Intro thoughts on Pylea
If there was one thing I thought was utterly predictable, it was a Whedonesque seasonal arc. Little bad, big bad, defeat of the big bad, end of season. O.K., maybe there might not be a little bad, but the rest of it? I’m not sure why I had such absolute faith that that would happen in AtS Season 2. After all, Angel didn’t defeat the “big bad” of Season 1. Wolfram and Hart and each of its little minions were still around when the curtain closed on that season. Still, expectations die hard, and I was all prepped for a big final confrontation between Angel and Darla in the final episodes of Season 2, and instead we wandered off into a hell dimension and got a lame story line with melodramatic medievalism, belly-dancing dresses and “cows”.
But it wasn’t evident at first that the entire rest of the season was going to be taken up by that tangent (if you were unspoiled, anyway). When “Belonging” aired I figured it was just a stand-alone to give us more background about the Host, and that the last three episodes would be arcy. Then Cordelia got sucked into a hell dimension. “Well OK,” I thought, “they’ll go in, get her out and then get to the arc in the final two episodes.” But at the end of Episode 20 they were still friggin’ there!!
I went over to http://www.cityofangel.com at that point, and I remember that they didn’t have the title “There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb” for the final episode of the season. They had some other title. And the little picture that was beside the episode title was simply the AtS logo, with the Los Angeles skyline. And so I held out hope that they would be back in L.A. wrapping up the Angel/Darla story line in the final episode. Which of course didn’t happen.
Years later, I would decide this bizarre inability to defeat the seasonal big bad in the final episodes of Seasons 1 and 2 was actually in AtS’ favor. Unlike that *scoff* other show, the superior AtS didn’t succumb to predictable seasonal arc patterns–and even when they did, Holtz was no black-and-white bad guy and neither was Jasmine.
Seriously, though, in retrospect, I wouldn’t have traded the Angel/Darla interaction in early Season 3 for a cooler season 2 ending.
But at the time? I was like, Pylea? WTF? Are they asking to have this show cancelled?
As I understand it, the Pylean arc was planned and written when Julie Benz was unable to come in and finish season 2. M.E. needed some way to fill out the rest of the season, and they did it by creating a metaphorical landscape in which they could explore each member of the Fang Gang. The gang travels into Pylea and the dimension transforms each of them into something different (and yet personally significant) than s/he was on Earth.
Being in Pylea actually physically transforms Angel so that his human and demon sides become more clearly differentiated. The laws and prophecies of Pylea turn Cordelia into a princess. The rebel outlaws of Pylea make Wesley their general. Lorne, the flamboyant demon hiding under hats among humans back home, becomes just another face in the crowd in Pylea. And Gunn? Well, it’s telling that Gunn seems the one exception to all these transformations. In Pylea, he’s just one of Wesley’s soldiers–the “muscle” and an antagonistic advisor. Which actually might be a transformation–into less than he is on Earth.
“Belonging” sets up the transformations to come by exploring each of the characters’ lives as they are on Earth.
We see Wesley talking to the critical father who takes every success his son achieves and turns it into a failure. He is the source of all Wesley’s awkward self-doubt and bullying: I am the pathetic shadow of a man that my father made me, except sometimes I am simply my father.
Overhearing this conversation was like a promissory note–that someday we’d get full, real story behind Wesley’s childhood. Do you think we did? Did Lineage fulfill that promise or just raise more questions?
At any rate, Wesley doubts his leadership abilities, so that’s what will be explored in Pylea.
Cordelia gets an acting job that makes her feel worse about herself than better. Stardom was that thing that was supposed to surround her with appreciative, sycophantic fans like she had in high school. And of course, M.E. is starting to make the visions more and more painful for her, so that she questions her role in Angel’s mission. Is it really worth the trouble?
Gunn gets caught up in divided loyalties (to which I can only say, it’s about time they explored this). When his old friends need his help, he is called to duty by his new friends and can’t be there for the old friends, and then, one of his old friends dies.
And when Caritas is attacked by a Pylean Drokken, the Host (as we called him then) comes to the gang to get help chasing down the beast, but he fails to mention the connection to the home dimension he just wants to forget.
And Angel… well, Angel’s mostly about his need to feel like a champion again after a season of descending into pesky moral ambiguities. But it’s hard to feel like a 100% good guy when you have a demon inside you– a demon who plays significant role in your ability to BE a champion.
Over The Rainbow
So Cordelia gets sucked into a hell dimension, forcing “Lorne” to ‘fess up about Pylea. Angel, as champion and friend, of course immediately wants to hop dimensions and save her. Wesley works on trying to find a way there, but Gunn and Lorne are less than eager.
