AngelAngel 5x08 Destiny - Soulfulspike Review
Sunday 23 November 2003, by Webmaster
Angel 5.8 Destiny—The Cup of Life Written by David Fury & Steven S. DeKnight Directed by Skip Schoolnik
I don’t have the answers. But I’m beginning to know what some of the questions are. Let’s proceed from that angle.
Angel has lost Darla, Buffy, and Cordelia—the feminine principles in his long unlife. But he never really lost Drusilla, the childe he made. He left her, unable to tolerate a normal vampire life when afflicted with a soul. He tried a return, but it didn’t work out. Hence the century of moping in alleys, eating rats, etc. But whenever he returned to her, as Angelus, she was his. And, usually to his sorrow, he’s never entirely lost his grandchilde and surrogate son: Willie/William/Spike.
They circle each other warily like the predators they are, doing the father/son dance of shifting supremacy. And in this episode, for the first time—almost for the first time ever—Spike wins. So one thing this episode is, is a coming-of-age story…for Spike.
As we’ve seen in previous episodes, Angel is disconnected. With Cordelia, he’s lost his connection to the Powers That Be and is now flying wholly blind in the darkest night of the soul at the helm of that dark vessel, Wolfram & Hart. All he has to guide him and to rely on is the support and input of his friends and associates, the Fang Gang, and his own hero’s heart. Which heart isn’t in the greatest of shape: the phrase “hunk of gnarly-ass beef jerky” comes to mind. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, how he’s doing, or if any of it will be finally worth it.
He’d even given up on the Shanshu prophecy: his eventual promised reward for methodically, joylessly, keeping on keeping on. Hope had revived, a little. But now, it seems, he runs a fair chance of losing even that. To Spike.
Spike has lost everything he ever had. Even his body. But in this episode, what went around begins to come around. First crack out of the box, as it were, he has his body back. He’s corporeal again, thanks to a cosmos-disrupting flash from a heavy but apparently otherwise empty mysterious parcel addressed to him via W & H…presumably from the same sender as the amulet that contained him as a ghost. He has mail! And is male. The things immediately on his mind are food, male bonding, and sex—in that order. Of course there’s fighting and drinking, but those come later. Having slammed, face-first, into the literal and metaphorical door he’s been running into for over a century—Angel’s door—his first action upon realizing he’s corporeal is to grab Angel’s cup and drink its contents, which he proclaims “Ambrosia!” He spends the remainder of the episode trying to claim for himself two other “cups”—both of them previously assumed to be Angel’s property and both fairly metaphorical: Drusilla, in the past (all cups are symbolically female), and the Cup of Perpetual Torment, which the vampire chosen to Shanshu—regain mortal life and mortal death—is fated to drink from.
The prophecy, which may be real or fake, specifies that the vampire who drinks from the Cup of Perpetual Torment is the one who will Shanshu. It doesn’t specify what will be in the Cup. The contents are irrelevant. It’s the Cup that matters. So what, if it contains Mountain Dew? The prophecy has nevertheless been fulfilled: Spike has drunk from it.
With its shape and golden color, it’s obviously reminiscent of the Holy Grail, in both the Arthurian and the Indiana Jones versions (though the real Grail, there, was conspicuously plain). One of the Grail legends concerns a king, wounded unto death, whose illness sickens all the land. His healing is in the Grail, sought and found by another—Percival (“Percy” is one of Spike’s nicknames for Wesley) or Parsifal, the perfect knight, a younger man who resists all temptations to despair and give up the quest. Hmmm. As mentioned above, the Grail is also traditionally an image for the feminine principle of existence. It’s complimentary image is a bloody (literally) spear. Let’s watch and see if that turns up along the way….
The present Cup is located in The Columns, a half-buried opera house in Death Valley in Nevada. Opera is the plural of Latin opus, meaning work or deed, action. So we have a female Cup of Perpetual Torment that is a precursor (“harbinger”) to mortal life, in the Valley of Death, in a place representing works or deeds. Sounds a lot like Life, to me. So I’m not yet prepared to dismiss the Cup, and all that goes with it, as an empty fabrication. Too many resonances here.
