Saturday, July 31, 2010

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

When I recently compared Fred in my post "Orpheus Ascending" to a 2nd grader who liked to hold hands with her little girlfriends, I honestly didn't have this piece of dialogue in mind from the next episode "Players" where Wesley gently chided Fred, "It's not always about holding hands." As I watched more of "Players" it began to dawn on me that there was a lot of hand-holding going on (figuratively speaking) in this part of Season 4 of Angel.

First I'll back up and say this is another one of those Season 4 episodes that initially disgusted me simply because I couldn't get over the whole cruddy Cordelia/Connor story line. The last two times I saw it, including when I viewed it a few nights ago, I realized that if I just judged "Players" on its own merits, the episode was really quite outstanding.

Wesley, Lilah and Fred. Jeffrey Bell and the team of Sarah Fain and Elizabeth Craft did a fine job of writing the script for "Players". Although it's always dangerous to attribute certain parts of a script to a specific writer if you don't have any inside information on the writing assignments, I have noticed recently that Jeffrey Bell's name always seemed to be nearby whenever something particularly lovely was going on with the Wesley/Lilah relationship. Although Lilah Morgan was long dead and (presumably) buried by that time, her presence was still very much felt within the Hyperion Hotel.

One of the first things the newly-ensouled Angel did was inform Wesley that Angelus did not kill Lilah. He even came right out and told Wesley "I'm sorry for your loss." Although Angel brusquely went on with the business at hand, it was still a thoughtful gesture on his part. He acknowledged that Lilah had been a significant part of Wesley's life, and signaled to Wesley that he no longer had to suffer her loss in silence. Almost more significantly, Wesley's relationship with Lilah was brought out into the open in front of the group. No one spoke up and said "I'm glad the bitch is dead". We could see that Wesley was almost completely re-integrated into Angel Investigations courtesy of the fact that everyone was respectful of his feelings.

Lilah made another "appearance" later on in "Players" in this marvelous scene where Wesley pointedly schooled Fred about the facts of life. I think it would be a little too simplistic to say that Fred was in an active retreat from sexuality. For example, I can't claim she was scarred in any way by her brush with lesbianism when Willow came calling in "Orpheus". However, I could make a good superficial case for stating that Fred was desperately trying to stay attached to a more innocent way of life, where girlfriends laughed and giggled with each other, and lovebirds held hands and picked daisies in the fields rather than murdered their former professors. Contrast her unsophisticated and naive outlook with Wesley's more world-weary attitude:
FRED: It's the pictures in my mind that are getting me. I can't stop thinking about Connor and Cordy...hiding up in that room...imagining what they do up there. It's like being stuck in a really bad movie with those Clockwork Orange clampy things on my eyeballs.

WESLEY: Why imagine? Reality's disturbing enough.

FRED: Connor's Angel's son. How did he and Cordy get all... couply?

WESLEY:They were probably as surprised as anyone. But they were both lost, lonely...

FRED: No matter how lonely I was, I would never—

WESLEY:(pointedly) Things happen, Fred. When you're alienated from the people who care about you, you start to look other places.

FRED: Hm. Lilah.

WESLEY: We were fighting on opposite sides, but it was the same war.

FRED: But you hated her...didn't you?

WESLEY: It's not always about holding hands...
A level of tension remained between Fred and Wesley in this scene and in subsequent scenes. However, the pressure seemed to be off as they both understood where they stood with each other. Fred had been disillusioned by the disclosure that the man she had been falling for had been sleeping with the enemy, and Wesley wisely opted to give her the space that she need to sort things out. Fred wasn't even trying to understand what Wesley was going through. I wouldn't say the situation improved between Fred and Wesley in the scene mentioned above, but they did have the chance to get a few things out in the open that had been festering just beneath the surface for quite some time. From that point on they achieved a new equilibrium as they somewhat successfully built a new framework to operate within.

Gwen Raiden. Contrast Fred's apparent retreat from sexuality with Electric Freak Gwen's full-speed-ahead approach. On the surface, her theft of the L.I.S.A. device looked an awful lot like part of a master plan to seduce Charles Gunn, starting with her need for a "suave guy in a tight spot", but that would be way too simplistic. Once Gunn implanted the device on her back (which allowed her to touch people without electrocuting them) Gwen did head straight for the base paths with him, but one has to remember she was a young woman in her early 20's who was eager to experience everything she had been missing throughout her life.

Despite her cool, tough-as-nails persona, Gwen allowed some of her vulnerabilities to seep through once in a while in "Players". We couldn't help but be mindful of what a horrible childhood she must have had while growing up in a world without touch. It brings to mind experiments that we read about in Psych 101 about baby animals who are given adequate food and shelter by researchers, but wither away in isolation since they are separated from their mothers. We also can't help but think of even more dreadful scenes of babies wasting away in their cribs in overcrowded orphanages, even though they are fed at regular intervals.

We could tell from early Season 4's "Ground State" that the adults in her life played lip-service to meeting some of her childhood needs, we were also mindful that she still lived her life in comparative isolation even though she was often in close proximity to others.

Although Gwen was probably playing coy when she explained, "
That thing might let me be—(sighs) well, not normal—but...hold hands, maybe", one can't help but think that a simple game of holding hands would have been quite satisfying for her nonetheless. Even the interplay between Gwen and the inept industrial spy in her opening scene in "Players" showed her bemused indulgence for a man who undoubtedly would have been a horrible match for her as a romantic partner. We had to wait until the comic continuation volume After the Fall: First Night before that aspect was explored a little bit more deeply. (I wrote a little bit about her First Night encounter and discussed her character more in depth here.)

Idle Thoughts. Alexis Denisof looked even hotter than usual as Wesley Wyndam-Pryce in "Players", which kills my theory that he looked his best in episodes written by Mere Smith. His acting was equally outstanding, particularly in the scenes mentioned above that touched on the subject of Lilah. He was also a master at conveying erotic tension, and his "It's not always about holding hands" lines was one his best. Extra DVD commentary would have been much appreciated for this episode.

Amy Acker also did an outstanding job portraying Fred as a woman who was doing her best to stay within her sheltered little world. If she was ever going to become more sophisticated about how the world operated, she'd have to be dragged there kicking and screaming.

Fred and Wesley always had a difficult time keeping themselves on an equal footing in their relationship. The natural state seemed to be Wesley as the older and wiser mentor with Fred being the apt but naive pupil. No matter how hard they tried to break out of that pattern, they always reverted back to their teacher/student state.

It's always hard to tell the differences in days between episodes, but we know "Players" started right where "Orpheus" ended. Fred was wearing a skirt in those episodes, which seemed kind of odd to me particularly since Angelus was still on the loose through most of "Orpheus". In earlier seasons Cordelia also had the knack for inappropriately wearing (short) skirts when we all knew the possibility of an outbreak of demon violence was always imminent. I know, I know. All about the ratings.

