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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Angel – Not Fade Away

Warning: I’ve had a week to work on this post a few paragraphs at a time. Because of that amount of time it is very long! You got to avoid homework somehow and having access to parts of scripts online makes cutting and pasting pretty easy. However, the post is NOT solely about the series finale episode. Throughout this rambling dissertation you may find things of interest including commentary on society, psychology, television viewership, and human beings in general. At the end you’ll either think you’ve wasted 5 minutes of your life or go ‘Wow!’ I leave that up to you. BTW: the rerun of the finale Tuesday night was still as powerful as the first run I thought.

First off, the ratings are up significantly, the critics are raving about the quality of the show, yet the WB has cancelled Angel. F*** the WB! I can live without The West Wing, though I would go into political drama withdraw. I never even got into Smallville until I was in France and it was one of the few things I recognized on TV over there. It’s amazing how you can follow the basic plot of a Smallville episode even when you don’t know French. If it wasn’t for my theory that Clark Kent should just finally shag either Chloe or Lana, or both if he’s really smart, and get on with his life I wouldn’t even watch Smallville. I managed to avoid the first two seasons of it. I’ll admit the quality of Enterprise did improve this season, but the mighty Trek franchise has fallen greatly. If Enterprise were cancelled I would consider it a mercy killing.

But Angel was different; it had the perfect mix of relevancy, pop culture, history, drama, witty one liners, heroic speeches, character growth and development, hits of fantasy, and dramatic death of heroes and villains. It all began in the middle of Season 2 of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. With a title like that how could a show be any good? Not only was it far better than my expectations, but it was a show that could entrance the audience into watching. It was a show that assumed the audience watching it had a brain and would have to pay attention beyond that night’s show. Things weren’t nicely wrapped up in 42 minutes of air time sans commercials. When I heard Angel was going to spin off into his own series I was concerned. The constantly brooding love sick puppy of Buffy Summers didn’t seem enough of a character to spin off. Yet in the beginning I preferred it to Buffy. Angel seemed more ‘adult oriented and serious’ to me. Series creator Joss Whedon was a genius and the Whedonverse expanded nicely into L.A.

Here it is, five years later for the soulful vampire and his cohorts. Those who never understood the appeal of the fantasy world to explore our own humanity I feel sorry for. I will never be able to explain it to them that the use of the fantastic can be a better tool to explore the mundane than a more conventional setting. Sometimes it is good to see ourselves through the eyes of others and we learn more about ourselves that way. And now, here is my reaction to the final episode of the best series currently on TV.

First off, one major flaw: what happened to the use of the letterbox format? I was so used to it that I failed to notice the last few episodes were in the conventional 4:3 format. Unless you have a small TV letterbox format rules, especially for grand epics. Just my opinion and I hope when Season 5 comes out on DVD that maybe it was filmed in letterbox so I’ll have the option of seeing it that way.

Next, it was great to see every major character and several of the supporting ones have at least one great scene. For once everyone was used effectively I felt. In the end Not Fade Away truly dealt with the most significant characters, Angel himself and Wesley. For the past few months I have been screaming that Alexis Deniof has been a fantastic, though heavily underappreciated, actor. These past few weeks I’ve come to notice that Amy Acker is a superior actress as well. Fred was such a nice girl who was pretty much the same every day, that you could never see Amy stretch herself. With Amy playing the angry blue smurf god-queen Illyria, with pieces of Fred’s persona slipping in occasionally, these past few weeks have demonstrated that Amy Acker can mix in and project the multiple personalities of the role with great effect. Can one be nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Emmy for one-third of a season? Anyone who can show the confusion of a god learning her humanity fully deserves an award.

The Fang Gang has made their pact to defeat the completely out of nowhere evil incarnate Circle of the Black Thorns. I guess when JW knew the series was being cancelled he had to pull something out of nowhere to arrange a climatic end. Such a dark circle of master puppeteers running much of the evil in our world deserved more of a ramp-up. It makes the really useless episode of Angel and Spike trying to resolve things with Buffy in Girl In Question that much more horrible in scope. One more episode to develop this Big Bad would have been useful.

