Five by five.
March 07, 2003
Faith is back.
That sentence alone is enough to send the whole of Buffy fandom into a rabid, frothing fit. But wait, there’s more: Wes sees dead people! The Beast is hoisted on his own petard! Babies are having babies!
Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
We open with the fallout from last episode, namely, Faker Cordy killing Lilah. A lesser show would take the easy out, capitalize on the misunderstanding (in which the crew catches Angelus making a Lunchable out of Lilah), and leave us with an enraged Wesley, vowing revenge. Instead, we see a much more introspective, even resigned reaction. The Angel Inc. crew have all seen and done things that they regret this season, made choices that have come back to haunt them and it shows. Death is no longer something to fear, something to be met with anxiety — it is an eventuality, one that they must be ready for at all times.
Alexis Denisof shines yet again in this episode (is there any limit to what he can wring from a scene?). Wes is walking the fine line of sanity, has been since he called up the spirit of the Big Kahuna Burger last season, and we can see that the walls are starting to break down. His conversation with almost-headless Lilah underscores that, and reminds us that, underneath his Indiana Jones stubble, Wes is still the hopeful lad that we met way back in season 3 of Buffy.
But enough about Wes…he isn’t the reason you tuned in this week, right?
Faith. From the moment she hits the screen, she oozes badass from every pore. This isn’t Faith beaten down by the system, This is Faith thriving in it. She put herself here and she knows she can leave anytime she wants. But through this penance, Faith has rediscovered that strength, that selflessness that typifies the role of Slayer. Long story short, a stereotypically mannish woman named Deb guarantees a Buffy crossover by trying to take out Faith with one of the Bringers’ daggers, Wes lights the fire for a spectacular prison break (which, if you’ve been reading It’s Walky lately, will look oddly familiar), and, one mangled Camaro later, Faith is back in town.
Wes immediately throws Faith into the fray, testing her mettle (slipping into the role of Watcher without even thinking) and Faith responds in kind. Within minutes of walking into Angel Inc., she’s turned the place upside down. It’s here where she really starts to shine. Her presence shakes up the stable dynamic that the crew has worked so hard to establish. Where the focus had been on defense, on acting out familiar (and frustrating) contingencies, Faith formulates a plan of action, puts both Gunn and Conner in their places (near and far, respectively), and puts a major kink in Faker Cordy’s god-awful bob. Faith out-Buffys Buffy — displaying an attitude and determination that we haven’t seen from the “True” Slayer in years.
But as much as Faith takes charge, this is, after all, Angelus’ show. And he is in his glory; playing his enemies against each other, toying with Faith, Wes, and the Beast alike to wear them down. It’s quite amazing when you realize that the qualities that make Angelus a formidable villain — his practically prescient contingency plans (I especially like him calling Sunnydale to ascertain which Slayer he’s dealing with), his ability to turn people’s sympathies and fears back on themselves — are the same ones that make Angel an equally formidable hero. Here, Angelus plays the ringmaster to the Beast and Faith’s fight, aping for the camera, only to reveal his real purpose, destroying The Beast (by impaling him with his own bone knife, natch!) after he’s beaten Faith down.
In the end, the sun returns, the stage is set for Angelus vs. Faith mayhem, and, oh yeah, Faker Cordy makes sure that Conner won’t stray by cooking up a baby (and, ew, did we really need another lip-smacking scene between those two? Or her and the Beast for that matter? Eewwwwww!).
In an episode that could have easily just been an hour of Faith doing pull-ups in the prison yard, we are, instead, given a nuanced performance that reminds us how deep these characters really are and how we only think that we’ve seen everything they have to give. If his is the level that the rest of the season is going to be played at, it’s going to be five by five.
Witty Observation of the Week: “I can see that you’ve put a lot of yourself into this.” — Angelus, referring to the Beast’s sacrificial knife.