Morally ambiguous demons (Angel 5.16)

4 Mar


Last week, when I was doing my ep analysis, I was trying to figure out where to put the blurb on Illyria. A demon, yes, and an Old One, but morally–was Illyria evil or morally ambiguous?

I decided to talk about “the evil of…”, mainly based on Its Old One status. A piece of Buffyverse mythology going back to WttH/The Harvest, repeated in many episodes since, describes how demons once ruled the Earth and were driven into the demon dimensions by the arrival of humans.

In Happy Anniversary, Lorne describes how it is part of demon religion that someday the demons would take back what was once theirs. Hence, we get the repeated Armageddons of Prophecy Girl, the Zeppo, Doomed, etc.

And why is this “evil”? Well, it isn’t, from the demon’s perspective. But it is the end of the world from the human’s perspective–their cultures, certainly, and most probably their lives. So I dubbed Illyria “evil-as-destruction”, armageddon.

And the first half of “Shells” supported that. But we should have learned even as early as Season 4 of BtVS that the “black and white” people-good/demons-and-their-agendas-bad was no longer to be taken at face value in Joss’s story-telling.

Even before Illyria finds Its temple in ruins, you got the sense of a demon conflicted. Why waste any time at all on pittances like Wesley or Angel? The vulnerability in Illyria might just have been Amy Acker showing through the tough demon warrior she was playing, but I think we were supposed to see that. And of course, it comes out in spades after Illyria discovers Its temple in ruins.

Illyria isn’t just Illyria. Fred’s memories are seeping into It, and perhaps Fred’s moral sensitivities (her soul) as well.

Last week, in some unspoiled spec-talk with redredshoes, I expressed the belief, now more a hope, that the Illyria story line isn’t about killing Fred (the last regular female character on the show). It’s about ME creating a situation to showcase just how corrupted the others have become. How Machiavellian they are now–the noble ends (saving Fred) justify any means.

Because slowly, that’s how they have become. Wolfram and Hart has changed them into men who torture people for information, who compromise with evil demons and humans, who contemplate the assassination of human enemies with particle beams, who let some no-doubt morally ambiguous bauble enter the country in exchange for knowledge and power. What won’t they do when it’s Fred who’s in danger (and its partly their own fault)?

Joss, I suppose, picked on Fred as the crucible because she has been written as the least corrupt of all of them. And because, despite his lip-service to feminism, he still finds he can tweak audience emotions with the damsel-in-distress, no matter how much she protests that she’s not one as she lays dying.

So I’m still hoping the gang will find some (hugely morally sticky) way to save Fred, perhaps drawing her out of Illyria somehow. That Fred’s “soul” (her spirit? essence? Agh!) wasn’t so much destroyed or consumed as assimilated into Illyria. And it’s effecting Illyria even now, making It connect to the laboratory where Fred worked, and to Wesley, and to a decision to cope with the world as it is now rather than destroy it (and maybe, eventually, to Fred’s lost memories of Connor? Unless they’re in a jar in the Psychic Component Storage Facility).

Or not. Maybe in the next episode, Illyria will decide, “Screw that, I’m taking over this berg!” Perhaps Wesley in unthinking sentimentalism, will help It. Become Connor post-blood letting in “Magic Bullet’ to Jasmine, a willing co-conspirator.

But been there, done that.

Still, it’s possible that this is the end for Fred. If it is, indeed, the last season of AtS, Joss might just decide to let her die despite all the extremes her friends go to to save her. Just as long as episode 22 doesn’t give us the “Forever Knight” ending to the series. Everybody dies! I hated that. Took away every wish and hope I had for the characters in every episode before that. Made it hard to rewatch any episodes subsequently, because what was the point.

Well, those are my thoughts on 5.16. Oh, except for one other thing. I didn’t like the song at the end of the episode. Oh, there was nothing wrong with the song in itself, it just wasn’t Angel the Series. While it went along with the Fred-leaves-home moment at the tail end of the episode, it was inappropriate for the shots of the other characters prior to that. It would have worked great for a reflective montage of the characters on BtVS, but not on Angel. AtS isn’t a “folky-ballad” kind of show. An instrumental would have worked better. Something a bit mournful. A Cello.

