Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Tangled Webs They Weave

 Who's Scamming Who?

I seriously thought about posting just one combined review of Angel's final two episodes, "Power Play" and "Not Fade Away", mostly because I thought I'd be repeating myself too much if I broke up the discussion into two separate posts. I changed my mind after thinking about how much additional material I'll probably gain after I listen to the commentary for "Not Fade Away". Which brings me to.....
DVD Commentaries (or lack thereof). I'm disappointed that this final stretch of Season 5 of Angel has a dearth of DVD commentaries. In absolute terms I don't think Season 5 has any fewer than other seasons. However, I was hoping that the fact that the entire series had come to an end would have motivated Mutant Enemy into giving the audience a few more commentaries and other special features than usual. If memory serves me correctly, I think Buffy the Vampire Slayer might have received a more substantial send-off.

I have yet to hear Jeffrey Bell's commentary for the final episode, "Not Fade Away", so maybe he solved a lot of the little Season 5 puzzles that I've been wondering about lately. Regardless, I'm thinking that there were probably several reasons why the end of Season 5 was treated roughly the same as the end of any other season.

First, when it was time to record the commentaries and release the DVD's, the series was well into the history books. Perhaps it would have been too depressing to lavish a lot of attention on a show in which the cancellation came as a complete surprise (as far as I can tell) to just about everyone. However, it's more likely that most of the parties involved had already moved on to other projects, and were wanting to look forward rather than backward. I also can't discount the possibility that since Buffy the Vampire Slayer was off the air, perhaps the entire Buffy franchise was starting to lose steam with both viewers and the creative staff. If Angel was over, then there might have not been that much more to talk about, particularly since the commentary about old episodes couldn't be woven into commentary about new episodes that were currently airing. I hope to spend more time on this topic in a future post.

Second, I have (albeit more often in the past) the tendency to think of the end of Season 5 as being the logical culmination of  all of the prior events that led up to Angel's final decision to take the fight directly to Wolfram & Hart. I've written before about how Angel's decision could have been the defining moment of the entire series. If that was the case, wouldn't such a profound and dramatic conclusion have been worth a few more explanatory DVD commentaries?

The only problem is that, particularly when you put the Angel comic continuation series into the mix (where it was revealed that the Senior Partners tricked Angel into starting the Apocalypse), his dramatic decision might not have been the landmark moment that it initially appeared to be. Unlike Season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon did not start off Season 5 of Angel thinking that it would mark the end of the season, much less the end of the entire Buffyverse TV franchise. I could talk a lot more about this, but simply put, the end of Season 5 might have not been the final ending that Joss Whedon initially had in mind, particularly since he was probably already thinking in terms of a comic book continuation.

Nina Ash and Angel. I've been a good girl up to this point and haven't written too much about actor David Boreanaz's physical appearance in Season 5 of Angel. It's been widely noted that it looked like he had gained a considerable amount of weight during this time. I even question the wisdom of allowing Boreanaz to appear shirtless since his less-than-buff appearance tended to be a distraction. Some commenters have guessed that Boreanaz gained weight because his earlier knee surgery might have kept him out of the gym. The fact that he looked slimmer than ever in Season 1 of Bones the following year lends quite a bit of credence to that theory. It's too bad Boreanaz had to go through this process, but kudos to him for finally getting back to his fighting weight.

Despite all of this, I've always held this post-coital cuddle scene between Nina Ash and Angel in fairly high regard since it seemed to emphasis the strong point of their relationship, in that it was refreshingly normal in contrast with Angel's overwrought and doomed love affairs with Buffy Summers and Cordelia Chase. Unfortunately, upon my latest viewing, I was kind of disappointed with Nina's dialogue since I thought it contained a few too many hints of precocious Buffyspeak. I know Nina was quite young (early 20's?) in Season 5, so I might have been asking for too much by hoping for a girl who didn't have the demeanor of a recent graduate of Sunnydale High.

