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 "[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".

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