Monday, March 1, 2010

Wes and Cordy: Not Quite a Love Story


In one of my last posts I wondered, why would the Watcher's Council send such an inexperienced man out in the field to oversee Buffy and Faith? As an added wrinkle, why would they send someone as young as Wesley Wyndam-Pryce to act as a Watcher for two beautiful teenage girls? Did it make sense to send someone out in the field who may have (possibly) only been a few years older than his charges? Although there was no hint of attraction between him and his Slayers, it certainly didn't help that, as an added curse, he was forced into an extreme situation of lookee-no-touchee amongst all of the not-quite and barely legal coeds at Sunnydale High School. Poor guy, his hormones must have been practically bursting at the seams!

I'm guessing that Wesley did not spend much time with girls during his schooling. He was probably surrounded by a bunch of adults who would step in and lecture him about his Sacred Duties as a Watcher every time he started to indulge in something resembling a trivial activity. As such, he simply didn't have a chance the first moment he met the luscious Cordelia Chase, particularly when she let him know in no uncertain terms that she was quite interested in him! Come to think of it, just about any guy in the world would have acted as clumsily as Wesley if Cordelia Chase/Charisma Carpenter came on to him that way.

Cordelia's Reactions to Wesley. Why did Cordelia seem to genuinely fall for Wesley at first sight? We all know that she was on the rebound from her breakup with Xander, but even people on the rebound have minimal standards. Wesley didn't exactly cut a dashing figure. His ill-fitting foppish suits would have done CBC hockey personality Don Cherry quite proud. However, we do know that Cordelia, coming from a possibly nouveau riche background, felt she was above everything that Sunnydale had to offer. To a young woman with only a minimal amount of knowledge about the ways of the world, Wesley, with his suits and his sharply-clipped British accent, probably represented the culture and sophistication that she may have found lacking in her own life.

There were moments within Buffy where Cordelia would suggest that she and Wesley spend some time together, e.g., when Cordelia asked him to go out for dinner and help her with her English paper. In that particular scene, I briefly wondered if Cordelia asked Wesley out simply because Xander was also in the room. She may have acted a little bit out of spite, but I'm equally convinced that she would have propositioned Wesley regardless. Cordelia already seemed quite smitten with Wesley well before that point in time. As far as we know, he turned her down, but we did see several small moments where Wes and Cordy were walking together and otherwise seemed to be hanging out with each other. Did she spend time with him in his office? (BTW, did we ever see his office, assuming he had one?) Did they get involved in little projects together where Wesley would have reason to seek her out? Did they ever call each other on the phone? We can only dream of the possibilities.

Minors and Taboos. It was really quite intriguing the way the creators handled the subject matter of adults having relationships with minors on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We all know how well that turned out for Buffy and Angel. During my formative years during the 1970's, the whole idea of underage sex was almost a complete non-issue, particularly if the girl was already 16 years of age. Don't get me wrong - it was not a good idea for grown men to mix with minors, and there certainly were consequences if they got caught. However, times were definitely more free-wheeling back then, and having sex with minors was not the big deal that it is today.

Naturally, since I've been a parent for about twenty years, my views about morality are a lot stricter now than they used to be. So I could really feel for Wesley in this scene when he asked, "Mr. Giles. I'd like your opinion. While the last thing I want to do is model bad behavior in front of impressionable youth, I wonder if asking Miss Chase to dance would..."

Giles, of course, informed Wesley, "For God's sake, man, she's eighteen. And you have the emotional maturity of a blueberry scone. Just have at it, would you, and stop fluttering about."

Although Ms. Chase was of legal age, she was still a student while Wesley was presumably a faculty member. Even though Wesley was not one of her teachers, it's tough to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior in these situations. Particularly with school "zero tolerance" policies, I could easily see how Wesley dancing with Cordelia would have been considered to be a questionable move.

As it was, I was under the distinct impression that the producers were trying to downplay the two of them dancing at the prom. We never got a good closeup of Wes and Cordy together, and quite often we had to strain to catch glimpses of them while other couples swirled around in front of them. Cordelia, naturally, tried to nestle in close to Wesley, while Wesley himself started dancing with her at the correct arms-length distance apart. Only when it became more difficult to see them did it look as though he might have relaxed a bit and brought her in closer. Although Joss Whedon and the rest of the Mutant Enemy staff seemed to enjoy pushing the envelope as far as seeing what they could get past the censors, there were also plenty of instances where they seemed reluctant to tackle certain taboos head-on.

Awkward Kisses in Buffy. Now we finally get to that wonderful moment I'd been waiting to see for almost a full year - those wonderfully awkward kisses between Wes and Cordy. My biggest questions going into this scene were, was Wesley an inexperienced kisser? Also, was he completely humiliated by this encounter, and did it appear as though he would suffer any lasting emotional damage as a result?

