Tag Archives: Wolfram & Hart

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: Moving On while Moving Apart (Angel)

Moving On while Moving Apart

August 20th, 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.

When a series makes a pretty substantial change to its basic structure, we usually respond in one of two ways: either we fret over how the series will handle that change, or we shrug our shoulders and presume that things will be back to normal eventually. This is not to say that we don’t enjoy this change, but as someone who is averse to change as a general rule it makes me anxious when I see a favourite series taking a glimpse over the edge as if it plans on jumping, even if that jump ends up being a spectacular sight.

However, I honestly didn’t flinch when Angel fired his staff at the end of “Reunion.” This isn’t because I am not enjoying the series, or that I am not engaged with its characters, but rather because the series is naturally suited to these sorts of changes. Admittedly, I knew in advance that reinvention was one of the series’ strong suits, but I didn’t expect for those reinventions to feel so purposeful: when Angel fires his staff, it feels like a logical progression of his character, and the crisis it creates doesn’t feel like an effort to shake things up for the sake of ratings. Indeed, instead of feeling shocking, the range of episodes from “Blood Money” to “Reprise” feel decidedly normal, a statement that even a substantial shift in the character dynamics of the series needn’t disrupt its basic themes or structures.

They aren’t the strongest episodes of the series, but they serve an important role: while they make the argument that Angel and his former employees will not remain apart forever, they also demonstrate how their separation only broadens the series’ potential, continuing a strong second season.

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Cultural Catchup Project: Fighting the War (Angel)

Fighting the War

July 31st, 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.

At first glance, “The Shroud of Rahmon” was a fairly unimportant episode: caught between “Darla” and “The Trial,” it seems strange to offer a standalone tale of Gunn’s cousin getting in over his head, featuring a mysterious shroud which brings out the worst in those in its presence. It’s not the worst story in the world, tying in with Elisabeth Rohm’s Kate, but it seems like a distraction from the fact that Darla is somewhere out there, and I don’t need to see someone sing karaoke to know that the series’ destiny very clearly awaits her return.

However, as the series embraces its destiny in the episodes which follow, we see that the Shroud was a bit of foreshadowing, a sort of preview of what we were about to see. While Angel’s previous high point to date, the Faith crossover, was in some ways dependent on our connection to Buffy and the arcs which started on that series, the run of “The Trial,” “Reunion” and “Redefinition” feels as if it wholly belongs to this series, even with a number of familiar faces in the mix.

This is largely because these episodes are not about Darla, or Drusilla, or about Wolfram & Hart – rather, they are first and foremost about Angel, about who he has become and what precisely he believes he can do. It is not that these other characters lack nuance, or that their stories stop progressing, but rather that their actions all work to force us to reconsider Angel’s heroism. What was once brave becomes reckless, and what was once heroic can very quickly become inhumane – Angel makes decisions which would to an outside observer make one believe that Angelus had in fact returned, but we see enough to know that his soul is perfectly intact.

It is simply the soul of a soldier, is all.

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Cultural Catchup Project: One Past, Two Perspectives (Buffy and Angel)

One Past, Two Perspectives

July 26th, 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.

Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter has said that he has no intention of ever using flashbacks for the FX series, which some might find odd considering how much of the series is based on an earlier generation of conflict regarding SAMCRO’s founder, John Teller. However, each season of the series has a tightly constructed arc, and so much of its drama depends on capturing the intensity of the Sons’ daily lives that flashing back would likely disrupt any sense of momentum.

And yet, for network series with similarly complex backstories, flashback episodes are almost a necessity: with 22 episodes to deliver each year, as opposed to the 13 offered on cable, flashbacks are a good way to kill some time between major story arcs, or fill in some necessary exposition heading into a new story arc, or to simply have some fun by featuring a character who everyone seems to enjoy. “Fool to Love” and “Darla” are both flashback episodes, and even flash back to the same scenes in two instances, but they represent two distinct types of flashback episodes, which becomes clear when watched together (as they would have originally aired).

I want to talk a bit about how each series uses its respective flashback episode as a standalone piece, but I also want to look at how they work as parts of their respective seasons: while “Darla” is very clearly part of the series’ narrative arc, “Fool for Love” has a unique relationship with the momentum built by “No Place Like Home” and “Family” which offers a different take on the potential function of flashbacks.

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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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