Having “borrowed” Angel’s Viper, Spike hot-foots it out to the desert, closely pursued by Angel. They fight—over everything Angel has, that Spike feels he himself has the best right to. His destiny. Which is apparently an amalgam of Drusilla, claimed in the past by Angel; Buffy, whom both vamps love but neither now has, in the recent past (more about the taunting in a moment); the Cup itself and what it represents; the mantle of Hero, Champion, that Angel bears so uneasily now.
There seemed to be parts of the fight when Spike, with a turn and a step, could have taken the Cup and drunk from it. Yet he didn’t. This fight was as much about beating Angel as it was about the Cup. And in fighting Angel, Spike puts on moves nobody has ever seen him do before. One assumes that the reality-bending mind disciplines he learned from Pavayne are not useless, now that he’s corporeal. Spike very nearly flies. (Vamps jump down long distances easily; up is another matter.) He takes several of Angel’s best shots without budging—grinning all the while—whereas Spike’s initial punch knocks Angel down and skidding. He holds, and wields as a weapon, a nearly life-sized wooden cross, the barest touch of which Angel flinches and recoils from. He has the opportunity to stake Angel, and just pushes the stake into Angel’s shoulder, not his heart. He has won all the marbles. But…Mountain Dew? If there’s a tangible prize, beyond the satisfaction of both of them knowing Spike is now the stronger and more determined (“He wanted it more”), it has yet to be apparent. But if the Cup is the Cup, they will shortly be manifesting themselves in the form of Perpetual Torment, the weight of worlds, binding of limbs, etc.
During the fight, Spike and Angel trade crude barbs about Buffy. Though the exchange doesn’t make either of them look very good, Buffy isn’t there, and each of them is reaching for whatever they think will hurt most. It’s not about Buffy—it’s about their unresolved rivalry in their love for her. It’s about them. And guys can be crude about women sometimes, especially in the heat of the moment. It’s doubtful that either of them means what he says. It’s anger and jealousy talking, not souled vampires in pure and perfect love with a Slayer. It would seem best taken in context, and no more than the present context read into it.
The Bleeding-Eyed Madness
Dunno. Not a clue. Sorry.
Revealed for the first time to William, in all his brooding, dark, malevolence, Angelus proclaims the new vampire Drusilla has so unexpectedly made, “another rooster in the henhouse.” His first action is to force William’s hand into the burning light. When William threatens, “Touch me again—!” Angelus reflects that although he “loves the ladies” well enough, he’s lately “been wondering what it would be like to share the slaughter of innocents with another man. Don’t think that makes me some kind of a deviant…do you?” While saying this, he holds his own fist, smoking, in the sunlight and slowly opens it. Feeling challenged, William does likewise, whereupon Angelus smacks his shoulder, commends him, and predicts that he and William are going to be “the best of friends.” Then they laugh wildly, mouths open, faces nearly touching.
Two hands, open as in greeting, not yet clasped, smoking and smoldering, not yet quite burning. Two hands closed into a locked double fist, on fire. The latter image is from “Chosen,” on BtVS, there symbolizing an ultimate spiritual union between lovers. The present image, William and Angelus…what does that convey? Pain, of course. Male dare games, certainly. For the rest, it’s left to the viewer to interpret. And I will do the same, with the observation that this is a powerful image and the first one we get of how Angelus visualizes his relationship to-come, with William. Whatever it is, it’s not just a throw-away.
Angel, descending the stairs at W&H, directs Spike harshly, “Get the hell away from me, Spike.” And when Spike confirms that he can not only feel his own solidity, he can touch others, too—Angel, specifically, Angel blurts, “Stop touching me!” Too late, Angel.
