Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Supersymmetry Hodgepodge

(Image of Jerry Trainor "Jared" Courtesy of Screencap Paradise).

Angel's Season 4's "Supersymmetry" is an example of a good story arc episode, in that it has an excellent side-plot to keep us entertained while the main story arc plods along in the background.

This is another one of those shows I've already written about before at great length. If interested, you can click on my previous posts "Meet the Real Lilah" and "Strange Comfort Zone" where I focused on Wesley, Lilah and Fred.

In my all-too-usual lazy writer's style, here's a few more thoughts about the episode.

Angel and Lorne. "Supersymmetry" gave us a few more examples of those marvelous scenes between David Boreanaz as Angel and Andy Hallett as Lorne. These two actors really seemed to bring the best out in each other. I spent a lot of time scanning back to re-watch Hallett's acting performances, particularly in this episode. It's not that he was doing anything incredibly dramatic. Hallett was just such a natural and seemed so at ease in front of a camera, you'd swear he was a 30-year veteran of the stage and screen rather than a relatively inexperienced twenty-something-year-old. He was entertaining to watch even when he was just sitting around doing nothing!

Fred and Charles. Similar to how I felt Wesley's phone sex scene with Lilah was written to give us a definite high point to their relationship, it appears that Fred and Charles' sizzling scene was added to give their relationship a similar peak before things started to go downhill for them after Gunn murdered Professor Seidel on Fred's behalf.

I don't think anyone thought Fred and Gunn were particularly made for each other. However, I will argue that a lot of the best relationships in the world are made up of people who are not made for each other. These people are not obsessive about each other and can go about their daily lives without worrying about doing something that will shatter the other person's unreasonable expectations. Fred and Gunn liked goofing off and relaxing with each other and telling silly jokes. The fact that she was a brainy physicist and he was a street fighter should not have made that much of a difference as long as they had some other common ground.

I always felt that Gunn was much more committed to the relationship than Fred. He certainly had a difficult time letting go of her after Wesley came back and started complicating things. Although Gunn was younger than Fred, he was light years ahead in general experience. Charles may have already seen what was out there in the field and was ready to settle down. I've written a lot about how Gunn seemed to be upwardly mobile, and Fred, as his little princess, may have represented a step up in his romantic relationships. She was beautiful, smart, courageous and a damn good fighter! Any man would love a woman whom he could coddle and cherish, but not have to worry too much about her safety if he left the homestead for a few hours.

It's awfully easy to say that Fred's interracial relationship with Gunn might have simply been a fling she entered into in reaction to the strict societal norms that existed in her Texas Bible Belt upbringing. Personally, I don't see any evidence of that at all. Instead, Fred was suffering from somewhat of a case of arrested development when she came back from the Pylea hell dimension, and a relationship with Gunn could have meant a return back to normalcy. Unfortunately for Charles, Fred's relationship with him could have represented a much-needed learning experience while she continued on her road to emotional maturity.

We seem to suffer from a sort of idealized delusion that tragedies will bring couples closer together. Even couples who seem to get along perfectly together will grow apart in times of stress, e.g., when they are suffering through money problems, job losses, poor health or deaths of loved ones. It's easy to be happy when things are going well. When things start going poorly, that's when hidden cracks in a relationship will show. Fred, who was in a state of fragile mental health to begin with, showed all of the signs that she would break apart whenever horrible things happened. One example was how she flew off the handle with the stress of running Angel Investigations and "losing" Charles in "Ground State". During these times, Charles was protective, loving and supportive, the way all partners should be. However, that wasn't what Fred needed. I can't help but think that what she really needed was a close girlfriend she could spout off to while devouring a half-gallon of chocolate chip cherry cordial ice cream, or maybe just a 45-minute chat with a sympathetic therapist.