In my next post I'll write about how "Players" gave us a fascinating exploration of Gunn's role within Angel Investigation.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Beacons of Light

(Alyson Hannigan and Alexis Denisof as Wesley and Willow
in Season 4 of Angel's "Orpheus")

In my last post, "Orpheus Ascending", I touched on the idea that Wesley seemed to be reaching for Willow in Season 4 of Angel's "Orpheus" to help lead him out of the darkness. I just want to develop that concept (or push the obvious) a little bit further here.

I had written:
Besides the humor of Wesley's darkness not quite matching up to Willow's, I was struck by how this was the first time Wesley opened up to anyone about what he was going through in his life. I thought this aspect was quite significant, and I was delighted that his dialogue addressed some of the dichotomy that always fascinates me about his character. He seemed to acknowledge (in what I had often suspected) that dark, bad-ass Wesley was not the real Wesley, and that he wanted to change. In other words, he considered Dark Wesley to be the product of a phase he was going through, and he didn't seem to know how to snap out his funk and get on with his life.
(Wesley's dialogue with Willow is here.)

Wesley had sunk to his lowest depths when Lilah Morgan came into his life in late Season 3. As he so eloquently explained to Fred in Season 4's "Players", "
Things happen, Fred. When you're alienated from the people who care about you, you start to look other places." Although, from our perspective, Wesley became a much more interesting character after he turned all Dark and Bad-Ass, it simply wasn't a place he wanted to stay in for very long.

Wesley definitely started turning towards Fred after Lilah tricked him into luring the Angel Investigations team away from the Hyperion so her team could "extract" part of Lorne's brain. However, now I'm thinking that Wesley's wandering interest was more than him smarting from Lilah's betrayal. He was tired of being dark and broody and instead wanted to revert back to his more carefree and innocent ways. He could never be the "real" Wesley as long as he was with Lilah. Whereas Lilah represented the darkness, Fred represented the light. I had touched on this aspect before in a recent post, "Lost Opportunities" when I wrote:
Commenter Lisa (who I might add is an excellent writer) brought up an excellent point in this recent comment when she said that Fred ".... represented all the innocence that he had lost." I really believe that underneath that calloused, tough-guy exterior there still existed a sweeter and more idealistic Wesley. He couldn't turn back the clock and regain all of that lost innocence, but he seemed to hope that he could find a way to reconnect with his old self again some day.
There didn't seem to be any officially sanctioned erotic attraction between Wesley and Faith. (There was enough going on to excite me and scores of fanfic writers, but I digress.) However, Faith definitely represented the Dark Side as far as Wesley was concerned. Although his failure as her Watcher in Sunnydale didn't push him over the edge, his failure certainly weighed heavily on him as one of the factors that finally led to his breaking point. Even at her best, Faith was all about Death and the struggle with powerful dark and demonic forces. No matter how successfully Wes and Faith redeemed themselves for their past failures, the darkness would always be hanging over and between the two of them.

So, while Faith was lying in bed and hovering at the edge of death, Wesley once again went towards the light, this time towards the lovely Willow Rosenberg who just happened to arrive at the hotel at just the right time. Although Wes and Willow were not strangers, it was still remarkable how quickly he opened up to her and unburdened himself. Wesley wasn't too much unlike the sad drunk who spills his guts to you at the bar. Ultimately, his gravitation towards sweetness and light as a means to pull himself out of the darkness probably doomed any sort of romantic relationship with Faith from ever occurring.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Orpheus Ascending

Season 4 of Angel's "Orpheus" had always been a bit of a disappointment for me, mostly because it marked an abrupt ending to the wonderfully nuanced Wesley/Faith relationship. A few other problems I initially had were: how I failed to be drawn into the internal Angel/Angelus struggle; I had mixed feelings about that strange "Willow" character (note: I had not seen any episodes of Buffy the first few times I saw "Orpheus"); and I was becoming increasingly aware of how that awful Cordelia/Jasmine problem wasn't going away any time soon.

Despite my negative feelings, "Orpheus" still had somewhat of a light-hearted air to it despite its heavy subject matter. Many of the actors obviously had a wonderful time filming the episode, similar to what occurred in Season 3's "Waiting in the Wings" and early Season 4's "Spin the Bottle".

When I saw "Orpheus" again earlier this week I told myself that I would put aside some of my disappointments and try to evaluate the episode on its own merits. "Orpheus" does have a number of wonderful qualities. Unfortunately, the show was still somewhat of a swing-and-a- miss proposition for me since it appeared that the creators were trying to accomplish a bit too much at one time.

Mere Smith. I have somewhat of a running gag about Mere Smith, since the character of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (played by Alexis Denisof) always looked particularly hot in the episodes that she wrote, starting with Season 3's "Birthday". "Orpheus" is no exception, as you can tell from the picture above. Showrunner Jeffrey Bell and director Terrence O'Hara also remarked a few times in their voiceover commentary that Wesley always looked cooler after he'd been beat up.

I don't think my claim that "Wesley looks better" in Smith's episodes really stands up to much scrutiny. However, there is some circumstantial evidence (you can explore my "Mere Smith" tag if you're interested) that she was instrumental in creating his uber-handsome Dark Wesley persona, so I naturally pay closer attention to how he looked in her episodes.

Mere Smith is a wonderful yet maddening writer. Whenever I think of a Mere Smith episode, I think of a show that offered promise yet failed to deliver a satisfying conclusion (like Season 3's "Birthday", with it's false messages about Cordelia), or offered out-and-out disappointment and heartbreak (like Season 3's magnificent "Loyalty"). Season 2's "Untouched", and Season 4's "Ground State" and "Long Day's Journey" also fit in the first category that I've listed above as episodes that really didn't go anywhere. However, as far as I'm concerned, her Season 2's "Redefinition" was a grand slam out of the ball park, with Season 2's "Over the Rainbow" and Season 3's "Fredless" being sentimental favorites of mine. As far as any "problems" I might have with Mere Smith scripts, I hesitate to dish out much blame to her since she was only one of many people who had creative input into these episodes.

Jeffrey Bell and Terrence O'Hara. Showrunner Jeffrey Bell and director Terrence O'Hara provided probably the driest Angel DVD commentary to date. Both of them were low-key, and they had similar voices. If I put in just a little bit of effort I could have figured out which voice belonged to which person in the commentary, but I wasn't sufficiently motivated to do so. Jeffrey Bell had provided wonderful commentary in the past, particularly with Tim Minear. However, both Bell and O'Hara came across as being straight men in search of comic relief. Perhaps if one of them had been paired up with Mere Smith the commentary might have been a bit more entertaining. Nonetheless, Bell and O'Hara were still quite informative, and I was happy to hear some of their insights as to what was happening on the screen.

