Thursday, August 20, 2009

Angst as OTProgress, Or Why Everybody Needs to Take a Chill Pill

If you’ve been following this blog for a while now, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a general trend in what several of us here crave from our favorite couples. If you’re new to us, though (or if you just haven’t been paying that much attention), we want to let you in on a slightly twisted secret:

We’re whores for angst.

Pretty much everyone here thrives on a good argument or drawn-out arc of episodes in which our OTPs are climbing uphill against a constant flood of bad news, slamming doors, and tears. Brennan's dating Booth's boss and gets in a fight with Angela about it? SCORE. Some of us enjoy it far more than the rest (Mae and Caroline, to get specific), but generally it’s an aspect of ‘shipping we all crave.

And do you know why? It’s because nine times out of ten (read: unless John Wells is running the show), angst and fighting results in cute reunion fluff and even the occasional dose of makeup sex.

We’d never really thought about taking this fandom truth and turning it into a blog topic until this very moment. But Mae and Enigma happen to be completely immersed in a faction of OTP ‘shipping that's been repeatedly misled and sent to the back-burner numerous times in recent years, so, even though things are ridiculously happy in their world these days, there are still a few people who tend to be notoriously trigger-happy when it comes to preaching doom & gloom at the slightest hint of relationship angst. The Chase/Cameron fans of House are totally lovable, but they've been pushed around for far too long and could honestly use a Valium most days with how easily some of them panic and determine the end is near.

(We're allowed to poke fun at them since, you know, we are them.)

When Ausiello came out with his spoiler column last night, it included this juicy little tidbit – which directly resulted in the publishing of this entry:

Question: I’m so happy Cameron and Chase are getting their old jobs back on House. Got any more scoop about them?
Ausiello: Their first significant fight as a married couple will take place in episode 4. And it’s not going to be pretty.

We immediately flew into a celebratory dance of anticipation and joy because, you guys, fighting is awesome! Non-pretty fighting is even better! Throw in the fact that we’re dealing with a married couple and you’ve pretty much landed yourself in a guaranteed arc of tasty, angsty goodness that will eventually resolve in the fluffiest of ways.

Very quickly, though, we thought of the trigger-happy and easily-panicked fangirls out there in the world - not just in House-verse, but scattered across all fandoms far and wide. And it occurred to us that we really need to put together a distinct list of examples proving just why it is that angst = awesome.

Alias' Sydney and Vaughn were great at the angst, but then again they were one of those "guarantee" couples you could pretty much ship without fear of failure because there was simply no way they weren't ending up together. They did a lot of fighting in the early days before they ever hooked up romantically, but some of our favorite moments from their post-"Phase One" days come from the second half of Season Two. In "A Dark Turn," the CIA calls Syd in for a secret meeting and it turns out Vaughn's under investigation as a possible double-agent and traitor to his country. She's torn between trusting her heart and fearing the worst, and it causes some major angst between the new lovers. But when she decides to trust him rather than risk their relationship by turning him into a mark, we're rewarded with the joy of hearing Sydney admit to a superior that Vaughn is someone she truly loves.

Season Two's "Countdown" also brought us a great argument after Sydney lies to Vaughn about a very important investigation, and they continuously disagree over how to handle the situation at work. But the end of the episode finds them on a bench in Griffith Park with ice cream. She admits to him that she lied, then tells him she's never had anyone to disappoint until he came along. It's all very sweet and perfect, and they walk away through the park arm in arm.

Mae's favorite angst from Alias, though, happens to be an entire season long. Sydney's two-year disappearance and Vaughn's subsequent marriage to a skanky whore in the meantime makes Season Three one of the most epically angsty and painful years of television on record. When Sydney confronts Vaughn in "The Two," screaming at him for giving up on their love and telling him how ripped apart she is without him, it leads to a bittersweet conversation one episode later where Vaughn tells her all about what happened to him after she supposedly died--he drank himself into a constant stupor, held conversations with her hallucinated ghost, and pretty much fell off the face of the planet all because, as he says, "I was so in love with you, it nearly killed me." The entire season carries on with more and more of the same, and it's just so achingly beautiful to watch because, holy shit, angst is delicious when it delivers such a pretty outcome in the end.