Regardless, the bedroom scene was a nice set-up to their Casablanca-style scene in the park where Angel implored Nina to leave town with her sister and niece. Besides the fact that he deeply cared for Nina, Angel was also trying to do one final good deed before he went on to perform some pretty harrowing ones. Again, I cringed at some of Nina's dialogue ("That's typical. You sleep with a guy and he sends your entire family out of the country. No, wait, that's actually not that typical at all........."), but this scene formed a wonderful bridge between Angel and Nina's relationship in Angel and their relationship in After the Fall.

I would like to think that the fact that Nina lived on in the comic continuation series is a testament to the strength of her character on Angel. You can tell by clicking on my "Nina Ash" tag that I'm a pretty big fan of her. However, I also can't help but think Nina Ash continued on as Angel's girlfriend in After the Fall  only by default, since she was practically the last girl standing.

Drogyn. I love Alec Newman's Drogyn character, and it's too bad he didn't appear a lot earlier in the series. As a quick summary, Drogyn was a 1,000 -year old noble warrior who could tell only the truth. One lovely surprise was that Mutant Enemy tried to rectify this situation by giving us intriguing glimpses of how Drogyn had crossed paths with several Buffyverse characters many times in the past.

If interested, I highly recommend you read the Buffy Wikia entry listed above for more information about Drogyn. However, I will start off by saying that before "Power Play" we found out that Drogyn had some sort of undefined past history with Angel. (Note: The fact that Drogyn informed Angel he'd only been appointed Guardian of the Deeper Well "decades" earlier tells us that their last contact had occurred relatively recently.) We then found out in "Power Play" that he also had some sort of equally undefined past history with the Watchers' Council and Marcus Hamilton.

The fact that Wesley apparently knew Drogyn only from reading dusty old tomes implies that Drogyn must not have had a lot of regular contact with the Watchers' Council over the years. What really interests me is the idea that there might have been a significant number of noble "battlebrands" roaming around the Buffyverse. We know an awful lot about the bad guys, but not too much about the good guys outside of those who had ties to the Watchers' Council. I had always suspected the Watchers' Council wasn't the only game in town when it came to battling evil. For example, we can hardly believe that Wesley Wyndam-Pryce was the only "rogue demon hunter" out there.

That's why I became so excited when the idea was briefly floated in "Lineage" that there was some sort of shadowy operation running attacks on bad guys in three different parts of the world, including the Los Angeles offices of Wolfram & Hart. (I talked more about it in this post here.) Although the attacks against the "demon cabal in Jakarta" and the "Tanmar Death Chamber" were probably false flag operations, the idea that Angel might not have been totally surprised that some other demon-hunting enterprise even existed seemed quite noteworthy.

Marcus Hamilton and Eve. The history between Drogyn and Hamilton also intrigues me, since it shows that Hamilton must have been a long-time regular on the evil villain circuit. The fact that Drogyn immediately recognized him implies that Hamilton was a long-time steady operative (or go-to guy) for the Senior Partners, and that Hamilton's physical appearance perhaps had not changed too much over the years.

This BuffyWikia entry indicates that both Marcus Hamilton and Eve were considered to be "Children of the Senior Partners", who "were human-like beings created by the demons known as the Senior Partners through unknown means, to act as agents for Wolfram & Hart. Depending on their purpose, they are granted different abilities." The entry then went on to describe that Eve was sent as a "liaison" whereas Hamilton was "...some kind of emissary and/or enforcer..." Again, I'll let you read the rest if you're so inclined.

I don't want to spend too much time on this, but I question whether Hamilton and Eve were cut from the same cloth. Unquestionably, Hamilton was tough and ultra-capable (helped in no small part by the fact that the blood of Wolfram & Hart ran through his veins), whereas Eve had every appearance of having been promoted to her own particular level of incompetence. Assuming we can take this dialogue from "Life of the Party" at face value, I wonder why the Senior Partners would have even bothered to send Eve to U.C.-Santa Cruz for her university training if they could instead fill her pretty little head with whatever knowledge they desired.

