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.

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