Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Surely the Second Coming Is At Hand

(Albrecht Durer woodcut, The Torture of St. John the Evangelist from "The Apocalypse")

Angel's Season 4's "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" wouldn't be so disappointing if it eventually led to something resembling a happy ending. Unfortunately, it played out as yet one more story arc episode that marched on with grim determination from Point A to Point B with little in the way of entertaining detours.

That's not to say "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" is a bad episode. It had a lot of great highlights, including, Connor creeping out the family that he had rescued, Lorne's scenes regarding his horrifying reading of Cordy's future, all of Wesley Wyndam-Price and Lilah Morgan's magnificent scenes together here, here and here, and Wesley's brief but dramatic return to the Hyperion Hotel. It's just that when you don't like the underlying plot where Cordelia is gradually transforming herself into the rogue Power That Be Jasmine, it's hard to dress up a lot of these episodes to make them more palatable.

Cordelia. I wasn't loving Cordelia Chase the Amnesiac. Those scenes with her struggling to regain her memory were quite excruciating to sit through, probably because the TV amnesia victim trope has been dusted off the shelf a few too many times. Also, for the very first time, I'm starting to get a little weary of what used to be a favorite subject of mine: how much of a character is [name of original character] and how much of the character is [name of higher power du jour taking over said regular character]. In this case, the fill in the blanks are "Cordy" and "Jasmine".

This Wikipedia entry for "Spin the Bottle" mentions under the "Continuity" section that:
This episode marks the first appearance of Jasmine while possessing Cordelia, and the last appearance of Cordelia in Season 4 (excluding her appearance in Angel's hallucination in "Awakening"). She is released from the safeguard, set in place by The Powers That Be to hold her at bay, which is broken by the spell the group performs.
I've read in more than one site that The Powers That Be were protecting Cordelia by repressing her memories so her inner-Jasmine would not be unleashed. Unfortunately, Lorne's spell unlocked her memories, which ultimately set off the cataclysmic series of events in which Jasmine almost took over the entire world. In short, Cordelia was pretty much Cordelia before the spell. This sounds great in theory, and it fits in with my general interpretation that, although Jasmine was pretty much controlling things, The Powers That Be were stepping in from time to time to try to mitigate the damages. The only bad thing is that I've never been able to discover one bit of evidence to back up this theory. You can imagine I'll be scrutinizing the rest of Season 4 for clues.

Although I'm choosing to accept the general theory that Jasmine was not totally unleashed until "Spin the Bottle", I heard an intriguing clue in the DVD commentary for "Apocalypse, Nowish". I can't give much in the form of exact details because I'd need to review that commentary again. However, it was stated that Cordelia/Jasmine was manipulating events in that episode to drive Angel away and to keep Connor at her side. The person who made the statement even came right out and said that there were several other clues that Jasmine was in control of Cordelia, simply because Cordelia was not acting like herself. This is uncontroversial in itself since "Apocalypse, Nowish" took place after "Spin the Bottle".

However, if you look at "Slouching Toward Bethlehem", which took place before "Spin the Bottle", Cordelia appeared to be doing the very same thing. She made a conscious decision to leave Angel and take up housekeeping with Connor. Again, I get back to that "How much of that person is Cordelia and how much of that person is Jasmine" theme again. Cordelia was obviously "not acting like herself" in "Apocalypse, Nowish", so I could make somewhat of a case that Jasmine already had a strong presence in Cordelia when she reappeared at the Hyperion, and just needed a boost from Lorne's spell to come out at 100% strength. With Cordelia's memories unleashed, Jasmine would be that much more effective. In other words, it wasn't as simple as Cordelia being 100% Cordelia (albeit missing her memories) before "Spin the Bottle" and Cordelia being close to 100% Jasmine after the spell.

I'll also be looking for clues for how much of the real Cordelia existed after "Spin the Bottle". If I interpret the "Apocalypse, Nowish" commentary correctly, Jasmine was pretty much in control of Cordelia after the spell. This is at odds with my original theory that the real Cordelia was still somewhat in the forefront after "Spin the Bottle", but gradually faded into the background as the Season wore on. I have to admit I like the "Jasmine totally in control at all times, working with Cordelia's memories" meme better, which was similar to Illyria taking over Fred's body. If I accept that, then I don't have to spend so much time looking for clues that give the correct percentages of how much of Cordelia was Cordelia and how much of her was Jasmine at any given time.

Fred and Wesley. I'm dutifully continuing to analyze their relationship. When Wesley entered the Hyperion, they seemed to exchange a brief meaningful glance or two.

