[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: Jim Kouf | Director: James A. Contner | Aired: 04/25/2000]
“Five by Five” is a spectacular piece of work; an action oriented episode with smart, nuanced character developments swimming just under the surface enough to shock you with their outcomes. This episode, short of a long-term impact, provides everything you could ever want from a show like this. Mix in a few key Sunnydale alum with interesting and twisted histories, as well as a fast-paced and very pointed plot that takes us deep into Faith’s character, and we’re left with a fully satisfying bit of work. It’s very nearly on the level of its other half (“Sanctuary” [1×19] ).
It is, however, in the strictest sense, a crossover episode, carrying another set of elements from parent show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” onto this one. You don’t need to have seen Faith’s two-part stay on Buffy in “This Year’s Girl” and “Who Are You?” (although you’re missing some big fun if you didn’t) to enjoy this crossover, but for a better understanding of Faith and her actions here, it is essential. And what this episode is all about is her actions, and how those two “Buffy” episodes changed her dramatically.
Nearly a year after being put in a coma from her battle with Buffy in “Graduation Day, Part I” , Faith woke up in Sunnydale (“This Year’s Girl”) to find that the Mayor’s plan to ascend to a pure demon had been thwarted by Buffy. However, the keepsake he left her, the ability to switch bodies with the person of her choice (and therefore, most likely Buffy) was the plot gimmick for “Who Are You?” And while it’s a plot gimmick that’s usually used for cheap and irrelevant comedy, something truly was learned.
Faith’s greatest peeve, or more accurately, greatest psychotic hatred, had always been being compared to Buffy and looked down on for not being able to meet the standards of Sunnydale slayer. She believed herself above man’s law because of her life as a Slayer (not too different from Buffy really – by the later seasons of the show Buffy develops a massive superiority complex), and when offered acceptance and a unique purpose by the Mayor, was quick to amorally embrace every duty he imposed upon her in exchange for a home, and a family; one that cared for her, as Wilkins truly did. It was the ideal match for Faith: A being of evil, no matter how loving, would not criticize or hold her lower in standing than others who possessed proper moral compasses, which is the biggest part of why she felt loved. It was also an important piece of her tragedy, as she was unable to differentiate criticism, concern and care held for her by people like Buffy and Joyce with the blunt, harsh chastisement of Wesley and the Council.
In the end, the only thing that held clarity or happiness for her was approval, and in light of her actions and irresponsibility, the only source of approval could come from evil. At the time of “Who Are You?” she was still very much of the opinion that she and Buffy were both handed certain lives unchangeable by fate; no other option was possible, least of all her being responsible for where her life had gone. But, much like your staple TV show, a lesson was learned in the body-switch episode. Much unlike a staple show, it actually mattered.
Faith, living in Buffy’s body, discovered why Buffy had everything she had. It was not because she was Buffy Summers, handed a destiny and friends and a life, but because she was Buffy Summers. Her actions, responsibilities and her courage to fulfill and uphold them was why she had her world, her Scooby gang, loyal boyfriend, approving Watcher and overall great life. It was in this revelation that Faith recognized that like Buffy, her life was the result of her actions, leading to the amazing scene where Faith, in Buffy’s body, beats up Buffy in Faith’s body, looking at herself and screaming at her: “You’re nothing! Disgusting! Murderous bitch!” This was, for her, what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity. And it is with this clarity, and a will to die, that Faith comes to L.A. and Angel’s world.
We open on Angel and Wesley saving a young man named Marquez from a group of demons. The details are sketchy, but we learn that he’s involved in some kind of case against a wealthy client of Wolfram and Hart – the sole and most damning witness the prosecution has to offer, but he is refusing to testify. The purpose of this small plot is to comment on the essence of the human soul; the desire to, deep down, do what is right as is inherent in our nature. This is the set up where the writers tell us that yes – even Faith can be redeemed.
In the wake of her stay in Sunnydale, Faith arrives in L.A., and to understand her death wish is simply to look at her actions. Your first watch through, you may just think she’s just being ‘true to herself,’ which wouldn’t be too far off, but her brutality and over-the-top style goes beyond the norm here. To go down the list, she: Beats a man up way beyond how she needs to, taking his keys and taking up shelter in his house, which is an easy way to be tracked. She parties at a club, deliberately incensing people so they will start fights, takes a more violent-than-usual approach with Lilah, beats Lee to a bloody pulp over the slightest comment, shows up right in Angel’s face in broad daylight, breaks into Cordelia’s apartment, and most shockingly, actually ties up and tortures Wesley.
