Saturday, August 14, 2010

Farewell to the "Old" Angel Series

One more episode that I've seen too many times is "Peace Out" from Season 4 of Angel. Although it's a favorite of mine, "Peace Out" started losing its dramatic impact after about the second viewing. As a result, I feel that I'm not giving this episode the full attention that it deserves.

I still value "Peace Out" for its many fine qualities. It's such a pivotal episode, I find myself turning to it quite a bit as a valuable reference source when I have questions about the series in general. As an aside, I completely missed "Peace Out" when I first started watching Angel on TNT, which naturally negatively impacted my understanding of the entire Jasmine arc.

Jasmine and The Powers That Be. I wrote about "Peace Out" a little bit in a post that I did last September called "Maintaining the Balance". In this post I discussed the concept that perhaps The Powers That Be were more about maintaining balance in the universe rather than representing the forces of Good. When Jasmine stepped over the line and tried to obliterate evil, Angel felt that the price was too high, since people would be losing their free will and their right to make choices.

For such an important moment in the series, I'm kind of surprised that I haven't written more about that scene. However, sometimes a sentence or two is all that's needed. I don't feel the need to revisit the topic too much, so if you're interested, I recommend that you read "Maintaining the Balance" and its companion post "The Powers That Be and Jasmine - A Dividing Line?".

New Direction for Angel: the Series. According to Nancy Holder's essay "Death Becomes Him: Blondie Bear 5.0" (appearing on page 154 of Glenn Yeffeth's 2004 book The Five Seasons of Angel), veteran writer and consulting producer David Fury was given the title of Co-Executive Producer and put in charge of the task of, to put it bluntly, saving the series. Ratings had fallen for Season 4 (I can't imagine why) and Angel was in serious danger of being canceled. I won't give a lot of details because I don't want to make any mistakes, but according to this Wikipedia entry for the season finale "Home", it was pretty clear that Mutant Enemy felt the need to totally reinvent the show in order to keep it on the air. We're fortunate that Fury himself wrote "Peace Out", since this episode marked the starting point on the bridge between the "old" Angel series at the Hyperion Hotel and the "new" Angel series at the offices of Wolfram & Hart.

I'm beginning to realize that instead of Angel going through an abrupt change from the "old" to the "new", Mutant Enemy actually went through a steady winding down process. I seemed to pick up on this as I noted in my last few posts that the Jasmine arc had a lot of stylistic differences from the preceding episodes, almost as though the series had started a new season. Fury did an excellent job of closing out the "old" Angel for good and helped us make the transition to the "new" series as seamlessly as possible.

The Hyperion Hotel. I've mentioned a few times how the Hyperion was almost a character in its own right, as it seemed to absorb and reflect a lot of the emotions and energy of its inhabitants. I'm jumping the gun on this part, since the Hyperion will make one more appearance in the next episode "Home", and I have yet to see the Season 4 DVD special feature about the Hyperion set. However, I really felt that this scene where Wesley, Gunn, Fred and Lorne were surveying the damage in the lobby area gave us our chance to give our formal goodbyes to the hotel.

Although the Hyperion was looking pretty shabby after Jasmine and her hordes of faithful followers had fled (not to mention from the chaos caused by Angel when he magically appeared with the demon's head), enough of its former glory remained so that we could see the contrast between the good times and the bad.

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. I've mentioned in a previous post that:
One of Wesley's most admirable traits was how he was able to exude quiet courage and a sense of dignity even when he was suffering under the most horrendous or humiliating of circumstances. Two examples that quickly come to mind was his demeanor after he had been captured by Captain Narwek and his men in Season 2's "Over the Rainbow", and after he had been captured by Connor et al on behalf of Jasmine in Season 4's "Peace Out".
This put me in a train of thought that Wesley was starting to revert back to his old self again. To back up a bit, I had mentioned in one of my earlier Season 4 posts that although Wesley rejoined Angel Investigations in "Apocalypse, Nowish", I didn't think he became completely accepted as a full-fledged member of the group until the Jasmine arc. Instead, I felt like he was acting more like an independent contractor. As the season progressed, I was having second thoughts since I thought I probably should have given him an earlier reintegration date.

Luckily for me, I'm starting to feel better about what I wrote. By the time "Peace Out" came along, Wesley was not only fully integrated into the group, his character was becoming more integrated as he merged the best qualities of his "old" and "new" selves into one strong personality. Wes had gone through some horrific moments in late Season 3 as he dealt with the consequences of kidnapping Connor, and he became a much darker person as a result. Throughout Season 4 it seemed as though he wanted to get back in touch with his former idealistic self, but couldn't seem to figure out how to do so.

