Saturday, October 30, 2010

Is Wesley New and Improved?

(Roy Dotrice and Alexis Denisof as Roger Wyndam-Pryce and son Wesley)

I've been working under the premise lately that Wesley Wyndam-Pryce from Season 5 of Angel (whom I've somewhat incorrectly dubbed the "New and Improved Wesley") was somewhat less than whole after his memories of Connor were stripped away by the mindwipe spell that Angel agreed to as a condition for accepting the Wolfram & Hart job offer. Although Wesley's involvement in Connor's kidnapping and his subsequent banishment from the group were terrible experiences, he undeniably become much more tougher and mature as a result.

I'm not convinced that the Mutant Enemy writers put a whole lot of thought into how Wesley's personality may have changed as a result of the Connor mindwipe (at least until his memories were restored later in the season in "Origin"). However, the episode "Lineage" was the closest thing to a blueprint of what exactly was going on in Wesley's mind during that part of early Season 5. As usual, I accept what's presented to me by the writers unless later events prove otherwise.

I've written about this episode before at great length in the Idle Thoughts portion of my "Lilah's True Feelings" post, and also in "Wesley's Grumpy Old Curmudgeon Dad". I also wrote a wee bit in "The Unsinkable Wesley Wyndam-Pryce" about how there were hints in "Lineage" that Wesley might have gotten along quite nicely with his mother. As usual, I don't like to repeat myself too much, so I encourage you to check out these posts if you're interested.

Finally, I'm going to immediately break my promise not to repeat myself too much by stating that I still stand by what I wrote in this final paragraph from my "Wesley's Grumpy Old Curmudgeon Dad" post referenced above:
I chose to take Roger's personality at face value in "Lineage" even though he was a cyborg. As Wesley and Angel pointed out, whoever was behind the cyborgs (the Circle of the Black Thorn?) probably had access to old Watcher's Council files, background information, character assessments, and psychological profiles. Wesley was fooled, so I'm allowing myself to think that cyborg Roger was a more than acceptable substitute for the real thing.
Wesley and Fred. Throughout most of their relationship, Wesley repeatedly showed poor judgment in matters involving Fred Burkle. Wes, who was hopelessly in love with Fred, made way too many nervous mistakes. There were a few signs during the waning days of Season 4 that the two of them had reached some sort of uneasy understanding with each other. Unfortunately, his new-found maturity seemed to disappear by the time Season 5's "Unleashed" came along, as Wesley started acting like a jealous schoolboy when he started making pointed remarks about Fred's relationship with Knox.

This scene featuring Wesley's confrontation with Emil the Weapons Guy is pretty self- explanatory. Wes was effectively doing some Season 4 Bad Ass posturing as he pretended to negotiate with his former supplier. (It was eventually revealed that Fred and Wesley were "infiltrating a weapons ring".) The lovely Fred, a tough cookie in her own right, put on a wonderful performance of her own as she explained the inner workings of the altered sniper rifle. When the negotiations soured and everyone started shooting at each other, Fred was wounded when she got caught in the crossfire. Fortunately, Angel arrived just in the nick of time to save the day, albeit after an unknown Ninja-type warrior showed up and wreaked his own special kind of havoc.

Fred took Wesley to task later on for being all apologetic about failing to protect her and for otherwise making patronizing remarks. What was even more interesting was the conversation between Angel and Wesley that took place a few minutes earlier. Angel rightfully didn't buy Wesley's story that he took Fred along to the secret meeting because she was the right person for the job. It was obvious to everyone that Wesley took Fred along as a way to spend some quality time with her.

Although the dialogue I linked to above doesn't seem to support this, I was under the impression that Angel was being equally disingenuous with Wesley. I might be wrong, but Angel appeared to be pretending that Fred should not have gone out in the field because her work was too valuable in the science lab. They were no longer the understaffed Angel Investigations team where each member pitched in to help with a variety of tasks. Instead, they were part of a much larger organization where it was more efficient for everyone to stay confined to their special niche roles. Angel, again rightfully, was also upset that Wesley hadn't informed him ahead of time of his plans. Of course Wesley didn't inform Angel, because Angel would have nixed the plans. Despite Angel's well-reasoned arguments, it was equally plain to see that he simply didn't want her put in harm's way.

