Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Busy, Busy, Busy

Life unexpectedly got a lot more hectic for me lately, so I can't promise when and how often I'll be posting over the next few weeks. I will be back, though.

Take care, everyone.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Season 5 Overview

I'm still not sure if I'm going to review each and every episode of Season 5 of Angel. Similar to past seasons, there were parts of Season 5 that I've already written about quite extensively, (for example, the Wes/Illyria story arc, and the unfortunate group-think mentality of Angel Investigations), while there are other aspects I barely touched on. I probably won't know how often I'll post until I actually start watching the episodes.

Crisis of Faith and After the Fall. It had been my intention for quite a while to compare and contrast Angel's Season 2 and Season 5 Crises of Faith, in how in both instances he decided to directly attack Wolfram & Hart as the source of all Evil. I've already done a series of posts about Angel's Season 2 Crisis of Faith roughly about one year ago. Angel failed to take down the Senior Partners in Season 2 but gained the understanding that "if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do". I'd often wondered, what was it that made Angel change his mind in Season 5, in which he apparently made a 180-degree turn and decided to once again go after Wolfram & Hart?

Since Season 5 (and the series) ended with a nihilistic "we're going to get ourselves killed but we're going to take out as many people as we can" statement, a person could think that was Angel's defining moment. In other words, Angel had completely rejected the lessons learned in Season 2 in favor of his "correct" assessments towards the end of Season 5. This didn't make sense in that Joss Whedon himself (as I discussed in the last link above) reportedly has stated that Angel's flashing light bulb moment in Season 2 is closely aligned to his own personal philosophy. I also can't discount how Angel's Season 2's Crisis of Faith ended up with a much more logical and satisfying conclusion than his similar Crisis in Season 5.

Boy, am I ever glad I read the first four volumes of the comic continuation series After the Fall before I started writing these Season 5 posts! Although my archives seem somewhat incomplete since I haven't written about Angel's Season 5 Crisis entirely within the context of the TV series, everything seemed to make so much more sense when taken in the context of the full-blown Apocalypse. I know that Angel was unexpectedly canceled before Mutant Enemy could get the whole story arc completed, which is why the series ended with a bunch of question marks hanging over our heads.

I don't know how much of After the Fall was originally intended for the unproduced Season 6 of Angel, but I'm already seeing aspects of late Season 4 through a new light now that I've read some of the comics. Specifically I can see how Wolfram & Hart had a lot more in store for Charles Gunn than what we saw in the TV series. As a result, I'll be viewing Season 5 with an eye for how Angel and his gang were being manipulated by Wolfram & Hart all along, and how even their ending acts of defiance were part of a master plan set in motion by the Senior Partners. Consequently, I'll be writing my Season 5 reviews within the context of the After the Fall Apocalypse.

Spike and Lindsey. I've previously written how I first started watching Angel mid-series, literally two episodes after Lindsey's final Season 2 appearance. I therefore started off Season 5 being pissed off that Cordelia and Lilah were gone and was wondering, "Who the hell are these Spike and Lindsey guys?"

Wow, did I ever find out, and what a stroke of genius it was to bring actors James Marsters and Christian Kane back for the final season! With Spike I'm somewhat hamstrung since I've seen very few of his appearances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However, I've read some very convincing essays recently that it would have been borderline criminal to allow his storyline to end in the Buffy series finale.

Lindsey's a more challenging case. Although his character absolutely knocked my socks off, I could never quite get a handle on what exactly he was trying to accomplish. I understand that he hated Angel. I also understand that he was ambitious and wanted power. But did he really think he would endear himself to the Senior Partners by completely destroying Wolfram & Hart, then starting anew? Were the Senior Partners supposed to admire his moxie and subsequently reward him with his own branch of Wolfram & Hart? Lindsey did not appear in After the Fall, so his final chapter begins and ends with Season 5.

Season of Unlikeable Characters. One of the things I love most about Angel is its fine character development. It's therefore quite distressing that Season 5 features an unusually high concentration of characters who set my teeth on edge. These characters are Eve, Knox, and to a lesser extent Harmony and Andrew.

With Eve, I'm trying to figure out if she was supposed to be incredibly irritating, if the wrong actress was cast for the part (Sarah Thompson), or if Mutant Enemy out and out botched her character development. Instead of being evil and conniving, Eve came across as being an annoying little pest. The only good thing was that she didn't show up on the series as often as she could have. Despite all of that, Eve still managed to snag some very good lines that gave me a lot of insight as to how Wolfram & Hart operated. Also, the more her character was beat down as the season went on, the more I started to empathize with her.

Whenever I see Knox, I get that same sinking feeling you get when the least attractive guy in your department asks you out on a date. Tim Minear mentioned in the DVD commentary for the Season 4 finale "Home" that everyone who mattered was impressed with actor Jonathan Woodward's work as Holden Webster in the Buffy Season 7 episode "Conversations with Dead People", and they were eager to bring him over to Angel. Woodward is a very good actor and successfully portrayed Knox as being almost endearingly shy and awkward with Fred, but with that touch of malice that Pollyanna Fred was completely unable to pick up on. I could never put my finger on why I disliked his character so much, yet the fact that I could never understand what Fred saw in Knox may have ultimately doomed their whole storyline. Regardless, if I was wired up with electrodes in a focus group, I wouldn't give off whatever vital signs the marketers were looking for that would indicate that Knox would be a popular character on a TV show.

Similar to how I missed Spike and Lindsey in my first run through Angel, I also missed Harmony. I loved Mercedes McNab's portrayal of the bubbly vampire, and she provided me with some of my favorite moments of Season 5. I've even written some glowing reviews of her performances. Empty-headed bleached blondes are not my favorite stock characters, and I was always impressed with how the writers pulled Harmony back whenever she got close to taking things too far. However, I always thought Harmony was completely wrong for Season 5 and could never figure out why Wesley thought she'd work out as Angel's administrative assistant. I've read somewhere that someone (Joss himself?) thought the series needed a blond, and they decided to reward McNab for her outstanding work in Buffy. It appears that the producers were getting a little sentimental when they decided to cast both Jonathan Woodward and Mercedes McNab in Season 5.

Finally, I have not seen Tom Lenk as Andrew Wells in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I'll just say that after seeing Andrew a few times in Season 5 of Angel, I don't have any motivation to switch over to Buffy to see what I missed.

Women. One obvious change to Season 5 was how two very strong female characters (Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia and Stephanie Romanov as Lilah) were dropped from the series and seemingly replaced by either two strong male characters (James Marsters as Spike and Christian Kane as Lindsey), or two weak female characters (Sarah Thompson as Eve and Mercedes McNab as Harmony Kendall). Fred, who was always impossibly pure natural goodness to begin with, was elevated to absolute saintliness in Season 5. I missed seeing these traditional Buffyverse strong, intelligent, wisecracking yet still extremely feminine female (human) characters as the series came to an end. Thank God for Blue Demon Illyria!

Connor Mind Wipe and the New and Improved Wesley. I never liked the Connor mind wipe (where most of the characters magically lost all of their memories of Angel's son Connor) because I could never really tell how much it affected the characters in Season 5. I understand the mind wipe may have been introduced as a way to reassure the network executives that new audience members would not be hampered by their lack of knowledge about the previous story lines.

Regardless, despite the wonderful drama of "Origin" where the memories returned to Wesley and Connor, I thought it was an unnecessary plot device that may have unfortunately impeded Wesley's character development. In the last several episodes of Season 4, Wesley appeared to be coming out of the darkness and emerging as a stronger and more integrated personality. I originally thought this New and Improved Wesley carried over into Season 5. Indeed, Wesley was quite capable and self-assured as Angel's right-hand man, but I'll be looking for signs that something was missing from his overall character.

Overall Impression of Season 5. In the past I wrote about how, in reaction to the dreariness of Season 4, I thoroughly enjoyed Season 5 from beginning to end in my first run-through of the series. However, in my second viewing, I was actually quite bored with the early part of Season 5, (with a few exceptions) and didn't start getting into the action until Charisma Carpenter made her guest appearance in "You're Welcome". From that point on, I thought Season 5 was absolutely brilliant! I'm curious to see if I can get more involved with the earlier episodes now that I'm watching the series on DVD.