To fight evil always involves a cost, the cost of hope for Angel to become human again. Signing away the Shanshu Prophecy to maintain his cover with the Circle is the death of hope, just like the Circle wanted it to be. Are any contracts in the Whedonverse not signed in blood? I’m just curious.

The Gathering of Forces

What a dialog between Angel and Lindsey to get him to fight for the Fang Gang. Yet I was in shock when Lindsey agreed. The man has only been trying to kill Angel for 5 years now. Why agree? In typical Lindsey fashion it came down to being where the power is. You’re the vampire with the big brass testes!

I want you, Lindsey. *suddenly realizes that didn’t come out right* I'm thinking about rephrasing that.

Live the day as if it were your last.

It’s a bad sign when the boss vampire says that you should take the day off before you’re killing evil later that night. How everyone chose their last day was either to take himself back to his beginning or to resolve an issue of his life. Lorne sang his heart out at a karaoke bar. Good bye Andy Hallett, we’ll miss your pipes. Spike drinks a few shots of liquid courage and ends up at a biker bar poetry slam. Now that was funny! Gunn heads back to the old ‘hood and helps out his foster sister(?) Anne at the shelter. Angel found his son and discovered that the memories came back. It’s amazing that Connor Mk II is actually a character to care about. Mk I was whiny and always competing with daddy. Connor Mk II understands the sacrifices make for him. It was good to see both of them accept that.

Wes and Illyria end up together so Wes can nurse her wounds. Their relationship, for want of a better word, has been the highlight of the last third of this season. Their conversation was amazing writing, with direction that showed the depth of their relationship.

I: Angel told you to do whatever you wanted today. Tonight you may be dead. I am not what you want.
W: No.
I: They why …
W: Don’t I go off and have one last perfect day? Smell the flowers, or skydive, or have a go with Mistress Spanks-a-lot or whatever the hell one's supposed to do in these situations?
I: Mistress who?
W: There is no perfect day for me, Illyria. There is no sunset, or painting, or finely aged scotch that's going to sum up my life and make tonight any...there's nothing I want.

When she offers to be Fred again, you can see something in Wesley’s face. Regret, pain, a glimmer of ‘maybe this once’…I don’t know, but it was a powerful shot to see.

I: I could assume her shape. Make her come alive again this once for you. But you would never ask me to.
Illyria turned her head away in rejection. A god has come to fear rejection from a mortal man. Until then I was not sure that Illyria loved Wesley. After seeing that I know that at least she loved him in a form that she was capable of. Whether it is because Fred’s experiences are within her or because she has evolved in her time among humans I don’t know. Yet love is such a powerful emotion it affects us all, even a god.

W: First lesson a watcher learns is to separate truth from illusion. Because in the world of magics it’s the hardest thing to do. The truth… is that Fred is gone. To pretend anything else would be a lie. And since I don’t intend to actually die tonight I won’t accept a lie.

Whoever wrote the underscore to the scene was a true artist. The notes carried the weight and emotion of the scene perfectly. That was the great thing about the Whedonverse, the music never seemed out of place and it was always perfect for the scene.

Job Assignments

This may come out a little pretentious, but one of you will betray me.
Spike's hand raised up so fast he broke the sound barrier. These two are never going to like each other. I loved how Spike had such an unfair advantage fighting the Fell Brethren. They don’t want to hurt the baby in his arms. They want the holy vessel in the bassinette with nary a scratch.

We only got to see the significant parts of only two fights: Angel vs. Hamilton and Wesley vs. Vail. I wasn’t sure Adam Baldwin was acting when he played Hamilton. I’m not slighting Adam Baldwin at all. That character is so calm and collected all the time. When Hamilton got in the elevator to kill Angel, that look on his face was: pick up suit from dry cleaners, return phone call, kill Angel, get a party gift for the Senior Partners. It was so business as usual, and he was still nicely dressed.

