Sunday, August 8, 2010

Jasmine the Great

(Gina Torres as Jasmine)

For whatever reason, I'm more interested in the events leading up to the Jasmine arc in Season 4 of Angel than the Jasmine arc itself. It's not that I disliked the core 4 episodes in question ("Shiny Happy People", "The Magic Bullet", "Sacrifice" and "Peace Out"). On the contrary, I found on first viewing that these shows were a welcome respite from the unceasingly dreary Connor/Cordelia/Angelus/Beastmaster arc that filled up most of the season. It's just that viewing Season 4 can be an emotionally draining experience for me, and I'm usually exhausted by the time the Jasmine arc comes along. I've found that whenever I watch the entire series in order, I find myself stepping back and recharging my batteries during the last several episodes of Season 4 so I can start out fresh for the beginning of Season 5.

I've written a little about Jasmine in the past, so I invite you to click on my "Jasmine" tag so you can explore my earlier posts. Many people have written wonderful essays about the Jasmine arc that explore the dangers of blindly following dogmas and deities. I don't have much to add to the subject, so I'll just key in on some of the minor issues that leap out at me.

Gina Torres as Jasmine. Gina Torres was perfectly cast as the Supreme Being whom everyone felt compelled to bow down and worship. I'll give special kudos to the hair, makeup and wardrobe departments for dressing her up so beautifully. In my first viewing of the series, I had read plenty of spoilers ahead of time, so it's not like I didn't know what to expect. What was quite eery was the fact that, although plenty of warning bells were dutifully going off inside of my head, I couldn't help but love both Gina Torres and her Jasmine character at first sight, not totally unlike her mind-controlled worshippers. Initially, I really enjoyed this scene at the bowling alley where Jasmine brought Angel Investigations in to kill the evil vampires who had taken over the place. Immediately after viewing it I realized that I had enjoyed the scene for all of the wrong reasons. However, I still couldn't help but get caught up in the moment.

Instead of producing a story arc about one of the former Powers That Be, what Mutant Enemy might have really done was create a loving homage to a woman (Gina Torres) who represented the unfortunate early demise of what by all accounts was a brilliant TV show(Firefly). I have tried to watch Firefly a few times on TheWB site, but had to give up after a few minutes each time because my guilty conscience told me I had already watched too much TV for one day. Now, unfortunately, the series is currently on hiatus from the site.

As an outsider, I can't help but poke fun at what seems to be real-life blinding loyalty to the ill-fated series. I will quite often stumble across Whedoncentric polls where people are asked to vote for their Favorite Whedon Series, Favorite Whedon Actors, Favorite Whedon Characters, etc. It's not too unusual to see Firefly sweeping most, if not all, of the top spots in these categories. So, whenever I see Gina Torres/Jasmine addressing her loyal throngs of followers at the Hyperion, I can't help but think that avid Whedonites have come home to roost.

Beginning of the End of the Hyperion Hotel. I'm not the first to say that the Hyperion Hotel was almost a character in its own right in the series. I've said before (and unfortunately I can't quickly locate my post) that the Hotel seemed to absorb all of the energy and emotions that were emitted by its occupants. In Season 2, the Hyperion seemed cold and forbidding while Angel was cutting himself off from his staff and the rest of the outside world. In Season 3, the Hyperion took on a warm glow while the Angel Investigations members were starting to pair up, and became downright cheery when Baby Connor arrived.

The Hyperion started visibly declining when Connor was kidnapped and Wesley was cast off from the group. The earthquake that struck the hotel at around that time caused a fair amount of damage, but the remaining members of Angel Investigations did not seem motivated to make the necessary repairs or even keep the place looking tidy. The scars in the hotel seemed to be a physical manifestation of all of the emotional wounds suffered by the members of the group.

Although the scuffle with Skip the Demon and other instances of mayhem that took place during the Apocalypse didn't help matters, this scene with Fred said it all when she said, "We should've done this a long time ago. I don't know what I was thinking letting these books be all unorganized." In that scene, things were not only scattered around helter-skelter, we could also tell that the hotel lobby wouldn't have looked so bad after the whirlwind events of "Inside Out" if things had been put back in their proper places before Skip arrived. We could also see cracks in the wall dating back to the Season 3 earthquake. Angel Investigations had let the Hyperion go to seed, and it was never going to return to its former glory.

The Regular Cast of the Show. Starting with roughly the Jasmine arc, the regular actors/characters of the series started to look different in subtle ways, almost as though a new season had started. I won't name names, but some of the changes included a few added pounds here, and a few more wrinkles and puffy eyes appearing there. I even noticed that Fred's wardrobe style had changed. Her clothes started getting a little trendier, perhaps because Cordelia was out of the picture? In general, I thought that some of the cast members looked kind of tired in their scenes, which I assumed could have been because it was getting towards the end of a long, drawn-out season.

I have no idea when each of the Season 4 episodes were actually filmed. I don't know if they were all filmed one after another, or if they were filmed a few episodes at a time in smaller groupings, with a week or two off in between each grouping. It just seemed like, visually speaking, the Jasmine arc had a look all of its own.

