Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Same Place, Same Time

I've been working on a series of posts (here and here) where I'm trying to figure out what made Faith and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce such an explosive pairing in Season 4 of Angel. It took me about a year to finally see all of their earlier appearances in Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Season 1 of Angel. Although there is a natural progression to their relationship, I always felt I was missing out on some key missing link that helped bridge the gap between their Season 1 and their Season 4 appearances on Angel. This post will focus on the Season 4 episode "Salvage".

Faith's Possible Prison Story. Sometimes the missing link isn't missing at all! It was pretty obvious all along that both Wesley and Faith were seeking redemption, but I guess it didn't fully sink into me how that theme completely colored their overall relationship. Both Wes and Faith had a lot to atone for. Faith was trying to cope with the fact that she murdered the deputy mayor of Sunnydale, tried to help the Mayor take over the world during his Ascension, tortured Wesley, and otherwise ran roughshod over everyone during her days as an undisciplined Slayer. Wesley was trying to redeem himself for being a failed Watcher, for being a failed leader of Angel Investigations, for kidnapping (and losing) baby Connor, and for failing to protect Lilah at the Hyperion Hotel. By the time they met up at the women's prison, both Wes and Faith were very much in the same mental state at the same time and felt that they needed to prove themselves to the world.

In my last post I wrote how Lilah was the surprising main influence on Wesley as he pulled himself out of his deepest misery and became determined to find a way to defeat both Angelus and The Beast. As an aside, although I still maintain she brought out Wesley's best qualities, it was a bit unflattering to Lilah that Wesley owed part of his success to falling so deeply into the darkness while he was with her, the only place left for him to go was up.

We didn't see any sort of buildup for Faith's rehabilitation in prison, but we can make a few semi-educated guesses. She knew that prison would be a tough environment in which to seek redemption. Even women's prisons can be naturally violent places, and it was crucial for Faith to try to avoid that violence while continuing on her road to recovery. Just like in sporting events, in prison it appears that people draw tougher penalties for retaliating than for instigating. Notice how in this scene Faith was quick to point out to one of the prison guards, "Hey, hey, self defense. She attacked me, Eddie" after a fellow inmate tried to kill her. She probably learned pretty quickly that sometimes it's impossible to avoid crossing the line between self-defense and frontal assault when you're trying to protect yourself. Faith may have even ended up in a special lockdown situation for similar incidents in the past.

However, "Eddie" the prison guard countered that, although they had witnessed the whole thing, it still caught the guards by surprise. He correctly finished with "....who'd be crazy enough to try to take you out?"

I'll go into this a little bit later on, but Faith must have developed her leadership skills somewhere, and prison would have been the most likely environment. I didn't see anything in Buffy to show that she could do more than fight on instinct. Faith had a strong personality and would have naturally drawn followers. Although she may have wanted to have avoid violence, it was impossible to avoid prison fights. As brutal an environment as it was for her, prison did offer her a perfect sink-or-swim atmosphere where she would have been able to test her new-found coping skills on a daily basis.

One can't help but think that perhaps Faith was naturally drawn to help out some of the weaker prisoners, and maybe even acted as somewhat of an enforcer. Perhaps the prison administration quickly grew to rely on her to help keep order behind the walls. Eddie and the other guards could have easily hauled Faith away for severely injuring her fellow prisoner even though she was acting in self-defence. I don't think Faith was being coddled in any way, but the fact that she apparently didn't lose any privileges after the prison yard incident probably showed that she had gained the respect of the guards.

"Eddie" clearly knew that Faith wasn't someone to mess around with. Did he or anyone else know or suspect that she was either a Slayer or had some other supernatural abilities? There are hints scattered throughout the Buffyverse that the higher-ups within the criminal justice system were aware of the world of vampires and demons. The fact that Faith could have broken out of prison anytime she felt like it, but chose to remain incarcerated instead, might have impressed quite a few people. She may have even received some decent counseling in prison as well! It was crucial for Faith's rehabilitation that she be treated exactly like all of the other prisoners, so it was probably a good thing that she (as far as we know) wasn't a high-ranking prison trustee. As harsh as it sounds, prison was exactly the right place for her to be in at that time.

