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Angel 5x06 Cautionary Tale Of N 5 - Jenoff Review

Sunday 9 November 2003

Angel - The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco or Night Of The Luchadors Summary A security guard thinks there is a break in. It’s a plumber. Then the plumber and the guard are attacked by something. At the office, Lorne wants advice on dealing with the birthday of an aging beauty queen. He tries asking the mysterious mailman (who wears a mask with 5 on it), then tries Fred (who he sort of insults in the way he says she’s a woman). She gives him a great answer. Gunn is getting Angel to sign some papers (in blood according to demon law). They’re doing a lot of good, but Angel feels disconnected. Spike mocks him. Gunn says he understands, that he loves the law but misses the action. Wesley enters with news of demonic killings. The mailman starts and goes to leave. Gunn has mail for him. Angel takes the envelope and follows the mailman out trying to give it to him. Number 5 grabs Angel and tosses him aside, then goes.

Gunn, Wesley, and Spike run up. Spike tells everyone Angel attacked number 5. Fred comes up and is shocked. Lorne arrives and says there is talk on the web about it. He says they are spinning it to make Angel look really scary. Gunn has security find number 5 and escort him out of the building. He says they should fire him and Wesley agrees. Wesley gets news of another death, at a church service. He notes it is the Mexican day of the dead. Cut to Angel, Spike, Gunn, and Wesley driving to the church. Spike called shotgun and Wesley thought it was a weapons check. Wesley starts telling Angel where the church is when he suddenly comes to a screeching halt. Angel hops out and the others follow. They find a body. A fresh one. Spike explains Angel smelt the blood. Wesley notes the heart has been removed while beating. The demon shows up behind them. It’s dressed like an Aztec warrior. They fight and the demon really seems to get the better of them. Spike tries to help, but while he can grab coffee cups in the office, he can’t manage to grab a weapon under these conditions. The demon takes off for no apparent reason.

At the office, Fred is given some demon gunk for analysis. Spike pops in saying he wants to get away from grumpy Angel. Fred says he should know it’s not easy being a champion. He says he doesn’t. She says he saved the world and he says he just stood there and let the fire come. She says he saved her life. Cut to Wesley researching the demon. Angel comes in, but he realizes he’s just disturbing Wesley and goes. Spike arrives and asks about the books and prophecies and shanshu. Wesley explains the prophecy is about a vampire with a soul who plays an important role in an apocalyptic battle and gets to live again. Spike points out the prophecy could apply to him. Wesley says it could if he weren’t a ghost. Spike says it’s all nonsense and that Angel told him so. Wesley’s assistant calls him over and Spike goes to look at the prophecy book.

In Angel’s office, Wesley explains the demon is Tezcatcatl and that he appeared last 50 years ago to the day. It was defeated by 5 brothers, but 4 of them were killed. Spike notes either they didn’t kill it or it has a way of coming back. Angel says he’ll talk to the surviving brother. Wesley says they have his address. Cut to Angel knocking on an apartment door. Number 5 opens it. He grabs Angel and says he must not have been clear in their previous conversation. Angel says they didn’t have a conversation. Number 5 says he heard them and knew they wanted to drag them into the quest for the demon. Angel says he just wanted to give him mail. Number 5 apologizes. Angel says now he wants to drag him in. Number 5 says he’s retired. Angel notes the mask makes it hard to hide what he was. He says he wears the mask to remind himself only a fool would be a champion. Angel asks if he thinks his brothers were fools. Number 5 slaps him and says not to disrespect his brothers. He says they were wrestlers, the greatest ever. They called themselves the number brothers. Angel sees a small shrine with a photo and it shows the 5 brothers each wearing a numbered mask - 1 to 5. Number 5 says it was a different time. He tells the story of how they were wrestling stars and champions, fighting evil like the robot the devil built. They spent all their time together. He says he can’t remember how he killed the demon. He says he tried to carry on after his brothers died, but people stopped calling. Then Wolfram & Hart offered him a job. He knew they represented all he and his brothers despised, but with his brothers dead it didn’t seem anything mattered. He explains that every year on the day of the dead he prepares an altar for his brothers (the small shrine Angel was looking at). But they never come because he’s not worthy. Angel says number 5 has stopped caring and asks why.

Number 5 takes Angel to a wrestling match where midgets dressed as the 5 brothers perform. He sees this as a mockery of the heroes. Angel says he expects too much of people. He says you are a hero because you can. He says he believes some part of number 5 believes this. But when he turns, number 5 has gone. At the office, Wesley and Gunn try to figure out the demon m.o. Wesley asks Gunn if he thinks Angel is acting oddly and Gunn says he is disconnected. They realize all the dead were heroes of some sort, that’s what the demon wants - the hearts of heroes. Angel walks out and sees number 5 leaving on a bus. The demon attacks him and nails him to the hood of a car with a sword. But it doesn’t cut out his heart, it leaves. At the office, Angel says he thinks they are wrong, since the demon refused his heart. Wesley says the demon eats the hearts for sustenance, it wants the meat, not metaphor. Gunn says Angel has a dried up piece of jerky for a heart. Angel asks if Wesley knew about the devil’s robot and he did. Gunn leaves to research contracts, thinking the demon has made some deal to come back every 50 years.