Cordelia. I boldly proclaimed in my last post that I was going to go with a theory that the pre-"Spin the Bottle" Cordelia was actually Jasmine who was hampered by Cordelia's locked memories. I'm starting to have second thoughts already after viewing "Supersymmetry", particularly since Cordelia seemed to be more "herself" after she left Connor and returned to Angel at the Hyperion Hotel under her own volition and asked "Were we in love?". I can comfort myself by saying that just because Cordelia seemed happier, better-adjusted and more functional in "Supersymmetry" doesn't necessarily mean that she was really herself. Luckily, with "Spin the Bottle" coming up in the next episode, I don't need to obsess about it too much longer since it will all become a moot issue. Also, Joss Whedon himself narrated the commentary to "Spin the Bottle", and he'll probably give me the definitive answer when I watch the episode again in the next day or so.

Wesley and Lilah (Again). I'm sure I've gone over this before, but I wonder if Wesley would have attended Fred's lecture if he and Lilah hadn't had their falling out about Lorne's involuntary brain biopsy in "Slouching Toward Bethlehem". Fred and Wesley had their own falling out in late Season 3's "Double or Nothing", but it doesn't appear that it affected Wesley's feelings for her. My personal opinion is that if things were still running relatively smoothly for Wes and Lilah, Wesley wouldn't have even known about Fred's lecture. I doubt if by wild coincidence he just happened to subscribe to the physics journal that her article appeared in. I'm betting that after his little tiff with Lilah, Wesley started looking around to see what Fred was up to, found out about her article and her lecture, then took off after her, so to speak.

Although I'm heartbroken that Wesley and Lilah broke up, I can comfort myself in knowing that their relationship was fated to end sooner rather than later. There was no way they could have stayed together, and they had a remarkable run as it was. It sounds harsh to say that Wesley was using Lilah until he could get back together again with Fred, but I can't think of too many ways to sugarcoat it otherwise.

Wesley and Fred. About the only thing I have to add in addition to what I've already blogged about is how "Supersymmetry" was yet one more example of how Wes and Fred were never quite at the right place at the right time as far as getting together as a couple. Wes was ready for Fred, but Fred was only interested in taking advantage of his feelings for her own personal gain. Throughout most of their time together on Angel, Wesley was the one who was always ready for Fred, while we always had to wait to see if Fred showed any interest in return. It would have been more effective if the creators had given us some definite clues in Seasons 3 and 4 that Fred was the one who was interested in Wesley (outside of her staring at him a few times across the lobby of the Hyperion Hotel) while Wesley made her cool her heals in return. We had to wait for Season 5 for that to happen.

Professor Seidel. I wonder if there was an overwhelming need to revisit the reason why Fred was sucked into the Pylea dimension. The original story in Season 2 seemed to cover all of the bases: Fred read some magic words out of a book and got sucked into Pylea. It didn't appear that Fred was particularly being singled out since the same incantations sucked Cordelia into Pylea and brought in Lorne and his cousin Landok into our dimension. I can even accept Jasmine's part in all of this per Skip the Demon's revelations in Season 4's "Inside Out". Of course, the book in question had to get into the Los Angeles public library branch somehow, and Professor Seidel could have put it there himself. I just wished Mutant Enemy would have come right out and placed Seidel at the scene of the crime in the library. Still, all in all, that's a minor complaint and it doesn't reduce my overall enjoyment of the episode.

Also, the first time I saw this episode I was positive that Seidel's teaching assistant Laurie was somehow involved in his activities. But, nope, she seemed to be totally innocent.

Geeky Comic Book Kid. I enjoyed Jerry Trainor's portrayal of the comic book clerk who was taking all of the pictures of Fred being manhandled by the inter-dimensional multi-headed monster. (As a sidenote, he's listed in the IMDB credits as "Jared", but I'm not sure I ever heard his name in the episode.) Of course Angel and Gunn misinterpreted the kid's intentions, but Jared quickly explained that he was looking for confirmation of the rumors that young lady physics students had been mysteriously disappearing over the last several years. Jared's only sin was that he was perhaps enjoying himself a bit too much when he came up with the proof.