Wes and Faith - Looking Good. So, Wesley and Faith were roughly in the same place, redemption-wise, when they met up with each other at the prison. In this scene, Faith noted that she never expected to see Wesley, the man she brutally tortured in Season 1, to come visit her. He informed her that a lot had happened since then. Faith continued on "Whatever it is suits you. I mean, you're looking... [impressed] good."

I can't pretend to hide the fact that there was an enormous amount of sexual tension swirling around both Wes and Faith in these Season 4 episodes of "Salvage" and "Release". I had written in an earlier post that "Although there was nothing remotely overt going on between the two of them, there certainly was an erotic electrical discharge taking place." I had also written in a different post that:
In these two episodes, Wesley was at the height of his bad-ass days. He was positively dripping with sex! Add an equally bad-ass Faith with her always in-your-face sexuality, and you get explosive results. These two never kissed, never almost kissed and never even thought about almost-kissing. They didn't have to. Their scenes were hot enough as they were. Anything else would have been overkill.
This might not be a close analogy, but I somewhat compare Wes' relationship with Faith as being similar to his relationship with Justine, in that there was a heavy element of eroticism (albeit there didn't appear to be anything really going on between Wesley and Justine). I even thought last year that there was a possibility that Faith changed her mind and agreed to become acquiescent to Wesley simply because he looked hot and she was impressed by his new bad-ass demeanor. Alas, I think things might be a bit more complicated than that.

Regardless, although no doubt Wesley could appreciate Faith's beauty and her sexuality, he was totally focused on the mission. When required, Wes could be extremely professional. We all know that Faith wore her sexuality as a badge of honor, but we could tell that she was somewhat keeping herself in check with Wes. "You're looking - good" was pretty mild by Faith's standards. We also know that there was always a lesbian subtext with Faith, and it's possible she was having relations with some of the female inmates. However, I honestly can't think of a better libido-killer than prison. I just don't get the vibe that sex was a big thing for Faith at that time. In other words, I don't think she was in danger of jumping Wes simply because he was the first available man she had met in a while.

I also felt that with Faith, rather than being a true nymphomaniac, may have been using sex as a substitute for the intimacy she might have craved but seemed unable to achieve. Also, kind of like a wandering brigand, there was also an undisciplined element of "live for the moment" surrounding Faith since she was fully aware that she could literally die at any time. Dialing down her blatant "in-your-face" sexuality may have been a by-product of becoming more disciplined, starting to look toward the long-term, and learning to control her impulses.

I'm not saying that Faith would have, under different circumstances, jumped on Wesley in the SUV while they were on their way to Los Angeles. I'm not even sure if Wesley would have done the same with Faith if he would have caught up with her during his darkest moments. However, they both definitely knew there was a time and place for everything. They also knew that a little bit of interplay was healthy and perhaps even necessary. It was even possible to engage in some of this sexual interplay without even remotely being in danger of crossing over the line. For example, while Wesley was telling her what had been happening over the last several months, Faith was changing out of her prison clothes in the back seat. Not once did we see Wes glance back at Faith while she was changing. However, later in that same scene, when Wesley stopped the vehicle so she could test herself against a few vampires, they had this wonderful dialogue exchange):
WESLEY: Thought you could use a little release. Feel natural?

FAITH: (shrugs) Ah, it's like riding a biker.
Wes was thoroughly appreciating behavior from Faith that would have thoroughly shocked him back in Sunnydale. This provided yet one more instance of how Wes was actually loosening up and becoming more like Faith. At the same time, Faith was more disciplined and becoming more like Wesley. As a result, they were remarkably close to each other in the middle when they paired up in Season 4.

