Thursday, March 7, 2013

Character Study: Wesley Wyndam-Price

Over the past couple of months I've been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer all the way through, and re-watching its spinoff, Angel. This re-introduced me to one of my favorite characters, Wesley Wyndam-Price. Wesley has a wonderful arc across his time on both shows, not only developing and evolving but somehow also managing to stay true to himself.

Significant spoilers for both shows are coming. You've been warned.

We first meet Wesley, played by Alexis Denisof, in season three of Buffy. After Rupert Giles is deposed as Watcher (read: mentor) to slayers Buffy and Faith, Wesley is sent by the Watcher's Council as replacement. In those early days he serves a foil for Giles. Where Giles is often stuffy and forced into the roll of restraint and experience, Wesley is new, but very arrogant. As head boy he exhibits every preppy, academic nancy boy trait to the maximum. Giles is often reserved and shy, Wesley thrusts himself in to the forefront, only to gloriously fail out of clumsiness or inexperience. In Wesley we are introduced to a smart, but insecure fellow who is constantly trying to prove himself.

Over the course of his arc, Wesley will make many mistakes, but almost always from trying to do the right thing. First we see him struggling to assert his position of superiority over Buffy and Faith, neither whom have any notion of falling in line with anyone, let alone a nerdy pretty boy from across the pond. Wesley comes into the situation seeing that Giles has given Buffy to much leeway, and he's not wrong in that assessment, but over compensates. Buffy ignores him in favor of her old teacher, and Faith goes inevitably rouge. Faced with losing control of a super powered teenager, Wesley conspires with the Watcher's Council to abduct and reform Faith. This goes less than smoothly.

We next find Wesley in the Buffy spin-off Angel. After his numerous failures in Sunnydale, Wesley was fired from the Watcher's Council and drifted to L.A. to become a 'rouge demon hunter.' He wears a leather coat, carries weapons and tries again and again to be a bad ass, only to fail miserably. After yet more miss steps he joins Angel in his detective agency, serving as resident occult expert and the brains of the early group.

This is where most shows would have left him. In the office with his books and manuscripts, serving as a nice vehicle for exposition when the plot demanded it. But the writers of Angel decided to push the character farther, putting him in situation after situation just to see how he'd act. We soon see his loyalties pitted against each other when the Watcher's Council offers Wesley full reinstatement if he will only betray Angel and allow them to recover the wayward slayer, Faith. Wesley refuses, turning his back on his past and stepping out into a new future, one about helping people rather the accolades of the Council or his father.

Soon after we see Wesley sliding into a position of leadership at Angel investigations. His old clumsy ways recede as his natural leadership abilities and overall competence takes center stage. His countless scrapes with demons and Watcher's training mold him into a capable fighter. Friends with their own issues help him break out of his shell and become more confident. We see the character truly growing.

Again, this is where many shows would have left him. A valid arc of growth, from the bumbling British rich boy, arrogant and inexperienced, to a true instrument in the fight against evil. Then comes one of Wesley's most defining moments. When a prophecy declares that Angel will kill his son, Wesley does everything he can to disprove and discredit it, but sees time and again that it must be true. With no other options he enlists that aid of Angel's enemy, Holtz, not to betray or hurt Angel, but to protect his son. Once more Wesley's best intentions end in tragedy. Holtz (not surprisingly) betrays Wesley, has his lackey slit Wesley's throat and runs off with the kid.

Wesley is expelled from the group of heroes. After recovering from his injuries, Wesley strikes out on his own. He becomes a true Demon Hunter instead of merely fancying himself one. He even puts a loose crew together, often taking care of jobs that Angel's group missed, and working with them, albeit reluctantly, several times. It serves as a particularly interesting conflict because both Wesley and his former friends at Angel Investigations have equal reason to feel betrayed and wronged by the other party.

During this period we also see Wesley's relationship develop with the evil lawyer, Lilah. What starts out as an affair of self loathing and comfort develops into genuine affection as Wesley's pure heart can't help but grow attached. It is in this moment that we realize how far Wesley's come. From insecure comedic relief, to a tortured and troubled soul. One that has been darkened by multiple conflicts and twisted by his constant attempts at doing the right thing turning to ash in his hands. This isn't helped when Lilah is fed upon by Angel, now once again Angelus (long story,) and Wesley is forced to chop of her head to prevent her from potentially becoming a vampire.

Eventually Wesley rejoins Angel and his group, albeit as a completely different person. The boyish naivete is long gone, replaced by a collapsible sword wielding badass with little light to hold onto after chopping off his girlfriend's head and his true love, Fred, still dating Gunn.

Time goes on and in the final season of Angel we see the team taking over the evil law firm, Wolfram & Hart. Wesley fights against the places corruption along with the rest of the team, but almost seems more comfortable there, maybe because of his flirtations with the dark side, or his relationship with Lilah. The idea of boyhood, insecure Wesley is permanently put to rest when Wesley's Father comes to visit. Wesley is reverted to his clumsy, weak self and unable to adequately preform in front of his Father, even accidentally activating a bomb (or so he thinks.) His father betrays him, leading to one of my favorite scenes in the entirety of the show.

Wesley and his Father have a stand off on the roof. They argue and vent built up rage at one another. Wesley's Father demands his son to hand over a powerful artifact that could be used to mind control Angel, and Wesley refuses. In a desperate move, his Father attempts to take Fred, Wesley's long love, hostage. He never gets the chance. The second he moves toward her Wesley opens fire, gunning down his Father without a second thought. It turns out to actually be a robot, but Wesley had no idea of that when he shot him. (Again, long story.) This cements Wesley's rise as a truly remarkable individual and forever severs his ties with his past.

At the end of the show, Wesley and Fred finally admit their love for one another, only for Fred to get a serious infection and quite literally be destroyed from the inside out. She dies a very painful death in Wesley's arms, only for a powerful demon to walk around in her body. (And you thought the robot thing was weird.) Wesley is forced to not only see a constant reminder of his one true love, but also to deal with her killer. How does he react, what does he do? This man who had been through so much, who had his throat slit and several of his dear friends die? The man who started out as a pompous book worm, turned want-to-be demon hunter, turned actual demon hunter?

He helps her. He helps the demon after she has lost everything, after her kingdom has been turned to dust. He helps her find her way in a world that confuses and frightens her. Does he do this out of some desire to see Fred again? No. He is told point blank that her soul is gone. And when the demon adopts Fred's appearance, Wesley challenges her for the first time, warning her to never do it again.

So why? Why does he help the twisted evil thing that burned the love of his life from the inside out?

Because it's the right thing to do.

This a quote from the episode "Lineage."

Wesley: "The perception is that I'm weak. That's why they went for me."

Angel: "They're wrong. You do what you have to do to protect the people around you. To do what is right, no matter the cost. You know, I never really understood that. You're the guy who makes all the hard decisions, even if you have to make 'em alone."

Doing what's right, no matter the cost. Alone.

That is Wesley Wyndam-Price. From Head Boy, to Watcher, to Rouge Demon Hunter.

He was a character who fought the good fight, when he had nothing to show for it, when it cost him everything. Various jobs, his friends, even the love of his life. For no other reason, than because it was right.

I hope you enjoyed this article.

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