Every written account I've seen described how Cordelia had to wipe her face after the kisses, and how they both realized that there was no special chemistry between the two of them. As I watched the scene, I pretty much came to the same conclusion. Wesley's whole failure to put his glasses down while he was trying to kiss Cordelia was the key to the entire fiasco. He tried to crouch down to meet her lips, and she had to reach up to do the same; he couldn't take her in his arms because he was trying to protect his glasses; he was trying to kiss her but was afraid to touch her because he was still being hamstringed by cultural taboos; he zigged while she zagged, etc.

Nothing worked, and Wes and Cordy decided to give up pretty quickly. The camera mostly lingered on Cordelia, where she was obviously experiencing some mild feelings of disgust. However, we could clearly see Wesley wiping his face in the background and otherwise showing that he hadn't been enjoying himself either. A quick reading would be that what they felt for each other was nothing more than infatuation, which was destroyed by their failed kisses as though a spell had been lifted. If there had been any depths of feeling for each other Wes and Cordy would not have given up so quickly.

I also need to mention that when I watch their kisses, I'm seeing Alexis Denisof and Charisma Carpenter having a wonderful time filming the scene rather than Wesley and Cordelia suffering through an awkward moment with each other. Alexis and Charisma did a great job working together for maximum comic effect. I'm not criticizing the scene for being unbelievable since I always enjoy a good laugh. It just highlights the challenges of grabbing a scene that we shouldn't be taking too seriously and having to somehow work it into the overall narrative.

Wesley's Prior Romantic Experiences. If one were to assign blame for their failure to kiss each other properly, Wesley would be the obvious target. He was older than Cordelia and should have had more experience in dealing with these matters. One could easily get away with thinking that he didn't have a lot of experience with women before he met Cordelia. However, we do know (as it was presented more clearly in Angel) that Wesley had the tendency to fall apart at crucial times when he was profoundly emotionally involved in a situation. Think of how often he fumbled away his opportunities with Fred. I'm also thinking of this scene in Season 3's "Fredless" when he and Fred hugged each other about as successfully as he and Cordy kissed each other. Wesley was incredibly awkward with Fred, but we could clearly see in his prior relationship with Virginia Bryce in Season 2 that he knew what what he was supposed to do with girls.

This is just a long way of explaining that any awkwardness Wesley felt with Cordelia didn't necessarily mean that he had never kissed a girl before. She was probably by far the most attractive woman he'd ever been involved with in his life, and she was borderline forbidden territory to boot. That would have been enough to shake up just about any man.

Writer Motivations. Whenever I have questions about a scene, I always try to get inside the writers' heads to see what they were trying to accomplish. It would be one thing if the writers just wanted to kill two birds with one stone by wrapping up Wes and Cordy's relationship while also inserting a much-needed comedy break. (I've also read how the writers took delight in coming up with different ways to torture Wesley, with portraying him as a truly horrific kisser just one example of the types of cruelties they inflicted on him.) It's another thing if they were setting up a way for the two of them to continue on together in Angel, assuming that everything about the upcoming series was already set in stone.

I tend to think that the writers were simply writing for the moment on Buffy, since I doubt if anyone had the whole "Doyle will be replaced by Wesley" scenario charted out that far in advance. It was then up to the writers to try to carry on the story line the best they could when Wes and Cordy continued their relationship in Angel. Sometimes I questioned whether the writers were firmly committed to carrying on what transpired in Sunnydale into Los Angeles. There were hints here and there to their Sunnydale kisses, but for the most part, it seemed as though the continuity in their relationship was a bit off when Wes and Cordy hooked up again in Angel.

Much More Successful Los Angeles Kiss. When Wesley and Cordelia first met in Angel's Season 1's "Parting Gifts", Cordelia was on a mission to kiss every male she came across in an unsuccessful attempt to pass on Doyle's mind-splitting visions to some other unlucky bastard. Wesley, not understanding the circumstances behind Cordelia's sudden passion, responded quite enthusiastically by drawing her in close and rewarding us with what looked like the beginning of a hot makeout session. Cordelia ended the kiss with "It didn’t work!" Wesley correctly responded in turn with "No? Hmm. I rather thought it went considerably better than last time."

Cordelia then acted all surprised to find out it was Wesley that she was kissing. Although she didn't seem to welcome him all that enthusiastically, at the end of the scene she did appear to act all hot and bothered, albeit also somewhat confused, by their reunion.

Their reunion scene is, of course, most famous for this hilarious dialogue exchange:
WESLEY: I’m a rogue demon hunter now.

CORDELIA: Wow. What’s a rogue demon?
As funny as this was, it's a pity that the "rogue demon" totally overpowered their slow-motion-replay-worthy kiss. Much has been posted about their adoringly awful kisses in Buffy, but very little has been written about their gloriously passionate kiss in Angel.