Fred. I feel like a horrible person for feeling this way, but regular readers know that Fred is not one of my favorite characters in Angel. She started off as a way-too annoying babbler during the late Season 2 Pylea arc, and although her character did become less irritating over time, she didn't improve enough for my taste. In "Shiny Happy People" she seemed to revert back to her old strung-out neurotic self starting in her very first scene. I think it may have been more effective if Fred had remained her more mature self, then started to regress after she fell under Jasmine's spell.

After the spell was broken when she became exposed to Jasmine's blood, Fred matured a little bit, but not enough to make it a satisfying dramatic contrast. To digress a bit, I always thought that by casting Fred as the hero in this arc, it looked way-too obvious that someone decided "Let's give Fred something to do." When Fred snapped back to attention after the spell was broken, instead of being a little more heroic, for the most part she was still the quavering little girl who always looked slightly ridiculous when she stamped her feet and shook her tiny fists.

Wesley. There were two instances in the show where it looked like Wesley had a chance to be the hero. The first moment was in this scene when it appeared for a brief moment that Wesley would be the lone standout against Jasmine. The other time was when Fred felt that Wesley was the one she could turn to with her story about Jasmine being an evil demon. The implication was that Wesley was the smartest one in the room and the least likely to fall for Jasmine's ruses. Of course, with Wesley being Wesley, it was all for naught, but at least the writers threw a few scraps my way. (Note: with Fred turning to Wesley for help, let's also not forget the implication that she favored him over the other men in the group.)

Creation Myth
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I thought this was an interesting Creation story, where Jasmine said that (after demons had taken over Earth), "But then something new emerged from deep inside the earth—neither demon, nor God", to which Wesley answered "Man." I wonder if the writers had an existing creation myth in mind? (Please don't tell me it's a Lord of the Rings reference.)

Also, in the same dialogue sequence, Jasmine stated, "And it seemed, for a time, that through this new race [man], a balance might be restored." I wish I'd discovered this when I wrote my post "Maintaining the Balance", in which I said that The Powers That Be seemed to be more about balance and creating order out of chaos than just unequivocally representing Good.

Angel's Season 2 Trials. I always enjoy coming across dialogue that gives me more insight into story lines. This was probably the biggest "aha!" moment for me in the entire show, when Jasmine explained that she was responsible for Lorne sending "Angel and human Darla into the trials to earn a new chance at life." (This was a reference to the Season 2 episode, "The Trial", where Angel tried to save Darla from the fate of dying from syphilis.) When Angel told Jasmine that he failed, Jasmine replied, "No, you earned that life. And there it is" (pointing to Connor).

Was Jasmine trying to take credit for something she had no part of? However, like everything else about Angel, I choose to take what's given to me at face value as far as the story lines go.

In one of the early Season 3 "Darla" DVD commentaries, I believe it was Tim Minear who said that he and Joss Whedon came up with the idea of Darla being pregnant while they were brainstorming Season 3 story lines. I was under the impression that this brainstorming session took place between Seasons 2 and 3. Regardless, I doubt if they had the whole miracle births ideas plotted out at the time "The Trial" was written.

Timelines. It's too much of a task to plot out a timeline of the events of Season 4, but there are several references in different online sites and in DVD commentaries about how, for the most part, Season 4 was compressed into just a few short weeks. Just think of how many of the episodes ended with one scene while the next episode picked up from the same scene. That bothers me just a wee bit because I'd discovered that the events in Angel often seemed to correspond roughly with our own calendar years. One exception I can think of centered around Cordelia's birthday in Season 3's "Birthday". As I mentioned in this post, Cordelia's birthday was in May, but the episode premiered in January 2002. So when did she turn age 21, in 2001 or 2002?

So for me, it begs the question, if Season 4 was compressed into a short period of time, did the season take place mostly in 2002? In 2003? Or did the season neatly spill into both years? Also, if Season 5 started where Season 4 left off in late 2002 or early 2003, did the events conveniently expand out to fill up 2003 and 2004? I know, I know, I shouldn't take on these extra burdens.

Idle Thoughts. I always remember Marita Grabiak (who directed "Shiny Happy People") as the director who had her characters leave the Tropicana casino on the Las Vegas Strip in Season 4's "The House Always Wins" only to have them magically emerge in downtown Vegas several miles away. I felt a similar moment had occurred when Angel chased the vampire out of the bowling alley and emerged into what looked like a rather nice outdoor seating area of a restaurant. Where I live you're more likely to emerge from a bowling alley into a 7-11 parking lot.

Just like with his dealings with Cordelia, it seemed there were times when Connor was almost going to figure things out with Jasmine. However, he always allowed himself to be talked out of his doubts, like in this scene.

Did actor David Boreanaz look like he was about to crack up laughing a few times when he was delivering his humble, worshipful lines to Gina Torres?

When Fred recognized Jasmine as being an evil demon, Jasmine told others, "I doubt even Fred understands why she's so determined to destroy everything we're trying to create, which makes her even more dangerous." It seems that Jasmine was knocking free will, where we might not have all the answers, but we can recognize what isn't right and can use our inner sense of morality as our guides.

My attitude towards "Shiny Happy People" is similar to my attitude towards the previous episode "Inside Out". With both episodes, I don't really enjoy sitting down and watching them that much (in "Shiny Happy People" it's because I don't like how the entire Angel Investigations crew turned into complete idiots), but both episodes contain a lot of crucial dialogue that explain many of the events that occurred throughout the entire series.

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