Friday, August 13, 2010

The Keeper of the Moral Code

"Sacrifice" from Season 4 of Angel is one of those cathartic episodes that allowed fans to vicariously release of a lot of pent up energy after being subjected to the almost unceasing doom and gloom of the Beast/Beastmaster/Angelus story arc. I was right up there with the rest of the Angel Investigations team in their car chases and demon hunting expeditions. There were a few clunky moments, but for the most part it was a relief to just sit back and take in an old-fashioned adventure story for a change.

Action Sequences. There were too many good scenes for me to describe, but I particularly liked the action that took place at the gas station, where the gang had to fight off a bunch of mind-controlled Jasmaniacs while they were refueling Angel's car. Notice how when Lorne shouted out the warning "Soccer mom, 12 o'clock", Wesley Wyndam-Pryce was the one who smacked the woman aside.

I've mentioned a few times in the past that Wesley appeared to have somewhat of a misogynistic streak in him, which of course showed up the most clearly in Season 3's "Billy". Also think of his past behaviors toward Justine in Season 4's "Deep Down", and Faith and the drug addict girl in Season 4's "Release". In reality, Wesley was used to being around strong-willed female Slayers. He didn't feel the need to offer women any special treatment as circumstances demanded. Wesley could be very polite, courteous and chivalrous towards women, but if any of them tried to cross him, look out!

Conflict for the sake of conflict. I complain an awful lot when it looks like the writers introduced conflict into an episode just for the sake of conflict. Whereas a lot of the Mutant Enemy staff seemed to think that personality conflicts added tension and drama to an episode and kept things interesting, I quite often thought the conflicts bogged down the story lines. In "Sacrifice" I believe little conflicts were introduced: a) to show us that the characters were returning to their normal selves and b) to show us that the characters were suffering from genuine side effects (the release of stress hormones?) as a result of their grief over the loss of Jasmine from their lives.

One specific instance of conflict being introduced was in this scene where Angel and Gunn had their little spat in the tunnel when Angel admitted that he didn't have a plan. Their disagreement was believable since they were both clearly stressed out and were just letting off a little steam. This scene was an echo of their earlier days when Angel and Gunn occasionally butted heads when their alpha male instincts for dominance would simultaneously kick in.

Fred seemed to suffer the most from these little contrived conflicts since her scenes exactly reinforced why I found her character to be so irritating. She followed a strict, unwavering moral code that was more appropriate for schoolmarms than demon hunters. One example includes one of the very first scenes of the episode, where the Angel Investigations crew had to make a quick getaway sans Connor. Fred acted as the Voice of Conscience when she insisted "We can't just leave him......", even though Connor was thoroughly under Jasmine's spell and would have caused a bloodbath inside Angel's car within 30 seconds.

Another example of a contrived conflict that put the spotlight on her moral code was in this scene in the sewer tunnels, when Gunn and Fred hashed things out yet one more time about their murder of Professor Seidel in Season 4's "Supersymmetry". What led up to their little discussion was the fact that they were hunting down 13-year-old Matthew, the kid who ran away when he freaked out after he found out that Angel was a vampire. Gunn's mindset was to nab the kid and "drag his ass" back down to the tunnels as soon as possible, while Fred pleaded for sympathy and understanding for the boy.

There's actually too much terrific dialogue for me to discuss, so you should click on the hyperlink above if you're interested. In a nutshell, the gist of the discussion was that Fred was accusing Charles and Angel of being "heartless, uncaring" shells who were "dead inside", while she alone retained her humanity. Of course it didn't help matters when Charles caught up with Matthew and knocked him out cold, since there was an immediate threat that Matthew would raise an alarm that would have resulted in not only the capture of Fred and Charles, but the eventual capture of the rest of the Angel Investigations team.

Which leads to my dilemma: I seem to dislike Fred because she didn't believe in murdering humans and beating up scared little boys. I understand the concept of violence begetting violence, and how if you adopt the tactics of your enemies and oppressors you run the very real risk of losing your own soul. However, if I'm ever in a position where scores of vicious demons are roaming around or a megalomaniac is moments away from taking over the world, I'd rather have an army of Charles Gunns protecting me than a bunch of Winifred Burkles.

Back in the day, up through Season 3 (and in
one notable episode in Season 5), Cordelia Chase was the one who kept the Angel Investigations team on the straight and narrow. I've accused Cordy several times of tending to see everything in black and white while ignoring the shades of gray, but her standards were valuable as a counterweight against some of the morally ambiguous stuff the guys came up with from time to time. In essence, Fred was stepping into Cordelia's shoes as the keeper of the moral flame. It's just that Cordy was able to handle that job title with a bit more panache.

Lorne. Interestingly enough, Lorne was perfectly capable of helping group members remember their moral codes, and he could probably sort out the shades of gray and see the issues more clearly than just about anyone else. Unfortunately, since he gave up on (burned-out) Caritas in Season 3 and started hanging out with Angel Investigations, he allowed himself to lose some of his focus as he tried to blend in with the team.

In my last post I praised Andy Hallett's portrayal of Lorne through the early part of the Jasmine arc. However, in "Sacrifice" I thought the writers were starting to turn him into a buffoon. (Oddly enough, I've looked at the written dialogue and I can't point my finger at anything particularly offensive. I'm just relying on the overall impression his character made in this episode.) Although Lorne was perfectly able to jump into a fray without a moment's hesitation (which he did at least once in "Sacrifice"), he was clearly somewhat cowardly and otherwise not loving the violence.

Perhaps the creators were possibly trying to portray Lorne as someone who babbled nervously
when he was in an uncomfortable situation? Unfortunately, it came off as though the writers were making fun of Lorne and using him for cheap laughs. (Though I admit I liked this little scene.) I thought Lorne's character was poorly utilized in Season 5, so I'm wondering if "Sacrifice" somewhat marked the beginning of the end for his character.

Idle Thoughts
. Even though Wesley was in a precarious situation, he was clearly enjoying using all of his Watcher training in his battle of wits against the other-worldly demon Jasmine-worshipper. And wasn't it great to see Wesley once again reasoning things out and coming through with the information just in the nick of time for Angel?

It was nice to see Wesley as the getaway driver at least for a little while in "Sacrifice". At various times throughout the series we found out that Wes was perfectly capable of pulling off a few Jim Rockford-type moves.

I wasn't fond of the scenes that took place in the dark sewer tunnels. It was all too claustrophobic for me.

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