Monday, March 19, 2012

A Wrinkle in Time

Amy Acker as Illyria
(Courtesy of Screencap Paradise)

Although I've seen just about every episode of Angel 3 or 4 times, I'm currently working on viewing the entire series for the first time on DVD. As a result I've already hit upon several high points from Angel in previous posts, and I'm now currently working on a mopping-up operation, continuing this time around with "Time Bomb".

This is the part where I usually say, "I've written extensively about this episode before, here's the link, I don't feel like repeating myself, so I'll just write about a bunch of unrelated loose ends." However, I'll change my M.O. and use my "Instability" post that I wrote back in 2009 as a springboard for some further discussions here. So, obviously, if you're interested in a more thorough review of the episode, please click on the above link.

General Overview. Based on some quick searches I've made in the past, it appears that "Time Bomb" is not held in high regard by a lot of reviewers. The main criticisms are that the episode is too gimmicky and that it tries to make the subject of time bending a lot more complicated than it really is.

I admit that the first time I saw this episode I tried way too hard to ascribe some deeper meaning to every single twist and turn and jumps back and forth along the timeline. Once I realized that the story was just a simple narrative of how Illyria and Angel worked through their differences (with Wesley Wyndam-Pryce acting as a facilitator) and achieved something close to a mutual understanding, the rest of the pieces fell into place. Illyria's "instability" that resulted from her demon essence being trapped into her human body, with all of the attending time warping activity, turned out to be more of a McGuffin than anything else.

Wesley and Angel. I wrote in my "Instability" post that, in this early scene, "...Angel and Wesley were having a wonderfully frank discussion about Wes and Illyria's relationship." I won't go into a lot of details about their discussion except to say that Angel had some disturbing doubts about Illyria's motivations while Wesley openly mused about the possibility of integrating Illyria into the group.

Upon viewing this scene again recently I realized that, although Angel and Wesley were airing their viewpoints, they were hardly having a meeting of the minds. Angel was openly well on his way to deciding (in a later scene) that Illyria would need to be eliminated. For his part, while Wesley seemed distant and preoccupied, presumably because of his grief over the loss of his beloved Fred, he was also being cagey as he concentrated more on his own agenda of keeping Illyria around.

Since I'm a big fan of the Angel/Wesley relationship, it was therefore quite a relief to see them reconciled by the end of "Time Bomb". Illyria's powers were safely contained, and Angel had decided that she could potentially be a powerful asset after all. Angel and Wesley (in particular) were back to their old selves, and they were truly communicating with each other once again as close colleagues and confidants.

Wesley and Illyria. To expand on something that I touched on above, in "Instability" I had written that (regarding Wesley's depressed state):
Wes was obviously not dealing very well with the triple whammy of the loss of Fred, the appearance of Illyria within Fred's form, and the re-emergence of his forgotten painful memories when the spell of the Orlon Window was broken in the previous episode.
Although these were all very powerful factors, I think I should have added that Wesley's demeanor was influenced by how he was obsessed with all aspects involving Illyria. He had apparently made the decision quite early on that he wanted to keep her alive.

I started off a fairly lengthy discussion about Wesley's motivations in his dealings with Illyria by stating:
I can't help but think that Wesley derived an enormous amount of satisfaction out of bringing down a once-powerful creature to someone who would now be under his control. I wouldn't call Wesley a classic control-freak, but there seemed to be somewhat of an erotic element to how he first ultimately put Lilah under his control, then Illyria. It was certainly different from dealing with alpha males! Wesley's actions with the ladies seemed to be a perfect illustration of the eroticism within Wesley's natural-born Watcher instincts, where he absolutely loved women and wanted to guide and protect them. In both instances, with Lilah and Illyria, he not only wanted to turn them into playmates of sorts, he genuinely wanted to "save" them and improve their lives.
I should have brought up the possibility that, despite how Wesley told Illyria that he had accepted the fact that Fred was gone, perhaps he really was still motivated by the outside chance that he would be able to bring Fred back to life. The above-referenced scene did use a clever bit of time bending to raise suspicions that Wesley's wishes to bring back Fred were perhaps not as firmly left in the past as it appeared. However, if Mutant Enemy really wanted us to believe that Wesley's main motivation was to resurrect Fred, I think they would have made it a little more obvious. Above all, Wesley was a realist: he might not have totally reconciled himself with Fred's death, but I don't think he was actively looking for a miracle either.

The Apocalypse. There's an interesting tension between Season 5 of the TV show and the After the Fall comic continuation series as to what the Senior Partners had in mind for Angel during the Apocalypse. Wesley reminded us in Season 5's "The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco" that the Shanshu Prophecy ".... tells of an epic, apocalyptic battle and a vampire with a soul who plays a major role in that battle. And there's the suggestion that the vampire will get to live again."

