Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Posts are Few and Far Between

I again apologize for my lack of posts lately. I've hit another busy stretch, and I don't have a lot of time to devote to my blog. Things will settle down again in the near future - I'm just not sure of the exact date.

Take care of yourselves everyone.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hawaii Five-O All Grown Up

Even though I'm still quite busy I'm still around. Tonight I saw "The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco" from Season 5 of Angel. Naturally, it turned into one of those episodes where I can devote about eight paragraphs of text for each two-word line of dialogue, so the review for that show will come at a later date. Fortunately, I can pound out a few impressions of the series premiere of the 2010 version of Hawaii Five-O without too many problems.

Overall Impressions of Hawaii Five-O. I actually saw it for the first time when I was out of town a few nights ago. I was all by myself, watching the show on what was not the greatest TV set in the world, and I honestly didn't enjoy it that much. My family and I just finished watching the first season of the original series on DVD a few months ago, and naturally the new series just couldn't compare. I thought the colors were much murkier in the new version (too much computer-generated assistance?), the editing was too fast-paced, the characters blew through enough ammunition to supply our U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan for about a year, and the love/hate turning into buddy/buddy relationship between characters Steve McGarrett and Danno Williams seemed too forced. Believe it or not, the wooden acting performances from the non-professionals in the original series added to the charm, whereas the new version of the show was a little too slick. Finally, that strained easy-going chit-chat at the end of the show was a little too much for me to put up with.

Fortunately, my husband recorded the episode and I just finished watching it again a few hours ago. It certainly made a difference watching the show with my husband and two of my sons, with them whooping and hollering and giving them each other fist bumps every three minutes or so. I had a lot of fun with my family tonight and I look forward to seeing the show again next week.

Spike, er, Victor Hesse. I have to start out with this character first, since he was the main reason why I saw the show. James Marsters was magnificent, at least from what little I saw of him. I honestly don't ever remember seeing the main villain of an episode get so little airtime. We saw Marsters for a few minutes in the beginning of the show, for a few minutes at the end, and never for longer than about 1/8th of a second at a time (or so it seemed). I felt like dope-slapping the editors and saying, would it kill you to let us get a good look at the guy? Was Marsters so hideous or his acting so deplorable the editors were forced to do all of that fancy splicing? At times it seemed more like we saw a series of video montages of Marsters interspersed amongst the other action rather than a performance from him.

I'm wondering if this was a conscious decision to focus more of the attention on the main characters so we'd get to know them before the season really kicks into high gear? In the original series, the villain of the week usually got as much airtime as the main characters. I know, I know, I shouldn't compare the old with the new. Regardless, Marsters certainly made the best of a very limited opportunity.

Steve McGarrett and Danno Williams. On the second viewing, I thought Alex O'Loughlin and Scott Caan were excellent as Steve McGarrett and Danno Williams. In the original series McGarrett was very much the tyrant. I always wondered why no one ever told him to shove it somewhere. In the new version McGarrett is again very much the alpha male, but Danno did not allow himself to be pushed around. Although McGarrett is technically of higher rank, Danno appears to be very much an equal.

Incidentally, I love Danno as the sensitive dad.

Chin Ho Kelly. Just as I figured, Daniel Dae Kim is excellent as Chin Ho Kelly. Has Kim received very many awards for his performances? He certainly deserves them. Regardless, I really had my doubts when I read the original story line several months ago about how Chin Ho Kelly was an embittered ex-cop who had been kicked off the force (wrongly, it appears) for being on the take. The original Chin Ho was much older and as square as they make them. My only criticism is that I don't feel convinced that Chin Ho is native to the island, but I can easily overlook that.

Kono. This was the toughest part for me, trying to accept Grace Park as Kono. The original Kono was played by a gazillion-pound non-professional actor named Zulu. Some people would say that Zulu was one of the wooden actors that I referenced above, but I prefer to call his style stoic bemused detachment. Whatever you want to call it, my family loved the original Kono! What can I say about Grace Park? Well, let's see. She's half my age (not really) and twice as lovely (closer to the truth), and seems to spend most of her waking hours in a bikini. Also, her character can do just about anything even though she's probably only in her mid-20's at the most. Fortunately, she fights like Buffy, so I'll grudgingly accept her for now.

Closing Thoughts
. My sons informed me that as long as we judge the new Hawaii Five-O on its own merits rather than compare it to the old series, we should be OK. Anyway, of course I'm wondering how long the new series will last?

We were a bit worried going into this about how bad the show might be. I wouldn't exactly say that we had high hopes for the new Knight Rider series that aired in 2008, but still we could only stomach about the first 10 minutes of the premiere episode. Even then we had to force ourselves to watch it that long.

The opening theme music for the new Five-O pays homage to the music in the original series, but just doesn't last long enough. Rather than being disappointing in comparison, perhaps the producers should give the theme music in the new series some more of its own personality.

As far as I know, there doesn't seem to be any concrete plans to bring back Marsters as Victor Hesse. I have no inside knowledge so I hope I'm wrong.

I'm wondering if part of the reason we saw very little of Marsters at the end was because a lot of the action was apparently performed by a stunt man?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Another Busy Stretch

I'll be pretty busy for the next few to several days again. I hope to have my next post up by the end of the week. Take care, and I hope everyone's having a good start to their week.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Two Faces of Lorne

(Andy Hallett as Lorne.)

I was really curious to see how I'd react this time around to "Life of the Party" from Season 5 of Angel. I thought it was absolutely hilarious the first time I saw it, yet on subsequent viewings I thought it was one of the more cringe-worthy episodes of the whole series. Do you ever feel so embarrassed for a group of actors you feel like crawling under a rock to get away from it all? That's about how I felt at times.

This time around I didn't have any strong feelings for this show one way or another. I could recognize some humorous situations, and I don't recall turning red-faced with shame at any other time either. As usual, I discovered a lot of references to some key topics that I'm focusing in on while I'm working through my DVD set, so I still found a lot of interesting (to me, at least) aspects to write about.

Lorne - In His Element? I had noted in a previous post, "Lack of Conviction", that Joss Whedon remarked that Andy Hallett's Lorne was really in his element as the wheeling-dealing head of Wolfram & Hart's Entertainment Division. I disagreed, since I felt that Lorne was forcing his way through a situation where he was clearly in over his head. However, I will grant that perhaps Lorne always perceived himself as, or wanted to be, an open-collared, "Ciao"-spouting, hep cat dealmaker. If he was really in his element, I doubt if he would have needed to have his sleep removed in order to keep up with his new lifestyle.

We'd seen hints throughout Lorne's appearances in Angel that there was a little bit more to him than met the eye. In Season 5 we increasingly became aware of how Lorne's nurturing peace-and-fun-loving persona was, in many ways, somewhat of an act. It might have been part of his true nature, but he was dangerously sublimating his baser emotions and more selfish needs. Scenes in "Life of the Party" that brought out this aspect included the part where he was pouring out his frustrations with his subconscious alter-ego in the mirror; when he almost completely lost it when he was talking to Angel; when he explained why he felt it was necessary to have his sleep removed after he was confronted by the rest of the Angel Investigations team; and obviously when his massive out-of-control alter-ego came leaping down from the balcony and almost killed him (which was a notorious side effect for an empath demon who'd had his sleep removed.)

The dialogue that brought all the pieces together came up in this scene, where Lorne and Angel were riding in the limousine while they were on their way to try to convince the powerful Archduke Sebassis to attend the all-important Halloween party that Lorne was organizing.
ANGEL: This really matters to you, doesn't it?

LORNE: Well, of course. The new Wolfram & Hart— I mean, we have to—

ANGEL: No. I mean, this really matters to you. Personally.

LORNE: Yeah. You know, Angel, I— I don't have superhuman strength, and I'm not a fighter. Quantum physics makes me nauseous, and I barely made a passing grade at mystical studies, but I'm on your team. This is something I can do. I believe it has a purpose that can help you, even if you don't.

ANGEL: Well, I'm here, aren't I? I agreed to this.
Similar to how Cordelia often had her doubts on her worthiness (which was why she desperately clung to her visions even though they were literally killing her), Lorne felt that he desperately needed to make himself invaluable to the group. This ties in with how I've said many times in the past that Lorne seemed like he was trying to carve out a niche for himself within Angel Investigations ever since he left Caritas.

Although Lorne was correct in that be was uniquely qualified to pull off this event based on his past career as a pacifist demon nightclub owner, sometimes the skills that served you so well in one area don't necessarily transfer over to other situations. At Caritas, Lorne provided a valuable service by allowing demons to get away from their troubles for a while and relax and have a good time. At Wolfram & Hart, Lorne had the added pressure of making sure the word got out that Angel was the top alpha dog in town, his company was open for business, and he was planning to stay around for a good long time.

