely restored, only to have everything go horribly wrong.

For whatever reason, I can't do "Spin the Bottle" any justice by simply rattling off the highlights. Suffice it to say, Lorne was an absolute knockout in every scene. (Here's the Buffyverse Dialogue Database index for this episode.) I will give give special kudos to his final scene, where it was revealed that he was performing in front of a non-existent audience in an empty nightclub. In what I consider to be Hallett's finest scene in the entire series, and in what I also consider to be somewhat of a farewell speech to his fans, Lorne told us:
LORNE: Always leave 'em wantin' more, kiddo. That's the rule. Anyway, I've got no more to tell. Applause, applause. I got a sea breeze that's gonna up and leave with someone else if I don't get to her soon. So you kids be good and go home. Hug your families while you can. And stay away from the magic. Trust me.

5. "Apocalypse Nowish" (Season 4). This might seem like an odd choice to round out my Top 5 list, but there's a certain method to my madness. I'm just now beginning to realize how outstanding Andy Hallett's performances were throughout Season 4, even though I always considered Lorne to be a bit of a fish out of water outside of Caritas. I could have easily substituted the episodes "Slouching Toward Bethlehem", or "Supersymmetry" in this list instead. However, I chose "Apocalypse Nowish" simply because it showed Hallett making the most out of some relatively ordinary moments, particularly when he was working the phones here, here, here, and here. (I'm always a sucker for a good phone scene from an actor.)

In the voiceover commentary for this episode, writer Stephen DeKnight and director Vern Gillum hinted that perhaps Andy Hallett was not at his peak during the filming of this show due to a back injury he had recently suffered. I certainly couldn't tell from viewing the final product.

Final Thoughts. Season 5 also featured another Lorne-centric episode, "Life of the Party", where he was stressed out to the max trying to plan the all-important annual Wolfram & Hart Halloween Party. I thought the episode was hysterically funny the first time I saw it (probably because just about anything was better than the closing episodes of Season 4), but it didn't look nearly as good on repeated viewings. And who can forget his "Is there a Geppetto in the house" in "Smile Time", or his heart-breakingly poignant farewell to his fans when he uttered the now famous "Good night, folks" after he shot Lindsey in "Not Fade Away"? I ultimately made a conscious decision to not include any of his Season 5 appearances in my Top 5 simply because I thought Hallett's talents were severely wasted in that final season.

Also, I have not included any Season 3 episodes, not because I'm making any sort of grandstanding statement, but just because none of his appearances made it into the Top 5 for me. Hallett was uniformly excellent, as always, through all of Season 3. Highlights include him counseling Angel about Cordelia's affections pre- and post-Groo in "Waiting in the Wings" and "Couplet"; his "Well aren't you just sneaky with the subtext" with Groo in "Benediction"; and one more heart-to-heart with Angel about Cordelia and his final goodbyes before he left for Vegas in the Season 3 finale "Tomorrow".

Finally, via Whedonesque, I found this wonderful tribute to Andy from his good friend Mark Lutz (the Groosalugg) which he posted to his MySpace page. This is the same tribute that appears in the special Angel:Lorne comic that was released last week. Naturally, the good folks at Whedonesque added their own fond memories of Hallett. I expect there will be many more wonderful tributes to this remarkable actor over the next several days. I'll try to collect some of those links and add them to this post from time to time.

For having such a brief career in showbiz, Andy certainly left a large body of work for us to enjoy. This week I plan on watching all of the episodes in my Top 5 list along with some of his other great performances. As I watch the remainder of the Angel episodes on my DVD's, I'll look forward to rediscovering some of his additional fine moments that I've forgotten about since my first viewings.

Andy, you've been gone for a year, but you're still warmly remembered in the hearts of your many friends and adoring fans. Thanks for the memories.

Update: Here are links to some more Andy Hallett tributes that run the gamut from formal blog postings that pay tribute to Andy, reviews of the new Angel:Lorne comic that include a few words in Andy's memory, to fan forum threads. I'm being somewhat subjective as to what I'm including here, and I'm always capable of overlooking some others. So if you'd like me to add any other links, please let me know.

"Andy Hallett" from "Random" at All Aboard the Appalachian Express.

"Andy Hallett Tribute Book" thread at IDW Publishing forums.

"Angel:Lorne" from Chris Ryall at Ryalltime. NEW

"Angel:Lorne Special Discussion" thread at BuffyForums.net.

"Angel Special:Lorne" thread from The John Byrne Forum at Byrne Robotics. This is the thread where comic book artist John Byrne revealed that proceeds from the sale of the Angel:Lorne comic would go toward heart research.

"Angel Special Lorne (One Shot)" from Powerdad at iFanboy.

"For the Discussion of a Special Issue of Angel:Lorne" threat at Whedonesque.

"Independent Wrapup: Deep Space 9, Lorne:Angel, and FVZA" from Jill Rayburn at Roddenberry.com.

"In Memoriam: Andy Hallett" from Araceli at Mystical Magick.

"Interview with David Boreanaz of Bones!" from Jenny at TV Is My Pacifier.

"Missing You Andy" from Sasburgerr at Death Gurgle.

"Remembering Andy Hallett" from arbre_rieur at Scans-Daily. This has actual scanned pages of Mark Lutz' tribute to Andy that appears in the Angel:Lorne comic, complete with photos.

"TV Tunes: Made for TV Bands That Rocked Our TV Sets Part Two: 1980 - 2009" from Sam Tweedle at Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict. This might not techincally be a memorial tribute, but it's definitely good enough for my standards. NEW

Saturday, March 27, 2010

AT&T Google Glitch

This is the first I've been able to see any Blogger sites today, while I've been having sporadic problems with accessing Google.com over the last 48 hours. Here's one of the Blogger Help Forum threads which pinpoints the problems as affecting AT&T customers in the Midwestern part of the U.S.

Your guess is as good as mine as to whether it's Google's or AT&T's fault. I just don't look forward to calling AT&T and saying "Can you help me with my Google?"

Coincidentally, I noticed that Google News was having difficulties with their automatic updates a few hours ago as well (although everything seems to be OK now.)

Since I don't know if everthing is fixed now, (it's hard to tell since the glitches are so sporadic in nature), I'm just warning you that I might have problems posting for a while longer. In the meantime, I hope all of you are having a lovely weekend.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Special Lorne/Andy Hallett Comic Tribute Released

(Warning: Some of my links below have spoilers, so proceed at your own risk if you're a stickler about these things.)

Whedonesque has a nice thread going regarding the IDW 48- pagetribute comic to Lorne/Andy Hallett. Powerdad at iFanboy posted a good review of John Byrne's Angel:Lorne and further revealed that Byrne has announced that he'll be donating royalties to heart research. Hallett, of course, passed away almost a year ago on March 29, 2009 due to complications relating to his heart condition.

The comic has some wonderful special features, including special contributions from Mark "the Groosalugg" Lutz and After the Fall's Brian Lynch. The list price seems to be $7.99 USD, but it appears you can get it for a little less by hitting the usual suspect online retailers. Regardless, the money spent should be well worth it, with the proceeds going to a worthy cause.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Happy Birthday Alyson and Satyana!

I'm wishing Alyson Hannigan and baby Satyana a wonderful and exciting birthday today. Alyson turns 36 while Satyana turns all of 1 year old!

CelebrityBabyScoop has a terrific collection of pictures of the Denisof family (the Alyson Hannigan tag seems to be the most inclusive), while People Magazine has a nice concise gallery of a year-in-the-life of the two lovely redheads, culminating in that charmingly intimate self-shot photo of Alexis and Alyson introducing Satyana to the world.

Year 1 is just the beginning. Here's hoping for a lot of happiness for the family for many years to come.

