I had a bad feeling about Roger Wyndam-Price from the moment he walks through the doors of Wolfram & Hart—and not just because Roger begins belittling and insulting Wesley Wyndam-Price almost as soon as he arrives. I was not surprised in the least when toward the end of “Lineage,” Roger reveals himself to be a turncoat, having concocted an emergency so that he can weasel his way into W&H’s secret vault and steal an Angel-neutralizing wand from his son. I saw that twist coming a mile away.
But I didn’t mind it, for two reasons. For one, I didn’t anticipate the twists that then followed, with Wesley shooting Roger repeatedly in the chest in order to free Fred from his clutches—at which point “Roger” is revealed to be a cyborg, not Wesley’s actual father. For another, this episode isn’t really about Roger, even though it ends with Wes calling home and finding out that his real father is still alive, and still very disappointed in him. No, “Lineage” is an episode about Wesley, and who he is at this point in Angel’s run.
At the start of the episode, for example, we get a little bit of the Badass Wesley, as he takes a meeting with an underworld figure named Emil and shrugs off Emil’s Tarantino-esque pontificating about criminal ethics by muttering, “If I’d have known this was going to be a seminar, I’d have worn my name tag.” Then when the meeting goes sour and a cyborg assassin shows up (thus setting in motion Cyborg Roger’s plan), Wes does his best John Woo, leaping through the air with two guns; and, unfortunately, leaving Fred unarmed and unprotected, which leads to her hurting her arm. Badass Wesley returns at the end of “Lineage” too, as he ruthlessly tortures one of the cyborgs to get information about what his “father” is up to, and then as he shoots his “dad” and keeps on firing away, long after the old man has been incapacitated.
But in between those two manifestations of the darker Wes, we see a lot of his past selves, getting reminders of the comic bumbler, the tortured naif, and the headstrong fool that Wes has been up to now. Roger shows up claiming that The Watcher’s Council is re-forming, and that they’re debating whether to re-admit Wesley. And knowing that he’s under that kind of scrutiny makes Wes freeze up, becoming a general klutz yet again. It doesn’t help that Roger doesn’t respect the work that Wes is doing at Wolfram & Hart—though Roger has a point when he asks whether Lorne’s entertainment division is really all that essential in the fight against evil—and that Roger is constantly reminding Wes of the boy he used to be. He tells everyone about the time that Wes tried to bring a dead bird back to life using a resurrection spell. (“His mother thought he was quite the prodigy,” Roger harrumphs.) And he tells Wesley that the Council considers his stint as Faith’s watcher as their most embarrassing failure. (“Really?” Wes mutters. “I beat out everybody dying in an explosion as Most Embarrassing Failure?”)
There are still questions left unanswered at the end of “Lineage,” about who this fake “Roger” really was, and how he knew so much about Wesley. But that matters less than what we know about Wesley by the end of the episode. The Connor-related mind-wipe has changed some of who these characters are, so here, at roughly the one-third point of this season, we see that the kindly Wes is still with us and the mean Wes is still with us. And the quickest way to turn the former into the latter is to mess with Fred. (And now Fred knows this too. Could their long-deferred romance finally be in the cards?)
I mention how “Lineage” marks something of a turning point in season five not because Angel seasons always follow a three-act structure, but because on the periphery this episodes picks up a few of the threads that have been weaving through the past several weeks, guiding them straight into episode eight, “Destiny,” which seems to introduce both the real villains of this season along with one of this year’s major themes. In “Lineage,” before Cyborg Roger’s mecha-army storms the office, Spike corners Eve in the lift, and says he thinks the amulet that Angel gave him for his apocalyptic battle alongside Buffy was actually meant by Wolfram & Hart to kill Angel; but Eve suggests that maybe it was always intended to be Spike’s. And after Wesley shoots his fake father—while thinking it’s his real father—both Spike and Angel try to make him feel better by letting him know that they killed their parents when they became vampires.
All of this sets up the action in “Destiny,” which is an episode about the roots of the rivalry between Angel and Spike, and what binds them against their will. I know not everyone is fond of Angel’s flashbacks—mainly because they require David Boreanaz to break out his Bono impression—but I’ve always loved them for the way they expand the Buffyverse, giving an epic scope to what’s essentially the story of a handful of characters. In “Destiny,” we journey back to London in 1880, and to the first time that Drusilla took her William to meet Angelus. Initially the two men bond, with William trying to prove himself by participating in every dangerous, debauched thing that Angelus does. But Angelus is disturbed—or perhaps just disgusted—by William’s puppyish love and loyalty to Dru. So Angelus decides to complete the siring process that Dru started, by letting William catch him having sex with Drusilla, and thereby teaching William that sentimental attachments are for puny humans, not vampires.
