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?

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