Angel and Eve. I also mentioned in my "Lack of Conviction" post referenced above that Joss Whedon clued us in on the DVD commentary for "Conviction" that Angel and Eve had established some chemistry with each other in their first meeting. Before then, I honestly couldn't tell if Angel was supposed to be appreciating her efforts or if he was barely tolerating Eve because she was his only link to the Senior Partners.

Even I'm not stupid enough to deny that something might have been going on when Eve walked in on Angel when he was stark naked and accused him in so many words of masturbating in the shower. However, before hearing Joss' commentary, I felt that Angel was being forced to put up with a smarmy little bitch, not too dissimilar to how in the movie Major League, the craggy manager of the hapless Cleveland Indians refused to dive for a towel when the dreadful ex-showgirl team owner decided to stride into the player locker room. When you tie that in with how later in the episode Angel and Eve had sex while they were under a mystical spell, it looks like I really have my work cut out trying to deny that Angel had any sort of feelings for Eve.

To back up just a little bit, Lorne gave us a broad hint that Angel and Eve were wildly attracted to each other when he advised them, "Oh, you two. Really. The sexual tension? Oh, with a knife you could cut it, huh? Get a room." I certainly wasn't sensing anything between these two, and on the first viewings I put it down to Lorne being heavily sarcastic. I even felt that Angel and Eve having sex was such an unlikely event, the only way it could happen was if they were under a mystical spell. I tried to ignore the fact that, in the Buffyverse, mystical spells tend to bring out subconscious thoughts and behaviors, e.g. Joyce and Giles having sex in Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's "Band Candy", and Angel and Cordelia making out in Season 3 of Angel's "Waiting in the Wings".

Regardless, at no time could I ever deny that Angel was confiding more and more with Eve, probably due to his isolation and the fact that she might have more fully understood the unique challenges that he faced better than the members of his old gang. This piece of dialogue particularly struck me, when he wearily confessed to Eve (after she asked how things were going), "Oh...I don't know how to answer that question. I—I don't know. Good. Bad. Look, I spent years doing everything I could to bring this company down. Now I'm the CEO, and I have to question every move I make because any one of them could be exactly what the Senior Partners want, so, no, I have no idea how it's going."

I've been in situations before where it's easy to talk a little indiscreetly to an individual even though you've been warned ahead of time that the person is the Office Snitch. People like Eve are so easy-going, and seem so sympathetic to your plight, that it requires your full concentration to watch what you're saying. If you're tired or otherwise distracted, it's easy to let something inappropriate slip out. Angel knew full well that Eve was not to be trusted, but it still didn't stop him from venting his feelings to her once in awhile. Little did he know at the time that she wasn't so much serving the interests of the Senior Partners as much as laying the groundwork for a trap that was being set up by ex-Wolfram & Hart lawyer Lindsey McDonald!

I also couldn't help but notice a few similarities with Wes and Lilah's relationship. Alexis Denisof said this regarding Wesley's state of mind, "Of course it's perfect that the person that he sees very clearly at that time is Lilah...." Similar to how Lilah kept bumping into Wesley, Eve kept coming around to see Angel while he was struggling through a particularly difficult stretch in his life.

Wolfram & Hart Employees - Evil or Amoral? My theory that many employees of Wolfram & Hart weren't necessarily out-and-out Evil took somewhat of a hit when it was revealed that they looked forward to the excessive debaucheries of the annual Halloween party. It's hard to defend a group of people who, in the words of Knox, enjoyed it immensely when "...Last year, uh—They took a bunch of cows and put them in a giant wicker effigy of Krishna, uh, doused it with sambuca, and it— Uh, well... anyway, it—it's a hell of a good time."

By the way, where did all of these employees enjoy their past Halloween parties, since all of the LA branch workers were killed by The Beast in Season 4' s "Habeas Corpses"? Regardless, Harmony pointed out quite clearly exactly why the party was just as important for the employees as it was for the Wolfram & Hart clients, "The morale around here stinks..... Everybody thinks you suck. Well, come on, boss. They're all out there, through their Matsudas, worried if you're gonna axe them or, you know, axe them."

It's pretty well-established that workers take a lot of their cues from upper management. For example, corrupt management makes for corrupt employees. We'll never know for sure if the workers of Wolfram & Hart would have changed their ways if truly effective top-down management practices would have been put in place to encourage a more ethical workplace.

As a sidenote, T.J. Thyne made a wonderful return to the series as "Lawyer #1" here and here. It says a lot that he got so much mileage out of delivering a couple of lines that really didn't look like much on paper. I started noticing Thyne when I first started watching Bones last year. Prior to that time I only knew of him through his work on commercials. While I was watching one scene where I wasn't being particularly impressed by what I was seeing from some of the younger actors, I thought to myself, "Damn! He's [Thyne] the only who can act!" Ever since then I always key in on his performances when I see him on TV, and he has yet to disappoint me.

Wes and Fred. One huge problem I've had with Wes and Fred's relationship throughout Angel is that I could rarely figure out what was going on in her mind. It was easy to see that Wes was madly in love with Fred, and I really don't need to say much more than that. Fred, on the other hand, seemed to view Wesley at various times as a mentor, a father figure, a big brother, a generic nice man, someone who it wouldn't be too horrible to date if he was the last man on earth, and a chump to be played to her advantage. I was therefore thinking "Where the hell did that come from?" when she practically threw herself at Wesley during the waning days of her relationship with Charles. Fred was obviously confused at that point and acting out as part of a rebellious streak she was experiencing.

"Life of the Party" gave us a lot of insight when a mystically inebriated Fred spilled out her thoughts to Wesley,
FRED: And I'm having such a good time right now. We should do stuff like this more often. You know, just hang out like we used to. Friend stuff.

WESLEY: Absolutely. Frankly, I always— I always thought we'd be better friends than we are.

FRED: Oh, we should be. Let's be better friends than we are right now.

WESLEY: Great.

FRED: You know, share stuff, talk to each other, tell each other what we're thinking.

WESLEY: Yes, that would be—I would—

FRED: It would be nice. We could be confidantes. Confiding confidentially.

WESLEY: (Whispers in Fred's ear) I've been wanting to do that for some time now.

FRED: (Giggling, whispers in Wesley's ear) What do you think of Knox?
Up to this point, Wesley and Fred had been hanging out with each other at the party, and were literally falling all over each other ever since they fell under Lorne's mystical spell. Wesley was hoping that the conversation would lead up to a vastly different outcome. However, it does tie in to how I've said in the past (and what Wesley seemed to understand only too well) that Fred really was only interested in holding hands, and furthermore needed a girlfriend that she could giggle with and share stories. Needless to say, Wesley was not willing to step into that role.

I think it's always dangerous to assume that Fred was an asexual creature. (Remember, she did have a healthy active sexual relationship with Charles). I'm not sure if I'm totally convinced of this, but it's possible that Fred was totally not seeing Wesley in a sexual light at all, which made it all the more shocking to her when she found out he was having an almost purely physical relationship with Bad Girl Lilah.

Fred wanted to hang out with Wesley "like we used to". Other than working with each in the offices of the Hyperion Hotel, I don't think they ever really hung out with each other. Wesley was also correct when he told Fred that "I always thought we'd be better friends than we are." There was always too much baggage between the two of them to allow them to be "better friends". Think of how Wes and Cordelia used to effortlessly goof off with each other while they palled around, and had an easy intimacy with each other that many people could only dream about. It shouldn't take so much work to just "be friends" the way that Fred was thinking.

Idle Thoughts. About 98% of the humor in "Life of the Party " came from the element of surprise. A lot of it just doesn't carry over to subsequent viewings.

Spike was an exception. I never get tired of this scene where the Archduke Sebassis and his entourage burst into Angel's office and Spike marveled, "What a fantastic entrance!"

Mutant Enemy came up with some absolutely exquisite demons for Season 5. Surely, there must have been some sort of award that could have been handed out to actors Leland Crooke and Ryan Alvarez for their portrayals of the Archduke Sebassis and his slave.

It was quite fitting that Charles was the only one who thought it was a great idea that Lorne had his sleep removed. Charles, of course, was the one who agreed to have his own brain upgrade.

It's hard to believe that Fred still harbored some possibly romantic thoughts about Knox even after he admitted that burning animals alive made for a rip-roarin' good time.