Also, I was quite disappointed with how Alexis Denisof's character of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce seemed seriously underutilized in the early part of the season, with the exception of his appearance in "Lineage". Similar to how I didn't think Wesley had that much to do in the early part of Season 3, I wonder if he was again being held in reserve in anticipation of his terrific Wesley/Illyria story arc for the last part of Season 5. I'll add some more thoughts in later posts.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Lilah Morgan: The Human Face of Wolfram & Hart

(Stephanie Romanov as Lilah Morgan)

I was pleased to discover that the Angel Season 4 DVD special feature "Malice in Wonderland: Wolfram & Hart" contained quite a bit of commentary about Wesley and Lilah's relationship. One of the major themes presented to us seemed to be that we're all crazy hodgepodges of both Good and Evil, and it's up to each of us to make personal choices on how we maintain the balance between these two forces.

I think Mutant Enemy has done a pretty consistent job of getting that message across throughout the five seasons of Angel. There are too many examples to list, but think of the very first episode of the series, "City of", where Russell Winters, the Hollywood producer/vampire, informed Angel, "I pay my taxes. I keep my name out of the paper, and I don't make waves. And in return I can do anything I want." Also think of how Holland Manners taught Angel in Season 2's "Reprise" that "See, we're [Wolfram & Hart] in the hearts and minds of every single living being. And *that* - friend - is what's making things so difficult for you. See, the world doesn't work in spite of evil, Angel. It works with us. It works because of us." And of course all of Season 5 drives home that point as well.

I get it. Evil lurks in all of our hearts, and the faces of Evil are often benign. Where I get messed up is how it seems like whenever I think Mutant Enemy is starting off with "there's Evil in all of us" as a baseline and building from there, I find out that they're actually using "some people think we're either Good or Evil" as a baseline and moving us to "there's Evil in all of us". The relationship between Wesley and Lilah was a typical case in point. The Weslah story arc was presented with the dual purpose of teaching us that Lilah (representing Wolfram & Hart) was just as human as the rest of us, while Wesley (representing the Good Guys) was learning that there were many shades of gray in the spectrum between the black and white of Good and Evil.

Lilah and Wolfram & Hart: Providing a Face to a Name. David Fury described the end result of providing Wolfram & Hart with a "human face":
"Consequently, Wolfram & Hart has become a little bit...less this kind of monolithic thing that we have to fight and it becomes more about, it's us...it's life, it's people like us who choose to cross a line a little bit."
He continued a bit later on:
"She's [Lilah Morgan) been a great mouthpiece for the whole ..... theme of the show which is the moral gray area that we try to live in...we try to do the right thing, but how difficult that is in the world we live in."
David Fury again:
"The most interesting thing we did with Wolfram & Hart was personalizing Lilah more, and by putting her in a relationship with one of our characters, Wesley. [A few moments later]. The humanizing nature of that made Wolfram & Hart a more interesting sort of factor."
Mutant Enemy had already explored "personalizing" Wolfram & Hart in Seasons 1 and 2 when they focused on attorney Lindsey McDonald. Even he had some limits as to how far he was willing to go in the service of Evil. In Season 1's "Blind Date" Lindsey refused to go along with a scheme to murder three children whose special abilities could have eventually been used against Wolfram & Hart. Then in Season 2's "Dead End" (which marked Lindsey's last appearance in Angel until Season 5), he was sickened to discover that Wolfram & Hart was maintaining mutilated humans on life support while their body parts were simultaneously being harvested for transplant purposes.

The key difference was that Lindsey McDonald's baseline personality was shifted a little further into the lighter gray areas, whereas Lilah Morgan's personality was quite a bit further into the black.

Stephanie Romanov provided her own thoughts in the DVD commentary:
"Playing the bad girl is great because that encompasses everything: good, bad, ugly, sexy, not sexy, beat up. You get to play the spectrum and that has been so much fun."
Notice how it appears that Evil people seem to be able to explore their entire emotional spectra, whereas Good people are limited to only a few certain areas.

Stephanie has given a lot of great interviews about how her character didn't necessarily feel that she was evil. If interested I highly recommend you check out this BBC site, as well as the City of Angel links here and here. It's hard to choose a definitive sound bite, but I thought this one from the Horror-Web.com site via Buffy-Boards.com was particularly insightful:
".......Is she really evil, is she not, is she tough... and I think I was able to do that. And as an actor it makes it much more fun to play, because I believe she was all of those things. A truly evil person most of the time doesn’t think they’re evil. They feel they’re a victim of something and their reaction is ‘this,’ or they have to survive a situation and it’s either you or me, so it’s going to be me. I feel that she doesn’t necessarily feel she’s evil, she just thinks she’s a survivor and is winning."
One of the best episodes to explore that concept was "Calvary", which marked the last appearance of the "living" Lilah. Evil Lilah had decided to join forces with the Good Guys in Angel Investigations to try to defeat both Angelus and The Beast. Here's an illuminating piece of dialogue from Lilah. "The upside of being in it for yourself, Wes—you always end up on the winning team." Although Lilah let it be known that she could switch back to Wolfram & Hart in an instant, we couldn't help but admire her intelligence and courage.

I was devastated when she was murdered by Cordelia/Jasmine, not only because it meant the end of her relationship with Wesley, but also because it marked the end of what I thought could have been an extremely fruitful collaboration between Lilah and Angel Investigations. Although the idea lived on in "Home" courtesy of the team's acceptance of undead Lilah's offer to take over the Los Angeles office of Wolfram & Hart, it didn't appear to be an agreement between two equal parties. Lilah (Wolfram & Hart) used a lot of subterfuge to convince the physically and mentally exhausted Angel Investigations gang to accept the offer. In other words, Wolfram & Hart took advantage of the group's weakened state, where they were less likely to use their best judgment for evaluating the offer. It would have made for a much more interesting story line if everyone entered into the agreement with full knowledge and a complete understanding of the terms involved. The blurring between Good and Evil would have been that much murkier, to the point where the Good of Angel Investigations would have been barely distinguishable from the Evil of the Senior Partners.

Wesley Grows Up? One thing that always intrigued me was an interview that Stephanie Romanov gave to host Tony Tellado in a Sci-Fi Talk podcast. Sadly the podcast is no longer available online, but I transcribed portions of the interview in a post, "In Their Own Words: Stephanie Romanov". Regarding the Wesley/Lilah relationship, Stephanie said,
"It totally took his character on a 180 degree turn, as far as who he was and what his moral code was and what he believed he was fighting for.....It's like growing up. You believe everybody's good and if you work hard everything will be fine, then you have all these discoveries that you never thought of, and I think that's kind of the backdrop for Wesley. He kind of grew up."
I wrote in response,
Moving on to other things, I really liked Stephanie Romanov's description of Wesley's character development as "growing up". I kind of scoffed at the analogy at first, but it made a lot more sense to me after I let it rattle around in my brain for a little while. It was easy to see that before the Connor kidnapping, even though Wesley was hunting demons and was otherwise on the battlefield participating in the fight between Good and Evil, he still had a lot to learn. His Watcher Academy training infused him with a great deal of youthful enthusiasm, but little in the way of providing him guidance with how to operate in the real world. Wesley had a clear vision of the Mission and the Good Fight, yet even his [implied] thoughts about "shades of gray" bordered on the naive.

After Wesley "grew up", practically overnight, that appealing youthful idealism was gone forever, to be eventually replaced by a more mature pragmatic outlook on life.
Stephanie Romanov had this to say in the Season 4 DVD commentary about this process for Wesley:
"It was confusing and conflicting so she helped to spur him on his journey and gave him something to think about."
At the risk of contradicting myself, I'm going to start off in a slightly different direction. Assuming that what Stephanie said directly above was carefully chosen to fit in with the official party line, it appears that Mutant Enemy thought Wesley was much less sophisticated than what I gave him credit for when he first entered into his relationship with Lilah. (I could not find any other smoking guns to support this, but it fits in with the overall impression I was getting from the rest of the commentary). For one thing, I'm finding more and more evidence that Wesley was supposed to be roughly in his mid-20's during his days in the Buffyverse. (I always looked at Wesley as though he was in his 30's even though I acknowledged that he could have been in his 20's.) Despite what might have been his relatively tender years, remember that this was the same guy who had been consistently willing to sacrifice the needs of the few in favor of the needs of the many, starting way back in his Sunnydale days. This was also the guy who cultivated a network of demon contacts and argued against their wholesale slaughter.