As Wes snapped out of his Jasmine-trance, he also seemed to revert back to his former Watcher personality at just the right time. In "Sacrifice" Wes gave Angel the necessary information he needed in order to defeat Jasmine. In "Peace Out" he helped maintain the morale and fighting spirit of the rest of the group by keeping them informed as to what was happening and by coming up with ideas on how they could deal with their situation. In other words, instead of adopting a defeatist attitude, he kept the group focused and kept them moving in a positive direction despite impossible odds. Also, Wes started to act more for the interests of the entire group rather than seemingly pushing his own agendas.

Wesley had gone through too many hard times to be able to fully revert back to his more innocent, lighthearted self. However, he could take the maturity and toughness he had gained during his dark times and use it to his advantage. As the darkness lifted, he swiftly started to regain his lost humanity and seemed to gain a renewed sense of purpose in life. Wesley was a better man for having gone through those horrendous experiences of Seasons 3 and 4, which made it all the more tragic when Angel agreed to have everyone undergo the Connor mind wipe at the very end of Season 4. You can imagine I'll have more to say about that later on.

Connor. Connor carried on his tradition of putting two and two together, taking positive actions to improve a bad situation, and ruining everything by continuing to make bad choices. Of course I'm referring to how he repeatedly questioned Jasmine about what happened to Cordelia, beat the information he needed out of her followers, beat up the cops who were guarding the comatose Cordelia, eventually killed Jasmine for failing to ease his pains, yet rejected Angel and started off on his own psychopathic rampage.

Although Wesley helped put the idea in Connor's head that perhaps Cordelia had been on Jasmine's dinner plate, Connor was receptive because he already knew that Jasmine was "a lie". Despite the sad ending, "Peace Out" brought out all of Connor's best qualities, which made it even tougher to have to say goodbye to him in the next episode when his memories were altered and he was placed with the normal, loving family. He would have been a terrific asset to Angel Investigations, though fortunately my wishes came true for him first in late Season 5, then in a more substantial way in the After the Fall comic continuation series.

Vincent Kartheiser probably had his best dialogue of the series in this episode, as he poured out his grief and despair to comatose Cordelia. Although he knew Jasmine was a lie, he just hoped her lie was better than all of the others ones he'd heard. Connor desperately wanted to be as mindless and happy as everyone else, but that was impossible since his blood ties with Jasmine made it impossible for him to fall under her spell. Despite his tough exterior, Connor was a huge idealist at heart, probably because he might have developed some unrealistic expectations of our dimension while he was growing up in Quor-Toth. Kartheiser acted as beautifully as ever in his scenes, as he portrayed a young man who was completely unable to reconcile his idealism with the grim reality of his new world.

Angel and Jasmine. I was touched with how these two characters seemed to be making a surprising connection with each other in this scene where a nearly-defeated Jasmine was wandering through the rapidly-deteriorating city of Los Angeles. Jasmine poured out her frustrations and despair to Angel, and Angel, who never gave up on anyone, actually (and sincerely) invited her to stick around and try to help make the world a better place! It's too bad that Jasmine wasn't ready to give up her Supreme Being job title just yet, which ultimately led to her death.

I couldn't help but compare the scene between Angel and Jasmine with a few scenes in Season 5 where demon goddess Illyria was trying to cope with her reduced powers.

Idle Thoughts. It's tough seeing such a lively Charisma Carpenter in the opening credits during this stretch of Season 4. It's almost as though Mutant Enemy was taunting their viewers by telling them, "See what you're missing?"

Tracy Bellows, the fictitious KTLA reporter, was creepier than Jasmine. Kristin Richardson did a wonderful job portraying the bubble-headed newswoman.

According to this TV.com page, "Other writers [besides David Fury] wrote portions of "Peace Out" but were uncredited. Steven DeKnight wrote act four and Elizabeth Craft & Sarah Fein wrote the final scene of the episode." If true, everyone did a wonderful job. That's why I'm always reluctant to attribute dialogue to a specific writer because I never know for sure if the credited writer actually wrote the the scene. It's a bit disconcerting for me that I have evidence that a large number of my favorite scenes were written by uncredited writers.

I had forgotten that Lilah actually arrived at the Hyperion off-screen before Angel returned in the final scene. Wesley was trying to warn Angel that she had arrived, but Angel insisted on finishing his story first. I was thinking that Lilah showed up after Angel had arrived, and surprised everyone at the same time.

I have a high tolerance for poor special effects, but I thought the outdoor scenery in the giant bug dimension was pretty bad even by my standards. The fortress on the mountain top looked particularly hokey, and it was kind of embarrassing to see David Boreanaz "scale" the rocky walls. I don't recall the special effects being that poor, so I wonder if "Peace Out" was one of those episodes that I'd only previously seen in the daytime. My family room is bright and cheery, and it's impossible to block out more than just a little bit of sunlight. As a result, it's very hard for me to pick out a lot features in a darkly lit show like Angel unless I'm watching the show with all of the lights out at night.

I read in this Wikipedia entry that Season 4 was Joss Whedon's favorite season of Angel. That tells me everything I need to know about how much he loves to torture his viewers.

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