Angel, “Why We Fight”

Captain! Clichés! Dead Ahead! (originally posted – 2/11/04)

By Anthony Karcz
September 16, 2004

What’s more cliché than yet another Angel vs. Spike episode, you might ask? Why putting them in a World War II setting and having Angel be an Allied operative and Spike be a Nazi, of course. OK, OK, so Spike isn’t exactly a Nazi — he just likes eating them — but the cliché meter for “Why We Fight” is still maxed at 11.

We start out with your standard there’s something eeevil on this ship bit. Farm-boy Comm operator radios for help, yada, yada, the Captain dies valiantly, yackity, schmackity, Plucky First Mate tries to save him, blah, blah, blood flies…and I find myself glancing at my watch, wondering if I really have to sit through another hour of this.

Cut to W&H where we get to see what the Angel Inc. crew does when they aren’t dealing with demonic civil wars or parasite-induced visions — they work too hard. Actually we do get a bit of arc-a-licious information here as we find out that Eve has vanished and all conduits to the Sr. Partners have shut down. Even more interesting is Gunn’s apparent memory lapse when it comes to contacting the Partners. Is this a hint of Gunn’s mojo wearing off? Does he have a blind spot when it comes to contacting them? Or is it something a little more active on the Sr. Partner’s part — are they manipulating the info that Gunn’s got knocking around in his noggin? It’s telling that this two second tidbit warrants more attention and speculation than the rest of the episode.

So Plucky First Mate (Let’s call him Lawson, shall we?) shows up and does the kind-but-creepy bit with Fred. He then cold-cocks Wes and goes to pay Angel a visit.

But first, let’s have a little lesson, shall we? (Since they conveniently left the Cliffs Notes out of this week’s ep.)

Early on, waaay back in Season 1 (and in BUFFY too, I might add), we learned a little bit about Angel’s past. Once he got his soul, he wandered, he was a wreck, he lived in the gutters. Buffy was the only reason that he was able to pull himself together and become the vamp that he is.

So imagine my surprise when we have a clean-cut (although brooding and bored) Angel whiling his time away in a little circa-1943 flat. Now I don’t mind the occasional retcon; but you better give me something damn good in exchange. Unfortunately, we don’t get that here. What we do get is a cookie-cutter colonel (or general or whatever) blathering on about a mission that only Angel can do. It’s the typical “We know you don’t give a shit about what we’re doing, but we’re going to force you to do it anyway because we’re the Big Scary Government.” shtick that has launched many a B-Grade plot. Only of slight interest is the mention of the organization they’re working for — a newly-formed department called the Demon Initiative (a nice bone for you BUFFY-buffs; only thing that would’ve been better is if the guy had been called Finn.).

Back on the ship we get the tense showdown between Lawson who, gosh-darn-it, just wants to save him some people, and a random crew member with a gun. They’re interrupted by the arrival of Angel. Question — vampire strength or not, is it even mechanically possible to open and close a torpedo tube manually from the outside? I mean, your asking me to choke down a retcon and suspend my disbelief of the laws of physics all at the same time? Tall order. Angel shows up, starts barking orders (much like 2004 Angel…not a whit like 1943 Angel) and goes off to recover the ship. But before he can, he comes face-to-face with yet another convenient plot twist — Spike.

There’s a brief moment of amusement as we get a load of the other vamps — Rasputin’s lover and a Nosferatu knock-off — but that quickly sours as Angel takes charge. We get shots of the farm boy gawking at the dead bodies and lectures from Plucky First Mate Lawson about purpose and meaning. Then, in the present, just as Angel is about to dust Lawson (who is, of course, a vamp), he hints that he has an ace in the hole. This “ace in the hole” turns out to be Wes, Gunn, and Fred standing on office chairs with piano wire nooses around their necks.

Excuse me? This was his ace in the hole? Couldn’t Angel have, oh, I don’t know, dusted Lawson, then gone downstairs with a pair of scissors and cut the gang down? What a grand and evil scheme Vampire Lawson contrived. Good to know that he spent decades tracking Angel and this was the best he could come up with.

The tired plot bucket is dipped into a few more times as we get Germans experimenting on vamps, Lawson trying to save the day (before getting killed by the sole German that no one kept an eye on), Angel turning Lawson to save the mission, and then shuffling Lawson and Spike off the boat to make a swim for shore (since Lawson is, of course, a barely controllable neophyte).

The present-day storyline doesn’t fare much better. We get Lawson babbling about his need for a purpose, his inability to feel anything about the evil he’s perpetuated (oh boo-hoo Plucky First Mate got a bit of soul in the bargain — well stop whining, you asked Angel to do it), and then the inevitable dusting. The writers try to salvage things in the end by having another Spike & Angel moment; but even its “he was looking for a reason” revelation falls flat since we never really cared about Lawson in the first place and we already know that Angel’s looking for a reason (and, um, didn’t he kind of find it already last week? Isn’t anyone paying attention to these things?).

It’s a piss-poor episode. After last week’s brilliance, I certainly wasn’t expecting to be wowed; but this is just a smack in the face. I can only hope next week’s gimmicky puppet-fest (penned by director, producer, and Tick creator, Ben Edlund) will fare better.