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Transmutation: A Character Study - Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (Angel and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer)



Note: This article was written by Kollin Lore who graciously wrote it despite the fact he was heading out on vacation. So please direct all credit for this article to Kollin.

When we talk about great characters in the history of television, it's hard not to mention those who populate the 'Whedon-verse.' Both Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel dealt with such relatable and heady themes over the course of their respective runs. Themes of growing up and redemption, among others, that will continue to stand the test of time as they are engrained in who we are as human beings.

The topic of favourite character is obviously debatable (mine is Spike), but when it comes to who is the most fully realized character in the Whedon-verse, it is no argument that that distinction goes to Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. While some characters in the Whedon-verse encapsulate one or several of such themes as redemption, love, friendship, family, failure, hope, tragedy, growing-up, triumph, sacrifice, empowerment, and betrayal, Wesley is the only one who represents them all.

Introduced as a prim and proper watcher we slowly see Wesley transform into a leather clad Rogue Demon Hunter, consumed by condemnation and wrath. He would eventually add to his collection of books, crossbows and other weaponry, transitioning from a bumbling, comic relief type of character to a tragically broken anti-hero. His transformation is often noted as being Shakespearean-esque, portrayed wonderfully by English actor Alexis Denisof, and it is often heartbreaking and agonizing to watch the pains that he goes through.

What makes Wesley so fascinating was how organic his transformation was, there was nothing random about his progression. In his early days of Buffy, even though he was all proper and British like, we saw shades of the man he would become because from day one he always strove to do what was right, and that led both to acts of heroism, but also to his corruption. Because sometimes doing what's right is not exactly doing what is morally good.

One instance of this is in 'Consequence' (Buffy; 3.15) when Wesley kidnaps an emotionally unstable Faith to bring her back to the Watcher's Council for rehab. Wesley is completely uncompromising, to him it was the right thing to do. He sees the world in black and white, and in his mind, Faith needed to be helped and he was willing to take her against her will to achieve that. His actions, like many he would make in the future, would alienate him from the team, even though he does it for the benefit of the team.

Wesley's antagonistic relationship with Faith continues in Angel in 'Sanctuary' (1.19). Unlike Buffy and Angel, Wesley is human and he is vulnerable and we are reminded of that when he is being tortured by Faith. At episodes end, Faith ends up being forgiven by Angel, who realizes that she understands her misdeeds and that she is capable of finding redemption. Wesley is disgusted by this and he let's Angel know of his disapproval. Again, we see an uncompromising figure who will hold on to his beliefs and let it be known, regardless of whether he has the support of others. What's scarier is that we see a Wesley that is a bit more confident in his beliefs than usual.

This need to do what is right, however, propels him to great acts of heroism, making him one of the more competent allies of Angel in the spin-off. For example, when the evil Angelus briefly returns in 'Eternity' (Angel; 1.17) following the breaking of his curse, Wesley is the one to stand up to him and fight him - putting his life at risk to save Cordelia and others.

Wesley would continue to be both the brains and the heart of the team throughout the course of Angel, though his life continues to be not without tragedy. In season 3 Wesley's uncompromising personality begins to show in full force, and we begin to see him heading down a very dark pathway.

After Angel's son Connor is born, Wesley comes across a prophet that predicts "The Father Will Kill The Son." Wesley goes on to do the unforgivable by kidnapping Angel's son to save him. Connor ends up being taken by Wesley from Holtz, who slits Wesley's throat and brings Connor into a hell dimension. While recovering in a hospital, Angel tries to smother him to death, and eventually, Wesley is left alone and alienated from the rest of the team. Throughout the season we see him separated and consumed by regret and anger at himself. He would eventually embrace the pain and would go as far as making out with the devilish Lilah from Wolfram and Hart, who convinces him that, like her, he has lost his soul.

But Wesley proves, as aforementioned, the conquering spirit of humanity. It is through his pain that he finds purpose and he would eventually rejoin the team after saving Angel at the beginning of season 4; somewhat redeeming himself.

However, it does not end. Wesley's problems are further compounded later on in the season when the love of his life, Fred (Amy Acker) is possessed and killed by the demon known as Ilyria. Wesley murders Knox, who brought the demon into earth, and stabs Gunn for having an indirect role, and begins to fade further into the depths of his rage and anger, getting lost in endless bottles of whiskey.

In a very heartbreaking episode we see Wesley still holding on to Ilyria, as she is all that is left of Fred. We see him showing Ilyria the way of the world, he loves Fred and cannot let her go. It this undying love for a woman no longer in the world that further plunges Wesley into his grief.

Eventually, Wesley would take part in Angel's final battle against evil and Wolfram and Hart. Unfortunately, he would confront a mage much stronger than him, and meet his demise. Ilyria eventually comes in and, at his request, turns back into Fred and holds him in her arms as he takes his last breath.

For the first time we see Wesley completely content, free of all the pain and wrath. He looks at Fred and he realizes this is what was meant to be. There was no going back after all the tragedies he had witnessed and after all the misguided deeds he committed. Dying to save the world was Wesley's only redemption, and so he takes his last breath in the arms of the one true love of his life.

In Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the one main character to die in the finale was Anya, but her death was written as a casualty of war, and her character was nowhere near as explored.

Spike also died, but he would eventually come back in Angel, his fate left hanging as he continued to fight the good fight.

Wesley's arc, however, is poetic. He is the only character who had a definitive beginning (narratively speaking) and an end, and that end had meaning to it. At the peak of his wrath and pain, he found redemption through death. Wesley died for doing what was right, and this time, his actions did not alienate him, but would go on to be mourned and honoured by his friends in the final battle. And it is for this very reason, that Wesley Wyndam-Pryce is honoured as not only the most transformative character in the Whedon-verse, but in all of television.

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