Friday, April 30, 2010

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce Agency

Season 4 of Angel gave us several more glimpses of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce's secret life away from Angel Investigations. Although the creators gave us a few hints here and there in earlier seasons that he had something resembling a social life, Season 4's "Ground State" gave us a good look at Wesley's new demon-hunting business.

In this scene, he was mixing it up with a demon with the aid of two big mugs going by the names of Jones and Hawkins. Naturally, since he's performing in front of Angel, Wes is the one who decapitates the demon, which is an image that unfortunately appears in all of the Season 4 opening credits. He deduced from the key he found on the demon that "Mr. O'Leary" was being held in a motel somewhere. In somewhat of a borderline dismissively arrogant tone of voice, Wesley ordered Jones to rescue O'Leary. Then, with that same hard-ass style, he ordered Hawkins to get his briefcase holding Cordelia's file out of the back of his car. Jones and Hawkins dutifully did what they were told, presumably without muttering profanities under their breaths.

In one of the more interesting dialogue pieces, Wesley, after ordering his men to free Mr. O'Leary, tells them " to base. Have Diana close out the file."

It's obvious that Wesley was running his own operations. Again, I'll let my imagination run wild as I try to ferret out some of the hidden details.

Tough Guy Wesley. We figured out by then that Wesley was all dark and dangerous. From the way he ordered his men around, from the way he spoke with Emil's middleman in "The House Always Wins", and from the way he spoke to his own employee on the phone in the same scene, at best Wesley was an intense, no-nonsense man who was 100% focused on his work, similar to Harvey Keitel's famous "cleaner" role in Pulp Fiction. ("If I'm curt with you, it's because time is a factor. I think fast, I talk fast, and I need you guys to act fast....") At his worst, he was a complete SOB who was reverting back to his bullying ways as a Watcher back in Sunnydale. Wesley definitely had a different leadership style with his own crew in contrast to how he treated his underlings at Angel Investigations.

I'll go into this a little bit further below, but one thing to consider is that his own employees might have been a bit on the morally ambivalent side themselves. Wesley might have had some compelling reasons to constantly assert his alpha male status.

I also wonder if there was an element of showing off in front of Angel, who had arrived to try to sweet-talk Wesley into helping him find Cordelia. (As a side note, I think Angel was sincere in wanting to resume their friendship. Wesley, however, was not quite ready to take that step.) Regardless, this was one of the few scenes in the entire series where I wasn't thrilled with Alexis Denisof's acting. He seemed a little too measured in his performance and could have used a little more spontaneity. Perhaps he needed a few more takes? Also, I didn't like what Denisof was wearing. As one astute commenter posted on a message board somewhere, "Wesley wasn't sexy enough" in that scene.

Capitalizing the Start-Up. It's almost prohibitively expensive for most people to start their own businesses. Although Wesley had a nice apartment, presumably he wasn't making a huge salary at Angel Investigations. I'm beginning to wonder if Wesley could have been making a little money from side jobs, like, translating a document here and performing a little magic spell there? Would that have been ethical for him to take on freelance work outside of Angel Investigations, particularly since he was their group leader for a while? Actually I'm not losing too much sleep over this, since mundane things like money never seems to be an issue on TV shows. Regardless, with the right clients, cash flow might not have been as much of a problem after he completed a few cases.

I also wonder how above-board Wesley's operations were, as in, was he paying taxes? As Wolfram & Hart taught everyone, you can get away with a lot more stuff if you've set yourself up as a legitimate business. I figure Wesley followed the law for the most part. I just can't imagine him filling out 1099's for his independent contractors.

"Report to Base". Where was "base"? (And what a stilted piece of dialogue that was! It almost lends credence to my theory that Wesley was trying too hard to impress Angel.) I had assumed, based on Wesley's scene with Emil's messenger, that "base" was Wesley's apartment. However, the mysterious "Diana" needed a place where she could administer her "case files". Was "base" a storefront office somewhere, similar to what Wes, Cordy and Gunn operated out of in Season 2? Or was "base" someone else's apartment, perhaps even Diana's?

Lilah did ask Wesley in this scene if he had a "Hard day at the office?" However, that was clearly a figure of speech pertaining to where the actual work site was, so I don't think we can jump to the conclusion that he had an actual office.

Wesley's Hired Help. This is the most intriguing aspect of his whole operation, since you couldn't go out and hire just anybody to work for a supernatural detective agency. You had to have people who were already somewhat intimately aware of the shadowy world of vampires and demons.