In fact, the whole issue of placing Fred in danger provided an interesting contrast between Wesley and Angel. Although Wesley could be every bit as gallant and chivalrous as Angel, he had no qualms about putting women whom he considered to be ultra- competent into extremely dangerous situations. Wes might have even thought these women would have considered this to be a compliment! I had said before in an earlier post that Wesley had misplaced pride of ownership over both Faith and Willow, and seemed to enjoy showing them off as though he was displaying shiny new trophies. Wesley could have easily felt the same way about Fred, whom he might have regarded as his protege. Any heroic action on her part would have meant reflected glory on Wesley. Although I believe Angel and Wes were equally as fond as Fred in their own ways, Angel's instinct was to protect her, while Wesley's reaction was to work side-by-side with her in the battlefield.

Bad Ass Wesley. The thought crossed my mind that Wesley might have lost a little bit of his edge in the Bad Ass department in Season 5, but his scene with Emil proved otherwise. He was just as cool and ruthless as ever. Even more tellingly, Wesley had already turned Bad Ass by the time he started confronting Holtz and Justine in Season 3 before he kidnapped Connor. It would therefore be a mistake to assume that if he lost all his memories of Connor, he would have reverted back to his old sweet and lovingly inept ways. In spite of this, I still think a lot of his Season 4 darkness carried over into his Season 5 persona, even if he didn't fully understand the reasoning.

Wesley and His Father. As I mentioned above, I wrote at great length about their relationship in "Wesley's Grumpy Old Curmudgeon Dad". At the risk of making this post incomplete, I'll focus mostly on some minor details that I didn't touch on earlier.

I'm always fascinated with the attitudes that blood-sucking organizations have about their employees' family lives. I know of many real-life companies whose entire Human Resources model revolves around hiring young people right out of college and keeping them on the road so much it's impossible for them to form romantic attachments. If an employee defies all odds and actually marries someone, he or she is somewhat forced to seek employment elsewhere in order to preserve the marriage.

Naturally, I also know of many organizations where the opposite seems to be true. In these companies you can't get promoted unless you demonstrate your "stability" by raising a family. Oddly enough, Wolfram & Hart seemed to follow the latter model. Besides the obvious advantages of being in a position to be able to physically sacrifice your children for personal gain, employees needed families to keep them grounded so they could more effectively carry out their corporate duties. As Holland Manners effectively hinted to Lindsey McDonald, if employees had "healthy attachments", they would be less likely to engage in dubious sideline operations on their own. Finally, we can't forget the obvious implication that if you have a family to support, you'll be more likely to do whatever it takes to keep your job.

I'm not sure if I have enough information to make this sweeping generalization, but the entire Watcher organization (or at least the British contingent) seemed to have the same philosophy. I could never figure out how Roger Wyndam-Pryce had the time to be both a Watcher and have a family, and in reality he probably didn't. He appeared to be doing active fieldwork for the Watchers' Council back in 1963, which I'm reasonably sure was well before Wesley was born. Regardless of what type of work Roger was doing for the Council while Wesley was growing up, it's entirely possible that Roger was only going through the motions of being committed to his family, leaving the bulk of the work of running a household and raising Wesley to his wife.

Further complicating matters is the fact that Roger must have at least been around often enough to thoroughly terrorize Wesley and give him a miserable childhood. If Roger was married more to his career than to this family, he might have resented the required face time that he had to put in with Wesley. I'm guessing that active Watchers like Rupert Giles and Wesley might have found it almost impossible to find time for marriage. However, it appeared the Watchers' Council had a large number of ancillary employees (some of who may have been former Watchers themselves) who performed administrative functions and carried out field operations. These employees may have had a little more time to raise families on the side.