Jared enthusiastically pressed his case to join Angel Investigations, even offering to become their intern. Both Gunn and Angel seemed unimpressed with Jared, admittedly with good reason. I say the more the merrier. I would have loved to have seen Jerry Trainor join the cast or at least have had one substantial guest appearance, since the group always seemed to have room for one more. Jared could have been the group's main tie to a more tech-savvy culture of the outside world, Fred's superior computer skills notwithstanding. Gunn would have always been the muscle, but Jared could have done a lot of the legwork, and could have gathered a lot of much-needed intelligence from the eyes and ears of his online community of friends.

Seeing as how I'm enjoying the Angel:After the Fall continuation series, I'm also enjoying the tie-in between Angel and the comic book culture in "Supersymmetry". I'm always fascinated with glimpses of how much the "average" person knew about the supernatural world in the series. Jared provided valuable insight in the form of revealing the existence of whole internet forums that were devoted to this subculture. Angel, as well as I, was impressed that he was being widely discussed in the "chatty" rooms, since it dispels the improbable notion that Angel and his cohorts were doing their "saving the world" activities in complete oblivion.

I've written before how it's disconcerting to see Angel: the Series age almost in front of my eyes, particularly in how it seems that in the not-so-distant past it was a "current" show for me. The last episode first aired six years ago, which seems almost a lifetime ago. I've got one of those "I'm getting old" issues at play, in that by the time I pick up on something from popular culture it's already obsolete. In my decidedly unhip opinion I don't notice too many things that are embarrassingly out-of-date in the series, outside of their now-primitive cell phones and huge PC monitors. However, one thing that does seem to date the show is their pointed references to what was then the relatively new concept of using the internet as a social medium. To push the obvious, if you mention a current technology in a TV series as a way to emphasize that you're au courant, you almost immediately date yourself. Facebook and Twitter were nowhere to be found on Angel, but old-fashioned chat rooms, forums, and even websites themselves seemed to exist somewhat as recent novelties.

Angel. As someone who likes to zero in on the minor details, I feel guilty about how I often skip over the star of the show, David Boreanaz. His character of Angel had a lot of great scenes, including; the above-mentioned scenes with Lorne; saving the day as the superhero at Fred's lecture; confronting a very suspicious-looking Lilah; Angel's clever parlor trick of re-enacting the scary events at the lecture; simultaneously being a real superhero and a fan of comic book culture at Jared's store; Angel's patented ultra-cool grand entrance when he confronted Professor Seidel (not to mention his usual defeat of yet one more dreadful monster); his overall demeanor of not really being bothered at the thought of Professor Seidel's death, in contrast to the guilt suffered by Fred and Gunn; and his wonderful scene with Cordelia at the end of the episode when she wondered, "Were we in love?".

Closing Thoughts. "Supersymmetry" is yet one more example of how Mutant Enemy could pack an incredible amount of plot into a one-hour show, without making it all look rushed. And, naturally, they cast excellent guest performers with Jerry Trainor as Jarod and Randy Oglesby as Professor Seidel.

Jennifer Hipp/Tracy was intriguing as the little-seen Laurie the TA, which is why I was disappointed that she didn't turn out to be Professor Seidel's partner-in-crime. I can understand that she was brought in just to show that less-intelligent women posed no threat to Seidel, but her character still seemed somewhat wasted. I wonder if she had a few more lines that ended up on the cutting-room floor?

This episode also tackles a favorite subject of mine: how do you mete out justice to people who are operating totally outside of the law? Was it possible for Angel Investigations to somehow deal with Professor Seidel other than by just flat out killing him? I'll be addressing these issues in an upcoming post.

I'm sure there's a brilliant post ready to be written about "Supersymmetry" and grad school politics in general, but I'll let someone who's actually gone through the Ph.D. mill tackle that one.

(Update: I posted some additional thoughts about "Supersymmetry" in "Avenging Angels", where I talked about the actual killing of Professor Seidel, and in "Reasonably Fair and Balanced", where I talked about Angel's and Wesley's attitudes toward killing Seidel, and offered a few random thoughts about Lilah Morgan as well.)

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