Monday, May 10, 2010

Reasonably Fair and Balanced

"Supersymmetry" is turning into Season 4's version of Season 3's "That Old Gang of Mine", in that it's a minor episode that I surprisingly can't seem to stop blogging about. My other recent "Supersymmetry" posts are here and here.

I had mentioned in my last post that both Angel and Wesley seemed quite sympathetic to Fred's desire to take revenge on Professor Seidel, who was the man who had sent her to the Pylea hell dimension for five years. (Let's not forget that he was also allegedly responsible for the disappearance of several other female physics grad students as well, all of whom were presumably dead.) Of course, "vengeance" for Fred meant killing Seidel, which was a strict no-no for the Good Guys in the Buffyverse. That got me on a train of thought about, how was it that Angel and Wesley both seemed to not have any problems with killing Seidel, and how one unexpected source seemed to offer up a pretty good example of how to achieve balance in life.

Angel. In my last post, "Avenging Angels", I wrote that "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."

Angel is a bit of a tricky subject to write about. It's hard for me to continue on with my thesis that he operated within a strict moral code since I can come up with so many examples pointing to the contrary. He seemed to have no qualms about: allowing Wolfram & Hart lawyers to be killed in Season 2; attempting to kill Wesley in Season 3; and kidnapping and threatening to torture Linwood Murrow, also in Season 3. In all three of these instances you could say he performed these deeds (or allowed them to be performed) at the height of passion, when he would have been reasonably expected to allow his emotions to get the best of him. With Seidel, although Angel would of course be upset with how the professor had tried to kill Fred, Angel had the benefit of being once-removed from the situation, which allowed him to see the issues a bit more objectively.

He paid good lip service to protecting humans, particularly when he was counseling inexperienced teenage slayers and other young fighters for the cause. However, when it came right down to it, if Angel couldn't come up with a reasonable alternative, he would choose the only logical course of action, which would sometimes involve killing a human. I've written before how I had a hard time with Wes, Cordy and Gunn acting all high and mighty with Angel in Season 2 since I actually agreed with a lot of Angel's actions. He was an incredibly wise 250-year old vampire who had seen it all and was quite adept at sizing up a situation in an instant. (Which made his grave mistake of miscategorizing a demon's moral code in Season 2's "Judgment" all the more shocking.) Angel didn't need several days of soul-searching to make a decision since he had already done his soul-searching in the past.

In real life I'm an avid opponent of the death penalty. However, one probably can't help but wonder what it means if I hold a completely opposite viewpoint when I'm confronted with a fictional situation. Does it mean that I've allowed myself to become completely lost in a fantasy world where, as a viewer, I'm just as much a fictional character as the one I'm seeing on the screen? Where, perhaps after I've completed my viewing I re-emerge back into reality and into "myself"? Or does the fantasy world represent the complete loss of my inhibitions, where the viewpoints I hold in those situations are more indicative of the "real me"?

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. As I mentioned in my last post, Wesley agreed quite quickly to help Fred kill Professor Seidel by providing her with weapons, magic spells, and a lift to the university. His most immediate reason for assisting her was to elevate himself in Fred's eyes by doing something for her that Charles was unwilling to do (which eventually backfired on him when Fred confessed that she loved Charles because he didn't have it in him to help kill Seidel.)

Although Wesley could come across as a naive, wide-eyed idealist in Angel up to the time he turned all Dark in Season 3, he actually showed signs of ruthless pragmatism off and on even going back to his Buffy the Vampire Slayer days. In Buffy's Season 3's "Choices" it appeared he was willing to sacrifice Willow in order to prevent the Mayor's Ascension into a higher demonic entity. Wesley's plans to sacrifice the Pylean rebels while storming the castle in Angel's Season 2's "There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb", while also risking the loss of Angel for good, is one of his most famous examples of "ruthlessness".

Perhaps we would have liked to have seen Wesley reflect on Professor Seidel's situation a bit longer before glibly advising Fred to carry on with her assassination attempt. However, similar to Angel, Wesley had probably done enough soul-searching in the past to allow him to be able to act fairly quickly in these types of situations. Unlike Angel, Wesley hadn't lived for more than two centuries. However, he had been fed a steady diet of Watcher Council stories his entire life, first from his own father, then at the Watchers' Academy and whatever post-graduate training he received from the Council itself. An outside observer might question his motivations, but for Wesley, the decision to kill Seidel might have come straight from the Watchers' Council playbook.