We love that scene. "I am horrible, Vaughn, I am ripped apart." Holy crap, it's delicious.

Even if we think on the lighter side, some of the best Jam on The Office this year was found in "The Surplus," where Jim and Pam disagreed on how Michael should spend the surplus. They're on opposite sides because they’re stubborn as hell, and they like anything that’s going to break up the monotony of the day—not because they don’t love each other. It shows how similar they are, how complementary their personalities are, that they both throw themselves into their little project (convincing Michael to spend the money their way), and that, ultimately, they both have a sense of humor about their jobs. We know that at the end of the day, they’re going to be just fine. What the show accomplished in showing this disagreement was to demonstrate how these two don’t have to always be on the same page—and even when they don’t get along perfectly, they’re still one of the strongest couples on television.

Another example of a angst-gone-good comes from Leigh's favorite show, Gilmore Girls. After finding a copy of "You Deserve Love" in Jess' bag, Lorelai can't help but poke fun at it to Luke. Instead of mocking something she thought to be so pathetically mockable, he's quick on the defensive. Why? Because it was originally his. The same book that caused him to "see her face" one episode earlier. Luke tears off a mini-rant as Lorelai looks on like a deer in the headlights and we're left thinking -- "wh-wh-what the fuck was that?" However, a few minutes later, we find out that none of that angst was meant to actually exist as angst -- it was all just a means to a squee-filled, jam-your-face-in-your-pillow type of ending. The episode ends up showing us another adorable byproduct of arguing/ranting -- the slow dance. Complete with touching and smiling and giggling and bodies oh-so-slowly getting closer. You can't help but love the fight after you know it ends up like that!

But really, let's get down to some super-serious business now.

If there’s any couple on television who knows how to fight, it’s Jack and Kate. From the gun case to the search party for Michael to the disintegration of their romantic relationship, these two have had some epic battles. (You want me to name some more? How about Kate ruining Jack’s chances to get “rescued” on the submarine? How about Jack refusing to save Tiny Ben? Jack sneaking the dynamite into his own pack? Jack finding out Kate’s a murderer? Jack wanting to blow up the island?)

Yeah, they fight. A lot.

One of their most epic fights is in season two, and the tension lingers for more than six episodes. Jack tells Kate not to come along on an A-Mission, and rather than follow his orders (which weren’t really his to make, even if he did have a point), Kate trails along behind the team and ends up getting kidnapped by The Others, who use her to threaten Jack, Locke, and Sawyer into giving up their weapons. Major bummer. Things continue to be awkward between Jack and Kate for a while, as they both sit in their respective corners and sulk. But what’s great is how they make up—Jack invites her along on a later mission to track down The Others, because knowing what happened last time, he knows they won’t try to kidnap her.

Now, Jack and Kate are (as usual) an outlier in our discussion, because unlike most of their counterparts here, they’re not together for most of these fights. So why is the angsting okay, when it seems to only drive them further apart? When their making up doesn’t involve crying and sexing and kissing in the rain? Because in the end, it’s making them stronger. They fight because they’re trying to survive on the island—together. And when they disagree on how to best achieve that goal of Not Dying, the arguments serve to highlight their differences, their stubbornness, and their individual trust issues. At the beginning, their arguments were almost entirely about trust, but as it’s progressed, they’ve become much deeper, about who they are as people: Is Jack a goody-goody? Is Kate a babystealer? Is Jack a child murderer? And if we say that at the end of the day, Jim and Pam and Chase and Cameron and Luke and Lorelai go home to each other, well, at the end of the day, Jack and Kate survive together. We fully expect them to spend the rest of their days arguing about who gets to go track down the Hostiles and who has to stay back at the caves with the kids, and we love them for it.