Roger made it quite clear that he thought Wesley and "Winifred" would make a good match. By extension, Roger was also making it quite clear that he thought it was time for Wesley to settle down. As I wrote above, it would be difficult for active Watchers to raise a family, and damned near impossible for Slayers to do the same (despite the lip service in Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the idea that it was possible to have something resembling a normal life and carry out slaying duties at the same time.) But why would it be so important for other people associated with the Council to have families?

We can't discount the possibility that a lot of Roger's attitudes might have been attributed to old-fashioned values, where people are expected to settle down, get married and have children by a certain time in their lives. Any single person over the age of 30 who has ever attended a family gathering is fully aware of this notion. But probably the main reason for this push was the fact that the Watchers' Council was an extremely nepotistic organization that literally liked to keep all of their activities within the family. It was therefore the duty of their operatives to keep producing little foot soldiers for the cause.

Lilah. References to Lilah Morgan in Season 5 of Angel were few and far between. In fact, I think "Lineage" marked the first reference to Lilah in the entire season when Wesley informed his father, "The last girl I was with I had to chop into little tiny pieces because a higher power saw fit to stab her in the neck."

I won't get into how Roger thought Wesley was either being facetious or melodramatic. However, I will add that I could have just as easily titled this section "Don't Worry Dad, I'm Not Gay". Roger put his son on the defensive by prying into his love life, and Wesley may have felt compelled to bring up the subject of Lilah just to reassure his dad that he did, in fact, have girlfriends from time to time.

Despite what may have been his less than noble reason for talking about Lilah, I still have to stick with what I came up with in my earlier post "Top 5 Wesley and Lilah Scenes" when I wrote, "Even his reference to "the last girl I was with", although not a ringing endorsement, was still what I considered to be a healthy acknowledgment that Lilah had been a significant part of his life." Wesley didn't have to bring up the subject of Lilah at all! He could have just glossed over that part of his life and talked about Virginia and some of his one-night stand playmates that he might have spent time with in earlier seasons.

Which brings me to the puzzling question of, how could Wesley have remembered Lilah if all of his memories of Connor had been erased? His kidnapping of Connor was a direct factor in hooking up with Lilah in the first place. Logically he must have had some set of false memories that would explain why he took the drastic action of sleeping with the enemy. For example, it would be perfectly logical to think that Lilah just appeared on his doorstep out of the blue one day to recruit him to work for Wolfram & Hart, and things got out of hand.

I don't fault Mutant Enemy for not explaining Wesley's memories of Lilah during this part of the season. The writers had too many story lines to juggle around as it was. This just falls under the category of intriguing little riddles that we can try to solve on our own time.

Cyborgs. I read somewhere that the symbol for the Circle of the Black Thorn showed up in "Lineage" during one of those quick series of images that acted as scene dividers. According to the Wikipedia link above, the symbol made its official debut in "Power Play", although I thought it showed up earlier than that. Regardless, I've also read that the symbol also briefly appears in other episodes to indicate that Wolfram & Hart had been gunning for Team Angel all throughout Season 5. If true, this acted as an attractive foreshadowing of coming events. I just wished Mutant Enemy would have offered up some easier clues so that even us slower-witted audience members would have had a chance to catch on.

Angel et al never did come up with an explanation of who was behind the cyborg assaults. Some intriguing clues included the fact that they had previously taken out some serious evildoers in at least two other parts of the world. The obvious implication was that if this shadowy organization routinely went after bad guys, then they must have felt that Angel was also a bad guy for taking over the Los Angeles branch of Wolfram & Hart. Did the cyborgs really take out the "demon cabal in Jakarta" and the "Tanmar Death Chamber", or did Wolfram & Hart plant a false story? If the stories really were true, did Wolfram & Hart destroy those two groups just to shake Team Angel from the scent of the true identity of the organization behind the cyborgs?

What would Wolfram & Hart have hoped to accomplish from this mission? I can't honestly believe that the Senior Partners really wanted to do anything so crude as to turn Angel into a zombie slave who would forever do their bidding. The best I can come up with is that this was yet one more part of Wolfram & Hart's overall plan to institute a Reign of Terror so Angel would turn into a killing machine during the Apocalypse as described in After the Fall.