Whatever may lie in the past, present Spike definitely “loves the ladies.” Third item on his newly corporealized agenda is sex, and the nearest semi-warm body available, also semi-willing, is Harmony: whom Spike has referred to before, dismissively (it’s easy to dismiss what you can’t get—that’s called “sour grapes”) as “my old tumble.” But despite the evident initial enthusiasm of the participants, both adults with a prior relationship who know exactly what they’re getting into—a mindless sex romp—neither enjoys it all that much. Nobody takes the time to undress, let alone engage in foreplay. Spike commands no talking. Romantic, this isn’t. Spike isn’t even looking at Harmony while he…performs. And Harmony, once she breaks out with the bleeding-eyed madness, clearly has some issues about Spike considering her his property and about his relationship with the Slayer. She bites and berates him; he clocks her. So however crude and superficial the liaison, it would seem to be a severe distortion of what we see to consider Harmony in any sense Spike’s victim in this. His grab is rebuffed. But a transparent compliment on her skirt, an eyebrow lift, and a knowing grin are all that’s needed to send them loping off to evict some poor sod from his office. No tears or high principles required here, methinks. Differing views can be deposited in the circular file to your left.
Though Eve protests she’s just a messenger, the final reveal discloses she’s something else. She’s literally in bed with the Enemy. Whoever that may be. Physically, he’s the spitting and rune-tattooed image of Lindsey McDonald: he of the evil hand, the only person known to have successfully left Wolfram & Hart. Not a fan of Angel by any means. (Cannot resist: comment from S’cubie Rob, slightly paraphrased: “Lindsey! You’re covered in sexy runes!”) Is it Lindsey? Certainly it’s the same actor, uncredited Christian Kane, portraying this enigmatic bedmate. But what’s going on with Eve-L?
Although Eve asks brightly how the Fang Gang recorporealized Spike, it seems plain that whoever sent the amulet also sent the package. Is that Eve-L’s doing, or a separate operation? If so, whose? Eve claims the presence of two potential Champions in the universe has thrown the Balance awry and catastrophic results portend, temporarily held off now by the Senior Partners (c.f. the remarks of Bejoxa’s Eye to Giles and Anya, on BtVS, about the disruptive, Balance-altering effects of there being two valid Slayers simultaneously…an issue never addressed or resolved in that series.) Is this true, or just another lie?
It seems, per Eve’s monologue, the whole Cup/potentially world-ending disruption (“The fabric of reality is beginning to unravel”) was a ruse, pulled off “right under the Senior Partner’s noses.” During this disruption, the panther/conduit and the White Room itself both vanished, to Gunn’s dismay. Contact with the Senior Partners was completely cut off. One of the potential outcomes of the ruse was for Spike to kill Angel, but Eve is only mildly disappointed that didn’t happen, since the two vamps punched each other out pretty severely. The prophecy, translated and related by their pawn Sirks, may or may not be real—probably Wesley will know, when he returns. But clearly, we have another player in the game. It’s clear that Eve-L are not working for the Senior Partners (Eve is at least a double agent). Are they working for themselves, in their highly rune-protected room? Are they, perhaps, agents of the disaffected Powers That Be, trying either to give Angel a heavy nudge or elect themselves a new Champion if the old one can’t be roused? Or someone we’ve not yet met? No clue. Sorry. Have to keep watching to find out.
Nan Dibble 11/21/03 Acknowledgement: As always, I am indebted for the gladly shared insights, wit, and general snarkiness of my fellow S’cubies: the members of the Soulful Spike Society.
Apparently Spike likes Gunn. Last week, he prevented Gunn’s being strangled. In this ep, he hugs him with glee and unaffected friendliness, calls him “Charlie boy,” and later invites him to come out drinking…conspicuously ignoring Angel, also present.
Visual reference: as Gunn and Eve are talking, outside the office’s glass wall, a crazed employee approaches with an axe. Just as he’s swinging at them, he’s tackled by someone coming in from out-of-frame. C.f. Spike’s tackling Buffy when she’s leveling a rocket launcher at Principal Wood, in “Him” (BtVS, Season 7). Memorable lines:
Spike, asking Angel for an office: The rest of your lot get to go home to the nice and cozies; me, I got to nest in somebody else’s roost. It’s not bleeding right. (Henhouse, anyone? And he appeals to Angel not on the basis that he wants it, or that Angel somehow owes him treatment comparable to that the Fang Gang members enjoy, but because it’s right. Spike is asking for equal treatment, equal regard…because it’s right. Interesting.)
Spike: At least give me Wesley’s office, since he’s gone— Angel: He’s not gone. He’s on a leave of absence. Spike: Yeah, right! Boo hoo! Thought he killed his bloody father. Try staking your mother when she’s coming on to you! (That makes twice Spike has brought up this trauma. This time, he shouts it for the whole office to hear!) Harmony: Well. That explains a lot!
