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.

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