Five by Five
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Five by Five

Written by: Jim Kouf

Directed by:  James A. Contner

The Theme of Redemption

ANGEL, as a series, is all about redemption; in particular the journey of redemption made by the titular hero.  But that journey must be a long one.  Once it is accomplished then the show essentially looses its whole raison d'etre.  At the same time, however, the theme is simply too important to be ignored.  One of  the most natural ways of dealing with it would be to show the redemption, or attempted redemption, of others and allow Angel's own journey to finds its reflection in that.  The danger here is, of course, that redemption will become trite.  Someone will undergo an epiphany which will turn their lives around 180 degrees and allow them set out into a new life.  Far from adding anything to Angel's own journey of redemption this would simply serve to cheapen it by making it too easy.  What I like about "Five by Five" is that it doesn't go for that easy fix.  Indeed I am not sure that it is really about redemption properly so called at all.  Rather it seems to me that it shows the desperation about their lives that people can feel and the self destructiveness that that can drive them to.  Redemption and especially whether they choose it or not is the next step; but in "Five by Five" we are not there yet.


Comparing Faith and Angel

In this episode the person in need of redemption is Faith.  In the course of "Five by Five" we see her

      stealing money and an apartment from the man at the bus station when it would have been easy for the police to track her to the apartment;

      start fights for no apparent reason on the dance floor;

      wreak various other havoc including breaking a policeman's jaw;

      accept a commission from obviously very dangerous people and then proceed to beat the cr*p out of one of them for no very good reason in full view of the others.

At one level this is behavior that is no longer just borderline psychotic.  How do you account for it?  More than that how do you do so in a way that is consistent with the way “Five by Five” ended?  And if you cannot do so what then becomes of the whole episode?  Doesn't it just fall apart in your hands?  It is in this context that the flashbacks become crucial.  I was never terribly impressed by Angel's "We're a lot alike, Faith" speech in the BUFFY episode "Consequences".  This seemed to show little if any understanding of either Angel or Faith.  But in the flashbacks to Borsa in 1898 we are shown parallels between Faith and Angel just after he was cursed.  Through these parallels we begin to understand Faith.  Her actions become explicable and so too does the ending of the episode.  And the flashbacks work principally because they allow us to compare Faith and Angel at the same stage in their lives – before their search for redemption had actually begun.  Angel in LA2000, while not quite the complete work, has long since left behind any doubts as to what he should be trying to do.  He knows he wants redemption and believes that he can achieve it.  He is, therefore, irrevocably on the right road.

Angel in 1898 was different.  He had just had his soul restored and was clearly suffering the torments of Hell.  That little speech he gave to Darla when he said

"Funny.  You would think with all the people I've maimed and killed I wouldn't be able to remember every…single…one. “

was chilling. And here we see the first parallel between Angel and Faith.  She too is in pain and the torture scene with Wesley is proof of that.  Although she wanted to provoke Angel she also had a score to settle with Wesley.  As she said:

“Did you ever wonder if things would have been different - if we'd never met.  What if you'd had Buffy and Giles would have been my Watcher?  You think you'd still be here right now?  Or would Giles be sitting in that chair? Or is it just like fate?  You know, there is no choice.  You were gonna be here no matter what.  You think about that stuff - fate and destiny?  I don't.   Not that any of this is your own fault. Since this may be  the last chance we will have to unload on each other, I feel that it is kind of my duty to tell you that if you'd been a better Watcher, I might have been a more positive role model.   Face it Wesley; you really were a jerk.  Always walking around as if you had some great big stake rammed up your …English Channel. “

This is a very revealing passage.  She still doesn’t blame herself for anything.  She blames fate; she blames Wesley.  But, as Angel mockingly points out why blame anyone if she was happy with the way she was?  The answer is unwittingly provided by herself.   When Wesley calls her a “piece of sh**”  she reacts angrily.  I think she does so because Wesley is echoing what she thinks of herself deep down.   No she isn’t happy – not at all.

