Sunday, March 7, 2010

These Idle Thoughts Deserve Their Own Post

Saint Cordelia

Usually I reserve a few paragraphs at the end of my regular posts to put in a few "idle thoughts" that don't really fit in any place else. For whatever reason, I seem to have a lot more of these swirling around my head than usual, so I thought I'd put them in their own post. Most of these tidbits and questions are inspired by what I've seen in Season 3 Angel episodes right after Wesley Wyndam-Pryce was banished from the Angel Investigations crew.

Los Angeles. Is it my imagination, or were those brief, transitional shots of various Los Angeles locations even more spectacular than usual during this stretch of Season 3? I never got tired of looking at the Santa Monica Pier. I wish I knew the city better, and could recognize the different neighborhoods and landmarks.

One thing that surprised me about the city of Los Angeles itself is that certain areas seem to be leafier and possess a lot more character than I realized. For example, one always thinks of San Francisco as being richer in the charm department than Los Angeles. In my mind, driving around Los Angeles should have been like (SE Michigan residents will know this) driving along Ford Road around Garden City, Westland, and Canton, where you have the 1950's hardware stores and beauty salons on the main drag, with the tract housing being safely tucked in behind. Since so much is filmed on location in LA, it must be cool to be a resident and to see local landmarks featured so often on TV shows and movies. Just think of the residents of the Los Altos Hotel and Apartments, in which the exterior of the building was used for the exterior shots of the Hyperion Hotel.

Saint Cordelia. Although technically you could say Cordelia's personality started to change after she became part-demon in "Birthday", for my purposes, I'll say she became Saint Cordelia the moment she came back from her vacation with Groo in "Double or Nothing". From that moment on, Angel's welfare and her visions from The Powers That Be were her number one concerns. She also became a lot more softer and conciliatory, and took on more of the Mother Figure role for the group. I couldn't help but think that she looked like just about every other new mom who'd cut her hair to a more manageable level, and traded in her more exciting but impractical clothing for wash and wear outfits better suited for diapering and burping babies. In other words, she practically screamed "Nice Mommy".

I've said before that I liked the Saint Cordelia characterization a lot better the first time around than upon repeated viewings. Obviously I'm prejudiced because I know what will eventually happen to her, as she gets taken over by, and gives birth to, the fallen Power That Be Jasmine. When I first saw Cordelia, she was making the transition from the bitch queen over to a much warmer, but still incisive, young woman. As such, I mostly liked her in early Season 3, but would find it jarring when she would let loose with what I thought was a particularly cruel zinger once in a while. I didn't realize at the time that those cruel zingers defined what Cordelia was all about, and that I would eventually grow to get used to and even love her early bitch queen persona.

Saint Cordelia was more sensitive than the old Cordelia, but may have been too sensitive at times. Again, though I loved this scene in "Double or Nothing" the first time around where she was comforting a suddenly Connorless Angel, it unfortunately stimulated my gag reflexes upon seeing it again fairly recently. Even Angel's hangdog looks that he was giving to the camera seemed way overdone, to the point where I was wondering if perhaps the director really should have reshot the entire scene. Or, perhaps the creators actually wanted to clue the audience in to the fact that not all was right with Cordy.

The only good thing about the scene was that I loved how it segued into a highly distraught Fred being all upset because of the way Charles was treating her. He had said all sorts of mean things to her when he broke up with her just before he tried to hand in his soul to the demon Jenoff. Although it could have been interpreted as a clumsy way to allow Angel to focus his concerns on someone other than himself, I really didn't see it that way. I saw it as Angel and Cordy being somewhat caught in a loop, playing the same scene over and over again, only to be relieved that they could focus their attentions on something different. In this case, they were helping out a heartbroken Fred over what, on the surface, seemed like a wonderfully silly lover's quarrel. It brought to mind how a parent might be suffering from a serious blow, e.g., a death of a loved one, and is almost glad to be confronted by a weeping child with a skinned knee. It gives the person a chance to forget his or her own troubles for a moment and focus on someone whose problems might be more easily solved.

Just as I was putting the finishing touches on this post, I finally found this link to a fantastic essay by Jennifer Crusie, "The Assassination of Cordelia Chase", which chronicles exactly what went wrong when Mutant Enemy writers decided to destroy her character. I particularly loved it when Crusie discussed how writers have a duty to not betray their audience's trust, and how there's a difference between Good Gotcha and Bad Gotcha moments within TV shows. Quite frankly, I'm so sick and tired of the over-reliance on "Gotcha" moments in the Whedonverse, I could barely put any emotional investment into Dollhouse at all, knowing that everything I was putting together was eventually going to be revealed as one big lie.

My only criticism of Crusie's piece is that she didn't address Skip's revelation in Season 4's "Inside Out" that a higher being (turning out to be Jasmine) had manipulated Cordelia's transformation into a part-demon. Regardless, I'm still left wondering who gave Cordelia the power to kill off the sluks with her blinding rays of energy - The Powers That Be or Jasmine?

