Thursday, August 5, 2010

Shepherding Us Into the Right Direction

(Photo: Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia/Jasmine)

"Inside Out" from Season 4 of Angel was one of the least entertaining episodes for me to watch as a couch-potato viewer (again, mostly because of the whole Connor/Cordy/Jasmine soap opera). Ironically, "Inside Out" turned out to be arguably the most crucial episode of the entire series, since it revealed that many of the events going back to the very beginning of Season 1 had been manipulated behind the scenes by an entity who would eventually be named Jasmine.

Of course Mutant Enemy didn't give out too many easy answers regarding the whole Cordelia/Jasmine arc in "Inside Out". It was more like they gave us a slate of options to choose from. However, it did appear that the creators of Angel were steering the audience in the direction of a few definitive answers regarding the mysteries surrounding the miracle births.

Writer/director Steven S. DeKnight provided excellent DVD commentary for this episode. Normally I like to allow the commentary to provide the framework for my posts, but I'm going to reluctantly abandon that format this time around. Instead, I'll do this particular post as a series of questions and (possible) answers, and insert some of DeKnight's commentary to help round things out.

Finally, I want to warn readers that this is not a formal episode review. What I'm doing in this post is trying to complete the picture in my mind of what exactly was going on with the series regarding a few of my pet themes. As a result, you might be disappointed with some of things I'm leaving out.

So, without further ado......

When did Jasmine (the Beastmaster) get activated inside of Cordelia? I addressed this question quite a bit in a series of posts that I wrote roughly during the month of May. The easy answer is, Cordy was Cordy until Lorne performed the memory spell on her in "Spin the Bottle". Jasmine was then activated at the end of the episode when the spell was complete. In other words, Cordy was Cordy before the spell, and Cordy was Jasmine after the spell.

The obvious implication was that Jasmine was somehow locked inside of Cordy until Cordy's memories returned. I won't rehash everything that I wrote, but in my "Surely the Second Coming Is At Hand" post, I came up with an argument (based on the fact that Cordelia moved in with Connor before Lorne performed his spell) that perhaps Jasmine was already somewhat in control while Cordelia was in her amnesiac state, and the restoration of Cordy's memories gave Jasmine the boost she needed to operate at full strength.

Angel gave the best answer in a highly informative scene that I had almost completely forgotten about:
FRED: Has she been like this since she got back from that higher wherever?

GUNN: What about that amnesia thing? Was that a fake-out?

WESLEY: Or a side effect. Descending to a lower dimension was probably disorienting.

ANGEL: Or maybe this thing was curled deep inside for the trip on some kind of, you know, autopilot. Look, all we know for sure is that the real damage didn't start until after Lorne's spell.

FRED: Oh, my God. We woke it up.

LORNE: That's what I read. That's what Wolfram and Hart sucked out of my noodle. It wasn't Cordelia's future. It was the smacker-jack surprise.
Although I don't think this dialogue discounts my theory completely, there isn't any other real evidence to support it either. I think I'll just have to settle for the answer that Jasmine was inside of Cordelia when Cordy returned from being hijacked onto a higher plane and became activated when Cordy's memories returned.

Although I don't remember writing about this before, I've also been thinking through the implications that Jasmine first became a part of Cordelia when Cordy became part-demon in Season 3's "Birthday". Cordy's personality certainly changed after her experiences as she turned into a much more saintly character. Having Jasmine hijack Cordy to a different level and emerging even more forcefully when her memories were restored could have just completed the process. Again, I think we have to go with what's presented to us. There's no evidence backing up this theory, and I'm not even sure the Mutant Enemy writers had Jasmine in mind at all when they developed the story line for "Birthday".

Finally, I've talked a bit about how it's presented as a statement of fact in Wikipedia (and a few other places I've seen) that The Powers That Be had locked up Cordelia's memories when she returned to our earthly plane in order to keep Jasmine at bay. This "safeguard" was destroyed by Lorne's spell in "Spin the Bottle". This is a wonderful theory, but I still haven't been able to find any evidence on the show to support it. Although there was a lot of misdirection when the characters kept referring to Cordy as being taken up to the higher plane by "The Powers", I don't think The Powers That Be had much of anything to do at all with Cordy while she was floating up in the clouds. It appeared Jasmine was firmly in control of Cordy during that entire time.