I pointedly left this episode off of my list of "Top 5 Favorite Lorne Episodes" since I thought Andy Hallett was sorely misused in Season 5. Although I didn't like the turn that his character made, I still thought Hallett put in an excellent performance in this episode.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pretty Girl Saves Handsome Man

(From Buffyverse Dialogue Database.
Wesley's handsome all right, but he's not the Handsome Man that Fred saved.)



"Hell-Bound" from Season 5 of Angel was a crazy hodgepodge of the good and not-so-good, and was another one of those episodes where the sum of the parts didn't quite add up to the whole. Some of my favorite pieces of dialogue in the series showed up in "Hell-Bound", yet there seemed to be equal amounts of clunkier dialogue, often showing up as not-so-amusing one-liners. There were plenty of exciting action sequences. Unfortunately, I actually got bored with it all after a while and just wished Spike and the rest of the gang would get the big showdown with the ghostly Pavayne over and done with.

"Hell-Bound" might go down as one of my least favorite episodes of Season 5, but it's not to say that watching it was even close to being a total waste. If nothing else, we learned that, far from just being the guy who only "cares about himself" as Angel claimed, Spike was capable of self-sacrifice when he rescued Fred from Pavayne and was worthy of being rescued himself from being dragged into a hell dimension.

(Note to new readers: I like to regularly disclose that I saw all five season of Angel before I saw any episodes of Buffy, and that I've only seen episodes from the first three seasons of BtVS.)

Fred and Spike. Although I know full well that Fred was kind-hearted and always thought the best of everyone, I could never quite grasp why she almost immediately decided that Spike was worth saving. A couple pieces of dialogue from his Season 5 debut in "Just Rewards" seemed to profoundly influence her, first where she found out Spike was an ally of Buffy (and she probably guessed Spike was Buffy's lover as well), and particularly when she found out he had a soul and had died saving the world. Now that I've typed out these words it seems ridiculous to claim that I had no idea why Fred quickly became Spike's champion, but you have to admit that he could be off-putting to a sizable number of people. Although I always found him fascinating, it took me, oh, a good 30 minutes or so to warm up to his character in "Just Rewards" and start recognizing his good qualities.

It's equally important to note that although Fred recognized right away that Spike was worthy of salvation, Wesley and Charles seemed unconvinced even though they had the same information as Fred. I can talk about loyalty to Angel and alpha male dominance issues at play, but I wonder if Fred (speaking from a lot of experience) knew exactly how jealousy could really warp a man's values. Perhaps Wesley and Charles were subconsciously siding with Angel in his dispute over ultimate ownership over Buffy, while Fred trusted that Buffy was intelligent enough to pick the right people as her allies. Interestingly enough, Spike had a wonderful history of making temporary alliances while he was still an evil vampire, and perhaps Wesley and Charles knew more about that aspect of his recent history than Fred. Regardless, all's well that ends well, and we're fortunate Fred backed the right horse even if she didn't have all of the facts in front of her.

I also wonder if we were seeing a case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer veteran viewers versus Angel neophytes being played out on our TV screens when the episode first aired, with Fred being given the unlikely role of representing the Buffy veterans. BtVS viewers certainly knew that Spike was worth saving, but the drama had to be played out in order to bring the strictly-Angel fans up to speed. If Spike came over to Angel acting like a complete choir boy, Angel fans would not have learned about his overall character. I always thought Mutant Enemy did a fine job of making sure that non-Buffy viewers weren't completely lost when they saw Angel, which became a lot more crucial in later years when Angel appeared on TNT in syndication while, for the most part, Buffy stayed off the airwaves.

Some of Fred's Finest Moments. "Hell-Bound" might ultimately go down as being one of my favorite Fred-centric episodes since she had lots of wonderful dialogue, particularly early on in the show. In fact, this might be why I eventually got a little bored with the action of the main plot line. The early dialogue was so entertaining, I just didn't want it to stop.

Fred's opening scene with Spike was marvelous, when she pretended to be frightened by his sudden appearance. She had a naturally innocent yet flirtatious personality that Spike absolutely ate up. Fred and Spike had a marvelous chemistry with each other, and she literally couldn't do a thing to turn him off. Sad to say, I would never have been able to have any sort of rewarding friendship with Spike because very early on I probably would have said, "Get lost, you creep".

Fred's second great moment occurred with Wesley, when a terribly preoccupied Fred dropped some papers on his desk and said quite briskly "I need these as soon as possible" before she started walking away. Wesley in turn gently chided her by providing her with the words she should have said, "Hello, Wesley. Nice to see you."

To back up a bit, Fred was working frantically to try to solve Spike's problem, and I actually got totally caught up in the urgency of the situation. When she dropped off her papers on Wesley's desk, even I was jolted a little bit by his response. Apparently, Wes never got the memo that he had to drop everything when Fred came to him with a request. I could totally identify with Fred since she and I seemed to have similar work situations where we were constantly running back and forth in an attempt to put out fires.

I'd noticed even back in Season 3 that Wesley seemed to have a much more relaxed and organized working style, which had a calming influence on everyone else when he was the group leader of Angel Investigations. I'm insanely jealous of people like him who always finish their projects a few weeks ahead of schedule and are routinely in the early planning stages of projects that haven't even been assigned yet. In fact, I wouldn't have been surprised to see that Wesley was the first person at Wolfram & Hart in 30 years to perform supposedly mandated annual contingency plan reviews, like, what actions need to taken when Los Angeles is hit by a giant tsunami.

Anyway, there was an interesting dynamic at work between Fred and Wesley. They had tried to make a connection in Season 4, but it was the wrong place, the wrong time and under the wrong circumstances. I think they were both a little gun-shy in early Season 5, while Wesley obviously had to work through some his own issues before they could even attempt to reconnect. Wesley was not being mean to Fred in any way, but it seemed important for him to reassert his more dominant status within the herd. Wes good-naturedly agreed to her demands, but immediately turned into a father figure and started lecturing her on the importance of eating right and getting enough sleep. That was a tad bit condescending to say the least, but Wes did have a point. Fred couldn't possibly keep up that pace forever without suffering an early stroke.

It was quite common for Buffyverse writers to misdirect the audience by having their characters say one thing but really mean something else. Wesley saying "Under one condition...dinner" was a perfect example. We, the audience, as well as Fred, thought he was asking her out for dinner. When Fred started showing her discomfort at the idea, Wesley clarified matters by pointing out that he meant that Fred needed a real dinner, something besides "day-old takeout". In this case, I can't help but think that Wesley really was testing the possibility of the two of them heading out to dinner together just to see her reaction. He received his answer, and he didn't press the issue any further.

Immediately after she had her chat with Wesley, Fred had a more formal discussion with Angel and Eve. Fred misinterpreted Angel's concerns by sweetly reassuring him that she was going "to have a good meal, and [get] at least six hours of sleep". I absolutely loved that look on her face when she found out they were having a departmental budget review meeting instead. In addition to the dialogue misdirections I mentioned above, Mutant Enemy also frequently had their characters act all sheepish after they realized their little mistakes. (Think of how Angel reacted in Season 1 when he found out that Faith's apparent cry for help of "how does this work" really meant, "how does the microwave work") . I never get tired of those moments, and Fred's little moment of confusion was one of the best.

This scene was also noteworthy for Fred confronting Angel about his jealousy over Buffy. She also nailed it when she scolded Angel after he chastised her about all of the time she spent trying to help Spike. "What do you think I am, stupid? I know he's been playing me with the looks and the smiles. I'm not some idiot schoolgirl with a crush." Angel, to his credit, ordered Fred to keep running her department the way she saw fit, particularly when she convinced Angel that working to recorporealize Spike was a worthy goal.

Fred had to put up with a lot of condescension when she dealt with Wesley, Angel and Eve. (Eve even called Fred "sweetie" at one point.) Fred made sure that she didn't challenge anyone's Top Dog status, though was still able to skillfully get her own way in a lot of matters. I'd often thought that this was the secret to Fred's overall success, in that she was non-threatening and allowed everyone to leave their encounters with her with their egos intact.

Pavayne. As I mentioned above I started to quickly get kind of bored with the whole Pavayne-trying-to-pull-Spike-into-Hell plot line. I think what soured me was the endless series of cuts between Spike fighting Pavayne and Fred et al trying to get the hokey jerry-rigged recorporealizing contraption working in time to save Spike. (I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised if Fred gave the device a funny name, like, "gonculator" or something similar.) However, what really caught my attention was how the episode brought up the back-history of the Los Angeles branch of Wolfram & Hart, and the implications of how Matthias Pavayne was allowed to wreak havoc on the unfortunate dead souls that lurked there for well over two hundred years.