Now, we can’t do a list about angst and not jump headfirst into a discussion of these next two ill-fated lovers. Mind you, when we said at the beginning that all angst leads to fluff with the exception of couples under the thumb of John Wells, this is exactly what we meant. ER's Carter and Abby didn’t come out the other side of their final angst tunnel with their romance intact, but they sure did give us lots of beautiful examples of angst-as-love along the way.

In “Walk Like a Man,” Carter has just found out that Abby, a beleaguered alcoholic, has been drinking again behind his back. Things get pretty messy. Until they get adorable again. This epic fight of epicness, from the very beginning of their courtship, was largely about trust and respect and the strength of their new relationship. The fight culminates in Carter leaving Abby alone on the El platform, but is resolved at the end of the episode. And as they stand together on her stoop, smiling, we’re reminded that these are two really effed-up people who are going to have to work really hard to make this relationship function. But they’re willing to try, and that’s what matters. Well, at least for now.

Later, their fights get even more intense. Eric, Abby’s younger brother, has been missing for several days after his small plane disappeared off radar. Carter was scuba diving in Belize with his buddy when Abby called him with the news. By the time he got home on the red-eye, she was passed out drunk in bed. He takes care of her all day while she works her shift and searches for her brother, but when Eric is finally found alive and well, she disappears. This is what happens when her boyfriend finally tracks her down:

Yeah, see? So much fighting--and not about trivial stuff, y'all--and yet he still shuts down the conversation with an impromptu (and not entirely romantic) proposal.

Really, the fact that it all falls apart again and again – and never ultimately resolves – just one episode later is why you should never let John Wells touch your OTPs. They really did have some epically good angst-and-make-up situations in their three and a half seasons as love interests, and their breakdown is more of a testament to Wells's ineptitude and Noah Wyle's abandonment than to the failure of our laws of fighting.

And finally, to bring it back around to where this post even began, let's take a look back at House's Chase and Cameron. What’s interesting about fans being paranoid when these two fight is that, well, they have a very distinct and well-established pattern about it. Put them in a fight over Chase wanting a real relationship and Cameron resenting him for ruining their no-strings-attached arrangement, and you end up with Chase gifting her flowers in the locker room and making her blush. Want to spend several episodes pitting them against each other as he consistently tells her he likes her and she repeatedly turns him down? No problem, they’ll just end up kissing on his doorstep when all is said and done. And the cycle remains the same with every major tiff they have.

They spent the entirety of "The Itch" building toward a confrontation that left most people wondering if they were going to end up breaking up after all, but then - following their pattern step for step - Cameron comes around in the end and sets things right. You can't really hate on the angst when it's what gets you shit-eating grins and Chase playfully tossing a thong across the bedroom, see? But as last season wound down, they found themselves playing the angst game yet again:

See? The cycle continues. And this time, they actually did break up, you guys! That's some really bad angst. That was worth wondering if it would actually be okay. Of course it was, though, because this is what they do. When you can go from a bad fight/ultimate breakup to a marriage proposal in a matter of about fifteen minutes, you've got a pretty good track record with angst on your hands.

The final (and most ridiculous, yet strongest) example in this pile comes into play just two episodes after the engagement. Wedding plans get crushed under the weight of miscommunication and... well, sperm, but even with their wedding called off and everything seemingly crashing down around them, the angst serves its purpose to bring about the greatest payoff of them all:

The wedding was super presh and squeeful, and now these two newlyweds are approaching a new season where their first massive blowout awaits them. The beauty of it all? Now they can face more angst than ever before and yet it's barely even a legitimate threat anymore. Once vows have been exchanged, absolutely anything is resolvable until the minute a divorce is finalized. Married couples are far more immune to angst than everyone else -- and trust us, a blog surrounding that theory will be surfacing soon enough.

In conclusion, however, we feel it is important to make one thing very, very clear. Angsting is NOT will-they-or-won't-they. (Case in point: Bones has rarely had legitimate angst, but has thrived for four seasons on Booth and Brennan's sexual tension.) Angsting is trying to make the relationship survive, coming right up to the edge of doom, and then stepping back, realizing once and for all that they don't want to break up, they don't want to fall off the cliff.