Once again, none of this seems out of the realm of possibly when considering Faith’s character, but what makes it stick out is her deliberate focus on acting this way; ways to get attention. Ways to get caught. Even before she becomes interested in Angel, she’s going for overkill. The explanation for which may be unclear throughout the episode, but in retrospect of the heartbreaking and amazing final scene, makes perfect sense. Her experience as Buffy in Sunnydale forced her to realize that she is the sum of her actions, but at the same time she is still who she is. She herself said in S3 of BtVS that she was never much for apologies, and so in her mind she believes she is ‘wrong’ and needs to be punished; indeed, she wants to die. But just ‘fessing up is not in her character at all at this point.
Another important point to note about her behaviour is when she speaks to Wesley about destiny (see quotes below), and it suggests that, beyond simply believing she needs punishment (and therefore believes in her own responsibility), she is beginning to develop a moral compass. In S3 of BtVS, her philosophy was strictly ‘survival of the fittest’ where right and wrong did not enter into things as much as strength and superiority. Now she’s talking about destiny openly, calling herself and others pieces in a game and making an excuse. But if you’re in the right, what’s to excuse? Or, to pose a first person question: “Are you trying to convince me? Or yourself?” Despite the progress still to be made she now acknowledges the wrongs of her actions, even if she can’t admit it yet.
Someone who can admit to their mistakes, however, is Wesley. It was harsh to see Angel actually play the ‘boss’ card on him, but the effect was undeniable. AtS itself has always been a show about redemption, and its main cast always has had something to atone for. Doyle joined with Angel at the behest of the powers, hoping to make up for his failure to save his own half-demon kind from genocide. Though not as conscious, Cordelia, with Angel, seeks to become a better person and make up for her years as a ditzy and cruel bitch. Wesley, when joining up with Angel Investigations in “Parting Gifts” [1×10] was a man seeking to prove himself not smart or brave (two things he’s always been), but competent.
And a big part of what made him feel like a failure, feel inadequate, was his failure with Faith. Not only could he not help her, he drove her further away and as Angel suggests, he may be the greatest x-factor behind her fall into darkness. Just as he believes in Marquez and any owner of a soul, he believes in Faith and her capacity for good, is quick to admit his own failure and wants clearly to help. Even after being tortured by her – seemingly endlessly – his belief in the capacity of the soul leads him to spare her when she is crying in the alley; take what you will of the visual parallel to Wes’ drop of the knife to Faith’s drop of the glass shard.
Between this episode and “Sanctuary” [1×19], when he refuses to help the Watcher’s council because of his belief in the good of Angel, Wesley himself has a lot of development and paves a very significant strip of his own road to redemption: his competence, and self-respect.
One last thing I’d like to discuss are the flashback sequences with Angelus/Angel and Darla, as it seems the writers just love to make his past a perfect parallel to the story of the week. Hey, it’s been done well so far, so I don’t mind at all. Much like the revelations about Faith’s actions, the true purpose of it all doesn’t really become clear until the end. What I took away from it was a simple and effective connection: Both Liam and Faith were overall decent people driven to extreme circumstances. Both of them had natural families that cared for them, but could express it only through concern and fear (Buffy in her scolding of Faith in BtVS “Consequences” and Angel’s puritan father in “The Prodigal” [1×15] ).
This lack of approval – this failure of communication – drove them away and allowed them both to slip willingly into the hands of more approving and more evil parents (Mayor Wilkins and Darla). But after Angel’s soul was restored, he too was a being with a certain capacity and the intent to do right in the end; he came to a point of revelation, as Faith did in “Who Are You?” Both the recently-ensouled Angel and Faith took to a purposeful embrace of their inner-monsters as a last resort to bring their suffering to an end. But in the end, neither of them could kill their intended, and the path to the end of both monsters was started.
It’s not as amazing or shocking as some other episodes this season, but “Five by Five” still stands out in a season full of stand-outs. It’s only a hair’s length inferior compared to “Sanctuary” [1×19], and as a whole, I even enjoyed it a little more. Eliza Dushku did a great job here, as she does in the second part of this L.A. tryst for her character. Oh, and it was nice to see Wolfram and Hart really act against Angel for the first time. Even if the Senior Partners still have their long-term plans up their sleeve, and Lindsey was simply acting independently, I’m still pleased that something was done. It’s taken too damn long.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Faith’s club outfit.
+ Lee Mercer and Lilah Morgan’s second appearances.
+ Angel and Lindsey’s ‘showdown.’ David Boreanaz and Christian Kane have great screen chemistry.
+ Wesley standing up to Faith.
+ The slow shot of Faith dropping the glass shard, and later, Wesley dropping the knife.
+ The fantastic and appropriately brutal fight scene.
+ Faith’s breakdown. This one of my favourite moments in the entire series.