Season 4 of BtVS and Season 1 of AtS marked a new shade of gray as far as demons were concerned on the show. Where before demons and vampires were there as foes to be slain or metaphors for teenaged angst, this season often depicted demons as sympathetic people with problems of their own (Hero, She), and sometimes, victims themselves, enslaved and exploited by human beings. The Initiative story line drove this home on BtVS, and on AtS it was done in a large number of ways, The Ring being one of the more obvious attempts.
In the case of the Initiative story line and The Ring, demons were not the warm fuzzy half-bloods of Hero, but were morally ambiguous at best. We see this in the uncertain expressions on our gang’s face as they watch the newly-freed demon slaves walk off into the night: “Ummm”.
Of course, this meant that in some sense Mutant Enemy was mixing their metaphors – are demons symbols of angst and inner darkness and the evil in the world, or are they sympathetic minorities?
What any particular demon is a metaphor for for must be resolved on a case-by-case basis. ME was expanding their metaphors, rather than mixing them per se, but some fans just didn’t get this as they started accusing Buffy of being a mass-murderer or writing academic papers about how vampires were metaphors for non-white people.
This is why we have critical thinking in the college curriculum.
Let’s move on.
The debut of Lilah: We meet her in the fight club, but when Angel is dragged into her office at W&H, she just oozes “I’m the noir femme fatale!” Unabashedly sexy and unabashedly gray. Elements like Lilah are what put the spice in the gourmet meal that is AtS.
Tough-guy Wesley: Wesley bests a room full of bad guys by shooting their leader in the hand with a crossbow and then twisting the tiny metal projectile in the guy’s hand to wring information out of him.
At the time, this broke me out of my willing suspension of disbelief. Yes, he’d been learning, training, but I thought this victory was a bit advanced for him, in terms of both competency and bravery. Now when I watch it five years later, it just looks like Wesley being Wesley, “Here, let me ruthlessly torture a human for information in order to serve the greater good.”
Am I the only one who *loves* this episode?
I love it for a lot of reasons, but two in particular spring to mind:
(1) the gay subtext (not *that* kind of gay subtext, honestly, is that *all* you people think about?), and
(2) Rebecca Lowell is a classic example of what I call “the Character of Invitation.”
I’ll get to these two elements in a minute. In addition to being yummy, Eternity is also what I call a “headache” episode.
“Headache” episodes are episodes where, after I watched them for the very first time, I thought to myself, “I’m going to have to explain the metaphysics of this on my website, and I don’t have a clue!” The headache comes from the strong suspicion that a metaphysical plot element contradicts canon, and I’m going to be spending my weekend neck-deep in wank trying to figure out how it’s NOT in contradiction to canon. Other “headache” episodes were Carpe Noctem (which doesn’t contradict the more valid, well-supported interpretation of canon vampire metaphysics) and “Judgment” (a pregnant vampire threw me for a loop so dizzying, I didn’t recover until “Shiny Happy People”).
The metaphysical headache in “Eternity” has to do with how and why the drug made Angel go all Angelus on Rebecca. This confusion is an ancient non-problem at this point, and I’m not going to explain it or its solution here. I have a website. Go. (Eternity, Through the Looking Glass, Carpe Noctem).
OK, onto the gay subtext, and by “gay subtext”, I don’t mean Angel having subtle homoerotic vibes with some guy. By “gay subtext” I mean that vampirism, most particularly Angel’s more benevolent experience of vampirism, can be seen as a metaphor for the experience of being gay, at least as it is experienced by some: The desire that dare not speak its name, that you have to hide in “normal” society, that your close friends accept as long as they don’t have to *see you* “parading it around”.
Just as in “Somnambulist”, Angel unintentionally has his secret revealed to someone, and the episode is about the consequences of that. In Somnambulist, Kate rejects Angel. “You’re a vampire? We are no longer friends! No offense! I’m sure you’re a great guy for… what you are!”