Eve and Angel and Spike. I'd love to write more about Eve's excellent dialogue in this scene where she discussed Wesley's focus on the big picture and his potential to betray Angel while doing the "right thing". Instead, I'll point to this as one more instance where Eve was continuing to act like she was one of Angel's best friends and confidantes even while it was obvious she had ulterior motives. Angel didn't trust Eve, but was forced to put up with her the best he could. It's interesting that there was very little in-your-face sexual attraction between Angel and Eve in this episode (though I've been wrong about this before), and it appeared that Eve was starting to get a little more serious about carrying out Lindsey's plan to set up Spike as a serious rival for Angel's claim to being the pivotal Vampire with a Soul as referenced in the Shanshu prophecy.

Of course Spike had no way of knowing what Eve was up to, but he clearly knew she was up to no good. I love how he consistently threw tact and diplomacy into the wind and charged right in with his accusations. Angel just didn't have the same talent for telling Eve to "cut the crap and tell me what you're doing". Eve was actually quite clumsy in carrying out the plan, but she at least was skillful enough to convince Spike and Angel that she was acting purely on behalf of the Senior Partners.

Wesley and Spike. I've also been working under the premise that Spike really couldn't stand Wesley in this part of Season 5, and I was wondering if there was a definite turning point in their relationship. I always pointed to this scene as an example of Spike's total disgust with Wesley. Upon viewing the scene one more time, I'm now starting to think that Spike's remark about Wes growing up in a "greenhouse for dandies" was actually kind of mild. Any fellow Alpha Male would have been a natural target for Spike, so I don't think Wesley was being singled out for any special treatment.

Also, I've always interpreted this scene to mean that Spike was sincerely trying to reach out to Wesley by talking about his own issues with a parent. Although Spike's story was bizarre, his intentions were good. All in all, Spike didn't have to seek out Wesley after his rooftop altercation with his father. Was this the turning point in the Wesley and Spike relationship I've been looking for?

Idle Thoughts. It's always bugged me that the character "Emil's" name wasn't spelled "Emile". "Emil" is Teutonic in origin, whereas "Emile" is French. The character was obviously from Haiti or some other French West Indies nation, so therefore he should have been named "Emile".

I was disappointed that actor Sven Holmberg (Emil's delivery guy in Wesley's apartment) didn't appear in "Lineage". However, I concede that it would have been a mistake to include him. Holmberg's Delivery Guy was easy-going and mellow, whereas Emil's men in this episode were brutish thugs.

I included this closing scene between Angel and Wesley in my list of favorite Angel/Wesley moments. I hope I talk more about this at a later date.

I loved the contrast between how Wesley acted around his father (clumsy and nervous) and how the other characters reacted (mature and self-assured). Is it ever possible for a child to act as an equal to a parent?

I also loved the look on Spike's face when he was confronted with the fact that he had met Roger back in 1963 when Spike was slaughtering children in a Viennese orphanage.

Regarding the spell of the Orlon Window (as described by the demon Cyvus Vail in "Origin"), I've often wondered how many false memories were actively created from the spell, and how many were organically created by the brain in an attempt to make sense out of the remaining disconnected memories.

When Wesley tortured the captive cyborg, he was able to determine that the plan was to use the Staff of Devosynn to turn Angel into a zombie slave. However, I was surprised that Wes didn't find out who was behind the cyborgs. Apparently he just assumed they were former members of the old Watchers' Council?

Although Roger Wyndam-Pryce turned out to be a cyborg, he was being astute when he pointed out to Wesley that Angel was "...a puppet. He always has been. To the Powers That Be, to Wolfram & Hart...." I always wished the series would have explored the idea that The Powers That Be might have been malevolent.

Roy Dotrice is an excellent actor who seemed quite taken with his role as Wesley's father. Actor Alexis Denisof seemed to equally enjoy playing his son. I'm not sure if Dotrice and Denisof had ever acted together before, but it's quite possible they might have bumped into each other in England. Similar to their onscreen father/son portrayals, do you think the ultra-experienced Dotrice schooled the younger Denisof a bit in their performances? It must have always been a great joy whenever an actor of Roy Dotrice's caliber came onto the Angel set.