37 Responses to “Morally ambiguous demons (Angel 5.16)”

  1. dlgood March 4, 2004 at 10:00 am #

    Wolfram and Hart has changed them into men who torture people for information, who compromise with evil demons and humans, who contemplate the assassination of human enemies with particle beams, who let some no-doubt morally ambiguous bauble enter the country in exchange for knowledge and power.
    What I found interesting, was how Wes turns onto Gunn. This is just the culmination of the ethical compromises they’ve been making since day one – when they went and got Corbin Fries acquitted.
    I also thought Gunn’s secrecy and Wesley’s anger were interesting echoes of “That Old Gang of Mine” and the final scene of “Conviction”.
    From buffyworld.com:
    ——–
    EVE
    It’s very simple, really.
    (to Harmony) Thank you.
    (to the group) Charles agreed to let us enhance his mind with a comprehensive knowledge of the law.
    Gunn uses a cigar cutter to snip the tip off of a cigar.
    WESLEY
    Without asking us?
    GUNN
    Mother, may I?
    FRED
    Without telling us?
    GUNN
    ‘Cause I knew you guys would freak. Look, it’s me here. They didn’t evil me up. All I got stuck in my head was the law. And for some reason, a messload of Gilbert and Sullivan.

  2. ponygirl2000 March 4, 2004 at 10:11 am #

    Well, those are my thoughts on 5.16. Oh, except for one other thing. I didn’t like the song at the end of the episode.
    And I thought you would have liked all the mentions of “Home” in the song! 😉 I agree though it was more of a BtVS moment.

  3. neshaffer March 4, 2004 at 10:15 am #

    Wesley has certainly gone from book-man to “If it offends me, shoot it, ask questions later”. Talk about not wanting to be what you used to be. Of course Wesley forgets the crucible that turned him into “Beard-stubble-and-guns” Wesley. Or at least the entirety of it.
    Gunn is now all about rationality and deductive reasoning, but the insecurity that lead him to lie to the gang in “That Old Gang of Mine” remains. It’s notable that AFTER he realized his error allowing the crypt to come into L.A. and thus making it possible for Illyria to be born into Fred, he kept quiet, thereby closing off an avenue of saving Fred from Illyria before Fred subcumbed.
    And Wesley stabbing Gunn. Ooof!
    Of course, when the Senior Partners gave Gunn his lawyer powers, there was no evil mind-control whatever sneaked in at the same time. It was exactly what Gunn thought it was–just knowledge. The power that came with that knowledge was what the SPs hoped would corrupt Gunn. And not corrupt in some malevolent way, but simply by feeding on Gunn’s insecurity. He doesn’t want to be who He was, even though all that potential was already in him before he got the knowledge upload. If Gunn had had the opportunity, he could have gone to college and law school without any upgrades at all, and become the professional he is now. There was nothing wrong with what he had before. But low self-esteem and life circumstances put him in a position to be lured. And he was lured.

  4. dlgood March 4, 2004 at 10:26 am #

    It’s notable that AFTER he realized his error allowing the crypt to come into L.A. and thus making it possible for Illyria to be born into Fred, he kept quiet, thereby closing off an avenue of saving Fred from Illyria before Fred subcumbed.
    Although, by the time Gunn learns this, Wesley has already run off with Fred – taken her away from the one place where people might have been able to help. And Angel even notes, that he wasn’t able to reach him. Even if Gunn had wanted to tell Wesley, it wouldn’t have mattered.
    My comment’s about ToGoM aren’t just about Gunn. It’s about Wesley too.
    ————-
    Wesley: “It’s never easy – the pull of divided loyalties. – Whatever choice we do end up making we feel as though we’ve betrayed someone.”
    Gunn: “Yeah.”
    Wesley: “If you ever withhold information or attempt to subvert me again, I will fire you. – I can’t have any one member of the team compromising the safety of the group, no matter who it is. If you do it again you will be dismissed, bag and baggage, out of a job onto the streets.”
    ————
    And then Wesley, would go on to sin against the group, and in a somewhat similar way. Whereas Gunn’s was a “petty” sort of sin, Wesley’s was rather “grand”. I’m wondering if this is foreshadowing something about Wesley in later S5.