In “Eternity”, Rebecca, on the other hand, is fascinated. She asks Angel questions about what it’s like. She’s aroused. She wants him to seduce her into that life. (Just watching that scene in Rebecca’s hallway gives me goosebumps).
Angel, though, who knows the *angst* of that lifestyle, tries to warn her off of it.
At this point in my gay subtextual analysis of this episode, the metaphor sort of teeters off into a kind of 1950’s homophobic cautionary tale, “Nothing good can come of giving in to that desire!” and dips deep into the “vampires/gays are either lonely&sad or teh_ev0l” cliché.
Suffice it to say, at the end of the ep, Rebecca goes back to the straight and narrow and Angel stays in the fang-having closet. Let’s move on.
The second juicy element in this ep is Rebecca as the Character of Invitation. The CoI is a notion I came up with to explain one of my favorite themes in fantasy and (sometimes) science-fiction. It’s when a normal person from our normal world suddenly stumbles into a hidden sub-culture of the supernatural, one that’s been all around them all the time, but that they were never before aware of.
One minute, Rebecca is a has-been actress drowning in the harsh, fickle reality of Hollywood. The next minute, she’s staring into her mirror and not seeing the reflection of the man standing next to her. He is everything she’s been told doesn’t exist, right there, standing in her hallway. And of course it’s delicious (sorry, I am again having goosebumps from that hallway scene.)
That Rebecca tries to make Angel her ticket back into the world she is losing is her folly, of course, although the lesson gets taught in a muddled way because, let’s face it, it *is* possible to be a vampire in this world and get along pretty good (if you have a soul). If you really want to show Rebecca *why* she shouldn’t opt for the undead option, don’t show her Angel on a bender. Show her the next random vampire that walks down the street. Because that’s what she’s going to be.
Five By Five
I ask you, honestly, what is *not* to love about this episode? Is there anything? This is *the* best episode of season 1, and I would put it up there with the best of seasons 2 through 5 as well.
After this episode aired the first time, I moved Faith’s little Moral Ambiguity Bio on my website from the BtVS page to the AtS page. She belongs in *this* world. In the gothic noir world of AtS, she can be an anti-hero hero. The bad-girl with the good heart. On BtVS, she will always be the Other. The less perky one. Buffy’s “dark side” omgwtfbrrr!1!! What.Ever.
Back to my girl.
One thing you gotta admit, Faith makes an entrance. And her entrance into L.A. in “Five By Five” is one of the best moments of television ever. The young girl looking like a teenaged run-away steps off the bus in the big city, ripe pickings for some sleazeball pimp. So he moves in on her, and she plays the part he expects, and then Wham! Wham! The teenaged run-away mugs the pimp.
Sure, Faith is seriously over the edge at this point, and this is one symptom of that, but you gotta love it anyway.
And then Faith dances. There can never be enough dancing Faith.
The second reason to love this episode more than any other in S. 1: More Darlus! Now in retrospect we know that ME was building up towards the season-ending shocker of Darla’s return by using the flashbacks in The Prodigal and Five by Five to tell us *who* Darla was, besides Angel’s sire. She was Angelus’ mother/lover/mentor/companion.
She is the first person he runs to after his soul is restored, and when she appears, he throws himself into her arms. And why not? She is his family, or the closest thing he’s had to it for 150 years.
And being a vampire is the only life he’s known for 150 years. So naturally he tries to remain a vampire. But he can’t complete the act of draining the blood of an innocent woman. He can’t be the man he was without a soul, and Darla knows that.
Third reason: The LM Triumvirate. Lindsey McDonald. Lee Mercer. Lilah Morgan. How much do these three rock together? The original evil troika of comic incompetence. They hire Faith to kill Angel, because these were the days before they had–or had perhaps read–the Shanshu prophecy and decided to keep Angel around to stoke his moral ambiguity.
Their dialogue in “Sanctuary” is truly inspired.
