Tuesday, August 17, 2010

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.

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