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.

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