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.)


Anonymous said...

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...

oh my dear. You really need to watch BtVS seasons 4-7. There you will see one of the most incredible tales of redemption ever seen on a network TV show. (not to mention some amazing acting by James Marsters)

Don't get me wrong, I think Wesley's transformation from his first appearance on BtVS through Angel S5 was pretty stunning too but Spike, being TEH EVOL VAMPIRE, just tops the list.

- beloved4always

Miriam said...

You're right about how blind I am going in to Season 5 without knowing Spike's full back story with Buffy. I've read reviews, essays, synopses and snippets of dialogue here and there, but nothing replaces seeing the actual shows.

I've read all sorts of opinions about how people felt about his character changes in Season 4-7. Some people think he went through this magnificent transformation, while others thought he got all soft and lost his edge. I've even read that some people thought that his Season 5 AtS persona was kind of a throwback to his Seasons 2 and 3 days back at Buffy. I have a hunch that I would absolute LOVE Seasons 4-7 with Spike.

According to DVD commentaries, the Angel producers were very much aware that they had viewers who had not seen much of BtVS, if anything at all. It's interesting to see how much they wanted to reveal about his overall character development on Angel. It's too much to go into in a comment, but there have been times when I've been surprised by the lack of additional insight that I've received from Buffy about certain situations in Angel (one example, Wesley's back story). However, I feel that Spike is the one example where an Angel viewer would really miss out quite a bit by not seeing Buffy.

Andy Luke said...

Can I second that review for Roz Kaveney's Schrodinger's Angel essay? A great piece of academic and evaluative closure.
Quite enjoying my wee trip through your blog Miriam. ThanksYOU.

Miriam said...

Great to hear from you, Andy! Kaveney's essay certainly is wonderful - it should almost be required reading for any Angel fan who's just finished watching the series.