Wesley had already started to immerse himself in the world of shades of gray even before he kidnapped Connor. However, similar to how a person never really knows what it's like to lose a spouse until it actually happens, Wesley never really knew what it was like to be lost into the darkness until Angel tried to strangle him and he was banished from the group.

My main problem is that before what appears to be Mutant Enemy's official story can start making sense, I almost have to review all of the Weslah scenes one more time (even I have my limits) with the mindset that Wesley was somewhat of a babe in the woods when he embarked on this particular journey. I could rehash a lot of Wes and Lilah's encounters to describe how what was presented didn't quite jibe with how I was viewing Wesley. However, I think I can get away with discussing the best example right here, which was Wes and Lilah's breakup scene in Season 4's "Habeas Corpses". (I wrote quite a bit about this here.)

Wesley delivered what I thought was a deceptively simple yet powerful piece of dialogue when he stated, "There is a line, Lilah. Black and white, good and evil." That, along with his equally powerful, "It's over, Lilah" and "I'm choosing a side", indicated to me that although he had made a thorough exploration of the Shades of Gray in the world, Black (Evil) and White (Good) still existed on their own terms. Although he could never completely wash the gray away, that wouldn't stop him from at least trying to return to Good.

Lilah of course countered with, "Funny thing about black and white— you mix it together and you get gray. And it doesn't matter how much white you try and put back in, you're never gonna get anything but gray." This is actually a good line on its own and seems to held in high regard by many fans as a highly intelligent response to Wesley's statement. However, it's all wrong taken in the context that she spoke those words in one of their very last encounters. Wesley should have been well past that "Golly, you mean there's shades of gray between Good and Evil?" moment. At its best, I think of it as a straw man argument from Lilah, and, at its worse, it could be a "Lilah, you're full of it" moment. I've never put any stock into the line of thinking that if you break one of the Ten Commandments while going against an Evildoer, you're not only no better than the Evildoer, you also have no right to ever try to take action again in the name of Good. That's actually a nice tidy way to keep an oppressed population in check.

I thought Lilah was naive for thinking that anyone who fell off the wagon would stay off the wagon for good. I'm not so sure if Lilah actually thought that way or if she made false statements like that just as part of her Recruitment for Evil drives. Rather than humanizing Lilah or making her look more ambiguous, her way of thinking was actually more insidious than what a classic "bwahaha" villain could come up with. As Stephanie Romanov said much more succinctly than I could ever manage, "I felt that true evil never shows it’s face completely....". If the purpose of putting a "human face" on Lilah was to show that we are no better than her or any other sociopaths in the world, I don't think Mutant Enemy succeeded.

It's not to say that Lilah did not have any positive influences on Wesley. In a few of my other posts I hinted that Wesley always seemed to step up his game a few notches when Lilah was around, particularly when he took action to tackle the twin Beast/Angelus problems after she appeared at the Hyperion in "Calvary". Looking back throughout the course of their relationship, it's probably no coincidence that Wesley became much stronger, mature and self-assured after Lilah came into his life. Perhaps she even inspired him to start his own demon-hunting agency!

Lilah wasn't exactly Wesley's mentor and guide, but she did allow him to explore his dark side without constantly passing moral judgment (like the real Cordelia would have done) or feeding him a steady diet of cheerful empty platitudes (like Fred would have done). Strange as it may have seemed at times, we can't discount the possibility that Wesley and Lilah may have been a well-matched couple.

More Shades of Gray
. Alexis Denisof, who always has interesting things to say, remarked in the DVD commentary that,
"Although they may have had some selfish motivations for their relationship in their earlier phase, but despite themselves they begin to invest more and more in it."
I've posted several other quotes from Denisof about this aspect of the relationship, with this link being as good as any if you're interested. The CliffsNotes version states that their relationship started off as being purely physical as they worked each other over for their own personal gains, which culminated in their mutual betrayals in "Slouching Toward Bethlehem". In an earlier post I talked about how it seems that relationships are all about timing. Wesley seemed to have high hopes for a relationship with Lilah in "Slouching Toward Bethlehem", only to have his hopes cruelly dashed after she "played" him.

I also maintained that Lilah didn't seem to fully appreciate what she had with Wesley until she realized she was in serious danger of losing him. She went into full damage control in the next episode, "Supersymmetry" when she brought him the gift of the expensive medieval helmet. His initial reaction was to tell her, "Well, look, a bribe. How thoughtful. No, it can't be a bribe. Must be a setup." However, once he opened the box and saw the contents, Wesley was truly impressed by her thoughtfulness. Unfortunately, his hopeful moment for their relationship had already passed, and Lilah's present was too little too late.

I've mentioned way too many times that I really need to pay attention to what Alexis Denisof said in his interviews, even if what he said doesn't jibe with my way of thinking. I've grown somewhat used to some of the curve balls that he's tossed my way, but I was still quite startled by what he had to say in the DVD commentary about "the gift".
"I can't help looking at that person [Lilah? Wesley?] and thinking 'This is all wrong! This doesn't fit the picture!' so that relationship grows in a very interesting way through the season."
I took that to mean that by offering Wesley a make-up gift at this stage, she had crossed over the line from the two of them having a purely physical relationship to the possibility that she had some genuine feelings for Wesley. Again, I thought the time frame for Alexis' statement was all wrong. I also thought he was implying that perhaps the relationship literally "grew in a very interesting way" after she offered him the gift. Their relationship may have changed, but it didn't seem to really grow after that. Wesley and Lilah had a few more encounters after that (think of when she dressed up like Fred in "Apocalypse, Nowish"), but things were effectively over between the two of them after Wesley fell for the trap she set for him in "Slouching Toward Bethlehem".

Although Lilah "played" Wesley in "Slouching Toward Bethlehem", I thought that she was still quite pleased with the idea of them having a real "relationship". In essence, she perhaps mistakenly thought she could have her cake and eat it too, by using their relationship for her personal gain while still maintaining strong emotional bonds with Wesley. For his part, Wesley would have naturally thought that Lilah was just pretending to start having genuine feelings for him, and could have outright rejected the notion that Lilah was sincerely trying to make amends.

I'm trying to make a subtle but nonetheless very real distinction. I had decided that by the time "Supersymmetry" aired, Wesley and Lilah already had about as real as a relationship as they could possibly have under those circumstances. That's why I made such a big deal about their phone sex scene in "The House Always Wins" being the high point of their relationship. I pointed to the dialogue about the "burnt pot roast" as a sweet domestic subtext for their dreaming of the possibility of living a normal life together. Although the phone sex was kinky, it doesn't mean that people in a committed relationship can't be as kinky as people who are only getting together for sexual encounters. I really felt that there was an easy playfulness to their "encounter" that's hard to achieve unless you're in a committed relationship.

So within this context, Wesley should have approached "the gift" as Lilah's obvious kiss-and-make-up gesture, similar to a husband bringing his wife flowers after they've had an argument. He should have not have been shocked that she was attempting to bring them into forbidden territory within their relationship.

, what if my interpretation of the phone sex scene was totally wrong? I mean, if Joss Whedon wanted to convey that Wes and Lilah's relationship was purely physical, what more could he have done to get the point across? Emphasizing that they could only get together for sex when they had a few moments to spare and that they didn't take the time to do anything domestic like cook pot roasts would have been a pretty logical thing to do.

Regardless, if Lilah was breaking the rules by entering into forbidden territory (or in other words, taking the next step in their relationship), it would appear that she was a lot more honest about her feelings and the state of their relationship than Wesley. He could not reconcile how he, as one of the Good Guys, could have been sleeping with the enemy. This seems to line up with how he seemed to cope the best he could by consistently denying that they had any feelings for each other or even had a real relationship. (For three of his denials, see here, here and here.)

Getting back to Wesley's "There is a line...." scene, have I changed my mind about how I choose to interpret that segment after hearing Denisof's DVD commentary? (This is what I originally wrote back in July 2009.) In this scene Wesley was undoubtedly stating that breaking away from Lilah and breaking away from Evil were one and the same. It's one thing to step back from a full-fledged relationship and declare that it's over. It's another thing to deny that the relationship ever existed. In my heart of hearts I still think that Wesley was just as immersed in the shades of gray and in their relationship as Lilah was, but his refusal to acknowledge that hurt her deeply. I can't really say that I've changed my mind about how I'm interpreting that scene too much, but what Alexis said does add another layer of complexity

Idle Thoughts. Most of the main actors contributed to the special features sections of the final DVD of Season 4, but I think Alexis Denisof made the most appearances. If I remember correctly, I think he was even talking about some of the action that didn't involve his own character! His commentary was as excellent as usual.