Wes and Cordy's Lasting Relationship. Like I mentioned above, a new viewer watching Angel would be hard-pressed to be able to tell that Wes and Cordy had a thing going on in Sunnydale, with the exception of a few clues sprinkled in here and there. The only direct and somewhat indirect mentions mostly occurred in Season 3. In "Billy", a misogyny-infected Wesley asked Fred, "Speaking of saliva, where is Cordelia?". A few episodes later in "Birthday", Wes and Cordy had this exchange during her alternate reality scene:
GUNN: Hey, is it true that you and Wes were... You know, that you had a little...

CORDELIA: ...humiliating kiss where he drooled all over my chin? Yeah. But I've worked *really* hard to repress it.

WESLEY: Right. Well, as much as I'm enjoying this forced death march down memory lane...
I interpreted this to mean that Cordelia was totally placing the blame on Wesley, while Wesley was still smarting from the humiliation. When I first saw this episode, I took the alternate reality totally at face value, in that everything would have been true if Cordelia's life had taken this particular turn. The second time I saw the episode, I interpreted the alternate reality as a story that was manufactured (and designed to cater to Cordelia's sense of vanity) in order to lure Cordelia into becoming part-demon. In other words, I'm taking Wesley's humiliation with somewhat of a grain of salt simply because that was obviously how Cordelia wanted to remember things.

Wes and Cordy had this to say about their relationship in "Waiting in the Wings":
CORDELIA: You know, there was a time when you thought I was the loveliest thing in the world.

WESLEY: Well, I... You're an extraordinary woman. I...

CORDELIA: At ease, soldier. Just like to hear it every now and then. I was the ditziest bitch in Sunnydale, could have had any man I wanted. Now I'm all superhero-y and the best action I can get is an invisible ghost who's good with the Loohfah.
This particular piece of dialogue brings to mind how Cordelia had the tendency to cover up a lot of her true feelings by hiding behind her "honesty". She was not exactly the open book she pretended to be. Through Wesley's stammering, I always interpreted this scene to mean that he still had considerable feelings for Cordelia. However, her feelings for Wesley were not that easy to discern, particularly in light of the fact that she was constantly berating him for his lack of fashion sense and for being preoccupied with his books.

As part of the wonderful present the Angel producers gave us in the form of Charisma Carpenter's final appearance in the series (Season 5's "You're Welcome"), we finally got something of a true picture of just how much Wesley meant to Cordelia. I've written previously about how wonderful it was to see their truly genuine and warm embrace when they met in Cordy's hospital room. I also appreciated this piece of dialogue:
CORDELIA: Remember how I said, Let's not have your department looking for those symbols I saw in my vision. Let's do this like we used to, you and me cracking the books?

WESLEY: Yes.

CORDELIA: Well, that was dumb. What'd you ever listen to me for?

WESLEY: I don't know. I think I sort of missed this. You and me and the books,(trying to be hip) kicking it old school, as they say. (winces) And I never will again.
Good old Cordelia, being cryptic through her "honesty" to the end. She couldn't come right out and say that she missed working with Wesley (notice how Wesley didn't have the same problem coming up with the words). However, it was pretty clear that she really did enjoy spending hours pouring over those old books, not because she liked musty old texts, but because she enjoyed her constant companionship with Wesley. I've written extensively about their relationship at various times through Angel. So, if interested, go ahead and click on my "Wes and Cordy" tag for all of the posts.

Suffice it to say, both Wes and Cordy received mutual benefits from their relationship. It would be extremely misleading to say that Wesley was like a big brother to Cordelia, but he did get a chance to indulge in his natural Watcher instincts in looking over her while simultaneously being able to enjoy the presence of the winsome girl he'd always be a little bit in love with. With Wesley's presence, Cordy had an ideal environment in which she could flirt and tease and explore her own sexuality without worrying too much about anyone passing judgment.

Neither Wes or Cordy had much time for romance, since they were both fully dedicated soldiers to the Cause. Their constant "bickering" and hurling of insults, particularly in Seasons 1 and 2, allowed them to work off some of their tensions and frustrations under safe and controlled circumstances. I've always maintained that the reason it took so long to get to the bottom of Angel's altered sleep patterns in Season 2 was the fact that Wes and Cordy were perhaps enjoying their alone time a little too much and not paying attention to what was going on with their boss.

Regardless, it's clear that in many ways, Wes and Cordy's failed kisses did not mark the end of their relationship. Instead, the end of their infatuation heralded a new beginning of a much deeper and more rewarding relationship between the two of them. I always thought it was a mistake for the series creators to drop the ball on their friendship towards the end of Season 3, which made their reunion in the 100th episode of Season 5 that much more poignant. It finally gave us some validation that yes, they really did have something special going on between them.

Idle Thoughts. I don't think we were ever told what Wesley's job title was at Sunnydale High School? I just assumed all along he was an additional librarian.

The only time I ever saw Wesley do any sort of physical exercise or training was in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. One instance was when we saw him huffing and puffing after taking Faith out onto a training course, and another instance was when he was practicing his fencing skills with Giles. (Giles, BTW, was fencing against Wesley one-handed.) All during his time on Angel we never saw Wes on the firing range or working out in any way.

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