Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)


What’s to be said of Lorne, possibly the most under-appreciated and interesting Joss Whedon character ever created? Why’d they take so long to give this guy part of the opening sequence of the show anyway? He deserved first billing, right?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Lorne. He’s funny. He’s got a kooky and interesting demonic ability and he’s got style. He gives the cast of Angel that 1960’s Las Vegas thing. I like this in particular because I like the idea of lonely souls meeting in dark, dingy bars, each with their own sad story to tell. That image just fits the show very well. Still, the funny thing is I sort of end up feeling like Lorne was a little more compelling when he was a little more distant and mysterious.
For example, I love the strange juxtaposition of Angel sometimes getting spiritual guidance from The Host, a lounge singer who seems to me to look a least somewhat like what you imagined the Devil might look like. It creates this weird heaven and hell imagery and even weirder, that heaven and hell are sitting down together in a karaoke bar and having a frank conversation. Not that Lorne acts particularly devilish, but I think the irony of the whole thing sets the stage early on in season two for the revelation that Earth is actually Wolfram and Hart’s home office so to speak. Like maybe the devil doesn’t have to be devilish, you know? You’re already stuck in hell.

Everyone that comes through that karaoke bar has their own problems and are struggling in their own way; the Devil doesn’t have to do anything to you. Why not pour you a drink, let you sit down at a table and start singing some jazzy tune? See, the Devil isn’t your torturer here; he’s just your host. The place is what does it all. All he does is set the table. And again, in a non-torturous way, what I see Lorne doing early on in the show is sending people on their paths, whatever that path might be. Lorne strikes me as entirely neutral, as willing to give advice to evil lawyers as he is to vampires with a soul. I mean, he’s not a bad guy and seems to have some investment in Angel’s cause, but again, it just seems like Lorne is the host for what’s going on in the Angel universe. Not a player.

Well, I like that vision for Lorne. Ultimately, the show evolves such that we know him better. He becomes less ethereal and more real. We meet his family, get an explanation of where he’s from and he becomes one more ally in the fight against…uhm…evil? (Or maybe it was good in a very rigid form that Angel and company were trying to stop all along, a la the finale of Season 4)? And he’s such a great character that it’s hard not to love him here. He’s always got that laid back, jazz singer thing going on and it’s pretty handy to have someone who can read people, like, literally. So you know, it’s not for nothing. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy Lorne this way. I’m only saying that we lose some of what was originally compelling about him.

What I will say is that for me, I’m surprised to find that some of the most emotional moments on the show--both touching and soul-crushing--come from Lorne. One of my favorite episodes for example is Season four’s "The Way We Were," in which everyone temporally reverts back to a younger version of themselves. Not only does hilarity ensue, but Lorne’s delivery--as though we are hearing this whole thing as some part of a late night, open mic stand up act--kills me. And yet? That lost pan out, however, of him at the piano haunts me however. Not to mention Lorne’s last scene in the final episode, of which I would not be doing anyone a service if I discussed openly here. Needless to say, his final spoken line "Good night folks" breaks my heart.

What I will say we learn by Lorne becoming part of the main cast is this: The Powers That Be aren't exactly the heavenly hosts that you always hoped they would be, are they? I mean, maybe the Powers just can’t influence what’s going on that much because that’s how bad things have gotten thanks to the influence of things like Wolfram and Hart. But maybe the Powers are more about sending the unfortunate off to fight hopeless battles as retribution for past crimes more than anything else. The Powers demand a lot of sacrifice and hardship without a lot of explanation and very little pay off. I mean, maybe that’s what good takes; it’s that hard to do real good in the world. It’s so hard it can cost you anything.

One thing’s for certain: it doesn’t seem to me that the Powers do much to shield Lorne from any of the misfortune that befalls him and anyone else who gets on board with Angel’s crusade. Lorne gives up and loses just as much as anyone, even crossing lines he never wanted to. There are a lot of sad stories in Angel but don’t let Lorne’s upbeat delivery fool you: this might be one of the saddest.

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