In a previous post I did, "Through the Looking Glass; or, Welcome to My Nightmare", I speculated that the majority of people in Los Angeles were unaware of supernatural forces within their city. People within the Buffyverse could probably be divided into four main categories: those who were completely unaware of the supernatural world; those who should have known but were in strong denial mode; those who suspected or even accepted this alternate reality but never actually witnessed it; and those who had witnessed or even been a part of this alternate reality. Of course it would be impossible to figure out the percentages of how many people belonged to each category, but Wesley would have had to limit his recruiting to experienced fighters in the last two groupings. I'm also making the leap that the world of vampires and demons was common knowledge amongst the criminal elements, a large portion of the business class, and other people who had frequent dealings with the underworld.

When I looked at "Jones and Hawkins" in that fight scene in "Ground State", my first thought was that they were played by stuntmen extras. It also occurred to me that in Wesley's "reality", these guys could have also been Hollywood stuntmen. At least in my genteel little world, it's not that easy to find experienced fighters unless they're boxers, police officers or ex-Army Rangers. I doubt if Wesley could have afforded to pay these guys a regular salary, so I'm assuming he was paying them on an ad hoc basis. If these guys were professional bodyguards (to either legitimate businessmen or mobsters) they could have easily been pulling down higher wages in other places. Therefore, the idea that these were stuntmen who were in-between gigs is starting to sound pretty good to me. By extension, if these guys were working for Wesley, they could have easily been working some pretty hairy temporary assignments for other people, giving them all of the experience that they needed to kill off Wesley's demons.

It's also a possibility these guys were freelancers who blew away kneecaps for a living. If Wesley wanted to start his own agency, he might have been somewhat forced to take what he could get as far as hired muscle. From what we know about this scene with Emil the weapons man (as noted in Season 5's "Lineage" ) Wesley seemed like he was quite experienced in dealing with underworld figures. Hence, the bad-ass posturing with his own men.

Diana the Case File Closer. Diana was obviously his agency's version of Cordelia. She might not have needed any special Ninja skills, but she at least needed to be aware of the supernatural world before she started working for Wesley. He could have hardly hired just anyone who was sent at random by the temp agency. Diana could have been a former client, or a girlfriend of one of his freelancers or underworld friends, a friend of his old girlfriend Virginia, one of his old girlfriends, or even a female demon who could reasonably pass for human!

I personally don't think Wes and Diana had anything going on between them since he was preoccupied with Lilah at the time. Diana could have been a nice grandma for all I know. I'm at least curious about what their working relationship was like, and I look to Season 5 for clues. In his dealings with Harmony and his seldom-seen administrative assistant Jennifer, he was correct in every way, and somewhat condescending and dismissive. In other words, a "bring me my coffee and the Penske file" type of boss. I have no reason to think he was any different with Diana. I probably would have not worked very long for Wes if he had ever hired me.

Underworld Contacts. We already know that Wesley was adept at cultivating underworld contacts. Think of how he introduced demons Lorne and Merl to Angel in Season 2, and how he purchased the crime scene photos in Season 3's "Billy". Also think of that intriguing "inside man" he had at Wolfram & Hart who tipped him off to the Beast's rampage in Season 4's "Habeas Corpses". Actually, his exact words were "I have a man on the inside", which to me implies he infiltrated one of his own people inside of Wolfram & Hart, as opposed to simply bribing someone who already worked there to feed him information. Regardless, that must have cost him a pretty penny, and makes me wonder what he had hoped to gain by having someone inside Wolfram & Hart. Whatever he was up to it sounded pretty ambitious. Perhaps someone hired him to do all of this?

In the Season 3 episode commentary for "Billy", Tim Minear and Jeffrey Bell mentioned that they had originally intended to have Wesley meet with a bunch of demons in a diner in order to obtain the police photos. I believe that idea was nixed either because of costs or time constraints. However, added with Wesley's cultivation of Lorne and Merl, it helps give me the impression that Wesley was supposed to be seen as having a lot more contacts with the demon world than what we might have imagined. Particularly in Season 3's "That Old Gang of Mine", Wes spent quite a bit of time defending demons in conversations he had with Charles, and emphasized that not all demons were evil. Perhaps Wes felt this way because of personal familiarity with the demons rather than strictly from his Watcher training?

Clients. The big question was, who were Wesley's clients? Quite frankly, judging from Angel's run-of-the-mill clients and from little glimpses of Wesley's caseload, it seemed that both agencies were mostly demon exterminator services. I doubt if Wesley was into shameless self-promotion, but with his underground connections, he was probably able to get the word out pretty quickly that he was open for business. It probably didn't even take him too long to snag his first clients! I base all of that on the fact that he went from having his throat slit to running his own operation with at least three hired hands in well less than a year.

