Monday, March 12, 2012

To Hell and Back

Angel and Connor - Together at Last
(David Boreanaz and Vincent Kartheiser -
courtesy of Screencap Paradise)

"Origin" from Season 5 of Angel was notable for rewarding long-suffering viewers with both a Connor we could actually stand and a Connor who could finally start getting along with his real dad. Like most other Season 5 episodes I'm viewing this time around, I'm not really picking up much of anything new. However, the series is still giving me fodder for writing about current pet themes to mine.

I've written a fair amount about certain aspects of "Origin" in the past. I focused mostly on the Wesley/Illyria relationship here, while I talked more about the fate of Fred's soul here. I won't be discussing these topics in this post, so obviously feel free to click on the above two links if you're so inclined.

The Supernatural World: Common Knowledge?. I've always been fascinated with the subject of how widely known the supernatural world was in Angel. (See this post "Through the Looking Glass; or, Welcome to My Nightmare".) Although it would be impossible to come up with the precise percentage of believers versus non-believers, I think I can safely say that the conventional wisdom within the Buffy/Angelverse still seemed to be that supernatural forces did not exist. However, in absolute terms, people who had actual contact with the supernatural (e.g., demon hunters, both the poorest and wealthiest elements of society, law enforcement officers, government officials, the business class, the criminal class, poor unfortunates who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, etc.) might have actually outnumbered the people who hadn't!

The society overlords in Angel seemed to be working very hard to conceal the presence of the supernatural world from the masses. There could have been a lot of good reasons for this, but the primary reason seemed to be to keep everyone from panicking. One only has to look to Fukushima, Japan for a present-day analogy, where government officials seem quite reluctant to hand out much in the way of useful information to their citizens. One could easily make the jump that it would be necessary to keep the population in the dark as much as possible so as not to disrupt the firmly entrenched interests of those who desperately wanted to maintain the status quo.

To belabor the point a little bit further, it would have been necessary to isolate people who did come in contact with the supernatural world. I don't necessarily mean that these people risked being rounded up and put into concentration camps (though with recent events that possibility, in the U.S. at least, seems a little less absurd). Instead, a climate was maintained where people were reluctant to talk about their experiences due to fear of ridicule. Indeed, it appeared the ruling classes didn't even have to put in much effort to maintain this environment since people were already way too eager to rationalize and explain away their unpleasant experiences!

We found out how Connor's surrogate parents had their own experience down the rabbit hole when they informed Wesley Wyndam-Pryce:
DAD: We had nowhere else to go. Our son was... getting the mail.

MOM: We could see him from the living room. He was walking across the driveway, and this van--

DAD: It must have been going 50, 60 miles an hour. It hopped the curb, and it ran right into him. It slammed him right into the side of the garage, and then... backed up and sped off.

WESLEY: And the police think this was intentional? Has homicide found the van?

DAD: You don't understand.

MOM: Our son's not dead.

WESLEY: He's not?

DAD: No. He's fine. The van hit him, and he got right up.

MOM: He hardly has a scratch on him.

DAD: Police said it was dumb luck, but if you saw it...

MOM: One of the officers called us later, said our son might be different.

(Wesley hurriedly picks up the phone)

DAD: He mentioned that there was a law firm in Los Angeles that dealt with... things like this.
There's no reason to spend a lot of time wondering about the driver of the speeding van. We can simply say that he was hired either directly or indirectly by Cyvus Vail to do perform the dirty deed, which would in turn start off a chain of events that would bring Connor to LA. Meanwhile, the identity of the police officer who phoned Connor's parents and recommended Wolfram & Hart to them is a little more intriguing. It would be naive to think that the officer had some sort of shadowy knowledge of Wolfram & Hart and made the referral out of the goodness of his heart. It's more likely that he received some sort of payoff to make the phone call, but what were the other particulars? Was he a real police officer, or did he and at least one other person pose as officers at the scene? If he was a real officer, how much prior knowledge of the supernatural world did he have, and how was he specifically chosen to make the call?

I'm still trying to find out answers to some questions I posed in the "Through the Looking Glass..." post noted above. Specifically, I wondered, did Kate Lockley's fellow officers shun her because they thought she was nuts? Or did they flat out think she was poking around in places that she didn't belong? In other words, was the supernatural world common knowledge among police officers? My best admittedly vague guess is that some officers were at least somewhat aware, while others were pretty clueless.

Hell Dimension in the Buffyverse as a State of Mind. Buffy herself confirmed that some form of heaven existed, while, as Spike humorously pointed out, there were more hell dimensions than you could shake a stick at. Although there's some dialogue scattered throughout that seems to imply that there was one particular hell that people went to if they were evil (see examples here and here), in actuality it seemed that in a lot of cases the hell that people ended up in depended on which demon they happened to piss off, (e.g., infant Connor ended up in Quor'toth after unfortunately crossing paths with Sahjahn). Sometimes, one person's hell was another person's relative paradise (e.g., Season 2's Pylea was hell for humans but quite nice for most people who had green skin and horns sticking out of their heads.)