Fourth reason: Lindsey/Angel. Here is where it starts. The true, tragic love story of AtS. The chemistry was dampened by the presence of Russell Winters in City Of, but here in 5×5, it sizzles. All that smirking and posturing, hands in pockets.
A couple questions that occur: did Lindsey have a name yet in City Of?
Was season 1 the only season where Angel smiled in the credits?
Anyway, back to Faith.
The moment Faith walks into Angel’s office with a loaded gun she already wants Angel to kill her, even if only on a subconscious level. If she simply wanted to kill him, she could have. But she wants Angel “in the game”. And what game is that? The fighting game. And Angel has her game figured out by the time he shows up to the pimp’s apartment. Faith has to beg for him to “fight back”–to really commit himself to battle, because she wants death and he doesn’t want to give it to her.
And of course, Faith kidnaps Wesley in order to lure Angel into her “game”.
The Faith-Wesley torture scene is one of the events that made Wesley into the man he became.
ME had to tear down the old Wesley–the naïve young Watcher from “Bad Girls”–and rebuild him piece by piece. Torture him (5×5), fire him (Reunion), force him into responsibility (Guise Will Be Guise, There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb), pass him over for another man (Waiting in the Wings) and yada yada yada until he is the person who will kidnap a child to save that child from his own father and go over the edge when the father doesn’t like that so much.
The Wesley we see throwing darts in “Sanctuary” post-torture is a Wesley we can recognize on this end of Season 5.
And Faith tortures Wesley, of course, to prove to herself that she is unworthy to live, to prove to herself that she is evil.
Watching Angel’s treatment of Faith in “Sanctuary” makes me see the point of people who argue that Angel has a double standard in the way he treats men and women. Would Angel ever have treated a guy who’d gone emotionally around the bend (cough::hisownson::cough) with such kid gloves? No, give’m the tough love. ‘Cause that always works (::cough::).
Still, what Angel gives Faith is what Faith needs, which is hope, and not insignificantly, hope out of the mouth of someone who’s been down a dark road himself. Because Faith CAN come back from where she’s been, but sometimes that’s hard to believe until someone tells you you can–someone you can believe because they’ve been there.
Buffy can’t offer that kind of understanding, partly because she’s never gone down that road, and partly because she has developed a huge effing moat in her eye when it comes to Faith. And Faith, in kind, I think, would rather go evil again to spite herself rather than let Buffy help her.
Of course, Buffy doesn’t make herself much of a help in this episode. She gets a big ambiguous eyeful at her entrance, and it’s all downhill from there (except when the machine gun bullets fly). She’s so unpleasant and manipulative and childish in this episode she makes me cringe. I wonder sometimes why Joss writes Buffy the way he does. Good characters are supposed to have flaws, but the flaw of coming to a conclusion and stubbornly sticking to it and lording it over other people because “it’s all about me”….
Well, there’s a thin line sometimes between complex&flawed and downright unsympathetic.
Angel, on the other hand, very uncharacteristically lets Faith her make her own choices, which isn’t his strong suit. He allows her walk out of his apartment if that is her choice (although one wonders what he would have done if she *had* walked out).
And in the end, it’s Faith who chooses her fate. ME made the whole salvage operation like a 12-step program, with Faith talking about being sponsored by Angel, trying to make amends to Buffy and choosing prison as a place she can start working on herself.
This episode also marks a big step for Wesley with the arrival of the Watcher’s Council special ops team. The Watcher’s Council and their philosophy and Daddy Watcher are of course the very ruthless bastards that made Wesley who he is in the first place. Their arrival gives Wesley the chance to formerly state his loyalty to Angel, and it’s not a big surprise. The boost to Wesley’s self-esteem alone since joining Angel’s team over his years as a Watcher makes the choice a no-brainer for him.
Of course, while you can take a boy out of the Watchers, you can’t so easily take the Watchers out of the boy.