Monday, March 22, 2010

After the Fall Interrupted: Now, Where Did We Leave Fred's Soul?

I didn't really delve as much as I wanted to into what happened to Fred's soul after Illyria took over her body in my last post, "After the Fall Volumes 3 & 4: Wesley and Illyria/Fred", for a couple of reasons. First, I figured I'd do a lot more "soul" talk in a post I want to do in the near future about Vampire Charles Gunn; and second, because I'm reasonably sure (or I'm allowing myself to believe) that Fred actually did end up in the Buffyverse version of Heaven immediately after her body was taken over by Illyria, thereby making the entire question a moot point.

However, kind of like how it's nice to tie up loose ends before closing up a case file, I similarly feel like I need to address a few issues that I brought up in a post from last July, "The Soul of the Matter", before I put everything away for good. So, on with the checklist of my questions from last summer.

Who was inhabiting Illyria's body? Technically, the question should have been, who was inhabiting Fred's "shell"? Throughout the last part of Season 5 of Angel and into the first few volumes of After the Fall, the creators were being pretty coy as to whether Fred's presence still remained inside of what was now Illyria's body. Sure, Fred's memories and characteristics remained, but was her soul (the thing that made Fred the real Fred) still somehow trapped inside? First it appeared as though Fred was completely gone, then we were given hope in Volume 3 of After the Fall that Fred was fighting her way back.

The final verdict? Illyria was having trouble dealing with Fred's memories, but Fred was definitely gone for good, presumably in Buffyverse Heaven.

What constitutes a soul? Yikes! An answer in 10,000 words or less? In my "Soul of the Matter" post, I didn't realize it at the time, but my understanding of the soul is actually a concept that was developed by the ancient Greeks, modified by Plato, and later adopted by Christian theologians. In an outstanding essay I've been quoting a lot from lately, Scott McLaren's "The Evolution of Vampire Mythology and the Ontology of the Soul", the author stated in paragraph 5 (with citations included):

In addition to functioning as the body’s animating life force, the soul is, as Plato described it, in command of the body (Georgias 493a), the seat of all knowledge (Meno 86a), and an immortal spirit separate from the body (Meno 86b). By locating within the soul both the life-force of the body and human knowledge, Plato is the first to set forth a doctrine that allows for personal immortality in a separable soul with memories intact. This marks an enormous and important distinction from both Aristotle’s assertion that a soul without a body is unthinkable and Homer’s depiction of souls as imbecilic shadows divorced from their previous lives and memories (see Green and Groff 50ff; Iliad XXIII). Plato’s thought was adopted and adapted by some of the earliest Christian apologists and had enormous influence on the subsequent development of the Christian doctrine of the human soul, primarily through the writings of St. Augustine (MacDonald 143ff.). From there the concept of the soul as an immortal spirit animating the body as the seat of human will, intelligence, and conscience, has pervaded every corner of Western philosophy and culture.[5]
This Platonic concept of the soul was further developed by the Watcher's Council in their doctrine that the human soul departs when a vampire demon takes over the human's body. Although the vampire may retain the human's memories and appearances, it would be a mistake to treat the vampire as though it still retained actual traces of the human.

With this concept of the soul in mind while I was watching Angel, I'd often wondered, why did the characters seem to attach so much importance to the existence of the soul for the capacity to make correct moral choices? For the most part, shouldn't they have been saying Angel gained a conscience rather than a soul when he was cursed by gypsies? Don't demons already have souls, otherwise they'd just be inert piles of guts and bones?

As it turns out, according to McLaren in the link listed above (paragraph 28 of his essay), the Buffyverse has competing concepts of the soul wherein,
At times the emphasis is almost wholly existential and the soul an abstracted metaphor. At other times, the soul functions as an organ of moral choice that facilitates good. And, at the other extreme, the soul is depicted as a Platonic object that comprises human identity and will.
Far from being sloppy contradictions, these competing theories are used as devices to add dramatic tension to the narratives in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.

For other viewpoints on the concept of the "soul" in Angel, please see this discussion regarding Season 4's "Soulless" at the All Things Philosophical on BtVS and AtS site.

Can a soul be destroyed? Using my preferred classical definition of a soul, a soul departs the body immediately after death and travels to the appropriate heaven or hell dimension. I suppose a soul could possibly get lost in limbo, but that's too horrible to think about. I concluded that Fred's soul probably went to heaven as soon as Illyria's demon soul kicked her out of her body. However, I still felt an obligation to examine the different doctrines within the Angelverse to see where they led me.

I found Season 4's Angelus arc quite interesting where the shaman revealed in "Calvary" that it was possible for a soul to be destroyed in the Angelverse. Since that episode seemed to definitively establish the concept that a soul could be completely destroyed, it set a precedent that would continue on throughout the series. Therefore, as the mad doctor informed Charles Gunn in Season 5's "Shells" that "Miss Burkle's soul was consumed by the fires of resurrection", Angel and the rest of the gang unquestioningly accepted that explanation and ceased trying to regain her soul. Although the Season 4 shaman seemed more credible than the Season 5 doctor, I don't think the audience was ever given any proof that either of these men were the definitive authority on this subject matter.

I always understood that the horror or Fred's fate was not that she died, but that her soul was supposedly totally destroyed. (Think of how heavily it weighed on Angel towards the end of Volume 4 when he hoped Wesley and Fred were together, but couldn't imagine how that would have been possible.) She failed to exist in any form after her death, so there was nothing to bring back to life. We tend to handle end of life issues better if we feel that our souls will continue on in one form or another after our deaths. Although After the Fall pussyfooted around the subject of Fred's soul in general, the comics did not come out and tackle the issue of whether or not the soul can be destroyed within the Angelverse. I'll have to file this as still being an open question, although, as I mentioned above, it all ended as a moot point by the end of Volume 4.

Where would Fred's memories logically return to after the spell of the Orlon Window was broken? This is in reference to the Season 4 finale, "Home", where Angel struck a deal with Wolfram & Hart to provide Connor with a new start by removing everyone's prior memories of him and placing him with the nice middle class Reilly family. It was later revealed in Season 5's "Origin" that the old demon Cyvus Vail performed a spell called the Orlon Window that removed the memories and, presumably, placed the memories for safekeeping within a magical glass cube. Or so I thought.

Vail cautioned Angel that "If it were to break around someone whose mind had been altered, then all his old memories would come rushing back." Wesley, in a mistaken belief that Angel sold out Fred as part of the deal to take over Wolfram & Hart and give Connor a new life, broke the cube and the old memories returned to Connor, Wesley and Illyria.

At first I thought the glowing glass cube literally held everyone's memories. If the cube was destroyed, the memories would come rushing out and return to their respective owners. In my post from last July, I thought the memories would need some sort of marker so that they'd know which owner to return to, with the soul being the logical marker. Following that further, the memories should have returned to Illyria only if Fred's soul was still inside of her.

Now I'm thinking that the Orlon Window did not literally remove people's memories, but simply altered them instead. As soon as the glass cube was broken, the spell was broken, and people's memories reverted back to their original states. In that case, if memories were simply stored in the brain cells, it would make a lot more sense that Illyria would have been the recipient of the restored memories.

Indeed, I can look at this dialogue in a new light, where Illyria told Wesley "You are a summation of recollections." I still think the most important part of the scene is when Wesley pointed out to Illyria that "We are more than just memories", where, by implication, he denies that Illyria is Fred simply because she possesses Fred's memories. However, it doesn't negate the fact that Fred's memories, altered or otherwise, had a profound influence on Illyria herself. As an aside, in my post from July I wondered if Illyria even received Fred's restored memories, but I think it's pretty clear now that she did.

