Sunday, May 16, 2010

Adventures in Zombie Land

Wesley at the Hyperion,
after encountering The Beast

Last year I included Season 4 of Angel's "Habeas Corpses" in my "Top 10 Favorite Angel Episodes" list. I cited some magnificent scenes that appear in this show, such as, Wesley's breakup with Lilah, Connor's appearance at Wolfram & Hart, Wesley's rescue of Lilah from The Beast, and the rescue of Connor from both The Beast and the Wolfram & Hart zombies by the Angel Investigations crew. I should have also included the fact that it gave us a little bit of hope that, by working side-by-side, Connor and Angel would have been able to re-unite on a more permanent basis.

Upon seeing "Habeas Corpses" back-to-back against "Apocalypse, Nowish" a few times over the last few weeks, I suspect I might have put the wrong episode in the Top 10 list. (And this was even before I saw the DVD commentary for "Apocalypse, Nowish".) I still love all of the scenes I've cited above; it's just that "Apocalypse, Nowish" seemed to be stronger and more unified from beginning to end, probably because of how it was written specifically to give the series a powerful jolt just before it went on hiatus over the long Christmas break. In contrast, "Habeas Corpses" seemed like a classic example of how the good parts just don't quite add up to a satisfying whole. Still, I love the whole "suspend belief and watch it with a bag of popcorn" quality to the episode, where I felt like I was actually enjoying myself for a change when I first saw it.

Angel and Cordelia. When I first saw the episode I actually liked the interplay between Angel and Cordelia, where Angel thought Cordy was talking about one thing when she was actually talking about something else, plus the whole "oh shit I'm busted" thing at the end of the episode, as well as all of the moments in between. Again, my enthusiasm is tempered by how it plays out within the context of the entire story arc.

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, Charles Gunn and Fred Burkle. I hated all of that childish sniping between Wes and Charles here, here, here, and here. I tried to keep an open mind about Wesley's motivations for barricading the door inside of Wolfram & Hart, with he and Fred on one side and Gunn and the zombies on the other. However, it sure didn't look like one of Wesley's finest moments.

And what was with Wesley's sniping in the Hyperion in the beginning of the episode, where he, Gunn and Lorne arrived after their unsuccessful encounter with The Beast? It sure looked like he was taking his frustrations out on Fred as well as Charles when she ran (all sick with worry) into Charles' arms. We (as well as Wesley) may have thought Fred and Gunn were on the verge of a breakup before that point, but it certainly looked like true love was triumphing for a little while at least. I'm sure the entire time he was fighting The Beast, Wesley had been thinking of how he was doing all of that for Fred's benefit. When Wes arrived all battle-weary back at the Hyperion, the touching reunion between Fred and Charles didn't do much to improve his mood.

I could understand Wesley's profound disappointed for losing the girl of his dreams to Charles, but this was my first point where I really thought that Wes had sulked long enough and should have been glad that at least Fred was happy and safe. Regardless, I've always had a hard time getting any warm, fuzzy feelings about the Fred/Wesley story arc, and this part of Season 4 isn't helping.

Wesley's Breakup with Lilah. The timing of this scene was fascinating, since presumably Wesley was still smarting over losing out on yet another opportunity to pair up with Fred. Wes must have had a heart made of steel to not feel any compassion for the obviously distraught and worried Lilah who showed up at his apartment door. This was probably Lilah's most vulnerable moment, and I originally thought it must have been brutal for Wesley to have to force himself to go through with the breakup.

This just goes to show how important it is to see a scene within the context of the entire episode rather than just in isolation. I've seen this scene by itself many times and even included it in my "Top 5 Wesley and Lilah Scenes" list. I'm not sure if I'm ready to abandon my theory that it was hard for Wesley to break up with Lilah, yet he felt compelled to do so after achieving a moment of perfect clarity while he was battling The Beast. However, a few other ideas are admittedly popping up into my head.

Wesley might have hated Lilah even more than I imagined when he ordered her to "leave them on" when Lilah was playing her little "dress up like Fred" role-playing game. (Which, not so coincidentally, also made my Top 5 list.) Stephanie Romanov had said in an interview that Lilah dressed up like Fred to find out exactly where Lilah stood with Wesley. Lilah may have also unwittingly forced an early showdown between the two of them. She got her answer while giving Wesley the opportunity to pick a side once and for all. Their relationship was doomed to end sooner rather than later, but Lilah was the one who set the final gears in motion.

So, although Wesley had been spurned by Fred, it appeared that he had already firmly made up his mind that things were over between him and Lilah even before he observed Fred rushing into Gunn's arms at the Hyperion. Otherwise, he could have very easily accepted the beautiful and genuinely distraught Lilah who showed up at his place after the Rain of Fire. It was just typical bad luck for Wesley that he decided to end a relationship with one woman then struck out with another woman almost immediately after.

Regardless, this offers up yet one more example of where Wesley ultimately did the right thing by breaking up with Lilah, even if we can't completely admire his motivations.

