The Fall and Fall of Wesley Wyndam-Price (and Why I Can Watch it Over and Over Again)
I have watched BtVS & Angel, in full, about 15 times each (and Firefly about 6 times, but i’m catching up)
The Rise and Fall of Wesley Wyndam-Price
Angel’s original side-kick was half-demon Doyle (played by Glenn Quinn) but Quinn was killed off toward the end of the season (Quinn died of a heroin overdose in 2003) and Wesley was bought in to round out ‘Angel Investigations”. Initially as clutzy as he had been in Buffy (although a bit more self-aware of his own limitations), Wesley is struggling to come to terms with being sacked by The Watcher’s Council but determined to ‘fight the good fight’ but most importantly, he is a far more sympathetic character than he was in BtVS as much of the posturing and bravado has been knocked out of him and his latent insecurities are now highly visible (most notably to himself) making him more likable, and slightly more effective in the field.
Wes sees Angel as a conduit for him to continue to fight the ‘good fight’ and he willingly attaches himself to Angel Investigations (AI) which is in contrast to the pompous watcher who was more than willing to sacrifice Angel in Buffy S3. Wesley comes to L.A. more aware that the world is not as black and white as he had previously thought – that a vampire could be good (and a watcher could be wrong). But Wes is still a long way off from the darkness that will swallow him in S3 onwards. Season 1 and 2 of Angel sees Wes grow more confident in his own abilities to contribute to Angel Investigations. His demon knowledge and mystical training prove helpful more than once and when Angel is briefly turned into Angelus, it’s Wesley that saves the day – and brings him some praise from Angel himself.
In episode 14 of Season 1 “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, an Ethros demon mocks Wesley about his father: ”All those hours locked under the stairs and you still weren’t good enough. Not good enough for daddy, not good enough for the Council”, giving some insight into Wesley’s relationship with his father and, more importantly, the root of some of Wes’s insecurities. Being no stranger to a monstrous father himself, this knowledge helps to cement the growing relationship between Angel and Wes and gives Wes even more depth for the viewer. (Note: Angel also relates to Wesley’s social awkwardness – shown in Season 1 episode “Rm w/a Vu”
Perhaps the biggest turning point for Wes is in Season one episode ‘Five by Five’ where rogue slayer Faith comes to L.A. and Wesley is forced to confront his failure as her watcher while she brutally tortures him. Not only does Wes stand up to Faith’s test, he triumphs in the end and bears witness to Faith’s emotional breakdown in Angel’s arms. Unable to just ‘forgive’ Faith for what she has done to him, Wes nevertheless sides with Angel against The Watcher’s Council who try to recruit him to betray Angel and capture Faith. By this stage, Wes’s moral compass has been muddied by what he has seen and experienced but he is still essentially a ‘good’ guy and still certain that he can distinguish right from wrong, even if the landscape has shifted.
Season 2 continues along this same line with Wes growing in confidence both in himself and his ability as a fighter and his worth to Angel Investigations. Wes’s immaturity is highlighted through his inability to relate to women and his constant, sibling-like arguments with Cordy. In S2, episode 6 “Guise will be Guise”, Wes poses as Angel in order to save Cordelia and is given the job as bodyguard to the daughter of a warlock. Although clumsy and unconvincing in the part, Wes actually does get the girl and manages to save her in the end, establishing himself as a growing force in the fight against evil and hinting (albeit slightly) at his growing sexual maturity. The relationship of Wes and Virginia is played down (Virginia only appears on about 3 more episodes for a few minutes before the relationship ends) but he is shown to genuinely care about Virginia and we are given a glimpse of a Wes capable of sustaining the romantic interest of an adult woman. Their breakup is sad, but not devastating as Wes and Virginia are clearly no Buffy/Angel but the relationship foreshadows Wes’s growth as a viable romantic partner.