I also have to acknowledge that Wesley's flirtation with the Dark Side might have also influenced his attitudes regarding the killing of Seidel. He was busy examining some of his long-held beliefs and was in the process of re-writing his own moral code. There's evidence that Wesley was experimenting with what worked within his new code and what didn't, and acting on his own impulses to try to impress Fred may have been an unfortunate side-effect of his continuing inner turmoil. Regardless, I'd be hard-pressed to say that Wes could have come up with any better solutions to the Seidel problem before he got all dark and scary. His decision-making processes may not have been noble or pretty in "Supersymmetry", but Wesley ultimately still came up with the correct conclusions.

Lilah Morgan. Although Lilah was completely uninvolved with the Professor Seidel situation, "Supersymmetry" still gave us a lot of valuable insight into Lilah's own moral code. Throughout the Angel series run, Wolfram & Hart lawyers had been shown to be disciplined soldiers for the Senior Partners' causes. Although they were undeniably evil, the lawyers were expected to stay focused solely on the firm's interests. For example, although Lilah (and even Lindsay MacDonald) would have loved to have had a hand in killing Angel, they were expected to follow company orders and keep Angel alive so he would serve their needs in the upcoming Apocalypse.

How did Lilah deal with her jealousy of Fred? To a first-time viewer, it didn't look good when she stalked both Wesley and Fred at the lecture, made her call on her cell phone, and walked out just before a portal opened up with a multi-headed beast coming this close to devouring Fred. As happy as Lilah was to hear that Fred almost got gathered up into "that place in the big Texas sky", she was correctly able to convince Angel that she had nothing to do with the portal opening up.

One particularly fascinating aspect of her stalking scene does not show up in any of the dialogue. Wesley was sitting in the back row of the auditorium for Fred's physics presentation, two seats over from an eye-poppingly buxom blonde who was wearing a tight blue blouse. Lilah walked into the auditorium and stood at the opposite end of the row, unobserved by Wesley. She could tell at a glance that Wes was sitting there, but her eyes seemed to immediately light upon the girl before she focused on Wesley. In that brief instance we could see the fury in her face when she was confronted with the image of Wesley sitting within three feet of someone who looked an awful lot like a pole dancer! It's amazing that the buxom blonde was totally oblivious to the fact that she had momentarily angered a woman who had the power to turn her into a rat.

Lilah then turned her attentions to the real competition, the wispy nerdish girl in glasses who was haltingly giving her lecture on the stage. How did Lilah ultimately handle the situation? Did she send Ninja commandos to kidnap Fred in order to torture and/or kill her? No. A few episodes later she coped by dressing up like Fred in a last-ditch attempt to try to keep the man she loved.

It would be very faint praise indeed to heartily congratulate someone for making the choice to not kill someone. However, the fact that Lilah didn't go on murderous rampages whenever she suffered personal setbacks shows that Lilah was able to completely compartmentalize her private and professional lives. On the job, she could order someone to be tortured or executed without hesitation. In her personal life, Lilah was no more capable of killing someone than any other normal person would have been. She was a valuable employee of Wolfram & Hart because of the sense of discipline and balance she was able to maintain. Lilah would have been no use to the Senior Partners if she went all rogue on them, which made her that much more of an effective opponent of Angel and his crew.

Update: When I wrote above that "Lilah was no more capable of killing someone than any other normal person would have been" up above, I sort of forgot that Lilah killed Linwood Murrow in "Deep Down" and that she almost shot up the Wolfram & Hart boardroom when she thought she was losing out on a promotion to Lindsey MacDonald in Season 2's "Dead End". I can sort of cover myself by saying that both of these instances were work-related, with her life being directly at stake. Also, the Senior Partners seemed to almost encourage their employees to wipe each other out as part of a survival-of-the-fittest winnowing-out process. I still maintain that she was incapable of killing someone completely outside of her professional realm.

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