Buffy / Angel: “Life Of The Party”/“The Cautionary Tale Of Numero Cinco”

Buffy / Angel: “Life Of The Party”/“The Cautionary Tale Of Numero Cinco”

Last week I suggested that Angel seemed to be playing a little rougher here at the start of season five, and I think this week’s two episodes proved that I wasn’t completely out to sea (for once). It’s not that Angel’s show-no-mercy violence over the first few episodes has been out-of-character—as many of you have noted, Angel’s pretty much always been unashamed to slay—but that he’s seemed so disengaged and surly while on the hunt. Something about working in a real office, with real bosses lurking in the shadows, has begun to make Angel’s mission seem more like a run-of-the-mill job. And like everyone who’s ever turned his passion into a paycheck, Angel is losing the love, such that even his friends have noticed the change. In “Life Of The Party” they pressure him into reaching out more to a Wolfram & Hart client and employee base that has become terrified that Angel is going to literally “axe” them. And in “The Cautionary Tale Of Numero Cinco,” Angel is forced to confront whether he’s technically even a hero any more.

“The Cautionary Tale Of Numero Cinco” hits all my Angel buttons—humor! surprises! superheroes!—while “Life Of The Party” gets strained down the stretch. If I had to choose between the two, I’d pick “Cinco.” But I don’t have to choose, which is good, because there’s a lot to like about “Life Of The Party,” too.

Though it advances the “Angel is disillusioned” theme, “Life Of The Party” is primarily about Lorne, who’s been making the most of his organizational skills and showbiz savvy since his arrival at Wolfram & Hart. But there’s so much work to do and only so many waking hours in a day, so Lorne has gotten the mystics at W&H to remove his sleep (which is a common procedure at the firm). Unfortunately, sleepless empaths tend to lose control of their powers, and to start influencing others’ feelings and behavior rather than merely reading and predicting it. In Lorne’s case, his generalized advice to his colleagues becomes disturbingly literal—and in the middle of the big W&H Halloween party, no less. When Lorne jokes that the bickering Angel and Eve should “get a room,” the two are compelled to go off and have sex, repeatedly; when he says that Fred and Wes should be drunk by now, they become instantly intoxicated; when he suggests that Gunn should “stake out his territory” in the firm, Gunn starts urinating all over the building. Then, as a capper, Lorne’s own subconscious manifests as a snarling Lorne-beast, and begins slaughtering the party guests. It’s all very embarrassing.

Some of the “under the influence” behavior in “Life In The Party” is funny (such as Wes and Fred both saying, “presumaly”), and some isn’t (such as Wes and Fred saying just about anything else). That’s par for the course for the wackier Angel/Buffy episodes, because as I’ve often said, what reads as hilarious and entertaining on the page can sometimes be hard to play in a way that’s not tiresome. What I most enjoyed about “Life Of The Party” was its sense of the culture of Wolfram & Hart, where douche-y lawyers complain that a party is lame because there hasn’t been a ritual sacrifice yet, and where Angel and Lorne are expected to show deference to the creepy client Archduke Sebassis and his literally blue-blooded slave. (“You taste great,” Lorne says to the slave, politely.)

As far as our main protagonist is concerned, “Life Of The Party” primarily sets up the events of the next episode. Spike’s casual remark in “Life Of The Party” about Wolfram & Hart’s magic vampire-protecting windows—“Will the perks never end?” Spike tsk-tsks—carries over into “The Cautionary Tale Of Numero Cinco,” in which Spike mocks Angel for saying he feels “disconnected,” which strikes Spike as the kind of complaint that only a snobby bloke with no real problems would make. In fact, encouraged by Fred’s insistence that Spike is himself “a champion,” as well as by Angel’s debunking of the Shanshu Prophecy as some phony bedtime story designed to scare vampires into being nice, Spike begins to wonder whether he’s the vampire destined to become human, especially given that he’s already faced an apocalypse. Meanwhile Angel gets pinned down by an Aztec demon named Tezcatcatl that eats the hearts of heroes, but the demon lets Angel go, perhaps because his heart is no longer heroic enough. Which stings our man.

As noted up top, I’m crazy in love with “The Cautionary Tale Of Numero Cinco,” largely because of the flashback to the story of the title character is so funny and cool. Wolfram & Hart’s masked mailman, spotted in the background of the first two episodes, turns out to have been one-fifth of a legendary team of Mexican wrestlers who “helped the helpless” and battled supernatural evils  decades ago. I love it when Angel turns into a superhero show—come back, Gwen Raiden!—and I love it when Angel broadens its mythology to include the past, so watching this episode to me was like reading a really good issue of Kurt Busiek’s comic Astro City.

“Numero Cinco” is hilarious, whether Spike jovially telling everyone that Angel beat up “the old mail guy”—to which nearly everyone immediately replies, “Number Five?”—or Angel is reacting quizzically to the fantastic tale of “The Number Brothers.” But it’s also poignant, as Number Five explains to Angel that people forget heroes, and turn them into a joke over time. In the end, Number Five sacrifices himself, and the spirits of his brothers return to fight alongside Angel, as Angel proves himself to be a hero again, to honor the legacy of Number Five. All of this highly entertaining, and on-point. I admire it for the former as much as the latter. To quote the episode itself, I mainly loved it “for the meat, not the metaphor.”

Stray observations:

  • Lorne is looking to set up deals for a movie that he describes as “Grapes Of Wrath in outer space.” It’s got everything: heart, laser battles, a timely message of interstellar poverty… now if only he can Wolfram & Hart’s science department to bring Henry Fonda back to life.
  • Eve walks into Angel’s apartment, catches him half-naked, and asks, “Were you having some ‘gentleman’s time?’”
  • Wesley gets snippy when Knox asks how he can be so sure that his spell-casters didn’t screw up one of Angel’s mystical weapons, replying, “I got that knowing feeling you get when you know something.”
  • What would you have supernaturally removed if you could? Madeline Chu in accounting excised her ennui.
  • Eve is not bothered that she was mystically persuaded to have sex with Angel, because it wasn’t the first time for her. (“I went to UC Santa Cruz,” she explains.)
  • The funniest gag in “Life Of The Party” is the demon who comes dressed as a human. (“I proud my honor roll student!”)
  • Lorne, seeking a female perspective: “Fred, you’re sorta like a woman… ”
  • Wesley can’t figure out how Spike ended up riding in the front seat while he and Gunn were consigned to the back. Spike shrugs that he called “shotgun,” and Wes mumbles that he just thought they were doing a weapons check.
  • Gotta love the sight of Gunn fighting in a suit.
  • A classic Angel running gag: In a flashback, the Number Brothers race off to face a robot built by The Devil, and Angel admits to Number Five that he’d never heard anything about this adventure; later, when he asks Wesley about it, Wes quickly says, “El Diablo Robotico.”
  • Sure we may be a violent culture, but what sets us apart from the Aztecs? According to Wes, it’s that, “By and large, we don’t eat our victims.”
  • Last week I blew it by not recalling how extensively the team’s memories had been wiped, post-Connor. I should’ve waited until this week, when Wes stares blankly at Angel’s mention of the “father will kill the son” prophecy. His lack of memory would have jogged mine.
  • I’ll be off next week, taking a spring-break trip with my family. If all goes according to plan, this will be the only break I’ll take during this season (though there’s always a chance that I’ll need to take another week off down the road, if life or workload gets in the way). So I’ll see you in two weeks for “Lineage” and “Destiny.”