Gunn is feeling the tug of divided loyalties. George is dead and Gunn, who has been off playing detective with his new “family” all season, suddenly feels that things could have been different if he hadn’t “abandoned” his old gang. In “This Old Gang of Mine” Rondell will say Gunn left the old gang because it was a reminder of the mistakes he made that resulted in losing his sister. I suppose that works as well as anything, but here in season 2, Gunn is realizing you can make mistakes that result in death no matter who you’re working with. At any rate, he is feeling guilty about abandoning his friends and doesn’t want to go to Pylea if the trip there might prove to be one-way.
Lorne of course doesn’t want to go to Pylea at all. He hated growing up there and who can blame him. He may be green and horny like every other Deathwok, but he doesn’t fit in among his own. He blossoms like a flower on Earth, an alien dimension. Who would want to go home to the most alien creatures of all–his own family?
The irony is that the event that gave Lorne the opportunity to find a new home is probably what trapped Fred in his old home. The date of both cross-overs (5 years) can’t be a coincidence. So I’m thinking that either Fred opened the Caritas portal from the library on the other side L.A. before or at the same time she opened the portal in the library, or maybe she inadvertently opened Lorne’s portal *from* Pylea after she crossed over, trying to get back home. But I think we’re supposed to assume that Fred opened the portal that gave Lorne his get-out-of-jail free card.
Anyway, Gunn eventually decides to go with Angel and Wesley to Pylea, and I think it’s because he realizes he can’t do anything for poor dead George, but that he would be making the same mistake twice–abandoning a friend–if he doesn’t try to help rescue Cordelia. And Lorne is ordered to go to Pylea by his psychic friend (and how cool AND hot was she in one five-minute appearance? Wish she could have come back) to finally put to rest all those residual family/origin issues he has.
So the guys gather in Angel’s convertible and set a collision course for Paramount Studios. And both literally and symbolically, they don’t actually get inside the studio lot. Instead they end up in Pylea. Let the transformations begin.
Through The Looking Glass
So yeah, I had problems with the Pylea thing. I mean, seriously. So lame. M.E. is writing a fairy tale and you get the over-the-top melodramatics that go along with it. The beautiful princess. The handsome, earnest hero. Castles. Scary monsters. Evil priests. Damsels in distress. Important Lessons To Be Learned By ALL. I was sitting watching loyally, but my heart was back in L.A. wanting Angel/Darla angst. And if I had actually remembered to ask, “Why do these human-hating demons from another dimension speak English?” I would have blown a gasket. Luckily, I forgot.
Anyway, time heals all wounds I’ve found, especially in my roller-coastery love-hate relationship with My Show, and now I can appreciate Pylea, even if I still feel a bit manipulated by it.
Like Cordelia– who, on the surface, has been given back everything she ever lost and then some–she’s the Queen again, with doting minions and the gorgeous fawning date. But underneath it all, it’s a sham. The real powers of Pylea want something from her–her visions. Well, of course they do! Because Cordelia must learn to appreciate her painful visions, and the way to do that is to threaten to take them away (through, ironically, an act of pleasure).
Meanwhile, the Host has to deal with family issues. Though his cousin seems fairly open-minded, Mom is a bearded bitca. I kind of liked that Lorne got to have his *own* issues, albeit briefly, issues he had to DEAL with. Even when he suffered the loss of his business in season 3, we never saw him grow much from that. He just went right back to being Angel’s helpful side-kick-in-the-pants. Changing diapers instead of reading auras.
Angel’s transformations in Pylea were perhaps the most interesting ones. At first, he is merely transformed into a celebrity. The broody, no-personality, lawyer-torturing dork is someone to be *admired* among the Deathwok. But that doesn’t last long. Angel isn’t going to stand by and soak up the praise when there’s damsels to save. And there is another transformation awaiting him.
Turning into the Angel-beast. This raised some seriously sticky metaphysical issues. Angel goes from near human, standing in the sunlight, seeing his own reflection, to a dumb, mindless beast that doesn’t even recognize his own friends. Wesley explained this as the separation of his human and demon sides “being more pronounced in Pylea”. If *that* didn’t put fans in an uproar. Because if the vampire demon is in its purest form a dumb, mindless beast, then how is Angelus Angel’s demon?