Wesley tells Angel he doesn’t think the dried up heart is the problem. He says Angel’s heart is not in his work. He says he knows Angel doesn’t believe in the prophecy. Angel says prophecies are nonsense and reminds him about ’the father will kill the son’. Of course, Wesley remembers nothing of this. Angel says it doesn’t matter if he believes. Wesley says hope is the only thing which can sustain Angel and keep him from becoming like number 5. Fred calls and they go to the lab. She explains the blood of heroes supercharges the demon, making it almost invulnerable. Spike says he could kill it. He’d take its heart. He says he sees that in the poetry of the thing. Gunn enters and says he’d be right. Gunn explains the demon was an Aztec warrior who forged a talisman to make himself all powerful. He was found out and sentenced to die. He got himself cursed, so every 50 years he comes back. If he can find the talisman, he can stay. The talisman was given to a hero to protect and has been passed down through the generations. Gunn describes it and Angel realizes he saw it on number 5’s altar to his brothers.

Angel rushes to the apartment, but number 5 and the talisman are gone. Number 5 is at his brothers’ grave, holding the talisman and calling out the demon. Later, Angel shows up at the grave. He asks for the talisman, but number 5 says he swallowed it. This way the demon will have to kill him so he can be with his brothers. He knocks Angel aside. The demon appears and attacks him. Angel rushes to help him. Then number 5 comes to Angel’s assistance. The demon stabs him. He falls back to the gravestone and wipes his bloody hand on it. Angel is knocked back by the demon. The 4 brothers come out of their graves and go to fight the demon, calling a stunned Angel to fight with them. They pin the demon to the ground and he destroys its heart. It disintegrates. Angel rushes to the dying number 5 telling him the brothers returned because he proved himself worthy. Number 5 tells him the talisman is hidden in the coffee. He may not be a hero, but he’s not a fool. Angel gets it. Number 5 dies. The brothers pick up the fallen number 5. All 5 vanish. Angel looks heavenward.

At the office, Angel gives Wesley the talisman to put somewhere safe. Wesley asks if he’s ok and he says yes. Fred asks about number 5 and Angel says he died a hero. He walks away. Alone he gets the book on the shanshu prophecy and begins to read.

Analysis I’ve complained about a lack of foreshadowing, of characters introduced just for an episode and then forgotten. Well, I can’t say that about number 5. We’ve been seeing him from the beginning and while my theories of who and what he was were completely wrong, I can’t complain about that. Unfortunately, I can complain about yet another episode played largely for laughs. On the plus side, it was largely, not exclusively. There were some very good things. Prime among them were the shanshu story line and Angel’s sense of despair. These were points holding a great deal of promise. Even better, they were points seemingly destined to intersect. There was also an implicit debate over what champions and heroes are. And that’s the kind of thing I like on Angel.

Wrestlers were (maybe still are) a staple in Mexican cinema. In fact, there was a time when you couldn’t see a Mexican film which didn’t have wrestlers. That time may be past, but wrestling super heroes and robots built by the devil are very reminiscent of that era. So I think much of this episode was a massive in joke for anyone who has ever watched Mexican cinema - especially the cheaply produced movies of the past. It’s a funny joke, but it wears thin and I wish there were more substance to this episode. And I suspect people with no exposure to Mexican wrestlers were completely baffled.

Fred mentioned the shanshu prophecy and later when Spike talked to Angel about it Angel said he didn’t believe in it. Now Spike goes to Wesley for more information. He’s clearly figured out the prophecy could just as easily apply to him and he’s trying to figure out whether it does. The despair which has gripped Angel hasn’t touched Spike yet. He still has hope. There’s some nice parallelism here. You’ve got Angel not believing in the prophecy and falling into despair while Spike is desperate to believe in it and is clinging to hope. You’ve got Spike denying he’s a hero, while Fred maintains he is. You’ve got Angel denying the prophecy while Wesley maintains it is true. And you’ve got Wesley backing Angel as the vampire with the soul in the prophecy while Fred at least hints it may be Spike.