Wesley the Watcher. Wes correctly knew what motivated Faith and how she operated. She loved to Slay, and he knew that the adrenalin rush she felt while dusting vampires would have felt an awful lot like sexual release. Trying to deny that would have been fruitless. The Old Wesley in Sunnydale would have tried to boss her around with tired old platitudes. The New Wesley wasn't quite as tied to old traditions. Although Wesley was good-naturedly working with her natural tendencies, he was far from working with her personal best interests at heart. Wes always did whatever it took to get the job done, regardless of the possible negative consequences. To date, Wesley was grimly embarking on his Finest Hour as a Watcher.

Although the theme of this post is that Wesley and Faith were in the same mental time and place when they met up at prison (with both of them seeking redemption and being eager to prove themselves to the world), that's only true to a certain extent. Wesley was charged and ready to go into action. Although her surroundings weren't pleasant, Faith was actually operating within a safe and sheltered environment. She wanted to show others that she had changed, but she wasn't yet ready to go out and face the world. Of course with Faith, facing her world was a lot different than what most people could have imagined. She was not only called upon to face the world, but to also save the world. Wesley ripped her from one environment where she was learning that there were peaceful alternatives to violence, to an environment where violence was the only way.

During their prison conversation in the early part of "Salvage", Faith acted extremely reluctant to leave what had now become her home. "It's Armageddon again. I dig. The last thing you need's me in the mix. Besides, Angel'll come shining through in the end like he always does."

There was only one thing that could change Faith's mind, and Wesley was fully aware of it. "Angel's gone, Faith. Angelus is back" Wesley informed her.

At that point, actress Eliza Dushku gave us one of the most dramatic moments of the entire series, where she lowered the phone and looked off to the side with that stricken look on her face. You could tell her mind was going a million miles per minute at that point. Finally, she simply said "Step away from the glass." I'm curious to find out how many takes it took to get that fantastic look on her face. Anyways, to continue on with one of the most dramatic scenes in the series, she crashed through the glass, beat up at least three guards without too many problems, grabbed Wesley, crashed through the glass windows and fell about two or three stories before landing on some cars below. "You OK?" Faith asked. Smiling, Wes answered with her patented "Five by five".

I wish the Season 4 DVD had additional commentary for "Salvage" since I really would have liked to have heard about the filming of this episode. I unfortunately have to wait until "Orpheus" to hear some commentary. I wrote "unfortunately" because it's my least-favorite episode of the Season 4 Faith trilogy. Regardless, I loved how Wesley just stood there and watched while she not only took out the guards, but also while she took out the vampires and even Connor in later scenes. It must be very difficult to act like you're doing nothing without looking really unnatural. Alexis Denisof is probably one of the best actors around at doing nothing and watching!

Who's In Charge? Similar to how I loved the almost continuous power play fluctuations going on between Wesley and Lilah, I also enjoyed watching something similar going on between Wesley and Faith. As the wonderful Wes/Faith fanfics love to point out, Faith could beat up Wesley at any time. However, whereas Faith refused to answer to Wesley in Sunnydale and Season 1 of Angel, she was perfectly willing to put herself under his control in Season 4 of Angel. Wesley had obviously toughened himself considerably in the meantime, as Faith couldn't help but notice. However, the act of leadership is a two-way street. You have to command respect, but the follower also has to put personal considerations aside and fall in line behind the leader. The most skillful general in the world will look like a buffoon if he's commanding a bunch of low-lifes.

By deciding to follow Wesley's lead, Faith was not only responding to his new-found self-assurance, she was also performing her own act of atonement for rebelling against him in earlier seasons. Wes probably took advantage of the situation, but he still had an obligation to act responsibly and not betray her trust.

As a matter of fact, the leadership angle was one of the more puzzling aspects of their Season 4 appearances. I have not seen all of her Buffy the Vampire Slayer appearances, but there's nothing I've seen or read that indicated that Faith was capable of taking charge in the Hyperion Hotel and planning an attack. Up to that point, we saw Faith as being pretty impetuous as she attacked first and thought about the consequences later. The obvious implication, as I stated above, was that she developed some leadership skills in prison. However, Buffy must have been an undeniable influence as well, leading us to think that during quiet times of self-reflection, Faith must have been thinking, "How can I be more like Buffy?"

