Don’t Miss This Episode: Angel’s “Five By Five”/”Sanctuary”

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Our new blog series Don’t Miss This Episode takes you in to the standout episodes of your favorite shows.

At their very best, television episodes play upon the mythology of the series, the characters they’ve built and the major moral or philosophical themes the show has dealt with. You will likely remember this sort of thing in that one episode of The Hills where Lauren Conrad must choose between buying a Fendi purse or really going all-out for the Chanel.

I’m kidding, of course. But the trick with the aforementioned concoction is to pull all of these elements together in a way that is still entertaining instead of preachy. Which brings me to the two-parter “Five by Five” and “”Sanctuary” from the Buffy spin-off show, Angel. Angel aired in tandem with Buffy after the first season and followed Buffy’s brooding, hunky vampire boyfriend, Angel (David Boreanaz) as he worked for the good of the people in L.A. in an attempt to redeem his soul. Good luck.

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The fact that the two shows aired side-by-side gave them the perfect opportunity for crossover episodes, and it wasn’t until I’d finished the Buffy canon and delved into Angel that I realized this was a thing. In many ways the crossover episodes made for richer, deeply moving and philosophical storylines. Lots of fans may choose “I Will Remember You” (in which Angel is made mortal and must choose between his love for Buffy and his duty to help those in need) as the best, but I venture that this arc is one of the standout plots in the entire Buffyverse.

“Five by Five” picks up directly after Faith, the more volatile Slayer, has woken from a coma, gone basically nutzo, stolen Buffy’s identity, messed with her friends and her boyfriend but has finally experienced what it’s like to be loved and to have a family and a support base. She flees to L.A. where her story is resolved on Angel. Watching only the Buffy part is missing half the story. Say what you want about Eliza Dushku’s acting elsewhere, but it’s hard to fault her for her out-of-control yet strangely vulnerable performance here as Faith. She and David Boreanaz have a wonderful chemistry and their on-screen relationship is incredibly nuanced; Angel sees a side of Faith he recognizes in himself (the episodes also feature flashbacks to his curse and his subsequent commitment to the forces of good) and so his dedication to helping Faith is completely justified.

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It’s a credit to Whedon, too, that Faith’s destruction isn’t sugarcoated; she does incredible damage to many of Angel’s friends, who understandably have a hard time accepting Angel’s behavior towards her and the shifting of intentions and beliefs between the characters is wonderful to watch. It’s a complicated issue and the questions of evil and redemption and salvation are presented with surprising maturity and empathy. Whedon is at his best when he’s grappling with these serious issues; he’s too smart of a writer to let his story rest in mere black and white. Plus, you get to see Faith and Angel really duke it out, which is always fun.

So take my advice, folks: don’t miss this episode!

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