Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lost Opportunities

Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia Chase in "You're Welcome"

It's hard for me to watch "You're Welcome" from Season 5 of Angel without thinking of those wonderful 100th episode celebration photos like this one at Flickr. Everyone looked so innocent and happy, as though they they had no idea the WB Network would announce the cancellation of the series just a few short weeks after the episode's original air date.

"You're Welcome" made it to my list of Top 10 Favorite episodes, and I've already written about the show here and here. If I could make one major change to my prior posts, I'd give more credit to Cordelia for making sure she got "her guy" back on the right track rather than portraying her as somewhat of a scolding nag. I've written in just about all of my Season 5 posts that I thought Angel made the right decision when he decided to accept the offer to take over Wolfram & Hart. He was definitely in a position of having to choose the lesser of two evils, but it still doesn't negate the fact that, nonetheless, the choice that he made was still evil.

As I watched the episode on DVD a few days ago, I couldn't help but think of how "You're Welcome" seemed to represent lost opportunities on so many levels, both within the storyline and within the real world. I could have titled this post "The Broken Record Edition" because I'm repeating myself so much, but I suppose there's something to be said about putting everything in one spot.

Angel and Cordelia, and David and Charisma. Let's get the obvious lost opportunity out of the way first, which was the aborted romance between Angel and Cordelia. This scene heartbreakingly showed us how the two of them wondered about how their lives might have changed if they had met that one night at the beach in the Season 3 finale "Tomorrow". In DVD commentaries, Joss Whedon, David Fury and probably some others have consistently asserted that many (most?) fans were NOT thrilled with the idea of an Angel/Cordelia romance. About all I can say is that actors David Boreanaz and Charisma Carpenter certainly made the most out of a "bad idea". In one of those weird blurrings of alternate realities, it seemed as though almost everyone in both the real and fantasy worlds were against them as a couple except for Angel and Cordelia themselves. The fact that Angel and Cordelia kept their dreams alive against all odds, with David Boreanaz and Charisma Carpenter once again blowing everyone away in their reunion scenes, speaks louder than anything.

Wes and Cordy. This has been a favorite topic of mine throughout the entire run of this blog. I think what fascinates me the most about Wes and Cordy is that their relationship almost totally defies description. You can't put what they had into any easy categories. David Fury himself said something to the effect that they had been an "item" in Sunnydale and their relationship had evolved into a wonderful friendship. Fury's description came close, but not close enough. Wes and Cordy certainly weren't an "item" in the conventional sense unless you consider having a single dance at the Graduation Ball and suffering through a disastrous kiss to be the key ingredients to becoming an "item".

I've also spoken at great length how throughout most of Seasons 1 -3 of Angel, Cordy seemed to take Wesley for granted while he seemed content to be her adoring lapdog. We really didn't have much of an inkling of how much affection Cordelia felt for Wesley until we saw their warm, enthusiastic embrace in her hospital room. (The contrast between their happy reunion and the more tentative one between Cordy and Angel was quite effective.) The scene in Wesley's office cemented their friendship, where they fondly reminisced about old times and had a heart-to-heart about her days when she had been hijacked by a higher being.

I've noticed this in previous episodes as well, but particularly in Wesley's office they were physically quite close together at times and enjoyed a wonderfully easy intimacy. It wouldn't be too hard to imagine that, off-screen, Wes and Cordy would have eventually given each other shoulder rubs and fallen asleep together on the couch while watching a movie. The fact that this next step in their friendship was cut short was particularly poignant for me.

Cordelia and Everyone Else. "You're Welcome" also highlighted how much the series missed Charisma Carpenter. It's amazing how Charisma could portray Cordelia as a fish out of water within the offices of Wolfram & Hart while simultaneously proving to everyone that Cordelia owned the place. Cordelia/Charisma stepped in and absolutely took charge of every scene. Although I know that she was the definite star of this particular episode, I don't think there's any doubt in anyone's mine that Cordelia could have continued her domination throughout the remaining run of the series.

Oh, how we were cheated out of a lot more wickedly delicious dialogue between Cordelia and everyone else! Spike took over Cordelia's spot as the blunt-to-a-fault truthsayer, but he certainly deserved to be brought down a peg or two by her. Cordelia could have dusted the floor with Eve while simultaneously putting Lindsey McDonald in his place. And let's not forget some of the issues Cordelia and Harmony needed to iron out!

Buffy. It's well-known that it was hoped that Sarah Michelle Gellar would appear as Buffy in this episode. She was unavailable, Charisma Carpenter was brought in, and the rest was history.

Bringing back Cordelia for one final performance was entirely appropriate since she was such an integral part of Angel: the Series. If Doyle's memory was going to be honored, then Cordelia had better be honored as well. Also it helped solidify the notion that Angel deserved to stand on its own feet as an entirely different series than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Overall I'm deliriously happy with how things worked out.

