Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wes and Faith Overview

I did a post fairly recently called "Wesley and His Women" where I gave somewhat short shrift to Wesley Wyndam-Pryce's relationship with Faith in Angel. My excuse was that I hadn't yet written what I thought were any definitive pieces about Wes and Faith, and I didn't want to leave my best stuff buried in a post that covered a lot of other territory. As usual, my main problem is that I've already written quite extensively about the two of them. It's just that everything I've written is scattered in bits and pieces throughout my site.

One thing that's held me back from writing more about Wes and Faith is that it took me a long time to see all of their episodes in both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. I saw their appearances exactly backwards. I first saw them in Season 4 of Angel about a year ago last spring, then I saw them in Season 1 of Angel about a month later. I finally saw them in Season 3 of Buffy just a few months ago. All along I had this nagging feeling that I was really missing something crucial about their relationship in Season 4 of Angel. It seemed as though a lot of that sizzling erotic energy appeared out of nowhere, and I wanted to find out why they got along so famously. Did something lead up to this dynamic tension? Was it all organic between the two actors and it popped up out of nowhere? Or did the creators manufacture a little bit of their excitement just to give the Season 4 episodes more dramatic punch?

I was really hoping something from their earlier appearances would pop out at me. I'm not blind, and I can understand how their tortured pasts could lead into something quite spectacular later on. Unfortunately, I still feel like I haven't found what I consider to be the missing link. So, it's up to me to plod through the evidence and see what I can come up with.

Wes and Faith in Sunnydale (Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). These two did not get along very well in Sunnydale, to say the least. Wes was a young, inexperienced Watcher who was totally unprepared for the challenges of dealing with independent teenage American girls who refused to jump when he issued orders. We all know how Wesley, who was feeling left out of what Buffy, Giles and the rest of the Scoobies were up to, made the unilateral decision in "Consequences" to have Watcher Council operatives kidnap the increasingly unstable Faith (after she somewhat unwittingly killed the deputy mayor) and take her to England to meet the fate of whatever happened to rogue Slayers. The tragedy was that Angel seemed to be making some progress in turning Faith around. Naturally, Faith took care of Wes and the operatives without too many problems and escaped.

(As a side note, Watchers' Council operatives seemed to come out of the woodwork at the drop of a hat. Did they live in California, or were they just continuously shuttled back and forth between the U.S. and England?)

I'm leaving out a huge amount of the plot, but Faith started secretly working for the mayor while pretending to have made amends with Buffy, Wesley, Giles and the rest of the Scoobies. Eventually, Faith was outed, which freed her to devote herself 100% to the mayor's pet causes.

When I first viewed Wes and Faith together in Sunnydale, nothing really leaped out at me regarding their relationship outside of a slight rise in temperature that we can detect whenever Alexis Denisof and Eliza Dushku are within 30 feet of each other. Both actors just seem to naturally exude a lot of erotic energy. However, upon reviewing some of these episodes a few days ago, I confirmed that the two of them actually weren't together that much in Buffy. It's really not worth it to pound out a post that details the one or two times Wesley may have cast an appreciative glance towards Faith, or the few times that Faith spoke to Wesley and failed to insult him.

Granted, I was rather fond of Wesley putting Faith in handcuffs, and Faith knocking him out just before she escaped from the Black Maria. If these events had led to a more or less immediately positive outcome, I might view this little part of "Consequences" just for these scenes alone. However, I'm almost embarrassed to admit that one of the little incidents that struck me the most the first time around occurred in "Choices" when Faith possibly saved Wesley's life by throwing her knife at the nasty magic spider that was climbing up the wall right behind him. Of course when you really look at it, it's possible Faith didn't care if Wesley got out of the way or not when she threw the knife. Also, Faith probably would have thrown the knife regardless of who was standing there. It's just one of those crazy things that made an impression on me even though my mind might have been manufacturing something going on between them that wasn't really there.