I enjoyed listening to David Boreanaz, and I wish I could have heard more from him. He seemed to prove what I've suspected for quite some time, that he actually put a lot of thought into his perfomances. I'd like to add him to my list of valuable resources to draw from when I have questions about plotlines or character motivations.

I was thrilled to see Stephanie Romanov being prominently featured in the final special feature, "Malice in Wonderland: Wolfram & Hart". For one thing, the preceding features hardly even mentioned Stephanie or her character Lilah, so I was getting quite alarmed at the thought that perhaps Mutant Enemy was pointedly slighting her contributions to the series. For another thing, I've hardly been able to find any spoken interviews with Stephanie Romanov online, and I'm glad to add this particular one to my collection. As usual, Stephanie was upbeat, bright and bubbly, and was a lot of fun to listen to.

Alexis Denisof's statement above about "the gift" should not have been a complete surprise to me. It actually brought me full circle to my original line of thinking when I first viewed the series well over a year ago, when I felt that Lilah's offering of the gift to Wesley was a huge step in their relationship. It's just that in the meantime I had spent a considerable amount of time constructing the notion that Wes and Lilah were already quite a bit farther along in their relationship at that point than what Alexis was implying.

I originally intended to do one more post about the Season 4 DVD special features, but I really want to get started with Season 5. I will point out that I was pleased to hear Joss Whedon talking about how the character of Willow brought a completely different type of energy to the Hyperion in "Orpheus", which was an interesting contrast to what was going on between the characters of Angel Investigations. Although Willow herself had been in a very dark place herself for a while, her youthful vitality seemed to really brighten up the overall mood of the episode. I recently wrote here and here about how Wesley Wyndam-Pryce seemed to be attracted to her positive energy. This just adds more proof that there was a lot more going on in "Orpheus" than "let's get Alexis and Alyson together".

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Upcoming Post on Malice in Wonderland

The Angel Season 4 DVD special feature, "Malice in Wonderland: Wolfram & Hart" has a lot of wonderful things to say about Wesley and Lilah's relationship. I'm having trouble deciding how I want to structure my post about the commentary, but rest assured I'm working on it and hope to have it published within the next few days.

Update 8/26/10: Tick, tock, better add a few more days until I post again. And don't expect anything brilliant from me either. Take care, everyone.

Update 6/3/2012: Here's the link to my actual "Malice in Wonderland" post, "Lilah Morgan: The Human Face of Wolfram & Hart". It didn't turn out too shabby, if I do say so myself. I put this update in because people looking for real "Malice in Wonderland" information are naturally ending up here via Google rankings rather than at my better above-referenced post.

Monday, August 23, 2010

You Mean There are Other Shows on TV Besides Angel?

(David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel as Special Agent Seeley Booth and Dr. Temperance Brennan, on "Bones")

My TV viewing is pretty much hit and miss since I work such crazy hours. My M.O. is to sit down when I have some time to kill, turn on the TV and see what's on. When I spot certain shows, I usually put down the remote and start watching.

Bones. I didn't care for Bones at first, but once I found the right episode I really started getting into it! It was hard for me to admit this for a while, but if David Boreanaz is remembered more for his performance as F.B.I. Special Agent Seeley Booth than as Angel, the Vampire With a Soul, I won't have a problem with that.

What attracts me the most to great TV shows is the quality of both the writing and the ensemble acting. I don't know Bones well enough to be able to figure out which season I'm watching most of the time, but I can generally say that I like the "later" seasons better than the "early" seasons. However, I've seen some outstanding Season 1 episodes and some not-so-great later season episodes. Regardless, even the more mediocre Bones episodes are better than just about anything else on television.

I understand that Bones is still pulling in decent ratings and will start its sixth season starting later this year. My only concern is that it seems like sometimes network executives will get bored with a series and may decide to cancel a show even it's still pulling in OK numbers. Any fluctuation in the ratings can be used as an excuse to pull the plug on a series. Even though Bones pulls in a respectable number of viewers, it's not a top, top show in the rankings, which would seem to place the series a little farther towards the edge of the chopping block.

My favorite actors include David Boreanaz (of course), T.J. Thyne as Jack Hodgins (I adore him), Tamara Taylor as Camille Saroyan (I look up to her character as a role model because of her professionalism, though I do like the few intriguing looks we get of her colorful personal life), and John Francis Daley as Lance Sweets (for the "wise beyond his years" aspect of his character).

I'm liking Eric Millegan as Zach Addy more now than I did initially, but his character is just a little to Rainmanesque for my tastes. I also don't like what the producers did to his character. His whole melodramatic story arc seems entirely out-of-place in the series. I thought Michaela Conlin started out kind of weak as Angela Montenegro, but I'm finding consistently good performances from her in every single season. I might have just initially seen Conlin in a couple of her lesser episodes at first. I adore how Angela is so open and direct, but sometimes I find her to be a little too sure of herself and her opinions. I enjoyed Johnathon Adams as Dr. Daniel Goodman, but his character was just a little too physically and emotionally distanced from the rest of the team. Nonetheless, he always completely backed up his employees whenever they came under fire from outside forces.

Which leads us to a giant puzzle for me, Emily Deschanel as Dr. Temperance Brennan ("Bones"). This is the one instance where I feel that I really need to see the entire series in order to see if I can spot any sort of character development with her. Brennan seems to be all over the board as to whether she can open up and communicate with people on a steady basis. I've seen some emotional vulnerability in Season 1, and I've seen her act like an unfeeling robot in later seasons. She's at her best when I can sense that there's more to her than meets the eye, but sometimes I just flat out don't find that in a lot of her performances. I can understand that Dr. Brennan has a unique personality and is definitely not a people person. I just need to consistently feel that she's also an interesting and complex character.

Finally, of course I need to talk a little more about Boreanaz as Seeley Booth. Initially I thought Boreanaz looked like he was a little hamstrung by his character, in that it appeared he wanted to break out and do more things. Now I'm finding that Agent Booth is absolutely the perfect role for Boreanaz. He's bright, funny, and self-deprecating, yet deadly serious and hard-ass when he needs to be. My absolute favorite moments in the series are when Agent Booth walks into obviously hostile territory (like when he's meeting with a bunch of heavy metal heads) and shakes things up. It satisfies a lot of our fantasies about being able to physically dope-slap all of the idiots and assholes we're forced to deal with on a daily basis. It appears to me that Dr. Temperance Brennan is the main character on "Bones", while David Boreanaz is the actual star of the show.

Ghost Whisperer. Even though Jennifer Love Hewitt's series about a woman who can communicate with ghosts is a bunch of sentimental schmaltz, I absolutely adore the show. (Though even I admit that the endings can get a little too syrupy at times.) I love Hewitt's wardrobes, I love the sets, and I particularly love the New Englandish-looking fictional town that the series is set in. Grandview, New York looks like a former mill town that went into a long period of decline, but came back when the Yuppies and the real estate bubble arrived at the same time.

I never faithfully tuned into the show every Friday night on CBS, but I didn't have to since at one time it seemed like I could catch an episode every time I turned on the TV. In addition to CBS, I've seen Ghost Whisperer on CBC, Ion, SyFy and possibly at least one other network. I wonder if the series suffered from over-exposure, which caused it to be canceled a few months ago when the ratings took a dive? Regardless, about two months ago I came down with about the worst case of bronchitis I'd ever had in my life. While I was recuperating I was hoping I would be able to get caught up on a bunch of Ghost Whisperer episodes. Unfortunately, the series didn't seem to be airing almost continuously like it had been just a short time earlier. I couldn't help but wonder if the show's cancellation had anything to do with its drop-off in syndication airtime. (Though I admit that doesn't make much sense.)

Again, I like the writing, the story lines, and the ensemble acting. Ghost Whisperer was actually an anthology series, in that it could draw from an endless well of story ideas to match up with the main theme of characters working to overcome personal tragedies in their lives in order to move on. Melinda provided the framework and the continuity for the show. I think the series faltered a bit when it became too cosmological (think of "The Shadows"), or when it tried to get too fancy with their story arcs (like when Melinda' s husband Jim died but didn't quite go away.) Mostly I appreciate the "beginning, middle and end" aspect of the episodes, where I can spend an enjoyable hour watching the show and then get on with my life.