Whereas I think Dotrice and Denisof complemented each other, I think Andy Hallett Lorne's offered a marvelous contrast to Dotrice's character.

Trust Wesley to gracefully surrender Fred to Knox just as she was starting to warm up to Wesley. This scene also highlighted Fred's unfortunate tendency to put everything in the best possible light, this time when she insisted that part of Wesley always knew that the cyborg wasn't really his father. The problem with Fred acting that way was that it always forced the other party to come right out and say what a mean, horrible person he really was.

I cover too much territory in my blog posts, so it's always a challenge to stay within Blogger's 200-character tag limit. The victims of my tag purge this time around included "Alexis Denisof", "Angel and Eve" and "Sven Holmberg".

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Angel: Time to Get His Groove Back

Numero Cinco, from Screencap Paradise

I've learned from past experience that whenever I sit down to watch a particularly satisfying episode of Angel, it's not too unusual to see Jeffrey Bell's name plastered all over the opening credits. For pure entertainment value, his "The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco" from Season 5 is one of my favorite shows of the entire series. It's also one of the few episodes of Angel that I've shown to the rest of my family, since I knew they could watch it with a minimum of additional explanation. As usual, this is less a review and more of an exploration of some of my current pet themes.

Shanshu Prophecy. We learned a little bit more in this episode about how Angel had just about completely turned his back on the Shanshu prophecy which, in the words of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, "....tells of an epic, apocalyptic battle and a vampire with a soul who plays a major role in that battle. And there's the suggestion that the vampire will get to live again." It's a little too much for me to go into how Angel was feeling "disconnected", how Spike realized the prophecy could have been about him instead of Angel, and how Wesley confronted Angel about how hope was "the only thing that will sustain you, that will keep you from ending up like Numero 5."

Wes was always the one who felt the most attached to the Shanshu prophecy, probably since he bonded with it considerably while he was translating the scrolls that Angel had swiped from Wolfram & Hart in Season 1. Wesley also acted borderline patronizing toward Angel concerning the prophecy, somewhat like a parent keeping a fairy tale alive in order to maintain a desired behavior from a young child. In this case, Wesley was the "parent" who was keeping "child" Angel focused on his mission of being a champion. Spike picked up on this fairy tale aspect pretty quickly when he described the prophecy as being the one "that says that Angel gets to be a real boy again."

Angel's attitude toward the prophecy tended to run between hot and cold, depending on how well things were going for him at the time. In early Season 5, he was running "cold" since, as he described to Wesley, "The prophecies are nonsense. You know that. Oh, come on, Wes, after everything we've seen the past couple of years? 'The father will kill the son'?"

I'll stop at this point simply because whenever I write about the Shanshu prophecy, I feel that I'm doing so out of a sense of obligation. I can't deny that the prophecy, which was introduced in late Season 1, played a huge part in shaping almost the entire series. However, the Shanshu prophecy itself never really grabbed my imagination. I often feel that I'm not entirely grasping the concept, even though it seems pretty simple when I type it out. What's particularly troubling to me is that half of the time I can never really figure out how the prophecy's being interpreted and how Angel is reacting to it. After looking at this Buffyverse Wiki entry, now I'm really glad I haven't devoted a lot of time to the Shanshu prophecy. It appears that, rather than changing through an organic process, the prophecy seems to go through abrupt changes in order to make it fit into whatever agenda the writers are pushing at that particular point in time. In other words, I should stop trying to analyze the process of change and just take what the writers are giving me at face value.

New and Improved Wesley. The Season 5 version of Wesley was obviously a lot more mature than earlier versions. Paradoxically, although he went through definite character growth, Wesley was closer in spirit (good-natured and naive) to Seasons 1 through the early part of Season 3 Wesley, rather than the "Dark Wesley" who emerged after he kidnapped baby Connor in late Season 3's "Sleep Tight".