But what could Faith do to make the pain stop?  Here we come to the second parallel between Faith in LA 2000 and Angel in Borsa 1898.  When Angel regained his soul he did not know how to react to the change.   At that point he was poised between two worlds - the darkness and the possibility of something else.  The problem was that he was in no position to make a rational choice between the paths open to him, or indeed any choice at all.  He may not have been borderline psychotic but he was teetering on the brink of a complete mental breakdown.   And his first instinct was to cling on to what he thought he knew and understood, even if that was the very thing that had caused him so much pain.  Our very first scene with Angelus and Darla in Borsa (before he was cursed) emphasized how close they were and how much they shared.  After Angel's soul was restored, and in spite of how he now felt, he went straight back to her - not to blame her for what she had done to him but for comfort and reassurance.    He even said to her "I am like you."   But her reply was:  "You're not like anything.  Get away from me.  Get out! “.  But even with that rejection Angel continued to struggle with his identity.  When he met the small group of passers by on the street he seemed to be operating at a purely instinctual level.  At first all he was conscious of was the fact that he was hungry.  But one thing did resonate with him.   The woman called him a monster.   It was a cry he took up and repeated over again.   I think that this showed he was still struggling with his identity as a vampire.  Although rejected by Darla he continued to play the part of what he thought he was – a monster.   That is why he attacked the strangers.   He didn’t care what the consequences for him were of doing so in circumstances where he might easily have been killed by a mob.  I don’t think he was consciously suicidal.  I don’t think I would even argue that he was subconsciously suicidal.  Rather it seems to me that he took actions which involved the risk of death because the subconscious need to find an identity he could live with was more important to him than the risk of his death.

Just like Angel in Borsa 1898, Faith too was faced with two different directions for her future.  She had got a glimpse of what life for her could have been when she switched bodies with Buffy.  She had a home, family, friends, a decent man to love and a career as slayer where people value her and are grateful to her.  But that is all gone.  She is desperate, friendless and in pain.  The only thing see sees left for her is to continue to play the part that she has been playing all along – that of a homicidal monster.  So she lashed out in all directions trying even harder to convince herself she really was bad.  Hence the behavior referred to at the beginning of this review.  But the interesting thing is that she seems to have killed no-one, not even the man who tried to pick her up at the bus station.  That itself indicates, I think, that things were not quite as she pretended.

The Contract

And it is at this point that the stories of Faith and Angel intersect.  When Faith first heard Angel's name from Wolfram and Hart all she saw at first was a further opportunity to strike back at what she saw as the cause and source of her pain - Buffy. 

Faith:  "Who am I supposed to kill?"

Lindsey:  "Please understand that we would never advocate the killing of another human being.  His name is Angel.  He's somewhat of a private..."

Faith:  "No problem."

Lee:  "Don't you want to know anything more?"

She is so anxious to kill Angel that she doesn’t even wait for Lindsey to finish the sentence.  So, it seems to me that her first attempt to kill him was a straightforward and genuine one.  But when he caught the arrow she fired at him from ambush she was genuinely impressed and this seems to have set her on a very different pattern of behavior.  That little scene with the gun in Angel’s office illustrates her change of attitude.  After Angel deliberately fires a blank bullet at Faith’s leg we have the following exchange:

Faith:  "You didn't shoot to kill.  We're gonna have to up the stakes, get you in the game a little."

Angel:  "What's the game exactly, Faith?  Boredom?  Revenge?"

Faith:  "Dude, I'm getting paid.  They hate you almost as much as I do."

Angel:  "Ever occurred to you this might be more fun for me?"

Faith:  "You think?  Because what if you kill me and you experience that one true moment of pleasure?  Oops!  I'd get off on that.  Go ahead.  Do me.  Let's take that hell ride together.  Come on, Angel, I'm all yours!  I'm giving you an open invitation.   Jeez, you're pathetic!  You and your little tortured soul, got to think everything through.  Well, think fast, lover.  You don’t' do me, you know I'm gonna do you!"

