Angel 5×06: Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco

[Review by Miscellaneopolan]

[Writer: Jeffrey Bell | Director: Jeffrey Bell | Aired: 11/05/2003]

A cursory look at the plot of “The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco” reveals that it was surely a labor of love. It’s about a masked Mexican wrestler (known, for those understandably unfamiliar with the type, as a “luchador”) who long ago gave up his crime-fighting ways to work for an evil law firm in L.A. where he would one day cross paths with and give hope to a repentant vampire turned corporate CEO. To call the episode odd would be an understatement. It’s the kind of pitch that would get most television writers demoted to doing sock puppet theater, so that it got made at all proves that someone on the Angel creative team, probably writer-director Jeffrey Bell, really loved it. That love sometimes leads the episode astray, but it also leads to some scenes that stay on the right side of whimsical, and it all works surprisingly well with the underlying themes of this young season. Put it all together and you’ve got a weird but worthwhile little tale.

The repentant vampire turned CEO is, of course, Angel, and he’s feeling “disconnected.” His complaint is multilayered. For one thing, Angel misses life on the front lines. He used to fight the forces of evil with his bare hands; now he signs legal forms and sends Gunn into court to enforce them. When Wesley informs him that a demon is tearing out the still-beating hearts of innocent civilians, it’s no wonder that Angel hops right into the company car to find and fight the monster himself rather than send some of his many staff.

But Angel’s disconnection runs deeper than that. He’s not just cut off from life in the trenches; he’s forgotten why he’s fighting the war in the first place. At the beginning of the series, Angel was given a mission to fight evil at the behest of the Powers That Be. However tough the going got in the years to follow, Angel could generally rest assured that he was a hero with a noble destiny. And in the back of his head he could nurse the distant hope given to him by the Shanshu Prophecy: that after every battle had been fought and won he might, just might, be made newly human.

Now, over four years into his mission, pretty much everything has turned to crap. His contact with the Powers That Be, Cordelia, lies in a coma. What’s more, she’s there because a former member of the Powers That Be possessed her in an attempt to take over the world. That conflict shook Angel, but at least he knew he was on the right side. Now he’s working for his sworn enemies and very much unsure of his place. As for prophesies, Angel’s experiences in Seasons 3 and 4 have convinced him that they can’t be trusted. We can hear the bitterness in his voice when he engages Wesley on the subject. “The prophecies are nonsense. You know that. Oh, come on, Wes, after everything we’ve seen the past couple of years? ‘The father will kill the son.’”

Wesley’s response is probably the saddest moment in the episode. “What are you talking about?” Angel’s disconnection is thus complete: he’s cut off from the hero’s lifestyle, he’s cut off from his mission, he no longer believes he can regain his humanity and he can’t talk freely to his friends about these things because he erased their relevant memories in “Home” [4×22]. What’s worse, he doesn’t have hope that the situation will improve. This is Angel at a loose end.

Enter that masked Mexican wrestler, the titular Number Five. Angel visits the luchador’s apartment to find out more about Wesley’s demon and stays long enough to hear the old man’s tale of woe. Like Angel, Number Five once had a mission. He and his brothers (Numbers One through Four, incidentally) fought the good fight against monsters, gangsters, and “vampiros.” They protected the weak and “helped the helpless,” a turn of phrase that hits both Angel and the viewer right on the nose. But after his brothers were killed by the demon Tezcatcatl, the same demon currently ripping the hearts out of unsuspecting Los Angelinos, Number Five lost hope and sold out to Wolfram and Hart where he now stalks the halls as the perennially depressing mail guy. When the mighty fall, they fall hard.

Number Five’s story is told largely in flashbacks, and it is here where Jeffrey Bell’s obvious affection for the material gets a bit out of hand. During these interludes, Bell turns up the salsa music, switches to sepia-cam and shows us fairly lengthy and carefully choreographed sequences where “Los Hermanos Numeros” engage in professional wrestling, battle shotgun-toting gangsters, and work out in a dark, smoky barroom. All while wearing their wrestling masks. They had to be ever-vigilant, you see. I don’t mind a little whimsy in my fiction, and the world of Angel is certainly flexible enough to absorb it, but this is a little too weird. It gets points for novelty, and a few moments are funny in a what-in-the-world-just-happened kind of way, but it’s probably a tad too quirky for its own good.