Who put the whammy on Lorne's psychic abilities? The obvious answer is that Jasmine messed with Lorne's special abilities so that he wouldn't be able to tell that Cordelia wasn't Cordelia. However, I've written in a previous post that there was circumstantial evidence that Lorne was somehow tied into The Powers That Be through his psychic abilities. One of the volumes of the After the Fall comic continuation series also gave us an intriguing subplot involving how The Powers would cut off their lines of communication if their conduit (someone like Lorne or Cordelia) fell into the wrong hands. That way, whoever was controlling the conduit wouldn't be able to exploit their direct link to The Powers for their own evil gains.

Lorne himself gave us an answer on a silver platter when he said, "That explains why my mojo's been gunked up. Queen Bee-atch [Jasmine/Cordy] put the whammy on me." Lorne's explanation could have just been one man's interpretation, but this is clearly another instance where Mutant Enemy was leading us towards one particular conclusion. The theory about The Powers That Be cutting off Lorne's abilities isn't disproven, but it wouldn't be fair to give it much credence either since the idea isn't even addressed within the series. In other words, it seems a bit unfair to apply an explanation that was conjured up roughly five years after the fact. (Which, come to think of it, Joss Whedon doesn't seem to have any qualms about changing the storylines after the fact in a lot of his TV shows and comics.)

One thing's for certain. Cordelia never received any legitimate visions from The Powers That Be in Season 4 after she came back from the higher plane.

Did Lorne get his psychic groove back? At the end of the previous episode, "Players", Lorne supposedly went to see a particular demon who gave him instructions on how to perform a ritual that would restore his psychic abilities (i.e., his abilities to "read" people, particularly if the people were singing.) This all turned out to be part of a trap that was set to trick Cordelia into trying to kill Lorne, since she would fear that he'd be able to expose her for who she really was. When Cordelia got close to Lorne, the plan was that the Angel Investigations team would spring into action and force a showdown with her. This might have worked out fine if that meddling kid Connor hadn't have jumped in and beat everyone up.

I thought that at some point we would have been given an explanation that Lorne's story about contacting the other demon about the ritual was either partially true or a complete lie. My gut instinct is that Lorne did get some guidance from a demon about restoring his psychic abilities. From this point on, it appeared that Lorne's psychic powers had been at least partially restored, but the events of Season 5 seemed to indicate that his abilities never returned to their previous strengths.

When did Mutant Enemy come up with the idea that all of the major events of Angel had been manipulated by Jasmine? Probably my Number One burning question has been, at what time did Mutant Enemy come up with the idea that all of the events within Angel: The Series had been manipulated by a higher being? Was this decided from the very beginning of the series? When Cordelia became part-demon on her 21st birthday in Season 3's "Birthday"? Or during the production of the Season 4 episodes?

Fortunately, Steven DeKnight provided some very valuable commentary. To digress a bit, DeKnight made his directorial debut with "Inside Out", which he jokingly referred to as a $1.8 million student film bankrolled by 20th Century Fox. He continued on that he was hoping that the first episode he directed would be a small creepy one that took place primarily within the confines of the Hyperion Hotel. I'll let him narrate the rest:
"Unfortunately, the way the story line broke, time-wise, Episode 17 [of Season 4] was right before we were going to lose Charisma [Carpenter, the actress who portrayed Cordelia Chase]. She was going to give birth to her child in real life, so she was about 8 months.......8 1/2 months pregnant at that point, and we realized that it [the episode] had to be the birth of what was inside her. And included in that was an incredibly complicated backstory of how this thing inside her had been manipulating everyone for years. So imagine my horror when I realized I had to go back and explain the last three years of Angel for my directorial debut."
My understanding is that Cordelia was originally going to be the sole Big Bad of Season 4, and the final showdown would have been between her and Angel. I also understand that a lot of scripts had to be re-written to incorporate Charisma Carpenter's pregnancy into the storylines. There are other reports that there were some questions as to how long Carpenter would be able to work on the set, resulting in another flurry of last-minute script rewrites.