Wesley and Faith
(and Lorne). Trust Mutant Enemy to not allow Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and Faith to take out Angelus with a near-fatal one-two punch. Wesley was never allowed to do anything heroic, so talking his Slayer into injecting herself with the Orpheus drug and allowing Angelus to feed off of her in order to knock him into unconsciousness was about par for the course.

I never really care for conflict being introduced just for the sake of conflict (see this post for a description of a particularly wince-worthy moment). However, I thought it was entirely appropriate for Lorne to go after Wesley for subjecting Faith to what would turn out to be a dangerous and terrifying experience. Lorne's speech not only let the audience in on the dangers involved, it solidified the fact that Wesley was keeping his eye on the mission despite the fact that he still cared deeply for what was happening to Faith. Connor's startling admission that he thought that Wesley "did the right thing" was cold comfort to Wes when he was deeply worried about her fate.

Wesley continued his watchful worrying ways with Faith for the remainder of "Orpheus". I did not sense any hint of a romantic attachment towards her, but I did sense that he was aware that he had done his small part to prod her along toward her eventual rehabilitation and to reach her full potential as a Slayer. (Wes would have to leave it up to Angel to finish the process.) Having Faith survive this ordeal would help give Wesley a chance to finish his redemption for his failures as a Watcher back in Sunnydale, and would give him the sense of closure that he secretly craved on that chapter of his life.

Wes and Faith's final pairing was heavy with Pregnant Pauses and Unspoken Words, with a little bit of erotic tension thrown in to please the Faithsley fans. Unfortunately, their time together was way too brief, since several other loose ends were being tied up in the same scene. They parted ways as professionals, which may have been the best outcome everyone could have hoped for. Incidentally, there was an interesting tableau at the end of their scene, with Wes and Faith facing each other in the foreground, and Angel standing between them in the background. Forever the Eternal Triangle? Or, this time, Angel's in the middle?

Was Willow Necessary? Bell and/or O'Hara noted that it was Tim Minear's idea to bring Willow (actress Alyson Hannigan) onto the set, since her character had already successfully ensouled Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Season 2 season finale "Becoming". Minear's solution was elegant in its simplicity, not to mention pretty obvious. I've often wondered if fans kept screaming "bring in Willow!" during the original Season 4 air dates. As an added bonus, the audience was treated to the pairing of the newly-engaged lovebirds Alyson Hannigan and Alexis Denisof.

I won't go into a blow-by-blow of the events, but throughout the episode we saw Angel and Angelus reacting and responding to each other based on the outside witchcraft and magical actions performed by Willow. (Here's an example.) I recognize that some sort of outside intervention was needed, but I thought "Orpheus" might have been a bit stronger if we felt it was more about a battle between Good (Angel) and Evil (Angelus). As such, it was a bit disappointing that Angel ultimately won the battle thanks to Connor ruining Cordelia's concentration, thereby allowing Willow's magic to destroy the orb that held Angel's soul. The creators did allow us to enjoy one moment of Free Will when Angel talked Faith into rousing herself out of her depths to ultimately defeat not Angelus, but Connor at least.

Willow and Fred. I thought Amy Acker put in one of her best performances in this episode as she portrayed the giddy young woman who felt she had finally found a true new friend in Willow. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Fred was prancing around with the bell while she was assisting Willow with her spell. There was a wistfully sweet subtext of Fred perhaps reverting back to a more innocent lifestyle, where second-grade girls held hands with their girlfriends while they walked together on the school playground. You may remember how Cordelia cruelly took advantage of this wishful thinking in Season 4's "Spin the Bottle" when 17-year old Cordy told Fred, "Oh, gosh, let's be best friends so I can lose all my cool ones."

Contrast that to a much younger Willow (I'm guessing Fred's character was about 29 years old at the time of this episode, while Willow was just a few years out of high school) who was gaining maturity by exploring her sexuality and her lesbian identity. Regardless, the interplay between Willow and Fred was one of the top highlights of the episode for me.

Willow probably fell in love with Fred over the phone! Fred immediately responded to Willow's friendly overtures when she recognized a kindred nerdy spirit. I had mentioned in one of my recent "Supersymmetry" posts that "I can't help but think that what she [Fred] really needed was a close girlfriend she could spout off to while devouring a half-gallon of chocolate chip cherry cordial ice cream", and Willow seemed to fit the bill.

Apparently Cordelia was the only one in Angel Investigations who knew that Willow was gay, and Cordy wasn't in a situation to say anything since she was still sequestered in her room. Fred was blithely not picking up on any of the signals, though presumably she figured things out when Willow announced in one of the final scenes, "I'm seeing someone." I really don't trust my judgment on these things because it seems like whenever I'm absolutely positive a character has figured something out, one of the Mutant Enemy creators will point out in a commentary that the character is totally clueless about what's happening. I choose to believe that Fred finally reasoned it out, and I'll leave it at that.

Willow and Wesley. Jeffrey Bell and/or Terrence O'Hara did come right out and say that Wesley was equally clueless about Willow being a lesbian, particularly at the end of this scene:
WESLEY: You seem exactly the same as when I left. No other major changes I'm not up on?

WILLOW: (shrugs) Just little things. So, uh, Fred. What's her story?
I thought Wesley might have suspected Willow was gay, so I was grateful for the insight offered by the commentators. Regardless, it was well within Wesley's character to be clueless about the affairs of the heart, and, more importantly, he was always absolutely adorable when he was clueless. It always opens up certain fantasy worlds in my mind where Wesley has to be told or shown in explicit detail what's really happening. (Think of Fred giving up and finally showing her feelings for Wesley with a kiss in Season 5's "Smile Time".)

When I see Wesley and Willow together, I think more in terms of the creators giving everyone a treat by pairing up the then-engaged Alexis Denisof and Alyson Hannigan. I'm not really sure we should be reading too much into their scenes, but I still enjoyed sitting back and objectively seeing how their characters were interacting. Wesley and Willow did not have that much to do with each other back in Sunnydale during their Buffy days. I'm sure Wesley did not have anything against Willow, but Willow shared the feelings of the other Scooby gang members when she scornfully viewed Wesley as a bumbling outsider.

I didn't think Wes and Willow parted company in Sunnydale on particularly good terms, and I didn't expect them to reunite as lost friends. However, they seemed to get along quite nicely with each other from the very beginning of "Orpheus". (Notice how Wesley's normal speech patterns changed after Willow arrived.) I could be a killjoy and say the continuity was off in their relationship. Instead I'll just say that they seemed to have somehow gained mutual respect for each other's abilities during their time apart.

This scene was particularly touching (and funny) as they exchanged stories about the dark periods they had experienced in their lives. Besides the humor of Wesley's darkness not quite matching up to Willow's, I was struck by how this was the first time Wesley opened up to anyone about what he was going through in his life. I thought this aspect was quite significant, and I was delighted that his dialogue addressed some of the dichotomy that always fascinates me about his character. He seemed to acknowledge (in what I had often suspected) that dark, bad-ass Wesley was not the real Wesley, and that he wanted to change. In other words, he considered Dark Wesley to be the product of a phase he was going through, and he didn't seem to know how to snap out his funk and get on with his life.