Cut to: present day, where Spike receives a package containing a bright flash that turns him corporeal. Unfortunately, it also throws the entire universe into catastrophic turmoil, because now there are two ensouled vampire champions walking the Earth, which messes with the Shanshu Prophecy. So the gang consults with W&H’s top prophecy man, Sirk, who scoffs at them for pretending to understand a translation of the Shanshu. (“May as well have read a 12-year-old’s book report,” he says disdainfully.) Referring back to the original text, Sirk says that the prophecy speaks of a Cup Of Perpetual Torment—not a metaphor, he insists—that the true champion will drink from, thus restoring order. The prophecy doesn’t say whether Spike or Angel will do the drinking, only that whomever drinks first was meant to do so.
There follows a thrilling car chase through the desert—with Spike blasting the Dead Kennedys while driving the Viper he stole from Angel—to a crumbling Death Valley opera house, where the two men have an at once acrobatic, physically punishing, and psychologically vicious fight, kicking the crap out of each other while also debating which of them deserves to drink from the Cup. It’s an exciting sequence, both for its gravity-defying martial-arts action and for the way Spike and Angel question whether the former’s better because he fought for his soul, or the latter’s better because he takes the burden of being a champion more seriously. In the end, Spike overwhelms Angel, stakes him (but just through the shoulder, lest he anger Buffy), and taunts him as he drinks from the Cup. And… it’s Mountain Dew. The vampires have been set up.
Who’s behind the set-up? Well, Eve, naturally. But also a mysterious man that she talks to at the end of the episode, who after a long reveal turns out to be… Lindsay McDonald, Angel’s old Wolfram & Hart enemy. I’m intrigued to see how this plays out, because I always found Lindsay to be an interesting villain. On the whole though, I have to admit that everything going on back at the home office while Angel and Spike duked it out kind of lost me. Initially it’s funny and horrifying, as employees start bleeding from the eyes and bashing each other to death for not replacing the toner. But it’s never fully explained how Eve and Lindsay concocted this rage-plague, or how they stopped it, or what they expect to get out of all of this mayhem. I’m sure that’s all coming later, but still: The lack of answers made about a third of “Destiny” feel like filler.
But hey, the other two-thirds is pretty awesome. And relevant, too. It’s good to be reminded every now and then just who the heroes are on this show, and what they’ve been through to get where they are now. As Spike notes sardonically, Angel thinks of himself as a hero, and yet he still can’t touch a cross without burning. But then what’s the first thing that Spike does when he becomes corporeal? Drags Harmony into the nearest office to “take a long lunch.” This is who will save the world: a couple of profane killers who can’t control their lusts. Like it or not, they deserve each other.
- Roger says of Angel: “He’s a puppet. He always has been.” Foreshadowing of a certain episode coming later this season?
- Spike, defending his past proclivities: “Sex with robots is more common than most people think.”
- Spike’s reaction when Cyborg Roger recounts their 1963 meeting, in the wake of Spike slaughtering an orphanage in Vienna: “Oh. How’ve you been?”
- Spike’s a lot of fun throughout “Lineage” actually—especially in his delight at hearing that Wesley was once “Head Boy” at his boarding school.
- One more funny moment with Spike in “Lineage.” When the elevator stops and the lights go out, he shouts, “You’ll never take me to Hell, Pavayne!” When the power is restored and Eve looks at him funny, Spike shrugs, “Just something I say when it gets dark.”
- I love the reveal of Knox in Fred’s lab, timed for maximum Wes-irritation.
- Here’s some of the anecdote that Lorne relates to Cyborg Roger: “So I am covered in cherries. The police are just pounding on the door, and Judi Dench starts screaming, “Oh, that’s way too much to pay for a pair of pants!’”
- It’s been interesting to track they ways that Angel has been able to maximize its limited budget this season. The flashbacks to 1880 mostly take place in confined spaces, not requiring a lot of set-dressing. The big expense in “Destiny” would have to be the fight in the opera house, which must’ve taken a while to shoot, and in a non-standard location to boot. Worth it, though.
- Another Angel season five extravagance? The cars. They’ve got some boss cars this year.
- The newly corporeal Spike is impressed with Angel’s blood of choice: “Is this Otter?”
- I don’t know whether this was intentional or not, but with Wesley on leave from W&H in “Destiny,” I briefly wondered whether he’d be the mysterious mastermind that Eve is speaking to at the end of the episode. (Or, barring that, a cyborg of some kind.)
- Spike on the shininess of the Cup: “Thought it’d be a little less golden-y, what with the torment and all.”