Tag Archives: David Greenwalt

Cultural Catchup Project: Defying Seriality – The Catharsis of Pylea (Angel)

Defying Seriality – The Catharsis of Pylea

“Belonging”/”Over The Rainbow”/”Through the Looking Glass”/”There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb”

November 25th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

Gee, do you think Pylea and Oz might have something in common?

The Pylea arc, which concludes Angel’s second season starting with “Belonging” and ending with “There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb,” (with “Over the Rainbow” and “Through the Looking Glass” in between) is obviously playing on the classic story through episode titles, explicit references (Cordelia’s first instinct, for example), and in the general theme of being taken away to a different world to save the day and learn something about yourself in the process.

To get it out of the way, this was a highly enjoyable arc: Pylea offers some strong story possibilities along with some surprising connections to the series’ mythology, the introduction of Fred and the prominence of The Host are most welcome, and seeing Cordelia front and center has been two seasons in the making. Plus, the Pylea arc offers some of the series’ strongest balancing of suspense and comedy yet, successfully mixing some strong emotional moments with some truly hilarious ones.

And yet the Pylea arc wants to be more. Instead of being your traditional conclusion to a serialized season of television, resolving ongoing tensions, it introduces something entirely new. It wants to be a sort of catharsis, an exciting adventure to another world where every character is offered a sort of trial run for their lives back in Los Angeles. Cordelia discovers what it is like to be revered, Angel faces the true potential of his inner demon, Wesley must take a society’s future into his hands, while Gunn…well, Gunn sort of learns a lesson along the way, I guess?

While I think the arc largely works extremely well, there are moments where this sort of fantastical allegory for their real world problems becomes a bit contrived. This has been a complicated season of television, and at times the story tries too hard to speak to arcs which were developed to varying degrees during the year. Some individual stories do risk being a bit on the nose at the expense of Pylea itself, but as a broader coming together of our central characters, a realization of their friendship and a true reconcilation in the wake of Angel’s return to the fold, the arc works well.

Especially considering the gutpunch at the end.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Dead End” (Angel)

“Dead End”

September 29th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

I remember way back when I started writing about Angel, and made some comments regarding Wolfram & Hart; as usual, the comments couldn’t help but hint at future developments, noting that there was much to come from this particular organization (a fact which was not really a spoiler, since I was aware the series had some legal elements in its future).

What makes Wolfram & Hart work is that they are simultaneously omnipresent and marginal: while they always seem to have a hand in things, their background role in the majority of threats against Angel keeps them one degree away from pure evil. We know that the firm is certainly capable of evil, and their facilitation of evil activities is certainly something we would consider to be fairly evil, but there is always that sense that the firm as a whole is not truly evil in the sense that we may want them to be. It’s why Angel’s decision to allow Darla and Drusilla to kill the room full of lawyers and their spouses was so problematic: while some of those people, like Holland, deserved to die, the rest seem relatively innocent, and that relativity makes the firm’s position complicated.

It also helps that Lindsey McDonald, central to “Dead End,” has wavered (along with his colleague, Lilah Morgan) as it relates to their connection to the evil at the heart of the company. While Lindsey ultimately chose against leaving the company during those past conflicts, the tension allowed him to seem separate from, perhaps even a victim of, the company’s grasp. It’s a separation which finally comes to its logical conclusion in “Dead End,” although in a way which places Wolfram & Hart into a slightly more direct definition of evil.

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Cultural Catchup Project: The Function of Mystery and the Mystery of Function (Angel)

The Function of Mystery and the Mystery of Function

July 24rd, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

The second season of Angel isn’t really that different from the first.

Certainly, the show is introducing new elements (The Host and his Karaoke Bar), new characters (bringing Gunn further into the fold), and new villains (the newly resurrected Darla). However, the way each episode is structured is more or less the same as it was before, so the show hasn’t gone through some sort of radical invention or anything – in fact, the premiere was very much designed to ground the series in Angel’s day-to-day investigations rather than the overarching prophecy.

However, the following episodes of the second season indicate where the differences between the two seasons lie. The first season, as a result of the character swap with Doyle and Wesley at the mid-way point, was always building an aesthetic foundation or building a character foundation, rarely feeling as if they were taking things to that next level. The episodes which start Season Two are not that fundamentally different than those which came before, but there is (to varying degrees) a mystery and an uncertainty about their function: while there are still Wesley episodes and Gunn episodes which aspire to clear patterns, there is that added level of complexity both with the overt serialized arc as well as the sense of possibility which comes with it.

It doesn’t truly change the show, but it ratchets things up a notch in a subtle and effective fashion.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Judgment” (Angel)

“Judgment”

July 21st, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

The road to redemption is a rocky path.

There is no question that the conclusion to Angel’s first season, “To Shanshu in L.A.,” was a bridge to the second season, with the return of a figure from Angel’s past and a prophecy which indicated that there might be, to quote Angel, “light at the end of the tunnel.”

However, it’s important not to mistake momentum for structure, and “Judgment” makes it extremely clear that not everything is as clean as it seems. The show doesn’t abandon the ramifications of the first season finale, but it does indicate that moving on isn’t an immediate process: rather than clearly establishing a path to salvation, providing the series with a distinct sense of direction, the premiere instead focuses on how the characters are confronting their new reality, and how they will continue to confront it for the rest of the season.

