Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Fred is a bit of a conundrum.

Like Cordelia, I often find that she’s an Angel character that a lot of viewers are drawn to. Again, she seems like she’d be a strong fit for the Buffyverse--she’s a brilliant, resilient and a gutsy young woman who tends to underestimate herself. Seeing Fred grow into herself is moving and inspiring, I admit. See, and maybe this is going to sound like a strange thing to say, I think Fred’s apparent vulnerability is what seemed to make her interesting as an Angel character more than her sudden graduation to seasoned demon hunter/paranormal investigator. Seeing her wrapped so tight, having trouble re-adjusting and healing after the trauma of being taken away from home and the fact that she is a little bit ‘off’ because of what’s happened to her offers a healing and learning that makes her relatable as an Angel character.

In fact, one of my favorite arcs for her didn’t revolve around the whole Fred/Gunn/Wesley triangle but her apparent attraction to Angel. The realization that this was more about dependency and wanting to protect herself than an authentic connection between him and her always strikes me as a very genuine reflection of common reactions to trauma. I love that last scene of her painting over the image of her white knight coming to save her. It’s an empowering moment because we realize that Fred gets it now and is, like all of the show's cast, in the business of learning to save herself. See, stuff like this is more what makes the character tick for me.
Fred seems to get a little too comfortable with herself too quickly to leave me totally satisfied. Not that I’m knocking on Fred; she’s awesome and seems to surprise herself as much as everyone else with her realizations of just how skilled and competent she really is. I'm a fan of Fred’s parents. It’s a small part to be sure, but their re-occurrence on the show seems meaningful to me. Why? Well, Buffy and Angel aren’t exactly chock full of good parents, are they? Joyce is great, but she’s a single mother and is up against the things that single mothers are up against. That scene where Angel, Cordy, Wes and Gunn all reflect on just how kind Fred’s family seemed always moves me. After all, none of them seem to have had very caring parents looking out for them. How often do you meet those kinds of parents really? The ones that really are that invested and loving?

We’d all like to be nurtured that way, so in some ways Fred and her family are striking in the Buffyverse because of how much they aren't dysfunctional. And I think that consequently Fred has a little bit of a way of reminding Angel and company just what they’re fighting for and what they want for people. Illyria is a whole other story. A wildly compelling addition to the fifth season, Illyria seems like she (or ‘it’?) has had her day in the sun in the comics and I’m happy to see that. If there’s one thing I love about the Angel side of the Buffyverse it’s this: it isn’t always very clear to what extent anyone "up there" is really looking out or taking care of anyone "down here." A lot of times things just seem hopeless. Meainingless and cruel. Illyria re-awakening certainly seemed like one such incident.

Angel never does get a message from on high, explaining that everything has happened for a reason or that anything is warm, fuzzy and rewarding. It would be very, very easy to give into despair. What I love about Angel is that by the end of the show he finds a way to make things meaningful. If no celestial choir is guiding events along a predestined path, then "all there is is what we do" becomes Angel’s mandate to use the tragedies he’s faced with, to almost forcibly will some meaning into existence for them. As Angel says in the episode "Power Play."

“…I didn’t want that to be another awful thing. In an awful world. So I decided to use it. To make her death matter. And it worked.”

I was not disappointed with the final episode of the show or After the Fall in anyway. I really think the choices they made were befitting of the show’s themes. I have at times wondered about what exactly a climactic sixth season of Angel--starring Sarah Michelle Gellar no less--would have looked like. It seems to me that one of the boons of Illyria’s existence, predestined or just random chance, is to be Angel’s potential mentor. An odd mentor to be sure, giving that she’s a power hungry ancient demon, but if anyone could teach Angel to untangle himself from the intricate web that Wolfram and Hart have tied him up in, it’s going to be her, right? It seems to me that Illyria is going to be able to show Angel how to make them play his game, how to land the whole thing on course. Consider some of her dialogue in the episode "Time Bomb." She’s threatening Angel to be sure, but at the same time she’s also giving him a bit of a philosophy lesson that might do him some good at this point this series, isn’t she?

“You learn to destroy everything that is not utterly yours. All that matters is victory. That’s how your reign persists. You’re a slave to an insane construct. You are moral. A true ruler is as moral as a hurricane, empty but for the force of his gale. But YOU…trapped in the web of the Wolf, the Ram, and the Hart. So much POWER here…and you quibble at its price! If you want to win a war…you must serve no master but YOUR ambition.”

See, it seems to me that some of what Angel might have to do to overcome W&H’s endless manipulations is start playing a bigger game so to speak. He’s got to start thinking bigger if anything is ever going to change. Sure, you can always throw starfish back into the ocean, but the ocean will just keep churning starfish out onto the shore. What Illyria starts to do, it seems to me, is talk to Angel about going after the ocean rather than the starfish, as crazy as that sounds. Angel’s done this before, but in a small-minded, very human kind of way. Illyria is talking about helping Angel turn W&H’s power in on itself. It will take some ruthlessness, but hey, doing some bad in order to do some good is a big part of what this show is all about, right?


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