Last year, I had a shot at saving her. I was pulling her back from the brink when some British guy kidnapped her and made damn sure that she’d never trust another living soul.
We’re taking a bit of a break from our regularly scheduled program this week, friends. If you’re just tuning in, the last two episodes of Buffy season 4, “This Year’s Girl” and “Who Are You?” have centered around Faith’s story arc. At the end of “Who Are You,” Faith hops a freight train out of Sunnydale, headed to parts unknown.
The parts unknown happen to be LA, where Faith guests in a two part story arc, “Five by Five” and “Sanctuary.” Since the events of these two episodes figure heavily into Faith’s return in season 7 of Buffy, it seems to make sense to hop on over to Angel’s neck of the woods and see how dark half is doing. Chronologically, this part of the story takes place after “Superstar,” which would have been our Buffy episode of the week, but we’re condensing to look at Faith’s bigger picture. Are we all five by five? Good, let’s talk Faith.
I believe I admitted somewhere along the line that I was never a faithful Angel watcher. I tried to get into the show when it premiered but the relative hokiness of the early episodes turned me off. I don’t think I even finished the first season. I didn’t come back as a regular viewer until season 5, following the introduction of my man Spike, so there are huge swaths of the show I’m completely unfamiliar with. I’m anticipating doing a retro Angel recap at some point, which will be a recap-cum-first-viewing, which in turn is kinda exciting, since I’m so familiar with Buffy. Anyway, I have a point in telling you all this background; unlike most of the regular recaps, I honestly didn’t remember much of what was going to happen here so I didn’t come in with any real expectations. That Faith tortures Wesley was the only significant fact I knew from “Five by Five,” and I recall that Buffy shows up in a really foul mood in “Sanctuary.”
A lot of what this story arc plays with is Faith’s sense of self. We had her self-delusion in “This Year’s Girl” in which she cast herself as the innocent victim to Buffy’s viciousness. In “Who Are You,” we had her imitation of Buffy, but also her assuming some of the burden that Buffy actually feels as the Slayer, all while wrestling with her sense of guilt and self-loathing. When she takes off, ensconced in her own body, we are left with the impression that there’s still some sort of humanity lurking around in Faith’s soul that’s repulsed by her actions.
So what’s the first thing Faith does when she sets foot in LA? She brutally assaults a stranger who was hitting on her, putting him into a coma, stealing his money, and then taking over his apartment. She then hits up a drugstore make-up aisle, puts on one of those horrendous backless halter tops that were so popular in the ’90s, sexy-dances at a sad party-slash-club, elbows some girl in the nose, starts a riot, and generally acts like the Faith she’s always pretended to be. The whole erotic-dancing-and-fight-starting scene is a direct echo of her very first Buffy appearance, where Faith wears another hideous outfit, dances provocatively, and starts a fight. We’re supposed to think she’s back to being Faith.
You might recall that way back in season 3, after Faith accidentally killed the nice human man person who tried to tell the Slayers about the Mayor’s ascension plans, Angel was the one who tried to reach out to her. He knows a little something about being a killer who needs to redeem themselves. In case you forgot, the episode starts out with a “previously on,” which covers, like, two years of story arc. And in case you still don’t understand how their stories are similar, “Five by Five” offers you one of those annoying flashback arcs that are so heavily used on the show, and oh my god, how did they not hire a dialect coach for DB by this point, because this Irish accent is just embarrassing. Do you remember the episode in season 2, where we get a flashback to the Gypsy camp where Angel is when he gets cursed with his soul for murdering and torturing that Gypsy girl, and Darla and Dru are there, and it’s all very moonlight and dramatic? Good, I’m glad you didn’t, because this flashback is pretending it didn’t happen.
