Wednesday, July 21, 2010

#8: Wesley

In Season Three of Buffy, in the wonderful Douglas Petrie-penned episode “Bad Girls”, Faith's slide into evil picks up pace as she accidentally kills the Mayor's deputy, after giving Buffy a taste of the excitement of living above the law. A great episode, it also happens to introduce a new character: Wesley Wyndham-Price, a new watcher, whose pompous demeanour immediately rubs everyone the wrong way. Described by Xander as 'Pierce Brosnan-y', Wesley is mostly a one-dimensional caricature, an arrogant but clueless authority figure, devoid of courage or grit, a butt of jokes, destined surely for the trashheap of annoying characters who get theirs by the end of the season.

Who would equate that character with the one who dies in Illyria's arms in the last episode of Angel, “Not Fade Away”, having been killed by Cyvus Vail? That world-weary character has lived a lot in his years on earth, a lot of difficult decisions, a lot of pain, a lot of down-and-dirty battles... those two characters would barely recognise each other.

Yet so masterful are the writers of these two series (well, Angel primarily) that at no step does the evolution seem forced or unrealistic. Wesley's role on Buffy is limited to that single season, Season Three, where he manages to come in tenth for the season. He appears in nine episodes, though he has a significant role only in one: that début “Bad Girls”, where he's good for 699 words and a number-two finish. His comic relief and embarrassing lusting after Cordelia carry him through to the end of the season, where he's never after seen on Buffy and, I can only presume, Alexis Denisof started looking for new work.

Wesley appears on Angel in the first episode after Doyle's death, and while the writers went to pains to underline the idea that Wesley was not Doyle's replacement, it's really tough to see it otherwise. Almost immediately, he's accepted as a member of the team, and he becomes a central character on Angel, remaining so until that final episode. He speaks in 98 of the show's 110 episodes (appearing in 100), a number second only to Angel himself. Additionally, only 28 of those 98 appearances are minor, with 70 peaturing Wesley in the top five. For all that, though, he ranks number one only four times, outlining his 'supporting' role.

Of his thirteen Season One appearances, only one, “War Zone” with 326 words, is minor. This impressive record gives him a number four finish for the season, with 7360 words just behind Doyle himself. Three number twos include the season finale “To Shanshu in L.A.”, but Wesley's sole number one this season is in “Expecting”, which is actually a Cordelia episode, though Wesley's babbling demeanour gives him 1002 words to Cordelia's 980. While still clearly the same blowhard he was in Buffy, Wesley has progressed to a character with a greater morality, a sense of duty and loyalty, and a valuable team member.

In Season Two, Wesley makes only four minor appearances among 22 episodes, bottoming out in “The Trial” with a mere 110 words. 10,411 words is his highest seasonal word-count, and number three is his highest seasonal ranking (he'll tie it once more). Yet while he gets four number-twos, including “The Shroud of Rahmon” where he serves as a kind of narrator and says 790 words, he gets only one number one. Yet “Guise Will be Guise”, a fabulous episode where he impersonates Angel, is most definitely a 'Wesley episode', and he says 1037 words throughout. This season, Wesley graduates to de facto 'leader' of Angel Investigations during Angel's estrangement, picking up traits of leadership and responsibility. Right from the first episode of this season, the 'new Wesley' is in evidence.

Season Three is a major turning-point for Wesley. Rejected by Fred in favour of Gunn, we start to see darkness in him for the first time, and his sense of responsibility (not to mention unwavering belief in prophecy) leads him to kidnap Angel's son and turn him over to Holtz, a shocking decision that puts his life in peril twice, first as his throat is slit and he is left for dead, and again as Angel tries to kill him. This rift between Wesley and the rest of the group lasts for quite some time and helps to explain why Wesley's role this season, with 7893 words and a number four finish, is somewhat diminished. In fact, though he appears in all 22 episodes, he speaks in only 20, having been left temorarily mute by the throat-slitting. Thus, while his two number-twos, “Loyalty” and “Sleep Tight”, feature the peak of his Connor-Angel-prophecy arc, it might be a surprise that his sole number-one, with 974 words, is in “Billy”, a monster-of-the-week episode featuring a man who can turn other men into misanthropic animals with a single touch. This episode, though, is our first real taste of the 'darkness' within Wesley, and his behaviour, under Billy's influence, is quite frightening.

Season four features Wesley's gradual reintroduction to the team. Yet it's an overcrowded season, one that gives Wesley very little to do except participate as a team member: he's of primary importance again when he takes the lead as Angel disappears into the Angelus character. Ultimately, then, his number five season ranking is his lowest ever on Angel, and his 7396 words almost the lowest. He has two number twos, 723 words questioning Angelus in “Soulless” and 917 words in “Spin the Bottle”, a delightful episode that gives us a sudden flashback to Buffy-era Wesley, a nice reminder by comparison of how far the character had come.

Once the team moves to Wolfram & Hart, Wesley would appear to be in a familiar role, heading up research into ancient prophecies in a central, yet still supportive capacity. Yet when his finally-blossoming romance with Fred is cut short by her untimely death, Wesley enters a downward spiral into nihilism and alcoholism, entering into a complex relationship with the 'old one' who killed her, Illyria. Ultimately a tragic figure by the time of his death, Wesley is much more central to Season Five than it might appear, coming in third overall after Angel and Spike with 9631 words. Two consecutive number-two finishes in “A Hole in the World” and “Shells” reveal his centrality to the Fred-Illyria storyline, and his only number-one of the season, at 1266 his highest-ever word-count, is in “Lineage”, where a cyborg in the form of Wesley's father comes to Wolfram & Hart intent on harming Angel. Wesley shoots this cyborg, believing that he is in fact shooting his father. His absence from the next episode is attributed to time off to recuperate from the trauma, while the real-world reality is that his actor, Alexis Denisof, needed time off to marry Alyson Hannigan, who played Willow.
  • Overall ranking: #8
  • Ranking on Buffy: #26
  • Ranking on Angel: #3
  • Total words spoken on Buffy: 2390
    • Season 3: 2390
  • Total words spoken on Angel: 42,691
    • Season 1: 7360
    • Season 2: 10,411
    • Season 3: 7893
    • Season 4: 7396
    • Season 5: 9631
  • Total words spoken in the Buffyverse: 45,081
  • Total speaking appearances on Buffy: 9
    • Ranking #2: 1
    • Ranking #5: 2
    • Minor: 6
  • Total speaking appearances on Angel: 98
    • Ranking #1: 4
    • Ranking #2: 13
    • Ranking #3: 20
    • Ranking #4: 21
    • Ranking #5: 12
    • Minor: 28
  • Total speaking appearances in the Buffyverse: 107

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