Wes’s overall potential and growth are also bought sharply into focus at the end of the season when the (reunited) gang goes through a portal to save Cordy, it is Wesley who takes control of the rebel army, and more importantly, concedes to Gunn (when questioned about his war tactics): Gunn: Those men you sent to create a diversion are going to get killed. Wesley: Yes, they are. [pause] Wesley: You try not to get anybody killed, you wind up getting everybody killed. This is a central moment for Wes, for not only has he accepted his role as leader but he has crossed a line between thinking that everyone can be saved (white knight) to accepting that sometimes, people are sacrificed for the greater good; we see Wes comfortable in the knowledge that the world around him operates in shades of grey. At the start of Season 3, Wesley is still in charge of Angel Investigations, even though Angel has returned to the fold and even though he is shown to be doing a reasonable job, it is not until episode 2 “That Old Gang of Mine” that we are shown just how far he has come in his ability to lead and his understanding of what leadership requires. This episode calls Gunn’s allegiances into question when he is forced to take choose between his old crew, who are indiscriminately killing off any demon they find, irrespective of whether the demon is evil or not. Gunn is conflicted about the actions of his ex-crew and fails to inform Wes that he knows who is responsible for the killings. This results in the entire Angel Investigations team being put into danger and Angel almost being staked. When the problem is resolved, Wes indicates to Gunn that if he ever undermines his leadership again he will be out of a job without a second thought – Wes demonstrates here again he is willing to sacrifice emotion, friendship or love for the greater good. Most importantly: At the end of Season 2, when the gang all go to Pylea, they bring back Winifred Burkle who was lost in a portal 5 years before. “Fred” is almost insane due to her time as a slave in Pylea but joins Angel Investigations and proves her worth as the resident scientist in the coming seasons. As Fred recovers from her trauma, both Wes and Gunn fall for her and find themselves competing for her affections and although it isn’t apparent at this point, Wes’s feelings for Fred will be the catalyst for the events that will forever change our charming Watcher.
Season 3 – so it’s a sex thing . .
The biggest problem facing Angel Investigations at the start of Season 3 is Darla’s pregnancy to Angel and the subsequent birth of their son – Connor. Wesley and the gang have their hands full chasing off vampire cults and Wolfram & Hart (amongst others) to ensure the safety of the baby and Angel is preoccupied learning how to be a dad. Latent lust hovers between Cordy and Angel as well as the triangle between Fred, Gunn and Wes until a decision to attend the ballet in “Waiting in the Wings” brings things to a head for everyone. Both Gunn and Wes have declared some feelings for Fred by this stage – and both are going to the ballet in anticipation that the night may end romantically. Cordy spurs Wes on as she mistakenly takes Fred’s confession to her to be about Wes and so Wes leaves home in anticipation that things between he and Fred may take a romatic turn. During the performance, both Wes and Gunn make a play to hold Fred’s hand (although Fred is clueless to this) – but Fred remembers that Angel and Cordy are missing and jumps from her seat before either one makes contact – still, visually, the triangle is set out for the viewer
Not everyone’s night turns out as they might have hoped though – the arrival of Groo from Pylea to pick up where he and Cordy left off sidelines Angel from Cordy’s line of sight and Fred finally reveals that it is Gunn that she has her heart set on
Wesley stumbles across Fred and Gunn kissing and is visibly shocked at what he sees, the camera shows Wes’s point of view (POV) to show us what he sees and then gives a reaction shot (see below) which shows Wes’s face in a mirror, obviously devastated. Mirrors are traditionally used to show unbalanced emotional states – shadow self etc and Wes’s rage/jealousy/shock is reinforced through the use of this visual device here. This can be an overused device but both the set and the (retrospective) knowledge of just how much Wes’s inrequited love will cost the whole AI team make it a poignant moment.
Wes initially acts the gentleman but becomes more and more withdrawn due to Fred/Gunn and therefore distanced from the whole gang – Angel is focused on Connor, Cordy with Groo and Fred and Gunn with each other, leaving Wes on the outside looking in. Nobody realises it yet but the aftershock of Gunn/Fred will change Wesley’s life forever – and Fred has no clue that she is the catalyst. In terms of character development, Fred’s choice of Gunn over Wes makes perfect sense: Fred was captive in Pylea for 5 years- she was a grad student when she went there so probably about 22/23 and she doesn’t seem to have had much experience with men – certainly not in Pylea(!!). Gunn is like a cute high school boyfriend, he is warm, he tells her how he feels and it’s like a giant crush whereas Wes is serious from the get-go, he stumbles around his feelings for Fred, unable to articulate anything or help to make her feel comfortable. The introduction of Fred into Gunn’s life allows us to see a mellower side of the street-wise ex-gangster and brings him wholly into the fold of Angel Investigations. For Wesley, the relationship is the springboard for his journey outside of Angel Investigations and it also serves to allow Wes to come to terms with his own masculinity via his relationship with Lilah.
