[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: David Fury and Steven S. DeKnight | Director: Skip Schoolnik | Aired: 11/19/2003]
One of the most curious things about “Destiny” is how misleading the title is. This is not really — as one might expect — an episode about the concept of destiny and how it applies to Angel and Spike. In reality, it’s kind of the other way around; it’s about Angel and Spike and how they use – or ignore — the concept of destiny. This affects their perception, personality, and history, all of which go into shaping how these two vampires see the world.
This is an episode that is anchored by the century-plus old conflict between Angel and Spike. When thinking about the purpose of “Destiny,” a series of questions come to mind: (1) where does the animosity between Angel and Spike originate from, (2) why has this animosity persisted throughout the years to the point where they care enough to fight over the Cup of Perpetual Torment, and (3) where do the two of them go from here? I think addressing these questions will reveal a lot about who these vampires are nowadays, and what their most stark differences are. So let’s start digging!
The origin story of this conflict is finally revealed and it proves to be an excellent and consistent addition to the mythos behind the original ‘Fang Gang.’ I was completely stoked by the direction my mind was pulled when I started really breaking down some of these flashback scenes. Spike’s early notion that Drusilla is his “destiny” makes complete sense considering that his personality as a human was that of a socially removed, wannabe poet, and closet romantic. Although William’s romantic notions are more understandable than Angelus’ slow-burning psychological torture, they’re not necessarily that much better. There’s a certain possessive quality to labeling another person as your destiny – as if they belong to you and they are meant for only you. Not only is this belittling to Drusilla, in this instance, but it’s actually quite self-belittling as well – that William so lacks self-awareness and self-confidence that he requires another person to make him worthwhile. His use of destiny in the present shows just how much he’s grown, as he will come to see personal growth and self-sacrifice as his destiny rather than a woman.
Angelus, of course, mocks William for all of this and uses Drusilla to satisfy his desires on a whim. Drusilla is partially insane and doesn’t particularly seem to care about any of this either way. He not only mocks William, but Angelus taunts him too by taking Drusilla from him and laughing at him for his monogamous romantic tendencies. Angelus tells William that, as vampires, they are free to take whatever they want whenever they want it. What Angelus fails to see is that William wants Drusilla, and he wants her pretty much all the time, and Angelus’ behavior is a clear violation of his desires. This brewing conflict makes it all the more interesting that, before the disagreement over Drusilla, they appeared to be quite chummy with each other. Angelus was looking for another protégé to instruct in the art of evil, but instead got a personality that wasn’t suited to his tastes in the slightest.
If there’s one moment when William turns into Spike, it’s catching Angelus putting it to Drusilla. In short, Spike sees this as Angelus beating him out for Drusilla’s attention. The Spike persona is, at least initially, built in part to piss Angelus off as a response to this event. Spike then immediately drops his tutelage under Angelus in favor of a risky high-octane personality. He does this as a way to keep Drusilla in his favor and further distinguish and distance himself from Angelus. As we see in “Fool for Love” (Buffy, 5×07), he succeeds at this goal by causing a wake of chaos behind him that stems from his new “fists and fangs” personality. Angelus likes to play the long-term psychological game, thinking of it as an art form, and Spike’s presence becomes a direct affront to this way of un-life. Thus, a deep rivalry is born, and Drusilla is never far from the center of it.
After Angelus gets a soul and disappears off the map for nearly a hundred years, Spike is left to roam free and bond with Drusilla all that much more. This brings us up to modern times where, in Buffy Season 2, Spike, Drusilla, and Angelus are reunited for the first time in over a century. In the latter half of this Buffy season what is it we see happen in the dynamic between these three? Angelus loses his soul and what’s one of the first things he starts doing? He begins pulling Drusilla away again, both taunting and mocking a temporarily disabled (in a wheelchair) Spike! Naturally this makes Spike furious and is the primary reason why he works with the Slayer rather than trying to kill her. Spike’s temporary alliance with Buffy existed purely as a means to get Drusilla back from Angelus and stick it to him one final time.
Only it didn’t quite work out like Spike wanted it to, did it? Angel ends up coming back from hell with a soul again, and worst of all Drusilla ends up leaving Spike because of a new subconscious attraction to Buffy – an attraction that only had the opportunity to develop because Angelus forced his hand. In a way, Angelus wins again. It’s also worth noting that all of this sets a sequence of events into motion that eventually leads to Spike fighting for his soul so he can be the kind of man Buffy might actually be able to come to trust and love. Wow. The fact that this complex history all fits together coherently is actually quite impressive and exciting. I feel like throwing out a little ‘weeeee!’ Okay, I’m good now.
