Saturday, May 22, 2010

Lost Opportunities

Wes and Lilah at the Hyperion Hotel

I've probably seen "Calvary" from Season 4 of Angel one too many times. I could tell that my mind wasn't totally into it while I was watching it yesterday since I was spending more time trying to confirm some of my earlier ideas rather than being on the lookout for things I might have missed before. Nonetheless, "Calvary" was another great episode that disproves my rule that everything after "Habeas Corpses" in Season 4 was absolute garbage.

Writing. "Calvary" was quite unusual in that it was written by three very strong individual writers: Steven S. DeKnight, Jeffrey Bell and Mere Smith. I don't think this Wikipedia page is 100% accurate, but it appears it was a rarity to have three writers working on the same episode scripts. The only other instances were when different people were credited with the "teleplay" and the "story", and when the writing team of Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain were paired up with another writer. The last example almost doesn't count since Craft and Fain are a permanent team.

I have no idea who wrote what in "Calvary", but I can make some outlandish guesses. DeKnight enjoyed writing action sequences, and he might have written scenes like the one where Gunn and Connor fought off the soul-eating demon and where Lilah took her final stand against Angelus and Cordelia. I couldn't help but notice that Jeffrey Bell had previously written (or was at least credited with writing) some exceptional dialogue between Wesley and Lilah, like their first meeting in Season 3's "A New World"; all those wonderful scenes in "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" (including the signed $1.00 bill and "you played me"); and their powerful breakup scene as well as Wesley's rescue of Lilah from The Beast in "Habeas Corpses". Although there were no definitive earth-shattering scenes between Wes and Lilah in "Calvary", I thought this one where Wes caught up with Lilah in the sewer tunnels was particularly touching.

It's hard for me to come up with any special purpose for Mere Smith in "Calvary" outside of how she was a long-time talented story editor and versatile writer in her own right. I enjoy joking about how Wesley always seemed particularly sexy in her episodes, so maybe she was brought in to make sure there was enough fuel to keep his smoulder-factor in full force. Also, did any one writer write all of Angelus' scenes? Regardless, Mutant Enemy might have needed three writers on this episode due to time constraints. For all I know, Mere Smith could have written the action sequences, and DeKnight might have written all of those Wes/Lilah moments!

Wes and Lilah. I devoted an entire post to Lilah's appearance in "Calvary" last year in "Almost Goodbye to Lilah". Since I obviously don't want to repeat myself, I'll take the lazy way out and invite you to read my old post if interested. I will clarify a few things though.

First of all, I'd often suspected Lilah brought out Wesley's best qualities. In "Calvary", Wesley certainly seemed to step it up a notch in the brains and leadership departments while he was with her. Contrast that with how he completely fell apart again when he found out Fred broke up with Gunn. I'd even written a post several months ago called "Strange Comfort Zone" in which I noted Wesley seemed much more at ease with Lilah since he didn't feel any pressure to impress her.

I always feel kind of funny when I re-read "Strange Comfort Zone" because, first, I said Wesley was 100% himself when he was with Lilah, but then I also said that the real Wesley was the one who wanted to pick daisies with Fred. Isn't that a contradiction?

Commenter Lisa (who I might add is an excellent writer) brought up an excellent point in this recent comment when she said that Fred ".... represented all the innocence that he had lost." I really believe that underneath that calloused, tough-guy exterior there still existed a sweeter and more idealistic Wesley. He couldn't turn back the clock and regain all of that lost innocence, but he seemed to hope that he could find a way to reconnect with his old self again some day.

In my "Almost Goodbye to Lilah" post, I wondered when everyone found out about Wes and Lilah's relationship. I'm not even sure that "Calvary" was the episode when most of the members of Angel Investigations figured it out. Outside of Fred finding out in a particularly nasty way when Angelus broke the news, there didn't seem to be any additional "Aha!" moments with the group similar to when everyone found out about Cordy and Connor. As of this moment I'm still not sure when everyone put two and two together regarding Wes and Lilah. The only thing I can point to is how just about everyone gave them funny looks at different times within the episode.

I also have a few slightly different interpretations of what happened in "Calvary" than what I wrote in last year's "Almost Goodbye....." post. When Wesley chased after Lilah in the sewers and Charles ordered Connor to stay with the group in case it was a trap, I originally didn't think Charles was trying to get Wesley killed. Now, I'm not so sure. He might not have really wanted Wes to get killed, but similar to the scene in "Habeas Corpses" when Wes barricaded him and Fred against Charles and the zombies, it didn't make Gunn look very good.