  5. neshaffer March 4, 2004 at 10:37 am #

    And I thought you would have liked all the mentions of “Home” in the song!
    [sarcastic mode] Yeah, because “Home” was my favoritist AtS episode ever! [/sarcastic mode]
    Actually, I didn’t notice the references to the word “home”. I was mostly cringing at how non-AtS the song and its general sentiments were.

  6. neshaffer March 4, 2004 at 10:43 am #

    Yep, when you mentioned “TOGOM”, Wesley’s warning to Gunn was the first thing that popped into my mind, “Gunn lied again”. But then it slipped my mind by the time I made my reply.
    When Wesley withheld information about “The father will kill the son”, he committed the same lie of ommission as Gunn, but with larger consequences. Of course, Wesley doesn’t remember that particular lie. Gunn’s lie in “TOGOM” was not Connor-related, so they probably remember that.
    I don’t think it’s foremost on Wesley’s mind, however. He’s very much in the present, about punishing whomever aided and abetted his losing Fred, regardless of who it is. He’s all about extreme reactions. I think we will see him go to further extremes in future eps, especially if he suspects there is a way to get Fred back.

  7. dlgood March 4, 2004 at 11:02 am #

    I always thought TOGOM was pretty key in Gunn’s mind w/respect to Wesley and the group. He gets reamed out by “the Man” and reminded of his place in the power structure. And his feelings of inferiority simmer, but he dealt with it because he feels guilty and because he believes Wes was right. But he still felt patronized.
    Am very curious to see where this goes.

  8. buffyannotater March 4, 2004 at 11:27 am #

    What I found most interesting about Illyria was she wasn’t cut-and-dried evil. In fact, almost all of her actions in this episode can be explained as self-defense or self-preservation mechanisms. All of her attacks on the gang were after they had threatened her. In fact, at some points she avoided an all-out attack, such as when she manipulated time so she could leave the science lab. If you examine the entire story from her perspective, assuming she’s telling the truth, she didn’t devise of the plan to be brought back. Others did that. Unlike Jasmine, she didn’t come with the specific purpose of digging her way into Fred and taking over her body. That is just what happened. She woke up in this “shell” and here she was in this world she doesn’t understand. Even her quest to get back to her temple can be seen as self-preservation, to restore the world to the way it used to be, rather than an outright malicious act. Like Jasmine, she is morally ambiguous to the point that you could question whether she really is evil at all. Which makes her a wonderful subversion of what we expect when a demonic force takes over someone’s body, particularly for those who complained this would just be a retread of DarkWillow.

  9. buffyannotater March 4, 2004 at 11:34 am #

    Joss, I suppose, picked on Fred as the crucible because she has been written as the least corrupt of all of them. And because, despite his lip-service to feminism, he still finds he can tweak audience emotions with the damsel-in-distress, no matter how much she protests that she’s not one as she lays dying.
    Completely unspoiled spec…
    But I think that Joss set that up in order to subvert later. There were so many repeated references to damsels in distress and princesses in the episode, along with the story Fred wrote on her “cave” at the Hyperion about the girl being saved by the handsome prince. I personally think that if Fred does come back, she will save herself.

  10. buffyannotater March 4, 2004 at 11:35 am #

    Btw…
    that second response was a different one than the first. Just realized you might skip the first, thinking I double-posted, if you just checked your e-mail and not the page itself.

  11. deevalish March 4, 2004 at 12:28 pm #

    Chiming in on the not-liking-of the song at the end. It was just too “everything” and it absolutely didn’t fit the show.

  12. neshaffer March 4, 2004 at 12:30 pm #

    I am curious, too, because in some sense, you can interpret Gunn’s whole story line in seasons 4 and 5 in racial terms. The gang treated him like the “muscle” because he was black (relegated to the physical, not mental tasks) when in fact Gunn has a superior intellect and only needed the opportunity to show it. But Gunn started buying into that belief system himself, at least as it regarded himself. Can he find his way out without self-destruction?

  13. neshaffer March 4, 2004 at 12:38 pm #

    Well, it would be interesting if it HAD been a retread of Evil Willow, because that story line was all about the darkness and corruption in Willow, and this story line is about a demon who takes over Fred’s body. Not on purpose, as you point out (like Jasmine), and probably not as part of any plan made by Illyria Itself, but by Its misguided human followers.
    I mean, jeesh, Knox, get a brain, guy.
    I like your thoughts on Illyria’s motives. There is potential ep analysis quotage in that.

