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".

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