It wasn't until I saw this scene early last year out of Buffy's "Lovers Walk" that I realized it was a true pity that, as far as I know, this was the only fight scene that had Angel, Spike and Buffy all fighting on the same side. The three of them would have perfect together in this zombie sentinels scene from "You're Welcome". It certainly was a worthy goal to try to fit Sarah Michelle Gellar somewhere into Season 5 of Angel, but it unfortunately didn't work out.

Based on the DVD commentary for Season 5's "Destiny", I'm under the impression that Joss Whedon himself was the most gung-ho about bringing Gellar back and making Season 5 of Angel a little more Buffy-oriented. I'm also under the impression that some of the other Mutant Enemy staff members were instrumental in keeping the season more Angel-centric. It certainly would have made sense for Joss to want to bring Buffy back, since BtVS was his baby and a considerable percentage of the viewing audience were ardent Buffy fans. Although it might have been quite entertaining to have Buffy show up in person in one or two episodes, her appearances could have also backfired and perhaps even cheapened the overall tone of what turned out to be the final season of Angel.

Spike. Christian Kane mentioned in the commentary that he and James Marsters thought that Lindsey and Spike would appear in a big fight scene in "You're Welcome". He went on to say that both actors were actually looking forward to it! Of course, Lindsey and Angel were the two who fought it out, which was the correct decision since it fit in better with the immediate story line. Kane went on to say that Spike was cheated out of his own showdown with Lindsey, which Spike certainly deserved after finding out he'd been played.

As another aside, I would have liked to have seen Spike fighting a lot more in the zombie sentinel scene, which seemed to be the story of his life. Spike needed to be seen a lot more in both Buffy and Angel.

Lindsey and Eve. It was a bit disappointing that actors Christian Kane and Sarah Thompson provided additional DVD commentary. If it was up to me I would have just let writer David Fury do it all on his own. Lindsey and Eve were important characters in their own right and, technically. the two actors deserved a little bit of the spotlight. Unfortunately, I wasn't all that interested in what they had to say. I never cared for the character of Eve, and I could never quite figure out why it was so important for Lindsey to return to Angel in Season 5. Perhaps if I had received a little more insight from the commentary I'd feel differently about the whole thing.

Christian Kane did touch on how we never really learned too much about the journey that Lindsey took to get back to Wolfram & Hart. We vaguely know that he toughened himself up, did a lot of studying and learned a lot of magic, but that was about it. Perhaps if we knew more about the actual journey we might have had a better idea about his ultimate plans. I could never quite buy the notion that it was all about revenge against Angel. If it was strictly revenge, he could have gotten over things a lot quicker if he'd have just urinated in Angel's soup in a restaurant somewhere.

This scene on the balcony provided us with one of the clearest explanations of what Lindsey had in mind. He apparently resented the fact that Angel was Top Dog at Wolfram & Hart, and felt it was time to take on the Senior Partners. I knew that Lindsey wanted to impress the Senior Partners with his sheer moxy for trying to take over Wolfram & Hart by brute force, but that never made sense to me. Lindsey had to know that the Senior Partners had definite plans for Angel, and they weren't going to let anything get in their way. Eve correctly pointed out that "You know the house always wins".

The After the Fall continuation series clued us in that the Senior Partners had manipulated Angel, presumably throughout Season 5, into starting the Apocalypse. Perhaps the Senior Partners manipulated Lindsey as well? Regardless of whether Lindsey's runic tattoos kept him hidden from the Senior Partners, the trouble he caused certainly played into the their hands. (If memory serves me, I believe After the Fall hinted that Lindsey wasn't in any way being rewarded by the Partners in his after-life.)

Or, perhaps I perfectly understand Lindsey's motivations after all. Maybe he really was a pathetic half-wit just like Angel said!

More Lindsey and Eve. Eve also correctly pointed out to Lindsey that "It all comes back to Angel, doesn't it? He's still the center of your universe." A lot of times I think people carry on a little too much about the supposed homosexual obsessions between Angel and Lindsey. However, I will grant that it's tough to ignore that Lindsey's single-minded obsession with destroying Angel sounds an awful lot like Spike's similiar obsession with Buffy. I'll write a little bit more about this in another post.

At one time I wondered, was Lindsey just using Eve? It would certainly make sense if a young, good-looking evil man seduced the Senior Partners' liaison with Angel! However, all indications are that Lindsey was as equally in love with Eve as she was with him. I'm also under the impression that Eve worked herself into the liaison position in order to help out Lindsey, but I admit I haven't been paying too much attention to that part. Despite my lack of enthusiasm about the whole Eve/Lindsey relationship, I do admire how devoted they were to each other and how they stayed with each other to the bitter end.

Wesley and Fred. I always thought it was very clever to include this little scene where Wesley turned into a superhero in front of Fred's eyes as he read the magic incantation that destroyed Lindsey's mystical tattoos, thereby exposing Lindsey to the full wrath of the Senior Partners. Of course this helped set up their burgeoning love affair in "Smile Time" right before she was destroyed forever in the very next episode, "A Hole in the World". However, writer/director David Fury explained in the DVD commentary that this particular scene was filmed at a later date as an afterthought, for the very reason that I described above. Although the long-lasting "will they or won't they?" relationship between Wesley and Fred seemed to really resonate with fans, I always thought that Mutant Enemy failed to give the subject matter the attention it deserved. It's only fitting that one of the few key moments in their brief relationships almost never happened.