So, okay, we’ve figured out why the rivalry between these two vampires exists. But now that they both have souls and have grown so much, why in the world do they fight so violently over this Cup of Perpetual Torment (a.k.a. Mountain Dew!)? Well, this is quite the interesting question. From what I can tell Spike has a lot more reason to fight for it than Angel does. Firstly, Spike’s more recently been ensouled, and more recently been close to Buffy. The prospect of becoming human again feels more palpable to Spike and would mean an even stronger opportunity to have a real life with Buffy. Secondly, Spike really does think himself better, and more deserving, than Angel for the Shanshu reward. Spike fought for his soul while Angel had it forced upon him in vengeance. The fact that Angel is now working for Wolfram & Hart is further proof of this to Spike. Finally, Spike simply hates Angel and doesn’t want him to ‘win’ again like he did time and again in the past through Drusilla. Spike wants to take this reward from Angel.
The tables have really turned from their early days of knowing each other. This change is exemplified by Angelus showing his control and confidence in the past by freely sticking his hand in the sun, but then recoiling from the cross in the present while – in a powerful moment – we see the opposite is true of Spike (“I’m nothing like you”). This change makes it easier to see why Angel has little invested in beating Spike. Angel doesn’t even really believe in the Shanshu prophecy anymore! Sure, in “Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco” [5×06], we see him take another look at it with a bit of renewed hope, but his heart just isn’t in it anymore. A part of him feels that he doesn’t even deserve it! Angel, as he told Spike in “Hell Bound” [5×04], feels that nothing they do can make up for the destruction they caused as soulless vampires. And since Angel takes full ownership of the crimes of Angelus, this leads to him feeling like he has no real chance at the Shanshu prophecy even if it’s a real thing. Interestingly, even as soulless vampires, Spike showed far more capacity for reflection and change than Angelus ever did.
The key here is that Spike has a major philosophical difference with Angel in regard to the responsibility they have for their soulless crimes; Spike knows he wasn’t the same person then and didn’t have the moral conscious capable of unselfish behavior – of truly knowing the difference between right and wrong. Despite how haunted he can still be by the memories of what ‘he’ did in the past, he doesn’t generally beat himself up over it much because he recognizes that wasn’t the same person that he is now – the soul changes everything.
In Season 7 of Buffy, Buffy plays a huge role in helping Spike realize this, and ends up being the driver of a lot of what Spike ends up telling Angel here in “Destiny.” I’m particularly reminded of her fabulous speech to him in “Never Leave Me” (7×09), where she tells him “You think you have insight now because your soul’s drenched in blood? You don’t know me. You don’t even know you. Was that you who killed those people in the cellar? Was that you who waited for those girls? … Listen to me. You’re not alive because of hate or pain. You’re alive because I saw you change; because I saw your penance. … Be easier, wouldn’t it, it if were an act. But it’s not. You faced the monster inside of you and you fought back. You risked everything to be a better man. And you can be. You are. You may not see it, but I do.”
It’s actually fairly ironic to me that Angel’s only comeback to Spike’s sharp jabs about his motivations is that the whole soul grab was just “to get in a girl’s pants.” I say this is ironic because Buffy’s relationship with Angel was largely one of blind teenage notions of eternal romantic love, whereas what Buffy had with Spike — post-soul — was a relationship not of romance and lust, but of mutual respect and a more altruistic form of love. Not to say the Angel relationship didn’t have its moments of this, but it isn’t one that was fueled by it.
Beyond how culpable each vampire feels for their past crimes, Angel also has real reason to doubt the meaning of prophecies in general after everything he’s seen. Too many are manipulating or misleading to ever fully trust them. So, knowing all of this, I really think the only real reason Angel bothers putting up a fight for the Cup is simply because he doesn’t like Spike and doesn’t want to be beat by him. I think it’s obvious now that Spike’s motivations are far more compelling than Angel’s, which is why Spike gets the symbolic victory (and real Mountain Dew) – he really did want it more.
So where does that leave these two going forward? Well, for Spike, it gives him his first real goal with a soul beyond helping and learning from Buffy. This is precisely why we’ll see him hitting the streets, helping the helpless, just like Angel did back in “City of” [1×01]. Is Spike likely to repeat Angel’s trajectory and eventually become what Angel is today though? I really don’t think so, as their thoughts on their culpability to their respective pasts and their core personalities remain starkly different.
For Angel, the events of “Destiny” leave him the most devastated and lost he’s been in a long time. What’s his purpose? What good is he doing? Is he now part of the problem? All of these are questions that “Soul Purpose” [5×10] and the rest of the season will attempt to explore in more detail. It’s safe to say that Spike beating him to the Cup is massively deflating for him, at the very least. This epic fight constitutes the majority of the last half of “Destiny” and is far and away the best part of it. Sadly, though, the same can’t be said for the first half of the episode.