Closing Thoughts. I ended the main part of my "Soul of the Matter" post with this:
So, in my mind, the question remains. Was Illyria 100% Illyria? Or was there a little bit of Fred inside of her? My best guess is that it was 100% Illyria, but there was always a glimmer of hope that Fred could make some sort of comeback. Although it's fun to play "what if", it does somewhat cut down on the enjoyment of a situation if you can't figure out what the character represents. For this reason alone, the entire Fred/Illyria story arc remains somewhat unsatisfying to me.
Similar to how I'm satisfied with the end of the Wesley Wyndam-Pryce story arc, I'm also satisfied with the end of Fred's story. I'm reasonably sure that Fred's soul immediately went to where it was supposed to go upon death (Heaven). Illyria's adventures continued on after Volume 4 of After the Fall, but presumably she had a much better idea of who she was, although she would continue to have to try to figure out her place in her new world.

I was skeptical at first whether it would be worthwhile to read the Angel: After the Fall continuation series. I was afraid that the tone and spirit would be so different from the TV series that nothing would mesh. In other words, I was afraid After the Fall would drop too many elements from the original story and introduce other elements that were completely out of character. I wasn't sure what to think after reading Volumes 1 and 2, but Volumes 3 and 4 erased all of my lingering doubts. After the Fall not only faithfully continues the story line, it also brings many of the original elements to a satisfying conclusion.

I used to think it would be perfectly acceptable for a person to call it quits on Angel after watching the series finale, but now I'm starting to lean towards telling people that it's essential to at least read Volumes 1 -4 of After the Fall. It would make sense that the TV series itself would have had a few loose threads since its cancellation seemed to come as a complete surprise to everyone. Now I'm just wondering, is After the Fall a pretty faithful representation of what Season 6 might have looked like?

In my next After the Fall post, I'll explore more of Charles Gunn's tragic fate and his own issues regarding vampires and the soul.

Friday, March 19, 2010

After the Fall Volumes 3 & 4: Wesley and Illyria/Fred

Photo: Actors Natalya Bondarchuk and Donatas Banionis from Tarkovsky's "Solaris", 1972)

Volume 3 of Angel: After the Fall started out with all of the usual suspects helping out Angel in his big brawl against the demon Lords of Los Angeles. Illyria accompanied Spike to the fight, but transformed herself (probably involuntarily) into Fred when she spotted Wesley the Ghost. As ordinary human Fred, she immediately became a target for the Lords' champions, with the fellows certainly having their hands full trying to protect her.

From then on out throughout Volumes 3 and 4, Illyria was constantly fluctuating back and forth between her Fred and Illyria identities. As she explained to Wesley early in Volume 3, much as it was hard to believe, Fred was still inside of her. Illyria further explained that she would try to push Fred back down, but whenever Fred saw people that she loved, she would fight right back. This surprised me since this appeared to directly contradict what Illyria said in Season 5 of Angel when she informed Wesley in "Shells":

Illyria: The shell... Winifred Burkle... She can't return to you.....Yet there are fragments. When her brain collapsed, electrical spasms channeled into my function system... memories.
I interpreted this to mean that Fred's soul had left her body, but her memories remained in the form of bioelectrical discharges in her nervous system. We should also remember that the evil doctor who upgraded Gunn's brain stated that "There's nothing left to bring back. Miss Burkle's soul was consumed by the fires of resurrection. Everything she was is gone. Forever. " Even more importantly, Wesley, Angel and everyone else chose to believe the doctor's story and halted their efforts to try to retrieve her soul.

One of the main reasons I wanted to read After the Fall was so I could get a definitive answer on what actually happened to Fred's soul. Even though the TV series seemed to imply that Fred's soul was gone forever, the writers always left a little wiggle room for different interpretations. Illyria was an incredibly wise demon, so in my mind, she had a lot of credibility in Volume 3 when she maintained that Fred was trying to regain control of her body. However, when Fred made her earlier appearances in Volumes 1 and 2, I noticed that, in addition to usually being badly frightened, she also seemed confused, out of sorts and otherwise not herself. To further complicate things, throughout After the Fall, sometimes "Fred" took over and acted like the real Fred, while at other times Illyria looked like Fred but was still very much the real Illyria.

In my very briefs forays around the web, I kept running across references to "Fred" appearing in After the Fall, but I could not find any positive proof that it was the "Real Fred" who was still inhabiting the body that was now being occupied by Illyria. In fact, both Fred and Illyria, as they appeared at various times in After the Fall, reminded me very much of the character of Kris Kelvin's wife (Hari or Rheya) in both the 1972 and 2002 versions of the movie Solaris. In this story, based on the science fiction novel by Stanislaw Lem, a construct of Kelvin's deceased wife mysteriously appeared while he and other crew members were orbiting in a spaceship around the planet Solaris. Some of the most heartbreaking scenes in both movies revolved around the confusion and despair of the newly created woman as she desperately tried to create an identity for herself while simultaneously trying to figure out her purpose in life.

As it turns out, in a very touching scene, Illyria finally revealed to Wesley that Fred really was gone for good. As she admitted, "I see what she is to you, and I want it. But she's not part of me." She continued on by telling Wes how frustrated she was that despite the fact she was an extremely powerful demon, she was unable to bring either Fred or Wesley back to life.

Reactions of the Heroes to Illyria/Fred. When Illyria took over Fred's "shell", we couldn't help but notice that the transformation was very much like a vampire demon taking over the body of the freshly killed human. All of the human's memories and characteristics remained, but the human soul disappeared and was replaced by the demon soul. Scott McLaren wrote an excellent essay about this subject that appears at the Slayage site, "The Evolution of Joss Whedon's Vampire Mythology and the Ontology of the Soul". (He also spoke about Illyria's situation in his essay.) I am highly indebted to McLaren, and just about everything I write about the soul has been highly influenced by his work.

This is a concept I'll revisit when I talk about Charles in my next post, but it's interesting how a newly turned vampire is received by people within the Buffyverse. Time and time again, the survivors will respond to the vampire as though the human is somehow still there, even though they know in their own minds that their loved one's soul no longer inhabits the body. One example I can think of is Charles Gunn himself when he was confronted by his "sister" Alonna who'd been turned as a vampire. Remember the anguish he felt when he had to stake her? Another example was when Cordelia found out Harmony was actually a vampire, and agreed to help Harmony deal with her burden because they were good friends. Of course Cordelia knew all about human souls leaving the body, but even she found that she couldn't ignore a creature who acted as an extremely powerful reminder of the former human.

In paragraphs 12 and 13 of McLaren's essay cited above, he wrote that there were subtle hints provided throughout the Buffyverse that perhaps more of the original human remained in the vampire's body than anyone was letting on. I'm not sure if the type of demon taking possession of a human's body would make that much of a difference. However, throughout Volumes 3 and 4, I felt that the heroes were always very much aware that the person they were dealing with was Illyria even when she was looking and acting very much like Fred. In contrast, they always seemed to treat Vampire Charles as though he was the old Charles who was suffering through some very tragic circumstances.

To back up a bit, I always thought Illyria's physical appearance in Season 5 of Angel was too different from Fred's to allow the heroes (with the possible exception of Wesley) to treat her as though a part of Fred still remained inside of her. Illyria's circumstances were somewhat unique in that she seemed to have three different identities: Illyria as herself, where she bore a resemblance to Fred but everyone could tell by looking at her that she was really Illyria; Illyria as herself while looking very much like the real Fred; and as "Fred" acting and looking very much like the real Fred.

