Monday, May 17, 2010

A Pause in the Season 4 Action

As I explained at the bottom of my last post, "Habeas Corpses" marks my informal ending to the "good" part of Season 4 of Angel, probably because it was Stephanie Romanov's last appearance as Lilah for a while. While there will be plenty of good highlights over the remainder of Season 4, I fully expect my DVD viewing of the series to be somewhat like a couch potato's death march until Season 5 begins.

So now's a good time to take a break from my episode reviews and get caught up on a few other things.

Andy Hallett as Lorne. My official line has been that I thought it was a mistake for Mutant Enemy to destroy Caritas and have Lorne move into the Hyperion Hotel. He became less interesting when he stopped being a neutral observer and started becoming Angel's cheerleader. Although he wasn't exactly an outsider, he never really completely fit in with the rest of the group either. He was always more of an honorary or associate member rather than a full-fledged member of Angel Investigations. I felt that for the remainder of the series, as wonderful as he was, Lorne never really found a niche for himself.

Now, even though I don't think my opinions have changed that much, I'm finding what's really keeping me going with Lorne is Andy Hallett's acting. Although he was always a good actor, he seemed to really step it up a notch in Season 4, which puts up him close to the head of my list for Best Surprises of Season 4. In reviewing my DVD's, he's seeming less like an outsider and more like someone who's slowly growing into his role with Angel Investigations. I've pledged to keep an eye on both Hallett's acting and Lorne's further development throughout the remainder of the season. It's too bad that his character seemed to suffer a painful setback when he became kind of the clown/buffoon for Season 5.

Wesley and Lilah. One thing that's always intrigued me about "Slouching Through Bethlehem" has been the sincerity of Lilah's affections toward Wesley in their bedroom scenes here and here. Despite the fact that she had to have been thinking about the whole upcoming Cordelia/Lorne caper the entire time, I still have a sense that she had actually fallen for Wesley in spite of herself. After Wesley confronted her for "playing" him at the end of the show, Lilah certainly went into full damage control mode over the next few episodes in an unsuccessful bid to keep Wes around.

One little clue for me was when Lilah took the phone call while they were sleeping in Wesley's bedroom. For one thing, they were actually sleeping in his bedroom, which obviously means they weren't just getting together for hour-long quickies. Plus, it really seemed as though Lilah was awakened by her cell phone rather than just lying in the dark waiting for it to ring. Another clue was how they were physically separated while they were sleeping in bed. I think Wes even had his back turned to her and was sleeping on his stomach! We all know that in real life very few couples sleep nestled in each other's arms. We usually migrate away from each other at some point. However, TV lovers always seem to sleep much closer together. Just based on that observation, Wes and Lilah seemed beyond the first stage of a highly impassioned love affair and had settled into a second phase of a deeper, more domestic type of love.

Lilah was either one cool customer if she could actually fall asleep while she was waiting to set a trap for her lover, or she was relaxed enough by Wesley's company to allow herself to be able to fall asleep. I think it was a combination of the two, as I think Lilah was able to compartmentalize herself between work and her personal life. Stephanie Romanov has said in at least one interview that Lilah didn't think of herself as being evil. Lilah might have justified her actions by telling herself that she still had a job to do. Therefore, the fact that she ordered her security detail to extract part of Lorne's brain without killing him should have mitigated the potential damage to her relationship with Wesley. Nice try, Lilah.

Don't Suffer on My Account. In their DVD commentary for "Apocalypse, Nowish" writer Steven S. DeKnight and director Vern Gillum told us in great detail of the pain and suffering stunt double Scott Workman went through during the filming of the full body shots of The Beast. I don't need to give too many details beyond his vomiting and the fact that the steel plate holding the horns onto the mask clamped down on his head like a vice grip. According to the Wikipedia link above, it also wasn't any picnic for Vladimir Kulich, the actor who did the face shots of The Beast.