Ghost Whisperer
also had a strong ensemble cast, and I particularly like David Conrad as Melinda's scrumptious husband, Camryn Manheim as best friend and confidante Delia Banks, and Jamie Kennedy as the quirky, decidedly non-heroic Eli James. I didn't dislike any of the other main characters, but there was an unfortunate jump-the-shark moment in the series when Melinda and Jim's son Aiden was born and the series started time-jumping around.

Supernatural. This is my least-watched show of this group, probably because I'm usually not sitting on the couch when it airs on TV. (I seldom record shows because I never get around to viewing them.) There are a lot of great things going for this show, including great storytelling (at times), appealing leads (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles as Sam and Dean Winchester), a certain blue-collar grittiness that creates a nice contrast to some of the more glamorous LA-based shows, and the road warrior element where we always look forward to more dangers that lurk just around the next corner.

I don't know too much about recurring characters on the show, but I do like Jim Beaver as Bobby Singer, for providing us with his brand of down-to-earth grittiness.

Unfortunately, the negatives in Supernatural outweigh the positives for me. I'd probably make more of an effort to watch the show if I liked it better. For one thing, Supernatural's way too gory for my tastes, which makes me appreciate the WB Network executives even more whenever I think of Mutant Enemy staff members complaining on DVD commentaries about how they were forced to hold back on the blood in Angel. Another thing, and this is the show's main drawback, is that there are too many dull story arc episodes. By that I mean I'm watching everything totally out of context, and there seems to be a lot of dialogue where people will gravely intone about the many Highly Significant Things that are going on, which you couldn't prove by me since I have no idea what's happening. The best episodes are the slam-dunk, here's the bad demons, here's Sam and Dean killing the bad demons, and on to the next. I'm sure it's a wonderful show if you faithfully watch each episode in the proper sequence. It just doesn't work for a casual viewer like me.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I've been trying to catch up with episodes on Hulu and on The WB, but the gods have been conspiring against me. The WB just recently dropped Buffy from their lineup a few weeks ago, and Hulu will be showing Season 1 episodes until the end of September. To further complicate things, Hulu has a tendancy to change their broadcast dates around, with the end result being that I still have not seen a majority of Buffy episodes from Season 2.

My understanding is that online sites are only broadcasting Buffy episodes from Seasons 1 - 3. I've seen all of Seasons 1 and 3, so all I need to do is concentrate on finishing up Season 2. When I'm finally finished with the first three seasons, I'll have to figure out what I'll do next.

I adore Buffy and I can understand why the series seems to be better-loved than Angel. The story lines seemed tighter, and the characters seemed more cut and dried, with the end result being that the show just seemed to be a lot less murky and aimless than Angel. I have a lot of questions about Seasons 4 - 7 of Buffy, not the least of which is, will I love or hate Dawn? I look forward to a lot more great viewing ahead of me.

Closing and Idle Thoughts. I didn't realize until I started watching Charmed in syndication about five years ago that I seem to be a fan of the supernatural/fantasy genre of TV shows. Before then, I just thought I was enjoying good television!

Maybe I never completely outgrew fairy tales, but I think I can trace a lot of my interests back to when I read T.H. White's The Once and Future King when I was about 13 years old. I was intrigued with how an author could be bold enough to completely turn the more traditional tales of King Arthur upside down and add his own unique spin.

The novel is probably most famous for the first part, "The Sword and the Stone", but it was the second part, "The Queen of Air and Darkness" that really struck a chord with me. There was just something terribly fascinating about the beautiful and evil Queen Morgause, who used her magical powers to, among other things, seduce her half-brother King Arthur. I haven't read the book since I was about 18 years old, so I think I might have to find a new copy somewhere. (My old copy is in about 12 different pieces somewhere in my basement.) I'm sure the book will mean a lot more to me as an adult than when I was a teenager.

Bones is another show that has great guest performances. I particularly enjoyed Ryan O'Neal's stint as Brennan's fugitive/bank robber/murderer dad. I'm beginning to think that O'Neal's talents may have been considerably wasted during his career as a handsome leading man in the 1970's.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

From IDW to Dark Horse

I intended to take a little mini-break between Seasons 4 and 5 of Angel, but I forgot about all of the special features that I need to watch on the last DVD for Season 4. I'll post reviews if I find anything interesting.

What's really catching my eyes are the official announcements that the Angel comics series is moving from IDW Publishing back to Dark Horse Comics in late 2011. (I understand Dark Horse published some Angel comics during the original run of the TV series.) There are too many good links for me to deal with, so I'll just direct you to the Whedonesque thread if you're interested.

I have so little information I shouldn't even be writing this, but from what I understand, Angel will be joining the Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchise over at Dark Horse. I also understand that there was some recent controversy when Angel himself started appearing as somewhat of a bad guy in some of the Buffy comics, which apparently did not sit well with the people at IDW. Then you start getting into the issues of who has artistic control, the publishers or Joss Whedon (who I understand has been alternating between hands-on and hands-off over the years), and it gets really messy.

The Whedonesque thread also highlights the question of, which comics are canon? I know this is veering dangerously into the "get a life" category, but it means a big deal for me to be able to know ahead of time which comics I read are "real" and which are written for pure entertainment purposes, where I can just file the story lines into the basement when I'm done reading them. If, by judging the Whedonesque comments, there are no easy answers, then I'm less likely to shell out money for Angel-related comics beyond what I've already paid for with After the Fall Volumes 1-4. As an aside, I always thought all of After the Fall was considered to be canon, but I understand that some people feel that might not necessarily be the case.

We not only have Angel comics, we have Spike, Illyria and who-knows-what-else comics out there. I already feel hopelessly behind as it is, and that brings up another issue. There are so many Angelverse comics out there, I don't know how I could even formulate a plan of action to get caught up on my reading.

Regardless, I have a sentimental attachment to Chris Ryall and all of the other good people at IDW because they helped get me hooked on comics for the first time as an adult. They taught me that there's a lot more to comics than the Archie and Jughead variety I'd been reading to my kids over the years. IDW will be publishing a few more Angel comics that are already in the pipeline, and I understand all of the parties are busy collaborating with each other in order to keep the continuity intact between publishers. IDW seems to be handling the transition with a lot of class.

I fully understand that business is business, and it certainly makes sense to put all of the Buffyverse comics under one roof. Good luck to everyone who's involved in this. Thank you IDW for all of the good work you've done in the past, and best wishes to Dark Horse for their future success.

(Note: As usual, if I've made any horrible mistakes in this post, please correct me in the comments section.)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

On the Homestretch for Season 4

It just doesn't seem possible that an episode like "Home" from Season 4 of Angel could be jam-packed with so many excellent scenes. What's even more amazing is how the episode was able to maintain a unified theme even though many of the scenes were so different from each other in tempo and style. For example, "Home" started out with Lilah Morgan's hysterically funny return to the Hyperion Hotel, followed by a rapidly deteriorating Connor brutalizing a suicidal cop, followed by Gunn and Wesley reconnecting with each other in the hotel office, followed by various scenes at Wolfram & Hart, followed by a climactic fight scene at a sporting goods store, etc.

As I mentioned in my last post, "Lilah Lives On", Tim Minear noted that the episode came in about 10 minutes long. He was therefore forced to cut several lines that did not deal directly with the main issues of the episode, which were mainly Angel's conflicts with Connor, and Lilah's deal to hand over the Los Angeles office of Wolfram & Hart to Angel Investigations. "Home" also had to perform double duty as somewhat of a pilot episode for Season 5 of Angel, since the series was in serious danger of being canceled at that point. Writer/director Tim Minear and the rest of the Mutant Enemy staff really pulled together to give their audience an outstanding conclusion to Season 4.

Lilah's offer of a lifetime. I'll let you read the dialogue here, but the opening scene is probably best remembered for the deliciously long silent stretch where the bewildered Angel Investigations team members reacted to Lilah's off-camera offer to hand over control of the Los Angeles branch of Wolfram & Hart. Minear explained that it was somewhat of a joke how the opening credits always dragged on forever at the beginning of each episode, and he purposely kept the actors silent until his name appeared in the last of the credits. He also explained that the actors were filmed separately for about a minute where they were instructed to shift their weight back and forth, look around and otherwise act uncomfortable.

