[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Drew Goddard | Director: Terrence O Hara | Aired: 04/21/2004]
Angel continues its run to the finish line with another entertaining and coherent outing. “Origin” not only closes a lot of loose plot threads from previous seasons, but also does it in a way that is seamless and fun. On the deeper side we get some interesting discussions around the nature of memory and continued drama out of Wesley. This is the only Angel episode I have reviewed that I feel really puts the whole package together.
While all the individual pieces seem to work in “Origin,” I have to say that it’s not all that easy to pinpoint a clear theme or meaning in it. To kick off some thoughts, though, let’s think about the title. The main thing that comes to mind is the episode’s musings on memory and what role it plays in determining who we are – or, in other words, what’s the origin of our personhood? Is it, as Illyria suggests, just a collection of memories? Or is it more than that? Well, “Origin” explores all of this in words through the beautifully sardonic and inquisitive Illyria, and then in action through Wesley and Connor.
I’ve just got to start with Wesley, who is covered in irony and tragedy throughout most of “Origin.” The opening scene gives us an update on how he is dealing with the loss of Fred, and it’s clear that he’s channeled everything he has left into Illyria. I can’t help but love his confused fascination with her and, considering my own confused fascination with her, I can’t blame him! Still haunted by seeing a bit of ‘Fred’ in front of him every day, Wesley’s now in a bit of a drunken haze.
So it’s safe to say that Wesley’s not exactly in the best of states, and this is all without the tragic history he doesn’t remember involving Connor. For us, who still know his history, Wesley’s actions take on a suspenseful and heart-wrenching meaning that he isn’t allowed to see. For example, it simply kills me to hear Wesley say that Angel has earned their trust. Angel’s snippety insistence that he see Cyvus Vail alone tips Wesley off to the fact that something’s up. Angel increasingly ignores Wesley’s pleas to help Connor, who shows up at Wolfram & Hart after having been hit by a car and getting back up no worse for wear. The increasingly strange response Angel shows to all of this causes Wesley’s suspicions of something not-so-good happening to rapidly accumulate.
It’s in investigating Wolfram & Hart’s records that Wesley digs up some dirt on Angel, which means the entire nature of memory must then be questioned. Illyria argues that we “are a summation of recollections. Each change is simply a point of experience.” Wesley counters that “we are more than just memories.” Illyria, at least for moment, seems to hold the trump card: “And yet Fred changed the moment her memory did.”
Illyria goes on to pose an excellent question to Wesley, when he later finds out that Fred’s memories were tampered with: “Does this change your view of Fred? Is she still the person you thought she was?” It does bring up the question of whether Wesley and Fred would have coupled (forced as it was) at all had it not been for the for all the personality changes that ensued from Vail’s spell on Angel’s behalf. In short: I think not.
Although Angel’s memory spell took away a piece of who Wesley was, it didn’t fundamentally change him as a person. It instead had the effect of setting him back a couple years in his development. More than just our memories, it’s how we act on those memories that define who we are. Our memories are the recollection of these choices and actions. Removing memories doesn’t change us entirely, but it does rob us of the progress we’ve made in our life journey. So while memories are crucial in that they help us learn from our past, they don’t entirely define us. It’s our choices that define us. What Angel did to Wesley by stripping his memories is to remove awareness of his prior choices, which ends up causing him to repeat the past and betray Angel once again by breaking the Orlon Window.
Good or bad, we must be allowed to make our own decisions in life, and then accept the consequences of said behavior. To rob us of the gift of choice in our destinies is to ensure that we never have the opportunity to learn and grow from our experiences. Wesley coming to the decision to betray Angel by breaking the Orlon Window is an obvious retread of what we saw from him in “Loyalty” [3×15] and “Sleep Tight” [3×16].
The memory montage itself finally gives us a clearer picture on just what was taken from Wesley and Connor (the flashes are merged together) during the mind wipe. Most of it is what you’d expect: everything directly related to Connor, the prophecy (The Father Will Kill the Son), the throat slashing, Justine, Angel smothering Wesley, and some Jasmine stuff. The things that are a little bit of a surprise are some of the naughtier moments of Wesley’s bedroom time with Lilah, which are more tangentially related to Connor. So while “Origin” goes to clarify some of what was lost, it’s still a pretty ambiguous picture. But, in effect, all of the major events that went down in Season 3 were dramatically altered or removed.
After all of this, Wesley states that at least he knows who he is now, but Illyria questions that notion. In light of there being competing sets of memories in their heads, which ones are real and which ones are fabricated – does he really know? Wesley’s only conclusion seems to be that the fake ones — the ‘better’ ones — must be used to “endure” the real ones. This is certainly the approach Connor ends up taking (more on this in a bit). But since Wesley was already beginning not to trust Angel before finding out Angel took away some of his memories, along with witnessing Fred’s death, he simply doesn’t have it in him to really handle all of this. We’ll find Wesley to be completely scattered in “Time Bomb” [5×19]. All of this turmoil goes to hint at his ultimate fate.
The one thing that gives me pause in all of this is Wesley saying the fake memories were created for a reason. This rubs me as a bit unconvincing because I really think he should be a lot angrier at Angel for what was done to him and the others. That Wesley seems so accepting of what happened feels a bit off to me. I suppose one explanation is that he now thinks of himself as wrong in stealing Connor before, and is willing to let this poor action by Angel slide as a way to say ‘okay, now we’re even.’ Interestingly, in “Time Bomb” [5×19] we see a much more frazzled Wesley who will betray Angel yet again by not killing Illyria when asked to. Regardless, Wesley’s emotional temperature in this scene still feels a bit off to me considering what just went down, but I must stress that this is a relatively minor snag in an otherwise fascinating outing for Wesley.