When I first saw Season 5 I tried to ignore the nature of the Connor mind wipe, which was a magical procedure that Angel allowed Wolfram & Hart to perform as a condition to accepting the law firm's job offer. After the mind wipe, most of the characters had forgotten all about Connor, which allowed Connor to be placed in a normal family and live as though his hellish nightmarish years had never happened. I therefore saw Wesley's Season 5 character as someone who had successfully integrated the best of his Old and New (Dark) Wesley personality traits and emerged as someone who was much more well-grounded and mature. This theory didn't hold up too well after I witnessed Wesley's obvious disintegration in "Origin" when all of his dark memories returned to him after he released the spell of the Orlon Window. Wesley obviously couldn't have "integrated" personality traits that he didn't even know existed.

At some point, after probably about three seconds of thought, I decided to dub the Season 5 version of Wesley as being the New and Improved Wesley. What complicates things a bit further is that I've recently discovered that in earlier posts I used Dark Wesley and the New and Improved Wesley as somewhat interchangeable terms. Regardless, although I still consider most of Season 5 Wesley as being more well-grounded, confident and mature, there definitely seemed to be something missing from his personality.

Indeed, this part of the dialogue sequence where Wesley lectured Angel on the importance of keeping the faith regarding the Shanshu prophecy (and where Wesley revealed that he had no memories regarding Connor) is reminiscent of this dialogue sequence from Season 1's "To Shanshu in L.A." where Wes voiced his concerns to Cordy on how "there's nothing in life he [Angel] wants". So rather than being New and Improved in Season 5, it appeared that Wesley actually regressed a bit.

Another clue I often point out regarding Wesley's character regression is the fact that he just did not dress as well in Season 5 as he did in Season 4. I've often wondered if this was a result of a decision by the producers to have Wesley go through a definite style change, if the production staff members themselves lacked fashion sense, if maybe I lack fashion sense, or if I'm being too nitpicky and should really move on to other things.

Although I can't criticize Wesley's clothes in all of the Season 5 episodes, what he wore in "The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco" was not one of his better looks. For one thing, the brown pants he wore wouldn't have looked that good with much of anything. (Or, as my husband claims, "nobody looks good in brown".) For another thing, the combination of those same pants with the dark blue shirt, where the brownish/tannish vertical stripes may have almost matched his slacks, looked like an ensemble that one of my sons would have put together. The son in question has no fashion sense whatsoever, and he has a tendency to take the fashion rules that I've taught him and twist them around in order to use them against me. So, whenever I see Wesley in that particular outfit, I can just hear my son telling me, "But Mom, the stripe in my shirt matches my pants."

Yes Sir Mr. Boss Man.
In my "Wesley Wyndam-Pryce Agency" post, I mentioned that Wes tended to be arrogant and dismissive toward people he considered to be his inferiors. This was a trait that dated at least as far back as his Sunnydale days. Although there was nothing overtly offensive in the way he treated his Wolfram & Hart employees in these scenes here and here, there was still something about his attitude that would have rubbed me the wrong way if I was working for him.

The real kicker was how his underlings called him "Sir". Sir? "Sir" comes trippingly off the tongue to Southerners in the U.S., but I'm a lifelong Yankee. I've worked for some very conservative companies over the years, and the only people I ever called "sir" were much older important clients. (Not to mention complete strangers, like, "Sir, you dropped your keys".)

We can attribute part of Wesley's attitude to what may have been his Old World sense of propriety. However, I can distinctly remember Lilah calling her superiors "sir" during her Wolfram & Hart days. Since Wolfram & Hart was as big and formal a company as you could get, the practice of calling male superiors "Sir" might have already been ingrained into the corporate culture long before Angel and his crew arrived.

We also have to be mindful that Wesley was not the only one who treated his people like dirt. Fred came out and said once that her people deserved to die, while Angel had a brutal way of terminating less-favored Wolfram & Hart employees. I don't recall Gunn ever taking direct action against any of his immediate underlings, but he certainly had his hands full when he was acting in an advisory capacity.

