Thursday, May 6, 2010

Avenging Angels

I'm my last post, "Supersymmetry Hodgepodge", I left out the meat-and-potatoes discussion as to whether Charles Gunn was justified in killing Professor Seidel, the physics instructor who had cast Winifred Burkle into the Pylea hell-dimension six years earlier.

When I first saw Angel last year, I'd get irritated at how the Vampire With a Soul Angel and the other characters would dither back and forth about whether or not killing evil humans was the right thing to do. Thoroughly amoral me would more often than not say, "Just kill the damn guy and get it over with!" Of course I believe in due process and letting the criminal justice system take over. It's just that when people operate totally outside the law, then hide like cowards in the shadowy gray areas of morality, I say the sooner they're eliminated the better.

Within the Buffyverse in general, it appears that police departments at times are all-too-cognizant of the supernatural world. Just think of the zombie cops in Angel Season 2's "The Thin Dead Line", how the Sunnydale police department in Buffy the Vampire Slayer had their own dealings with Mayor Wilkinson, and how Wolfram & Hart had special ties with the L.A. police department, particularly in the early seasons of Angel. What I'm not sure of is how much special knowledge the average beat cops had of the supernatural world. For example, in my "Through the Looking Glass....." post, I wasn't sure if Kate Lockley's colleagues thought she was nuts for believing in the supernatural world in and of itself, or if they thought she was nuts for going into areas that were frankly none of her business.

In short, when dealing with the supernatural, the less you dealt with the cops the better off you were, as Wesley found out the hard way in Season 2's "The Shroud of Rahmon". Long story short, if you started spouting off about demons and vampires, it was way too easy for cops and prosecutors to say you were either insane or lying your head off. Either way, you'd be locked up for life. Criminals within the supernatural world, like Professor Seidel, were very aware of this and took full advantage of this paradigm to operate with total impunity.

I gradually began to understand, and the message sunk in further after seeing Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer earlier this year, that the forces for Good were that much more effective if they consistently operated within a strict moral code. First and foremost the rule was "Don't kill humans". By doing so, the Good Guys not only inspired trust within the community, they also kept their own emotions in check, which allowed them to operate that much more efficiently and effectively. This point was driven home to me when I saw the difference between goody two-shoes Buffy and a wildly out-of-control Faith.

It's ironic that a vampire, Angel, was the one who set the tone for keeping a certain level of balance and morality within the Angel Investigations group. He went off-kilter a bit in Season 2, but he shaped up again quickly enough for Season 3. Wesley, with his grim pragmatism, might have eventually been the downfall of the group as witnessed by his "success at all odds" approach in capturing the evil Angelus with the help of Faith the Slayer in late Season 4.

It was therefore quite interesting for me to see this scene in "Supersymmetry" where Gunn and Angel were trying to convince the rightly outraged Fred to not kill Professor Seidel. Gunn pressed his case quite earnestly, whereas Angel seemed more sympathetic to her plight, albeit still counseling her to forget the revenge part. If interested you really should read the entire dialogue sequence, but I at least want to highlight this part:

GUNN: We help people. Fred, if you do this [kill Seidel], the demons you'll be living with won't be the horned, fangy kind. They'll be the kind you can't get rid of.

FRED: You're wrong.

ANGEL: He's right. Whatever you do now it's nothing compared to how it'll be afterward.

GUNN: What you're talking about goes against everything you believe in. Everything we believe in. Fred, you idolized him. But don't let him be defining what you are now. Can I have the axe?

Of course Charles was right, and he stated his case much more eloquently than I ever could. However, I can't help but think that the primary motivation for talking Fred out of murdering Seidel was to try to keep the beautiful young woman as pure and innocent as long as possible. Which leads me to, if Fred was a member of Angel Investigations, wouldn't she have to face those fuzzy gray areas sooner or later anyways? How could she continue to function as a member of the team if she stayed away from unpleasantries? It seemed as though learning how to deal with Professor Seidel in an effective manner represented a step up in her career development, which was somewhat denied to her through the bungling of Angel and Gunn. (Rest assured, I'm mindful that she deceived them by sneaking out of the Hyperion in order to get Wesley to help her with her mission.)

The immediate problem Gunn and Angel faced was that they had no idea what to do about Professor Seidel, but they needed to head over to his office right away to keep Fred from killing him. Angel was actually the one who got there first, and, through this dialogue sequence, appeared as though he was going to "convince" the professor to confess to the murder of those unfortunate physics students and spend the rest of his life in California's Pelican Bay State Prison. However, the logistics of being able to keep Seidel's case entirely within the official criminal justice system boggles the mind, unless Seidel could stick with some sort of story that he murdered these women and dumped their bodies in the ocean or something. It seems possible, but not very probable, particularly when Seidel could have claimed that Angel was a stark-raving lunatic, and could have filed assault and battery charges against Angel as well.