Was Wesley hitting on Willow at that point? Bell and O'Hara correctly pointed out that we could see just how much Alexis cared for Alyson in this scene. (The feelings appeared to be mutual). Willow was an outsider who could offer a fresh perspective, but they had enough in common so Willow could understand Wesley and sympathize with what he was going through. Wes was probably comparing Fred against Willow at that time. Fred seemed permanently out of reach, yet here was Willow who was exhibiting all of Fred's finest qualities. Not only that, but Willow was much more accomplished and had reached a higher level of maturity than Fred. Wes could open up to Willow, and she could offer non-judgmental heartfelt guidance and advice. If Wesley opened up to Fred, at her worst she would have been shocked by his admissions and could have drawn herself further away from him (like when she found out about his relationship with Lilah). At her best, Fred would have only offered empty platitudes and told him not to worry because things would get better.

Finally, Wesley seemed quite proud of Willow's abilities in this scene when she was casting one of her spells, particularly when he assured Connor "I think she can hold her own." Wes seemed to be exhibiting somewhat misplaced pride of ownership, similar to how he basked in the reflected glory of Faith when she first started kicking ass in LA. One would think that Wesley was fully aware of Willow's strong witchcraft abilities, but I can't recall that he really saw her at her best
while he was still living in Sunnydale. In short, I'm not sure how Wesley gained his confidence in Willow's abilities.

The Soul(s) of Angel/Angelus. Bell and O'Hara pointed out that it was pretty much Joss Whedon's idea to establish that Angelus had been trapped inside Angel all of those years. This again touches on the tension within the Buffyverse that exists between the Platonic and existential souls. I won't go into the differences too much here (you can check my "soul" tag for more information), but in a nutshell, a Platonic soul is a separate entity, while an existential soul serves as a person's moral capacity. A big question I had was, what was Angel experiencing while his soul (his Platonic soul?) was trapped inside the orb?

Bell and O'Hara came right out and said that Angelus not only existed within Angel, but that Angel existed within Angelus. I'd have to put a lot more thought into this, since I don't think that concept was clearly established in "Orpheus". I vaguely recall in later Season 4 episodes that Angel seemed to be aware of what Angelus had done, but it makes a difference to me as to whether he was actively observing Angelus' actions (trapped in his body) during Angelus' reign of terror, or whether Angel gained Angelus' memories after Angel's soul was popped back into his body. In other words, I'm wondering if Angel was aware of what was happening in the outside world while his soul was trapped inside of the orb.

I'd also have to review Season 3 of Buffy to see if I can find any clues as to Angel's awareness of Angelus' activities in Season 2. However, I'm guessing that I won't find much information. (I do recall Angel seemed to be suffering from memory loss in the moments between the time he was ensouled by Willow and when Buffy pushed him into Hell.) Regardless, the nature of Angel's soul is still a wide open question for me, and I'll just have to keep slogging along and keep my eyes open for clues.

Vincent Kartheiser as Connor. I've read a few non-authoritative references online about how Kartheiser started really hating his Connor character in late Season 4, leading to a decision not to return until late Season 5. I can't vouch for that, but Bell and O'Hara did drop a few hints that Kartheiser was not loving his role, particularly in how Connor always had a few nasty things to say about magic.

Bell and O'Hara also mentioned that Kartheiser successfully portrayed Connor in a way that allowed us to feel empathy for the confusion he was feeling and for the poor decisions that he made. I disagree. I actually started hating Connor even more then ever, since I was angry at him for being too stupid to be able to make any correct decisions. He was trusting the person who meant him harm (Cordelia) and was suspicious of the people who had his best interests at heart (everyone else). If anything, I felt empathy for Kartheiser for being given an impossible acting assignment. (I might add that Kartheiser's overall acting performance was still as wonderful as ever.)

Faith and Angel. Similar to how I mentioned above that Wesley could never do anything heroic, it appeared equally important to the creators to make sure that Faith always failed to get a glamorous upper hand over Angelus. Even in their final moment together, Faith simply popped out of view when Angelus went after her. We were finally treated to some magnificent kick-assery from Faith, but Connor was the one at the receiving end of her blows instead of Angelus. I'm beginning to think that Eliza Dushku's Faith was in a similar situation to Denisof's Wesley, where she always had to appear a few notches lower than stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz.

Although Wesley inspired Faith to successfully take on Angelus (in a manner of speaking), it was up to Angel to keep her going in the aftermath. I thought it was a lovely turn to have Angel pay back the favor after Faith "rescued" him by once again showing her the path toward redemption. Faith was ready to call it a victory and slip into death, but Angel refused to let her give up that easily. He had retreated from the world in the past, and he wasn't going to allow Faith to make the same mistake.

This is probably unfair to say, since I don't know how much more Wesley could have done, but it appeared that Wesley was resigned (albeit saddened) to see Faith surrender to death. Perhaps the fact that a new Slayer was destined to arise made it easier for him? Whereas Angel ultimately showed us that the story arc really was about Angel and Faith all along when he fought for her to the end.

Cordelia. The less said about her character assassination, the better. Charisma Carpenter Rocks!

Closing Thoughts. When I first saw this episode, I thought to myself "Who is this Willow character?" I think it really helps to have seen Willow evolve on Buffy before seeing her in "Orpheus", since she was such an idiosyncratic character. Regardless, watching this for the third time was the charm for me, and I think the interplay between Willow and Fred was one of the highlights of the episode. Willow and Fred obviously had a lot in common, with their brainy nerdiness and similar babbling speech patterns.

Wes and Gunn were still working well together as a team. There was no real warmth between them, but both were acting in a highly professional manner towards each other.

I didn't mind the fact that the Orpheus drug had magical qualities. We can scoff at how it was a little too convenient to ascribe everything that was happening to the drug, but I like a device that allows the plot to keep moving along. As a matter of fact, quite often when the action would bog down a little too much in Angel, I would snap, "Just do a spell and get it over with."

Weren't Eliza Dushku and David Boreanaz fantastic together as Faith and Angelus? I thought it was a wonderful device to show how Faith could identify with and compare herself against the murderous Angelus as well as the redemption-seeking Angel.

I ultimately hoped for a more nuanced understanding of Angel after watching his character travel throughout the decades. It was probably a bit too much to hope that we could see his character actually evolve, since there were a lot of plotlines being packed into this particular episode. About all we received was reinforcement of the idea that Angel was deliberately avoiding humans since he was afraid he would return to his murderous vampire ways.

