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THE WATCHER: The Path of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce

Friday 26 March 2004, by Webmaster

THE WATCHER: The Path of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce

"Funny thing about black and white - you mix it together and you get gray. And it doesn’t matter how much white you try and put back in, you’re never gonna get anything but gray." - Lilah, HABEAS CORPSES

Amidst the recent death of Fred and the appearance of Illyria, there is another event that you’d think might get a little more attention.

In SHELLS, Wesley stabbed Gunn. Calmly. Without remorse.

And yet, nobody was really all that surprised about this, were they? I wasn’t. Shocked and saddened, yes, but not truly surprised. But, taking a step back, I have to wonder why that is. Why aren’t we surprised? How is it that a character can be that brutal to former friend and comrade-in-arms without a huge outcry from fans? The fact that the wound wasn’t fatal doesn’t explain this away.

A part of it is certainly our anger at Gunn for making the incredibly poor judgment call when his legal knowledge was reinstalled. Actions have consequences. If they didn’t... Well, it wouldn’t be a Joss Whedon show, would it? This has always been one of the main tenets of his shows.

But that isn’t the whole story. A big chunk of our lack of surprise comes from our watching Wesley’s development of the years. Most of the attention might be paid to the undead on ANGEL, but for my money, the most fascinating character on the show is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.

How did Wesley transform from a bumbling rookie Watcher to the composed, ruthless man we see today? Or was there really that much of a change? How much of the current Wes was in the Wes we originally met? I believe that it was all there, and circumstances over the years have brought it to the fore.

Wesley has always leaned on a guiding principle: do what is best in the context of the Big Picture. He looks for the "greater good," the best case for everyone who might be concerned, and acts accordingly. This is a logical goal, one that should ensure as little failure as possible. It can’t usually be faulted. Knowing this, he has often been ruthless in pursuit of that goal.

Let’s look at the earliest example of this viewpoint. The Scooby Gang was faced with a choice in the appropriately named episode, CHOICES: save the captured Willow or destroy the Box of Gavrok, ending the threat of the Mayor’s imminent ascension. Wesley alone was willing to sacrifice one person in order to ensure the safety of the entire community. He supported what he saw as the lesser of the two evils.

If you step away from the affection that we have for Willow (because, really, who doesn’t adore Willow?) and look at the situation objectively, he was correct. Even though Buffy and her army of fellow students stopped Mayor Wilkins shortly after he became a giant demon-snake, many still died on Graduation Day, including Principal Snyder, Larry, and Harmony. These deaths could have been averted if they had sacrificed Willow. And, had they not succeeded in stopping him post-ascension, the death toll could have been far worse.

Another obvious example: as the newly-appointed leader of the rebels on Pylea, he knew that his guerrilla warfare strategy would be fatal to some of the fighters under his charge. As he told Gunn in THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE PLRTZ GLRB, "You try not to get anybody killed you wind up getting everybody killed." He risked the fighters to save Cordelia, but also to help them win their battle, which he believed would help the greater good.

Keeping Justine prisoner in his closet was not something that resembled a "good" act, but it did have a just purpose: finding Angel, which returned the Champion to the world - the "greater good" - as well as repaying Angel for the theft of his son, easing his own self-loathing for his failure.

After breaking Faith out a prison - also not normally considered a "good" act, but one that was necessary to stop Angelus - Wesley assisted Faith with a plan of using a dangerous drug to bring him down (ORPHEUS). He understood far better than Faith the risks involved. Wesley was willing to sacrifice Faith to stop Angelus, serving the greater good. Of course, he himself was the one who had suggested and arranged for the removal Angel’s soul (AWAKENING), which was also in an attempt to serve the greater good.

Hence the problem: this "greater good" thing gets a bit tricky. Instead of being a safe rock that Wesley can cling to, "serving the greater good" has led him astray as often as it has guided him well. Rather than following his heart, Wesley follows his head. This was the way he was raised, but it hasn’t always worked out for the best.

When we first met Wesley, he was a Watcher like his father before him. However, he never won his father’s respect or approval; there are even references to abuse in his early life. The failure to please his family was only the start of a string a failures - some self-perceived, some not - that have plagued him over the past few years. In his quest to Do Good, something instilled in him from birth, his self-loathing increased with each failure. He doesn’t easily forgive himself for any of it.