Wesley's agency might have ultimately been a lot more successful than Angel's, since Angel had the added complication of doing a lot of unpaid "saving the world" type of work. Also, Angel and his crew came across as a bunch of bright eager kids with a lot of expensive overhead in the form of an ancient hotel. If you were a wealthy client trying to get rid of a vampire nest in your warehouse, who would you hire, Angel and his Junior Detectives? Or Wesley with his tough-looking crew and lean-and-mean operations?

One thing that might have eventually led to Wesley's downfall if he hadn't have closed up shop fairly quickly was the fact that he probably had to accept work from anyone who paid him, sort of like how the Angel Investigations crew worked for a lot of shady people in Season 5. I don't even think it's a stretch to think he might have accepted work from well-paying demons! In the demon fight scene in "Ground State", I'm guessing a businessman paid the demon to kidnap his rival. The rival, Wesley's client, probably did something dodgy himself to get himself into that predicament. Anyone who starts off with clients like these runs a high risk of going down that slippery slope of eventually just catering to wealthy thugs. Pretty soon Wesley would have been asked to do something against his own moral code (which admittedly might have been a bit shaky at the time), and he would have been a lot worse off for the wear.

Stealing Angel's Clients. What's fascinating about Wesley's famous phone sex scene with Lilah was that there was a lot of other stuff going on at the same time. He was not only dealing with Emil's messenger, he was also running his agency when he said,"Yes, we'll bloody well take Angel's clients if he's out of town. Call me back with the details in twenty minutes."

I had always assumed that Wesley was talking to one of his brutish-looking thugs in this scene, but it could have been Diana for all I know. Regardless, I'm wondering how the situation even came up? I'm somehow under the impression that a client approached one of Wesley's employees (Diana?) because they needed some work done and Angel was out of town. I highly doubt if they got a hold of Angel's client list and started cold-calling.

I'm also under the impression that this bit of dialogue might have been added so viewers would think, "Gee, Wesley's kind of turning into a bad guy". However, Joss Whedon himself wrote the scene, and I don't think he would have come up with a message as clumsy as that. I think Whedon might have just been wanting to show that there was still no love lost between Wesley and Angel.

I also don't put much stock into this "code" of not stealing each other's clients (and this could equally apply to stealing employees) unless there is some sort of collusion and/or gentlemen's agreement going on to begin with. Otherwise, it's anybody's game. Customers are kings, and if you can convince someone that he or she can get better service or a better deal with you, so be it. Otherwise we'd all be locked into long-term service contracts for everything we do. It would be absurd to be bound to cell-phone type contracts with our hair stylists.

The End of the Agency. Not surprisingly, we never saw a formal winding down of Wesley's independent operations. He rejoined his buddies at Angel Investigations in "Apocalypse Nowish", and was still known to be running his own business in the next episode "Habeas Corpses". I honestly can't remember if the subject of his own business ever came up again after that. However, for at least several episodes following "Habeas Corpses", Wesley seemed like more of an independent contractor than a full-fledged member of the group. His complete re-integration took a little while, and it almost happened below the radar. Ironically, I think it took Jasmine's brainwashing to finally accomplish that goal.

Did Wesley regret disbanding his business? I personally don't think he worried about it too much, since I always thought he was simply biding his time until he could get back with Fred. Also, it might not have been that much of a money-making operation.

Idle Thoughts About Ground State. The character of electric-thief Gwen Raiden was introduced in "Ground State". As I wrote in one of my After the Fall posts,
Gwen was always a giant puzzle for me. The Angel creators introduced her to audience members with great fanfare in Season 4, only to have her fizzle out after three (albeit substantial) appearances. Not only did her personal story arc fizzle out, each individual appearance in each episode left me feeling that there was some sort of giant buildup for her that led absolutely nowhere.
The one thing that makes her character notable in my mind is that the actress who played the role, Alexa Davalos, was one of the few women in the entire series who experienced what I considered to be a bona fide convincingly hot love scene with David Boreanaz. (Though I admit their encounter didn't make much sense to me, beyond the oh-so-obvious his heart is beating and he grabs the first female he can find). It's astonishing how David Boreanaz, (in contrast to Alexis Denisof, who exuded eroticism with just about every female character in the series) seemed unable to establish any sort of sexual chemistry with anyone in the Buffyverse outside of Sarah Michelle Gellar, Stephanie Romanov, and to a lesser extent, Julie Benz. Just think of his disastrous encounters with Bai Ling (Jheira) in Season 1's "She" and with Sarah Thompson (Eve) throughout Season 5. (I can't find it, but I know I wrote a post saying that I couldn't figure out if Angel was supposed to be attracted to Eve or repulsed by her.)

