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.

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