This whole "Jasmine is manipulating things" reveal was probably the most upsetting part of the entire Angel series for me, leaving a bad taste in my mouth that I just can't get rid of. Despite all of this, I think DeKnight did a brilliant job (or at least, the best job possible) in bringing in all of those bits and pieces of the storylines together into one cohesive unit. Although "Inside Out" doesn't even come close to being one of my favorite episodes as far as sitting down and watching it, it's one of those crucial episodes where I find myself heading to the Buffyverse Dialogue Database site and reviewing the dialogue on a semi-regular basis. Quite often if I have a question about the series in general, the odds are quite good that I'll be able to find the answer in this episode.

Regardless, it's possible that the addition of Jasmine as a character did not change the overall story structure too much. If Charisma Carpenter had not become pregnant, she could have still been taken over by a demon and performed the same functions as the separate Jasmine identity.

Finally, DeKnight did give us permission to somewhat doubt the "Jasmine controlled everything" story by stating that Skip the Demon's explanation provided us with some of those fuzzy gray areas. I believe he was implying that while Jasmine did manipulate several events, she might not have done so on the scale that Skip the Demon described in this scene. Personally, I choose to think that Jasmine was responsible for: Cordelia getting the visions, Angel impregnating Darla, protecting Connor within Darla's womb, raising Cordelia to the higher dimension, getting Connor and Cordelia together so he could impregnate Cordelia, and other similar events. I have a harder time believing that Jasmine was responsible for things like Fred's descent into the Pylea dimension, Gunn's sister getting vamped, and Wesley sleeping with Lilah.

Where did The Powers That Be leave off and Jasmine begin?
I covered this topic before in"The Powers That Be and Jasmine - A Dividing Line?" from last September, in "Did Darla Have Much of a Choice - Part 1" from last January, in "What a Bummer of a Birthday" from last February, and "These Idle Thoughts Deserve Their Own Post" from last March. Long story short: I've wondered in the past if at least some of the visions were provided by Jasmine instead of The Powers That Be, and I've always been puzzled by all of the talk (and assumptions) that Cordelia was with The Powers That Be when she was a "higher power".

If Jasmine manipulated Cordy into receiving the visions, it wouldn't have been too much of a leap to assume that Jasmine was also supplying Cordy with the visions. I even wondered in my "Bummer of a Birthday" post mentioned above whether it was Jasmine or The Powers providing Cordy with the vision of the young girl in trouble in "Birthday". On the same train of thought, I had also wondered in my "These Idle Thoughts......" post mentioned above whether The Powers That Be or Jasmine gave Cordelia the power to defeat the Sluk demons in "The Price".

My conclusion all along has been that The Powers That Be were mostly supplying the visions, while Jasmine might have snuck in a vision or two, mostly (and obviously) after Cordelia returned from the higher plane. In general, I also felt that although Jasmine was manipulating events, The Powers That Be were doing their best to minimize the damage by providing Cordelia with visions and maybe providing a few other minor miracles along the way. In other words, I haven't found any clues that would make me change my mind about the source of Cordy's visions.

As far as Cordy's time on the higher plane, I haven't been able to find any reference so far to Cordy talking about being up there with The Powers That Be. All I've found is her (and it was actually "Jasmine" talking at this point) talking about her time as a "higher being". So I think it's safe to say that Cordelia was not actually spending any time with The Powers That Be when she was stuck up in the clouds.

Why did Jasmine go through the trouble of creating Connor, turning Cordelia into a part-demon, and making her give birth to herself? This question has always bothered me, since I always figured Jasmine could have easily eliminated a few middle-men and just birthed herself through Darla. The only clue I found in "Inside Out" was during this dialogue sequence:
ANGEL: Connor.

WESLEY: An impossible birth to make one possible.