Idle Thoughts. Charisma Carpenter is breathtakingly beautiful. I thought she looked the loveliest in "You're Welcome" since her Buffy days. Also, I thought Charisma looked more like Charisma than Cordelia, if that makes any sense.

Sometimes I can vividly remember certain scenes in Angel but have a hard time associating them with specific episodes. The opening scene with the slaughtered nuns in "You're Welcome" is one of those instances.

It is so typical and true-to-life for people not to bring a change of clothes with them when they pick up a patient from the hospital. I've had to make a few long round trips when I either didn't think of bringing clothes or I forgot a key article of clothing, like shoes or underwear.

I was delighted to see actor T.J. Thyne pop up again, this time as the lawyer who caught the Archduke Sebassis' slave drinking copier toner fluid.

I listened to an excellent podcast interview with Tim Minear over at The Investigating Angel site. (Hat tip Whedonesque.) The entire interview is worth its own blog post. However, it does seem appropriate to bring up what he had to say about Glenn Quinn's Doyle character from Season 1. Minear confirmed that Doyle was killed off not only because Joss Whedon wanted to keep the audience on their toes, but because actor Quinn's addiction was affecting his work on the set. It was hoped that Quinn would receive a wake-up call after he was fired, but he unfortunately passed away from his "disease" a few years later. "You're Welcome" paid homage to the very beginning of the Angel series in many ways, but none more poignantly than by honoring the character of Doyle.

I haven't put the time into this that I should have, but there are some lovely video and written interviews with Charisma Carpenter out there where she said that she refused to come back to Angel just to get killed off. When Carpenter found out too late that she was going to get killed off, she was extremely upset until she read the script. She now believes her final scene with Angel is one of the best scenes she ever filmed. (This interview hints at this.) If I ever run across any of these interviews I'll add the links in this post.

This was another one of my posts where I ran afoul of Blogspot's 200-character limit on tags. Victims this time around include After the Fall, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, David Fury, Joss Whedon and Tim Minear.

This episode truly marks the extreme ending to Wesley and Lilah's relationship. I'll be writing more about this in one of my next posts.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Season 5 Buffy Invasion

Navi Rawat as Dana the Psycho Slayer on the loose
(courtesy of Screencap Paradise)

"Damage" from Season 5 of Angel was one of my least favorite episodes of the series, mostly because I found Dana the Psycho Slayer to be an extremely unsympathetic character. Still, viewing it on DVD last week marked another bittersweet moment for me since it was the last episode of the series that I had only seen once before. (I've never been able to stomach watching "The Girl in Question" all the way through, but we'll ignore that for now.) I was hoping that viewing "Damage" for the first time since the spring of 2009 would be close to seeing it again for the first time. Unfortunately, nothing really leaped out at me in a major way upon my second viewing.

Synopsis. Dana was a Potential who became activated as a Slayer when Willow performed her spell in the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Unfortunately, Dana had been totally psychotic since the age of ten, which happened as a result of her witnessing the slaughter of her entire family and being imprisoned and tortured for several months afterwards by the murderer. Presumably she was subsequently hospitalized in and out of psych wards for the next several years, where she essentially had exchanged one prison for another. After Dana was activated as a Slayer, she escaped from the hospital and began her search for the murderer, leaving a trail of dead and mutilated bodies in her wake.

Spike, the newbie Super Hero, went after Dana with all of the finesse of a bull in a china shop. His heart was in the right place, but unfortunately for him Dana mistook him for her family's killer. Longish story short, Dana chopped off his hands and he would have been in much worse shape if Angel, the new Watcher Andrew Wells, and the rest of the crew hadn't shown up in time. Although Angel successfully captured Dana, he didn't come off looking much better in the Hero department since he relied a little too much on the resources of his big bad law firm of Wolfram & Hart. Only Andrew came out with his reputation intact, when, on Buffy's orders, he double-crossed Angel by having his newly raised army of Slayers intercept the crew when they tried to transport Dana back to Wolfram & Hart. As Andrew succinctly told Angel, "News flash! Nobody in our camp trusts you anymore. *Nobody*. You work for Wolfram & Hart. Don't fool yourself... we're not on the same side. Thank you for your help... but, uh...we got it."

Dana The Psycho Slayer. I was somewhat disturbed with what I thought was a lack of respect shown onscreen for Dana's victims. It just seemed so easy to pick on presumably evil psych ward medical staff members, a loser convenience store clerk, and a security guard simply because security guards are easy to laugh at. It's almost as though the producers were attacking the professions rather than the individuals. The dockworker was by far the most sympathetic victim, and I can't help but wonder if he was added simply to bring across the idea that Dana was striking out at anyone who she thought was invading her personal space.