I noticed that whenever Illyria morphed into the "real Fred", she brought out some extremely protective instincts in Angel, Spike and Wesley. Angel, of course, was Fred's champion, and Wesley was her lover. We always knew that Spike loved Fred, but I think his feelings came into even sharper focus in After the Fall. Spike had been Illyria's babysitter (in a manner of speaking) for quite a while after the First Night, and it couldn't have been easy for him to see Illyria constantly fluctuating back and forth between her demon entity and Fred. Even more provocatively, whenever Illyria changed her appearance so that she looked like an exact replica of Fred, even though Illyria herself was still quite obviously in total control, the men still treated her a little more gently. Regardless, no matter what state she was in, she probably would have been treated much differently if she looked like an old crone with warts all over her face.

Illyria's Reactions to Fred. There was quite a difference between how Illyria reacted to Fred's lingering presence in Season 5 of Angel and in After the Fall. In Angel, it was actually a good plot device to have the "electrical spasms" imprint all of Fred's memories into Illyria so that she could immediately become a surprisingly functional human being. One felt that Illyria was very much in control of Fred's influences, and even enjoyed playing with Fred's personality as if it was all a game. However, even in Season 5 we were immediately aware that Illyria felt overwhelmed at times by her new found emotions, which eventually bubbled up quite spectacularly in Volume 4 of After the Fall.

Why was Illyria so much more emotionally unstable in After the Fall than in Season 5 of Angel? For one thing, she had developed an extremely strong attachment to Wesley. I know she was profoundly influenced by Fred's memories of Wesley, so it's hard to come up with the line of demarcation between Fred's influences and Illyria's true feelings. Regardless of how the percentages played out between Fred and Illyria, the result was the same. Illyria was (dare I say it?) deeply in love with Wesley, who acted as her father-figure, guide and mentor in her new world. When Wesley died, her lifeline and sense of stability died along with him.

Another factor is something that's a little harder for me to put into words, but I'll take a stab at it. There was a memorable episode in Season 5 ("Time Bomb") where, to oversimplify things a bit, Illyria's excess powers were making her unstable, resulting in her constantly time-shifting the events around her, and where she was eventually in danger of exploding and taking out a large part of Los Angeles with her. Wesley managed to draw a considerable amount of her powers away from her by using the Mutari generator, which was a sort of ray gun device. From that point on, we were never really sure of the scope of her remaining powers.

In After the Fall, in my mind, it seemed that all of her former powers were restored, probably due to how a lot of the laws of physics seemed to change within the Hell dimension. (For example, Gwen Raiden could no longer use the device that allowed her to touch people without electrecuting them.) When Spike was acting as Illyria's babysitter, on her worst days, he had to endure her time-shifting, demon rampages and her other volatile extremes. Just when it seemed as though things couldn't get worse, Illyria started spotting other loved ones in her past, like Angel and Wesley the Ghost. Spike repeatedly said that it was a mistake to bring Illyria back in contact with people who meant so much to Fred, because it seemed to be the source of a lot of her instability.

As a result of these changes in Illyria, she seemed to have a lot less control over when Fred's characteristics would come bubbling back up to the surface. It appeared that whenever Illyria felt overwhelmed, or whenever she was feeling strong emotions when she came face-to-face with Fred's loved ones, Fred was more likely to make her appearance. This actually makes a lot of sense when you think of how Illyria became "Fred" during the middle of the big brawl between Angel and the Lords' champions. I can't imagine that Illyria would ever make a conscious decision to put herself and others in danger by turning herself into a helpless creature during battle conditions.

As I've learned from reading Joss Whedon, Scott McLaren and others, whenever there's some sort of contradiction within the Buffyverse, it turns out that it's usually used as an effective way to bring dramatic tension into the story. Illyria's explanations as to why she turned into "Fred" is a perfect example of that type of contradiction where, in Volume 3, "Fred" is fighting her way back in control, and in Volume 4, Illyria is consciously taking on Fred's appearance in reaction to seeing Fred's loved ones.

Naturally, both of Illyria's explanations can be correct. First of all, I always considered Illyria to be both wise and, due to a lack of training in social niceties, a bringer of uncomfortable truths. However, she was hardly infallible. Although I think she was perfectly capable of being able to tell whether she was controlling "Fred" or if Fred was controlling her, Illyria may have been confused by the fact that she wasn't always making a conscious decision to bring "Fred" to the forefront. A favorite analogy of mine is that I'm normally a very easy-going person. However, if I've had close to zero sleep for a few days and my husband tells me that my recipe didn't turn out very well, a previously unknown Evil Miriam is likely to emerge from me and start yelling at him. I know it's me talking to my husband, but the still new-to-this dimension Illyria might not have understood why Fred's personality might have taken over during times of stress.

With Illyria's explanation in Volume 4 that "I see what she is to you, and I want it. But she's not part of me", I interpret it to mean that she was transforming herself into Fred's image in a desperate attempt to feel closer to Fred's loved ones. As an aside, I think it's quite poignant that Illyria was saddled with such strong feelings for Fred's friends, but they were not in a position to reciprocate. Although this lack of reciprocity was hinted at in After the Fall, it would have been worthy of a lot more exploration.

As another aside, Illyria tended to be brutally honest. However, she was not above "living in the lie", first, by pretending to be Fred while Wesley lay dying in the TV series finale, and also by pretending to be Fred in After the Fall when she was trying to bring herself closer to Fred's loved ones.

Eventually, all of the feelings of pain and sorrow became too overwhelming for Illyria, and she decided she could "make things right" (and hopefully restore LA to what it was) by going on a rampage and destroying everything in sight. I'm leaving out a lot of key parts, but Illyria transformed herself into a multi-story high giant bug which, presumably, was one of her original demon forms. Luckily, the heroes, with the help of the telepathic fish Betta George, had the presence of mind to flood Illyria with their fond memories of Fred, which weakened her enough to allow the demonic minions of Wolfram & Hart to kill(?) her. (After that, Angel and Wesley came up with a succesful scheme in which they allowed Vampire Charles to kill Angel, which forced Wolfram & Hart to move the entire timeline to the night of the big battle in the series finale. Everyone who had died up to that point came back to life, including Charles and Illyria.)

Wesley's Reactions to Illyria/Fred. Some of the most touching parts of Volumes 3 and 4 occurred between Wesley and Illyria/Fred. In both instances that I'll describe below, Wesley did a very rare thing, where he was able to both indulge in his natural Wesley the Watcher persona and open himself up to Illyria.

As far as I could tell, he tended to first pour out his feelings to her when she took on Fred's appearance, while she still otherwise very much remained Illyria. I think Wesley was the only one who could really relate to Illyria one-on-one and treat her something like a true friend and person in her own right. The fact that he was a ghost and could not come back to life obviously brought its own complications and tensions to the story.

In the beginning of Volume 3, after the Lords of Los Angeles were defeated, Wesley and Illyria wandered off as Angel and the others made their way to the now-closed up Hyperion Hotel. It was cute how Spike mentioned that allowing an emotionally unstable Illyria to go "gallivating around town" with the "dapper ghost" was not such a good idea. Angel, who had agreed to take Illyria off of Spike's hands in order to try to help her out, started to assure Spike that it might help them figure out what was going on with her, when Connor interjected, "One's noncorporeal and the other's Illyria. You try and stop them."

While Illyria was still in Fred's form (while otherwise still being very much Illyria), Wesley, thought to himself, "There's something she should see". He then took Illyria/Fred to see his now decomposing body that was laid out in what was presumably the ruins of Wolfram & Hart. (As a note, the body looked fine in the actual drawings.) Apparently, Wesley and Angel had retrieved the body from Cyvus Vail's place (the demon who killed him) and brought it back to Wolfram & Hart. I'm not sure of Wesley's motivations for showing Illyria the body, but it might have been partially as a way to get her to confront her feelings about his death. Almost immediately after seeing his body, Illyria transformed herself back from "Fred" to Illyria.