I'm not sure if Andy Hallett's Lorne was being utilized more in this episode, but his character seemed to be make more of an impact in "Orpheus" than in some of the prior episodes. I loved how he tenderly cared for Faith, but I thought he was hysterically funny when he shrieked, "...ah! Angelus! He's in the hotel!"

Sunday, July 25, 2010

More Thoughts on "Release"

Although Season 4 of Angel's "Release" gave me a lot of material in the form of Wesley and Faith's Watcher and Slayer relationship (see my prior post), there was also a lot going on with the other characters.

Sophomore Slump. In Season 3, rookie Fred Burkle was used to being petted and cosseted as the genius Golden Girl who could do no wrong. Reality took root in Season 4 when she started being held to the same standards as the rest of the group. Many times she was her own toughest critic. Specific examples I can point to regarding her Season 4 reality checks occurred in "Deep Down" where she wigged out on Connor for hiding the fact that he had dumped his father (Angel) into the ocean, and scenes in "Ground State" where she was obviously suffering from the strain of trying to keep Angel Investigations together as a going concern, and where she finally cracked under the pressure of being the group leader.

Of course, being treated just like the rest of the guys wasn't all bad, as this scene from "Habeas Corpses" showed where Angel pointedly told Fred to "get a move on". Angel wasn't singling Fred out for being slow. It was more like he was putting an exclamation mark on the fact that Fred was included in the operation to rescue Connor from the offices of Wolfram & Hart, while Cordelia was being specifically excluded.

No doubt the best example of Fred's Sophomore Slump occurred in "Release" when she beat herself up for allowing Angelus to steal the scrolls that dealt with information gleaned from the Wolfram & Hart psychics concerning The Beast. Angelus was able to steal the scrolls despite the fact that a "no demon violence" spell had been cast on the Hyperion. Fred even unfavorably compared herself to Faith when she noted "Super Girl wouldn't have fallen for a cheap hunk of crap like this" (referring to the cheap trinket Angelus used to bluff his way into convincing Fred that the spell had been neutralized).

I couldn't help but wonder if Fred was viewing Faith as a potential rival for Wesley's affections, either as a lover or as a warrior. Although Fred made it pretty clear by that point that she wasn't going to be leaping into Wesley's arms any time soon, (particularly since she found out the hard way about his relationship with Lilah), she perhaps still felt some claims of ownership over him. Another way of looking at it is, even though they weren't going to be lovers in the foreseeable future, Fred still craved Wesley's approval and respect. She (probably rightfully) took offense during this dialogue exchange that took place as Gunn offered to accompany Faith and Wesley on their mission to capture Angelus:
GUNN: You want some help with that?

WESLEY: No. I need someone I trust to watch the hotel. Someone who can actually hurt Angelus.

(Fred stares wide-eyed at Wes, seeming to take offense)

GUNN: Oh, I'm all over that.

WESLEY: (to Fred) Be careful. Next time he shows up, he might be packing the real thing.
Although Wesley was obviously belittling Fred somewhat, I don't think he was being particularly cruel. More than anything else Wes was informing her that it was crucial for the safety of the team that she take her game to the next level.

Charles Gunn.
In a post that I did about the preceding episode "Salvage", I remarked that Charles seemed to be treating Wesley more favorably both as a friend and as a leader. However, in "Release", I felt Gunn was acting a little chillier towards Wesley. The only actual dialogue I can point to was pretty mild, ("like they were any help", which Gunn said to comfort Fred in the context of how Wes and Faith didn't do anything to prevent Angelus' return to the Hyperion), but I thought the implication was pretty clear. Gunn was a results-oriented guy, and Wesley and Faith didn't seem to be making any progress in their hunt for Angelus. This dialogue exchange between Fred and Gunn where Fred haltingly asked "Can't we just go back before any of this?" didn't seem to help matters either.

Except for the little snide comment by Gunn noted above, Gunn and Wesley didn't seem to have any problems between them in "Release". Gunn carried out Wesley's orders, not because he was subservient, but because those actions were the correct and logical things to do. (For example, the dialogue highlighted above where Wesley said he needed someone he could trust to guard the Hyperion.) Again, Wesley and Faith desperately needed Gunn in the field, but Angel Investigations was way over-extended. Fred and Cordy were dead weights for the tasks at hand, and Connor was too much of a loose cannon. The group could have really used the Groosalugg's help during these episodes.

Faith and Angel
(us), with a little bit of Wesley thrown in. Angelus was always good for his brutally honest, salient observations. He probably came up with the best description of Wes and Faith's relationship during the middle of this dialogue exchange where he was holding Wesley hostage:
FAITH: Let him go. This is between you and me.

ANGELUS: It's never just between you and me, Faith. Wes'll always be in the middle....
I wish I'd pushed this point a little further in my last post, "Wesley in the Middle". However, I really wanted to keep Angelus out of it as much as possible at that time. Regardless, what Angelus said goes straight to what I find to be the most maddening aspect about the Wesley/Faith relationship in Angel. Granted, Wesley was always in the middle, but he was so in such a way that he always appeared to be butting in when he shouldn't have been getting involved, and messing things up as a result. The real story was how Faith related to Angel/Angelus, with Wesley being thrown into the mix as somewhat of a sideshow. As a result, Mutant Enemy just sort of left us hanging in regards to the unresolved tensions between Wesley and Faith, while Faith finished the rest of her story about redemption with Angel/Angelus.

As much as I'd like to think of Angel and Angelus as being two separate entities, I'm facing up to how all of the evidence points to Angelus being the core of the vampire, with the ensouled Angel making up the outer layers. To push the obvious, strip away the outer layers and you always have Angelus. To push things even further, it's not possible to have Angel without Angelus, while it's extremely possible to have Angelus without Angel. The ensouled Angel simply appeared to exist as an equation of Angelus plus a moral capacity to discern and choose between right and wrong, and between good and evil.

Wesley brought this concept into sharp relief in this dialogue clip regarding Faith's situation:
FAITH: You think I'd hurt you again?

WESLEY: This the part where you tell me you've turned a new leaf, found God, inner peace? We both know that isn't true. You haven't changed. You can't.
We have all heard stories of death row conversions, where condemned prisoners have turned to God, renounced their pasts, and vowed to do nothing but good in the future. The implication is that they have turned into completely different people. Of course, these prisoners are still the same people, albeit with changed attitudes and perhaps sincerely believing that they've left their evil ways behind. Some people object to the execution of these reformed prisoners. Karla Faye Tucker was one of these converts who received wide attention in 1998 before she was put to death by lethal injection in Texas. (For the record, I'm 100% opposed to the death penalty.)

I believe that people do have the capacity to completely turn their lives around, but I don't think I'm alone in thinking that people shouldn't be able to wriggle out of their sentences just because they've seen the light. If nothing else, their conversions should give them peace of mind while they serve out their sentences. Their conversions should also be seen as one mitigating circumstance when it comes time for considering early parole.

