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.

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