Overshadowing Fred’s choice as well as Wes’s inability to tell Fred how he really feels comes from earlier in the season, in episode 6 “Billy”. In this episode, Wes is infected by a character who stimulates a primal, misogynistic masculinity that results in the infected perpetuating violence against the women around them. Unluckily for Wes (and Fred!) he is alone in the hotel with Fred when this manifests and he is verbally and physically abusive towards Fred – the worst aspect of this is that the abuse stems from Wes’s actual feelings for Fred so his slurs are highly sexualised.. Fred is able to fight off Wes and ultimately doesn’t hold him responsible but Wes is deeply affected and this leaves him ashamed and frightened of the power of his attraction – it makes sense that Wes is immobilised by this fear and that Fred may find Wes too intense for her at this point in time. But narratively, this leaves Wes even more withdrawn and unable to cope with his own strong (now unreciprocated) feelings.
It is at this vulnerable time for Wes (although not revealed until later) that the time-travelling demon Sahjhan manipulates a prophecy to make it appear that Angel will kill his son. Unable to confide in any of his friends like he usually would, Wes turns instead to Angel’s enemy – Holtz. Convinced that Holtz is an honourable man, albeit one driven by (misplaced) feelings of revenge, Wes finds he has more in common with Holtz than he does his own people. Convinced that Angel will inevitably kill Connor, Wes agrees to get the baby out of the way for the upcoming battle between Holtz’s people and his own. And this is where Wesley goes terribly wrong. Little does he realise that he will pay for these choices for the rest of his life – he will further isolate Fred and Gunn (his relationship with Gunn will never fully recover), Angel will never again trust him in the same way, his relationship with Lilah will spiral out of control and his understanding of both the price and the cost of his own choices will haunt him always.
Wes betrays Angel (and the others) by lying to them and kidnapping Connor, Holtz betrays Wes by sending his acolyte Justine to betray Wes by intercepting the kidnapping, cutting Wes’s throat and leaving him bleeding to death so they can escape with the baby (which, it seems was their plan all along). Holtz then betrays Justine by being willing to jump into the dimensional rift caused by Sahjhan in an attempt to get rid of Connor from earth once and for all. Angel, Gunn, Fred and Lorne are all left reeling after they realise that it was not the vampire cults or Wolfram & Hart who they had to beware of but one of their own. Wes’s betrayal (however well-intentioned) has cost Angel his only son and things are never the same again and it was all, in Wes’s view anyhow for ‘the greater good’ and caused by Wes’s isolation from the group and his inability to deal with his feelings for Fred.
Pause for a moment . . .
To reflect on just how far this character has come in only three seasons. The gawky, self-conscious and cowardly watcher first introduced to us in Buffy has long gone. Not only has Wes grown some balls, he’s developed some muscle, some street cred, a sexy 2-day growth, lost the glasses and developed the ability to make hard decisions that blur the line between good and bad. In “BtVS”, Wesley-the-Watcher was very black and white in his understanding of what constituted ‘good’ and ‘evil’. ‘Buffy” Wes was willing to sacrifice Angel and even Willow in order to apprehend Faith and stop The Mayor. “Angel” wrestles with the concept of good vs bad far more overtly than “Buffy” ever did – and while both shows excel in exploring how our choices affect our lives and the lives of those around us, “Angel” pushes the envelope of this concept to show how our choices can and do have irreversible consequences – even when they are well-intentioned. Wes has learned (as have we) that not every ‘demon’ is innately ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and sometimes all we can do is act on the information that we have at the time. The big question raised in this season is whether or not Wes made the right decision? Given what he knew, what he saw, what he found out, was it possible to make a different choice? Did he truly act in an altruistic way or, was he (still) driven only by his own insecurities? (his inability to see past the Fred/Gunn relationship causing him to both withdraw and be vulnerable to outside influences). Wes seems to act out of interest for Connor but does his insecurity drive him to look for the role of ‘Hero’, to prove to himself (and others?) that he is indeed worthy of his new-found respect.