I've similarly read and heard about how uncomfortable it was for Andy Hallett to be made up like Lorne, and I'm guessing it was probably a blessing for Amy Acker to not to have to go through an entire series dressed up like Illyria. The argument that these performers know what they're getting into runs a little bit hollow. I'm asking the producers, please don't make actors and stunt people go all through this pain just because you think audiences have these high expectations that need to be met. I can't possibly fully enjoy a performance when I know how much suffering these performers go through. Just paint these people's faces up or put Halloween masks on them. It doesn't seem quite fair that humans should be required to do things that would motivate PETA to shut down an entire production if animals suffered the same amount of pain and discomfort.

Joss Whedon's Grand Opera. Someone made the comment in one of the DVD extras that Joss Whedon kept saying something along the lines that Season 4 of Angel should be "operatic", with everything needing to be on a grand scale. It brings to mind some choice words Mark Twain had about opera, particularly while he was reviewing Wagnerian operas as featured in Chapters IX and X from A Tramp Abroad. This particular quote from Mark Twain in Eruption provides a striking parallel with my own personal feelings about the entire Season 4 of Angel .
"I have witnessed and greatly enjoyed the first act of everything which Wagner created, but the effect on me has always been so powerful that one act was quite sufficient; whenever I have witnessed two acts I have gone away physically exhausted; and whenever I have ventured an entire opera the result has been the next thing to suicide."
Supernatural World. Oddly enough, it wasn't very often that the words "supernatural", "paranormal", "hauntings" and "ghosts" were bandied about in Angel. They were probably used quite a bit when Kate Lockley was first figuring out that a demon world existed. However, the only examples I can think of off the time of my head was when Virginia proudly told Wesley in Season 2 that he was a "renowned specialist" in "supernatural aid and rescue", and when Fred told the homeowner in Season 4's "Apocalypse, Nowish" that "If it's a haunting, the longer a specter inhabits an area, the harder it is to convince them to leave." Fred also referenced "ghosts" later on in the same scene.

I'm not going to cheat and look up the dictionary definitions, but in my mind, "supernatural" and "paranormal" apply more to ghosts and poltergeists rather than the world of demons and vampires. To vastly oversimplify, I think of "supernatural" and "paranormal" as defining events that aren't real, whereas in Angel, demons and vampires were very much real! (I liked Wesley's term of "dark forces" in this scene.)

So it was disconcerting to me in "Apocalypse, Nowish" that Fred and Gunn were on what they considered to be more of a ghost-hunting expedition than a demon kill. I even thought it was odd in Season 3's "Provider" when Gunn and Wesley killed the zombie boyfriend since, in my mind, it was closer to a ghostly haunting than anything else. (Though, oddly enough, all of the items in Wesley's checklist of "Witchcraft, black magic, voodoo, zombiefication, demon possession, even vampirism" seems to fit in better with what I think is more "normal" in the Buffyverse). With all of the other crazy things Angel Investigations was confronted with, I just can't imagine them going through a haunted house like Jason and Grant on "Ghost Hunters".

From what I could tell on Angel, it was very difficult to communicate with the dead unless the person was used as a messenger from the other side. Dead relatives coming back to haunt family members just didn't seem to happen. However, from Fred's talk of "hauntings" and "ghosts", perhaps ghost-chasing was part of their lowbrow bread-and-butter business that helped pay the bills, just like their demon extermination services. Again, I can't imagine Angel Investigations burning sage, performing ritual blessings or cleansings, etc. What I can see them doing is casting spells similar to what Wesley did in Season 2's "Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been" when he corporealized the Thesulac demon so they could vanquish it.

"Apocalypse, Nowish" - The Comma. I didn't realize until very recently that there's a comma in this episode title. I've got "Apocalypse Nowish" sprinkled all throughout this blog.

Upcoming Reviews. "Long Day's Journey", "Awakening" and "Soulless" are episodes that I've hardly ever seen, so I'm looking forward to reacquainting myself with them over the next few days.

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