In the meantime, Fred showed up at Wesley's apartment and asked for advice and assistance in dispatching Professor Seidel. I've written before how Wesley blew his chances of becoming somewhat of a hero to Fred by, after paying a little bit of lip service to how she might regret killing Seidel, actually agreed pretty quickly to help her out. Wesley spotted his opportunity to step in where Charles refused to enter, which backfired when Fred confessed that she loved Charles because he didn't "have it in him" to help her with her plans. This was not one of Wesley's finest moments, and the scenes offered yet one more example of how cloudy his judgment became whenever Fred came into the picture.

However, Wesley did have a point. Sooner or later, Seidel would have to be killed. The only way that could have been avoided was if Seidel gave convincing evidence that he was innocent and someone else was responsible. So, in a way, Wesley was acceding to my original wishes of "just kill the damn guy and get it over with".

I can't imagine that Angel was really intent on sending Seidel to prison either. I'm speculating that he goaded the professor into opening up the portal because that would have allowed Angel to kill the guy in self-defense. It was a little bit of a distraction that a monster came through and Angel had to spend a few minutes dealing with it, thereby allowing Fred and Gunn to arrive (separately) and finish the dirty deed themselves.

Fred was hell-bent on giving Seidel a dramatic going-away speech, when she spoke of "...I'm special. Special on a Pylean platter with a side of you make me sick!" (Fred always did sound pretty ridiculous when she was trying to act tough.) We quickly found out that Fred was going to kill Seidel with some of his own medicine, by opening up a portal and letting him fall through, therefore ensuring an almost instant death. The act of opening a portal was just as much an act of murder as if she had shot him through the jugular with her crossbow arrow.

While Seidel was desperately holding on to the lab table in an attempt to keep from getting sucked into the portal, Gunn appeared and pleaded with Fred not to let that happen. "If you kill him, I'm gonna lose you" were his exact words. Fred tried to justify her actions by using childlike logic that she wasn't the one who was killing him. However, Fred didn't believe that, and certainly Gunn didn't either. In a desperate act of love that he performed to save Fred from the fate of suffering from eternal guilt, Gunn snapped Seidel's neck (presumably killing him), and shoved him into the portal.

Fred pleaded for a split second for Gunn not to do that, but it was over practically before she could get the words out. In one of those "I guess I can understand how she felt, but I wouldn't have felt the the same way" moments, Fred seemed stunned that Gunn had taken an active part in murdering Seidel, which seemed to color her feelings towards him for the rest of their relationship. If Fred had the attitude of "Charles had no right to take away my moment of vengeance", her feelings would have been almost understandable. However, I don't recall any evidence that she actually felt that way.

I'm trying to decide if Fred, in later episodes, had the naive and simplistic attitude that " I don't like Gunn because he is a murderer and has blood on his hands", or if she had a more sophisticated take that they both shared in the culpability of Seidel's death. If someone helped me murder someone, and I was confronted with my partner-in-crime every moment of the day thereafter, I might have also have tried to create as much space in between me and that other person as possible.

Angel, as cool as ever, didn't seem to have any problems with Fred and Gunn's actions. "Sucked into his own portal. Wish I could have seen his face." Since he wasn't personally involved, it was easy for Angel to take a matter-of-fact attitude towards Professor Seidel's death. Even if Fred and Gunn knew deep down that it was the right thing to do, it was harder for them to shake off the guilt since they had a direct hand in murdering Seidel.

Which brings me to my next point. If turning Seidel over to the criminal justice system was such an impossibility, how should he have been dealt with? Were Angel and his crew just supposed to allow him to make other women disappear until his own karma caught up with him and he got accidentally run over by a truck? Or, worse, should he have lived to a ripe old age, with his worst punishment being the fact that he would feel really, really bad when he was on his deathbed? If The Powers That Be were seeing fit to give Angel Investigations the visions (through Cordy) to help those in need, couldn't Angel and his gang also, by extension, be given the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner for people like Professor Seidel?

This would have been worthy of some more exploration in the series. Angel Investigations' mission appeared to have been to keep the world safe for humanity by exterminating evil demons. Life was easier when all you had to do was show up and hack monsters to death. There appeared to be no mechanism in place at all when you had evil humans dealing with the shadowy world of demons. There were no supernatural prisons to hold these humans, or specialized social workers (outside of Lorne's limited capabilities) to rehabilitate people like Seidel and release them back into society. There were times when Angel and his crew were forced by circumstances to go outside of the scope of their authority and commit very real crimes. Unfortunately, no matter how much good Angel Investigations did, they ran the real risk of being judged solely on some of their more vigilante types of activities.