  14. neshaffer March 4, 2004 at 12:48 pm #

    My Fred theory
    …Joss isn’t as much of a Fred-worshipper as people think he is. His actual intention is/was, not to kill Fred, but to give Fred an “Illyria make-over”. The gang is able to draw Fred’s essence out of Illyria and kill of Illyria, but season 6 Fred would have/will retain a lot of her traits, making for a tougher, butcher, cool Fred who can swing a mean sword.
    Or maybe that’s just my fantasy. ; )

  15. neshaffer March 4, 2004 at 12:51 pm #

    Re: Btw…
    I personally think that if Fred does come back, she will save herself.
    I hope so. Everyone of her friends is looney-tunes at this point! ; )

  16. buffyannotater March 4, 2004 at 12:56 pm #

    Re: My Fred theory
    If it is a fantasy, it’s a very, very cool one!

  17. dlgood March 4, 2004 at 12:58 pm #

    I think it’s both race and economic/social class.
    There’s that part of Gunn that always felt out of place, not just because he was black, but because he was always poor. And at W&H – he’s still that poor street kid surrounded by cultured elites.
    To this point, I think Angelus was the only character that every directly raised the race issue to Gunn himself – though Lilah played upon it with Wesley. On the other hand, that wealth/social issue has come up before in many small ways.

  18. buffyannotater March 4, 2004 at 12:58 pm #

    I like your thoughts on Illyria’s motives. There is potential ep analysis quotage in that.
    Ooh! [ears perk up; cheeks get all red and blushy]

  19. neshaffer March 4, 2004 at 1:05 pm #

    I have this little pet scenario where the director or someone picked it, and Joss only discovered it was there at the last minute, when they didn’t have time to find something else (like a nice Cello solo) so they had to go with it.
    Yech.

  20. neshaffer March 4, 2004 at 1:16 pm #

    Re: My Fred theory
    Well, it obviously IS my fantasy, since I am unspoiled, but …I could deal with it being canon as well!

  21. coffeeandink March 4, 2004 at 1:16 pm #

    Joss posted on the Buffistas board to say he’d written the montage and picked out the song himself. Sorry.

  22. neshaffer March 4, 2004 at 1:28 pm #

    Both of the references to Gunn’s race didn’t have to do with black stereotypes so much as comparing Gunn to another black person (Othello), or commenting on the color of his skin (“Fred prefers black”).
    So it’s possible that to subsume all the concerns Gunn has about his status at A.I. (“I’m the muscle, I’m not the idea-man, I’m the lowest employee on the A.I. totem pole) to his socio-economic status (he grew up in a poor neighbhorhood, was an orphan, had to fight demons at a young age, had to take care of his sister, didn’t finish high school, much less have any opportunity to go to college, etc).
    Still, those two things (race/socio-economic status) are not independent of each other in our society, so not in an understanding of Gunn, how people treat him, and how he thinks of himself, either.

  23. dlgood March 4, 2004 at 1:35 pm #

    Still, those two things (race/socio-economic status) are not independent of each other in our society, so not in an understanding of Gunn, how people treat him, and how he thinks of himself, either.
    Yup, yup.

  24. neshaffer March 4, 2004 at 1:36 pm #

    It all depends on how they play out Illyria in upcoming eps. But since we won’t be seeing those any time soon, there will be room for interpretation about Illyria’s moral status. A lot of good thoughts on that from you and other LJers today.

  25. neshaffer March 4, 2004 at 2:03 pm #

    OK, maybe he’s more far-gone than I thought! ; )

  26. atpolittlebit March 4, 2004 at 4:12 pm #

    And there I was, thinking “how very Fred.”

  27. arethusa2 March 4, 2004 at 4:36 pm #

    Spoiler for Fray
    Or maybe she will save everyone. What if by teaching Illyria to value human life, they return to valuing it themselves? If there is a big battle coming, an Old One would come in handy if she decided to work on their side, for balance if no other reason. It could potentially lead to the demons ceasing to use humans as the means of maintaining balance between the “gods.”
    Could Whedon now want to eliminate demons from the Buffyverse, as was told of in Fray?