Throughout Season 5, the audience (and probably Angel himself) was led to believe that the Senior Partners were actively trying to either corrupt Team Angel and turn them over to the dark side, or at least trick them into thinking they were on the side of good when they were in fact doing all of their work for evil. As this piece of dialogue from "Time Bomb" shows, everyone was feeling pretty helpless with how the events appeared to be unfolding:
GUNN: Yeah, for example, what about the Apocalypse? Still trying to get my head around that one. Lindsey said we're in the middle of it?

WESLEY: Oh, yes. The thousand-year war of good versus evil is well under way.

ANGEL: Evil just hasn't told anyone about it yet, which is probably why they're winning.

SPIKE: Oh, and by the way, we're apparently on the wrong side. Or the right side, if you like winning.

GUNN: Sounds like you guys are buying it.

ANGEL: Next time you go out there, take a good look around. 'Cause it's true, Gunn.

GUNN: Works for me. So what's that mean for us?

ANGEL: Tell us how we fight an invisible war. I don't even know who we're fighting. All the evil we've stopped so far, and we're still the partners' number-one earner.
It's pretty clear that Team Angel knew they were being manipulated by the Senior Partners and that they needed to take drastic action. The only problem was that they were only thinking in terms of reacting against the Senior Partners, which was close to impossible since they didn't know for sure what they were reacting against.

I'm getting pretty far ahead of myself here, but Angel ultimately decided by the end of this episode (with a little help from Illyria), that the only thing he could do was lull the Senior Partners into complacency, then launch a violent preemptive strike. Unfortunately for Angel, and according to After the Fall, this played right into the Senior Partners' plans, since they were counting on Angel to play an active part in starting and sustaining the Apocalypse.

In a lot these types of shows (e.g., Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Supernatural, etc.) there was often a general sense that things were steadily getting worse out there. It was mostly a plot device to show that yesterday was normal, whereas today things are different. In this case, Lindsey McDonald clearly stated in "Underneath" that the Apocalypse was already well underway, which was in direct contrast to Holland Manners telling Angel in Season 2's "Reprise" that the Apocalypse was not yet underway. According to Holland:
"Well, it's true. We do have one scheduled. And I imagine if you were to prevent it you would save a great many people. Well, you should do that then. Absolutely. I wasn't thinking. Of course all those people you save from that apocalypse would then have the next one to look forward to, but, hey, it's always something, isn't it?"
What I find interesting about Lindsey is that, for a guy who seemed to be on the outs with Wolfram & Hart, he certainly seemed to be doing the Senior Partners a favor when he first told Angel,
".....Every day you sit behind your desk and you learn a little more how to accept the world the way it is. Well, here's the rub... heroes don't do that. Heroes don't accept the world the way it is. They fight it."
then a little later on,
".....The world keeps sliding towards entropy and degradation, and what do you do? You sit in your big chair, and you sign your checks, just like the senior partners planned. The war's here, Angel. And you're already 2 soldiers down."
Clearly between what Lindsey McDonald was saying and Illyria's "If you want to win a war, you must serve no master but your ambition", Angel was inspired to change from defense to offense, or, from being reactive to proactive. Tragically, he decided to take the fight directly to Wolfram & Hart, just as the Senior Partners had planned.

Finally, it might not really matter too much whether an Apocalypse was or was not already raging during Season 5 of Angel. If you look hard enough, at just about any point in history you can look around and be able to conclude that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. The only analogy I can think of off the top of my head is how sometimes in retrospect it can be hard to assign a precise date for when a war started. For example, did WWII start when Japan invaded China or Germany invaded Poland? Or did it start during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, or when various nations started lending their support during the Spanish Civil War?

The Senior Partners/Wolfram & Hart. Although Angel wasn't sure how Illyria fit into the overall grand design, it's misleading to say that Angel was simply trying to figure out if she was an agent of Wolfram & Hart. I keep throwing out the possibility that she might have been deliberately introduced by the Senior Partners, but all indications show that she was a wildcard. Angel himself told Wesley, "
She's still here because this place reeks of influence. She had everything, Wes. Everything. You think she's not lookin' to get that back?"

To push it further, maybe it was pure fate that brought Illyria to Wolfram & Hart. However, Angel couldn't ignore the possibility that she could team up with the Senior Partners in order to regain some of her past glory, despite the fact that
Illyria remarked dismissively in "Shells" that "The wolf, ram, and hart? In my time they were weak, barely above the vampire."

I had written in my "Instabilty" post that, in this scene, where Angel and others expressed their doubts about Illyria, and after Illyria had returned with Gunn after she rescued him from the hell dimension, that:
When Hamilton came in and described, in great detail, how he was not happy about all of the the damage Illyria inflicted when she went after Gunn, and how the damages would be paid from their division, people must have really been wondering about her ties with the Senior Partners.
Specifically I was referring to this dialogue sequence, where Hamilton stated,
HAMILTON: "Illyria destroyed 11 torture units before she found your man. 2 troop carriers, an ice cream truck, and 8 beautifully maintained lawns. Not to mention dozens of employees rendered useless to the company."

ANGEL: Bill me.