SKIP: That's what the kid was designed for.

LORNE: To sleep with mother love?

ANGEL: To create a vessel.

SKIP: Look out. The monkey's thinking again.

ANGEL: Being inside a human makes it vulnerable, doesn't it? That's why it had to stay hidden. Why it needed to create something stronger to pour itself into.
I admit that I'm going out on a limb here because none of this has been expressly stated in the series. I believe that central to all of this was the fact that Jasmine wanted to ally herself with Angel. He was a heroic figure of mythic proportions, and that means a lot in the world of mystical births. (I always point to the example of how important it was for the writers of the New Testament to make sure everyone knew that Jesus Christ was a direct descendant of King David.) If Jasmine could ally herself with Angel and his crew, her plan for world domination would go a lot smoother.

It seemed important to Jasmine that she be present on the earthly plane to direct the events surrounding her own birth. I think she could have logically taken over Darla at some point, particularly in Season 2 when Darla was in human form and had a soul. However, the fact that Darla was dying of syphilis might have presented a problem. Also, when Darla became a vampire again, it was possible she became unsuitable as a takeover target because a) Jasmine required a living creature as her vessel and b) it might not have been that easy to take over a vicious demon like Darla. It was probably also quite important that Jasmine's direct parents come from somewhat noble heritage, with Connor being the miracle baby, and Cordelia being the saintly vision girl.

It's been noted by many commenters that Cordelia would have been an easy target since she was so sure of her superiority to others. It was easy to prey on her sense of vanity in order to convince her that she was being groomed for higher purposes. Like Angel hinted above (if I'm interpreting things correctly), Jasmine needed someone strong enough to withstand being taken over, and that's why it was necessary to make Cordelia part-demon. With Connor, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that Jasmine required both parents to be part-demon, and leave it at that. Also, since Connor was Angel's son, it would make it that much easier for Jasmine to ingratiate herself into Angel's inner circle.

Was Darla really Darla in "Inside Out"?
Sheesh, what a loaded question that is! Darla didn't exactly clear things up when she told Connor (after she told him she had been sent by The Powers) that "I have her memories, her feelings. Isn't that what makes a person who they are?" Compare that with Giles' famous description of vampires in the "Angel" episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when he explained "A vampire isn't a person at all. It may have the movements, the, the memories, even the personality of the person that it took over, but i-it's still a demon at the core, there is no halfway."

The next question is, who was Darla? The creators made it pretty clear both in this scene from Season 3's "Lullaby" and in this scene from "Inside Out" that she had been filled by Connor's soul just before she gave birth to him. If you follow the Platonic theory of the soul (in which the soul is a life-giving force that is separate from the body), then Connor's soul belonged only to him, and Darla would have lost all vestiges of his soul after she staked herself. The only explanation was that the soul that she somehow received when she was human in Season 2 (which, as far as I could tell, was separate from her original 17th century soul) could have somehow reattached to her after she reached "paradise".

If you follow a more existential line of thought regarding the nature of the soul (where a soul equals the moral capacity to choose between good and evil), The Powers could have possibly rewarded her with this type of soul after she performed the selfless act of staking herself in order to save infant Connor's life. Regardless, why was it that Angel was compelled to perform a lifetime of good deeds in order gain redemption, while Darla had to perform only one good deed in order to be awarded a trip to paradise? Is that somewhat like the concept of the deathbed conversion and pleas for forgiveness that awards a life-long evildoer into a ticket into Christian heaven?

I suppose it's possible that the Darla who appeared in "Inside Out" was conjured up out of thin air just to deliver the message to Connor. Cordelia/Jasmine told Connor "It's not her", even calling Darla a "sad imitation of your dead mother", (though Cordy had a bit of a credibility problem at the time). I know that Mutant Enemy is loathe to tell a straight story and give us easy answers. Rather than being sloppy writers, Joss Whedon and the rest of his staff recognize the value of creating dramatic tension through the use of ambiguous concepts. I've made it a point to take whatever is presented to me in the Buffyverse at face value unless subsequent events prove me wrong. As far as I'm concerned, Darla's one good deed gave her an existential soul which allowed her admittance into Heaven, Paradise or wherever else good Buffyverse characters go when they die, and Darla herself was sent to Connor as a messenger.