This is a long way of saying that under normal circumstances, people like Faith should be held accountable for past actions even if they've changed their ways and learned to regret their crimes. I have long held that "Angel" should not be held responsible or accountable for the actions of "Angelus". I've even read a lot of beautiful essays that lay out the case in Angel's favor quite clearly. However, if you look at the moral conscience he acquired when he gained a soul, it starts looking an awful lot like a jailhouse conversion. Of course, Angel's is a unique story, in which he truly was two different entities with and without a soul. I'm not going to go into the differences between Platonic and existential souls as I have in the past. Suffice it to say that "Angel" was needed to help save the world several occasions, and he wouldn't have done much good if he was stuck in a literal hellhole somewhere.

Several people, including Holtz and Connor, held that "Angel" would always be "Angelus". Connor even maintained in this scene (while speaking to Angelus) that "Angel's my dad......That's what he told me. And he thought I believed him. The truth is, Angel's just something that you're forced to wear. You're my real father."

In contrast, Faith referred to Angelus as "Angel" numerous times, as shown in this scene as an example. ("I can't risk killing Angel. Not after what he's done for me. There's got to be another way.") Of course she could have been practicing economy of words, since a line like "I can't risk killing Angelus 'cause if I do then we won't have anything to put Angel's soul back into" just doesn't have the same dramatic impact. However, it's clear that, beyond being someone who believed in her and help put her on the correct path, Faith also recognized Angel as a fellow former "murderer" and "animal" who enjoyed that former lifestyle just as much as she did. As much as both Wesley and Faith had in common looking to atone for their past misdeeds and screw-ups, Faith's past actions put her a lot closer in spirit to Angel/Angelus. (Wesley relied on Faith's similar character traits to Angel/Angelus in order to draw out her inner "animal" which she needed to use to defeat Angelus.)

As much as a lot of fans would have liked Mutant Enemy to have focused more on the Wesley/Faith pairing, Wesley turned out to ultimately be a means to an end in which he helped enable Faith to complete her ultimate mission of bringing her fellow comrade Angel back to the fold.

Idle Thoughts. Here's one more example of how much short shrift is given to the Wesley/Faith pairing. I found that there are very few good quality online screen shots of the two of them in their Season 4 pairing. This is in direct contrast to the number of excellent Faith/Angel/Angelus images I was able to find. It appears that a lot of other fans have already reached the same conclusion, as there seem to be a number of photoshopped (and rather maudlin) icons and banners that feature the images of Faith and Wesley together.

This episode marked the low point for Cordelia in the series for me. I can't possibly improve on my husband's remark of "how fuckin' stupid" to describe her ridiculous Voice of Yahweh moments throughout the episode.

In my last post, I made a big deal about whether Faith said "drama" or "trauma" in this scene. When I watched this episode again recently to help refresh my memory so I could finish this post, I fat-fingered my remote and accidentally turned on the Closed Captioning for the deaf. After I made the obligatory "doh!" noise, I reviewed that scene again, this time with the Closed Captioning feature turned on, and found that the word had been transcribed on the screen as "trauma". End of story?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Wesley in the Middle

(I'm doing a series of posts about the sizzling relationship between Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and Faith in Season 4 of Angel. My previous posts are here, here and here. In this post I'll be concentrating on the episode "Release", where Wesley and Faith continued their pursuit of Angelus.)

The opening sequence in "Release" is one of the most challenging scenes in the entire series for me to get a grip on. I can't think of any other time within Angel where the gap is greater between what's actually being presented on the screen and what I'm actually seeing (or choosing to see). This scene, of course, was where Faith quietly rebuffed Wesley's offer of treatment after he brought her home to his apartment.

To set the stage, towards the end of the prior episode, "Salvage", the previously quite-confident Faith got her butt kicked not only by The Beast, but also by super-vamp Angelus. (Fortunately for Faith, Angelus killed The Beast, which at least cut her workload in half.) Understandably, while being covered with all sorts of cuts and bruises, and possibly suffering from other unseen injuries, Faith was not only suffering physically as she stood bleeding onto Wesley's hardwood floor, she was also suffering from serious self-doubts about her abilities as a Slayer. I'd be willing to bet that she'd never been beaten that seriously in her life (afterthought: oops, forgot about Buffy), and her sense of mortality was probably weighing quite heavily on her at that time.

To complicate matters, her former Watcher (Wesley), whom she had brutally tortured a few years earlier, was acting all concerned about her well-being. He offered her a place to sit, and she elected to keep standing. His reaction was to bring an icepack to her, which he tenderly applied to the side of her neck after he gently pushed her hair aside. Notice how Faith kept her back to him at all times. When Wesley then told her he was getting bandages for her, Faith quickly insisted, "No drama [trauma?]. I'm good."

That "...drama [trauma?]" part from above is the key to all of my confusion. I, and a few others online, interpreted what she said as "drama". Some other credible and authoritative sites are reporting that she said "trauma" instead. None of these sites have "official" transcripts and all of the dialogue appeared to have been transcribed by ordinary (albeit dedicated) fans who don't appear to have any sort of inside track with the scriptwriters. I'd appreciate any insights provided by my readers.

I think there's a huge difference between "drama" and "trauma" as far as Faith's reaction to how Wesley treated her. It was so important for me to get this right for my post, I forced three bemused family members to listen to that scene and give me their opinions. Long story short (and without tipping them off in advance) - they all heard "drama". Regardless, when I first saw the scene, I had no idea that there was any sort of question as to whether she used the word "drama" or "trauma". I clearly heard "drama", which colored my perception of their relationship for the remainder of the story arc.

And this is where I got bogged down in writing about this episode. I almost felt obligated to write two parallel reviews: one where I wrote about what I logically thought was happening on the screen, and another where I wrote about what I was personally seeing on the screen.

What do I think I was supposed to see? A broken, yet still defiant Slayer refusing all offers of medical attention while projecting an independent "I don't need anyone's help" attitude. Faith stating "no trauma" can be interpreted as a simple declaration that she was A-OK ("Five by Five") and didn't need any additional medical treatment. In other words, she would be good to go with a minimum of introspection, as if she had simply encountered a minor road bump. If we want to muddy the waters a bit, we can say that she also wanted to skip out on being treated for injuries that seemed all-too-reminiscent of the injuries suffered by Wesley when he was on the receiving end of her rage and frustration. "No trauma" could mean that she was either pretending not to notice, or refusing to acknowledge, the underlying tensions that defined the relationship between Wes and Faith.

So what did I actually see? Far from being the larger-than-life Slayer who broke out of prison, I instead saw Faith as a small, bewildered young girl who had been forced to grow up way too quickly and make her own way in this violent demon world. Then Wesley complicated matters by speaking so tenderly, almost lovingly, to this confused young girl. An incredible amount of erotic energy seemed to course back and forth between the two performers (Alexis Denisof and Eliza Dushku), particularly as Wesley gently ran his hands down the sides of her shoulders, ostensibly to check her out for additional injuries. Similar actions from Giles acting with a fatherly interest towards Buffy takes on whole new meanings when performed by two highly sexually charged creatures who appear to be much closer together in age.