I thought Amy Acker was absolutely adorable in this scene where Fred was giving her first planning presentation to Angel and Gunn. She felt that her stick figure illustrations on her flip charts were upstaged by Angel's more professional sketch work.

This was the first I noticed that Wesley's demeanor with his own employees hearkened back to his bullying days at Sunnydale. In other words, his evolving leadership style was a bit more complex than just getting darker and tougher. Although in many ways Wesley, with his easy-going ways, seemed to be at the top of his game regarding his leadership abilities in early Season 3, he may have felt that he was being taken advantage of. Wesley probably felt it was necessary to revert back to the "my way or the highway" approach in order to get things done, which he carried over into Season 5.


Lisa said...

Great post, as usual. I always love reading your thoughts on Wesley - my favorite character EVER.

One thing though:

Actually, his exact words were "I have a man on the inside", which to me implies he infiltrated one of his own people inside of Wolfram & Hart, as opposed to simply bribing someone who already worked there to feed him information.

I always assumed he was talking about Lilah in this scene, with perhaps even a bit of sexual innuendo in there.

Miriam said...

Thanks, Lisa.

Oh, I have no doubt there's a lot of sexual innuendo in the show I'm completely oblivious to. Then I have to go on about the "man on the inside" "infiltrating". ;-)

I admit I'm confused a bit myself. I'm assuming someone had to tip off Wesley that the Beast was rampaging inside W&H so he'd know to show up and rescue Lilah. However, there's a later scene in the Hyperion where Fred's acting like it's so amazing that Wesley has his own shop and has all of this inside information. From Wesley's guilty reaction, he's clearly thinking of Lilah as his source of a lot of the immediate inside information, and he obviously doesn't want to admit it to Fred. However, we're still back at how did Wesley know how to get to W&H in the first place.

Iguana-on-a-stick said...

Googling Wesley led me here, hence a reply to a two year old post. But I did want to add one thing to this excellent write up:

I think the difference in Wesley's leadership style is for the most part caused by one thing: he doesn't like, know or trust these Hawkinses and Dianas who work for him know. Nor does he have the time to carefully select trustworthy people and cultivate a good working relationship, as your timeline indicates.

When there's no trust, he needs to keep complete control of everything himself. And if these indeed are shady characters, he needs to project that alpha-male "cross me and bleed" attitude just to make sure he doesn't get stabbed in the back.

I personally theorise that the main point of his early season 4 agency is to prove to others and to himself that he does not need Angel and his gang to fulfil his mission as a Watcher, nor does he need to switch sides as Lilah wants him to. The agency assures that if he ever chooses to rejoin Angel investigations it will be on his terms and nobody else's.

Miriam said...

It's wonderful to hear from you, Iguana! I'm glad to find out there are other people who are fascinated with this part of Wesley's life. Fortunately there's no time limit for leaving comments :-)

You made an excellent point about early Season 4 Wesley. In many ways he was finding it difficult to reach his full potential at Angel Investigations. First there was the pressure to act within the constraints of a group, and second he was suffering from the fallout from not only happened with Connor but from everything else that had happened in his not-always-brilliant past, While he was on his own he could start over with a clean slate. I often like to use the analogy of a successful adult who finds it difficult to return home for family reunions because the only thing his relatives can talk about is his childhood failures.

I also like what you wrote about the lack of time to cultivate good working relationships and the need to assert his alpha male status. I might also add that perhaps Angel and his pals were anomalies, in that they were good-hearted and idealistic rather than opportunistic and mercenary, which may have been the norm when it came to fighting demons in the Angelverse.

Iguana-on-a-stick said...

Heh. I may not have a blog dedicated to the guy, but I still must have written a good novella's worth of episode reviews and forum posts altogether, so you're certainly not the only one.

I think you have a good point on the nature of demon-fighters. It doesn't seem like a trade where the good-natured and idealistic survive for very long unless they have some sort of mystic edge. (Friendly vampire, Slayer, Watcher's Council)

But as for reaching his full potential only when striking out on his own: I agree with you in principle, but I'm not sure if that's actually a good thing. At least not for him personally. He certainly only was happy in the early seasons of Angel, particularly before he took over as leader.