Stephanie Romanov was the undisputed star of this scene, and Minear praised her by saying that she really "kicked it out". This sequence must have been an editor's dream, as it was practically an almost endless series of quick shots back and forth between the different actors. Kudos to Tim Minear, the actors and everyone else for making this scene such a success.

Charles Gunn. One thing I didn't really pick up on before was that Gunn, according to Minear, was somewhat favorable to the offer almost from the very moment Lilah presented it. Although the dialogue in the beginning scene doesn't show it, Minear pointed out that the editors inserted a few shots of Gunn that indicated he was responding to the offer somewhat differently from the others in the group. In this early scene, we could tell that Gunn was already thinking through some of the advantages of taking over the LA branch of Wolfram & Hart when he explained to Wesley "Can't help thinking it might cut down on the work load some if we got a little help, a few extra employees, or a turnkey, state-of-the-art, multi-tasking operation."

Of course Gunn's heart sank at Wolfram & Hart when he momentarily thought he'd be given the "muscle" job of head of security. However, Lacey, his tour guide, assured him that they had much grander plans for him. We all know that the sequence of events ended with Charles eventually undergoing a procedure where an entire law library was downloaded into his brain. I'd often compared Charles Gunn to Lindsay McDonald, in that both characters were upwardly mobile after rising out of horrendous poverty-stricken backgrounds. Lindsey quickly chose the "easy" way to success by turning Evil, whereas Gunn took a more circuitous route. Although I won't say Charles consciously embraced Evil, we can't deny that both Lindsey and Charles ended up in the exact same spot.

Rutherford Sirk. Tim Minear also praised Michael Halsey, the actor who played ex-Watcher Sirk, for his performance in this episode. As Wesley's guide at Wolfram & Hart, I thought Halsey brought the perfect blend of smooth, evil arrogance to his role. Although I don't normally like it when a character is introduced just to act as a foil for an existing character, I looked forward to seeing a lot more of Sirk after he made his first appearances. I thought he deserved to be a semi-major character in his own right, somewhat on the order of Knox. Unfortunately I think Halsey only appeared in one other episode, "Destiny".

Minear said that he named this character "Sirk" in honor of Douglas Sirk, a film director from the 1950's
"...who directed what were then known as women's pictures, and he directed these very...colorful and lurid melodramas, and we have often said that Angel was not unlike a Douglas Sirk movie in that it's really about men and women and their relationships.... and that it is a pot boiler and is in fact a melodrama."
Douglas Sirk directed movies like "Magnificent Obsession" and "Imitation of Life". I never found any of his movies to be particularly "lurid", but maybe I saw the wrong ones. Regardless, it's comforting to find validation of what I've suspected all along, that Angel really is ".....about men and women and their relationships". I'd hate to think that the main thing that attracts me to the series doesn't even exist.

Angel and Lilah. Although I focus a lot on Wesley and Lilah's final pairing of the series, I can't forget that "Home" also marked the last appearances of Angel and Lilah together. For whatever reason, their scenes lacked the sizzle of their Season 3 and early Season 4 pairings, and I can't really put my finger on why. I thought both Stephanie Romanov and David Boreanaz put in magnificent performances, particularly in this scene where Lilah was forced to play her final trump card in order to persuade Angel to take the deal.

Part of my dissatisfaction with their scenes might have had to do with the fact that I resented every moment that Lilah spent with Angel instead of Wesley. However, I could hardly begrudge the producers for not having the entire episode revolve around Wesley and Lilah. She had her work cut out for her in that she had to try to bring over one of the world's greatest sources for Good over to the side of Evil.

Probably the biggest reason for my dissatisfaction with the Angel/Lilah scenes was that the delicious undercurrent of flirtiness that was a hallmark of their earlier appearances seemed to be replaced by a sense of deadly seriousness. Their constant one-upmanship was still there as usual, but there was just too much at stake for either of them to relax and play along with each other just like old times.

Angel and Connor. It was unfortunate that I was pretty bored with all of the Angel/Connor scenes in "Home" since both actors put in fine performances. The scene in the sporting goods store seemed to particularly drag on for me, and I was surprised that I didn't give up and scan through to the next scene. Tim Minear revealed in the commentary that the scene was actually much longer, since Connor was also supposed to talk about Holtz and Darla as well. As I mentioned above, Minear had to cut out a lot of dialogue that wasn't exactly on-target with the rest of the episode. However, I can't help but wonder if the scene would have been more interesting if some of these seemingly extraneous lines hadn't been cut.

I'm glad I stuck with Angel and Connor in "Home" since I learned a few new things this time, courtesy of Tim Minear. I'd never paid too much attention to this on earlier viewings, but Minear pointed out at the end of the fight scene that Angel paused for a moment before he delivered his final blow, which emphasized how the whole "The father will kill the son" prophesy was finally being realized. Also, in the final seconds, as Angel brought the knife down into Connor, it became apparent that some sort of blood ritual was being performed.

This is where DVD audio commentary is worth its weight in gold. Writers have an enormous amount of information that they need to cram into each episode, and they can't write specific dialogue for every little situation. Sometimes I pick up on the visual clues that are left for the audience, and sometimes I don't. Although I would have liked more details on how the Connor mind wipe spell was performed, this scene at least let me know that Angel was an active participant in the ritual. Before then, I just assumed that Cyvus Vail (who we found out in Season 5's "Origin" was the one who performed the spell) said a few hocus-pocus words and that was it.

I never get tired of hearing about how Vincent Kartheiser really gave it his all in his acting performances. This time, Tim Minear spoke about how not only Kartheiser, but David Boreanaz as well, stayed in character throughout the several hours that it took to shoot this scene. When they're filming an actor from one direction, naturally we can't see what the other actor is up to. Minear said that the off-camera actor won't always keep playing the part, which can make it difficult for the on-camera actor to perform to the best of his ability. Both Kartheiser and Boreanaz stayed in character, which allowed both of them to keep feeding off of each other's energy levels.

Finally, Tim Minear revealed that it was always a given that Connor would only last about one season, and that he would leave the series in a particularly gruesome way. However, everyone grew to love both Vincent Kartheiser and his character, and Mutant Enemy decided to give both of them a much nicer send-off. Being a mother of teen-aged boys myself, I always appreciated how the average middle-class kids were treated with respect on Angel, without making them easy targets for ridicule. For example, I always enjoyed this scene from the Season 4 episode "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" where Connor rescued the family of three from tow-truck operating vampires when the family truckster broke down in a nasty section of LA. I know the character of the wise-cracking man-child in the backseat quite well. So naturally I really appreciated the nice homey portrayal of Connor's family in this scene, where his new "family" was toasting what appeared to be his promising future in college.

Pitch for Season 5. It's particularly poignant to watch "Home" since, not only was Lilah giving a pitch to get Angel Investigations to hook up with Wolfram & Hart, Mutant Enemy was making a pitch to the WB Network to pick up the series for the 5th season. We all know that despite all of the promise of the series going off in an exciting new direction, all Mutant Enemy was able to do was buy one final year for Angel.

As Tim Minear said in his commentary,
I'm really proud of the last four seasons of Angel, but I do think it was time to shake up the paradigm a little bit. It was starting to get soapy, and I don't mean that in an overwrought way. I just mean that you really, really couldn't miss an episode, otherwise it would have been hard to follow the story, and we wanted to create a new paradigm that could continue in the novel approach, because TV really is like reading a novel. You want to see what's going to happen in the next chapter, but we wanted to make it a little more user-friendly, that people could take in and understand what these people were doing.
I was interested in how Minear stated that Angel was getting "soapy". My main objection to soap operas is how they always seem to be one episode away from resolving the main conflict, yet the writers keep tossing in obstacles and barriers and otherwise doing everything they can to prolong the misery. I found that if I saw one episode on one day, and tuned into the same soap opera a month later, the plot would have hardly budged at all during that period of time. I think Minear and I may have different definitions of "soapy", but I thought Season 4 fit my criteria quite well.

I'm not sure if I totally agree with Minear that you couldn't afford to miss an episode of Angel without getting lost. I started watching the series towards the end of Season 2 and I missed a few key episodes in my first rotation. However, upon catching up with the lost episodes, I was somewhat surprised that I had somehow been able to pick up on the most important plot elements, while just missing out on some of the finer points along the way. However, Angel did evolve into somewhat of a soul-sucking series, in that it drew you in and didn't let you go, somewhat like when you step into quicksand. I normally don't like to be a slave to a TV show, and that's why I prefer standalone episodes to long, involved story arcs.