After watching this many seasons in the Buffyverse, one almost has to wonder if any of the writers even know what a disciplined, well-adjusted person actually looks like. With all the broken families, death, and hardship Whedon heaves onto his characters, it’s a wonder any of them are even able to wake up in the morning! That’s what makes it such a pleasant surprise that, here in “Origin,” they give us a convincing example of healthy with the new and improved Connor. This representation of Connor is actually fairly believable as a pretty straight-laced guy living within this nutty universe (not to say that the real world isn’t almost as nutty, because it is).
After Angel learns from Hamilton that the Senior Partners are not responsible for Connor’s situation, we get some really fun and breezy scenes between the two of them. The ‘introduction to demons’ conversation between them in a hallway is quite nicely acted. It’s just so casual and happy that I can’t help but love it. I even let out quite the ‘squee’ when Connor whispers, re Illyria, “I guess I’ve always had a thing for older women,” to which Angel mumbles, “They were supposed to fix that.” That’s both consistent characterization and a little meta fun.
When Connor gets his memories back, after talking way too much with Sahjhan, we can see that the old ones have been merged with the new ones. What this effectively has provided Connor is a ‘healthy psychology’ installation in the brain which allows him to be able to cope with his tragic past or, as Wesley describes it, ‘endure.’ Whereas normal Connor couldn’t live anymore, this Connor can cope. It’s interesting to compare how Connor handles getting his memories back to Wesley. Connor seems to handle it better than Wesley, especially in the long run. Is this because his fabricated personality was so strongly positive that he could better withstand a slew of troubling emotion and memories? I believe so. Wesley doesn’t have a lot to hold onto, because he was even beginning to spiral out of control before he got his memories back. Now what?
Even though things work out well for Connor, it must be stressed that the means to get him there are still not justified, in my opinion. People must be allowed free will to make their own choices unless they mentally or physically cannot. Angel’s actions are not any less appalling just because things worked out okay for his son. It also must be stressed that the memory wipe often created quite the difficulty in figuring out how much the characters knew about themselves up until this point in the season. Even now, with fake and real memories all jumbled together, there’s a bit of chaos in trying to sort out what makes these characters tick going forward. And let’s not even get started on the fact that Gunn, Lorne, and everyone else affected still – and possibly forever – remain truncated people. Although I appreciate “Origin” for throwing us a tasty bone on addressing this whole memory situation, it’s still a case of too little too late for the show as a whole on the issue.
One important question that comes up from all this talk about changing people is just how far you’d go to help ‘save’ a loved one who’s troubled. Do you force change on them, or do you allow them to self-destruct? It’s a tough question. The problem is that Angel side-steps the issue by going so overboard with his solution that he ends up destroying everything Connor was — good and bad — in the process. I don’t believe that can ever be considered a good, even if you’re lucky enough to see a positive outcome from it.
The final conversation between Angel and Connor is quite pleasant, but I’m not sure I buy said pleasantries. In light of the fact we know that Connor did get his memories back, it’s important to note that Connor chooses to return to his new healthy life rather than stay with Angel. It’s great to see him able to make a choice for his life completely free of Angel’s influence for the first time since “Home” [4×22], although I find how understanding he is of what Angel did to be a little unconvincing. In “Home” [4×22] Connor wanted all the lies to stop, and in my review of the episode I pointed out how Angel betrayed that final wish by replacing Connor’s entire life with a lie. While Connor may be capable of handling the burden of his history with this new personality, it doesn’t feel right that he’d be so calm with what Angel did. Healthy personality or not, I’d still be pissed at the guy!
To wrap up the character threads, I’ll end on Gunn. Gunn gets a brief scene where you’ve got to respect his commitment to repenting for his crimes and not slithering his way out his chosen punishment. Gunn understands what he did, and he’s dead serious about making positive changes from here on out, even if that means endless torture in a Wolfram & Hart holding dimension. It’s good to see him taking accountability, even if the punishment seems overly severe for his particular crimes (as if seeing Fred die and getting stabbed by Wesley wasn’t enough).
Cyvus Vail says, “I turned your son into a happy boy, now I need you to turn him back into a killer,” thus putting Angel in quite the pretzel and setting a tight plot into motion. “Origin” not only has a solid plot — which fulfills the prophecy Sahjhan was trying to avoid (which was the impetus behind Season 3’s plot) — but is also a load of fun, has some good character beats, and offers some nice writing to chew on. While I’m not totally sold on Wesley’s and Connor’s responses of realizing what Angel did to them and the others, and the episode doesn’t have quite the punch and depth of other great episodes, “Origin” pulls enough pieces together to be a coherent, solid outing and another success in the lead up to the series finale of Angel. In summary: I had a pretty great time!
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Connor appearing in the opener saying “hey, dad!” The look on Angel’s face…
+ I really enjoy Hamilton. Such an improvement over Eve! I never had a problem with the actor playing Eve, but the writing seemed to just get worse and worse for the character. With that said, it’s hard to compete with Adam Baldwin.
+ Spike and Illyria’s training sessions aren’t all that relevant, but they’re sure as hell fun!
+ Illyria caught roaming around the Human Resources department. LOL.
+ The concept of the Orlon Window.
– The fact that different bad-### demons have huge rivalries. I kind of love knowing that Sahjhan wants to kill Vail. Why does this rivalry exist? Who knows, but it helps broaden the universe and certainly makes me curious.
– Although at least Vail is introduced, I would have preferred if the Circle of the Black Thorn plot had some movement to it prior to “Power Play” [5×21]. It’s one of my few notable frustrations about the end of Season 5.