Wes Loves Fred
We all know what happens next, Gunn and Fred locate Wes in the hospital and are able to work out why Wes stole Connor. Fred in particular seems keen to try to understand Wes’s motivations and it is Fred who works hard to identify what happened and it’s Fred who ‘makes’ Angel hear the explanation. With Wes in hospital recovering from his cut throat (but still unable to speak). Fred and Gunn are relieved when Angel turns up to visit Wes – it seems that Angel Investigations may be salvageable after all, despite Wes’s actions. When Angel goes to Wes’s room, he tells Wes that he understands why he took Connor and there is a moment of clarity when both Angel and Wes seem to understand that circumstance/s have brought them to where they are currently: Wes in the hospital with his throat cut and Angel without his only son (remember, this episode is called “Forgiving”). True to form of the season however Angel’s speech is not intended to reassure or forgive Wes but rather to make it even more compelling when Angel attempts to kill Wes by smothering him with a pillow. It’s worth looking at the transcript of this scene to fully grasp just how far from grace Wes has fallen and just how unaware he seemed of this until Angel make it’s very clear:
- INT. HOSPITAL – CORRIDOR – DAY
- Gunn and Fred stand outside Wesley’s room as Angel strides down the hall toward them. He’s feeling a lot of different emotions. Steps next to Gunn and Fred.
- GUNN:It’s good you came, man.
- Angel glances toward Wes’s closed door.
- ANGEL : He ask for me?
- GUNN :Naw, he can’t speak yet. Trachea’s all messed up. Lost a lot of blood. It’s just good you came.
- FRED: He’s not completely out of the woods yet. You being here can only help.
- Again, Angel looks to the door.
- ANGEL: Can I see him?
- FRED: I’m sure he’d like that.
- Gunn and Fred hang back as Angel steps into the room.
- INT. HOSPITAL – WESLEY’S ROOM – CONTINUOUS
- Wesley in bed. Eyes closed. If monitors weren’t displaying his active vitals it’d be easy to believe he was dead. His savaged throat and neck have been bandaged. There are tubes and IV’s hooked into his arm.
- Angel crosses the room, steps over next to him.
- ANGEL’S POV – WESLEY
- Sense someone’s presence, slowly opens his eyes. Sees Angel. Has no fear, just calm acceptance of whatever happens.
- ANGEL: Hey, Wes…
- Angel takes a moment, stares down.
- ANGEL (cont’d) I just… I want you to know I understand why you did it. I know about the prophecies and I know how hard it must have been for you to… do what you did.Wesley stares silently up at Angel.
- ANGEL (cont’d) You thought I was going to turn evil and kill my son. I didn’t turn into Angelus. It’s important to me that you know that. This isn’t Angelus talking to you, it’s me, Angel. You know that, right?
- A beat. Wes seems to.
- ANGEL (cont’d) Good.
- Angel picks up a pillow.
- ANGEL (cont’d) That’s good.
- Angel moves in close, almost lovingly. PUSH IN ON WES. It looks like Angel is going to prop the pillow behind Wes to make him more comfortable. That’s not what he’s doing. He instead covers Wes’ face with the pillow. Smothering him.
- Hold the horrible tableau as Wes starts to (futilely) struggle.
- INT. HOSPITAL – CORRIDOR – CONTINUOUS
- Gunn and Fred waiting for Angel. Gunn takes Fred’s hand, squeezes it. Both feeling a little hopeful for the first time in a long time. Waiting patiently as (they assume) Angel forgives Wesley. And all the time we’re just lingering here. Tick tock.
- Finally, lots of commotion. TWO OR THREE NURSES (two of them male) rush down the hall. Pass Gunn and Fred. Tear into Wesley’s room. A DOCTOR follows close behind. Gunn and Fred exchange a quick look, burst in to find,
- INT. HOSPITAL – WESLEY’S ROOM – CONTINUOUS – ANGEL
- Pressing all of his weight onto the pillow. Wesley’s fighting for air.
- FRED: Angel!
- Monitors are going haywire. Pulse spiking. Oxygen dropping.
