Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

I know Spike comes a long way over the course of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel, but Wesley…wow. Just, wow. Who he is on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and who he is by the end of Angel doesn’t even seem like the same person at all. Wesley’s transition from bumbling, nervous goofball to seasoned demon slayer is pretty intense. And the thing that gets me the most? The people who knew Wesley back when--the cast of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, even Wesley’s own family--will never know.

What can I say? Sometimes things happen in life and you grow.

But see, that doesn’t mean the way that you end up learning is always fair. Whatever mistakes Wesley made as a Watcher, he pays for and then some over the course of Angel. Seriously, does anyone suffer more than this guy on the show? He risks everything to try to do what he thinks is right and gets alienated from his friends, he has to watch his best friend be with the woman he loves, he GETS the woman he loves just to lose her. It just goes on.
It’s that final nod between Angel and Wesley on the last episode that I love. There are no spoken words here, but what's clear is that Wesley, like Angel, has walked some dark paths. And will Buffy and company ever know that Wesley has finally grown up? That his quest for self-validation has finally evolved into something more sophisticated? A need to fight the good fight, even at the expense of himself?

Unfortunately, their paths never cross again. Wesley’s sacrifices go largely unnoticed by the outside world.

But I guess this is where Wesley and Angel seem similar to me: you don’t always get what you want. Learning and growing, even when it hurts, is for YOU, not anyone else. Maybe Wesley’s family will always think he’s a failure. Maybe Giles will always have him down in the history books as a colossal failure no matter what he does. But at the end of the day, Wesley at least seems like he can look himself in the mirror and respect himself. Even when very few people who knew him do.

This isn’t an easy lesson for anyone to learn. You might never be able to make up for past mistakes; even ones you caused inadvertently or made out of good intentions. Even mistakes like this can set you on a path where you’ve really lost. Even if you can’t turn back time and be someone else then, you can try to be someone else now.

Angel doesn’t ever seem to forgive Wesley. It’s never spoken (at least, not that I recall?). Maybe the fact that Angel recognizes that the pain Wesley is going through--and the fact that he’s trying to make amends--is something he knows very well. That’s always what I imagine passes between them in the final head nod: respect. Understanding, at least, if not forgiveness. Wesley doesn’t get the life he wanted. He does, however, become the best he can be with what he has left. And he learns to respect that, at least.