Respect for Subject Matter.
One of the aspects that I admired about Jeffrey Bell's "The Magic Bullet" from Season 4 was how, even though he poked gentle fun at Jasmine's followers, he avoided crossing the line and out-and-out ridiculing them. I wrote in a previous blog post that this attitude of respect for the characters seemed to permeate from the top, from Joss Whedon all the way down through the ranks of the Mutant Enemy production staff.

The subject matter of "The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco" also presented a lot of opportunities for ridicule, with its exploration of Mexican wrestlers and bad horror films. Again, Mutant Enemy and Bell decided to present the subject matter with an attitude of simple respect, which made the episode all that more effective.

What really interested me about this scene, where Numero Cinco described the exploits of "Los Hermanos Numeros" (aka the "Number Brothers"), was how Angel scoffed at some of the more outlandish aspects of the story. But as Numero Cinco reminded Angel, "It was a different time. One that no longer exists". Two hundred forty-something year-old Angel should have realized this, but in this scene he quite effectively stood in as a proxy for skeptical modern-day audience members. This point about bygone days was also driven home by the fact that the brothers' stories lived on as a freakish sideshow "farce" being played out by midget wrestlers.

This scene also featured that beautifully choreographed sequence where Los Hermanos Numeros "fought" the bad guys in a tag-team wrestling match. As I listened to the music I couldn't help but be reminded of the lovely background music for the iconic Cartoon Network Quick Draw McGraw short, "El Kabong Rides Again". Sure enough, the closing credits confirmed that the eclectic indie band Calexico indeed provided the music. Based on the list of current members of the group, Calexico seems to be as authentically Mexican as the Baja Marimba Band. As a Midwestern WASP, I know only too well that, for Anglos, the most Spanish-sounding music (to Nordic ears) is written by Frenchmen (e.g., Bizet's Carmen). By extension, if it sounds authentically Mexican, it probably isn't. (Note: not meant as a criticism. I adore Calexico.)

I'm always fascinated with how the real and supernatural worlds collided in Angel, and also how the supernatural elements tended to haunt the lower-class areas in town. Think of the vampires in Gunn's old neighborhood as an example. Demons needed a place to hang out in the Angelverse, but it also appeared that they wanted to avoid all-out warfare with the human race. By living amongst and exploiting the people in poorer neighborhoods, the demons instinctively knew that they could basically run amok almost unseen by the rest of society. Wealthier people tend to justify their lack of interest in what's going on in poorer neighborhoods by stating that poverty will always be with us and there's nothing much that can be done about it.

In "...Numero Cinco", although the victims of the Aztec demon Tezcatcatl didn't seem to be exclusively Hispanic, the demon still appeared to confine his activities to the Hispanic neighborhoods of East LA. Another fascinating element was how Numero Cinco described the wrestling matches as being genuine, in that the Numbers Brothers really were fighting the Bad Guys in the ring. I highly doubted that was the case even when I allowed myself to suspend all sense of reality long enough to watch the episode. Instead, writer Jeffrey Bell was tapping into the concept of how ritual storytelling in just about every culture is as important (or even more important) than the actual events.

Idle Thoughts. On the surface it seemed as though Angel was quite abusive to Numero Cinco when he arrived at the ex-mailroom clerk's apartment. Quite tellingly, Numero Cinco didn't seem to put up too much of a fuss after Angel established his Alpha Male status. I won't even try to go into the psychology of the machismo culture, but I will state that it did seem to be a necessary ritual that needed to be performed before the guys could get down to the nuts and bolts of the business at hand.

Similar to how I feel I neglected Gunn's character at times during Seasons 2-4, I'm really not talking too much about him during this stretch of Season 5. There aren't too many ways I can describe how he really loved being a brainiac lawyer without being repetitive.

It was annoying to find that both Fred and Lorne chose to believe Spike when he claimed that "Angel went right off on the mail guy" at the beginning of the episode. Angel, of course, was provoked into his actions when Numero Cinco attacked him without warning. Angel never could figure out how to accurately describe his side of any story, but Fred and Lorne should have remembered that particular character trait and not rushed to judgment. It just goes to show how working at Wolfram & Hart was really doing a number on everyone's thought processes. (And let's not lose sight of the fact that Fred had developed a sweet spot for Spike, which he was not above exploiting for his own personal gain.)