I can't pin any blame on actress Navi Rawat since she put in an excellent performance as Dana. Rather, the creators weren't so much interested in telling Dana's story as they were in showing how the main characters were reacting to her. Someone like Dana would have normally been up Angel's alley since he had a proven track record in rescuing some pretty unlikeable characters. Think of how he focused more on Faith's tormented grief in Season 1 of Angel than with what she did to Wesley and Cordelia. Also think of how he toughed it out with Bethany in Season 2's "Untouched" in spite of all of the barriers and road blocks she tossed in his way. Perhaps if "Damage" was the beginning of a story arc that featured Dana it wouldn't have been be so disappointing. Instead, I think the producers were asking way too much from the audience by asking them to sympathize with such a scary character.

Finally, I can't ignore the fact that Dana looked and acted a lot like Faith during her Psycho Slayer stage. It was probably unfair for us to be put in a position where we were making comparisons between characters Faith and Dana, and actresses Eliza Dushku and Navi Rawat.

Andrew, an Intrusion from Buffy the Vampire Slayer; and, Buffy vs. Angel. If I was a newly empowered female Slayer, I would be pretty resentful if I found out I was supposed to follow orders from Andrew. I think we were supposed to fall in love with someone who was presumably charmingly inept, but I always thought Andrew's character was out-and-out lame. Even Spike's admission in the closing scenes in "Damage" that "Andrew double-crossed us? That's a good move. Hope for the little ponce yet" seemed like a calculated move to get viewers on Andrew's side. As an aside, I thought Adam Busch and Danny Strong were brilliant as the Season 6 evil nerd-villains Warren Mears and Jonathan Levinson, while Tom Lenk's Andrew Wells paled in comparison. I suppose there's some sort of strange justice at work that allowed the weakest character of the Trio to live on as the lone survivor.

More than anything else, I felt that both "Damage" and "The Girl in Question" were sops that were thrown to please Buffy fans who had crossed over to Angel after Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air. Although I haven't read any of the Buffy comics, I suppose these two episodes could have potentially acted as bridges between the TV show and the comic continuation series. (Again, I'll ignore the part about how it was revealed in the comics that Buffy was not actually the girl who was seen dancing with The Immortal in "The Girl in Question".) Unfortunately, the Buffy crossovers in Season 5 of Angel weren't nearly as strong as the Buffy crossovers in Season 1 of Angel (with Buffy and Faith) and Season 4 (with Faith).

It made perfect sense to cater to Buffy fans since, to put it bluntly, no Buffy, no Angel. It can also be said that having Buffy barge in on Angel in Season 5 was kind of like having kids coming over from the next neighborhood after they lost their playground. The children may be well-mannered and perfectly behaved, but their presence is still an intrusion nonetheless since all of a sudden the playground rules have changed.

I've never been able to get a real sense of the numbers involved in the number of Buffy viewers as opposed to the number of Angel viewers. Specifically I'm interested in the number of regular Angel viewers who came over from Buffy as opposed to those who started off with Angel. Looking at raw TV rating numbers can be quite misleading, since it would seem impossible to tell which viewers were exclusively Buffy viewers and which ones were exclusively Angel viewers. For an extreme case in point, Angel reportedly pulled in more viewers than Buffy in the U.S. during the 2002-2003 season (averaging 3.65 million and 3.6 million viewers respectively.). However, it's conceivable (though highly unlikely) that all 3.6 million Buffy viewers also watched Angel, with Angel only pulling in 50,000 unique viewers on its own.

It's also hard to tell the numbers of Buffy vs. Angel viewers from looking at fan forums, since individual fan forums tend to pull in like-minded people. However, the fact that forum after forum seem to be filled more with avid Buffy fans who may or may not have gotten hooked on Angel seems to validate the concept that your average Angel fans might give their first loyalty to Buffy.

There are plenty of anecdotal tales of people who prefer the "mature" Angel series over the more "youthful" Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The majority of emails I've received are from viewers who started off watching Buffy and grew to prefer Angel over Buffy. However, due to the subject matter of this blog, I'm hardly likely to receive very many emails from people who prefer Buffy over Angel. Most intriguing to me are the emails I receive from people who, like myself, started watching Angel in syndication and may or may not have started watching Buffy on their own. I should also add that in the U.S., at least since 2009 and probably for a much longer period of time, Angel has been broadcast almost continually on weekday mornings on TNT, while Buffy has only been sporadically shown on some of the more minor cable networks. Effectively, it's very hard to view Buffy on television in the U.S. unless you have an unusually strong cable or satellite TV package.

Angel Studies. In the Stacey Abbott-edited book Reading Angel: The Spin-Off Series with a Soul (2005), Rhonda V. Wilcox and David Lavery wrote in their essay "Afterward: The Depths of Angel and the Birth of Angel Studies" that:
The Spin-Off of Angel Studies, at least until now, has lagged behind [Buffy Studies]. When we began work on our book Fighting the Forces during the first season of Angel, we didn't receive a single essay proposal on Angel and probably wouldn't have included one anyway. When we started Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies in 2001.............. [Miriam's Note: which is now Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association at]......our rules for submission only allowed writing about Buffy's sibling if 50 per cent of the text was devoted to big sister. At 2004's Slayage Conference, only sixteen papers presented included Angel in their title, but in three days of fervid dialogue only days after 'Not Fade Away' had faded away, Angel seemed, for the first time, to be a subject of comparable interest to BtVS. Angel seemed itself to be the dragon ready to be slain (aka 'investigated').