Oh, we will. The damages are coming directly out of this division's profits. Congratulations. In one swift stroke, you've gone from leader of the pack to staggering at the rear.
It's been a recurring theme throughout Season 5 (and, really, throughout the entire series) that Wolfram & Hart was a for-profit enterprise, where budgets needed to be adhered to, and revenue was expected to exceed costs. In short, money didn't grow on trees.

I used to wonder if the Senior Partners, through their Wolfram & Hart enterprise, were the supreme rulers of all of the demons within the Angelverse. However, if I've interpreted things correctly in After the Fall, it appears that Wolfram & Hart was simply the most powerful (and perhaps the largest) demonic enterprise. In other words, they were kind of like Microsoft Corp. about a decade ago. Although it wasn't a great idea to cross swords with Wolfram & Hart, there were plenty of other demons out there who didn't feel any particular loyalty to the Senior Partners.

We know that at one time Wolfram & Hart controlled the Pylea dimension through an order of priests called the Covenant of Trombli. As the above-referenced Wikipedia entry indicates, Angel informed us in "A Hole in the World" that Wolfram & Hart existed in many other dimensions as well.

We could make an argument that Wolfram & Hart was able to adapt to each dimension that they had a presence in. For example, Pylea was a medieval agrarian dimension, so it made perfect sense that their representatives were able to rule by spouting out mumbo-jumbo from what looked like sacred texts. In our earthly dimension, Wolfram & Hart adapted by becoming a hugely-successful commercial enterprise that consolidated their wealth and power through bribing officials, exploiting loopholes to their advantage, engaging in monopolistic practices, embezzling funds and otherwise stealing from associates and competitors alike, etc. One could make an equally convincing argument that Wolfram & Hart invented all of these practices!

Key to all of this was the fact that, powerful as they were, Wolfram & Hart did not have unlimited resources, monetary or otherwise. For one thing it appeared that demons like Cyvus Vail and the shaman involved in Lindsey McDonald's hand-transplant operation expected to be paid quite handsomely for their efforts. It was therefore quite important for the firm to maintain a constant stream of revenue in order to keep their operations going.

There must have also been a complex demonic bartering system in place as well, where the parties involved repaid each other back and forth through performing in-kind services. A better way to describe it would be they maintained a system of doing favors and calling in their markers. I won't get into the details, but one reason why Angel was able to achieve a major victory over Wolfram & Hart in After the Fall was that he was able to stretch their monetary and mystical resources to the breaking point.

Idle Thoughts
. Wesley stated here that "
The thousand-year war of good versus evil is well under way." Was that just a figurative nod to millennialism in general, or were they literally in the middle of a thousand-year war with Wolfram & Hart? I'm assuming the former since I can't remember hearing about any other details. Any corrections in the comment section would be much appreciated.

I thought David Boreanaz's wife Jaime Bergman did a nice job portraying Amanda, the impoverished pregnant woman who was dealing with the malevolent Fell Brethren. Bergman's character was sweet and vulnerable, with just the right amount of pathos that allowed her to gain our sympathy. Amanda could have potentially been quite unlikeable since she was negotiating to sell her baby!

It's difficult to write about the Senior Partners and Wolfram & Hart because it's sometimes hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Presumably the Senior Partners were three demons (the Wolf, the Ram and the Hart) who operated through their Wolfram & Hart entity. "Wolfram & Hart" seems to be both the organization name and the umbrella name for the minions who worked for the Senior Partners. Did these three demons belong to a larger race of demons who had special privileges within Wolfram & Hart? I've never found any evidence to support this.

In Season 4's "Deep Down" Lilah Morgan met (off camera) with a Senior Partner named "Mr. Suvarta", who presumably gave her the OK for her "off with Linwood's head" power play. I've often wondered how Lilah was able to meet with an actual Senior Partner since it probably wouldn't have been all that easy to arrange. (Did Lilah meet him via the White Room?) I've also hoped that she would have been rewarded for her loyal service by being allowed to live a relatively more comfortable afterlife in her hell dimension.

I wrote in my earlier "Instability" post that:
I wonder if Spike knew ahead of time that the Mutari generator device would not kill Illyria? Wes and Spike certainly acted like two kids sneaking behind Angel's back when they were working together in the lab. The only thing that makes me doubt Spike's prior knowledge was his wisecrack to Illyria that "It's not murder if you say yes." I'd have to review the scene to see if Spike shows any sort of reaction when Wesley admitted that the device would not kill her.
After viewing the episode again about all I can add is that Spike's crack about "It's not murder..." could just as easily be interpreted to mean that he did know that Wes wasn't going to kill Illyria. On screen, we only saw reactions from Angel and Lorne, and both of them were genuinely surprised to find out that Illyria wasn't going to be killed.

"The Girl in Question" is the only Angel episode that I haven't seen all the way through. Although it has its fans, I've found it to be almost completely unwatchable. I've only seen the episode twice, and both times I ended up scanning through most of the scenes so I could focus on the marvelous Wesley/Illyria sequences. Within the next few days I'll be forcing myself to watch the entire episode for the first time. Hopefully, I'll get more out of it now that I've seen all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I'm not getting my hopes up.

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