Right before the fight that was classic Harmony. Angel should have killed her for betraying him, but gives her a recommendation instead. I would say Harmony has to be the most incompetent vampire out there, but she’s still alive…or undead as the case may be.

The people who don't care about anything will never understand the people who do.
Yeah, but we won't care!

Hard to beat that logic.
Oh Hamilton it was good of you to finally die, but you were well dressed. What I would give to look that good in a double breasted suit.

Lorne and Lindsey win their fight, but Lorne shooting Lindsey on Angel’s order was totally unexpected. Lindsey was so mad that it wasn’t Angel killing him. Now his death was truly meaningless because ‘a flunky’ did it. Angel always did consider Lindsey a little man. Though he didn’t die, Lorne is a tragic loss. He just gave up and walked away from the fight.

At the other main event, Wes isn't doing very well against Vail. I would like to note that if your magic isn’t being an effective weapon then a knife should not be your backup weapon. Have a gun up your sleeve instead of a switchblade when trying to kill a demon! At least Joss Whedon learned that if you’re going to kill a major character give the man a proper death scene. Wes manages to knock out Vail after receiving a mortal knife wound, with Illyria coming in just a few seconds too late, and paves the way to one of the most touching scenes I’ve ever witnessed.

I: I can't help. You'll be dead within minutes. *a pause* Would you like me to lie to you now?

So simple a line said with a lover’s tenderness. The smurfette assumes the form of Fred one last time. It’s a shame that the idea comes out of two dead lovers of Fred and Wesley will finally be together, but we know it’s a lie because Fred’s soul was consumed in Illyria’s birth. Even in death, Wes is cheated from being with his love. How tragic is that? So typical of the Whedonverse: to not give hope. Illyria, as Fred, still cries after his last breath. A god cries for the death of a man; the power of love crosses so great a chasm to allow her to feel human. Yet there are things more powerful than love.

Vail: How very touching his meaningless death was, but this fight was never for mortals. Take your best shot, little girl.

The shot of ‘Fred’ pulling her arm back, with eyes narrowed and mouth tensed, captured perfectly the desire for vengeance fueled by the power of love and grief. *Great job Amy Acker* Our most powerful emotions are not love itself, but the things fueled by it. We can do anything when our passion fuels it. On the plus side the slow-mo shot with her morphing back to Illyria and that punch imploding Vail’s skull was wickedly cool.

As for the ending I have mixed feelings about it. You have Angel, Spike, a very wounded Gunn, and Illyria in the alley with the army of darkness heading towards them, a dragon above them, and what the hell was that 40 foot tall shadow horned thingy in the back of the pack!!! The series simply ends on that note just like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid! Part of me says that was very dramatic, but the other part of me wonders what happened. Sets up potential movies later I guess.

So now an inspired drama is gone and I mourn the loss. It wouldn’t be so bad if I thought there were other quality shows to take its place, but there aren’t. Instead of a show to inspire us to be more than what we are, a show that asks the audience to think about it, a show that explores the depths of our souls, we’ll have 21 ‘reality’ shows that often explore the depravity and shallowness of ourselves. How else do you explain ‘The Swan’? I refuse to be pandered to as a lowest common denominator.

In a dark and uncertain world we needed shows like Angel to remind us that Champions do exist and can be made from ourselves. Champions rise to fight the hard battles, to defend the weak, to make the hard decisions. Champions inspire and force us to claw up the mountain. Champions remind us that to accomplish great deeds will require great sacrifices. Champions show us that we can be better than what we are and that some things are bigger than us, but we are a part of that big picture. Sometimes one person or a group of people can effect change on the big picture. In the end Champions provide hope, and I don’t see enough hope for everyone now.

We should not rely on a Champion to save us, though that is a common belief. We should become that Champion. Be the change you want to see. No matter the odds sometimes you need to fight for what appears to be a hopeless cause because if nothing we do matters, all that matters is what we do. In the end, those were the lessons of the TV show Angel.

As Lorne said: *deep sigh* Good night folks.

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