Then, in something I attach a huge amount of significance to, Wesley poured out some pretty strong emotional feelings to Illyria. He told her that, in an attempt to try to break his contract with Wolfram & Hart, he thought he might have needed his body for some sort of ritual. Presumably, he may bave been hoping to come back to life as well. (Was he also hoping Illyria might have been able to help him out?) Illyria wisely noted that Wesley did not have the power to do that, which he agreed. He also felt Wolfram & Hart knew that what he was attempting to do was impossible; otherwise they wouldn't have let him try to break the contract. Then, he told Illyria a story that even Angel didn't know about. Wesley attempted to contact the Powers That Be by trying to contact Cordelia while he was walking back and forth for hours throughout the Fashion District.

In the next part, in what will become a crucial part of the story later on, Wesley said, "Then I felt a gentle breeze. Only the most aesthetically pleasing leaves took to the air. She wanted to let me know she was listening. That was all she could order. And like that she was gone". Wesley was devastated that the only thing that he and Cordy could conjure up was a "parlor trick". At that point he decided to stop trying to break the contract with Wolfram & Hart. Furthermore, he decided that he was currently in the best position to help Angel. If he would have left the hell dimension, Angel would have been all alone.

Illyria then pointed out that now Wesley was alone, and she knew that he wanted to be with "her", which Wesley sadly admitted was the truth while he looked away from Illyria. Significantly, Illyria transformed herself briefly back into Fred's appearance (while Wesley briefly took on his appearance during his last moments of life) while she explained, as I mentioned above, that Fred was still inside of her, and that Fred fought back when faced with her loved ones. As she was talking to Wesley, just like that, (and perhaps after an angry stare from Wesley?), she transformed herself back into Illyria.

Wes then mentioned that there was no logical reason Fred would have still been inside of Illyria. He could have been clinging to some slight hope that Fred was still around, but I really don't believe that. I think he was very much aware that she was 100% Illyria when he wisely noted that it was much worse for her when he was around. (Then, as an afterthought, he included Angel and Spike's names). When Wesley mentioned that it might be a good idea to stay away from each other, Illyria emphatically answered "NO!" It was clear that, no matter how much pain and anguish she felt, it was better for her to be around her loved ones than to be alone. She told him in no uncertain terms that HE couldn't tell her how to live her life, and HE couldn't come back into her life only to leave her again. She then quietly said "You're staying with me" as she tenderly lifted his corporeal body and presumably carried it to the Hyperion or some other safe place.

Another tender moment between Wesley and Illyria took place in Volume 4. This time, Illyria kept Fred's appearance throughout most of their encounter. Moments before, Vampire Charles had stabbed Illyria while she was talking to Charles in Fred's form. (Illyria was feeling a lot of compassion for Charles' fate, and this was another example of her taking on Fred's form in order to get closer to a loved one). Then, as part of a master plan to try to "make things right", Charles carried Fred/Illyria (with much timeshifting occuring throughout) to the altar made of demon body parts that he had constructed as ordered by Wolfram & Hart. This altar was supposed to be used to make the now-human Angel whole again whenever he was injured so he could continue on in the hell dimension. Charles placed Fred/Illyria on the altar, hoping she would morph back into Illyria and, presumably, start tearing apart the LA hell dimension.

The Wolfram & Hart demon minions arrived on the scene with Angel's dying body and presumably dragged Fred/Illyria onto the floor. Wesley was immediately at Fred/Illyria's side to comfort her. Fred/Illyria then explained (also as I already mentioned above) that "Her memories haunt me. I see what she is to you and I want it. But she's not part of me. No matter what time I bring us to, no matter what reality I mold, she's not coming back, and worse, you aren't coming back! I'm the most powerful being in hell and I can't have what I want. I can't even have what Fred wants. There is no order here."

Then, in one of the most heart-breaking moments of all in After the Fall, Wesley knelt down next to Fred/Illyria and tried to comfort her by placing his hand on her, but of course, his noncorporeal hand went right through her. Illyria/Fred tried to put her hands to his face just before all hell broke loose, but we'll put that aside for a moment. Although Illyria's appearance as Fred probably had an influence on Wesley, for the most part he was feeling a tremendous amount of compassion for the poor creature who was trying to get closer to people by living the lie as Fred. He knew (and probably knew all along) he was dealing with Illyria. However, just as she lived the lie for his sake as he lay dying, he was accepting her lie for her sake as she was trapped by her frustration and despair.

Unfortunately, far from being able to calm her down, she chose that moment to turn herself into the giant bug and start squishing everthing in Los Angeles. However, as disastrous as her actions were, we can't help but think that whatever actions she took was a necessary first step toward turning Los Angeles back to normal.

Aftermath. Wesley disappeared for good shortly after his poignant farewell with Angel (in which Spike humorously noted that if they had gotten any closer to each other, they would have been kissing.) Later on, after Los Angeles had gotten back to normal, we saw Angel and Nina doing research in the newly opened "Burkle Wyndam-Pryce" wing of the (presumably) downtown branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. While they were leaving for the night and driving away, Angel, in an internal monologue, said he often thought about Fred and Wesley and hoped they were together. He also revealed that he didn't think it was at all possible, yet whenever he had those thoughts, warm breezes blew through the air and shook the leaves, which he correctly associated with Cordelia trying to communicate with him. Clearly, readers are allowed to take that as a sign that Wesley and Fred finally did get back together again in heaven. Also, we can take it a step further and think that, far from being a parlor trick, Cordelia was perhaps assuring Wesley that everything would turn out all right when he first tried contacting her in Volume 3.

Finally, at the very end of Volume 4, a barely-living Charles was lying in a coma in a hospital. Los Angeles was back to normal, but everyone retained their memories of the past events that occurred in the hell dimension. Demons held their grudges and were intent on taking their revenge on Angel, as a demon who had been captured by Connor informed them. Angel and Spike in the meantime were somewhat wondering what had happened to Illyria, which I thought was kind of sad because I was hoping one of them would have taken charge of her. While Spike and Angel were rushing to the hospital since they correctly assumed Charles would have been a logical target, lo and behold, Illyria was atop the roof threatening to tear apart anything that got close to Charles.

Charles was obviously in good hands at that point. At the end of Volume 4, he was stil in his coma. However, from looking at just a few spoilers, I vaguely know that he recovered and decided to take a break from Angel and ended up going off on a few adventures with Illyria. Illyria might have been somewhat alone at the end of Volume 4, but she was probably that way by choice. Damn her, she's probably the sole reason that I might continue to spend my money on more volumes of the Angel comic continuation series!

Closing Thoughts. In either Volume 1 or 2 of After the Fall, Lorne made what I thought was a rather naive comment about how Fred was safely in heaven. At the time I thought he was making a misguided effort to reassure everyone that she was OK, but perhaps he knew more than what we gave him credit for?

I've never hid the fact that Fred was not one of my favorite people in Angel. I'm therefore trying to decide what a true Fred fan would think of Volumes 1-4 of After the Fall. Although the "real" Fred was no longer around, these volumes still act as outstanding tributes to her marvelous character. I think any true Fred fan would be quite satisfied with these continuation stories.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

After the Fall Volumes 3 & 4 - Overview

Patrick Shand from Buffyverse Comic Reviews said it best when he described issues 9-12 (which were eventually printed as Volume 3 of Angel: After the Fall, pictured to the right) as "...the bombs planted in earlier issues are going off one after the other". ****

The bombs continued to go off into Volume 4, with roughly the last half of Volume 4 being as emotionally satisfying (perhaps even more so) as anything I ever saw on the original TV series. Based on what I've read in the first four volumes alone, I'd encourage any Angel fan who has been hesitant about reading the continuation series (or perhaps got stuck after reading Volumes 1 or 2) to go ahead and take the plunge by reading all four volumes.