- Gunn and the two big male nurses try to pull Angel off Wes.
- FRED (cont’d) STOP IT!
- Fred is screaming, crying and ad libbing.
- CLOSE – ANGEL
- Determined to finish the job. Gunn and male nurses finally manage to pry him loose. And drag him away kicking and flailing:
- ANGEL: You took my son. YOU TOOK MY SON!
- Male nurse goes flying. Angel is back on Wes in a flash. A NEW ORDERLY comes tearing in; again they get Angel dragging towards the door
- ANGEL (cont’d) : I’ll never forgive you, never… I’LL KILL YOU!!
- Gunn and the Orderlies drag Angel out of the room. Fred is screaming and crying. We HEAR terrible commotion outside and Angel screaming:
- ANGEL (cont’d) You’re a dead man. YOU HEAR ME!! DEAD!
- And we HEAR MORE PEOPLE and someone getting thrown against a wall HARD and we RAMP TO SLO-MO and all the sound drops out except for the music and maybe the desperate gasps of Wesley.
- CLOSE – WESLEY - Alone. A broken man. Trying to breathe.
As horrifying as it is to see Angel try to smother Wes and to see Wes’s full realisation of what his actions have cost both himself and his friends, it is Fred’s visit that is the most heartbreaking because of Wes’s feelings for Fred. Fred arrives with some of Wes’s stuff from the office and assures him that she understands why he did what he did – Wes is grateful and they share a brief moment of understanding (reminiscent of the Angel/Wes exchange) before Fred launches into a diatribe aimed at Wes, telling him that he has betrayed them and that he was wrong to do what he did, that Wes should have come to them, trusted them with what he knew. She ends by telling him that he should never come back to the hotel or Angel will kill him and reveals to him that the prophecy was a fake – that Wes has lost everything for nothing.
For Wes (and us) this is more devastating than the attempt on his life by Angel because Wes’s feelings for Fred run deep even though she is unaware of it (or is that because she is unaware of it?). Wes’s (and our) horror is the realisation that he has pushed Fred even further away by his own actions. Part of the mythology of BtVS and Angel is that anyone who is truly sorry, who understands their wrongdoings and atones for their crimes is forgiven – even murderous slayer Faith was forgiven – and it was Angel who refused to give up on her – but Angel is unable to forgive Wes and his assassination attempt is a clear sign that Wes is no longer a part of Angel Investigations.
Is Joss Whedon suggesting that there are some crimes that are so heinous that there is no forgiveness? Sure, Wes lost Angel’s son and betrayed the group, but he did so with the best intentions – or did he? To me, Angel’s (and Fred, Gunn and Lorne’s) inability to forgive Wes is almost counter to the Whedonverse mythology but perhaps this (again) highlights that Wes’s motivations are less impersonal than he will admit, even to himself. Wes could have gone to Fred and Gunn for help/advice but his own insecurities and stifled jealousy/anger toward them both for forming a couple prevents him from doing this. In fact, it is Wes’s self-righteousness that prevents him from being able to fully realise his own culpability in the events of he season. Only when we reach self-awareness of our own part in our choices does forgiveness come and Wes is almost two seasons from that point.
Wes does Lilah (but still loves Fred)
The domino effect that sends Wes into Lilah’s arms/clutches is relatively easy to understand – when Wes tries to explain it to Fred at a later time, he tells her that he and Lilah may have been on opposite sides, but that it was the same war – and (perhaps more tellingly) that it isn’t always about ‘holding hands’. Season four opens with Wes running his own crew with a faux Gunn and Cordy. Angel has been sunk to the bottom of the ocean by (the now returned and teenage) ‘hell spawn’ Connor. Fred and Gunn are left to play mom and dad to Connor and to look for both Angel and Cordy (who has also vanished/taken by Skip to a higher dimension).