“Judgment” is not interested in turning the series on its ear so much as it desires to establish that nothing has changed but the determination of our lead characters, which sets the stage for an engaging, and unpredictable, second season.

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Cultural Catchup Project: Two Steps Forward, Few Looks Back in “To Shanshu in L.A.” (Angel)

Two Steps Forward, Few Looks Back in “To Shanshu in L.A.”

July 11th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

“To Shanshu in L.A.” is no “Prophecy Girl.”

I can’t resist the comparison, as both episodes find their respective series still searching for their identity while closing their first season, looking for a source of momentum. Don’t get me wrong, I like “To Shanshu in L.A.” just fine, but what felt so natural for Buffy (a final showdown with the season’s “Big Bad,” a first glimpse at the evil which sits underneath Sunnydale) feels comparatively contrived when it happens to Angel. While Wolfram & Hart have been built up all season, and there is some really successful subtle serialization in the episodes leading up to the finale, the finale leaves nothing to the imagination beyond the mysteries of “What Does the Prophecy Mean?” and “Who’s in the Box,” which really won’t matter until next season. The resolutions to these mysteries are exciting, and I very much like where the show is heading in terms of its plot, but the episode plants its thematic flag at base camp instead of trying for the summit.

If a great season finale wraps up the season’s storylines while looking forward to what happens next, “To Shanshu in L.A.” is only really successful with the latter, although that’s by design: the show is clearly not done with a majority of the elements introduced this season, so it makes sense that it wouldn’t feel like “Prophecy Girl.” Yes, I’d argue that the episode reflects some of the ways in which Angel lacks the momentum inherent to the conclusion of Buffy’s first season, but it’s yet another example of the show charting its own course, and even with some of my concerns about the way the episode is designed I’ve very excited by the world it has created and its potential moving forward.

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Cultural Catchup Project: When One Door Closes… (Angel)

When One Door Closes…

June 29th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

There’s been some concern in the comments as of late about how much I’m being spoiled by their contents, which is a legitimate concern that I’ve sort of accepted as the cost of doing business. I certainly appreciate those who avoid spoilers, but I also don’t begrudge those who can’t contain themselves and reveal something small from the future. In some cases, you’re simply being reassuring or helpful: it is technically a spoiler that, for example, Wesley and Cordelia’s character arcs would be continuing on Angel, but it’s not as if the real value of those character arcs comes from the surprise of their appearance. Knowing that fact does not take away the impact of each character becoming part of a different series, but rather puts that seed into my mind for the future.

The one legitimate spoiler I’ve had in regards to Angel arrived far sooner than I expected it to: while a certain Twitter compatriot to remain unnamed mistakenly spoiled the central event in “Hero,” I had no context for when that event was going to arrive, and so I sort of presumed that it was a spoiler for a much later period in the series rather than the midway point of its first season. Yes, I would have been much more viscerally shocked had this closed door come as a complete surprise, but since I didn’t know when it was coming its impact on the narrative remains quite the same. If “I Will Remember You” closed the door on any hope of Buffy and Angel truly reconciling, then “Hero” closes the door on the notion that Los Angeles will be any less dark than Sunnydale.

Although, strangely though, the door that opens is awfully familiar for those who’ve spent time around southern California’s Hellmouth.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Pangs”/”I Will Remember You” (Buffy and Angel)

“Pangs”/”I Will Remember You”

June 28th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

I noted in my review of the episodes of Angel which led up to “I Will Remember You” that Angel, as a character, wasn’t really the focus of the episodes in question. As pointed out in the comments, this is quite logical: Doyle is the new character who needs to be introduced properly for the series to succeed, and Cordelia best bridges the gap between Angel’s business and the kind of person he tends to help (the helpless). However, since “Bachelor Party” closed with Angel running off to rescue Buffy from peril, I sort of presumed that the latest crossover between the two series would help rectify this particular issue.

“Pangs” and “I Will Remember You” do, in fact, bring Angel back to the forefront of his own series, but I find it interesting how imbalanced the episodes are in his favour: while Buffy may appear in “I Will Remember You,” the episode’s narrative devalues the crossover from Buffy’s perspective to the point where these episodes don’t actually impact Buffy’s character in any substantial fashion. Buffy is a series currently juggling a large number of storylines, while Angel is by comparison fairly open-ended: as a result, while Buffy and Angel’s relationship completely takes over in “I Will Remember You,” “Pangs” remains grounded by Buffy’s ongoing arc to the point where the episode actually feels fairly uneventful (if still functional).

However, the value of the crossover is found in “I Will Remember You,” which is an incredibly important episode if we consider Angel as its own standalone series. To this point left in abstraction for viewers to fill in either through watching Buffy or learning about it from someone who watched the earlier series, Angel’s relationship with Buffy invades the spinoff in its nascent stages, a decision which is especially dangerous considering the narrative arc created in the episode. There’s every chance that this crossover, merging the two worlds together, will make it so viewers will wonder why they were ever split apart in the first place, and lead to resentment over the fact that they won’t truly be reconciling.

I’d argue, though, that a heavy dose of character-appropriate tragedy leads “I Will Remember You” away from nostalgic desires towards further building Angel as a protagonist in his own right, an important step for the spinoff series.

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