Spike and Angel both really hope salvation is possible, but they approach the situation from different perspectives. Spike is less afraid of disappointment. He’s willing to permit hope. Angel is terrified of disappointment and so maintains an air of cynicism. But both want to read the prophecy. Both have a moment of despair and another of epiphany. For Spike, they come close together. He claims he doesn’t think he’s a hero, arguing all he did was stand around and die. But Fred points out he also saved her life. There is a pattern. Spike has been choosing others over himself. Those altruistic acts are a mark of the hero. For Angel the moment of despair comes when he talks to Wesley about the meaninglessness of prophecies and cites the prophecy of the father killing the son which led Wesley to kidnap Connor. This is a particularly sad moment, and it makes Angel’s despair more understandable, because Wesley doesn’t get the reference. That past, the timeline in which Connor was Angel’s son, is no more. All memory of Connor has been erased. Angel realizes, once again, that he cannot share his deepest pain with those closest to him. This is even worse than I Will Remember You, since in that instance only a few hours of memories were lost. Here more than a year of Angel’s life, a really painful year, is gone for everyone but himself. Even if he told them about it, they couldn’t possibly share the enormity of it. But in the cemetery, when the brothers take number 5 with them, Angel looks upward. He’s recognizing a divinity, a power greater than himself orchestrating events toward a greater good. It’s then that he goes to look at the prophecy once more. He begins to suspect that there is a power capable of dispensing salvation and that everyone has access to it if they will just try. Number 5 taught him this lesson and that was his final heroic act.

It’s interesting how much happier as a champion Spike is than Angel. Possibly because he isn’t disconnected. Number 5 talks about how he and his brothers came together as a fist. Without them, he was disconnected, without purpose. But Spike, somehow, despite being a vampire and a ghost seems to connect to people in a way Angel just can’t. I think a lot of this has to do with the poet in him (is it a coincidence that Angel admitted to liking his poetry). It’s that poetic nature that lets him realize how to stop the demon, by taking its heart. I think that sense of poetry connects Spike to the universe. Meanwhile, Angel has convinced himself that disconnection is an aspect of heroism. Disconnection and a state of hopelessness. He has linked cynicism and despair with his heroic acts. He confuses not expecting a reward with not believing in the possibility of reward. Spike doubts he’s a hero. Angel doubts heroes can be saved.

While Spike begins to change when he realizes Fred really thinks he’s a hero, Angel begins to change when he makes the speech to number 5 at the wrestling match. All that he says about doing things because you can and not expecting much of people is as much for his benefit as for number 5’s. Angel understands that bitterness toward the people they help who forget them is counter productive. He understands that those people want normal lives and want not to think of the demons in the darkness. He and other champions fight those demons so regular people can forget they exist. That’s proof of their success as champions, not evidence of failure. This is a theme Angel articulated in previous dark periods and this time it influences number 5 and himself. Again, I’m forced to refer to City of and Doyle’s comments about Angel becoming distanced (disconnected) from humanity. It’s easy for him to do that and he has to remember to make the effort to stay connected. Spike has to remember something different. He has to remember that he is a hero. His reluctance to accept that comes from a fear of failure. But the heroism is in the effort, not the success. Number 5 becomes a hero even though he is killed by the demon and it’s the brothers and Angel who stop it.

Angel doesn’t make steady progress from despair to hope. There is a midpoint where after rising he sinks again. When he finishes his speech, revealing his inner thoughts, he is saddened at number 5 leaving, but devastated when the demon attacks him and refuses his heart. Now, like Spike and number 5, he has to wonder whether he is even a champion. The one thing he was sure of. Wesley notes this and says his heart (metaphor not meat in this instance) is not in his work. He brings up the issue of the belief in prophecy and this is when the saddest moment of the episode occurs - when Angel makes the reference to the Connor thread which all but he (and Eve) are unaware of. At this point, Wesley argues that Angel needs hope to sustain himself or he will become like number 5. Not long after, number 5 tells Angel that one day he will be like him. That sounds like a curse, but as Angel discovers the hero within number 5 was never extinguished - it merely lay dormant. Given the opportunity to act as a hero - he did. What number 5 really meant was that 50 years from now Angel will be helping the next generation hero defeat the demon. That’s the point at which Angel looks heavenward, realizing a divine plan or at least a general push in the direction of good and away from evil exists. He gets his hope and goes to read the prophecy.

Some quick final thoughts. I like Spike’s self revulsion at not being able to help in the fight. He really does want to. How come Fred is always alone in her lab unless the other characters have speaking lines. Surely her team should have been there to work on the demon analysis. Angel is not verbally invited in to number 5’s apartment, but number 5 drags him in which must qualify as an invitation. The lawyer who offers number 5 the job is Holland Manners according to the card. A nice touch.

Lines of the week:

"You’re sorta like a woman." - Lorne not having a way with words.

"I’m a lot like a woman." - Fred reinforcing the obvious.

"I really hate this place." - Angel even though in house attacks are down 30%.

"Not easy being a champion. You know that." - Fred letting Spike know how she feels.

"Nobody remembers the good stuff." - Number 5 with a metafictive comment.

"Nobody ever tells me anything." - Angel feeling more disconnected.

"Stick a piece of wood in it and I still die." - Angel on the value of even the most dried up heart.

"What are you talking about?" - Wesley not remembering Connor.

"Hope, it’s the only thing that will sustain you." - Wesley channeling Doyle and a little Cordelia.

"In the poetry." - How Spike sees the world.

"Oh, see! Drama queen." - Spike with a pretty accurate description of Angel.

"He died a hero." - Angel’s eulogy for number 5.