We are soon shown Wes in bed with Lilah (even though he spurned her previous advances) and far from the romantic crush that he displays for Fred or the doting boyfriend of Virginia Bryce, not only is Wes and Lilah’s passion aggressive and borderline pathological, as soon as she leaves, Wes opens his closet (!!) to reveal that he has Holtz’s partner-in-crime Justine (who is responsible for slitting his throat) chained and gagged inside. Wes knows she is responsible for helping Connor sink Angel to the bottom of the sea and is forcing her to help him search for Angel at night on a barge he has bought/hired. The Wesley/Lilah connection demonstrates just how far from Angel Investigations Wes has strayed – it is a highly passionate and brutally physical relationship in which both parties are using each other for information as much as sex (although they do seem to develop very real feelings for each other as it progresses). Wesley-the-Watcher was not only incapable of such a liaison (remember his ill-fated kiss with Cordelia?), he would have found it offensive at best. The Wes/Lilah connection shows how Wes has matured into a man who is far more comfortable with the ‘dirty’ side of life and far more in touch with his own desires than he was previously, he has now grown in strength, aptitude and confidence but also in sexuality – Fred’s rejection may have propelled him into Lilah’s arms but, he seems pretty comfortable there. Like any good tragedy, it is Wes’s residual feelings for Fred that prevent him from truly investing in Lilah (as well as his own doubts about Lilah’s ability to love him), so although he has started his own crew and is in an adult-relationship with someone, he is still unable to let go of Fred and we see this several times in season 4 (as does Lilah). Wes and Lilah’s initial private meetings are also important to demonstrate character development:
In episode 20 “A New World”, Lilah invites Wes to work for Wolfram & Hart. When he rejects her offer, she gives him a copy of Dante’s Inferno to ‘remind’ him that the worst place in hell is reserved for those (like him) who betray – and suggests that he is not as above working for them as he may think.
In episode 21: “Benediciton” Lilah invites Wes to a bar and then tells him that she has also invited Justine (who slit Wes’s throat last season) and that she is in danger of being killed by vampires. Lilah does this to see if Wes will try and save Justine or if he will just watch and it is when Wes hesitates slightly that Lilah (and the viewer) understands that ‘Wesley-the-White’ is no longer in play – he has been replaced by and even murkier version of himself and Lilah realises that there just may be room for her to corrupt Wes a little more.
Wes is hell-bent on self-hatred and fury and Lilah seems ok to be along for the ride – his romantic notions have been shattered as has his sense of self and belonging given his estrangement from Angel Investigations. At this stage, it is easy to say that things almost ‘fell into place’ to bring Wes to his current dilemma but, I would ask that you consider the question that had Fred and Gunn not hooked up (thereby isolating Wes and making him withdraw), would any of the above happened? If they had never rescued Fred, or had she gone back to Texas when her parents came to get her – would any of the circumstances that the crew find themselves in have occurred? Even Wes and Lilah’s relationship is permeated by the shadow of Fred. Lilah becomes only too aware of Wes’s feelings for Fred and although she is initially creative in her approach to diffuse this – dressing up like Fred to turn Wes on, she quickly realises her mistake in unleashing this buried desire when she removes the glasses of her costume only to have Wes tell her harshly to ‘leave them on’. Lilah is only too aware that there are three people in the room and it signals the beginning of the end of the relationship for Lilah (and us) who realises that he is still in love with Fred.
Back to season 4 – we start the season with Lilah and Wes going at it, Justine as hostage and Wes, full of self-righteous anger, with his own crew and looking for the missing angel (and Cordy). Wes does of course save the day by saving Angel but when he delivers the half-starved, half-crazy angel back to Gunn and Fred, he is so withdrawn and angry in his attitude that Fred says to him “You really don’t care anymore do you?”. Wes seems resigned to the fact that even though he still wants to ‘do good’ by fighting evil, there is too much mistrust and anger between them all for things to ever change between himself and the rest of the crew. Angel has mellowed from his time underwater and seems to have forgiven Wes but when he visits Wes to ask about Cordy, Wes dismisses him coldly, and things are left as they stand.
During this time (4.1 & 4.2), Fred has been demonstrating some significant changes – she tazers Connor when she finds out what he has done to Angel and she tells Gunn that she is sick and tired of shouldering everything at Angel Investigations while Angel and Cordy have been missing: that she is tired of being positive all the time. Fred is changing and Gunn is confused, the first signs of a crack in the once fairytale romance and a clue of things to come in the season. Lilah also betrays Wes by setting him up via a pretend phone call. When Wes confronts her she responds ‘that he shouldn’t really be surprised, they are after all playing for different teams and Wes begins to see the problems inherent in the partnership. There is also a scene in 4.4 “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” where Wes accidentally calls what he and Lilah have a ‘relationship’ and it is revealed that they had a bet regarding this and Wes now has to sign a one dollar bill memorialising the moment – it’s a warm moment for them both and it also reveals that there is potential here for something more than just a sexual relationship.