  28. neshaffer March 5, 2004 at 6:22 am #

    Yes, it was very Fred.
    But it clashed with Angel, Spike, Gunn, Wesley, Lorne and Wolfram and Hart.

  29. neshaffer March 5, 2004 at 6:27 am #

    Re: Spoiler for Fray
    Could Whedon now want to eliminate demons from the Buffyverse, as was told of in Fray?
    That would be an interesting development, but only interesting if this is, indeed the last season and there are no hope of movies or anything. We need a few demon nemeses if there are stories still to be told.

  30. neshaffer March 5, 2004 at 6:37 am #

    Re: My Fred theory
    Yeah, it occured to me that he might be killed off too, not the least because of suicidal despair.
    But after the heat Joss got with the dead lesbian cliche, I doubt he wants to deal with the heat of the dead black guy cliche’.

  31. angels_nibblet March 5, 2004 at 5:07 pm #

    Re: OK, maybe he’s more far-gone than I thought! ; )
    Well….. Fred was a country-music fan :-S
    Agreed though, my first thoughts were “That’s more of a Buffy song.” but it does feel appropriate for the character of Fred…
    So I’m not sure whether I liked it or not 😐

  32. neshaffer March 5, 2004 at 5:26 pm #

    Re: OK, maybe he’s more far-gone than I thought! ; )
    I look at it this way. I nice melancholy Cello instrumental that captured the pain, angst, sorrow and guilt of the boys over at W&H would have also captured angsit of the poignancy of seeing Fred one last time in her happier days.
    It’s like when they had that teen-agery sorrowful ballad song for the gang’s angst in s. 6 of Buffy and Giles was leaving them all on a plane to England, but you never thought, “You know, that song just *isn’t* Giles” because it suited the other characters in the montage.
    Pick the song that suits the majority of the characters in a montage, and you won’t notice a bit of out-of-placeness for one character. But they picked a song that suited only one character (albeit, the tragic character) and it clashed against all the other characters.

  33. oyceter March 5, 2004 at 11:37 pm #

    Love the thought of the potential S6 Fred as ass-kicking Illyria hybrid ^_^. The sad thing is, most of me doesn’t want them to bring back Fred because I think Illyria is so much more interesting and faceted (and waaaay hotter, hee).
    Also felt such a Connor-shaped hole/shell through the entire episode.
    And agree about the montage. Way too Buffy for Angel. Worked for Tabula Rasa. And Becoming. And I’m sure I can name tons of Buffy eps with them, but it’s not Angel.

  34. neshaffer March 6, 2004 at 8:12 am #

    The sad thing is, most of me doesn’t want them to bring back Fred because I think Illyria is so much more interesting and faceted (and waaaay hotter, hee).
    You’re not the first fan I’ve heard this from. It seems to be an opinion being bounced around a lot. Fred has never been a favorite character of mine, but I think she deserves a little bit more respect than that. I’m not saying you’re disrespectful, I mean primarily from ME.
    If they just wrote Fred off and replaced her with a different character played by Amy Acker, especially in response to low fan opinion of Fred (and even worse, in a ratings boost move), it seems cheap.
    I would love to see Fred return, and be Fred, but have new tougher, perhaps more morally ambiguous personality traits gained from her “lllyria experience”.

  35. oyceter March 6, 2004 at 9:00 pm #

    I understand… although I didn’t feel like they were doing it because of low fan opinion of Fred. That’s probably because I was reading Joss’ take on Hole in the World and that letter about how hurting Fred was the most effective way to hurt the group. So in my mind it was more a use of Fred Sue one last time.
    But yeah, just offing a character for a more popular darker version is pretty cheap.

  36. neshaffer March 6, 2004 at 9:12 pm #

    I was reading Joss’ take on Hole in the World and that letter about how hurting Fred was the most effective way to hurt the group
    And, like I said in my review above, a good way to play with the audience’s emotions as well. More so than if it had been Gunn, Wesley, Angel, or even Spike in mortal danger.

  37. neshaffer March 15, 2004 at 9:21 am #

    Re: My Fred theory
    If one more person dies, *I’m* gonna croak myself. Too much death of major characters this year.

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