Now that we scholars at the Buffyverse have this rich collection, we need not feel quite so outnumbered as Team Angel at that fatal alley behind the Hyperion. The work of investigating Angel has just begun.
Unfortunately, it appears that this flurry of interest in Angel Studies died out pretty quickly after the cancellation of the series. One disappointment for me is that the percentage of written content concerning Angel seems to be quite small within the Buffyverse. Just by looking at the "Archive" of articles at the Slayage site we can tell that the vast majority of the articles are primarily Buffy themed. Even most of the articles that talk about Angel discuss the series mostly within the context of Buffy. At the Whedonology: An Academic Whedon Studies Bibliography site, although a few Angel-themed works are still popping up on a semi-regular basis, it's also clear that the majority of works were written while the series was either still on the air or shortly after its cancellation. Indeed, based on just a few of the books that I've read that appeared to be rushed to publication in the year or so after Angel's cancellation, it seemed that some of the writers would have benefited from seeing the entire series at least one more time before working on their essays. When I noticed a few essays about Joss Whedon's Dollhouse showing up at these above-referenced sites, I figured that marked the death knell for Angel Studies.

Wilcox and Lavery correctly noted in their above-referenced essay that: is understandable that admirers of the newer series in particular would be concerned about individuation from the series that sired it; and of course Angel and Buffy are different in many ways. But it must also be admitted that the two shows bleed into each other. It is possible to watch Angel without ever having watched Buffy; and, in fact many people do. Some people feel less drawn to the youthful protagonists of Buffy; some feel more drawn to the greater visual and moral darkness of the more noir Angel. But if we grant as a given that Angel has the strength to stand on its own as a series, then a greater richness of the Angel text can be discovered through a consciousness of the two series joined.
I've tried to make a case that although it may not be "correct" or even "valid" to view Angel as though Buffy never existed, my writings should still be allowed to stand on their own terms even though I did not view Buffy ahead of time. While viewing Angel for the first time, I'll admit there were many times that I thought I'd be able to better understand the series if I had already seen Buffy in advance. Instead, I found on many occasions that my questions remained unanswered after I finally viewed specific Buffy episodes, (e.g., I was hoping for more insight into Wesley and Cordelia's relationship.) This not only highlighted how the writers of Angel did an excellent job of bringing non-Buffy viewers up to date; it also pointed to how the Mutant Enemy producers were committed to not making viewing Buffy a prerequisite for viewing Angel. I'll even go so far as to say that sometimes I've been disappointed with the additional information that I received from Buffy, since I often liked the story lines better when I let my imagination fill in the blanks.

Luckily for me, there have been a number of bloggers who've written extensively about Angel over the years, with varying degrees of inspiration from Buffy. Despite what I've written above, I don't begrudge anyone for drawing on Buffy when writing about Angel. Once you've seen Buffy, it's impossible to put the genie back in the bottle and pretend you never saw the series.

You can find many of these bloggers' links on my sidebar. I actually found that I had to stop reading their blog posts about a year ago, because I wanted to write from my point of view rather than someone else's. When I finally give up on I Heart Wesley W-P, I'm eager to start reading their posts again so I can compare my thoughts against theirs.

Idle Thoughts. I've now seen Seasons 1 through 6 of Buffy. I'm not all that eager to see Season 7, though I plan to do so over the next few months.

As I mentioned above, I haven't had too many mysteries about Angel cleared up when I make it a point to go back and view specific Buffy episodes. However, I do find myself gaining a richer understanding of Angel when I least expect it while watching Buffy. One example is how I stumbled upon the precursor to Wesley and Faith's vampire drug den in Season 4 of Angel's "Release" when I saw a similar drug den that Riley Finn frequented in Season 4 of Buffy.

I don't usually summarize episodes because it's too much of a chore. I don't know why I bothered to summarize "Damage" this time around.

I'm not forgetting the fact that the addition of James Marsters' Spike to the cast of Angel represented a season-long Buffy crossover. Reportedly there was somewhat of an outcry when this was first revealed. It's hard for me to imagine this, but I understand that Spike was not a universally-loved character. This leads me to believe that the protest about Spike joining Angel was more about some people disliking his character rather than Angel fans protesting that the series was in danger of turning into Season 8 of Buffy.

Season 6 has been my favorite season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer so far, mostly because of the Buffy/Spike relationship. I liked the season right up to the point when Willow went all evil Uber-Witch after Warren Mears killed Tara. I thought that was a little too much, and I'll leave it at that.

I can't even complain that Andrew's crossover appearance in "Damage" didn't advance the storyline, since it helped accentuate the fact that Angel + Wolfram & Hart = Not Good.