More successful are the ways the episode uses Number Five’s story to comment on Angel’s own. For starters, it’s hard to look at Number Five’s drab little apartment and not remember Angel’s subterranean bachelor pad from Season 1. The life of a hero, the episode seems to be telling us, is circular. Number Five toiled in obscurity and he returned to obscurity. Angel began the series disconnected from humanity; remember Doyle encouraging him to form human connections way back in “City of” [1×01]. Years later and he’s as disconnected as ever, although his disconnection has taken something of a different form. Even Tezcatcatl is back, stalking the streets and relieving people of their internal organs fifty years after being killed by Number Five and his brothers. Number Five looks at all this and despairs. “Why did we bother?” He asks. “What difference did we make?”

To his credit, Angel has an answer for him. “We do it because we can…” he says, “We do it whether people remember us or not, in spite of the fact that there’s no shiny reward at the end of the day… other than the work itself.” Angel, of course, is reciting the lesson he learned back in “Epiphany” [2×16]; if nothing he does matters, then all that matters is what he does. But the problem is that he doesn’t really believe it anymore. Angel’s little speech isn’t just for Number Five’s benefit; he’s trying to convince himself that his work still has value. But as Wesley will later point out, Angel’s heart just isn’t in it anymore.

But at least his heart isn’t with Tezcatcatl. After Number Five walks out in the middle of Angel’s pep talk, our downtrodden disconnectee has a run-in with the armor-clad demon, who we discover has been ripping out the hearts of… wait for it… heroes. Tezcatcatl overpowers Angel, throws him onto the hood of a car, stabs him, and then… walks away, leaving Angel’s non-beating heart securely in his chest. Not getting your torso ripped open would normally qualify as a win for the home team, but Angel seems to take it as a cosmic diss. “Am I honestly supposed to believe that it had no problem sticking a sword in my stomach but then decided, ‘Oh, wait, his heart’s not heroic enough’? Ha! I don’t think so.”

The narrative and thematic threads come to a head in the final confrontation. It ends up that Tezcatcatl cut a mystical deal back during his days as an Aztec warrior which allows him to return from the dead every half-century until he finds a golden talisman, kept by a hero, who will make him “supernova powerful.” Number Five is the talisman’s current guardian, and he’s using it to lure Tezcatatl to his brother’s graveside in the hope that the demon will give him the heroic death he can no longer come by honestly. Angel shows up to collect the talisman in a typically despondent mood, more sure than ever that his heroic days are behind him. “[Tezcatcatl] won’t kill you. Or me. Missing the secret ingredient.” And then the zombies show up.

They’re the zombies of Number Five’s four brothers, of course, and they’re back to lay the smack down on Tezcatcatl by pinning him to the ground and asking a grateful Angel to shove a rebar through his heart. Like other fight scenes in the episode, this sequence overcomes some obvious budgetary constraints with energetic choreography and a dash of absurd comic styling. Thematically, it underscores the point that however hopeless Angel feels, he is still a hero at heart. The champions of the past have chosen him as a partner, and as long as Angel remembers that he can avoid ending up embittered like Number Five. The episode ends with a lovely sequence wherein Angel walks into Wesley’s office, picks up a reference book, and reads the Shanshu prophesy for the first time in what must be a very long while. Hope, for the moment, is kept alive.

The episode, then, is made up of sly character insight, sure-footed writing, much in the way of whimsy, and some pertinent thematic rumblings. All in all it’s a pretty kicky cocktail. However, the central idea of exploring Angel’s disconnection, while relevant and well-done, is perhaps too slight to fill out a whole episode. It’s an important point, but it’s really the only important point the episode has to make. This results in a slow pace toward the beginning and a reliance on the off-the-wall luchador story to fill out the time. But ultimately that story provides some good gags and that pace yields up some interesting ideas, and each play their part in making “The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco” a tale worth telling.

 


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ It’s nice to see Gunn actually using some of that legal knowledge Wolfram and Hart packed into his head. He’s having Angel “lock and load” some legal documents at the beginning of the episode and later finds information on Tezcatcatl by finding the contract it used to come back from the dead.
+ When a Wolfram and Hart lawyer approaches Number Five during a flashback sequence to recruit him, the lawyer’s card identifies him as Holland Manners — a nice touch.
+ Spike sees the answer to how to kill Tezcatacatl (stab it in the heart) not in the science but “in the poetry.”
+ I like the melancholy Mexican string music the episode occasionally uses. Considering that the show is set in Los Angeles, it was probably overdue for a little Latin influence.

– Lorne shows up near the beginning of the episode, makes a few quips and is not heard from again, which wouldn’t be so irritating if it weren’t so common during Angel’s fifth Season.
– While discussing the things that he cannot do in his ghostly form, Spike laments that can longer “diddle [his] willie.” Ew. Maybe it’s just because we’ve never seen him around so many guys before, but I don’t remember Spike being this vulgar.
– While I realize that they more-or-less had to include it, everything involving the mythology surrounding Tezcatatl is quite boring.


Foreshadowing

* Angel’s not the only ensouled vampire thinking about the Shanshu Prophecy. Spike has clearly realized that it could just as well apply to him. This conflict will explode rather violently in “Destiny” [5×08].
* When speaking with Wesley, Angel makes a passing reference to the latter’s kidnapping of Connor. Wesley, of course, doesn’t remember it. The tension between what Angel knows and what Wesley suspects will be touched on in “Lineage” [5×07] and come home to roost in “Origin” [5×18].


[Score]

77/100

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22 thoughts on “Angel 5×06: Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco”

  1. [Note: Stake posted this comment on April 23, 2011.]

    Great review Misc! I think a B- is about right, the episode was a little goofy, but it’s message about Angel’s isolation and his realization that he has lost his way establishes an important theme throughout the season.

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  2. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on April 24, 2011.]

    Great review, Misc. I really dislike this episode but your review just gave me a lot to think about! The next time I rewatch this I´m sure I´m gonna enjoy it a bit more.

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  3. [Note: fray-adjacent posted this comment on April 24, 2011.]

    Agreed, very nice review. I actually skipped this ep on my very recent Angel rewatch because I was so eager to get to “Lineage.” Now I think I should go rewatch it.

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  4. [Note: Giles_314 posted this comment on April 24, 2011.]

    Awesome review!

    Actually, I’ve always quite liked this episode. I think I’m a bit more forgiving of the goofy aesthetic than most, and I really like the point about Angel’s disconnect. Really, disconnection is something that Angel faced throughout the entire series, and I feel like he ultimately conquers it thanks to Connor.

    Also, I love the absurdity of the Devil’s Robot throwaway remarks.

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  5. [Note: Iguana-on-a-stick posted this comment on April 25, 2011.]

    I still don’t like this episode, but you did offer a new perspective. I hadn’t considered the “labour of love” angle but your point makes sense. Nobody can make something this weird without really wanting to, it’s the opposite of a by-the-numbers approach.

    Nicely done.

    Like

  6. [Note: Miscellaneopolan posted this comment on April 25, 2011.]

    Thanks for the kind words, all.

    I don’t really blame those viewers who haven’t taken to the episode. It is atypical for an Angel in terms of the plot and the tone. Speaking as a person who enjoys the whimsical, I was able to forgive and even enjoy some of the weirder bits, but they’re not for everyone. That said, I do think the episode has a strong thematic thrust to it that, weirdness or no weirdness, makes it at least worth watching.

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  7. [Note: fray-adjacent posted this comment on April 26, 2011.]

    I rewatched it, and, no surprise, I liked it a lot more. I think the first time I suffered from the same Awesome Title Letdown that I experienced with some other Angel episodes. Like “There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb” and “Apocalypse Nowish”, “The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco” is a good episode with such a fantastic title that I had too high hopes beforehand. (“Why We Fight” is the worst offender, IMO.)

    Anyway, I actually really enjoyed most of the luchadore scenes — especially the synchronized wrestling! — and the thematic resonance this episode has with the rest of the season, especially in light of Angel’s signing away of the Shanshu in “Not Fade Away.” The part I found myself disliking the most, actually, was Spike: his sarcastic quips just weren’t funny and felt particularly off — maybe not quite out-of-character, but definitely not consistent with the Spike of Buffy S7. It’s almost like he returned to his Buffy S4 persona, except he’s a little less pathetic and a lot less funny. I know this is a problem for much of early S5 but it really bugged me in this episode.

    Also, this was a particularly great insight:

    “The life of a hero, the episode seems to be telling us, is circular. Number Five toiled in obscurity and he returned to obscurity. Angel began the series disconnected from humanity; remember Doyle encouraging him to form human connections way back in “City of” [1×01]. Years later and he’s as disconnected as ever, although his disconnection has taken something of a different form. Even Tezcatcatl is back, stalking the streets and relieving people of their internal organs fifty years after being killed by Number Five and his brothers. Number Five looks at all this and despairs. “Why did we bother?” He asks. “What difference did we make?” ”

    The circularity continues when the show returns to these questions, from a much more cynical perspective, in the S5 finale.

    Also, props on very nice transitions throughout the review. 🙂

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  8. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on April 26, 2011.]

    Great review, Misc! I love your take on the episode as it very much lines up with my own. It is certainly flawed, but I don’t feel it deserves all the crap flung at it. All in all, I don’t think I’d have much if any to add if I had reviewed this episode myself. Kudos. 😀

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  9. [Note: nathan.taurus posted this comment on August 18, 2011.]

    Not a strong episode for the fairly strong fifth season. Still has some nice moments though.

    The thought of Numero Cinco wearing his mask day in day out for over fifty years is absurd. So is the fact that the guy was in his twenties at least and should now be in his seventies, yet did not look it at all.

    Angels heart jokes were funny.

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  10. [Note: Keaton posted this comment on October 19, 2011.]

    Nice episode, nice review, not too digressive and I totally agree with it.

    But I have to add two things that bothered me (in the episode, not the review):

    Why was No. 5 just the mail guy if W&H hired him as a muscle?

    And why did his and his brother’s bodies disappear like ghosts at the end of the episode? They were zombies and he was a corpse so that shouldn’t happen.

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  11. [Note: Odon posted this comment on July 14, 2012.]

    Presumably Number 5 started off as muscle, and has now ‘retired’ to a less active role as he aged and even fighting didn’t mean much any more.

    The brothers didn’t really wear their masks all the time – it’s Number 5 telling things that way and we’re meant to be a bit skeptical, as Angel is. Luchadors use the mask to hide their identity to the public, so it’s just meant to be tongue-in-cheek to imply they take it to ridiculous levels.

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  12. [Note: Dave posted this comment on November 9, 2012.]

    Lost myself a little in this episode. The whole numero 5 thing just didn’t take. I loved Wesley’s reaction, not knowing what Angel meant about the child. Also liked Fred explaining that Spike just “standing there, letting the fire take me”, also saved her. One person he cares about, among billions.

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  13. [Note: Debisib posted this comment on November 14, 2012.]

    I gotta say… I really don’t mind this episode but looking, strictly, at this site’s reviews… There is NO way this is the best of the first 6 episodes of this season. Just NO way.That being said, I don’t really think the score is too off. I would’ve put it in the 60s but your review makes some good points as to why it deserves higher. Still, this is probably one of my least favorite episodes of the season.

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  14. [Note: Rio posted this comment on February 8, 2013.]

    Yes- I pretty much hate this episode, but I can’t really be very rational about it. It’s good to read the comments and reviews, but as a Mexican-American viewer, I can’t get past this episode being totally offensive. I think that I would have a little more sympathy for the writers if they had shown some sort of Chicano anything during the many seasons of this show (besides that random vampire last season- which you pointed out at the time). But instead, they just throw a bunch of surfacy cultural symbols of Mexicanism at what is basically a monster-of-the-week and use the Chicano character only to help the character development of the white hero. I can’t really watch it, although I can see from the reviews and comments that it does help the overall arc of the show. I’ll just pretend this episode never happened. I’d rather my people were left out completely that used like this.
    Thanks for all the great reviews!

    Like

  15. [Note: Geki posted this comment on April 1, 2013.]

    A minor complaint, but it really bothered me: the W&H business card reads “Attorney’s at Law”. How did nobody catch that?

    Like

  16. [Note: Biogirl posted this comment on August 19, 2013.]

    2 Thoughts

    First when Angel visits Number Five’s apartment the first time, Number Five explains every year he prepares an altar for them, and every year they never come. Angel tells him the reason his brothers’ spirits never visit is because he gave up. So when they came back, I never thought they were supposed to be zombies (and really they were far to cognizant for zombies). It seems to me it’s just the spirits of his brothers returned to visit on the Day of the Dead, because Number Five is finally worthy.

    Second, It bugs me that Angel (who is supposed to be a vampire with super healing) has a fresh wound on his head for the *whole* episode.

    Like

  17. [Note: Blondie Bear posted this comment on April 5, 2014.]

    I really didn’t know what to think of this episode at first watch, but I then realized that I sort of liked it, because this isn’t the weirdest plot we’ve seen on Angel imo, there is a WHOLE LOT of weird going on throughout many episodes of this show that I usually just put at the back of my mind. Another reason I liked it was because of how it connects really well with the main theme–heroes, and the whole why-we-do-it thing, and plays really nicely with Angel’s isolation, too. I also like all the foreshadowing and continuity that I noticed in this particular episode, and the mexican wrestling didn’t bother me, what DID bother me, much like most of the demons on this show, was the heart-stealing Demon (the whole heart-stealing concept is overdone and the demon is just plain annoying.)

    What bothered me even more throughout this episode tbh was Spike. I can’t believe I said that, but like some of you mentioned, (except for the ‘it’s in the poetry part) he was acting completely OOC, his lines weren’t funny (for a change, because they usually are) and his little comment that you mentioned in the cons just disgusted me. I wish he’d just stayed dead on Buffy S7, I hate to see such an amazing character losing his charm.

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  18. [Note: Dobian posted this comment on August 31, 2014.]

    I actually loved this episode. I loved the themes with the Day of the Dead (which is part of why I enjoyed Grim Fandango so much) and the Mexican wrestling. The flashback of the Number Brothers in the ring was great. My favorite scene in the episode was Numero Cinco telling Angel his story in his apartment and Angel just listening very respectfully and with some admiration. As much as I love Angel and Buffy, oftentimes these shows can be so over-the-top and the acting so overwrought. Here, all that excess baggage is just stripped away and we’re left with a little gem of a story told in a simple, old school style. The end result is something more powerful than much more ambitious episodes achieve. The moment that his four brothers climbed out of the grave to fight together one last time was memorable and triumphant in a way that many similar fight scenes on these shows aren’t. I wish more episodes were done this way.

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  19. [Note: Manny posted this comment on October 9, 2014.]

    This is probably my favourite Angel episode. I think it had a good message about helping others because you can and not for anything in return. It also gives the viewer a glimpse into the mind of a very troubled Angel. As for all the wrestling added, I personally liked it a lot because with a little imagination it’s easy to imagine the old school professional wrestlers with their heavy gimmicks doing what the Hermanos Número were doing if those gimmicks were real.

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  20. [Note: Random posted this comment on January 19, 2017.]

    While discussing the things that he cannot do in his ghostly form, Spike laments that can longer “diddle [his] willie.” Ew. Maybe it’s just because we’ve never seen him around so many guys before, but I don’t remember Spike being this vulgar.

    I think perhaps you have missed a lot of the slang Spike uses. This isn’t actually an aberration. He frequently refers to genitals — his or others — throughout the course of both BtVS and AtS, generally using British slang, though some appear to just be made-up (but sound like they could be British.) The primary distinction “Diddle [his] willie” holds is being slang that your average American is familiar with. Joss and co. obviously take great pleasure in putting British (or completely made-up but obvious) sexual references in Spike’s mouth. While I’m not up for going back episode-by-episode, I suspect most people will at least remember his talk of having the “biggest set of wrinklies” in his very first appearance on BtVS.

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  21. I liked Spike’s conversation with Fred. He wasn’t feeling like a hero, but Fred reminded him he saved her life, and then he started to. She made him start to feel worthy of the Shanshu.

    Angel wasn’t feeling like a hero. But Number 5 inspired him, and he started feeling worthy of the Shanshu again. A tale of renewed hope.

    I really got tired of seeing Number 5’s stupid wrestling mask the whole episode.

    Like

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