Closing Thoughts. One thing to take into consideration was that Angel, Fred and Charles did not have the luxury of sitting down and formulating a plan. Seidel was actively taking steps to murder Fred as quickly as possible (albeit Fred was already intent on taking revenge even before he tried to cast the spell via the cell phone). Seidel even tried to murder Angel right away when he showed up and threatened the professor, which actually made it easier for Angel to take immediate action.

For whatever reason, Angel's actions reminds me of an 1870's Michigan higher court decision I read up on because it was being cited in recent vintage Michigan Supreme Court cases regarding criminal intent. If my memory is correct, apparently a group of men in a small village (a lumber camp?) did not like one particular fellow at all. I understand they liquored him up, got him drunk, then filled him with all sorts of stories about how one man in particular owed him a lot of money. After they got the poor drunk sufficiently riled up with anger, they escorted him to the guy's house, and helped him up the ladder to where the man was supposedly sleeping in bed. When the drunk guy was about to hit the other guy over the head in an attempt to kill him, all of the other men sprung out and beat up the drunk quite badly, claiming that they had to do so in order to keep him from killing the other guy. The drunk was brought to trial, and his case was ultimately dismissed because he was considered to be lacking the necessary criminal intent. He would have not tried to murder the guy if he hadn't been poisoned by liquor. I never knew if any of the other men involved in the plot were ever charged with anything.

So, in my way of thinking, Angel was like the mob that was trying to goad the guy into wrongdoing. If the police had no other charges against Seidel, could they have gone after Angel for trying to incite Seidel into violence, which eventually could have caused a sequence of events in which Angel could have killed the professor in self-defense? There's a lot of ifs, ands, and maybes, but just food for thought.

Did it seem as though some people were more vulnerable to open portals than others? As though, the magic words only targeted certain people to the portal openings? Professor Seidel seemed more at risk at being pulled through than Charles and Fred, even though everyone seemed to be roughly the same distance away from the portal.

I did not like Amy Acker's performance in this episode. I'm not sure if she put in a bad acting performance per se, or if it was just that her character was so unsympathetic. I suppose it's not fair that people like Fred come across as being quite comical when they shake their little fists and say angry words with their high squeaky voices. I understand Amy Acker is quite tall in real life, but she always came across as small and delicate in Angel. We all know that Acker came across much stronger as Illyria and as Claire Saunders.


Anonymous said...

Even though this comments comes years after you originally posted your insightful views and thoughts on Angel the Series,I wanted to let you know that I've enjoyed reading your thoughts. I've recently discovered Angel myself and have been enjoying the episodes and your analysis on my favorite character, Wesley.

I find it interesting to compare your thoughts with my thoughts with my immediate impressions of the shows. Your take on Wesley and Fred in this episode is especially fascinating to me. I did not see Wesley helping Fred as being an opportunistic potential lover. But as a concerned and friend and watcher. When he brought up the impact of killing a human to Fred, I feel he was being sincere. But he knew that Fred had already reasoned it out in her mind and would not be dissuaded from her goal. Both Angel and Gunn tried to persuade her not to do it. And when Wesley brought it up, she also brushed his questioning aside. No one was going to convince her not to kill Seidel. Where I feel that Wesley is more effective than Gunn or Angel is that both Gunn and Angel framed Fred's choice as a choice between killing or not killing Seidel. I think Wesley gave her an alternative, just vengeance. By sending Seidel to another portal, Fred does not kill him, but obtains her wish for revenge - an eye for an eye. You mentioned in your post that sending Seidel into another dimension would in effect kill him. But I feel that they were researching other dimensions they could send him to that would make life miserable for him but leave him alive. Pylea is one such example. It was a hellish experience for Fred, but she survived and indeed found a way back. So Wes was guiding Fred, like the watcher in him, towards a path that would both save her from the guilt, but allow her the closure to move on from that phase of her life. So I view it as him not being opportunistic. But respectful and caring

Miriam said...

Thank you very much for your comment! You developed a favorite theme of mine, which is Wesley's deep Watcher instincts. He was unique among the Angelverse males in how he was truly interested in helping empower young women to take matters into their own hands.

I have to admit I'm not quite sure where I got the idea that Seidel would face an instant death. I believe I was thinking that most people would survive the portal crossing but would not be able to fight off whatever faced him or her on the other side. The fact that Fred was able to survive in Pylea for several years on her own was a testament to her own heroic personality.