I even wonder if Eve had only recently been recruited right out of college a la Lilah Morgan and granted immortality, only to have had that immortality revoked a relatively short time later. Unfortunately, I don't have any evidence to support that hypothesis. Other than the fact that she existed long enough for Lindsey to have established a relationship with her, we really don't know how long Eve had been around. Whereas Hamilton seemed to be a deliciously old-school non-human villain, Eve definitely represented new school ideals.

Circle of the Black Thorn. The After the Fall comic continuation series revealed that Angel had been manipulated into starting the Apocalypse. Indeed, Lindsey McDonald explained to Angel's cohorts that the Circle of the Black Thorn was the Senior Partners' "instrument on earth" whose duty was to keep the Apocalypse "rolling along". I interpret this to mean that the Circle of the Black Thorn was practically indistinguishable from the Senior Partners. One could then logically make the inference that the Circle of the Black Thorn was responsible for bringing both Eve and Hamilton to Wolfram & Hart to make sure the next stage of the Apocalypse occurred on schedule.

From this point on, it appeared that the entire Wolfram & Hart cast of characters became expendable dupes in one form or another, as layers upon layers of complexity became woven into the story lines. For starters, none of these people enjoyed anything resembling a happy ending. Eve lost her immortality and apparently perished when the offices of Wolfram & Hart came crumbling down at the end of "Not Fade Away".  Hamilton perished moments before in the same scene after Angel managed to get some of that special Senior Partners blood for himself. Lindsey not only had to spend time in a hell dimension earlier in Season 5, but he suffered the ultimate humiliation of being killed by Lorne in "Not Fade Away".

Ironically enough, the members of the ultra-important Circle of the Black Thorn themselves became the biggest dupes in that they all had to be killed before Angel could start the Apocalypse. With this in mind, I can look at this scene, where Hamilton was spying on Team Angel, in a whole new light. Rather than being satisfied that Angel was completely alienated from his friends, Hamilton could have been quite pleased that Angel was using magic to try to trick him into believing that Team Angel was literally at each other's throats. So, in essence, the Senior Partners paid one of their highest compliments to Hamilton by entrusting with the task of manipulating their top emissaries on earth!

Spike. I feel like I should really be keying in once more on the significance of Spike being the first one to raise his hand when Angel asked who was going to join him in the fight against the Senior Partners. Spike raised his hand almost matter-of-factly, like it was the most natural thing in the world, in contrast to how Wesley and Gunn appeared to hesitate just a little bit.

Spike certainly must have been thinking about how far he had traveled through his newly-ensouled existence. For viewers, this moment was obviously the culmination of Spike's multi-season Buffyverse story arc, where he went from a totally evil soulless vampire into a top-notch champion for justice.

Idle Thoughts. I liked how Angel's friends initially gave him the benefit of the doubt when faced with evidence that he had perhaps turned evil. (Here's an example.) This was a refreshing change to how people were only too willing to believe the worst about Angel at times. (Here's another example, where Fred seemed to believe Spike when he told her Angel attacked the Numero Cinco mailroom guy.)

I'm surprised that I haven't written about "Power Play" too much in the past, particularly since it's one of my Top 10 Favorite Episodes. If you're interested in what I've written about this episode before, you can click on the previous link, as well as here and here. I could almost say that this episode is more fun to watch than to analyze, but that's not quite true. The themes presented, although profound, are also quite self-explanatory. Too much discussion would be overkill.

It's so well-established by now that Angel did not have anything to do with Fred's death, it's tough to have to sit through scenes like this where people are asking, "Did he, or didn't he?"

It's quite widely known that the producers hoped that Sarah Michelle Gellar would appear in this penultimate episode.  (Here's a link to a David Fury interview that has a few juicy tidbits.) Unlike "You're Welcome", where I could envision Buffy fighting with Angel and Spike in place of Cordelia in this zombie scene, I can't imagine how Buffy would have fit into "Power Play". Was Nina a substitute for Buffy? Or would this episode have been radically different if Sarah had been able to appear? Your guesses are as good as mine. Regardless, I'm still glad Sarah did not make any appearances in Season 5 of Angel since it helped solidify its reputation for being a strong series in its own right away from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I wonder if "rogue demon hunter" Wesley ever ran across any of the Winchesters from Supernatural?

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