Under these circumstances, Faith's declaration of "no drama" could mean an open declaration that she was acknowledging the intense feelings they were both experiencing. Indeed, there was a strong component of awkwardness between them, as they realized they both had a lot to say to each other but felt compelled to keep silent. Faith was not only directly dealing with a person she had tortured in the past, but was also dealing with how she was thrown into the impossible situation of taking violent action against two powerful supernatural beings while simultaneously trying to perform penance by becoming more peaceable in her dealings with humans. I also couldn't help but think that Faith feared there was a distinct possibility that if Wesley performed the intimate act of treating her wounds, it could have all led to a romantic situation that Faith was simply not ready for at the time.

I read a comment somewhere that Faith had the most unerotic shower scene ever filmed. I tend to agree with that statement while acknowledging that it wasn't intended to be erotic. However, we can't ignore that some of the elements were there, including Faith stripping out of her clothes and obviously being nude within the shower. Taken with the slow, languid action on Wesley's part in his living room, a person could be forgiven for thinking that some elements of eroticism were present. Quite frankly, Faith was suffering from emotional overload, and punching out part of the shower wall was the only way she could relieve some of that frustration. It's also quite possible that she was attempting to drive away the erotic elements that were troubling her.

For his part, Wesley probably realized that it was better for Faith to punch out the wall than him or some other innocent bystander. In what seemed to be a recurring theme, Wesley had some real doubts as to whether Faith was up to the challenge of capturing Angelus. In his words, Wesley wondered, "I need to know you're in the game, Faith. All the way." Faith confidently answered, "Five by five, boss."

Wesley again suffered some doubts in this scene outside the Hyperion Hotel when Faith opted to let Angelus go rather than risk having him kill Wesley. There were a lot of interesting dynamics at play, including how Wes was really putting his "by all means necessary" philosophy into action where he was apparently willing to give up his own life for the sake of the Greater Good. Faith, of course, was still struggling with the concept espoused by Buffy of protecting the sanctity of human lives while simultaneously taking violent action against demons. She had ignored that creed in the past and ended up in prison for her troubles. Faith only had a few seconds to react, and, apparently, being fully ingrained with her new-found philosophy, chose to save Wesley's life as opposed to sacrificing him.

Wesley roundly berated Faith for her choice, even telling her that "The only way to defeat him is to be just as vicious as he is." Wesley was asking a lot from her, since he was fully cognizant of the fact that if she reverted to being "as vicious" as Angelus, that could undo many months of progress she was making in her own rehabilitation. As correct as Wesley's attitude was on the surface, I can't help but think he was being a bit disingenuous. He demanded that she kill Angelus fully knowing that she would be unable to do so. In that light, his claim to self-sacrificing heroism looks a bit suspicious.

In their next scene together, Wesley and Faith were both in fine form as they terrorized the demon bar. This ranks right up with this scene from "Salvage" where they were working together to try to find Angelus and The Beast. In both instances Wes and Faith looked as though they had already been a team for several years. Faith certainly looked as though her "vicious" instincts were kicking in as she continuously banged "Lumpy's" head against the bar counter.

Wesley required a certain level of bad-assitude from Faith in order to track down Angelus, which she seemed quite willing to provide in the main room of the bar. However, a definite change came over Faith as she went into the backroom with Wesley. This scene offered an excellent example of Faith's struggles with redemption as she wavered between her new-found empathy for the suffering of humans and the need to keep focused on her brutal mission. From the dialogue sequence in the above link, we can see that Faith's initial reaction was to rescue one particular human (a young girl) from a very dangerous situation. The scene had all of the hallmarks of a drug den, with syringes scattered about, needle marks on people's arms, and humans and vampires intertwined, all in various stages of stupor.
FAITH: (to Wes) What did they do to her?

WESLEY: She did it to herself. They shoot up, the vampires feed, use 'em like a filter. I've read the effects can be quite intoxicating...for both of them.
Even that little bit of dialogue revealed a lot about the very complex interactions between humans and demons within the Buffyverse world. On the surface, the two species were in a constant war of extermination with each other. If you scratch away the layers just a little bit we find that the two sides co-existed in some rather surprisingly "beneficial" ways. As sick as it sounded, vampires needed to keep the humans alive in order to get their drug fixes. It's also reminiscent of real-life situations where parties of seemingly opposite sides work together in order to keep various vice trades going.

I've mentioned in previous posts that Wesley seemed to know an awful lot about this seedy demon underworld. I even wrote about how he appeared to take issue with the indiscriminate slaughter of demons in Season 3's "That Old Gang of Mine". Wes recognized that there was a very delicate ecosystem at play, where the mass elimination of demons could cause some rather nasty side effects. (These side effects aren't all that obvious, but I'm thinking in terms of the inevitable escalation of violence that occurs within sudden power vacuums.) By this point in the series, we're not surprised at all that Wesley seemed to have an intimate knowledge of these vampire/human drug dens.

I thought Faith was fairly worldly, but she seemed to be unaware of this particular subculture since she was still a young and relatively inexperienced Slayer. Regardless, Faith's sympathy for the girl very quickly turned to disgust when the girl told her, "Hey, you're pretty. You wanna make out?" That seemed to pull Faith out of her momentary shock as she pushed the girl against the wall and started her interrogation, culminating with Faith punching the girl in the face when she failed to acknowledge that she saw Angelus.

When Faith again accused the girl of lying about Angelus, the girl started begging and crying, "No, I didn't. Stop it, you're hurting me!" Faith's conscience again took over while she took pity on the girl. Faith released her and informed Wesley "She doesn't know anything."

Then, in probably one of the most shocking scenes in the entire series, Wesley calmly looked at Faith as he said "maybe not", then took out his knife and stabbed the girl in the shoulder, pinning her to the wall. Shouting the entire time, he showed Faith the real way to elicit information from people:
FAITH: (screams) What are you doing, Wes?

WESLEY: (to Faith) Shut up! (to the girl) The tracks on your arms—you've been here, what, two or three days straight? (twists the knife) Answer me!

DRUGGED GIRL: Yeah, God, stop! Yes four—four days.

WESLEY: Then you must've seen the vampire we're looking for.

DRUGGED GIRL: Angelus, I saw him. He, uh...

WESLEY: Where is he?

DRUGGED GIRL: I don't know. (Wes punches her) I don't know! Please stop!

WESLEY: They said he was talking to himself. What was he saying?

DRUGGED GIRL: I don't know. It wa—It was like he was talking to someone else. It was all rain of fire a-and pulling strings and a soul. That's all I heard. Please stop. It hurts.

(Wes pulls the knife out of the girl. Faith runs to the girl's side.)

