Friday, August 6, 2010

More Inside Out

Alexis Denisof and David Boreanaz
as Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and Angel


In my last post, "Shepherding Us in the Right Direction", I discussed a lot of the larger themes from Season 4 of Angel's "Inside Out", like, the nature of Jasmine/Cordelia, how much The Powers That Be controlled things, and whether Connor was born Evil. In this post I'll catch up with some of the more minor issues.

Angel, Wesley and Lilah. You didn't think I'd write a series of posts about "Inside Out" without talking about this warm and cuddly piece of dialogue between Angel and Wesley, did you?
ANGEL:........ It was all there right in front of me. I couldn't see it. Thought of losing her [Cordelia] to Connor—

WESLEY: Did exactly what it was supposed to. Play on your emotions to cloud your judgment. Draw your attention away so this thing could continue to murder anyone it... Least you had a reason for letting it happen.

ANGEL: Wes, Lilah and I weren't exactly friends—

WESLEY: You were mortal enemies. Why should you care what happened to her?

ANGEL: Because you did.
Incidentally, in writer/director Steven DeKnight's DVD commentary, he slyly referred to this as the "tender reconciliation scene between our two heroes."

I'm beginning to realize that these frequent references to Lilah after her death in Season 4 was more than dialogue that was written just so people like me would be able to say "Oh, how SWEET!" Lilah would be making one more appearance in Angel, in the season finale "Home", and the creators had to keep her story alive in order to heighten the dramatic tension in her return. (Whether the continuity worked between the buildup for her return and her actual return is debatable.)

However, these little snippets of comforting dialogue between Angel and Wesley does highlight the overall goodness of Angel's character. If I was asked to point to one definitive instance of how generous Angel could be, I'd point to his acceptance of Wesley's affair with the evil Wolfram & Hart attorney Lilah Morgan and his complete forgiveness of Wesley himself. Angel, and, for the most part, Wesley, were on opposite sides of the battlefield from Lilah, but both had established their own special bonds with her. In the end, Angel's own special ties of friendship with Wesley was strong enough to overcome the anger and sense of betrayal that he felt after Wesley committed what Angel considered to be treasonous acts.

There are numerous instances within Angel where Angel and Wesley didn't talk about their feelings too much, simply because guys just don't talk about their feelings with one another. But every once in a while a little bit of sentiment would slip through the cracks, with the overall effect being that much more potent than the two of them having real heart-to-hearts on a semi-regular basis. Two examples I can think of occurred in Season 3's "Couplet" when Wesley reassured Angel by telling him that "You're like one of these rare volumes....one of a kind", and in Season 5's "Lineage" when Angel told Wesley, "You're the guy who makes all the hard decisions, even if you have to make 'em alone."

Even though Angel's understanding and forgiveness was much appreciated by Wesley, he still needed someone that he could open up to and pour out his feelings of heartache and grief concerning his failed relationship with Lilah. Willow would have been the perfect confidante for Wesley, but it's too bad she had to leave the Hyperion so quickly after she restored Angel's soul in "Orpheus".

Steven S. DeKnight. As I mentioned in my last post, Steve DeKnight provided excellent DVD commentary for "Inside Out".
One advantage to having a single commentator is that the speaker doesn't have to worry about being cut short by his partner. There's nothing more upsetting than having one person start to talk about a theme that is near and dear to my heart, only to hear him being interrupted by another person who goes off on an unrelated tangent.

DeKnight made his directorial debut with "Inside Out", and he was quite informative about all of the challenges that he faced. I sometimes think I learn more from someone who is new to a particular field than from a veteran, since the new guy is eager to tell everyone what he's learned. I can't even scratch the surface of everything that DeKnight covered, but I did like how he said that he found out that a director's already two hours behind schedule the moment he walks onto the set. From that point on he talked about the challenges of trying to come up with exciting shots within the always-looming deadlines. I also gained more insight into how a scene is shot from multiple directions, which seems like an almost impossible task to me.

Since DeKnight always seemed to be running well behind schedule, he really appreciated the professionalism of all of the actors for being able to nail their performances spot on. He gave special praise to J. August Richards and David Boreanaz for coming through during particularly trying moments.