Some of the best scenes of Season 5 of Angel centered around the heart-to-heart conversations that were held between Angel and Spike. The closing scene in "Damage" did a good job of highlighting the bond that always remained between the two of them no matter what their differences were.

Monday, April 11, 2011

More on Soul Purpose

Alexis Denisof and J. August Richards as Crockett and Tubbs
(From Screencap Paradise)

As I hinted at the end of my last post, I'm not quite finished with "Soul Purpose" from Season 5 of Angel. Here's a few more random thoughts about the episode.

Spike, Wesley and Gunn. I love this scene on so many levels, where Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and Charles Gunn confronted Spike about his new career path as an independent crime fighter. Wes and Gunn were, of course, nervous that Spike was spinning around like a loose cannon and were perhaps trying to get him back into the fold. More importantly, they were trying to figure out what motivated Spike and what kind of secret agenda he might have been working on.

Although Spike's constant moralizing with Angel throughout Season 5 got on my nerves pretty quickly, he wasn't nearly as irritating with Wes and Gunn, beginning with his hilarious "Well, look who's come to call— Crockett and Tubbs". Spike also correctly pointed out a few things about Wolfram & Hart a little bit later on: "Look...I told Angel, and I'll tell you. A place like that doesn't change... not from the inside. Not from the out. You sign on there, it changes you. Puts things in your head. Spins your compass needle around till you can't cross the street without tripping the proverbial old lady and stepping on her glasses. And it's not like I wasn't there, gents, like I wasn't watching you. Had to haunt the damn place. Remember? "

Spike, as usual, hit the nail on the head while simultaneously missing the bigger picture. He correctly guessed that Wes and Gunn were operating behind Angel's back and were perhaps "hedging their bets". Spike then finished off with a salient "And the compass needle keeps spinning. And the world gets murkier and murkier." Unfortunately, Spike's wise insights were tempered by the fact that this particular conversation would have never taken place if he knew what his handler, Lindsey McDonald, was up to.

I enjoyed watching Wes and Gunn flex their new-found corporate muscles. I've observed this scene being played out many times in real life, where young men in their brand new suits try to intimidate people with the full weight of the Big Bad Corporation behind them, only to be forced into a humiliating defeat when their opponents refuse to roll over and play dead. Similar to how Fred was put in the uncomfortable position of playing the corporate heavy when she had to fetch werewolf Nina to Wolfram & Hart in "Unleashed", Wesley and Gunn seemed just as uneasy trying to represent the interests of their own Big Bad Corporation in "Soul Purpose".

As an aside, actor/director David Boreanaz informed us in the DVD commentary for this episode that he was unsatisfied with how this particular scene turned out. He was particularly unhappy with the lack of movement and animation from actors Alexis Denisof and J. August Richards (Wesley and Gunn). Boreanaz was not so much criticizing the actors as much as he was blaming himself for not putting more effort into directing the scene. I actually did notice the stilted dialogue and wooden acting, but I also thought the characters' demeanor played up to the fact that Wolfram & Hart was slowly hollowing out their hearts and souls. Indeed, the contrast between Spike's more relaxed style and Wes and Gunn's uptight behavior was quite effective.

The Sellout. The scene that took place at Spike's apartment was not complete until Fred helped Wes and Gunn tie up the loose threads back at Wolfram & Hart. In one of my favorite dialogue sequences of the entire series, the two guys explained to Fred that Spike felt that they had "sold out".
FRED: We didn't sell out. We're changing the system from the inside.

GUNN: You know, when you say it out loud, it sounds really naive.
I've always defended Team Angel's decision to take over the Los Angeles office of Wolfram & Hart on the basis that they were physically, mentally and morally exhausted at the end of Season 4. Although they knew better than to trust Wolfram & Hart, they used the opportunity to regroup in their new plush offices while planning their next moves. However, I'm only now starting to think through the implication that Angel was the only member of the group who was able to remain (relatively) clear-headed throughout the entire ordeal, possibly because he was the only one who was unaffected by the Connor mindwipe. Although Angel appeared at times to be getting a little too comfortable in his role as CEO, in reality he was simply spinning his wheels while he tried to find a way out of the predicament.

It's also becoming a bit more clear to me that Gunn, Wesley, Fred and perhaps to a lesser extent Lorne were all starting to think that perhaps they really could make a difference while working within the belly of the beast. In the above-referenced scene at Spike's apartment, I'm convinced that Wes and Gunn sincerely felt that they were trying to do the right thing when they confronted Spike. Spike was probably correctly accusing Wes and Gunn of "hedging their bets" in their desire to bring him back to Wolfram & Hart, just in case Angel turned out to be the wrong Vampire With a Soul. Wes and Gunn also correctly denied that that was their intent, but they probably denied it only because they hadn't thought that far ahead.

Idle Thoughts. Wesley and Gunn were a good team in this part of Season 5, and I wish the creators had explored that aspect a little bit more.

Was Lindsey trying to get caught when he decided to call himself "Doyle"?

I've made a few references here and there about Spike and Wesley's relationship. Clearly there was no love lost between the two of them in "Soul Purpose".