Even Wesley Wyndam-Pryce fans will be rewarded if they stick with After the Fall long enough. (Wesley, of course, was forced to work for Wolfram & Hart after his death since the employment contract he signed contained the dreaded "perpetuity" clause). His calm and understated courage in the face of the most horrendous odds was quite inspirational. Even though there's no overt happy ending for Wesley, there's still more than enough room for us to be able to conclude that perhaps he finally did find his peace after all.

I'm even more convinced than ever now that Brian Lynch was the perfect writer for After the Fall. It was important for the continuation series to get off to a strong start, and Lynch performed quite admirably in what could have been a disastrous situation. Also kudos to both Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch for bringing a lot of humanity and character development to the series, along with the expected excitement and pyrotechnics. I particularly appreciated how they brought Angel and Wesley's friendship to the forefront. Although their friendship wasn't neglected by any means in the TV series, I always wanted a more thorough investigation of that aspect of their lives. After the Fall 1-4 continued that exploration, with Angel's poignant "Thank you, rogue demon hunter" bringing their relationship to a wonderful conclusion.

Volume 4 had something that looked an awful lot like a happy ending, with Los Angeles getting back to normal and Wolfram & Hart being mysteriously missing in action. However, we all know that nothing is ever as it appears in the Buffyverse, and that the adventures will always continue. Since I'm reasonably sure Wesley is completely out of the picture now after Volume 4, I'm wondering if I'll call it quits on the Angel continuation series, or if I'll read some other volumes in the near future. Regardless, Volume 4 is as good as place as any for me to call it The End if necessary so I can go on to something else in my life.

Artwork. In my reviews of Volumes 1 and 2, I was reluctant to spend much time discussing the artwork. For one thing, there are so many great people working on these volumes I'd hate to slight anyone, e.g., by complimenting the pencillers while ignoring the ink and color artists. I'm also still pretty new to the world of adult comic books, so I don't exactly have a discerning eye for detail. However, I still have definite likes and dislikes, and I've noticed that I'm starting to recognize a few artists based on a few basic characteristics. For example, I notice Franco Urru's work tends to be dark, bold and dramatic, though sometimes the colors tend to be murky, which I should probably blame more on the colorist(s) than anyone else. Also I'm a little disappointed that Urru's characters aren't as true to life as I would like them to be, though I can hardly criticize an artist's interpretations of his subject matters.

Alex Garner's artwork has a pleasing fairy magic/fantasy element, with some particularly lovely colors that seem to shimmer at times. Stephen Mooney has what I consider to be a more classic comic book style of artwork, where the primary colors seem more brightly lit. Finally, Nick Runge's artwork can be surprisingly realistic looking, with an almost archaic quality to it. Since I notice certain color characteristics with certain artists, I sometimes wonder how much control they have over the colorists.

I have not spent a lot of time analyzing the artwork, so what I've noticed so far might not hold up to much scrutiny. However, I'm somewhat pleased that I'm starting to get over my "comics are for kids" bias and am also starting to more fully appreciate the entire comic book package rather than just the story lines.

I will go ahead and give special praise to Nick Runge's work in Chapter 1 of Volume 3, particularly where the evil Lords of Los Angeles were lining up to unwittingly get themselves killed. That was the first moment where I really started paying attention to the artwork beyond simply looking at the pictures to see what was going on. I loved how the Lords were first portrayed in color, showing themselves as powerful beings in front of their slaves, then were showed as being silhouetted against the glowing background. I also loved how the traitorous Loan Shark was depicted. He actually looked kind of cute!

To continue on with the story of how the Lords of Los Angeles were defeated, in one of their finest buddy-buddy moments, Angel and Wesley found items called Hagun Shafts deep within the bowels of the Wolfram & Hart building. With the help of The Loan Shark, these wands were distributed to the Lords, who were then told that the Hagun Shafts would blow up Angel when they detonated them. As it turned out, they were actually demon suicide wands that blew up the Lords after Angel gave the hilariously incongruous command of "Bippity, boppity, and boo". The end result was, although it was great that Spike, Illyria, Connor et al came to help out Angel in his big brawl at the end of Volume 1, Angel and Wesley already somewhat had things under control.

Familiar Characters. There's been a lot of discussion as to whether it was a good idea to include so many familiar characters from the Angel TV series into After the Fall. I say Whedon and Lynch made the right decision to bring back a lot of our old favorites, at least for the first complete story arc. Quite frankly, many of us wanted to see these characters simply because we missed seeing them in the old series.

I was particularly pleased to see that Cordelia played such an important part in Volumes 3 & 4, which surprised me at first since I thought her character had become persona non grata. As Brian Lynch explained in the "Questions and Answers" section of Volume 3, Cordelia wasn't originally slated to come back. However, it became instantly obvious that she would be needed while Angel was hovering between life and death in his out-of-body state after he was stabbed by Vampire Charles. Otherwise, Angel would have simply been talking to himself. Cordelia also gave Brian Lynch a way to bring The Powers That Be into the story.

It also became obvious to me, particularly with Cordelia and Wesley, that there comes a certain time when you have to say goodbye to old characters and let the new ones take over. As much as I adore Wesley, I found that he was such an overwhelming presence, it was necessary for him to leave at the end of Volume 4 simply so Angel would have the freedom to go off and do his own thing. As long as Wesley was on the scene, he had to be used extensively because he was such a strong character. You can't introduce him into a volume and then not use him. A lot of the same arguments could be made against bringing Cordelia back in later volumes. She was good for standing around and reminding Angel of his moral commitments, but there came a time when Angel had to stand on his own two feet and get on with his lessons learned.

Minor criticisms. It's probably more my fault than anyone else's, but I still had some problems following a few of the story lines, even though I was having an easier time than when I first read Volume 1. Since I'm still a comic book novice, I had a hard time getting into a proper rhythm where I could seamlessly read and retain what I had already learned. As a result, I still need to heavily rely on Brian Lynch's introductions and special features to give me the necessary background information that I need in order to continue on.

Vampire Charles gave me the most headaches, since he was constantly going back and forth between "yes, everything's going to plan" and "no, nothing's going to plan". I couldn't tell half of the time if I should have already figured out most of the "plan", or if the creators were leaving clues for me so I'd have something to work on until I got to the Big Reveal. Specifically, there was one part in either Volume 3 or 4 where I was under the impression that I should have already known that Charles was building an altar made out of demon body parts, per the Senior Partners' instructions. However, I wasn't sufficiently motivated to go back into earlier volumes to find out for sure.

And I still can't quite figure out what the Shanshu prophecy is all about.

Closing Thoughts. I'm grateful that After the Fall not only gave me a continuation of the Angel series, it opened me up to all of the possibilities that comic books and graphic novels have to offer. I'm starting to appreciate the "art for art's sake" aspect of these volumes, which my husband bemusedly found out the hard way when I told him "Isn't this great?" as I showed him the picture of Angel's horrifying Apocalyptic battlefield vision courtesy of Wolfram & Hart. (In my defense, I thought he would be reminded of the very end of one of his old Doom PC games.)