The Wes/Lilah thing works to highlight the confusion Wes feels but it also demonstrates that he still has one foot over at Angel Investigations – whether he is aware of that or not. His reluctance to truly accept what he has with Lilah is
hampered by his feelings for Fred in particular and his allegiance to AI in general. Things come to a head for both Lilah/Wes and Fred/Gunn in episode 4:5 “Supersymmetry”. Lilah brings a gift for Wes to apologise for betraying him – an ancient helmet which is right up Wes’s alley and apparently cost her a fortune. Wes thanks her for the gift but promptly dismisses her by saying he has to be elsewhere, leaving the package sitting unceremoniously on the table and Lilah wondering if she has lost Wes forever. Meanwhile, Fred has had a paper published in a Science journal and has been asked to present at her old university by her last professor. Gunn, although happy for her, is completely overwhelmed by the content of the paper and unable to understand the importance of either the publication or the opportunity to present at an academic seminar. The differences between herself and Gunn are becoming more apparent as Fred has to translate for Gunn why this is important and Gunn is shown as very uncomfortable in an academic setting.
Wes on the other hand has been following Fred and arrives to hear her present. Lilah, wondering just why she was ditched, follows Wes and becomes jealous when she realises that she was dismissed earlier so that Wes could go and watch Fred speak. The episode escalates when Fred learns that it was her old physics professor who is responsible for sending her to Pylea and she vows to kill him. Gunn tries to play the nice, supportive boyfriend by suggesting that she think it through before acting and Fred, realising that Gunn won’t help her, turns to Wes. Wes does raise the same points as Gunn – that Fred will carry this with her forever, but when Fred insists that she has made up her mind he supports her – in contrast to Gunn who suggested that she rest and calm down. Wes shows that he is capable of helping Fred but also in respecting her wishes to leave her to punish her professor herself. Gunn on the other hand cannot bear the thought of Fred doing something so dark and so takes it upon himself to kill the professor himself – even though Fred asks him not to.
And this is perhaps where the landscape truly shifts for Fred/Gunn and Fred/Wes. Wes doesn’t love the Fred who was ‘half-crazy but sweet-as-hell’ right after her rescue from Pylea, he loves Fred the woman, the person. Wes shows respect and understanding of both her reaction and her response – and offers only support and understanding. Gunn on the other hand is trying to keep Fred from changing or growing, to keep the relationship at the level of high school, unable to accept Fred as a grown woman with complex emotions and feelings. For Gunn, she is the prom queen who he keeps on a pedestal, a sign as much as a partner. By the end of the episode Gunn and Fred have a rift, each shocked at what the other has shown to be capable of doing – at what they were capable of doing together – the relationship has shifted. But Wes and Fred remain the same which indicates that they see each other more completely (although Wes does also keep Fred on a pedestal as well, he is more capable of allowing Fred to have agency).
The next 3 episodes show a rift between Gunn and Fred and Wesley, realising that a big bad is coming (amongst other reasons) decides to make his position as champion of the good guys, dumps Lilah. The introduction of the season’s first big bad puts the complex relationship issues on hold while Wes rejoins the crew to try to help fight The Beast. However the latent issues between the three of them are brought into the foreground when AI resurrects Angelus.
Piecing together the knowledge that Angel has of the triangle, Angelus taunts Wesley about his feelings for Fred, knowing full well that Fred and Gunn are both watching/listening to him the whole time.
Wes’s reaction is to play down Angelus’s words while speaking to him but soon after, when alone with Fred, a much bolder, and sexually seasoned Wes is able not only to admit his feelings to Fred but to capitalise on her feelings ans (finally) make a move and kiss her.
Again, this is a significant moment in character as Wes is not only able to convey his feelings to Fred, he is able to betray Gunn in doing so – something he would have been unable to do previously.