The answer: Angelus is *not* the demon, never was. Which means that the true evil of Angel(us)–and indeed, all vampires–is not the blood lust that fuels his fire, but the HUMAN in him. The unique monster that is Angelus is just Liam himself sans soul, his dark side– his hatreds, fears, angers, ISSUES, fed by blood lust and unrestrained by conscience.
Of course, that’s not the Important Lesson Angel learns in Pylea. The Important Lesson he learns is that “he is not the beast”–that the beast is something IN him, but not OF him. This is supposed to provide a resolution to his season 2 “struggle against darkness” story line, as he learns he is in control of the source of that darkness. Except–in the process of differentiating Angel from his inner beast, Mutant Enemy proved that the worst parts of Angel were from his human side (not that he can’t control that as well, but ME sort of missed the metaphorical mark).
“Through the Looking Glass” ends with Lorne beheaded. Many of us genuinely believed that that was the end for his character. He was introduced in Season 2, so it made a certain amount of sense that he would be gone in Season 2 as well. After all, he wasn’t part of the gang. And Joss had made a habit of randomly killing off well-liked characters–Jenny, Principal Snyder, Doyle, Joyce. There was no reason *not* to believe Lorne was dead. So for a week, we mourned.
There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb
In the midst of all these transformations altering and yet revealing familiar aspects of well-established characters, there was a peculiar, spazzy new face who I rather liked at the time, Fred.
Pylea had also transformed Fred–from an intelligent young woman on her way to becoming a physicist, into a slave with virtually no self-identity. She’d forgotten her name, forgotten how to laugh. And yet, she had a strength in Pylea she seemed to lose once she got back in L.A.
The girl who survived as a fugitive and rolled the bad guys into the Drokken gully became the girl on the pedestal in season 3, there to incite Wesley’s slow path into alienation. And just as she was getting kind of strong again in Season 5, well– What’s the point of saving and slowly re-empowering a regular character when you’re just going to slaughter her like a cow a few years later?? I love Joss, I love his shows, but I got so tired of him killing somebody whenever he ran out of ideas about how to up the drama quotient.
So I’ll move on. To Wesley. Wesley and Gunn’s run-in with the (wooden, melodramatic) human rebels of Pylea results in Wesley being made their General. Why? Because he has a plan. Well, a better plan than the rebels have been able to come up with. Of course, that plan involves sacrificing some men in a diversion so that others can launch a sneak attack, but this is vintage Wesley. He would have sacrificed Willow in “Choices” to stop the Mayor. He tried to sacrifice himself in AtS season 4 to stop Angelus. He sacrifices Angel in Pylea by asking him to fight the Groosalug. Want to win the game? Sacrifice a pawn. Or a knight. Or the king.
Gunn is of course against all this. He doesn’t like losing soldiers in battle. But then, Gunn’s soldiers are invariably his friends and family, not random underlings. Not that Wesley ever let intimacy with anyone get in the way of sacrificing them in the name of The Greater Good.
So Gunn’s journey to Pylea seems to have significance mostly in the decision to go to Pylea in the first place. Once he’s there, he doesn’t seem to have any personal journey of his own; he’s simply there to provide Wesley with another point of view that Wesley then ignores. And in the end, Gunn participates in Wesley’s plan–after all, that’s why he’s there, to help. Oh, and Gunn is also apparently there to explain the concept of “reconstruction after a civil war”. Because you really need a black guy to explain that. And the Gang imparts an Important Lesson about how all intelligent beings are created equal (whether the Pyleans actually understand such a concept is another issue entirely).
Speaking of slavery–the priests have a machine to kill all the slaves in their society? Does that make economic sense to *anyone*??
Anyway, Wesley gains confidence in himself by successfully overthrowing the government, the bad guys are conquered, the slaves are freed, and the handsome prince is put in charge of the kingdom and the fugitive girl is rescued and taken back home.
And so we had the end of season 2, and the end of the back-to-back BtVS and AtS every Tuesday night on the WB. I guess it was sort of fitting, then, that as the dimensions were caving in on themselves over on BtVS, the dimension that the AtS gang were in showed no sign of this whatsoever, not even one stray anomalous dragon streaking across a wound in the sky. I heard that they had planned on having a dragon from BtVS cut across the sky in Pylea, but decided the special effect was too expensive or something.
Despite my dislike for Pylean episodes, I was absolutely excited about the return on the show for season 3. It didn’t occur to me that the show might not come back at all, even though that spring had been the time of the Big Shake-up over Buffy leaving the WB and moving over to UPN. I was blissfully ignorant of the fight Joss had every spring to keep AtS on the air. Ignorance was bliss.