One more intriguing little scene occurred in "Doppelgangland" when Faith and Wesley came back to the library after his formal Council evaluation of her abilities on the obstacle course. Faith was less than impressed with Wesley's ability to keep up with her. As far as I know, this was about the only off-camera time Wesley and Faith ever spent with each other in Buffy. I'd made a comment in a previous post about, how did Wesley know that Faith was a highly-sexed creature who got turned on by her slaying activities? If she had made any sort of risque statement in front of Wesley in Buffy, I would have been all over it. So, if Wes and Faith were able to get to know each other at all, it would have been on that obstacle course. And even that time together was tainted since Faith was a double-agent who was working for the mayor. As another aside, I don't think Wes even had a chance to really observe Faith in action except for the brief instances he saw her working on behalf of the mayor.

If you look at the dialogue, and if you look at what I've written, all of the elements should have been there for a hate/hate relationship that would eventually turn into a torrid romance. It was dislike at first sight for Faith, Faith was always making snide remarks, Wesley couldn't control her, Wesley handcuffed her, Faith beat him up; in other words, typical boy meets girl story. Unfortunately, as way-too-obvious as this all may seem, I personally didn't feel any sort of vibe going on between the two of them the first time I saw these episodes. I only saw the possibilities after I specifically looked for a vibe when I reviewed their performances a second time.

Wes and Faith in Los Angeles: Season 1 of Angel. Again, I'm not going into great detail about all of the scenes in "Five by Five" and "Sanctuary" where Faith said Wesley was an idiot and Wesley called Faith a rabid animal. Although Faith was fun to watch in certain scenes, like the ones with the Wolfram & Hart lawyers and the guy who picked on the wrong little girl, for the most part I had no sympathy for her (particularly in "Five by Five") when she was interacting with the members of Angel Investigations. I couldn't see that she had any redeeming qualities, which of course made it all the more powerful when Angel convinced her to turn her life around at the end of "Five by Five" and throughout "Sanctuary". In fact, the big story for me was the completely non-sexual but emotionally gratifying love that Faith and Angel felt for each other as he helped her take her first baby steps towards redemption.

Faith didn't bother to hide her dislike for Wesley. For his part, even though I don't think Wesley liked Faith at all, I sincerely believe that Wesley always had her best interests at heart, even if no one else believed in his methods. We always knew that the Watchers' Council was a nefarious, sinister organization, but I'm pretty sure Wesley (perhaps naively) felt during his Sunnydale days that taking her to London for rehab was all for the best. Wes tried to reason with Faith in Los Angeles, but he couldn't possibly make any headway with her since he represented everything that she hated. We then found out that even Wesley had his breaking point, as this torture scene so vividly shows.

As a matter of fact, simply based on my random findings on old message forums, the Season 1 of Angel torture scene seems to be their most widely discussed scene in the entire Wes and Faith Buffyverse story arc. This distresses me because I much prefer to talk about their dynamic pairing in Season 4. I also get the distinct impression that many people seemed to find the torture scene highly erotically charged. Again, all of the elements were there: cutting with shards of glass, bondage, lap-dancing, pseudo blow torches, etc. However, even I have my limits, and this goes way beyond Faith tying Wesley up in chains and maybe slapping him around a little bit. I also can't ignore the fact that my favorite character was a victim of such awful humiliating abuse.

I've also been struck by how it seemed like a large number of people admired how Wesley held up under those horrible circumstances. He was defiant, and refused to give her the satisfaction of hearing him scream. I will grant that it's a perfect example of one of Wesley's best qualities, in how he was able to endure some of the worst circumstances of captivity with quiet heroism and dignity. Nonetheless, that's one incident that I wish I could completely ignore and forget. Needless to say, I did not review that scene before I wrote this post.

We all know that after Angel arrived on the scene and Wes worked himself free, he was all set to stab Faith in the alleyway. However, he was profoundly moved by the sight of Angel soothing an emotionally distraught Faith who was begging Angel to kill her. Although Wesley had been pushed to the breaking point and would have likely killed Faith, he immediately knew Angel was doing the right thing for taking pity on such a poor, miserable creature.

In the next episode, "Sanctuary", Wesley was understandably upset that a murderous rabid animal was being "coddled". It's tough being a faceless pawn being sacrificed for the greater good. However, as much as Wesley was not loving Angel's methods for dealing with Faith, he was quietly being influenced by Angel's healing powers of redemption. One of Angel's best qualities in Season 1, and I wish this was carried over more into other seasons, was that he never gave up on people, regardless of how unsympathetic and unlovable they were.

