Thursday, June 03, 2004

Angel - Not Fade Away 

Okay, before I get into the rant that I've had building up for a couple of weeks now regarding the series finale, let me just say up front that I thought it rocked! It rolled in references to earlier storylines, to Angel's first appearance on Buffy, the story moved to unexpected places, and it left lots to chew on and ponder.

Let me also say that I love Joss Whedon's work. He creates great characters, maintains storylines, isn't afraid of controversy, and his shows have earned my undying loyalty. But from articles he's written, statements he's made in interviews, and his commentaries on some of the Buffy DVD's, I have long held the opinion that he's a smug, rather obnoxious noodge. I always have the unpleasant feeling that his seemingly modest self-deprecations are masking a self-congratulatory superiority. Personality and product are separate entities, and in general I love Whedon's product.

One of the great attractions of Buffy and then Angel was the empowerment of the female characters in the Buffyverse, be they good or evil. The series finale of Buffy was about girls and women empowering themselves, negating the Watcher-Chosen One paradigm and sharing the wealth instead of letting the Watcher's Council hold the reigns on the guardians of feminine power. Buffy introduced gay characters who were no more freaks than the rest of the characters. Angel could always be counted on to continue the empowered female characters and a good deal of homoeroticism in the stories.

The series finale of Angel, which also marked the end of the era of the Buffyverse, was filled with homophobia and misogyny. As you may guess, I found this a bit disappointing. Examples:

-The episode opens with the group pledging their lives in the ultimate fight against the ultimate evil. This group is a 5-member boys' club: Angel, Wesley, Lorne, Gunn and Spike. They do mention the possibility of enlisting Illyria into their project, and state that "she's been housebroken." How did this training occur? By Wesley using his ray gun to suck out the demon essence from her. The source of her power was physically extracted by the Rogue Demon Hunter / Ex-Watcher. Now she's a safe tool for the boys to use.

-Harmony is brought in early on by Angel, to assist with the big plan. Her role? To be the powerful, file-wielding feminine distraction, betrayer and ultimately a pawn. "But she's evil!" you protest. I counter: she's been presented all season as trying to "be good," just as Spike did on Buffy. Spike went and fought with every fiber of his being to win himself a shiny new soul that would allow him the chance of winning his battle against his own demon. Harmony shrugged and reaffirmed, "I'm evil."

-The scene between Angel and Lindsey was rife with homophobia and the male ego. I did like the word choice in Lindsey's lecture on good and evil - "it's not about coveting your neighbor's ass." That left it open to lots of interpretations. Does that mean that the "neighbor's wife" has been elevated to a personage of her own, rather than the "neighbor's property?" That would be a good thing. Does it mean that Lindsey is referring to the coveting of the male neighbor's ass? That's good, as it acknowledges that sometimes the hero has his eyes on the hunky guy next door instead of the gorgeous chick. Then again, this is being categorized as evil.

Part of Lindsey's speech negated the message that started on Buffy. "It's not about the vampire with the soul. It's about the vampire with the big brass testes." The vampire with the soul could be seen as representing the rampaging male (the demon) in an inner struggle with the sacred feminine (the soul). Lindsey casts this aside, and describes the battle as coming down to Angel having the largest and most invulnerable representations of maleness.

Then it was put right out there with the final lines. "I want you Lindsey...I'm thinking about rephrasing that." "Yeah, I think I'd be more comfortable if you did." 'Cause you wouldn't want anyone to think there was any actual, you know, love in that love-hate relationship they've had over the years.

-Angel: "I have very nice handwriting." Connor: "You girl." How far they've come from the irony of Buffy being called, "Just a girl," to calling someone a girl as the ultimate irony-free insult.

-Lindsey tells Eve to stay away. Because she's a defenseless girl. No more power. Standing in the office, she reminded me of Darla before she was revealed as a vampire in "Welcome to the Hellmouth." But there was no ironic twist. Eve really is defenseless.

-In the scene of Illyria's part in the project, they don't show her wielding her power. First she's standing, bloody and bent, in front of the car. Then she's standing in front of the smouldering wreck. But we don't get to see her in action.

-Lorne has always been the most "feminine" of the male characters. Again, we don't get to see his contribution to the fight, which was the singing of a high note to burst the heads of the demons in question. A very feminine weapon, but all we see is the aftermath. Then he pulls out a handy substitute phallus in the form of a handgun, and unhesitatingly ejects the lethal projectiles into the unsuspecting Lindsey. And Lindsey's big regret is that he was taken out by a flunky instead of the big brass testes guy.

-At Wesley's death, the once powerful Illyria can only provide help and comfort through deception. Lie to me. I do have to give kudos for the following sequence in which Illyria is taunted to do her best, "little girl," and transforms from Fred into Illyria while delivering a punch through the face that takes out the previously unstoppable demon. That was the one scene of feminine empowerment in the episode. But even that was driven by vengeance, not by self-empowerment. And you know the saying about women scorned.

-When Illyria joins the remaining boys in the alley, her leap down from above is very reminiscent of Buffy's leap into the alley upon Angel's first appearance. But unlike Buffy, Illyria is being driven by her emotions - she can't control her grief. "I want to do more violence." She's not using her power for any defined purposes of good OR evil - she's just trying to assuage her uncontrolled emotions. That's how girls are...

But I can't end the post on the season finale without noting some of my favorite lines and events of the episode:

-Angel gets to "kill them all." He gets his wish, as revealed in the alley way back when he was introduced on Buffy. "What do you want?" "To kill them. To kill them all." He was so young, pale, thin, and of questionable acting abilities back then.

-Was Lorne singing a kermit song during his farewell stage performance? I hope so, because that rocks!

-Spike finally figured out the art of poetry recitation. It's all in the delivery.

-Spike doesn't get to betray Angel. "Well, then can I at least deny you three times?"

-When Adam Baldwin stalked in for his final fight, I swear those were Terminator chords playing in the background. That was perfect.

-"Try not to die. You are not unpleasant to my eyes."

-"Goodnight folks." Exit, stage left.

-Angel gets his fuel to defeat the representative of the senior partners by letting out his demon to feed. Give in to the force, Liam.

-"I want to slay the dragon." What an awesome scene to close with - the hopeless battle against infinitely bad odds, but they fight on. We few, we happy few. We band of buggered.

-The closing ensemble shot was a good parting view for a great show.

Posted by Beth Henderson at 6:33 PM