Wesley's Rescue of Lilah. I've said before that we found out more about how Wes and Lilah felt about each other after their breakup than when they were still together. One big question floating around was, did Wesley love Lilah? The fact that he risked life and limb after their breakup to go into Wolfram & Hart and save her from the rampaging Beast speaks louder than anything. It just made it all the more heartbreaking when he left a severely wounded Lilah to fend for herself in the sewer system, particularly after she let Wesley know that Connor was still trapped on the third floor of the building.

That scene was truly remarkable, in that when Lilah called "Wesley" as he was walking away from her, in the words of the Buffyverse Dialogue Database link from above,

(she looks like she's going to make an uncharacteristic declaration, possibly "I love you". But changes her mind and says instead:)

LILAH: Connor's trapped up inside.

I personally thought she was going to beg Wesley not to leave her, but changed her mind when she perhaps told herself to toughen up, particularly since Wesley had admonished her "don't embarrass yourself" during their breakup scene when she offered to put the glasses back on. Regardless, the hard look Wes gave her apparently snapped her out of what she wanted to say, and instead Lilah did the right thing and told him about Connor. At the end of their conversation, in one of those perfect little moments of acting that I admire so much, Wesley rewarded Lilah with a slight softening of his face and a subtle nod, which she returned in kind (not too much unlike Wesley's and Angel's final nod to each other in the Season 5 series finale "Not Fade Away"). I can't emphasize enough how brilliantly Stephanie Romanov and Alexis Denisof performed in what must have been a very difficult scene.

Lost Opportunities with Lilah. If Angel was about nothing else, it was all about lost and squandered opportunities. Ironically, Angel himself had laid the groundwork for collaboration with Lilah when he talked her into sharing the information Wolfram & Hart had gleaned from the psychics about The Beast. When Angel was talking to his minions in the Hyperion Hotel about his conversation with her, he couldn't help but get a little bit of a dig in by stating quite pointedly in Wesley's direction,"Lilah - she can be very giving." Sort of like the dog in the mystery novel that didn't bark in the night, Angel had ample opportunity to banish Wesley from the Hyperion for good when he found out about his relationship with Lilah, and he had equal opportunity to tell everyone else about the relationship as well. We can take our separate guesses at why Angel was keeping things quiet, but the end result was that Wesley's little secret was safe with Angel.

Did Wesley take Angel's little comment about Lilah as a signal to choose sides? I don't think so, but it is possible. Regardless, if Angel was the one who found Lilah alive at Wolfram & Hart, I'm positive he would have rescued her and brought her back to the Hyperion. They might not have trusted each other, but it would have still made for a worthy temporary alliance. The fact that Wesley chose not to bring Lilah to the hotel indicated that he still felt insecure about his status and didn't want to do anything to jeopardize his standing with the group in general and with Fred in particular.

Another little wrinkle was that actress Stephanie Romanov had apparently taken a hard bargaining stance as far as compensation for her Season 4 appearances. I understand that she ended up receiving more pay per episode but appeared in a fewer number of episodes. Sadly, after "Habeas Corpses", Romanov only appeared two more times in the series, both in Season 4: "Calvary", where she was killed by evil Cordelia/Jasmine; and "Home" where the undead Lilah ushered Angel and his crew into their new lives at Wolfram & Hart. Lilah did eventually hook up with Angel Investigations, but the story line would have been a lot stronger if she had joined much sooner.

Finally, when Wesley went back to Wolfram & Hart with Angel et al to rescue Connor, he sure had his work cut out trying to hide the fact that he had already been there a few hours earlier.

Zombies. I don't think we ever received a definitive explanation as to why all of the employees at Wolfram & Hart turned into zombies after they were murdered by The Beast. Fred and Wesley came up with good guesses when Wesley offered "building lockdown protocol" or "security voodoo", while Fred thought maybe The Beast itself had something to do with it. Again, it didn't matter in the grand scheme of things, and the zombies made for good exciting viewing. I'm still stuck with the nagging feeling that either the creators forgot to tie up a loose end or were perhaps making some sort of profound literary or cinematic reference that's completely going over my head.

Idle Thoughts. I thought that was nice foreshadowing when Gunn wondered, "I don't get it. Wolfram and Hart is evil, the big bad is evil... why go all Terminator on your own team?"

I thought it was pretty cool that the pseudo Little Girl in the White Room transported Angel et al back to the Hyperion. She may have been evil, but she was incredibly wise to realize that Wolfram & Hart needed to keep the Angel Investigations team alive if there was any hope of defeating The Beast. I haven't thought this through too much, but I'm just realizing that any little miracles that might have occurred on their quest to defeat The Beast and Jasmine might have occurred courtesy of the Senior Partners rather than The Powers That Be.

"Habeas Corpses" marks my informal end to "the first part" (meaning the good part) of Season 4, probably because it marked the end of Wesley and Lilah's relationship. Although there are many truly outstanding scenes sprinkled throughout the rest of the season, it didn't take me too long to realize upon my first viewing that this dreadful story arc was seemingly never going to come to an end. My next post will be some sort of catch-up post where I discuss a few things that fell through the cracks in my more recent writeups. After that I'll continue on with my (more or less) series of episode reviews.

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