My notes are somewhat incomplete in this aspect, but there was at least one instance where DeKnight said he was wondering how he was going to finish a certain scene, and after kicking around different ideas for a while, someone came up with the perfect solution. Other writers/directors have talked about this process in other DVD commentaries as well. When they tell these stories, sometimes I'm under the impression that they've already produced most of the scene and can't finish because they're trying to figure out how to end it. I can't help but feel kind of naive for thinking that they would actually wait until the last minute to come up with an ending. So, I wonder if they're talking about this process occurring while they're still in the scriptwriting stage.

Vincent Kartheiser. I've written in a prior post about how director Vern Gillum and writer DeKnight had nothing but praise for Vincent Kartheiser in their "Apocalypse, Nowish" commentary. DeKnight continued on in the same vein in his "Inside Out" commentary, but also elaborated how he came to the set one day and found Kartheiser looking quite troubled, even teary-eyed. DeKnight asked Vincent if everything was alright, and Vincent reassured him that everything was fine - he was just getting himself ready for the next scene.

DeKnight, somewhat repeating what he said in his "Apocalypse, Nowish" commentary, again praised Kartheiser for continuing to act in-character even in his off-camera moments. DeKnight said that sometimes the shots that focus on the other actor would last for about an hour, but Vincent just continued on with his performance anyways, which allowed the other actors to feed off of his acting. I've noticed, not only in Angel, but in many other TV shows and movies, that the actor who is not facing the camera (where we usually seem him partially from behind) is often just standing there like a wooden fence post, which is actually quite distracting to me.

Which always leads me to the questions, if Kartheiser was being singled out for praise for doing certain things as an actor, then he must have been somewhat unique on the set? Which actors were the most difficult to work with?

Julie Benz. DeKnight also had nothing but praise for Julie Benz, and remarked how wonderful it was to be able to direct both her and Kartheiser in the same scenes. I've heard from not only DeKnight, but also many other actors and production staff members about how warm, kind and gracious she is. I can remember the Season 3 DVD featurette that gave Benz a warm send-off from the series as a semi-regular cast member, which didn't happen with just anybody on Angel. I always find her performances in Angel absolutely spell-bending, and she can hold my interest during a scene better than almost anyone else. However, for whatever reason, the magic disappears as soon as the scene comes to an end, and I have no real impulse to review any particular scenes with Benz just to see her act. It's like her performances only seep a few layers into me, then abruptly stops.

I'm 98% sure that I'm not overwhelmed by Benz' performance because Darla is such an upsetting character. I've said before that whenever Angel was going into a really enjoyable direction, Darla would arrive on the scene and ruin everything for me. I'm curious to see if I would have become more of a Julie Benz fan if Darla had been more of a sympathetic character. Oddly enough, while watching the occasional Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode online, I'm finding that Juliet Landau as Drusilla is the one who's drawing more of my interest.

Idle Thoughts.
DeKnight said in his "Apocalypse, Nowish" commentary that he always enjoyed writing fight scenes. He was therefore excited to be able to direct his first fight scenes in "Inside Out". I'm under the impression that Mutant Enemy writers put a lot of production details into their scripts, perhaps more than other script writers? Regardless, if I was writing a script, I'd probably write something like "Angel kicks the crap out of five demons" and then let the director and stunt coordinators hash out the details.

Going back to the "Apocalypse, Nowish" commentary again, DeKnight and/or Vern Gillum mentioned a few times that Vincent Kartheiser was the best listener on the set. They continued on that you could tell which actors were listening when the shots were being explained and which actors were not. I was a little confused because I thought at one time his listening skills were being praised in the context of how good he looked on the screen when he was acting like he was listening. I think DeKnight cleared it up for me in "Inside Out" when he seemed to imply that Kartheiser is the best actor in TV, and maybe in movies too, when he's "listening" on-camera.

I always loved David Denman as Skip the Demon, and DeKnight gave probably the best description of his acting performance when he said,"The juxtaposition of the horrible monstrous outfit and his kind of deadpan, off-the-cuff way of delivering lines really works."

In describing this scene where Wesley killed Skip with a single bullet through a gap in the armor in the demon's head, DeKnight said "This is where he finally gets his moment." I agree with that statement, since Wesley rarely had the opportunity to do anything unambiguously heroic. DeKnight also reminded us that Wesley was known for his scenes where he came out with his guns blazing, usually to no avail. One reason why this scene was valuable to Wesley's overall character development was that it solidified his reputation for being a great shot. Without his triumph in "Inside Out", his similar achievement in Season 1's "Expecting" would have looked more like a fluke.

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