FEATURE: Angel - Five by Five
Previously on Angel: And Buffy technically (Who Are You). Faith is out of her coma and has already terrorised Buffy. Angel once tried to save her, but Wesley's intervention with the Watcher's Council destroyed her trust in any of them completely.
Faith arrives in LA and promptly beats a guy up, putting her on Wolfram & Hart's radar. After Angel convinces a witness to testify against a client of the demonic lawyers and loses them the case, they set Faith on his tail, paying her to kill him. She immediately starts messing with them and kidnaps Wesley, torturing him to tempt Angel into coming after her. Meanwhile, we get more flashbacks, this time of the curse as Angel's soul is returned to him and he struggles to cope with the initial guilt of all the people he's killed.
Oh, this episode is a bit good, isn't it?
Bringing in a lot of the things that have been developing over the course of the last few episodes such as Angel's redemption, Wesley's own desire to prove himself and the machinations of Wolfram & Hart all colliding as a result of the Faith catalyst. The episode's flashbacks serve a great purpose here too; it's not so much about Angel's own development, but allowing the audience to understand how well-positioned he is to work with Faith. He knows exactly what she's going through right now because he's been there himself, dejected, suicidal and alone. It provides a strong core through the episode that builds into the impressive climactic fight.
There's also a brutality here that is rarely seen in either Buffy or Angel except when Angelus is on the prowl, which solidifies further the comparisons between Angel and the rogue slayer. That final fight is an intense one, two incredibly strong beings fighting it out to the death, one reluctant to kill the other who is desperate to die. It's powerfully done too; the storm at the end that rains down on them and Angel's reluctance to fight back until the crucial moment builds that intensity to almost unbearable levels. When Faith finally breaks down, it's a relief for the audience too. Sure, she's a bad guy at this point, but she's too damn fascinating to want dead.
I love Wesley's trajectory over the course of the narrative too, occurring more in the background, for obvious reasons, than Angel and Faith. Angel makes it clear early that the former watcher is at fault for how Faith is now, something Wesley realises and clearly feels terrible about, to the point where he keeps trying to save her, only to be tortured for his efforts. He grows a little more backbone each time he's faced with adversity and this is no different, standing up to Faith admirably. It even pushes him to the point of being prepared to kill her in order to save Angel, but like the rest of us, doesn't want to see the act happen once he realises just how broken she is.
Eliza Dushku really owns the role here, channeling all of Faith's external arrogance and internal self-loathing into one huge, violent and unpredictable cocktail. It's easy to forget how few episodes Dushku actually appears in because she makes such a big impression when she does. Though her initial function was to be placed as an opposite to Buffy, she works hard to dig deep into the implications of that as well as transcend what could've been a simplistic alt-Slayer role.
The scene in the club is a perfect encapsulation of the character's act. She's fully prepared to start the fight and cause chaos, but utterly not fussed about the consequences happening around her. The beauty of Five by Five's narrative is that it breaks down that barrier, proving that not only is she paying attention to the consequences of her actions, but that they're affecting her deeply. Wanting to die is the only way out she can see for herself at this point. It's up to Angel to try and bring her back from that.
As we've seen in the first season, Angel's at its best when it dispenses with the procedural style affairs and instead uses the stories to focus on the characters we already care about. Sending Faith into Angel's world is a genius move; the two characters have so much in common (placed continually in parallel even beyond the TV series and into the comics). I didn't even get into the Wolfram & Hart stuff, but hey there Lindsey and Lilah, I love your sparring.
Quote of the Week:
Lindsey [as Faith kicks the crap out of his colleague]: Jesse, I think you'd better make it three for dinner instead of four...
Let's Get Trivial: The violence proved a little too much for our British censors and it lead to this being the only Angel episode to receive an 18 certificate in the UK.
Demonology 101: I love that Phantom Dennis tries to protect Cordelia from Faith. He's such a babe.
The Sunnydale Connection: The experience that Giles describes to Angel as "rough" is of course the events of This Year's Girl and Who Are You in which Faith swapped bodies with Buffy via a magical doohickey.
You can see Becky's look at previous episode, Eternity, here.