First of all, I loved how Spike taunted the still-unknown entity whenever he was pulled into the Wolfram & Hart parallel hell dimension. Some of my favorite one-liners included, "Vampire ghost here, ya sod. Bloody well invented afraid of the dark" and, when he thought that the Big Bad was finally coming after him, he disdainfully discovered it was just "A lawyer?"

Pavayne's full story is here. Charles didn't say which country the 18th European aristocrat/hack doctor came from, and I have no idea what the etymology of "Pavayne" could be. (An anglicized version of the slow, stately French dance "pavane" or the Italian surname "Pavano"?). (I think of "Matthias" as showing up anywhere from Scandinavia down through central Europe into roughly Bohemia.) Generally, only Roman Catholics were welcomed into Spanish territories at that time.

If my memory of history is correct, California would have been an extremely remote outpost to hide in at any time during the 18th century. I also understand that our wonderful notions of the romantic Spanish California hacienda culture that we know and love from the Zorro movies only existed for a few decades in the early half of the 19th century. I'm guessing that southern California civilization in (presumably late) 18th century would have consisted mostly of a few settlements clustered around the string of Spanish missions that dotted the state. Regardless, I don't think many pure-blooded Europeans would have been living in the Los Angeles region at that time outside of Spanish monks, soldiers, and presumably a few traders and government officials.

I know that I'm really letting my imagination run wild here, but I'm also guessing that Pavayne may have been able to get away with performing his "brutal, ritualistic murders" for 20 years because most of his victims would have been Native American Indians and perhaps some lower-status mixed-blood mestizos who had moved into the area from Mexico. It boggles the mind that Wolfram & Hart would have gotten away with taking over a Spanish mission unless it was already in the process of being abandoned. (Always a possibility). For one thing, I would have thought that setting up worldwide branches of law firms was a late 20th century phenomenon. Either Wolfram & Hart was an early pioneer of this practice (pardon the pun) or they were more of a mercantile company at that time. More importantly, perhaps some of the key members of the ruling classes were also devotees of the "dark arts" and were happy to sacrifice Pavayne (in order to deconsecrate the mission grounds) in favor of bringing in outside forces that promised to give them gifts of additional money and power.

It's hard to imagine that the Senior Partners were unaware of Pavayne's habit of "munching on" the ghosts of everyone who died on the premises. Perhaps Pavayne provided a free service by sending these people directly to Hell. Who cared if he himself was avoiding Hell? Regardless, the Senior Partners (via the Conduit, not to mention Eve) were more than willing to help Angel and his gang get rid of Pavayne if it would keep everyone happy.

Angel and Eve. I've said that I never noticed any romantic chemistry between Angel and Eve. However, they did seem to settle in as good working partners here and here. In fact, in the latter link, Angel seemed to take unseemly delight in keeping Pavayne alive so he would suffer in silence for eternity. I've mentioned before in some of my After the Fall posts that at times Wesley must have really appreciated having the full support of Wolfram & Hart behind him as he ordered the various demon lords of Los Angeles to keep Angel alive. I'm sure that Angel himself must have received a wicked thrill from having all of the resources of Wolfram & Hart at his disposal so he could deal appropriately with all of the wrong-doers who crossed his path.

Idle Thoughts About Spike and Angel. David Boreanaz seemed to have a special knack for carrying out his male-bonding acting assignments with his various co-stars. He had a number of standout moments with Andy Hallett as Lorne and Alexis Denisof as Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. However, Boreanaz seemed to reach his peak with James Marsters as Spike, as evidenced by these scenes here and here. There were many tragedies in Angel being canceled at the end of Season 5, but being cheated out of a chance to see more of Spike and Angel together was one of the biggest.

This scene with Spike was significant in that Angel restated in so many words his Season 2 philosophy of "if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do". For one thing, Angel seemed to completely abandon that viewpoint by the end of the season. One also senses that Angel was all set to mentor Spike on what it was like to live with a soul, which was a theme that I don't think was ever really further developed. This other scene was significant for Spike calling Angel "Liam". Spike might have just been calling Angel by his original name as somewhat of a joke, but I always maintained that Angel did not identify with his original 18th century human form. Perhaps this dialogue contradicted my earlier thoughts.

More Idle Thoughts. I've also maintained that Season 5 was stylistically a lot different from Seasons 1-4. One example is how I failed to be enchanted with the rude and wise-cracking psychic whom the gang brought in to see if she could identify the Dark Force. Prior to that I always thought Mutant Enemy consistently received great performances from their guest actors.

In my last post I complained about how Nina the Werewolf was filmed so that the maximum amount of skin was showing without running afoul of the censors. Apparently Mutant Enemy was an Equal Opportunity Employer, since Spike showed even more skin in this episode.

When I first saw "Hell-Bound" I was positive it would be revealed that at least some of the specters were Spike's past victims. I also thought that the actual events of this episode (as opposed to Spike's character development) would figure into the overall Season 5 story arc. It seems I was wrong on both counts.

I'm amazed at how people in Angel, particularly the male characters, just could not get over their exes. How could Angel reasonably expect Buffy to remain faithful to him even after he broke off their relationship and moved to Los Angeles? I realize there was an element of "anyone but Spike" involved, but I recall that he couldn't even stomach the thought of her being in a committed relationship with another man when she made her crossover appearances in Season 1. And Wesley! He never even went out with Fred at all, and he still got upset if she even thought about dating another man. (Knox).

I'm not sure of the correct spelling of this episode, since I'm receiving contradictory information online. Is it "Hell Bound", "Hell-Bound" or "Hellbound"? I might check my DVD some time soon and make changes later on if necessary.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Kindred Monster Spirits

(Jenny Mollen as Nina Ash)

(Note: 9/17/2010 - Two minor updates added in italics in text below in the "Nina Ash" and "Here's to Good Friends" sections.)

The last thing I want to do is continue on with a habit I developed several months ago of writing two to three posts for each episode of Angel as I work my way through my DVD collection. My creative muse is a strict taskmistress. Although I thoroughly enjoyed all of Season 5 on my first viewing, I was somewhat underwhelmed the last few times I saw the first several episodes of the season. I was therefore looking forward to just pounding out a few slight posts here and there covering the first eleven episodes of Season 5 before I really started getting serious with "You're Welcome".

I'm almost disappointed now that I'm really liking early Season 5, since that means more work for me. For one thing there seems to be a lot more depth to these episodes than what I remember. Another thing is that I'm on the lookout for certain key themes that I neglected in my earlier reviews, and I'm finding treasure troves of information in unexpected places.

"Unleashed" (which introduced the character of Nina the Werewolf) is carrying on the tradition of being a Season 5 episode where there's a lot more happening than what meets the eye.

Opening Dialogue Sequence. I don't know what's more excruciating for readers to have to deal with: when I write more than one post per episode, or when I deconstruct a dialogue sequence. When I do the latter, I feel like I'm talking down to readers, like I'm explaining a Sunday comic strip to a 5-year-old.

So naturally, "Unleashed" starts off with this terrific scene where the gang is having their late-night picnic and hoping that they're not being spied upon by employees of Wolfram & Hart. Right away the Angel Investigations group started talking about a new favorite subject or mine: are all employees of Wolfram & Hart evil? Fred, who always naively saw the best in everyone she met, reassured everyone that "....it's not like everyone there's evil. I mean, we work with these people. Some of 'em I see more than I see you guys, at least lately, anyway." (I'll let you read the rest of the dialogue if you're interested.)

Then, in what I thought I'd never be happy to see again, Wesley started in on his jealousy act when he started saying in so many words that Fred was seeing a lot more of Knox than anyone else in the Angel Investigations group. Fred naturally got all flustered and started in with the unintentional double entendres (like being "on top" of Knox) before Angel mercifully brought that little episode to a close by concluding that they all at least agreed that the Senior Partners were undeniably evil. To back up a bit, when Wesley started giving Fred some grief, he was wonderfully reverting back to his slightly unstable Dark Wesley persona from Season 4. Since I'm still not sure of what to make of his New and Improved personality for Season 5, I'm naturally gravitating toward Bad-Ass Wesley for at least being familiar territory.

Then, in another nod to Season 4 rivalry, Wesley started the ball rolling with "What about Gunn?" To her credit, Fred kept things going by conceding that nobody really knew what Wolfram & Hart put into Charles' head, while Angel agreed that it was a "legitimate concern". As the dialogue continued, it became apparent that Charles did get the most out of the deal with Wolfram & Hart. Similar to how Angel Investigations couldn't afford to shy away from the question of why Connor was brought into the world, the group had every right to question what might have been lying in wait inside Charles' brain. (For example, could he have been something out of The Manchurian Candidate, waiting to be activated when he received a signal?)