For all the great writing Spike gets during the big fight, it’s quite surprising how poor it is earlier in the episode. Let’s start with Spike continuing to holler out that he staked his mother while she was trying to shag him. All of that history was incredibly personal and private to him in Buffy Season 7, yet the writers have him throwing it around here on Angel like it’s the most casual thing in the world. This is just poor characterization.
An extension of my distaste with that line is Spike’s behavior shortly after becoming corporeal again. Within seconds of this Spike almost forces Harmony into having sex with him. Would pre-soul Spike do this? Sure, I can see it. But post-soul Spike? It’s a really hard sell, especially considering the fact that Buffy’s still out there and doesn’t even know he’s not all fried up. After everything we saw out of Spike in Buffy Season 7 – the quiet humbleness — this behavior comes across as really forced.
This is a problem that pops up occasionally in Season 5 – where the writers just don’t seem to have a consistent grasp on how to write an ensouled Spike. There wasn’t a second of Buffy Season 7 where I didn’t see and feel the weight of Spike’s soul and how that impacted his entire demeanor. Too often Spike is short-changed his depth in exchange for comedy here in Season 5 — some of which is admittedly quite funny — but it’s frankly not the sort of trade that makes me all that happy. I’ll leave more discussion on this to the Season 5 Review.
Beyond the characterization inconsistencies, the biggest problem I have with “Destiny” is its plot. Now, I’m the first to say that plot isn’t all that important in relation to the characters, and that holds true here, for the most part, but the everyone-goes-psycho apocalypse plot is just awful. It has absolutely no weight, is over-the-top (Eve describes it as “the entire universe thrown into catastrophic turmoil”), and only serves as a distraction from what we’re really interested in: the conflict between Angel and Spike. I really wish this plot wasn’t there or, at least, was pushed even further into the background. The episode leads us to believe all the chaos is caused by the Shanshu prophecy being ‘confused’ or something now that Spike is corporeal, causing the entire universe to begin spiraling to its doom. What overblown nonsense! It’s so ridiculous that it actually does impact my enjoyment of the good stuff. It doesn’t help that it has such a large presence too.
As the episode wraps up, we get the reveal that Lindsay, with snuggle-bunny Eve’s help, is the one pulling some of the strings around the office lately. This revelation, and what comes of it, ends up being pretty underwhelming to me, I have to say. Not only is their ‘plan’ really convoluted, but I can’t help but feel they short-change the depth that Lindsay left the show with back in Season 2. Although he comes off a little more interesting again towards the end of the season, this whole revenge plot against Angel strikes me as both petty and pointless. I’m mostly saddened that Lindsay comes back on the show for such uninteresting reasons, which makes that final reveal kind of a letdown.
So what’s the final verdict on “Destiny,” you ask. Well, when you really break it down, the first half of the episode is so plot-heavy that I honestly found myself kind of bored this time around. It’s a real shame that this drags down the explosive material with Angel and Spike in the second half. In the end, though, that epic Angel and Spike fight with all of its associated insights, barbs, and revelations, really does still make this quite a memorable episode of Angel. While “Destiny” misses greatness, it’s got enough greatness in it to hold it up despite some otherwise awful material. And I gotta tell you: the Mountain Dew reveal gets me every single time.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Spike having a blast in one of Angel’s cars, singing and then mocking Angel on the phone.
+ The old opera house is a great setting for Angel and Spike to have this epic smack down.
+ The fighting itself: well-choreographed, intense, and thrilling. Obviously it’s the character drama beneath it that makes it soar, but still a great effort on the technical details too.
– Am I the only one who thinks it’s a little lame the way Spike is made corporeal? I mean a flash of light out of a cardboard box? I know their budget was cut this season, but damn.
– Why does Eve have to talk to everyone like they are pubescent adolescents, especially considering the fact that she’s the one that most closely resembles that description? Calling the gang “kids…” thrice, and saying things like “we’ve got trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for prophecy” just makes me cringe. This episode is worse than all preceding it in this regard — Eve’s dialogue is just one awful line followed by another awful line. I’m just not used to hearing this much bad dialogue on these shows. Sigh.
– It’s kind of odd how we haven’t seen Sirk since “Home” [4×22], even in the background. Then we find out he was working with Eve and Lindsay to hatch a confusing plan. Not the most exciting character, I must say, although he had potential.
– Although I feel it works within the context of both episodes, we’ve got two in a row now that have used a fake-out mechanism at its climax. Can’t say I’m a big fan of that.
– Wesley was not in this episode.