Was Connor born Evil? Wesley and Lilah were among the first to address this topic in Season 3's "Tomorrow" when they talked about the birth of Connor:
LILAH: Okay. - The impossible is here. But what does it mean? Is it the herald of a new age, better things to come or - the mass-destruction of everything we hold dear?

WESLEY: Yes. Every child born carries into the world the possibility of salvation - or slaughter.
I think Wesley came up with the best answer, in that Connor wasn't "born" anything. He was just there to be shaped, molded and manipulated by those who were the closest to him (Holtz, Angel and Cordelia/Jasmine.) To be honest I didn't fully appreciate the significance of Darla's appearance in front of Connor until I heard DeKnight talk about how Darla kept returning to the topic of "choices" when she said, "You have a choice, Connor. That is something more precious then you'll ever know." This dovetails nicely with what I wrote in my post "Maintaining the Balance", where I hinted that we're are all about Free Will and bearing the consequences of the choices that we make. As Angel told Jasmine in Season 4's "Peace Out", "Our fate has to be our own, or we're nothing."

The Powers That Be must have understand and respected the importance of Free Will by recognizing that we are more powerful in the fight against Evil if we're able to grow and adapt to changing conditions than if we slavishly follow one narrowly defined set of values. Crucial to that way of thinking, and probably grossly misunderstood by many, was the concept that The Powers had to keep their distance from the events that were happening in our dimension, with the obvious implication that if they butted in too many times, we'd quickly lose the ability to think on our own.

Contrast Darla's sophisticated take on the importance of making choices with Cordelia/Jasmine's much more simplistic attitude of "just do what I say and don't question anything". Cordy warned Connor (when she suspected "a little birdie" was "filling his head with big, confusing words"), "Whatever you're hearing, whatever you think you're seeing—it's a trick."

Another thing DeKnight pointed out that I had missed previously was how Darla, since she was working on behalf of The Powers That Be, was unable to tell Connor the specifics, that Cordelia was Bad and that she was close to giving birth to a fiend that would try to take over the world. "There are things happening, Connor, things that I can't— (sigh) It has to be your choice. You can stop this" said Darla. In fact, I can't help but be reminded of the Starfleet's Prime Directive in Star Trek, where crew members were ordered to not interfere with the internal affairs of the worlds that they encountered.

Without DeKnight's commentary, I would have continued to think that Darla's visit to Connor was simply an attempt to plead with him to do the right thing. When she failed in her quest to change Connor's mind, I wondered why the writers even bothered to bring Julie Benz in. I recognize the value of dramatic tension, but I didn't recognize at the time how Darla give us a lot more insight into not only how The Powers That Be operated, but why they kept a hands-off approach as best that they could.

Closing Thoughts. I can't say that there were too many great surprises for me upon my third viewing of "Inside Out". However, I did receive some valuable insight courtesy of Steve DeKnight in his audio commentary into why it was important for The Powers That Be to remain as hands off as possible for people in our dimension.

Compare Gunn's dialogue here, regarding Fred's remark that they were all just chess pieces being moved around a board,
"Then we'll kick it over and start a new game. Look, monochrome can yap all he wants about no-name's cosmic plan, but here's a little something I picked up rubbing mojos these past couple of years. The final score can't be rigged. I don't care how many players you grease, that last shot always comes up a question mark. But here's the thing—you never know when you're taking it. It could be when you're duking it out with the Legion of Doom, or just crossing the street deciding where to have brunch. So you just treat it all like it was up to you—the world in the balance—'cause you never know when it is. "
to Whistler's much shorter speech here (from the episode "Becoming: Part 1" from Season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer):
"No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can't help that. It's what you do afterwards that counts. That's when you find out who you are."
In my next post I'll talk about some odds and ends from "Inside Out", including some additional dialogue between Angel and Wesley concerning Lilah.

No comments: