[Review by Patrick Pricken]
[Writer: David Fury | Director: Jefferson Kibee | Aired: 03/05/2003]
When do we give up on people? Is there a point when we stop believing for the best, hoping they will change for the better, or do we hold out no matter what? It is a difficult question, one that we have to face one way or the other during our lives; as a teacher, when do I stop hoping the rude boy in the last row gets his act together? If I never stopped, I would be called naive – and yet, what if he does change?
If it came down to Connor, the boy would be expelled sooner rather than later. His experience growing up in Quor’toth did not make him into a sentimental person. Angel told him that, should Angelus be freed, he would have to kill him. And Connor is fine with that – of course, Holtz‘s long influence probably plays a role in that decision as well. But also look at “Tomorrow” [3×22]: he says a quick goodbye to Holtz and then chops his head off. And now he‘s naturally wondering, “how long does it take to chop off Lilah‘s head?”
Wesley is no Connor, though. After the crew finds Lilah‘s body, presumably killed by Angelus – though the audience finally knows Cordelia is the evil mastermind – he is the one who takes it on himself to decapitate her. It is a last gift from him; it would be far easier to have Connor do it, or to burn her body, but instead he will take care of it. He is arguably the closest person to Lilah – especially from her point of view.
One thing I always find curious is when Connor mentions that they have to make sure Lilah won‘t come back a vampire, it is Gunn who argues against it. Gunn, who grew up fighting vampires on the street, and who had to kill his own sister, should be the first to agree with Connor, not argue with him. Especially since Lilah was an enemy. In an episode that is very light on character moments for Gunn, Fred and Lorne, it‘s a shame this one moment smells false.
Back to Wesley. Every time I see his scene with Lilah in the basement I wonder about the first time I watched it: when she sits up, did I think she really had become alive? It‘s because I like the cut so much, when we switch from her walking and talking to lying dead on the slab. It is a hard cut, and helps bring Wesley‘s grief home.
Did he love her? I don‘t know, to be honest. I don‘t think he used her, not any more than she used him. Wesley claims Lilah didn‘t love him, she couldn‘t, but again, I‘m not sure. They did share intimate moments, and I think they also got some peace of mind when they were together – and maybe that‘s enough.
It‘s not enough for Wesley, though. Wesley is not Connor, as I said above. It seems like Wesley has fallen, but no matter how dirty he got there was still some white visible on his sleeves. Lilah hits it home when she remarks on Wesley‘s regret: he couldn‘t save her. In spite of Lilah‘s repeated misdeeds, in spite of her amoral survivalism, in spite of his own professed bleak outlook, Wesley still wanted to save her. He still held out hope, he did not give up. And again, Lilah is right that Wesley got that from Angel.
As an aside, Lilah is also right in that her death makes things easier for Wesley. Just when he is really torn between Lilah and a possible future for him and Fred, Lilah dies. Wesley does not have to decide. I don‘t think his decision would have been very much in doubt; he‘d probably have chosen Fred anyway and at least this way we‘re spared a storyline where Lilah is the proverbial woman scorned, but still: it does simplify things, which is unusual for Mutant Enemy.
Who to turn to for help but Faith? Faith had once been where Angel is now: seemingly irredeemable. But Angel helped her redeem herself nonetheless. Where the dead Lilah seems to be proof that Angelus must be killed, Faith is proof that there is always another way. Wesley needs that proof, but even more so he needs Faith herself. And indeed, she quickly points out to Wesley, “there‘s no way I‘m giving up on him.” As Wes says, that‘s why it had to be her. We will see in the next episodes how important this conviction is, as Faith risks her own life – indeed is willing to die in order to bring Angel back, and only thus manages to do just that.
It‘s worth noting that Faith only appears close to the second act break, roughly halfway through the episode. When I think of Salvage, I think of it as a Faith episode and enjoy it as one. I think that is an effect of the more forgettable parts of this episode. While Wesley has his immensely watchable scene with Lilah, the rest of the crew is left with not a lot to do. And what’s there isn‘t that good.
Normally, Mutant Enemy is skillful in the way they shine a light on secondary or even tertiary characters. While every episode has somebody who is relegated to the background, the writers often manage to pull off some nice character moments despite plot constraints. Here, though, it seems the writers were clueless what to do with Lorne, Gunn and Fred. They‘re just sitting around the lobby, waiting, and then putting together the sanctuary spell without much character revelation. Later on, Lorne and Fred are left at the hotel while Gunn is sent back to guard Connor (as if he could). Disappointing. Also, after conjuring the sanctuary, Lorne of all people attacks Connor with candelabra. Yes, it shows the spell worked, but I find it very hard to believe Lorne would do that, let alone with a weapon. In fact, the only other time I can remember Lorne attacking anyone is in “Not Fade Away” [5×22].
Whilst Wesley comes to the realization that he will try and save Angel, Connor almost leaves to hunt Angelus down. Right now, that‘s not to Cordelia‘s liking – she wants Angelus on her side – so she fakes a fall. Since the audience is clued in to her true motives (more or less), she now gets to manipulate Connor more openly. We see how much she‘s got him under her influence when he is immediately distracted from wanting to kill his father and rushes to her side.
Of course, that only holds up as long as Faith doesn‘t show up – a monkey wrench in Cordelia‘s plan that almost makes her betray herself and later makes her tell Connor about the pregnancy just to retain her hold on him. When Angelus kills the Beast, Connor might just be the last person she has on her side and she must not lose him to a slayer.
Connor also gets to fret about magic. This is something that grates me – not that I don‘t believe Connor would be so much against magic, but in “Inside Out” [4×17] Cordelia uses a magical ritual to give birth and there is no follow-up on his dislike of magic. The writers make it a point of character that Connor hates magic, but in the episode where he is torn between Cordy and Darla it doesn‘t come up. Hence my dislike.
While we‘re waiting for Faith there‘s also an extremely awful scene where Angelus enters a demon bar and finds some flunkies to lead him to the Beast. I hate that scene. It seems too easy for Angelus to return back into the demon fold. I mean, what stopped Angel from going to that bar, staking a vampire and being treated as evil? It‘s not that Angelus kills a human being or something similar. He does nothing at all that Angel couldn‘t do as well. And with the eternal midnight and all the chaos going on, I doubt that just a few hours after Angelus got away he would already be the talk of the town.
Oh, and there‘s also a scene with Faith. So I lied, Faith shows up earlier, but I don‘t count the prison fight scene. It‘s not a good fight scene, what with this other inmate snarling how she needed the money while already being on the ground, and then Faith punching her with weights, which always strikes me as extremely brutal (though not filmed that way). Okay, the Bringer knife alludes to Buffy and newcomers to the show might need that scene to see Faith is a strong fighter, but we also get the fight against the vampires later on and I can‘t help but feel this scene is redundant.
But then, finally, Wesley visits her. The last time they saw each other, Faith tortured Wesley who was angry at Angel for not killing her. Look at how much Wesley‘s grown — that he‘s willing to break Faith out of prison if it means saving Angel when she should be the last person he‘d want to see. In a way, it‘s Wesley‘s ‘ends before means’ approach – he wants to save Angel so he does what needs to be done. But also, it shows that Wesley is able to look at the larger picture and forgive. This is a sign of character growth. Just imagine an Abu Ghraib inmate asking Lynndie England for help. The scene between Wes and Faith is my favorite in this episode. Wesley just has to tell her about Angelus, and she‘s ready to go. See the quotes below.
I love how Faith takes charge as soon as she‘s in the hotel, even defusing Cordelia‘s criticisms quite easily. She is in control and it‘s understandable not only that Gunn, being the good soldier, falls in line, but even Connor shuts up. Their short fight in the alley is great and reminds me of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the way Faith simply blocks Connor‘s attacks and doesn‘t attack on her own — a pure display of dominance. And when she sends him home, Connor obeys.
Then we get the fight scene with the Beast. It is awesome, but it is also more than that. Remember that during the Darla storyline Wolfram and Hart said that they didn‘t want Angelus, but Angel on their side? Here we see why.
Wolfram and Hart, at least until the fifth season, was evil – but it was also a law firm. They represent order as much as they represent evil. It‘s what they offer Lindsey, too: control. In “Untouched” [2×04] it‘s clear they want the telekinetic girl as an assassin they can control, or not at all. And Angelus cannot, will not, be controlled.
Cordelia has not learned that lesson. She thinks simply confronting Angelus with the unbeatable Beast will be enough to bring him in line, that simply being evil means he‘ll work with – for her. But he “doesn‘t like having [his] strings yanked.” And she cannot control him the way she controls the Beast: with sex.
No matter whether it fits with the character of the Beast, when Cordy kisses him we see that she‘s doing the same to Connor, and we know that should push come to shove, he might side with Cordelia here. Now, I don‘t especially like that this female bad girl uses her sexuality to control her followers (and just imagine those rock-hard lips the Beast must have; almost like kissing Edward Cullen), but I‘m willing to grant it because it makes sense in how it parallels Connor. Of course, Cordelia cannot seduce Angelus as he would kill her first. And maybe turn her.
Instead, he just turns on her. We have an awesome fight scene where Faith is beaten handily. I love the moment when she‘s on the ground, and for a split second, we can see her smiling. Until then Faith has been very toned down, somber even. The Faith we know had… moxie, for lack of a better term. She had fun in her fights. That sense of fun is missing, which we only notice when it returns just before she‘s beaten down some more. Of course, that‘s a hint at her underlying desperation: in a way, she wants to die whilst saving Angel, and in “Orpheus” [4×15] we see that play out.
And then Angelus kills the Beast. It‘s not a cheat, I don‘t think. Instead, it‘s proving Wolfram and Hart right: you don‘t want that one on your side. That the sun comes back right after is a lucky coincidence. So Angelus quite literally saves the day. I love that. Faith saves her ### with a cool move. I love that, too. In the end, despite the flaws mentioned above, the strong parts are strong enough so that I love this episode and the minor arc that follows.
Finally: what the heck was Cordelia‘s plan? Can anybody tell me that? So she brings the Beast to L.A., she lets fire rain down, she destroys Wolfram and Hart (in L.A.) and she blots out the sun, all to get Angelus? Really? What kind of over-the-top, ridiculous plan is that? It feels like a total letdown that there‘s nothing else to all this; the sun comes back and it‘s all done. It seems pointless and stupid, which is a shame. It starts with a rain of fire, and ends with a whimper.
I want to mention some standout performances here: Alexis Denisof is his usual best; it‘s amazing how much he can portray without saying anything. Eliza Dushku really was born to play Faith. And a shout-out to David Boreanaz, who always seems liberated when playing Angelus; he has a certain spring in his step that fits really well to the demon being let out of his prison and makes Angelus a joy to watch. And farewell to Stephanie Romanov, whose Lilah I didn‘t connect with at all during her early appearances, but I end up missing her and regretting her death every time. She was a worthy adversary to Team Angel. At least Wesley still has that folded dollar note.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Faith breaking the prison glass.
+ Wes and Lilah in the basement.
+ Connor and Faith fighting.
+ Angelus taunting the Beast.
+ Lorne attacking Connor.
+ The demon bar.
– I just have to mention it: I think the names “the Beast” and “the Beastmaster” are dumb.
* Faith’s somber attitude hints at her death wish. She‘ll overcome that in “Orpheus” [4×15]. In a way, the salvage mission also applies to her; she must save herself.