I'd have to wade through the rest of the Season 5 episodes to further develop this theory, but it's possible that Wolfram & Hart wasn't so much concerned with giving Charles advanced legal knowledge as much as grooming him to accept that he was special and deserving of greater rewards. This feeling of entitlement would have carried through when he was vamped in First Night and would have helped him believe throughout most of After the Fall that he (Vampire Charles) had been specially chosen by The Powers That Be rather than Wolfram & Hart to rescue Los Angeles from the Apocalypse.

Nina Ash. Werewolf Nina seemed to be Season 5's version of Season 4's Gwen Raiden, in that she was introduced with great fanfare and seldom used thereafter. I always liked Nina and was pleased to see that she played a prominent part in the first four volumes of After the Fall, particularly in Volumes 3 and 4. (Come to think of it, Gwen Raiden played a prominent part in After the Fall as well.)

Mutant Enemy seemed to like reintroducing themes from Season 1 back into Season 5, which they did in this episode by allowing Angel to do what he did best: work one-on-one with helpless victims. I thought this piece of dialogue from the end of the episode provided a deft touch, where Angel advised Nina, "If you separate yourself from the ones you love, the monster wins ". This, of course, was another throwback to Season 1, where Doyle warned Angel in so many words that if he completely cut himself from the people he was trying to save, pretty soon they'd start looking like meals.

I always have a hard time finding this citation, but I've read before that in Season 1 actor David Boreanaz was paired up with different actresses/victims of the week to see what happened. If they created any chemistry, then the implication was that the actress would be brought back to appear in additional episodes, perhaps as a love interest. If true, I don't know if it would have been fair for an actress to be thrown into a situation like that, since you need an equally strong commitment from the writers to help make sure that the "chemistry" developed.

In Season 5's "Unleashed" it looked like a foregone conclusion that Angel was going to have a love interest, and actress Jenny Mollen provided us with a pleasing, refreshingly normal and uncomplicated character to enjoy. I've often wondered, why did Angel, who always worked so hard to put himself off-limits to women, all of a sudden become so relatively available in Season 5? I have a few half-baked ideas on this, including the fact that a stressed-out CEO needs someone outside of his work environment to be able to relax with. Plus, the fact that Nina was a fellow "monster" probably had a huge part to play as well. Regardless, I'm always happy when a character gets some stability in his or her life by taking on a romantic partner. As a bonus, rather than dying a horrible death a few episodes later (which is the fate of most Whedonverse love interests), as far as I know, Nina still lives on in the After the Fall continuation comics.

(Update 9/17/2010. I should have read the Production details of this episode in the Wikipedia entry first before writing this post. According to Mutant Enemy's Jeffrey Bell, "Nina is not becoming a regular, but there was good chemistry so we’ve talked about bringing her back. There are no master plans for Angel and werewolf girl but we’re always open to the possibility.")

I thought this scene was quite fascinating, where Fred was accompanying Nina (along with a bunch of armed security guards) back to her house to gather up a few possessions that she could take back to Wolfram & Hart. To back up, it was crucial that Nina remain locked up in a cage at Wolfram & Hart during full moon nights so she wouldn't go out and kill people in murderous rampages. Anyway, up to that point, we had known sweet, innocent Fred to be a champion of Good, always taking the side of the little guy against Evil. Although we knew Fred was unchanged, she was still in an uncomfortable position of representing a huge conglomerate while being forced to spout off the slightly-ridiculous sounding line of "It's not like you're a prisoner". Fred was put in the unenviable position of having to justify her reasoning and her actions, where no matter how hard she tried to spin things in a different direction, she was carrying out paternal, sinister-sounding "for your own good" policies on behalf of a Big Bad Corporation.

Nina's reaction was interesting, in that she knew deep down that putting herself in the hands of Wolfram & Hart was the right thing to do. However, by putting herself in the hands of Big Brother, she also knew that she ran the risk of losing some of her autonomy, not to mention the fact that she had to be on the alert for unanticipated dangers that actually cropped up pretty quickly.

Jumping back a bit, it was interesting how Angel was the one who first came to then-naked Nina after she spent her first night in the cage. We don't know how much of a free show Angel received in person before she had a chance to get dressed, but Angel most certainly received an eyeful from the closed-circuit cameras after Nina reverted back to her human state from her werewolf persona. Although still quite young, Nina was an adult, and as an art student she seemed to be somewhat of a free spirit. She didn't seem to be the overly-modest type. Still, most people would consider it to be a violation to be parading around naked while being locked in a cage and having no idea what's happening in the outside world.

If Angel was bureaucratic and correct in his actions, he would have sent Fred ahead of him to make initial contact with Nina and to otherwise reassure her of her safety. Once it was established Nina was fully dressed and feeling somewhat secure, Angel could have stepped in to take over. However, Angel himself was the one who greeted Nina as he unlocked her from the cage. He would have looked quite menacing to Nina initially, but it was important for her to realize that she was being cared for, not by a faceless business entity, but by a real person instead. She wasn't going to get passed off from department to department based on her particular needs, but one person would be shepherding and guiding her through the entire process.

This certainly brings up patient/therapist issues, where someone who is quite vulnerable can fall in love with a therapist who appears to be taking an active interest in her well-being. Nina did what any woman would have done when she developed a crush on the big strong handsome man who was saving her life. (Remember how Fred had the same feelings about Angel in late Season 2 and early Season 3 after Angel rescued her from Pylea.) Angel of course spent most of the rest of the season denying that Nina and he had any feelings for each other. However, we weren't convinced, and neither was he. Similar to how Cordelia faced Angel and Wesley at her most sexually vulnerable moment after she became impregnated in Season 1's "Expecting", Nina was confronted with Angel at a few of her most vulnerable moments, first when she was naked in a cage, then when she was naked (albeit covered) and about to be served as the main course at a debauched dinner party. From that point on, Nina and Angel gained a certain amount of intimacy from the fact that she literally had nothing more to hide.

Which brings me to the issue of Nina's in-your-face nudity throughout the episode. When Nina woke up naked in the cage, actress Jenny Mollen was artfully filmed in such a way to show off as much skin as possible without actually revealing anything that would be cut by the censors. Judging from the various forums, this seemed to be a controversial aspect when the episode first aired. The comments seemed to be evenly divided between "Oh my God she's naked!" and "Quit whining about it and get a life."

I was not loving what I was seeing on my TV, although I admit I didn't object to David Boreanaz being filmed in a similar manner when Angel arrived back in Sunnydale from the hell dimension in early Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Anyway, I was dutifully telling myself that of course she wouldn't have a stitch of clothing on her after she reverted from being a werewolf back to human form, and that I should stop acting so Puritanical. Then, the creators had to insert this scene where Nina was chained and having her clothes cut off by a Helga-the-Heifer character who looked like an archetype SS Nazi women's prison guard.

Notice that more often than not, it seems like when any show features more exploitation of women than usual, the producers are always careful to make sure that women's names are prominently featured in key creative roles in the opening credits, probably in an attempt to stave off criticism. In Season 1's "She", Marti Noxon was credited as being one of the co-writers. "Unleashed" was written by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, and directed by Marita Grabiak. Very clever. Anyway, similar to how Spike never liked being "played", I don't appreciate having situations like these being shoved in my face where I can't help but look like a dried-up, narrow-minded old crone if I speak out against what I'm seeing.

Another Bureaucrat Bites the Dust. Cryptozoologist/werewolf specialist Dr. Royce was the next morally ambivalent Wolfram & Hart employee to get sacrificed to unabashed evildoers. In what quickly turned into a recurring theme in Season 5, the Good Guys of Angel Investigations crew seemed content to reach an equilibrium with the Bad Guys, in a respect-for-enemy-professional-soldiers sort of way. The little guys who are too afraid to take a stand are the ones who get caught in the crossfire.

Again, were we supposed to buy into the notion that Dr. Royce was inherently evil? He certainly acted like he was caught in circumstances outside of his control, though this might be a continuation of the theme of Evil taking on many faces. The fact that he (with the implication that large numbers of other Wolfram & Hart employees) took calendula to mask his true aura when he sang for Lorne certainly did not help his cause. Regardless, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the guy, particularly since we never learned his back story or those of any of the lowly bureaucrats who signed on with Wolfram & Hart.