FAITH: (to Wes) Have you totally lost it?

WESLEY: I avoided the main arteries. She'll live, if that's what you call this. Whatever's controlling the Beast—it's made contact with Angelus.
Where the earlier part of the scene effectively highlighted Faith's inner turmoil, this particular segment gave an excellent illustration of where Wesley was at in his life. He was definitely in a very dark place, with his youthful idealism apparently gone forever. Superficially, we could point to this scene as Wesley's low point to date. (If nothing else, it was yet one more in a long line of examples of Wesley's supposed "ruthless" streak of putting ahead the needs of the many over that of the few!) But, like everything else with Wes, it didn't take long to spot a certain method to his madness. Angelus was on the loose, and he had to be stopped quickly, almost regardless of the cost. Niceties be damned!

This little segment also put a spotlight on the normally shadowy world that operated completely outside of the law. I spend a lot of time defending some of the more vigilante aspects of Angel Investigations since it was just about impossible to bring certain wrongdoers to trial within the criminal justice system. Stabbing a woman and pinning her to a wall would be a criminal offense under almost any system, regardless as to whether the outcome would ultimately help advance mankind. Just think of countries (including the U.S.) that systematically engage in extra-legal activities, including torturing their prisoners, in order to obtain what they believe is vital information. Like it or not, Wesley and his teammates were forced to use whatever tools were available to carry out their missions.

Faith was desperate to find balance in her life. She had lived most of her young adult life at one extreme (as a wild psychopath), and it was necessary to experience some of the other extreme (as a non-violent person learning to empathize with others) in order to achieve that middle ground. Sometimes our responsibilities don't allow us the luxury of healing at our own rates. Wesley yanked Faith out of her recovery program and provided shock therapy to get her back to her Slayer duties.

This piece of dialogue gave us some intriguing insights into Wesley's motivations:
FAITH: So, what? Torturing humans part of the new makeover?

WESLEY: I did what I had to do because you couldn't.

FAITH: I hit her.

WESLEY: You think that's something new to her?

FAITH: You crossed it back there, Wes. What you did back there—

WESLEY: Oh, you have a problem with torture now? I seem to recall a time when you rather enjoyed it.

FAITH: Yeah, well, it's not me anymore. You know that.

WESLEY: (leans the shotgun forward) Nice to have this along, just in case. I remember what you did to me, Faith. The broken glass, the shallow cuts so I would remain conscious.

FAITH: You think I'd hurt you again?

WESLEY: This the part where you tell me you've turned a new leaf, found God, inner peace? We both know that isn't true. You haven't changed. You can't.

FAITH: Wes...

WESLEY: Because you're sick. You've always been sick. It goes right down to the roots rotting your soul. That's why your friends turned on you in Sunnydale, why the Watchers' Council tried to kill you. No one trusts you, Faith. You're a rabid dog who should've been put down years ago! (Faith pushes Wesley violently against the chain link fence, taking the gun from him and raising it back to hit him with it, but stops short) See, that wasn't so hard, was it? It's what you'll need to beat him.

FAITH: (puts the gun down, steps back) No.

WESLEY: You have to be willing to take it all the way, Faith.

FAITH: I can't risk killing Angel. Not after what he's done for me. There's got to be another way.

(walks away)
It would be easy to accuse Wesley of being a misogynist in this episode, with his rough treatment of Faith and the young woman drug addict. In reality, Wesley was an Equal Opportunity boss who expected certain behaviors from his charges regardless of their sex. He wasn't afraid to use any means necessary in service of the Greater Good. Faith and the drug addict joined the pantheon of other women he treated sans kid gloves in order to achieve his goals, including Bethany, Justine, Lilah and Illyria.

At this point, Wes/Faith shippers probably couldn't help but think that the story between the rogue Watcher and Slayer was just beginning. For example, one can imagine a semi-erotic subtext in the above-referenced scene where Wesley was challenging (taunting?) Faith to take control over their relationship, and where she declined to do so. This brings to mind all of the delicious power plays involved in certain relationships (e.g., Wesley and Lilah) where we are left wondering who has the upper hand. Was it Wes, because he was giving orders? Was it Faith, because she made the conscious decision to give up control despite her Slayer strength? Or did Wesley have the ultimate authority, since he inspired Faith to give up control? Regardless, Wesley and Faith tying each up as a form of foreplay has became a staple of fan fiction.

Unfortunately, we discovered that the above scene (and, really, all of "Salvage" and "Release" up to this point) was simply a lengthy prelude to what was probably the real story, which was the final showdown between Faith and Angelus, and the continuation of Faith's quest in "Orpheus" to return the favor to the guy (Angel) who had "never given up" on her when he was working to bring her redemption. All of this, of course. leads up to Wesley being squarely "in the middle" of Faith and Angel.

The entire Angel/Faith arc dating back to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer days was certainly quite powerful in its own right. I don't want to diminish that narrative simply because the Wesley/Faith story arc didn't pan out the way I would have liked. In essence, Wesley was the Marine drill sergeant who broke down the raw recruit in order to build her back up again. In the process, Wesley was able to gain his own redemption for his failed Watcher past. We can certainly be grateful to Mutant Enemy for giving us the building blocks that allowed the Wesley/Faith relationship to continue to flourish in so many great fanfic sites.

Closing Thoughts
. I had previously thought of the relationship between Wesley and Faith in Season 4 as being a pure unadulterated partnership between Watcher and Slayer. I read a comment or essay somewhere recently where the author pointed out that this was the least typical example of this partnership within the Buffyverse. Wes and Faith in Season 4 were obviously miles apart from Buffy and Giles! Although Wes and Faith's pairing was far from typical, it certainly did offer intriguing possiblities of how Wes and Faith could have been criss-crossing the nation as rogue demon-hunters if a spinoff series had ever materialized. (Please note that although Eliza Dushku was offered a chance to continue on as Faith, I've never read that Alexis Denisof was offered the same opportunity to continue on as Wesley.)

One key difference between Wesley/Faith and Giles/Buffy is that Giles was very reluctant to put Buffy into extremely dangerous situations (as opposed to daily run-of-the-mill dangerous situations.) Just think of the episode "Helpless" from Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Giles' interference with her ultra-dangerous Cruciamentum test caused him to be dismissed from the Watcher's Council since it was feared he had grown too attached to his Slayer. One could easily imagine Wesley putting one of his Slayers to the test without too much trauma on his part.

I'll be re-watching "Orpheus" over the next day or so, which is the last show in the Season 4 "Faith" trilogy. This episode has always been somewhat of a disappointment for me, and I'm curious to see if my opinions change after seeing it again.

I can always change my mind, but I think in my next post I'll briefly touch on a few things that were going on with other characters in "Release". In subsequent post(s) I'll then talk about "Orpheus" and give some closing thoughts on the Wesley/Faith relationship.