One thing the audience was cheated out of was a good chance to see how bad-ass Dark Wesley from Season 4 would have fared against Spike in Season 5. I've maintained that the early Season 5 Wesley, whom I've incongruously named the New and Improved Wesley, was somewhat neutered after the Connor mindwipe. Spike had to wait until Fred passed away until he could see something resembling the "real" Wesley Wyndam-Pryce later on in the season.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Dark Nights

David Boreanaz and friend as Angel and his parasite (Courtesy of Screencap Paradise)

I admit that I wasn't all that crazy about "Soul Purpose" from Season 5 of Angel the first few times I viewed it, mostly because I'm not a big fan of TV episodes that revolve around dream sequences. Thankfully, "Soul Purpose" was also setting up some important building blocks for the rest of the season.

David Boreanaz' Directorial Debut. Giving a first-time director a dream episode to work on is like giving a 16-year old kid a driver's license and a pint of whiskey. "Soul Purpose" was a little indulgent and over the top at times. Even David Boreanaz admitted "...... some of his original ideas for this episode needed to be "toned down" by executive producer Jeffrey Bell: 'I had to remind myself that I am shooting an Angel show and not this crazy, cinematic, swooping thing' ".

Luckily, I was more forgiving when I saw this episode again recently. I realized that of course things are going to be outlandish since that was how the show was written. One could even make a case that the dream sequences were remarkably restrained in spite of the circumstances. No doubt Jeffrey Bell might have had a huge influence in making sure things didn't get too far out of hand. As a recent first-time director himself, Bell probably fully understood how Boreanaz might have wanted to use all of the magic tricks that were at his disposal.

My major complaint with "Soul Purpose" was the incredibly embarrassing scene where Angel dreamed that Spike was making love to Buffy along side him in bed. Fortunately, that part of the show went by pretty quickly and was easily forgotten. One minor complaint is that I actually thought the creators could have pushed this scene with Lorne a lot further. It was a great set-up, with "Honky Tonk" Lorne playing the piano while Harmony provided the appropriate eye candy. Unfortunately the scene just kind of fizzled out as Angel, finding out he was the evening's main entertainment, ended up squeaking instead of singing, thereby incurring the disdain of the peanut gallery. A second disappointment was the dream sequence that took place in the grassy field. On my first viewing I groaned when I saw the already too-good-to-be-true Fred looking even more saintly and cerebral than usual. I also thought the part where Fred, Lorne, Gunn and Wesley looked up and screeched to the heavens was just too silly.

Probably my favorite dream of the show was when the office staff presented the newly-crowned hero Spike the celebratory sheet cake while our dejected former superhero-turned-mailroom boy Angel looked on. This scene was goofy and over-the-top, but the creators knew exactly when to pull back without going completely overboard.

After a long wait, it was nice to finally be able to hear actor Boreanaz speak on a DVD episode commentary. I suspect the only reason why he appeared for "Soul Purpose" was because he directed the show. Regardless, I've often suspected that I might be underestimating his overall abilities, mostly because of a combination of his early teen idol looks and his (shall we say) colorful reports about his personal life. Every once in a while I would run across some of his thoughts about the series in online interviews and various Angel DVD special features, and I gradually became aware that this guy actually put some serious thought into the show. There were a couple of times he said something that really blew me away and forced me to re-examine some of my long-cherished notions. (Here's an example in this post.) In short, I tend to take what he says at face value.

Relatively speaking, Boreanaz was still pretty early in his acting career when he appeared on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. From all accounts I've run across, he was cast on Buffy and given his own spin-off series, not entirely because he was being rewarded for his acting performances, but because he possessed some sort of almost undefinable "It" factor that played out extremely well on the TV screen. Tall, dark, handsome and broody indeed!

In yet another one of those "damn I wish I bookmarked this" moments, I ran across an interview with Boreanaz a while back where he claimed he had no idea what he was doing as an actor while he was on Buffy and Angel, and he felt a lot more confident and secure on the set of Bones. I think he's certainly proved himself as an actor on Bones. He's also directed four episodes to date, and has even been credited as being a producer since Season 3!

Angel's Dark Night. This is the part where I apologize one more time for giving short shrift to the main premise of an episode. In this case I'm glossing over how Angel was racked with self-doubt while he struggled through his Dark Night of the Soul that was delivered to him courtesy of Eve's "Selminth parasite". I'm not even going to spend any time on the scene where Fred cut Angel open, extracted a goldfish bowl and stated "There's your soul! (notices the dead fish) Ooh. We're gonna have to flush this. Unh."

"Soul Purpose" did a beautiful job of chronicling all of Angel's insecurities and anxieties, which mainly had to do with losing both his Top Dog #1 Hero status and his girl (Buffy) to Spike. I would have thought Angel would have been trying to figure out who and why he and Spike were set up to fight that useless battle at the abandoned opera house in "Destiny". However, Angel was clearly focusing more on why he lost the fight to Spike in the first place.

