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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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