Although I believe Wesley must have told everyone about Faith ahead of time (if he did so, it took place off-camera right after this scene), it was still interesting to see everyone's reaction to her the first time she walked into the hotel. The men were actually much more receptive to Faith than the ladies. Gunn appreciated her finer qualities right away (the feeling was mutual, as Faith thought it was too bad that Gunn was forced to "hold his own"), and I can't help but think that the fact that Gunn was a free agent now that he and Fred were no longer a couple helped him appreciate Faith even more. Connor out-and-out lusted after Faith! And the more she asserted her authority with him, the more he was taken with her.

Poor Fred! Not too much earlier, she saw Wesley walk through the front door of the Hotel with the luscious-but-evil Lilah, and in a deja vu moment she saw Wesley walk through the front door with the equally luscious Faith the Slayer! Although we know nothing ever happened between Wesley and Faith, the thought undoubtedly crossed Fred's mind that they might have had something going on, particularly after Faith informed Fred that Wesley had already given her "the skinny" on Fred. Cordelia as Cordelia predictably acted quite hostile to rogue-turned-murderer Slayer Faith being sprung from prison, while Cordelia as Jasmine was equally as concerned about a woman who was threatening to overturn all of her carefully laid evil plans.

Getting back to the leadership aspect, Wesley quickly receded into background as Faith took over in the Hyperion. Again, we have all of those lovely layers of control: Faith could take on Wes at any time; Wes took control over Faith; Faith allowed Wes to take control over her; and Wes allowed Faith to take control at the Hyperion and while on the hunt for The Beast and Angelus. There was also yet one more aspect that I really enjoyed while it simultaneously confused me, in that Faith and Wesley effortlessly switched their active leadership roles back and forth without a hitch, as though they had been working together as a team for many years. As far as we know, Wesley had never had the opportunity to act like a real Watcher out in the field, and obviously Faith had never been in a similar situation with Wes. I can only put this down to how the two of them had become so similar, they always instinctively knew what the other person was thinking and doing.

As much as I loved this scene in the alleyway where Faith kicked Connor's butt (and Connor didn't seem to mind), I was saddened that Gunn was prematurely taken out of the picture in this episode when he volunteered to take Connor back to the hotel. As great as it was to see Faith and Wesley on the prowl together, it would have been even more fantastic to see Faith, Wesley and Gunn work as a team. Wesley was positively beaming with pride as Faith made short order out of Connor, while an appreciative Gunn seemed to be indicating to Wesley that he made a great decision to bring Faith into town. I had always given Wesley credit for allowing and challenging women to work to the best of their abilities (with a minimal amount of condescension), but in these episodes I could see a difference in Charles' demeanor. While Gunn was protective of Fred (probably with good reason), he was wonderfully impressed with Faith's ability to kick ass in a male-dominated world. Gunn knew Faith could take him on at any time. However, Gunn seemed a lot happier without having another alpha male around like Angel. Quite frankly, Gunn might have been better off being in a trio with Faith and Wesley rather than with Angel and Wesley.

With the group finally whittled down to Wesley and Faith, they seemed to continue to work quite well with one another, with Faith leading the way while Wesley was quietly in control in the background. However, unfortunately for me, they quickly split up, with Wesley having his hands full with Angelus' vampire cohorts while Faith took on Angelus and The Beast. At this point we were reminded that Faith's Season 4 appearances with Wesley were simply leading up to her final showdowns with Angelus.

Closing Thoughts - I guess I'm too lazy to work this into my main post, but I thought this was a particularly powerful exchange between Wes and Faith, when Faith informed Wesley:
FAITH: I'm not gonna kill him, Wesley. Angelus. I don't care what you thought you sprung me for. Angel's the only one in my life who's never given up on me. There's no way I'm giving up on—

WESLEY: I know. That's why it had to be you....
This was just one example of how these two people were perfectly suited to work together to take on such a difficult mission.

We know that Faith had already worked with another Watcher before she hit Sunnydale. Did she draw on any of those past experiences while working as Watcher/Slayer with Wesley?

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