Ambassador Hotel. One of the reasons why I like "The Price" (outside of Wesley looking oh-so-sexy in his full beard) is because a lot of the interior shots were filmed at the now-demolished Ambassador Hotel. This hotel, which was also the home of the famous Cocoanut Grove nightclub, was a historic landmark that hosted scores of distinguished guests and movie stars over the years. According to this "Behind the Scenes" page at the City of Angel site, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated not far from the kitchen area where Angel and the rest of the crew battled the demon sluks. Many movies and TV shows were shot here, both before and after the hotel was abandoned. There are lots of websites that talk about the history of the place and feature lots of wonderful photo galleries. One site in particular I look forward to exploring is The Ambassador's Last Stand.

One of the highlights of the DVD commentary for "Billy" was when Tim Minear and Jeffrey Bell were pointing out the scenes that were shot at the Ambassador. I really wish the creators had put together a similar DVD commentary for "The Price". I think I saw some of the same locations in "Billy" and "The Price", but I'd have to do some further review to know for sure. I'd also love to know more about the room that had all of the dining room tables and chairs, and the bas relief sculptures up above featuring the horses and carriages. Was that from the old Cocoanut Grove or the Embassy Ballroom? Or was it filmed in some other ballroom or dining area within the hotel? (Update: I've read in a few places the Ambassador had 20 ballrooms. Another Update: I heard in Season 3 DVD commentary that "The Price" was the last thing filmed at the Ambassador before it was demolished.)

Regardless, I understand the Ambassador Hotel had been closed to guests since 1989, though the premises were still being somewhat maintained for the benefit of film crews and the private events that were held there. I have this thing for abandoned buildings, and I always wonder why certain objects are placed in certain areas. For example, why are mattresses and chairs from the hotel rooms placed in the hallways? Did management put them there for easier disposal, or did film crews put those items there to make the hotel look creepier? Were some of the areas really in such a state of disrepair (like the bathroom where the demon sluk was slurping out of the toilet tank), or did the film crews kind of help the process along? In general, what items belonged to the Hotel, and what were props? Finally, in the kitchen area, were the big restaurant-sized canned goods the property of the Hotel, or were they brought in by the set designer? I'm fascinated by the implication that those canned goods had been sitting in the abandoned Hyperion Hotel for a couple of decades. Give me details!

Paying Customers. I know this will horrify the story arc purists, but I wish Angel featured more episodes with paying customers. I would have loved to have heard this guy's story in "The Price" when he walked into the Hyperion Hotel looking for help and ended up getting invaded by a sluk demon instead.

The theme of Angel "helping the helpless" was (supposedly) mined and subsequently abandoned in Season 1. However, the sky was virtually the limit in regard to subject matters that could have been explored. Customers didn't have to always be looking for lost pets or for proof of their spouses' infidelities. If the Big Bad was so important for the integrity of the show, then the Big Bad could have easily been incorporated into the lives of the clients.

Wesley's Apartment. I have a problem with spatial relations, and I'm still not 100% certain of the layout of Wesley's apartment. For example, I have a hard time accepting that his sofa was perpendicular to his entrance way. I'd have to make a special effort to review several scenes that took place in his apartment, plus I'd have to chart out the layout and the location of the furniture pieces before I could even begin to figure out how it all fits together. Another mystery is his kitchen area. In "Billy", there was a scene where Wes was talking with Cordelia, and it appeared that there was a counter behind him with a few small kitchen electrics placed on top, but I can't yet fit it in to the rest of his apartment.

Since I'm a big fan of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, I'm naturally curious about his possessions that he had scattered around his apartment. Presumably, a lot of these items were mystical and exotic curios and objets d'art. Sometimes I was under the impression that he had some ingredients lying around that could have been used for magic potions and spells. For the most part, since the camera was focused on the characters, I could get a sense of the shapes and colors of the objects, but no clear picture of what the objects actually represented.

In one of the Season 2 commentaries, set designer Stuart Blatt gave some valuable tours of the Hyperion Hotel and Cordy's apartment. In particular, I understood the layout of the Hyperion set a lot better after I saw that feature. (For example, up to that point, I always thought the hotel desk was opposite the front entrance rather than perpendicular to it.) I wish they would have given us a similar tour of Wesley's place. Even though we eventually saw Wesley's apartment more often than Cordelia's throughout the series, at that time in Season 2, Wesley's apartment was not the major player in its own right like the Hyperion Hotel and Cordy's place.

Groo, Cordy and Angel. Groo was naturally quite jealous of Angel, since he correctly sensed that Cordelia's affections were with Angel rather than Groo. Another vibe I was almost picking up at times (with this being about the only piece of dialogue I can use to help prove my case) is that Groo also sensed that the entire group was becoming way too Angel-centric. Perhaps everyone was more concerned with Angel's feelings than with deciding the best courses of action that needed to be taken? Regardless, although Groo was noble and pure, he still harbored human emotions. I find it interesting that he didn't seem to harbor much resentment toward Angel. Angel was a hero, and it was hardly his fault that Cordy was in love with him. Rather, Groo was disappointed that Cordy was not living up to his ideals of her as a fairy princess, and not letting him honestly know exactly how he stood in her universe.

As much as I adored the Groosalugg, I still have a lot of sympathy for Cordelia. In her mind, Angel was forever forbidden territory, and she really did love Groo in her own way. It's just her misfortune that the Groosalugg was not that interested in participating in a threesome at that point in time.

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