I've always read that the network suits wanted a return to more standalone episodes, which Mutant Enemy obligingly provided during roughly the first half of Season 5 until they returned to a long story arc format for the second half of the season. One of the things I'll be looking for in Season 5 was how the producers were able to create such a compelling story arc without making me feel like I was being smothered to death.

Metaphor for twenty-somethings. Tim Minear reminded us that Buffy the Vampire Slayer provided us with metaphors for the teen years while Angel was supposed to represent life for young adults in their 20's. However, the consensus was that Mutant Enemy never found that perfect metaphor for Angel until the group agreed to take over Wolfram & Hart in late Season 4 and into Season 5. (There was a bit of an extra challenge in that the main character, Angel, was well over 200 years old.) Minear continued on that in essence, the Angel Investigations team members were like youthful, idealistic Greenpeace activists who joined the big bad oil company and wondered whether they would be able to keep their ethics intact.

I could refine the argument a little bit further and say that the Angel Investigations team members were in their 20's while they were saving the whales in Seasons 1 through 4, then joined Big Bad Oil when they entered into their 30's. However, it's just a minor quibble, and it just goes to show that the metaphor did not really become evident until the kids decided to settle down and join Wolfram & Hart.

Idle Thoughts. I was never completely convinced that Wesley Wyndam-Pryce was actually in his 20's when he crashed the Buffyverse. However, Minear's commentary provides yet one more piece of circumstantial evidence that Wesley really was supposed to be in his 20's during Buffy and Angel.

My life seems to be the complete opposite of what the Angel Investigations team members experienced. I joined the Establishment right out of college, and dropped out of the rat race and jumped into a Greenpeace-type outfit just a few years ago.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Near Future Plans

Things have been pretty hectic at work lately, so I'm not sure when I'll be publishing my next post about the Season 4 finale of Angel, "Home". I'll just vaguely say I'll do it some time this weekend.

Then, before I start doing my Season 5 sort-of-reviews, I want to do a post about some of the other TV shows I'm watching as well as publish a Season 5 overview.

When I started watching Angel on DVD's roughly around the beginning of this year, I didn't initially do a post for every episode. I'd already covered a lot of the same territory in my blog while I was watching the episodes on TNT and didn't feel the need to repeat myself. And besides, I never intended for this blog to be a series of formal episode reviews. Beginning with late Season 3 and throughout Season 4, I did start doing a post for every episode simply because I had glossed over a lot of these shows in the past. I found a lot of richness and depth in these episodes this time around simply because I was finally willing to get past my extreme dislike for the Wesley-banished-from-the-group and Cordelia/Connor story arcs.

Will I review every episode of Season 5? I probably will simply because I always felt I wasn't fully understanding a few key elements in Season 5, and I'll be looking for a few clues along the way. I'll discuss this more in my Season 5 overview post.

What about after Season 5? This gets tricky because, believe it or not, I'd like to start winding down this blog. To backtrack, I've always wanted to do more Top 5 or Top 10 Favorites posts, but have neglected to do so because these posts are a lot harder for me to write than what they should be. Also, in order for me to remember what happened in Angel, I have to keep continually watching the series. I've said in the past that Angel is one of the few series I've seen where it's better for me to watch the series in order than to just limit my viewing to favorite episodes. In order to do more Top Favorites posts, I'd therefore have to start watching the series again from the very beginning in Season 1. That would be quite dangerous for me. I've written very little about Season 1 and I might feel compelled to start on yet one more series of posts about the entire series.

I'd also like to write more about Buffy, and maybe do some reviews on Buffyverse books and articles and otherwise do whatever else strikes my fancy. However, I'll just cross those bridges when I get to them. In the meantime, I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend.

'Til we meet again..........

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

HTML as a Corrupting Influence

I apologize for making my "Lilah Lives On" post temporarily disappear. I've been having trouble with the Blogger platform lately in that when I make a minor edit or two, a whole bunch of weird HTML code pops into my post from out of nowhere and does everything from change the font to making my text completely disappear from my post. My code is horribly corrupted so I'm not sure how long it'll be before I can get "Lilah Lives On" back online.

Lilah Lives On

(Stephanie Romanov as Lilah).

There's a lot going on in the Season 4 finale of Angel, "Home". I have a lot of territory to cover thanks to writer/director Tim Minear's wonderful DVD audio commentary. Today I'll focus on Wesley and Lilah, and in my next post I'll catch up on the rest of the action.

"Home" featured the very last pairing of Wes and Lilah. I've already written about this episode in "The REAL End of Lilah", and "Top 5 Favorite Wesley and Lilah Scenes". I've also written here about some of the wonderful things actress Stephanie Romanov said in past interviews about the lovely "burning the contract scene". I feel I've already done my best writing on this subject, so again I apologize if this post seems a bit scattered. I don't like to repeat myself too much, so I really encourage you to read my previous posts if you're interested. In this post I'll just concentrate on some additional insights I've gained.

What was it with the hostile looks? The biggest question I've had about this episode is, why was Wesley so hostile towards undead Lilah in this scene at the Hyperion Hotel? When he accused her of being a lie and not feeling a thing, there was the obvious subtext that he felt that she had been strictly using Wes for her own personal gain while they were still together in their relationship, and that she had no genuine feelings for him. Wesley's behavior shocked me in my first viewings since I didn't sense that he had any hostility towards her leading up to this episode. Wesley was clearly grieving her loss in his conversations with Angel here and here, with his conversation with Fred here, and obviously when he had to dismember Lilah's corpse here.

One clue which I didn't pick up on before is that, as I noted in my last post, I had forgotten that Lilah initially arrived at the Hyperion off-camera in the very last scene of the previous episode "Peace Out". We have no way of knowing what transpired between Wes and Lilah before Angel showed up. One disappointment is that when the camera initially panned across Fred, Wesley and Lorne while they were in the office (Lilah, and I believe Charles, were hidden from view), there was no indication that they were in the same room as a surprisingly undead evil lawyer from Wolfram & Hart. If anything they looked kind of uninterested and bored, as though they were simply tired of waiting for Angel.

I can't believe that Lilah had been sitting there for very long, since everyone still seemed quite shell shocked by her sudden appearance. Wesley's initial reaction in the continuation of the scene in "Home" was to deny that the creature who was standing in front of them was actually Lilah. This brought to mind what Wesley had told Illyria in the series finale "Not Fade Away" that "The first lesson a watcher learns is to separate truth from illusion. Because in the world of magics, it's the hardest thing to do. The truth is that Fred is gone." It would be easy enough to substitute "Lilah" for "Fred" in this instance.

I've said in the past that perhaps Wesley had denied that Lilah had any feelings for him as a coping mechanism he created to help ease the pain. He not only denied her love for him, he denied that she was actually standing in front of him! When he found out from Angel that it really was Lilah, it was just too much information for him to absorb all at once. He needed time to sort through his feelings, but the bewilderment and hostility remained.

We also have to keep in mind that Wesley and Lilah's love was a forbidden love. Wesley was never in danger of falling and sobbing at her feet when she returned to the Hyperion. However, he still had to be mindful of his actions around his Angel Investigations friends since he had worked so hard to be accepted back into the group. I personally don't think this was as big a factor as it could have been, but look at how Wesley was quick to point out to Charles that his calling Lilah a "loved one" was simply a figure of speech.

By the time the "burning the contract scene" finally arrived, Wesley did have time to sort through his feelings and come up with a plan of action. I always felt it was kind of a cop-out to try to portray Wesley as grieving, not because he loved Lilah, but because he failed to protect her and and bring her redemption. That might have actually been true, but why would he grieve over his failures? Because he loved her, of course.

Lilah as Evil as ever. Although writer/director Tim Minear had a lot of terrific things to say about Stephanie Romanov's performance in general, I'll try to stick to the tidbits that dealt with her relationship with Wesley. One of the things Minear commented on was how Stephanie had a blast filming the scene in the Hyperion, and he even remarked that Lilah was more fun dead than alive! Far from being bruised and traumatized from having spent time in a hell dimension, Lilah seemed as though she had been thriving.