I'm reminded of how Americans were recruited to spy for the Soviet Union during 1940 and 1941, before the U.S. had been attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. The Russian recruiters appealed to their sense of patriotism, in that these people were eager to protect their country against Fascism. A few years later, after the U.S. had officially entered the war and these recruits were asked to turn over damaging military secrets, they were reminded that they had already broken U.S. laws when they originally agreed to spy for the Soviets. Furthermore, they would be turned over to American authorities if they refused to carry out orders. Werewolf specialists like Dr. Royce would have hardly been able to make their livings outside of Wolfram & Hart, and they might have been originally enticed to join the firm with the promise of being given all of the available resources necessary to carry out their research. Once they signed on with Wolfram & Hart, it would have been too late to revert back to a more innocent lifestyle.

Spike. I was glad that Spike was a little more in the background in "Unleashed", since his constant moralizing in the previous episode was starting to get on my nerves. However, I absolutely adored this scene with Fred when he attempted to pour on the charm and push all of her buttons by bullshitting big time about the "vendettas sworn" between him and Wesley. Ironically, this scene where he really was trying to pull one over on Fred convinced me in my first viewing of this episode of his absolute sincerity. He acted a little embarrassed when Fred called him out on his lies, but I think he was actually quite pleased that she was smart enough to be able to see right through his little charade. Incidentally, Spike talked a big story in "Just Rewards" about how he was all gung-ho to save the world, but he was quite willing to put his own personal problems in front of Nina's in Fred's personal to-do list.

Here's To Good Friends. Regular readers know that I'm an absolute sucker for warm, cozy scenes like these where everyone's getting together and having a good time. At this point, where Angel finally invited his friends to his luxurious executive apartment, I couldn't help but be reminded of a jingle from an old Lowenbrau beer commercial, "Here's to good friends, tonight is something special, ....so tonight....tonight....let it be Lowenbrau." (I apologize to nostalgia buffs for not being able to directly link to the lyrics on the Wikipedia page because of case sensitivity issues.) In fact the whole mood was quite different from similar moments that occurred within the Hyperion, in that everyone was effortlessly chit-chatting while being comfortably draped over leather couches. I can't remember if there was a lit fireplace anywhere, but there should have been. Usually a happy scene like this in the Whedonverse is immediately followed by a horrible tragedy. Fred was destroyed by Illyria later on in the season, but I'm not sure that the gathering in Angel's apartment provided the direct foreshadowing.

(Update 9/17/2010 - Also, per the Wikipedia entry for the Production details of this episode, "This episode is notable for being one of the very few in the entire series that close with a legitimately upbeat ending that isn't tempered by the usual Whedonesque "shadows of doom".)

Idle Thoughts. Gunn mentioned in this scene that the crew had been at Wolfram & Hart for a month. I always appreciate specific references to the passage of time in Angel. Most of Season 4 had been compacted into a few short weeks, and I appreciated knowing that the characters had a chance to have a little bit of an off-camera life. It certainly makes it easier for fanfic writers to develop stories for their favorite characters!

I loved how successfully Amy Acker pulled off the dialogue in this scene when she reverted back to her old Fred persona as she prattled on and on about how she called Nina feeling "totally suicidal" after she got dumped by her boyfriend, and her car got towed, and the battery died on her cell phone, etc.

Although I was enjoying Wesley's return to his sexy Season 4 darkness, I did not like the look he presented to us in an early scene (here? I can't remember) where he was wearing a dark blue shirt and a brown (leather? suede?) vest. He looked like he was trying to emulate the early 1970's heartthrobs who appeared in Alias, Smith and Jones.

Whew! I did this all in one post.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Season Five in Full Swing

(James Marsters as Spike)

Although I've said in prior posts that I wasn't too fond of early Season 5 episodes of Angel, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much I enjoyed watching "Just Rewards" this time around. I never get tired of a good old-fashioned "Angel destroys the bad guy" type of plot, which this show satisfactorily delivered when Angel took on the necromancer Magnus Hainsley.

As usual, I was looking at some other things besides the basic plot.

Spike. I saw Spike for the first time a little over a year ago when I saw him in "Just Rewards". (His appearance at the end of the previous episode "Conviction" doesn't count.) I honestly can't remember how much I knew about Spike before that time, but it wasn't enough to really matter. I do remember that, although I didn't quite know what to make of him, I found him oddly fascinating nonetheless.

Now that I've seen a bit more of Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I've only seen him in Seasons 2 and 3), I can appreciate how the writers did an excellent job of presenting all of his good and bad personality traits into one tidy package in "Just Rewards". Spike was intensely jealous of perpetually Top Dog Angel, and coped by acting like a vindictive asshole. In this way, being a ghost who haunted Angel 24/7 was right up his alley. Despite his more irritating qualities, Spike was exceptionally courageous and did not like being played or taken advantage of. Although he had a tendency to complain pretty loudly the entire way, Spike was extremely loyal and could always be counted on to do the right thing at the end.

One of Spike's trademarks was to cut through the crap and be able to see things with stunning clarity. I personally thought Angel and his crew made the right decision to join Wolfram & Hart simply because they were emotionally and physically exhausted from the events of Season 4 and needed a chance to recuperate while they planned their next moves. However, despite Angel's persistent claims that he and his crew were running the show in their LA Wolfram & Hart branch, Spike correctly stated that Angel "Made some devil's bargain to take over this company. Thought you'd use it to fight the evil of the world from inside the belly of the beast. Trouble is you're too busy fighting to see you and yours are getting digested." Then, just because he loved to be irritating, Spike carped on variations of this theme throughout the remainder of the episode. I couldn't help but think that, for Angel, having Spike around was like having an old aunt come visit for a week and constantly remind you that you had gained weight and that your kids played too many video games.

Another personality trait that I didn't pick up on right away the first time around was how Spike was a romantic at heart and always had a soft spot for sweet and innocent young women. I won't go through the dialogue too much, but Fred was the only one who seemed to believe that Spike had an inherent right to be saved, probably because he possessed a soul. Not knowing his background, I totally doubted his sincerity the first time I saw this this scene where Spike plaintively asked Fred to "Help me" from getting dragged down into the hell dimension. I just figured he was strictly taking advantage of her natural goodness.

Now I realize that Spike was absolutely sincere with Fred and otherwise acting totally in character, at least from that point on in Season 5 and well into After the Fall. Although I recognized some of his surprisingly good qualities in Seasons 2 and 3 of Buffy, I can't help but wonder if Spike took some sort of leap in character development in Season 5 of Angel. In other words, were regular Buffy viewers as surprised as I was when it was finally revealed that rather than betraying Angel, Spike was actually working with Angel to bring down the necromancer Magnus Hainsley? If Buffy viewers recognized what was really going on (this scene would have provided a tremendous number of clues), then Mutant Enemy did a wonderful job of rewarding loyal Buffy fans by giving them an opportunity to be one step ahead of the new and/or otherwise strictly-Angel viewers.

One Less Bureaucrat
. Angel and Charles let us know that they were hard at work culling the worst of the employees from the offices of Wolfram & Hart. I often don't have much of a problem with evil humans getting killed in the Angelverse since they seemed to operate totally outside of our regular criminal justice system. Nonetheless, I was still thoroughly shocked when Angel sent the grave-robber-apologist lawyer Novac to his certain doom when Angel ordered him to inform Hainsley that he would no longer be represented by Wolfram & Hart. Returning to Wolfram & Hart in two or three buckets was the entirely predictable result. Angel wasn't so much upset that Novac had been killed as much as he was angered that Hainsley was directly challenging his authority. In other words, Angel took the treatment of Novac as a personal affront.

One problem I wrestle with is, are we supposed to boo and hiss rank and file Wolfram & Hart employees because they're Evil? Or are we supposed to identify with the "There but for the grace of God go I" aspect in how we are often forced to put our own moral values aside for the sake of drawing a paycheck? If the latter is the case, then I always smart a little bit when Angel et al act preemptively against their own employees without (apparently) giving them a chance to change course. If the employees existed in what Joss Whedon described as a "moral vacuum", then it could have gone both ways. They were just as capable of performing Good acts as Evil ones.

Wesley and Spike. One aspect of Season 5 I didn't realize I'd be all that interested in was how the relationship evolved between Wesley and Spike. These two men didn't start off on the right foot with each other in "Just Rewards", mostly because they really didn't know each other. As far as I know, they never made contact with each other in the Buffyverse before Season 5 of Angel. Wesley only knew Spike from the stories he'd heard of William the Bloody and through Angel's own self-serving filtering of events that happened in Sunnydale. All Spike could see was a poncey Englishman who was a little too sure of himself to recognize what was really happening. It didn't help matters that Spike, not understanding Wesley's extremely pragmatic ways, seemed more than willing to get rid of Spike once and for all by helping him "cross over". I'm looking forward to seeing how their mutual respect grew throughout the season to the point where they actually started to work quite nicely with each other.