Spike (after box opens, flashes): Well. That was a slap and a tickle!
William (of Drusilla): It’s like she’s still got a bit of the child in her. Angelus: Perhaps two or three by now. (Drusilla likes children. Especially tender ones.)
W&H employee, ousted from his office by Spike, of Spike and Angel: …that ghost pal of Mr. Good Fang.
Angel (to Fred, on why he didn’t inform her Spike had gone corporeal): I’m sorry. Well, we’ve had our hands full with glitch in the office system…which just happens to coincide with Spike being back and I can’t believe I’m just getting that.
Gunn: I miss Wesley.
Eve: Always something with this place, huh? I mean, ghost fights, Id monsters, killer cyborgs. It’s a wonder, with all the hijinks, you people ever get any work done!
Gunn (to Eve): Don’t be fingerin’ the robots.
Sirks: Storm unleashed. The Balance will falter until the vampire with a soul drinks from the Cup of Perpetual Torment…. He will have the weight of worlds upon him: binding his limbs, grinding his bones to meal until he saves Creation or destroys it.
Spike (to Angel, laughing): Oh, yeah! Look at you. Thinking you’re the big savior. Fighting for truth, justice, and soccer moms. But you still can’t lay flesh on a cross without smelling like bacon, can you? Angel: Like you’re any different. Spike: Well, that’s just it. I am. And you know it. You had a soul forced on you. As a curse. Make you suffer for all the horrible things you’ve done. But me…I fought for my soul. Went through the demon trials. Almost did me in a dozen times over but I kept fighting…’cause I knew it was the right thing to do. It’s my destiny. Angel: Really. Heard it was just to get into a girl’s pants.
William (of Dru): You knew she was mine! Angelus: You just don’t get it, do you? Well, you’re new and a little dim. So let me explain to you how things are now. There’s no belonging or deserving anymore. You take what you want, have what you want. But nothing is yours. (points to Dru) Not even her. (Echoes of Faith’s “Want, take, have.”)
Spike: Come on, hero: tell me more! Teach me what it means. And I’ll tell you why you can’t stand the bloody sight of me. Angel: Tell it to your therapist. Spike: Because every time you look at me you see all the dirty little things I’ve done. All the lives I’ve taken. Because of you. Drusilla sired me…but you made me a monster! Angel: I didn’t make you, Spike—I just opened up the door and let the real you out. Spike (bashes Angel with cross, then stands holding it): You never knew the real me. Too busy trying to see your own reflection. Praying there was someone as disgusting as you in the world so you could stand to live with yourself. Take a long look, hero: I’m nothing like you! (See subtext, above, for possible interpretation.) Angel: No: you’re less. That’s why Buffy never really loved you. Because you weren’t me. Spike: Guess that means she was thinkin’ about you—all those times I was puttin’ it to her.
Spike (stakes Angel…in the shoulder): Probably should have dusted you. But honestly, I don’t want to hear her bitch about it.
Angel: Spike—wait! Wait. It’s not a prize you’re holding. It’s not a trophy. It’s a burden. It’s a cross—one you’re going to have to bear until it burns you to ashes. Believe me: I know. So ask yourself: is this really the destiny that was meant for you? Do you even really want it? Or is it just that you want to take something away from me? (Sure, he’s talking about the Cup here, that Spike has in his hands. But also heroism. The Champion’s role. The Perpetual Torment of living in this world and trying to do the right thing. Spike’s already been burnt to ashes and has demonstrated he can hold a cross if he has to—both in the present episode and in “Beneath You,” when he memorably drapes himself over a stone cross and asks Buffy hopelessly, “Can we rest now?” Recorporealized Spike, past the fires and free of the fear of Hell, is no longer interested in resting.) Spike: Bit of both.
Angel: He won the fight, Gunn. For the first time. Doesn’t matter if the cup is real or not. In the end he…. Spike was stronger. He wanted it more. Gunn: Angel, it…doesn’t mean anything. Angel: What if it does? What if it means…I’m not the one?