This Buffy Wikia entry flat out states that a "hell dimension" is a "...dimension with conditions extremely hostile for the development of human life and in which demons are the dominant life form." It appears that, for the most part, "hell" was being used in the Buffyverse as an adjective to describe just how awful it was to live in places like Quor'toth and Pylea rather than as a place that bad people were sent to as a matter of course. Using the strict "demon dimension" definition, it may be a mistake to attach a moralistic connotation to the phrase.

I've made kind of a big deal in the past about how Lindsey informed the group in "Underneath" that, as far as his treatment in his particular hell dimension: "Turns out they can only undo you as far as you think you deserve to be undone." I wish the series had explored this concept a little bit further to see if this was universally true in all hell dimensions. This sounds like a topic for another Post That Will Probably Not Be Written about how there seem to be two competing versions of hell floating around in the Buffyverse; hells that people were sent or chose to go because of their own wrongdoing (Lindsey and Gunn), and hells that people were sent to through no fault of their own (Fred, Cordelia and Connor).

It's also worth noting that there is a school of thought both inside and outside of the Buffyverse that states that your guilty conscience at death will send you to hell. A favorite quote of mine comes from the marvelous family dinner flashback scene in the Woody Allen movie Crimes and Misdemeanors where the eccentric Marxist Aunt May states (in regards to whether wrongdoers will automatically be "punished"), "And I say, if he can do it [commit murder] and gets away with it, and he chooses not to be bothered by the ethics, then he's home free". It leads one to think that Angelus might have fared a lot better than Angel in the hell dimension that Buffy sent him into at the end of Season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Was Wolfram & Hart Behind Connor's Return? I've been wondering throughout my Season 5 reviews of Angel how much of the bad things that happened to Angel et al were directly inflicted by Wolfram & Hart. This is particularly crucial in light of how the After the Fall comic continuation series made it quite clear that Angel was being manipulated into taking the fight directly to the Senior Partners, thereby starting an Apocalypse.

Hamilton disavowed all knowledge of why Connor returned to Los Angeles. In his words, "...the Senior Partners weren't behind it. This isn't an accident. Someone out there's trying to send you a message... and they're using your son to do it." Of course the fact that the demon warlock Cyvus Vail, who altered Connor's memories and manipulated his return to Los Angeles, also turned out to be a member of the Circle of the Black Thorn, (which was "the Senior Partners' instrument on Earth",) kind of leads one to suspect Hamilton's credibility.

I've been maintaining all along that, although the Senior Partners might not have been micromanaging all of the dreadful events, they certainly fostered an environment that allowed wretched things to occur. Perhaps the workings of a not-quite-autonomous Circle of the Black Thorn was an important element in this "environment".

Connor is a...what is he again? I thought the episode "Release" from Season 4 made it pretty clear that Connor had some sort of demon blood in him when it was established that the "no demon violence" spell that protected the Hyperion Hotel prevented Connor from landing a punch against Angelus. (Note the Buffy Wikia discussion here.)

Angel himself perhaps clarified things when he informed Connor in "Origin" that "Best we can tell, you're a healthy, well-adjusted kid, with, uh... enhanced abilities." However, notice that slightly before then, when Connor flat out asked Angel if he (Connor) was a demon, Angel had to pause for a second before answering "No."

There definitely is precedence in the Buffyverse for non-demons who exhibit non-human characteristics. As the Buffy Wikia discussion referenced above implies, while Buffy as Slayer was instilled with "essence" of demon, this didn't actually make her a demon. Also, when it was revealed that Spike, while he still had the anti-human violence chip implanted in his brain, was able to hit Buffy after she returned from the dead, Tara reassured Buffy in Season 6 of Buffy's "Dead Things" that there was nothing wrong with her: Buffy was suffering from nothing more than a "deep tropical cellular tan". And don't get me started on Gwen Raiden! Simply put, you didn't need to be a demon in the Buffyverse to have superhuman powers.

Idle Thoughts. Someone pointed out to me that there's a whole body of work out there which talks about soul, body and spirit. Here's a good example. Crap! Back to the drawing board with my soul talk.

It seems kind of naive to pretend that the Senior Partners weren't behind every terrible thing that happened to Angel and his gang in Season 5. It doesn't stop me from trying to push the opposite argument to see how far I can take it.

We've seen Angel swoop to the rescue a number of times over the course of the series, but it was particularly heart-warming to see him jump in and rescue Connor in the scene where Connor and his parents were waylaid by demons in their motel parking lot.

Despite the evil delivery system, maybe we can allow ourselves to believe that perhaps some divine intervention finally gave Connor the life he deserved and allowed him to start building a wonderful new relationship with his dad.

Vincent Kartheiser was as excellent as always as Connor, while David Boreanaz once again showed us that special on-screen rapport he had with Kartheiser.

When Connor told Angel that he needed to stick around and protect his surrogate parents, that definitely become another worthy, "Oh, how sweet!" moment of the series.

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