Idle Thoughts. Am I glad that the whole Spike the Ghost/amulet thing turned out to be set up by Lindsey McDonald! I still have very little idea of what was going on with the amulet, and I really felt for the first time that my lack of knowledge about Buffy the Vampire Slayer was hurting me. (For example, how was it supposed to have been Angel instead of Spike using the amulet?) Now I think the only thing I'll be looking out for is, how was Lindsey able to get the amulet out of the Hellmouth?

"Conviction" carefully set up the plot lines for the rest of Season 5, while "Just Rewards" successfully brought the season into full swing. I'm curious to see at what point I might start getting bored with Season 5 again until Charisma Carpenter returned with "You're Welcome". Perhaps gaining a little bit more knowledge about Spike from watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer might be helping me appreciate this stretch of Angel a bit more.

Most of the time we're supposed to shake our fists at interfering network executives, but this time it looked like someone at Warner Brothers was a pure genius for insisting that James Marsters be brought in as Spike as a condition for renewing Angel for its final season. (I'm using paragraph 21 of Roz Kaveney's "A Sense of the Ending: Schrodinger's Angel" as my source of information. However, I highly recommend that you read the entire essay for her excellent overview of Season 5.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Welcome, Whedonesque Fans

I'd like to give a huge thanks to Simon from Whedonesque for posting a link back to my site. I feel like a red-faced homeowner who neglected to vacuum and dust, but is still pleased with all of the visitors arriving on her doorstep. My house is your house, so please feel free to poke through this site and stay awhile.

I hope everyone's having a good start to their week.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lack of Conviction

(David Boreanaz' Angel finds that it's lonely at the top.)

Even Joss Whedon seemed somewhat bored in his DVD commentary as he described the basic standalone story line of Angel's Season 5 premiere episode "Conviction". The quick synopsis is, Angel and his gang moved into the LA offices of evil law firm Wolfram & Hart and felt compelled to defend a particularly odious man who was threatening to mystically unleash a killer retrovirus (which he had planted on his innocent school-age son) if he was judged guilty of his crimes in a courtroom. Angel et al wrestled with their consciences, wondered what Wolfram & Hart was up to, agonized over their decision to join Wolfram & Hart, etc.

Although I had to almost force myself to sit through this entire episode, there was enough going on with the developing plotlines to keep me interested.

A New Series. More than one Mutant Enemy DVD commentator noted that Season 5 of Angel was somewhat like the beginning of a brand new TV series. The producers had made their pitch to the WB network in the "pilot" episode of the Season 4 finale, "Home", and, after having been given the green light, continued on with the "series premiere" of "Conviction". Whereas Season 1 started out fresh and exciting as the producers enthusiastically explored uncharted territories, Season 5 started out tentative and sclerotic, as if Mutant Enemy personnel knew their backs were to the wall and were afraid to take any chances.

Joss Whedon made it clear in his commentary for "Conviction" that Mutant Enemy had to take Angel in a completely different direction in order to avoid cancellation. One of the changes mandated by the executives was that there needed to be more standalone episodes, or shows with storylines that resolved themselves within a single episode. The purpose was to allow new viewers to tune in without feeling completely lost. Throughout Season 1, Mutant Enemy seemed to be making changes for the better, whereas in Season 5 Mutant Enemy seemed to be making changes simply for the sake of making changes. Fortunately for us viewers, the creators finally got their acts together roughly in time for Charisma Carpenter's guest return in "You're Welcome".

The plot for "Conviction" itself was nondescript (I'll let you read the synopsis in the Wikipedia link above), but the real value of the episode was that it was quietly setting the groundwork for the rest of Season 5. Charles received his brain upgrade from the mad scientist, Eve schooled everyone in how the world really operates, Angel and his gang wondered if they made the right choice when they decided to join Wolfram & Hart, the storylines for some new characters (Knox, Eve and Harmony) were established, and ghostly Spike made his dramatic debut at the very end of the show.

As an aside, I actually thoroughly enjoyed the early episodes of Season 5 the first time I saw them. However, I quickly lost my enthusiasm on subsequent viewings. Which always brings up the question, is it fair to criticize episodes just because I don't enjoy them as much after I've seen them a few times?

Faceless Bureaucrats. Continuing on with the theme of Season 1 versus Season 5 premieres, Joss Whedon mentioned in his commentary that it was important to show in "Conviction" where Angel had started from at the beginning of the series and just how far he had gone by the beginning of Season 5. Whedon's brilliant solution was to have a heroic Angel save the girl from the evil vampire in the dark alleyway, only to be descended upon by hordes of Wolfram & Hart employees securing the area and otherwise documenting his every move. The girl incorrectly accused Angel of engineering a publicity stunt, but we certainly can't fault her for reaching that conclusion. By the way, I absolutely adore actor T.J. Thyne, and I was happy to hear Joss praise his performance as the weaselly lawyer who orchestrated the whole event.

I obviously can't reconcile how the entire staff of the LA branch of Wolfram & Hart could have been murdered by The Beast in Season 4's "Habeas Corpses", only to be mystically replaced by hundreds of more employees who somehow managed to gain several years of experience within a few short months. Truthfully, I don't mind a little bit of magic to explain an unlikely event in a series like Angel if it will help move the story along. However, if someone could have said something along the way like, "The top employees of Wolfram & Hart offices around the world were transferred to the LA branch" I would have been a bit more satisfied.

There was always something a bit unworldly about Wolfram & Hart employees, as though I was never completely convinced that they were human despite all evidence to the contrary. (Lindsey McDonald was about the only one who seemed real to me.) There's the obvious metaphor of losing one's soul to Wolfram & Hart that could easily explain the personality changes. And this brings me to what I thought was always a rather unsettling premise that Mutant Enemy may have been pushing, that anyone who hired in with a big, powerful corporation was either already evil or automatically became evil once he or she signed on the dotted line. (Although, quite significantly, I don't think Lorne found large numbers of out-and-out evil people working for Wolfram & Hart when he was reading their auras. Perhaps being apathetic is worse than being sincerely evil?) The character of Knox probably personified the majority of Wolfram & Hart employees in that he, according to Whedon, existed within a "moral vacuum".

Am I overly paranoid in thinking that Mutant Enemy, by emphasizing the "human" face of Wolfram & Hart throughout Seasons 4 & 5, was casting aspersions on ordinary working men and women around the world who trade off a few of their values by working to provide for their families and their futures? How many people have the luxury of turning down job offers where some of their duties might involve performing a few personally distasteful tasks? How many of us spend more than a few days on the job at a time without having to at least briefly set aside our scruples all in the name of advancing our employer's interests?

Rather than having Angel et al being contemptuous of the Wolfram & Hart rank and file staff (think of Fred's hissy fit here), I would have liked to have seen more of an exploration of how at least some of these workers might have felt compelled to work for Wolfram & Hart simply so they could get a little bit ahead in life or at least be able to keep treading water. I can't help but think that the message being foisted on us is that it's better to live in sackcloth and ashes and keep our values intact rather than work for a Big Corporation.

Bureaucratic Inertia. Newton's laws of motion are often used to describe what it's like to try to effect change in a bureaucratic organization. It would be kind of silly to go into great detail about how these concepts of "inertia" and "force" and "actions and re-actions" relate to Angel and Wolfram & Hart. However, Season 5 did successfully portray just how difficult it is to change the status quo in a corporation.

It's easy to think that you can go into a company like General Motors and shake things up by firing a bunch of staff, moving others around in massive reorganizations, and canceling projects and starting up new ones willy-nilly. The reason why a lot of these shake-ups fail is that the new foundations for the continuation of these new projects and policies have not been adequately put in place. In other words, you almost need to install a new bureaucracy before you can dismantle the old one. Unglamorous worker drone tasks like production and sending out and paying bills have to continue unabated or else the whole company could sink into a quagmire. Bureaucracy is a necessary evil, and it's up to management to try to find a way to work it to the company's best advantage.

Another realistic touch Mutant Enemy brought to the series was the sheer number of hours Angel and his gang had to put in while they were on the job. Even if they had a clear vision of what they wanted to accomplish, there just weren't enough hours in the day for them to be able to complete even the most minor tasks, which ties into how hard it is to change an established bureaucracy. When Angel was wondering in the above-referenced scene if he had a secretary, Wesley mentioned that "I imagine they'll find you someone who can stomach the idea of working for the side of the righteous."

