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.

Except
, 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".

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