The final fight scene had the potential to be a ridiculously cliched over-the-top portrayal of champions fighting (and winning) an epic battle between Good versus Evil. Instead, Jeffrey Bell again displayed a deft touch by giving the scene a wonderful sense of decency and quiet dignity.

Danny Mora was excellent in his portrayal of Numero Cinco. I'm sure the entire audience was anxiously waiting to find out his character's back-story the moment they first laid eyes on him earlier in the season. (Or did he appear in the final episode of Season 4?)

I didn't think the Aztec demon Tezcatcatl was scary enough. Again, we seemed to be reminded that the production budget for Angel was reportedly slashed for Season 5. I've always heard that if you don't have a very convincing monster, then it's best to use him sparingly.

I've often thought that the major flaw in Wolfram & Hart's magic books was that, if a character was trying to solve a mystery, he already needed to know what he was looking for in order to find the clues. In other words, the characters needed to have studied the actual texts ahead of time in order to get much use out of the newer system.

One of the things I'm watching in Season 5 is the relationship between Wesley and Spike. In this scene they weren't really at each other's throats, but they're both clearly irritated with each other. I'm looking for a clear turning point, where Spike stopped treating Wesley like he was a pompous sissy and started treating him more like an equal.

I thought it was a nice touch to (very briefly) bring Holland Manners back to the series, even though actor Sam Anderson didn't actually make an appearance. It gave us more insight on how Wolfram & Hart preyed on people during their weakest moments in order to recruit them to work for the firm.

I've already mentioned this in a much earlier post, but it bears repeating: I always thought Wesley's "I'd forgotten that Aztec culture was so violent" was an uninspired piece of dialogue. Anyone who's ever heard of the Aztecs also know that they were extremely violent. I try to explain it away by saying that English-born Wesley wasn't up on Western hemisphere demonology, since a surprisingly large percentage of demons who showed up in California seemed to be of European origin.

I can't decide if it was well-established that Tezcatcatl will make another appearance in 50 years, as evidenced by the fact that Angel wanted to make sure the demon would have a hard time finding the amulet when he came back. I'm also not sure that it's all that obvious that, according to Gunn, it's normally not a great thing for a dead being to be cursed to come back to life on a periodic basis.

If I had worked on this post last year, I would have felt obligated to come up with some thoughts about how Angel appeared to be regaining a sense of the mission, particularly in the closing scene where he revisited the Shanshu prophecy. Unfortunately, the looming dual specters of Wolfram & Hart grooming Angel for the Apocalypse in After the Fall and Lindsey McDonald setting up Angel for his own power play grab once again put a damper on things. I don't think either Wolfram & Hart or Lindsey McDonald had a direct hand in the events of "...Numero Cinco" outside of the fact that the Senior Partners would have known that Tezcatcatl would be making another appearance. Again, I believe the Senior Partners were letting events unfold and being watchful for how they could take advantage of the situation. About the only thing I can add is that I guess it was important to rebuild Angel's sense of confidence so it could be cruelly dashed again in "Destiny" when Spike defeated him in the fight for the right to drink from the Cup of Perpetual Torment.

I'll be busy with estate work over the next week or so, but I'm hoping to start a more regular posting schedule by the end of the month. It's nice to be back at least for a little while.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

On Hiatus For A While

We recently had another death in the family, so obviously I won't be blogging for a while. I can't give you a return date, but I of course want to come back as soon as I can. I may or may not publish some shorter posts in the interim. If you're getting bored, feel free to poke around my site and find all of my mistakes.

I'll still be checking in on a regular basis to see what's happening around here. If you leave any comments or emails it shouldn't take me too long to answer.

Take care, and I hope everyone's doing well.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Trying To Get a Post Out

I'm not sure how many more of these "I'll be back soon" posts I'll be able to get away with, but I'm hard at work on a post about Season 5 of Angel's "The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco". I can't seem to be able to sit down and work on it for more than a few minutes at a time, but I hope I'll be able to finish it soon.

Enjoy your weekends everyone!