Within this storyline, Darla (Hey, girl!) and Angelus (no sign of Spike or Dru) are living in some expensive home they probably stole from some people they slaughtered, when Darla brings Angelus a Gypsy girl as a present. He tortures and kills her, because Angelus is a dick. Darla comes home, presumably on some other night even though I think she’s wearing the same clothes, and Angelus is cowering in a corner weeping in fear. “Something” has happened to him, which he doesn’t seem to understand, but as soon as Darla looks at him, she can tell he has his soul back. This very exchange is contracted not only in the previous Buffy episode, but in the Boxer Rebellion story arc we’ll get to next season. But, whatever. For our purposes here, Darla casts Angelus-now-Angel out into the streets, because she can’t forgive him for having his filthy, filthy soul back. Blah blah blah, guilt, blah blah blah, Buffy, blah blah blah, atonement, champion, fighter for the weak – by casting him out, Darla has basically set up this entire television show.
Back in the present, Angel is becoming an active enemy of Wolfram and Hart, the demon legal firm, and they’ve decided to proactively take Angel out by hiring a “rogue Slayer” as a hitman. They say “rogue Slayer” as if there’s more than one of them. Couple this with the fact that they apparently don’t know that Faith has a history with Angel, who came from Sunnydale, where Faith used to live, and we can conclude that demon legal aids are shit at researching. If Faith kills him, they’ll make her felony arrest warrant in Sunnydale go away and they’ll give her $15,000 (plus expenses). Faith’s been mugging people for their pocket change, so this must seem like a windfall.
Faith proceeds to publicly call attention to herself by carrying a loaded crossbow into a courthouse, openly declares her intention to slowly torture-murder Angel, shoots him in the chest, and acts like one would expect a murdering psychopath to act. The LA gang get an offscreen update from Giles, who apparently doesn’t deign to give them specifics of Faith’s most recent crime spree, just that it was bad for Buffy.
When Wesley escorts Cordelia to her apartment to pack a lay-low bag, Faith is already waiting for them. She knocks Cordy unconscious and kidnaps Wesley. In Faith’s point of view, Wesley betrayed her when he tried to turn her over to the Watcher’s Council for rehabilitation, and the Slayer doesn’t forgive or forget. While she’s waiting around to kill Angel, she tortures Wesley. Most of this happens off screen, thankfully, but from the conversation, Faith wasn’t just killing time. She messes Wesley up.
When Angel finally tracks them down, Faith is eager to see him. She’s been waiting for him to “get in the game” this entire time and now that he’s here, she thinks he’s finally ready to meet on her terms. Faith launches herself at him, wailing and kicking, and Angel… largely doesn’t fight back. He defends himself a bit, to be sure, but we know that Angel is more than a match for Faith and he’s just allowing her to wail on him. The fight carries out of the apartment into the dramatically rain drenched alley below. Wesley manages to free himself and arms himself with a knife, completely willing and ready to kill Faith.
But he doesn’t. While Angel and Faith are fighting, she gets increasingly hysterical. He says at one point, “I know what you’re trying to do,” and it takes the viewers a second to get caught up, because soon after that, Faith is begging him to kill her. If she pissed him off enough, threatened enough people, been enough of a monster, Angel would have been obligated to put her down. But he’s not going to let her off easy. Dying is the coward’s way out.
These two shows, Buffy and Angel, frequently challenge you to forgive and sympathize with people who have done truly horrible things. It challenges the concept of the hero as an untainted, virtuous saint, who serves selflessly. Angel not only has to deal with the weight of being Angelus, but he continues to do morally ambiguous, and occasionally outright “bad” things in the service of the overall good. Spike attempts to earn Buffy’s love by aping being a man, gets his soul for her, suffers for it, attempts to rape her, and still dies a Champion. Faith murders people ““ a lot of people, a lot of demons, a lot of whoever was in her way ““ and she’s still a Slayer, still helps to save the world on more than a couple of occasions.
There’s always room for redemption.
Images courtesy of Broken Innocence Screencaps and Goodbye Piccadilly Circus Farewell Leicester Bloody Square and property of 21st Century Fox.