I attribute some of my lack of interest in Angel's situation to how I could never quite figure out what Lindsey McDonald was ultimately trying to accomplish with his elaborate schemes. Did Lindsey go through all of this so he could not only get rid of Angel and take over Wolfram & Hart, but also so he would have a good time torturing Angel along the way? I suppose that's a valid plotline, but it came across as though the writers were struggling with ways to reintroduce Lindsey back into the series.

As much as I adore Lindsey McDonald, he's one more character (think of Harmony) who didn't have to be in Season 5. Angel could have just as easily struggled with his feelings of inadequacies without Lindsey's and Eve's help. Spike could have saved Angel's life a few times and otherwise bested Angel in a fight, and Angel still would have had to struggle with the exact same issues. I'm not saying that Season 5 would have been better without Lindsey; I just would have liked to have seen a clearer look at what Lindsey was ultimately planning to do once he achieved his goals.

Lindsey and Spike, or, Buffy Meets Angel. It doesn't take too much effort to imagine that both Lindsey and Spike could go either way. Actors Christian Kane and James Marsters absolutely ooze sexuality, and at times seem incapable of being able to locate their "off" switches. (Not that I'm complaining.)

I didn't quite see it this way in my first viewings, but I found this time through that the female strippers in the background in this scene acted more as a counterpoint to the erotic tension emanating from Lindsey and Spike rather than an enhancement. Spike actually looked bored with the dancers in front of him, although we accepted seeing him at the strip club simply because we were used to seeing him in seedy dives.

Lindsey couldn't help but catch Spike's eye, since he made sure he planted himself between Spike and the onstage action. Spike's "Ahh. Uh, yeah, thanks... but not really my type, Mary. So be a good lad and push off" was a brilliant opening line and set the tone for the rest of their encounters. This episode continued on with homosexual references galore between these two characters, including (just some really obvious examples) Spike's "Enough with the cryptic, butch", along with his his "Look—I appreciate what you've done for me, making me corporeal and all, but I draw the line at being your kept boy."

Indeed, their whole encounter was vaguely reminiscent of a few scenes in Midnight Cowboy. Spike was approached by another male who, in a way, lured him in with a shiny bauble (the amulet); Spike figured out pretty quickly what the other male was after and responded with physical violence; Spike allowed himself to be seduced when the other male whispered sweet nothings in his ear about how he had replaced Angel as the #1 Superhero; and Spike ultimately did allow himself to become a "kept boy" to a generous sugar daddy. It was fascinating to see how Spike got caught up in this fantasy world since Lindsey instinctively knew how to exploit the newly-ensouled vampire's sense of vanity. Spike reminded me of Connor in a way, since both characters were particularly adept at putting all of the pieces together, only to spectacularly come up with the wrong conclusion.

This whole "Lindsey meets Spike" subplot was more than just a Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Angel crossover. The more traditional crossover scene (in what was in essence a threesome between Spike, Buffy, and a left out Angel), was a spectacular failure, mostly because "Buffy" was obviously not the real Buffy. Lindsey, along with Lorne and a few other characters, represented just how far Angel had evolved from BtVS, to the point where Angel the Series was more than capable of standing on its own away from the Buffy mothership. Lindsey meeting Spike represented a wonderful "this shouldn't be happening" moment in the series, since the joining of these two seemed so improbable, like two people from two different eras meeting each other in some sort of time warp.

In one of my last posts I vaguely made a case for Angel being the better Vampire With a Soul over Spike. "Soul Purpose" seemed to give me at least some superficially stronger ammunition for my argument since Spike couldn't even come close to carrying the #1 Superhero mantle as well as Angel. Spike allowed himself to be seduced into the role, he didn't have much empathy for the victims he saved, and also, rather than trying to shrug everything off with an "aw shucks" attitude, Spike seemed to take an unseemly delight in celebrating his new-found notoriety. I could equally make a case that Spike was in fact rebelling against his hero status ( a true anti-hero), but I'll have to leave that as another one of those topics that probably won't make it to another day.

Idle Thoughts. I'd appreciate it if someone could give me some insight into this scene where Spike saved the woman in the alley from a vampire. It looked an awful lot like a chance encounter to me, but with Lindsey popping up in the staircase after Spike dusted the other vampire, one could logically assume it was a setup. Could Lindsey have supplied both the vampire and the girl?

I always enjoy hearing Christian Kane complain about the treatment of his character Lindsey in Angel. In the DVD commentary, Kane claimed that he was assured that Lindsey was not going to be kicked around when he returned in Season 5. Naturally, Lindsey was slammed against the wall quite forcefully by Spike in his very first appearance in this episode.

I planned on making this a much longer post, but I decided to publish what I already have. I'll be super busy again at work for the next week or so and won't be hanging out much around here. I'm not sure if I'll revisit "Soul Purpose" when I get back or if I'll just go on to the next episode, "Damage".

Finally, a very belated Happy Birthday to two lovely ladies, Alyson Hannigan and her daughter Satyana! Satyana turned all of 2 years old on March 24, 2011, and the two ladies reportedly enjoyed a wonderful day with husband/father Alexis.