And we beg of you to remember, they almost always step back.

5 Responses to “Angst as OTProgress, Or Why Everybody Needs to Take a Chill Pill”

Until you got into ER, I was going to say--John Wells? Everyone on the West Wing had their seven seasons of sexual tension resolved at the end, after Aaron Sorkin and his self-professed inability to write a functional relationship were gone.

My other exception (so maybe it's eight times out of ten) would (as usual) be almost all things Whedon, where angst might signal a happy reunion, but a happy reunion usually means that someone's about to kick the bucket. This happens in pretty much every show he's done. (Although as far as I know he's happily married, so I guess he just likes the drama...)

Anyway, excellent point overall. And Brennan needs to get her act together, if the promos I've seen are any indication.

Lucid said...

Chase/Cameron, I fear, will fall victim to David Shore's belief in stationary and static characters. The overall impression he seems to convey to the media in his interviews is that if the characters change and are happy, then there is no longer a show. I know this mostly applies to his idea with House, but every character seems to follow this pattern. Chase, Cameron, Cuddy, Thirteen, blah blah blah.

I like angst just as much as the next person. To a point. After a while, it is just too much though. Limits, people! I think Chase and Cameron go well/look good together. (shallow of me, I know.) I was seriously hoping they could find some happiness since everyone else on the show is walking around under a gray cloud.

And about the Carter/Abby thing-Ah! I loved them together and was semi crushed with they fell apart.

Mae Vaughan said...

@Lucid - By no means do we think Chase and Cameron are going to go about the seasons as a happily married couple. I've actually never expected that, not once. I have a feeling they're going do plenty of fighting, plenty of second-guessing, plenty of wondering whether or not they rushed into things, etc et all. They've always had communication issues, and that's going to be a huge problem until they finally figure that shit out. On top of that, I'd expect stressful angst like botched pregnancy or sick!baby plots, or the external drama of work issues getting in their way. Basically, you're right -- Shore isn't about to let them be happy. But I also don't think that means they'll end up divorced, either.

Having them married now just means fucking with them repeatedly is what's necessary in order to keep them interesting. And being married, as I said in the entry, allows Shore to fuck with them waaaaaay more than he could before--because it takes a lot more to push people all the way to signing divorce papers than it does to convince them to just say "Fuck you, I'm out" in the midst of a simple dating relationship. It's going to be a bumpy ride for sure, but I'm looking forward to it because I really don't think there's any ultimate threat to their endgame.

As for Carter/Abby, ZOMG. How did I not know that about you already?!? The group of us that started the blog (me, Caro, Sophie, Jen, Leigh) are all long-time friends from our days in Carby fandom. We named the blog after a Carby quote, obviously, LOL. And yeah, the heartbreak of them falling apart is something we're all still really, really bitter about :p

Selina said...

Great post! I completely agree about the Jangst - it has really defined the couple and shaped their chemistry, and it's almost more effective because Jate isn't the sure-fire couple that some of these other couples you mentioned are. I mean personally I don't have much interest in angst when it's regarding couples such as Meredith/Derek who we KNOW are The Couple of the show, but when it's regarding love triangles where the outcome is not 100% certain (I'd count Svaughn in this category cause s3 was so convincing that I wasn't actually sure Vaughn wouldn't stay with Lauren... man I love that season) the angst serves to purposes: a) to up the stakes and make us invested in the couple, because we only want happiness for them more the more miserable we've seen them, and b) to actually reassure us that there IS something to fight for and there IS a relationship that can be damaged. Remember before SNBH, half the Jaters were losing their minds wondering if the Skaters were right and we'd really imagined the whole thing (I ceeertainly was not one of these. Ahem), but the Jangst served to reassure us that the writers were invested enough in this pairing to give them the pain. If they didn't care enough to fight THAT'S when we'd have something to worry about. What is it they say about ships? As long as they're creaking they're afloat? HMMM INTERESTING. :)

Unknown said...

I just realized we forgot Derek and Meredith, the ultimate angst whores.