Another part was the lovely exchange between Wes and Lilah on why their relationship would have never worked out. I had written in last year's post that Lilah was the first to mention it,"...probably to try to build up her own self worth." I'm now thinking that Lilah might have had another one of those "Who knows you better than I do" moments and said those things to try to absolve Wesley of some of the guilt and self-doubts that were racking him. That ties into this scene in the next episode, "Salvage", where the ghostly Lilah seemed to be comforting Wesley about his failure to protect her and help her find redemption.

Wesley and Fred. Once more, Wesley's timing was off with Fred. In a nutshell, Charles and Fred broke up; after Fred told Wesley she and Gunn were no longer together, Lilah and Cordy walked in on them before Wes had a chance to close the deal; Angelus casually dropped the bomb to Fred that Wes had been "banging Lilah for the last six months"; and Fred didn't take that piece of news very well and acted all funny and uncomfortable whenever she saw Wes and Lilah together.

I couldn't help but notice that, true to form, Fred automatically believed Angelus was lying when he told her about Wes and Lilah, until she saw Wesley's stricken face. Also, although Wesley could have gotten on his knees and begged Fred for forgiveness at some point, he probably quite wisely stepped back and gave her the time she needed to sort through some things in her own mind. I honestly can't remember if she and Charles somewhat got back together again, but Wesley was at least giving her the option to do so.

I'm sort of working on a theory that Lilah's arrival at the Hyperion was a net positive for Wesley. As I mentioned above, he always seemed to step it up a notch when she was around. Although it was too bad he couldn't hook up with Fred at that point, at least Wesley was able to put his thoughts back together and focus all of his attentions on the problems at hand. In my next post I'll expand on the idea that Lilah had a direct influence on his decision to spring Faith out of jail so they could capture Angelus.

Gunn. One of Angelus' biggest strengths was exploiting other people's weaknesses. In this particular scene he hit Gunn with his lowly "muscle" status within the group.
ANGELUS: You know what I like about you? You play to your strengths. You know what they are, and you stick to 'em. You don't find that much these days. Everybody always trying to expand their horizons, actuate their potential, and all that other touchy-feely crap. But not you. You don't try to change... because you know your place. That'll go a long way towards keeping you alive.
Gunn gave up quite a bit in the form of power and prestige when he joined Angel Investigations, even if he was an alpha male in one of the worst spots in Los Angeles. It hurt him immensely that he not only had to relinquish his top dog status to Angel, he was always at the bottom or (close to the bottom) of the totem pole within the entire group. And let's face it - having to answer to Wesley was the worst part about the whole deal. Even when Fred joined the group Gunn's status fell because he didn't have her "brains". Gunn was probably quite fortunate that he stayed above Lorne, not that Lorne was interested in usurping anyone's position.

Although Gunn desperately wanted some sort of leadership role, he was first and foremost a realist. His style was to hack away at his foes, and he seemed to lack the confidence to take on any strategic planning roles. He talked a big story when he would posture to Wesley "Who made you the boss?", but he never made any real attempt to take over the group. (One exception was the beginning of Season 4 when it was just Gunn, Fred and Connor.)

I was therefore delighted with this scene where Gunn and Connor went after the soul-eating demon. (Even better, the two of them seemed to be having having some fun on a bonding expedition!) When Connor uncharacteristically again was on the verge of being defeated in battle, Gunn cut off the demon's head and performed other acts of mayhem to make sure it stayed dead. "Yeah, sometimes you just gotta keep whacking" Gunn said.

Idle Thoughts. It was awfully classy of Lilah in this scene not to reveal to everyone that Wesley had helped her escape from Wolfram & Hart.

Once again, I liked Cordy in this episode. It's too bad she was revealed to be the villain. On a side note, Charisma Carpenter's acting was a lot more understated during Season 4 than in prior years. I liked both versions of Cordy: bright and bubbly, and more mature and serious. I'm trying to figure out if she turned down the volume on her energy levels because she was pregnant, because it was demanded by the script, or if Carpenter wasn't having as much fun anymore.

I enjoyed David Boreanaz' acting the most so far in this particular arc when he was playing Angelus pretending to be Angel. I also liked these scenes here and here where Angelus was basically telling the truth about The Beast having a boss and how the black magic ritual would not restore his soul. What made him really diabolical was how no one could ever tell when he was lying and when he was telling the truth. He was almost more dangerous when he told the truth because he only did so when it suited his purposes.

Wesley survived his ordeal of being the fallen member of Angel Investigations in Season 3 a lot better than Cordelia did in Season 4.

I wish there was more of an explanation of Lilah's stigmata wounds. I understand the connection between the word "Calvary" and the wounds. Was she supposed to symbolize one of the two thieves who were nailed to crosses next to Jesus Christ during the crucifixion? Or did she symbolize Jesus Christ because he was the one who was impaled with the spear by the Roman soldier? Did she die for Wesley's sins?

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