I don't think it had been a picnic for Lilah after she died, but she was still very much in the mindset of serving Wolfram & Hart to the best of her abilities. She loved her job and it showed. Although Lilah was obviously picked to approach Angel Investigations with the offer to take over the Los Angeles branch of the law firm because of her past associations with the group, the Senior Partners could have just as well picked her to perform the task because she was the best person for the job. If Wesley could see that Lilah was unrepentant and still undeniably evil, that obviously could have put a wet blanket over any lingering feelings he might have had for her.

As an aside, Minear also commented that in the hotel scene, "every time Wesley and Lilah make a connection, I'm interested", meaning there was a lot going on between them with their glances and their little pieces of dialogue. Although I've pretty much figured out that Alexis and Stephanie always worked extremely well together, they obviously received an assist from the editors in how they spliced their little "connections" into this scene.

Wesley and Gunn. Another one of Minear's favorite scenes was the one in the hotel office where Wes and Gunn were "re-forming" their bonds of friendship that they had enjoyed in Season 2. Minear continued on that this scene was particularly difficult to write since it had to bring the audience up to date on past events as well as give us a little taste of how Gunn was pursuing his own agenda. I don't think there was anything awkward or unnatural about the scene at all, which Minear quickly attributed to how Alexis Denisof and J. August Richards always worked well extremely together. (I'll also go ahead and say that Minear himself did a fine job of making this scene work.)

At one point, Minear pointed out that Gunn could "see right through Wesley". I'm not sure if he was talking about how Wesley was feigning disinterest in Lilah's offer, or if Gunn had picked up on how Wesley slipped up when he referred to Lilah as a "loved one". (Or perhaps it was both instances.) Regardless, this is one more piece of evidence that Wesley was well on his way to rising out of the darkness and emerging as the New and Improved Wesley. His continued development may have tragically been cut short by the Connor mind wipe spell that occurred at the end of the episode.

This is probably as good an opportunity as any to point out that members of Angel Investigations had ample opportunity in "Home" to make life difficult for Wesley concerning his relationship with Lilah. However, there wasn't one snide remark, dirty look or even any awkward pauses to indicate that anyone held any grudges against Wesley. He had been thoroughly re-integrated into the group, and there was every indication that everyone continued to let bygones be bygones.

Wesley's Apartment. We never got any formal goodbyes to Wesley's nice little apartment, and I'm not even 100% sure that I remember when it made its last appearance in the series. I believe we last saw his place in the very first scene of "Release" when Wesley was treating Faith's wounds. In fact, I was even wondering for a while if Wesley had moved into the Hyperion. Each episode seemed to flow into the next, and I don't recall that there were too many breaks that would have allowed Wesley to slip back home for a quick nap and a change of clothes.

There were too many things for me to keep track of to pay close attention to wardrobe changes, but I was cognizant of how the Angel Investigations crew were stuck in their same clothes throughout most of the Jasmine arc. Because of that, I was alert to how Fred, Wesley, Gunn and Lorne were all decked out in freshly laundered clothes when Lilah showed up at the Hyperion at the end of "Peace Out". Sure enough, in this early scene in "Home", Wesley mentioned that "Yes, I should be heading home myself. It's late. Well... night all." At this point, Wesley would have been the only person in the group who lived outside of the Hyperion. (As an aside, it was pretty clear that Gunn and Fred were sleeping in separate rooms at the hotel since they had broken up several episodes earlier.)

I realize that Mutant Enemy couldn't possibly cover everything, but I always thought it was kind of an oversight that, as far as I can remember, we didn't get to see where Wesley, Gunn and Lorne lived in Season 5. Presumably Wesley stayed at his apartment, while Gunn and Lorne would have had to have found new apartments once Angel left the Hyperion. I found out from Tim Minear's "Home" commentary that the set for Wesley's apartment housed Connor's "normal" family in the final scene of the episode. I'm not sure if it's inevitable that when a set gets redesigned that it won't ever revert back to the old design, but it certainly seemed to be the case here.

I wonder if Mutant Enemy knew ahead of time at the end of Season 4 that they wouldn't be filming any more episodes at Wesley's place? They didn't know at the time that the series wouldn't be picked up for the sixth season, and they must have anticipated that at some point his apartment would figure into the plot. Maybe they envisioned him moving into fancier digs once he started receiving a larger salary? All I know is that the writers had to do a little bit of work to get around the fact that Wesley seemed to have lost his apartment when they had him babysitting Illyria at Fred's old place for a while in Season 5.

I even remember doing a post where I wondered if Illyria ever stayed at Wesley's place off-camera for a while, but we'll never know. Even the After the Fall comic continuation series never addressed the issue of what happened to Wesley's apartment and his possessions after he died in the series finale "Not Fade Away".

(Note: We certainly have a lot of good memories of Wesley and Lilah being together in his apartment.)

The Burning the Contract scene. Tim Minear commented that he was originally going to cut away to Angel and Connor in their sporting goods store scene after Wesley chided Lilah, "Perhaps you don't know me as well as you think." Minear ultimately decided not to cut away for two reasons. First, the two scenes (Angel and Connor, and Wesley and Lilah) were playing as though they really shouldn't have been interrupted. Also, Minear wanted to avoid the feeling that Wesley and Lilah had been frozen in time if he cut away from them and then came back a few moments later. As an aside, I think Mutant Enemy TV shows cut away from scenes a little too often, and Minear made the correct decision to keep these scenes intact.

He again praised how well Alexis and Stephanie performed in this scene, right down to how they stayed in character and picked up the dialogue again without skipping a beat even after they were interrupted by stage hands putting out the fire every time Alexis dropped the burning papers. Minear also stated that this was one of the first scenes he directed in this episode. Even so, I still wonder if this was Alexis' and Stephanie's final real appearance together on Angel, since presumably their scene at the Hyperion would have been filmed even earlier since it spilled over from the previous episode.

One last goodbye? I had often thought that Wesley and Lilah needed at least one more "connection" when everyone met with Lilah one more time before she walked away from the series for good. Their lack of interaction was notable in its absence. Minear admitted in the commentary that he originally had intended for Wes and Lilah to have one more little moment together in this scene. However, the episode ultimately came in about 9 or 10 minutes too long, and Minear had to trim everything that didn't pertain to the main plot regarding the Wolfram & Hart offer. Minear also implied that Wes and Lilah already had their moment, so one more pairing was unnecessary.

I can certainly understand Minear's decision. One more "connection" between Wes and Lilah would have been nice, but it might have been too anticlimactic after the beautiful "burning the contract" scene. The only question that had never been answered onscreen was, did they love each other? I always maintained that they did. Wesley's attempts to release her from her contract, and Lilah's appreciation of his efforts, told us everything that we needed to know about how they felt about each other.

We also need to take into account that the Connor mind wipe spell had already been performed, as evidenced by Fred's question of "Who's Connor?". So perhaps we could justify the lack of one more meaningful moment between Wes and Lilah based on that alone. The whole concept opens up a can of worms that's best left for another post for another day.

Closing Thoughts. I've said many times that whenever there seems to be a moment or a scene in Angel that really touches that special place in my heart, Joss Whedon seems to be behind it. Minear informed us in the DVD commentary that he was originally going to have the burning contract papers re-form through CGI magic, which obviously would have been costly and time-consuming. Whedon said there was no need to go through all the trouble when they could simply have Wesley find the contract back in its original spot in the file cabinet after he had burned it. As usual, that was a brilliant solution from Joss.

I wrote in an earlier post that I was disappointed that Lilah was focusing most of her attentions on Angel in "Home". I can certainly understand the time constraints and the need to focus on the main events. Wes and Lilah's relationship was always clearly a sideshow, albeit it seemed to take on a life of its own. Thanks to the writing, directing and editing, Wesley and Lilah's interactions made a huge impact in "Home" well out of proportion to the actual time they spent together.

I'd often wondered, how could Wesley live with himself knowing that a former "loved one" was in hell? Someone wrote not too long ago that, in reality, Lilah didn't feel that she needed to be rescued, but she still appreciated the efforts Wesley made on her behalf. If they did have any additional moments together off-camera, I'm thinking that Lilah would have reassured Wesley that she was fine and that he didn't need to worry about her.

Wesley's sweet idealism and his naivete in how he thought he could actually release Lilah from her contract was one more piece of evidence that he was emerging from the darkness and returning to his former self. Wesley was beginning to think that he could perhaps start making a difference in the world again.

Alexis Denisof and Stephanie Romanov certainly ended their appearances together on Angel on a high note. What an amazing on-screen chemistry they seemed to have.