As disgusted as Wesley felt by this turn of events, he never lost sight of his core values and sense of decency. Perhaps he had a sense that he was serving penance for his failures as a Watcher, which helped carry him through these times. Although it appeared that he was going to betray Faith to the Watchers' Council operatives, (to presumably face certain death), he was in reality setting the Council up for a double-cross.

These little segments (where Wesley came back to Angel's apartment to warn everyone about the operatives) got me going just a little bit since, for about three seconds, it appeared that Wesley had the upper hand with Faith and was actually ordering her around. (This is an example of "I love it when Wesley takes charge".) However, it was just an illusion since Faith took off for the roof, thereby setting up the terrific scene with her and Buffy fighting off the Council operatives while being menaced by the helicopter. Wesley made it clear to Angel that he was not doing all of this for Faith's sake, but solely for Angel's sake.

"Sanctuary" was a pivotal episode in that it set the groundwork for so many upcoming themes. Angel taught Wesley about the powers of redemption. Wesley himself became a much stronger person, by first standing up to Angel, and then standing up to the Council via their proxy operatives. This might be a minor incident in itself, but I loved this little inkling of Wesley's genuine admiration for Faith when he seemed downright proud and pleased that she had "cleaned" the "clocks" of the Council goon squad.

Most importantly for Wes, he seemed to make a clean emotional break from the Watchers' Council. Although he had been fired from the Council, it seemed pretty clear that Wesley would have loved to have been reinstated. After "Sanctuary", Wesley was 100% loyal to Angel. Most importantly for Faith, she learned that even though she had the power to pretty much do whatever she wanted, she realized that it was time to submit herself to higher earthly powers (the rule of law) and to serve her own penance for past misdeeds.

Although I saw a lot more promise in their interactions in Season 1 of Angel than in Season 3 of Buffy, I still don't think it was necessarily preordained that they had unfinished business that would compel them to meet again three seasons later. Rather than carefully laying the groundwork in Season 1 for their upcoming performances, I think it was more likely that Mutant Enemy took advantage of themes that had already been established in Season 1 and developed them further in Season 4.

Final Thoughts. After putting their Season 3 of Buffy and Season 1 of Angel appearances in perspective, I'm looking forward to reviewing their dynamic pairing in my next post(s) regarding their appearances in Season 4 of Angel.

The end of "Sanctuary" (where Faith surrendered herself to the police) set up the groundwork for Faith being able to relinquish control and somewhat subjugate herself to Wesley in Season 4. It also set the stage for some more delicious power fluctuations (in that, who's ultimately in control, Wesley or Faith?), not totally unlike what occurred inside the relationship between Wes and Lilah.

One can't ignore the whole theme of "redemption" that occurred throughout Season 4's "Salvage" and "Release", which I'll explore further in my next post(s).

Speaking of Wes and Lilah, the whole double-cross theme between Wes and the Council operatives seemed to be somewhat of a foreshadowing of the double crosses between Wes and Lilah in "Slouching Toward Bethlehem". Wesley was fully intent on double crossing the Council, but he was absolutely shocked to find out they were doing the same thing to him!

Even though Wesley accused Angel of crassly taking the moral high ground in his dealings with Faith, I think that Angel was quite impressed that Wesley was man enough to stand up to him.

I believe Wesley was genuinely sincere at the end of "Sanctuary" when he said to Angel, "I hope she's strong enough to make it. Peace is not an easy thing to find."

Although I think there were many legitimate turning points for Season 1 of Angel, the series seemed to really take off with "Five by Five" and "Sanctuary". These two episodes cranked things up to the next level and set the stage for "War Zone" to introduce Gunn. This finally allowed the creators of Angel to settle on a format that would carry the show throughout the next four seasons.

I'm particularly interested in hearing from people who saw Wes and Faith's appearances together in the proper order: Season 3 of Buffy first, then Season 1 of Angel, then Season 4 of Angel. Did you think their story ended with Faith going to prison in Season 1 of Angel? Did anyone think they were smoking hot together in their first appearances, or that they had the potential to really heat up the screen together later on?

1 comment:

Keller said...

I didn't think there was anything special about Faith and Wesley until Season 4. I didn't like the torture scene either.