The most WTF element of Angel: The Series for me is:
Fred Burkle: Omniscientist Extraordinaire (Season Five)
Honorable mentions to Pyleans speak English without explanation (2.19 "Belonging" through 2.22 "There's No Place Like Pltz Glrb"), Holtz rocks some swell 18th century sunglasses (3.08 "Quickening"), Cordelia's blonde period (3.18 "Double Or Nothing" through 4.06 "Spin The Bottle"), Gwen Raiden decides that clearly sexual intercourse is the way to immediately adjust to being able to touch other humans for the first time in her life (4.16 "Players"), that goddamn black lace stripper maternity outfit thing (4.15 "Orpheus" and 4.16 "Players"), and Eve gets a personality transplant (5.15 "A Hole In The World" through 5.22 "Not Fade Away").
I want to love Fred. I really do. I honestly really like Fred, on a basic level. I think as a character she has so much potential. Episodes like 4.05 "Supersymmetry" and 4.19 "The Magic Bullet" show just how amazing she could have been if she were given the chance to be her own woman. Amy Acker is, in my opinion, the best actor -- male or female -- in the regular cast. Unfortunately, she's never really given anything to do (until Illyria, and we'll get there).
The problem is one of characterization, here, and I'm going to sidestep all the general issues with Fred's characterization: her inconsistent recovery period from the trauma of Pylea, her use as a damsel in distress or as a prize for men to fight over, et cetera. Because that wasn't what made me say WTF, as it's par for the course on television. No, what made me WTF was the way Fred's knowledge base exponentially expands in Season Five.
Fred is presented in her first appearances (the Pylea arc) as a physics prodigy -- her quantum experimentation precipitates the events of 2.19 "Belonging". This remains consistent for all of S3, though her physics knowledge goes generally unused because she's kind of busy, you know, learning to be less crazy. In 4.05 "Supersymmetry" she reenters academia with a physics paper that is very well-received. In 4.19 "The Magic Bullet" she mentally calculates the exact trajectory required for her bullet to pass through Jasmine and enter Angel, clearly an application of her physics knowledge. The early part of S5 does, I will grant, see her using theoretical physics to try to recorporealize Spike.
But by 5.01 "Conviction", she's working on a virology problem with Knox. In 5.03 "Unleashed" she's analyzing tire track imprints. By 5.07 "Lineage" she's taking apart a cyborg and describing the functions of its robotic system. 5.09 "Harm's Way" sees her acting as a coroner and performing the autopsy of Tobias Dupree.
Does Wolfram & Hart not have an engineer or a forensic chemist or a doctor on staff? Why is a physicist taking apart robots or determining a murder victim's cause of death? This isn't just sloppy writing -- though it certainly qualifies as that -- it's also a disservice to Fred's character. Rendering her as a sexpot with a lab coat on over her miniskirt, suddenly possessing knowledge of all topics related to the sciences, is totally inconsistent with her previous characterization.
Fred was sent to Pylea in her first year of graduate school. I have about as much education as Fred. Me! The only reason Fred is so accomplished as a physicist is because she is a freakish prodigy with a naturally mathematic brain. There is no justification for her sudden knowledge of every scientific discipline known to man. What was once an interesting and consistent skill -- a knowledge of physics in a world of magic -- is brushed aside in favor of a whole lot of generalized nonsense. The flavor is drawn away from the character.
As part of this new characterization, Fred's role as the scientific or rational mind is extended to her personality in ways that seem inconsistent. Suddenly she is the voice of reason, the sympathetic ear amid conflicting egos. And that... was always Cordelia's role. Removing Cordelia from the equation obviously turns the show on its head, but the answer isn't to fundamentally alter Fred's character to accommodate the change.
Just because Fred is a woman doesn't mean she should be the compassionate moral compass of the group; indeed, it is almost as though the writers themselves fell into the conception of Fred that she herself decries in "Supersymmetry". Fred is not gentle. She is not a moral paragon. She is a damaged but resilient person, a survivor who does not hesitate to kill, and an independent-minded young woman who refuses to allow a bunch of men to decide who she is or how she should behave. 5.15 "A Hole In The World" is the culmination of this defanging process, rendering Fred entirely as a gentle object too good for this cruel Earth, living to be fought over and rescued and mourned by men. It is only through her second life as Illyria (and see my Illyria entry, earlier in the meme, if you are scratching your head at this) that she manages to reclaim any semblance of independence... and even then, it's in a persona entirely distinct from the Fred of S3 and S4.
What the hell, Season Five Fred. What the hell.