Since I knew Wesley would come back to the continuation series in ghost form, I was under the impression he would simply pop in and out once in a while to deliver messages to Angel from Wolfram & Hart. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he was not only a major character throughout Volumes 1 -4, he was also a heroic one as well. It was an effective plot device that Wolfram & Hart needed Wesley to keep Angel alive, which allowed the two of them to be able to spend most of their time together. Although After the Fall continued the tradition that Angel and Wesley always seemed to arrive at the same solutions to their problems simultaneously, (particularly when they both figured out a way to force Wolfram & Hart into bringing Angel back to his timeline before The Fall), one can't help but feel that Angel would not have been able to do so without Wesley's inspiration. The two of them had a wonderfully complicated symbiotic relationship that I hope someone will explore in great detail at some time, if it hasn't been done already.

I'm glad that there is a definite ending to Wesley's story. I'm amazed that I'm not in the least bit upset that he's gone for good. I'd rather have Wesley's story come to a close than have him stick around indefinitely in limbo.

I'm looking forward to reading more posts at the Buffyverse Comic Reviews site, since I understand Patrick Shand has reviews of just about every Buffyverse comic ever released. People like Shand provide a valuable service by generating interest in the new issues. I'm more likely to go off and actually buy a comic after reading an in-depth review, just because I don't want to buy something if I have no idea what it's all about.

In my next post(s) in this series, I'll focus on one of my favorite topics, which is the nature of our souls. Wesley and his dealings with Illyria/Fred, along with Vampire Charles' struggles to accept his true demon nature, will provide the backdrops.

****Patrick Shand quote from Question #1 in the "Questions and Answers" section of Brian Lynch's Angel: After the Fall, Volume 3.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

James Marsters in Paradise

Per Whedonesque, James Marsters has announced in his Facebook page that he'll be appearing as a bad guy in the pilot episode of the new Hawaii Five-O TV series. Daniel Dae Kim has already been cast as detective Chin Ho Kelly, while it seems to be more official that Alex O'Loughlin will take over Jack Lord's spot as Steve McGarrett.

My family is still having a great time working through Season 1 DVD's of the original Hawaii Five-O. While the show is unintentionally funny at times, it's fascinating to watch TV tropes that we now know and love while they were in their early stages of development. It's also fascinating to see the 1969 episodes as museum pieces, where Caucasian actors were still being routinely cast as Orientals (e.g., Ricardo Montalban as a Japanese villain.) I know this would be a horrible idea, but I just can't help but visualize James Marsters being cast as a character named something like Dr. Foo Man Choo.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lucky 13 for Buffy

Via Whedonesque, I read this lovely little write-up at EW/Popwatch that pointed out that Buffy the Vampire Slayer turned 13 years old yesterday. As of this time, the most recent Popwatch commenters are claiming they were 9 or 10 years old when they first saw Buffy. I don't know if I dare leave a comment saying "I first watched the series when I was 40-something years old after enough kids moved out of the house and I could sit down and watch TV once in a while."

I can really identify with writer Sandra Gonzalez who wrote: "I watched the entire series in about two months, and the hole burned in my wallet from buying all the seasons that summer is still smoking." I've always thought the perfect Joss Whedon fan is unmarried, makes at least $60,000 per year, and lives in his parents' basement.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More Angel Season 3 Potpourri

Ikiru ("To Live")

I recently saw excellent DVD commentary featuring the Season 3 overview of Angel. For better or worse, it's inspired another "Idle Thoughts" type of post from me.

From Good to Bad. Tim Minear took an awful lot of pleasure in describing how the characters started off Season 3 of Angel with a lot of hope and promise, only to have the writers step in and break everyone's heart. The first half or so of Season 3 was, of course, my favorite part of the entire series.

Thanks for ruining my life, Tim!


(sort of)

Playing it Straight. I don't know how much of Season 4 was mapped out before the producers filmed the Season 3 commentary in 2002. Everyone was playing it straight as to how Cordelia's transformation, first as a part-demon, than as a Higher Power, was strictly orchestrated by The Powers That Be. As such, seeing as how Mutant Enemy completely changed the Season 3 story line when they introduced Jasmine towards the end of Season 4, it was really hard for me to watch a lot of the commentary with a straight face.

Cordelia in "Birthday". There's a scene in Cordelia's alternate reality where Angel had gone insane while being saddled with the visions from The Powers That Be. Writer Mere Smith made it clear in the commentary that (I'm quoting from Wikipedia) "Angel didn't go insane in the alternate timeline simply because he was given the visions, it was because in that reality, he didn't have Cordelia. 'She's the thing that brings him closer to human,' Smith explains."

When Mere Smith wrote this episode, I don't know if she knew everything would be rewritten by Skip the Demon in Season 4. If Smith didn't have any advance knowledge of the Season 4 story line, then it must have been disconcerting to have put so much thought and effort into such a pivotal script, only to have someone completely mess with the narrative later on. Mere Smith also noted in her commentary that the writers realized Cordelia simply could not continue on with her physically-debilitating visions, and something would eventually have to give. Smith said the writers kicked around some ideas until they finally decided that, since only demons were meant to have these visions, they would turn Cordelia into a part-demon.

At first I hated Skip's revelation that Jasmine orchestrated Cordelia's conversion as a part of a series of events that would ultimately result in Cordelia giving birth to Jasmine. However, as I've noted recently, the story line seemed to make more sense once we found out Jasmine was involved. One thing I found grating about Cordelia was how she seemed convinced that the world would fall apart if she wasn't around. She not only made it clear that Angel would have been nothing without her, she also let Charles know that he needed her to help keep him in line.

I won't deny that Cordelia was a positive influence, but her gleeful pride was a little unseemly. I know there's an essay dying to be written about hubris and pride going before the fall. However, I'm always amazed at how badly our world literature seems to treat people whose only fault is that they're a little too full of themselves, particularly when they act that way to try to hide their insecurities. Cordelia herself seemed to know about this flaw since she was always quick to assume she was being punished for bad behavior whenever something horrible happened to her. Of course Cordelia wasn't being punished for her pride. On the contrary, Jasmine was simply exploiting Cordy's vanity to start her on her path toward demon motherhood.

Alexis Denisof/Wesley. I don't know how he managed to do this, but Alexis/Wesley was somehow able to emerge from this entire "Is it TPTB or Jasmine?" fiasco relatively unscathed. Although Cordelia's actions definitely made an impact on his character, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce had enough of a parallel story line going that allowed us to focus our attentions away from whatever the higher powers were doing with Cordy.

I've mentioned many times that Alexis seems highly intelligent and appeared to put a lot of thought into his characterization of Wesley. As such, I tend to pay attention to what he has to say in interviews instead of dismissing him as some actor who merely shows up on the set to recite a few lines. I was therefore happy to hear him confirm in his DVD commentary that, while Wesley was trying to make sense out of "The Father Will Kill the Son" translation in "Loyalty" and "Sleep Tight", Cordelia was the only person he could have spoken to about his dilemma. Unfortunately, she was out of town on vacation with the Groosalugg. Furthermore, Wesley couldn't speak to Charles or Fred about the translation since he was still smarting from the pain of losing the girl he loved, Fred, to Charles. Alexis went on to say that Wesley was "a man, a person", and of course he wasn't going to be able to rise above it all and ask for help.

Alexis also mentioned that he hoped that the story was presented clearly in such a way that the viewer, while perhaps not agreeing with Wesley's actions, would at least understand why Wesley decided to kidnap Connor. In Alexis' words, (if I can trust my transcription skills), Wesley decided to "...sacrifice himself and the child from the agency [Angel Investigations] and take Connor off who knows where, and make him safe from Angel, and make Angel safe from himself." I've often wondered if the creators achieved this goal. This particular story arc seems to really bring the Degrassi Junior High moralists out of the woodwork, where these particular viewers can't seem to get past the "he was bad because he betrayed his friends" routine.