I've often wondered why Angel Investigations didn't actively recruit more people into their inner circle to help out with the workload. Many people would have jumped at the chance to help out the forces of Good. If the premise that the employees of Wolfram & Hart were ordinary working stiffs is correct, even some of them should have been more than willing to help out Angel with his plans. (Although I can understand the mentality that all existing Wolfram & Hart employee would have automatically been suspect. I can also certainly understand how morally incorrect it would have been to bring in innocent outsiders into an evil outfit like Wolfram & Hart.)

Bureaucracy Unchecked. Angel's conflicts with Special Ops. Chief Hauser looked like a classic case of a rogue general operating behind the back of his Commander in Chief. It was one thing for lawyers to jump in to ask victims to sign release forms without checking in with Boss Angel first; it was another thing for security men to move into an area and attempt to obliterate an innocent (albeit lethally contagious) young boy and his classmates. It didn't take too long for Angel to size up the situation and deal with it the only way possible, by killing Hauser and most of his men. Although the above-referenced dialogue is worth a post in its own right, I'll just add that Angel was put on notice yet again that he really didn't have a lot of control over his own branch of Wolfram & Hart.

Within the Context of After the Fall. In my last real post "Season 5 Overview", I mentioned that I would be reviewing Season 5 within the context of what happened later on within the After the Fall comic continuation series. I'm actually not all that interested in dissecting all of the significant events and trying to figure out how they fit in within the plans of the Apocalypse that was ordered up by the Senior Partners. I will say that everything that happened in Season 5 could have either been carefully orchestrated by the Senior Partners, or could have come up as complete surprises but quickly turned to the Senior Partners' advantage. For example, the Senior Partners might have wanted Angel to kill Hauser just to bring him that much closer to the moment when he went into full revolt against Wolfram & Hart and started the Apocalypse.

Joss Whedon made an excellent point in his commentary about how Wolfram & Hart acted like any other powerful group when faced with a direct threat. First, they tried to destroy the threat, then they tried to co-opt the threat and bring everyone into the fold. It's too bad that this all became a moot point within the context of After the Fall, and that this knowledge somewhat diminishes the lustre of scenes like these where Angel and his crew were wondering just exactly what the Senior Partners were up to.

Angel and Eve. I never bothered to hide my dislike of Eve, who was the liaison between Angel and the Senior Partners. Although I admit that she had several wonderful lines of dialogue throughout Season 5, more often than not it seemed like her job was to explain the obvious to some of the more dim-witted members of the viewing audience.

I had often thought that Sarah Thompson had been horribly miscast as Eve, but Joss Whedon praised her for being very sweet and very professional while she was on the set. He also made it very clear that he wanted a young and very non-evil face to represent Wolfram & Hart at this time, presumably in another attempt to "humanize" the law firm.

One of my biggest questions has been, were Eve and Angel supposed to be attracted to each other, or was she supposed to be that annoying? Joss Whedon cleared that up in the commentary when he mentioned in this scene that there was some "chemistry" between Angel and Eve. I certainly didn't sense any "chemistry", but now that I know that there's supposed to be some attraction between the two characters I won't be quite as puzzled about what's happening in their upcoming appearances.

As an aside, for someone with somewhat of a Lothario reputation, David Boreanaz seemed to have a particularly difficult time establishing "chemistry" with a few other females on the set of Angel. I can't help but compare his appearances with Sarah Thompson to his completely disastrous pairing with Bai Ling (Jheira) in Season 1's "She".

Lorne. Joss also mentioned that Lorne was "in his element" since he was always on the move while wheeling and dealing with all of the Hollywood personalities. I always thought Lorne looked awkward throughout Season 5, as though he had been put in somewhat of a "Peter Principle" situation where he had been promoted to his level of incompetence. My problem is that I always thought the character of Lorne reached his apex with his non-judgmental and neutral Caritas Host persona, where he was laid-back and warm and inviting, yet still very sharp and incisive.

I understand that for both the character Lorne and actor Andy Hallett, being the Host of Caritas was simply a stepping stone to bigger and better things throughout the series. It's too bad I always thought Lorne looked somewhat like a fish out of water in Season 4 (with a few exceptions) while he was living at the Hyperion Hotel, and never really found a niche for himself. Perhaps he "found" himself in Season 5, but I could never reconcile how someone as savvy as Lorne/The Host in Seasons 2 and 3 could completely lose it all by Season 5. Perhaps that was a metaphor for the corrupting influences of Evil? Regardless, I never faulted Andy Hallett's acting performances. I just thought he did the best he could with what turned out to be an unfortunate turn for his character.

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. Wesley's character also took somewhat of an unfortunate turn in that his personality seemed to regress in early Season 5. Although I dubbed him the New and Improved Wesley in Season 5 in contrast to his Dark Wesley persona of Season 4, it still seemed as though his character was incomplete. It's well-known that actor Alexis Denisof was still suffering from the effects of Bell's Palsy when he filmed "Conviction" (resulting in Whedon having to film Alexis as much as possible from his right side), but I don't think that affected his acting at all.

For one thing, it was as though Wesley woke up at the very beginning of Season 5 and found all of these cool-looking clothes in his wardrobe but didn't know what to do with them. Also, if bad-ass Wesley from Season 4 had stuck around, Spike would have never remarked that "I always thought Wesley was grown in some sort of greenhouse for dandies", and the office girls wouldn't have questioned his manhood. I just can't help but think that either Wesley's character had been put on ice for a while, or the creators made a conscious decision to take away some of his better, stronger qualities to clue us in that something was "missing" from him after the Connor mindwipe had been performed.

Regardless, his change from the end of Season 4 to the beginning of Season 5 was similar to what happened to his character between the end of Season 1 and the beginning of Season 2. Whereas I was amazed at how far Wesley had progressed throughout Season 1, it seemed as though the creators purposefully made his character regress in the beginning of Season 2 just because they felt they could get more mileage out of making him act like a buffoon.

It was totally out of character for Wesley to bring in vampire Harmony Kendall as Angel's administrative assistant. We may recall that he totally despised Harmony in Season 2's "Disharmony", while she failed to give him (or anyone else in Angel Investigations) any reason to trust her again. I'll go over this topic in more detail when I review "Harm's Way", but on the surface it just looked like an exceedingly clumsy way to introduce her as a regular character to the series.

Idle Thoughts
. I always thought actor David Boreanaz was at his best when he was portraying Angel as being put-upon, befuddled and confused. In "Conviction" alone think of his reactions when the lawyers descended on him after he rescued the woman in the alleyway, and when Wesley introduced Harmony Kendall as his new assistant. Joss Whedon nailed it in this commentary when he said that Boreanaz was "extraordinarily good at being bemused". One of the highlights of Season 5 was being able to enjoy Boreanaz' "bemused" performances as the man who was quite unwillingly thrust into the high-pressure position of being a CEO of a major corporation.

Speaking of Whedon, this marked the first time that I failed to be overwhelmed by one of his DVD commentaries. Did he sound tired and perhaps dispirited, or was he just battling a cold?

What was going on in this scene when Harmony said "Um, boss?" and both Angel and Wesley answered "What?" Was it just a throw-away joke, or was it meant to set up how Wesley may have been suffering a few delusions of grandeur? I don't recall Wesley acting in subsequent episodes like he resented Angel's top dog status. On the contrary, I thought he was the perfect second-in-command!

Although Whedon et al were perfectly cognizant that it could have been the last year for Angel, Season 5 still seemed to exist mostly as a transition year towards a non-existent Season 6. It's too bad the writers couldn't have introduced the Apocalypse halfway through Season 5.

I thought it was interesting how Whedon compared turning Charles Gunn into a polished lawyer to turning Fred into Illyria. I didn't write down the exact quotes, but I thought the implication was that Fred transitioned or evolved into Illyria, whereas I always viewed Fred and Illyria as being two distinct and separate characters.

I thought that this reference to the "D.A.'s shamans" conjuring up a "mystical shield" around the jury gave us an intriguing glimpse at how the supernatural world existed within certain echelons of our criminal justice system.

Although I liked the Season 5 sets of Wolfram & Hart on my first viewings, I recognized the sets as looking kind of cheap upon subsequent viewings. Regardless, Whedon, and probably the other directors, really enjoyed setting up the fancy camera angles that looked up, down and through the open staircases. I couldn't help but be reminded of this wonderful Daffy Duck cartoon, "Drip-Along Daffy", with the "artsy camera angles" at roughly the six-minute mark as Duffy advanced towards his shootout with "rustler, bandit" and "square dance caller" Nasty Canasta.