She then shoots him with a real bullet. But instead of trying to take advantage of the situation she escapes.  That is because she doesn’t want simply to kill Angel anymore.  For her he is on the opposite end of the spectrum from where she believes herself to be.  His little tortured soul means that he has to do the right thing.  That is illustrated by the fact that when he tried to live like the monster Angelus had been his soul wouldn’t let him.  He stumbled away from the woman he had tried to kill with the words "I can't.  Oh god, I can't."  But just as Angel as a newly ensouled vampire in Borsa 1898 felt compelled to act out the role of a killer in order to prove he was still a monster; so Faith felt compelled to show that she was still a rogue slayer by taking on the “soul boy” in LA 2000.  But merely fighting him would not be enough.  She wanted to get him mad enough to try to kill her out of anger (rather than in self defense).  That is why she confronted him in his office.  That is why she went after Wesley and Cordelia.  She wanted to prevent him from completing his own redemption by reawakening the darkness inside him.  By doing so she would confirm her own darkness.  So, while I do not think she deliberately courted her own death her survival was certainly less important to her than reaffirming her sense of identity.  But all that happened was that a situation she thought she had under control turned out to be under Angel’s control instead.  He turned up not full of anger and hatred but cold, calculating determination.  He fought her only to defend himself and not to kill her.  That was an eventuality she had never planned for.  It meant utter failure for her.  That was what led to her breakdown.  All she had left was to repeat her mantra mindlessly.

 "I'm evil!  I'm bad!  I'm evil!  Do you hear me?  I'm bad!  Angel, I'm bad! 

All of these parallels between Angel and Faith are very well conceived and executed and are very effective in shedding light on Faith’s state of mind and motivations – which are the key to this episode.  But they are not themselves sufficient because there is one very important difference between the Angel on the one hand and Faith on the other.   Angel committed his crimes as a soulless monster.  It was just that his soul had to pick up the pieces afterwards.  Faith’s soul on the other hand was responsible for her actions; it had a choice Angel’s didn’t.  I am, therefore, really glad that the writers had enough understanding of the two characters to realize this difference existed.  So, we get the character of Marquez.  As Wesley says of him:

 "He may be a ruffian, but he's already got a soul, and therefore - deep down inside - an urge to do what's right."

Later Wesley says much the same about Faith:

“She's not a demon, Angel.  She is a sick, sick girl.  If there is even a chance she can be reasoned with..."

In drawing this parallel, the writers are making the point that no matter how hopeless a cause Faith may seem she can still be reached: redemption is possible.  

But there is another really interesting thing about the parallel between Faith and Marquez. I suggested at the beginning I for one would have been very disappointed if Faith had undergone any form of quick or easy redemption.  But the important point about “Five by Five” is that she has not opted for redemption.  She has merely been brought to the same point of despair that Angel had where even death is not the way out for her.   It is only now that we come to the next step.   As Angel told Marquez: 

“You're gonna have to face your demons sometime." 

That is what Faith has to do.  But it is by no means certain that she will do it.  In reply to Angel, Marquez says “What if I don't want to face my demons?"  The reply is  "Then you'll have to face mine." In other words, “I will force you to testify.”  And, while it is not made explicit, it may very well be that that is what happens.  Marquez testifies not because he sees the light but because the consequences of not doing so are more immediately painful.  Thus, although Marquez, has the possibility to be redeemed, he is not.  The writers may, therefore, be letting us see another potential parallel and thus telling it is Faith’s choice and she may make the wrong one.

Through all of these parallels I think we can read Faith’s actions in a way  which is both consistent with her as a character and believable in the context of the plot.   And for me that is perhaps the most difficult as well as the most important test that “Five by Five” passed.

Development of the Plot

Another thing that I really like about “Five by Five” is the way that all of the quality character exposition and development is used in the story.  All of the individual elements are there in plain sight:  Angel’s past, Faith’s pain, the way she wants him in the game and is willing to use Wesley to achieve this.  But it is only in the final scene that we make sense of it all.  It started to come together about a third of the way through the fight with Faith when I realized Angel was holding back – why?  Then, when Faith actually did break down, everything just fell into place.  Each stage in the development of the plot in LA 2000 had played perfectly sensibly as psycho Faith going on a vengeance kick.  But from the perspective of Faith’s breakdown at the end, each scene took on a subtly different meaning.  It was the ultimate plot twist because as it was unfolding I for one didn’t even realize it was a plot twist.  That was really elegant.

