Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The De-Evolution of Wesley

Recall that I admitted that during my hiatus, I discovered Angel?

(BTW, to hold myself to my own vow, I'm admitting here that I've determined once I've seen all episodes one time, I'll stop TiVoing it every day. I'm half-way through Season 3, so only two and half seasons to go. I'm thinking of maybe Charmed as my next paranormal habit...)

Anyway, yeah, I got hooked on Angel because I've pretty much memorized all of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes but still thirsted for something - anything - taking place in the Buffyverse. I was hoping Angel would feed the need, which it has. But I've gotten something so completely better than more of sexy, brooding Angel.

I've discovered Wesley Wyndham-Pryce.

What an amazing character. From his first appearance in Season 3 Buffy, the man goes from bumbling, naive comic-relief cum accidental antagonist to one of the most tortured dark heroes I've ever seen portrayed on television. By the fifth season series finale of Angel, Wesley is almost, if not more, tortured than Angel himself, the vampire who spent a hundred and fifty years killing, raping and torturing humans only to be cursed with a soul and an eternity in which to feel the guilt. To become darker than Angel is a real accomplishment.

Not that Wesley didn't have reasons for all of his brooding angst. Let's see, he was rebuffed by the woman he loved when she began a romance with a work colleague, but not until after he'd tried to kill said lady-love when he was infected by a misogynistic rage demon. Then the poor bloke went on to kidnap Angel's son because he believed he was saving the tiny infant from being murdered by Angel himself. Unfortunately, the information he'd been fed leading him to believe the baby was in danger proved false, and none of his so called friends allowed him a chance to explain what he'd planned or how he'd been double crossed, instead choosing to villify him and send him into a spiraling depression, suffering from an almost debilitating guilt. He eventually climbed out of the dog house, earned the affection of his true love, only to suffer her death before the two of them could spend any time together. She died in his arms, terrified and in great pain, something I imagine to be beyond horrifying.

The man is cursed.

But he's absolutely fascinating! Never have I been told a story where the hero goes from good and decent and normal downward into darkness and dispair in such a way. Usually, when we meet a tormented hero, he's already dark and tortured. Something in his past - some events that occured off-screen - has already damaged him to such a degree that the story becomes about redemption. Can the heroine (or love, as the more generic case) bring this poor soul out of the darkness and into the light of a happily ever after?

In Wesley's case, we get the reverse. Losing both the love of the woman he wants and the love of his friends sends him falling into a despair from which he never fully recovers. Instead of love healing all, we witness the power of a lack of love to destroy all.

And a big round of applause to Alexis Denisof, the actor who did such an amazing job of taking Wesley from physical prat falls to get the laugh to sobbing as he watches the woman he loves suffer a horrible death, leaving us to wonder if suicide isn't far behind. He went from being nails-on-a-chalkboard annoying to a character I couldn't take my eyes off.

I'll admit I have the canny ability to justify pretty much anything, but I'll say I truly believe I've learned something by my little Angel addiction. I witnessed a character study unlike anything I've ever found.

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