Angel and Wesley. Angel is so cool! He had two different opportunities to crucify Wesley, yet opted not to both times. The first opportunity occurred in the above-referenced "Wesley entering the Hyperion" scene, where Angel asked, "She's [Cordelia] with Connor? You have that on good authority?" Wesley adroitly avoided giving a direct answer by countering, "You don't seem too concerned."

The second opportunity came when Angel, Fred and Gunn returned to the Hyperion and found the severely-wounded Lorne bound and gagged in the office. Realizing that they had been lured away and duped by Wolfram & Hart in their attempt to "save" Cordelia, Charles Gunn and Angel had this dialogue exchange:
FRED: They tricked us.

GUNN: Wolfram and Hart or Wesley. He's the one who showed up with the hot tip about Junior. How do we know he's not the one playing us?

ANGEL: We don't. But what we do know is that Wolfram and Hart may now know more about Cordy's doom and gloom thing than we do. And that's a problem.
Angel knew full well that Lilah and Wesley were sleeping with each other, as evidenced by this scene in "Ground State" when he informed Lilah " You know what I find interesting? The fact that I can smell you and Wesley all over each other." Angel was obviously referring to the fact (which Wesley all too well aware of) that he could tell by smelling people who they had sex with.

Angel's statement seemed to bother Lilah at the time, but Wesley seemed less than concerned about it when Lilah sleepily informed Wesley later on that Angel knew about their "relationship". So, when Wesley appeared at the Hyperion and Angel made the comment about "You have that on good authority" regarding Wolfram & Hart's intentions, Angel knew Wesley was sleeping with Lilah, Wesley knew Angel knew he was sleeping with Lilah, Angel was reasonably sure Wesley knew that Angel knew that Wesley was sleeping with Lilah, and Wesley was reasonably sure that Angel knew that Wesley knew that Angel knew that Wesley was sleeping with Lilah. All that was conveyed back and forth in an instant via measured speaking tones, subtle head gestures and eye movements.

It has been a cherished notion of mine that Angel accepted Wesley's relationship with Lilah since he realized Wesley had no where else to turn to when he was banished from the group. Angel obviously felt guilty about the way he treated Wesley, and knew Wesley was still basically a good man despite the fact he was sleeping with the enemy. I don't know if I really believe this part, but when Angel informed Lilah he knew she was sleeping with Wesley, scaring her a little bit was just a little sideshow. Perhaps Angel's real intent was to let Wesley know that he knew all about Wesley's relationship with Lilah, and he wouldn't be holding it against Wesley if he decided to rejoin the group. And that's why Angel didn't suspect Wesley was laying a trap when he appeared at the Hyperion and unwittingly gave out the (somewhat) false information, and why Angel didn't set out after Wesley when the gang discovered the badly-injured Lorne.

It would have been oh-so-typical to have this incident ruin Wesley's chances as far as re-integrating himself into Angel Investigations. Perhaps his re-entry was delayed a little bit, but not by much. I can thank Mutant Enemy for not coming up with yet one more plot contrivance to kick Wesley further down the road.

Wesley and Lilah. I've analyzed Wesley and Lilah's scenes to death already in "Slouching Toward Bethlehem", but I can't completely ignore these two either. I touched upon in one of my last posts that I doubted if the famous phone sex scene contributed by Joss Whedon for "The House Always Wins" was written without regard to the overall story structure of that part of Season 4. I thought that Whedon might have felt that it was very important for Wes and Lilah to have a definite high point in their relationship in the form of a very spontaneous, uncomplicated, playful familiarity with each other. That phone sex scene therefore made it all the more poignant that the two of them betrayed each other in the very next episode. Their mutual betrayals brought into stark relief the fact that even though Wes and Lilah adored each other, they were still in the middle of a very deadly game of cat-and-mouse.

As a result, Lilah won the battle but eventually lost the war, since this episode seemed to mark the beginning of Wesley drifting away from her.

Closing Thoughts. I've been saying that early Season 4 of Angel was actually quite good. "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" might have been one of my least favorite episodes during this run, but it still had a lot of good qualities. If forced at gunpoint, I'd have to say that my definition of the "good" Season 4 would have been the season premiere "Deep Down" through "Habeas Corpses". It would be harsh to say that the episodes started going downhill after that. However, to me, "Long Day's Journey" marked the start of my awareness that the story arc wasn't going to get wrapped up any time soon, and I'd have to suffer through the rest of the season as though I was slowly being pulled through a pasta grinder.

I can't help but mention that Gunn was suspicious of Wesley's intentions all along, which obviously played into their later conflicts throughout the season. I also can't help but notice that one of Gunn's chief roles in Angel was to be the "other" voice who either gave the alternative explanation or introduced conflict into a scene.

Here's a link to William Butler Yeats' 1919 poem "The Second Coming (Slouching Towards Bethlehem)", which was reportedly written in response to the horrors of World War I.

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