And another good thing is the pace with which all of this happens.   “Angel” has developed a tradition of a gentle, usually humorous opening scene.  Yet, just as in  “Somnambulist” here we move straight into action.  Marquez is attacked by the demons who have killed his friends and they in turn are ambushed by Angel and Wesley in a quite exhilarating scene full of running, cars, swishing axes and gore (or is it goo).  Great stuff.  And the plot never really stops.  There is great economy in using Marquez’s decision to give evidence as a means of foreshadowing Faith’s possible redemption and to give Wolfram and Hart the push towards enlisting Faith’s help.  Indeed economy is one of the great virtues of this episode.  It is very focused and nothing is wasted.  All of the important action is concentrated around a light little triangle of Angel, Faith and Wolfram and Hart.  Only insofar as they relate to the interaction between these three does anyone else get a significant look in.  From the time Angel sabotages the Wolfram and Hart murder case onwards the tension between these three principals mounts.  Faith’s attack on Angel is followed by a meeting of the Fang gang in which nerves are jangling all round; most notably between Angel and Wesley with Angel putting his foot down hard on the ex-Watcher.  Then you have the parallel plotting with Faith on the one hand trying to get Angel “into the game” and Angel trying to find out what Wolfram and Hart are up to on the other.  Highlights here are the two tense confrontations between Angel and Faith and between Angel and Lindsey.  And then in the final few scenes the pressure builds and builds.  The torture scene is particularly effective as Faith’s mood becomes wilder and more unpredictable as she ratchets up the pain on Wesley.   The climax is reached in the fight between her and Angel but in wonderfully appropriate metaphor the weather breaks just as Faith herself does and the rain comes down.  This gives us a striking visual tableau of Angel cradling Faith in the rain while Wesley drops the knife he had brought to kill her.


Wolfram and Hart

The real villain in all of this is not Faith but Wolfram and Hart.  And what an effective villain they made.  The scene between Lilah and Lee especially showed not only their ruthless disregard for others (“tell them that's our drop-dead offer, and you make sure that they understand we mean literally not figuratively”) but in the professional rivalry between what should have been colleagues. The calmness with which both Lindsey and Lilah looked on as Faith took out some of her frustrations on Lee was very interesting.  I did get the impression that assassination may be one of the ways promotion blockages were handled in that firm.   Indeed Lilah’s attitude in this whole thing was worthy of note.  She seemed genuinely intrigued and attracted by Angel in “the Ring”.  She even tried to help him.   But here she was calmly contemplating killing him.  This was behavior that was truly soulless and offered a useful counterpoint to Faith’s struggle as well as being quite chilling in its own right.



9/10.  “Five by Five” is a very fine example of the way in which character exploration and development can take place in the context of a fast moving action adventure story.  In comparison with, say, “Somnambulist” the basic plot is a little one dimensional.  The story in “Somnambulist” blends action adventure and detective story elements so very expertly and changes and develops as it progresses.   This is a more straightforward story about a confrontation between the two main protagonists.  But where “Five by Five” really scores is in the sophistication with which this confrontation is handled.  This isn’t a simple good vs. evil tale.  It is a series of mirrors in which we see in Faith and Angel as reflections of one another and nothing is quite what it seems on first impressions.  And in all of this the acting performances were outstanding.  Special credit has to go to both DB and particularly ED who gave her best performance to date.  You really did get a sense of wildness and desperation that was barely under control.  In one or two respects it is difficult to square what we saw of Angel in Borsa with what we learned earlier about the events which took place there.   There are, for example, some inconsistencies in the time line.  Remember that, as long ago as the episode “Angel” we learned that Darla was with Angel in Budapest “at the turn of the century”.  And the impression was certainly given by Uncle Enyos in “Innocence” that Angel had stalked the gypsy girl in the same way he had stalked Drusilla.  This episode suggests otherwise.  But these are comparatively minor problems.   All in all this is one of the best. 


 Review Revised and Rewritten Sunday August 06 2000