He failed Faith, his original charge. As the new Watcher in town who first appeared in BAD GIRLS, he over-tried to assert his authority over both Buffy and Faith. He was never accepted by Buffy or the rest of the Scooby Gang. After Faith committed murder, his attempt to capture her and return her the Council was what pushed her over the brink and into the Mayor’s camp (CONSEQUENCES). It wasn’t until she tortured him a year later that he realized the enormity of this first major failure (FIVE BY FIVE/SANCTUARY).

He failed Connor. His attempt to save Connor’s life and protect his "family" - a plan he didn’t share due to the extreme bad timing, with Cordelia on vacation, Fred and Gunn’s budding relationship, and Angel as the perceived threat - resulted in the child being raised in a demon dimension far from those who loved him (SLEEP TIGHT). His exclusion from what was likely his first ever close social group compounded his self-recrimination and resulting bitterness.

He failed Lilah. Their relationship began as a fulfillment of mutual needs - first physical, and then more. Despite their being on opposite sides of the war, they found common aspects of each other and they grew to care for one another. Lilah was killed in the supposed safety of the Hyperion (CALVARY), but most importantly, he could not save her eternally damned soul (HOME). Some contracts are just too binding for anyone to break.

And, most recently, the proverbial straw: He failed Fred. She was his image of perfection, his dream woman. After years of yearning and watching her become involved with other men (first Gunn, then Knox) he’d finally found love with the girl of his dreams... only to have her die in his arms (A HOLE IN THE WORLD). He was helpless to save her, and is now helpless to bring her back, and he is now left with only the image of her.

With each failure, with each loss, his anger at himself grows, but Wesley is not a man who lashes out in words. He becomes quiet and composed, with only his actions and his intensity revealing what is below the surface.

In BILLY, Wesley was infected with magic that brought out a primal anger in men that targeted women. Wes, unlike the other victims of Billy’s magic, was frighteningly calm and methodical as he stalked and threatened Fred. He recognized that this anger came from a well within himself, and it was his extreme guilt at what the magic had caused that hamstringed his efforts at a romance with Fred early-on.

Since then, his anger has manifested in similar ways without being magically induced. In LINEAGE, Wesley received a visit from a cyborg masquerading as the elder Mr. Wyndam-Price. Wes, however, didn’t realize that the visitor was not his father. When this non-father threatened Fred, Wes didn’t balk or hesitate. Calmly, and truly believing that he was killing his own father, he emptied the gun in the creature’s chest to save Fred. It was as if he poured every ounce of stored-up anger and resentment into him with every shot of the gun.

Illyria’s destruction of Fred has made his anger and pain reach a comparable level to what Billy’s powers did to him, and the Wesley we saw in SHELLS was able to shoot an underling for poor prioritizing skills, kill the unarmed yet incredibly culpable Knox, and stab Gunn while staring him straight in the eyes.

However, with Knox dead, non-fatal vengeance enacted on Gunn, and the Fred-like demon Illyria asking for his guidance, Wes is at a crossroads. The good and just path to take now is unclear - he doesn’t even believe that he can teach Illyria about "what’s right." (SHELLS) Plus, as is always the danger, his future interpretations of "greater good" might not be the same as that of his colleagues, and this is a fact that Angel knows only too well. As Eve asks Angel in LINEAGE, "Are you worried about the next time Wesley betrays you trying to do the right thing?"

However, even after all that has transpired, Wesley is still a good man who, deep down, wants to do what’s right. We’ve watched him develop, break, and re-form bonds with the other characters. We’ve grieved with him. We’ve witnessed him repeatedly continue the good fight when he could have walked away. We’ve watched him be just and we’ve watched him be good, including when the two did not coincide. We’ve watched him strive for the light, even when he does so from a dark place.

And so, when he stabs a man that he once thought of as family, there’s a part of us that understands how he got there.

- Written for DARKWORLDS.COM by Amy Berner. Contact Amy at amy_berner@yahoo.com

1 Message

  • > THE WATCHER: The Path of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce

    26 March 2004 13:18, by dromore

    woooo-hoooo some recognition for Wes, he is such a complex guy that there is so much going on inside him that we don’t know about! Wez is, in my opinion, is central to the whole gang, the brain and the guts to do what needs to be done for the greater good, no questions asked no matter who needs to be sacrificed after all what are they in it for if not to save the world. you may need to sacrifice 1 to save the many!!!

    My love to Angel, but how many times has he hesitated with dire outcomes?