Alexis claimed that Wesley had become the "de facto" leader of the group towards the end of Season 2, and pointed to this scene from "That Old Gang of Mine" as an example of the authority he held. I only mention this because I've consistently held that Wes was the "nominal" leader of the group, with Angel being the actual "de facto" leader. Angel was supposedly stripped of his leadership position as atonement for turning his back on his friends in Season 2. I've always maintained that Angel was the true leader, since there was an unspoken assumption that Angel would be called upon to take over again in the case of a true emergency, which happened soon enough when Justine cut Wesley's throat and kidnapped Connor.

I'm having second thoughts about calling Wesley the "nominal" leader because, in common usage, "nominal" means "in name only". This also implies Wesley was a figurehead leader, which of course, is wrong again. He was definitely a real leader of the group, as unanimously named by the members of Angel Investigations. As such, calling him a "de facto" leader wouldn't be totally out of the question. Although I could hardly call Angel a figurehead, I could call him the emeritus leader who was always lurking in the background, ready to take over if necessary. I compare Angel to an owner of a company who "retires", hands over the reigns to someone else, then steps in to take over the company again when the younger person runs the company into the ground.

Just as an aside, I think the term "Chief Operations Officer" that I used to describe Wesley in Season 5 was a pretty good description of the role he played during that timeframe.

Impatience with Wesley. This wasn't mentioned in the DVD, but I've always wondered if the overall impatience the Angel Investigations crew had with Wesley played into the tragic chain of events. Cordelia never let Wesley forget that he supposedly messed up when he originally translated the Shanshu prophecy as meaning Angel would die during the Apocalypse. (Also, remember how Cordelia pestered and berated Wesley the entire time he was working on the translation?) In reality, upon further research, Wesley discovered that Angel would become human, meaning he would live, then eventually die because all humans die.

So how could Wesley have avoided making the supposedly horrible mistake that Cordelia made such a federal case out of? Should he have worked on the Shanshu translations for days or weeks on end, close-lipped, without filling in his colleagues on his progress, then waited another year for good measure before he said anything, just in case he ran across other manuscripts? Except for the "waited another year" hyperbole I mentioned above, that's pretty much describes what Wesley did while he was working on "The Father Will Kill the Son" part of the Tro-clon prophecies, which led to the tragic turn of events.

With the possible exception of Fred, I don't think the other members of Angel Investigations truly appreciated the processes Wesley had to go through while he was researching and translating his documents. Another post for another time, I guess.

Wesley and Lilah. Alexis Denisof stated that (again, if I can trust my transcription skills), "Lilah appears and tries to seduce him [Wesley], and, despite himself, and really, because of the dark bitterness, they have this exorcism on each other of their pasts."

"Exorcism" is an interesting choice of words, to say the least, because of the implication that they were expelling "demons" from each other. Of course, the "demons" would have been their personal demons rather than literal ones. Again, I don't know how much of the Season 4 story line would have been plotted out at the time the commentary was produced. However, at such an early stage in their relationship, was Denisof implying that their "exorcisms" marked the beginning of a healing process? Wouldn't that, in a weird way, be a positive connotation? I don't want to get too carried away since I'd need an awful lot more information, but it really seemed like Alexis was talking about the lovely possibility that Wes and Lilah could turn to each other in their darkness and at least dream of being able to emerge into a brighter future.

Angel's Real Motivations in "Couplet". I always maintained that, although Angel was extremely jealous of the Groosalugg for sweeping his beloved Cordy off her feet, he couldn't really be all that angry with Groo since he was so noble and pure of heart. I even thought Angel accepted Groo's presence with remarkable good grace and humor. When Angel sent Cordy and Groo off on their vacation, I took it that he did so because he loved Cordy and genuinely wanted her to be happy. I admit I'm guilty of thinking the best of people and seeing what I want to see when I watch a TV show.

It's only been recently that I acknowledged that perhaps Angel sent them away so he could work through some of the jealousy and heartache he was suffering from. I was still quite shocked, however, when David Boreanaz stated in the DVD commentary that Angel sent Cordy and Groo away because he was angry and he didn't want to turn violent! I don't know what to think at this point since I honestly don't know how much thought Boreanaz put into his role. Did he have heart-to-hearts with the writers about character motivations, or did he just read the script and make up his own mind? Quite frankly, Boreanaz should have had a pretty damn good idea what was going on with Angel, so I can't exactly come out and say he was wrong. I'm just going to have to let this all rattle around in my brain for a while.

The Groosalugg/Mark Lutz. I'd always been intrigued by this Wikipedia entry, which in turn was taken from the March 2003 (?) edition of Buffy the Vampire Slayer magazine (UK). "In mid-2003, Mark Lutz said he was in talks to appear in an 'episode or two' in late Angel season four, ..... but for publicly unknown reasons, the character did not return in the series."

It's too bad it didn't work out, since the Groosalugg would have been a perfect fit for Season 4. It was therefore quite poignant when producer Kelly Manners mentioned on the DVD commentary that both Lorne and Groo took off at the end of Season 3, with Lorne heading to Vegas and Groo "...travel[ling] the country to see what this world was all about". We of course know that Lorne returned in the following season, but it also seemed that the door was left open for the Groosalugg to return as well. Given a choice between Gwen Raiden (a character who went nowhere) and Groo for Season 4, I'd have picked Groo.

How did Connor emerge from Quor'toth? I could never quite figure out how Connor got out of the Quor-toth dimension, but various Mutant Enemy creators had their own theories. According to Kelly Manners, something (Connor himself?) was scaring the creatures out of the hell dimension. Connor then followed them out.

Mere Smith explained that Connor was able to punch a hole through the dimension, while, according to Tim Minear, Connor simply "figured it out". Regardless, the biggest bombshell came from Manners, who out and out stated that Connor was 16 years old when he arrived back in LA. (Though I'm pretty sure it was never stated in any of the episodes.) This is noteworthy, since the creators made sure everyone knew that Connor was 18 years old when he had sex with Cordy the following season. (Unfortunately, I can't remember the episode where we found out his age.) If Manners was correct, then that helps the theory that the creators had to do a massive rewrite when actress Charisma Carpenter became pregnant.

Oddly enough, in my "Ages and Stages" post, I wrote that at first I thought Connor was about 15 or 16 years old when he first arrived from Quor'toth. I also acknowledged that it would be rather difficult to guess the exact age of someone who was raised in a hell dimension.

Update: The winning answer on how Connor made it out of Quor'toth is revealed in this piece of dialogue from "Benediction", when Connor revealed "The cracks were there already. I just made the sluks show me. That's all." That was hinted at several times in the previous episodes. I just wanted to hear it from the horse's mouth.

3/11/10 Update - Errata: In my original post I incorrectly referred to Kelly Manners as Skip Schoolnik. Apologies all around.

Deborah Zoe as Mistress Meerna. I was thrilled to see that the DVD commentary ended with a few lines from the hilarious Mistress Meerna, who appeared in "A New World". I've singled out Deborah Zoe before in the past as an example of how the Mutant Enemy casting directors were incapable of casting a weak actor.

More Idle Thoughts. Today was my day for being a sentimental softy. First I went to the store this morning and passed a display case featuring children's Easter and otherwise spring-themed books. Sadly, I no longer have any reason to purchase Baby Bunny, The Dancing Duck or The Playful Kitten. Then, later in the day, I cried my eyes out when I saw Akira Kurosawa's 1952 classic, Ikiru, which my husband was nice enough to record for me off of Turner Classic Movies last night. (My husband says the movie should be required viewing for everyone in Washington, D.C.)

I hadn't seen the movie in about 25 years, and it packed just as powerful a punch as ever. Ironically, the title of the movie inspired some Shanshu-like translations and alternate English titles such as "Doomed to Live", "To Live", "Doomed" and "Living".