Review of AtS, Episode 5.13: Why We Fight   

“Demoralize the enemy from within by surprise, terror, sabotage,
assassination. This is the war of the future.”

– Adolf Hitler

Remind you of anything? Since the last episode of Season 4, I have wondered why the Senior Partners awarded Angel the LA Branch of W&H. Hitler’s words may explain a lot especially since my discovery of them conveniently coincides with an episode that partially takes place in a time when the United States was at war with Hitler’s Nazis. I’m not going to claim that the SP are comparable to the Nazis. They might be but I’m not interested in pursuing that. However, I am interested in noting how Angel, much like the US soldiers in WWII, needs to be reminded of “Why We Fight.” In half a season, the SP have done a much more efficient job of neutralizing Angel and the Fang Gang than in all the four previous seasons combined. How? By bringing him in and using the constraints of W&H against him. Demoralizing the enemy from within.

Hitler may have been evil through and through but, damn, he gave good speech. He was a master propagandist*. He knew how to twist words to his advantage. There is no other explanation why a nation of intelligent people allowed themselves to be led astray by his pontifications. The SP have done a very good job of finding their fair share of influential spokespersons. First, Lilah and her W&H guides worked their magic on the Fang Gang, persuading them that taking over W&H would be for the best. And so the first step is taken. Despite having some misgivings, the Fang Gang moves into L.A.’s Headquarters for Evil.

Then Eve made her appearance. In her own words, she didn’t need to make an entrance: she needed to “make an impression.” Though she could never fill Lilah’s shoes (right, Cordy?), she certainly managed to convince them that they needed to work with the W&H clients rather than just kill them. After all, in order to keep the business running, they have to keep the “clients—most of them, anyway—happy.” That’s the second move forward (or, if you prefer, backward). By keeping the clients happy, the Fang Gang is now making compromises with evil, protecting it.

And finally, a member of the Fang Gang itself is unknowingly (we hope) acting as a spokesperson for the SP. Though we are told Gunn got a knowledge transfusion, I’m skeptical. Gunn hasn’t been himself since that “treatment.” The sudden Gilbert and Sullivan references and complete understanding of every nuance of the law aside, Gunn talks, walks, and thinks differently. Of the Fang Gang, he was the most black and white on the issue of fighting evil. We’re talking about the guy who swore never to trust Angel despite working for/with him. Now he’s letting the SP’s goons plug into him? OK, maybe he’s not brainwashed…but go with me on the analogy. He’s certainly bought into this gig. He is the first one to disagree with Angel on the idea of leaving W&H. He’s the one speaking the demon languages and making the deals with them, not Angel. (Remember: “The whore man is a novice in your tongue and makes foolish errors. We make fun of him, yes?”) When one of their own is encouraging that they stay and fight from inside the belly of the beast, especially when he is using rational thought that has, essentially, been fed to him by the SP, it’s going to be hard for the others to walk away. Rational thought really is an acquired taste.

And, my point, you ask? I’m worried about these guys (and gal). They’re buying the W&H/SP propaganda in a way they never would have in the past. They’ve gobbled up the bait and I don’t think it’s going to be easy to get the hook out now. I’ve seen quite a few complaints about the way the past few episodes have been directed and edited. I’m actually quite impressed, myself, with the work that’s been done.

Let’s just take this episode.

The Fang Gang walks away from the first scene, leaving Angel behind. Then they separate and go off, each alone, to their various offices, etc. In Lorne’s case, this separation takes him out of the building completely, off to the Sky Bar. Fred goes down to her lab, and Wes and Gunn go to their respective offices. (Interesting to note here that we know Wes and Gunn’s offices are the closest to each other and this has been true of their “orientation” on decisions in meetings, etc.) Now, some of that separation can be attributed to the writing; but the fact that we see it from above, where we can clearly see the physical distance growing, is what pleases me.

In this episode and many of the others recently, we’ve been getting a lot of overhead shots of the Fang Gang. This widens the distance between the character and the viewer. Also note that this overhead view gives us the impression of looking down at them from above. An intentional illustration of the fall of our Gang?

One of my favorite scenes in this episode, in terms of directing and editing, is the when we see Lawson’s face in Fred’s lab. He’s prominent in the foreground; she looks tiny in the background. Her voice is muted when she calls out to him, even though we know the lab is otherwise dead silent (no pun intended). What does that say about the disconnect between Fred and the audience? And, by association, about the disconnect between the rest of the Fang Gang and the audience.

The war being waged against Angel and the Fang Gang has gone from physical to psychological in a matter of months and, at this rate, they don’t stand much of a chance of survival. Not only have they isolated themselves inside W&H, pulling all-nighters working on endless cases, they’ve isolated themselves from each other. What Angel needs now is his very own Capra “Why We Fight” series. But…wait. If he’s been paying attention, that’s what he’s been getting lately!

“Make a series of documented, factual-information films–the first in our
history–that will explain to our boys in the Army why we are
fighting, and the principles for which we are fighting.”

- Major Frank Capra quoting George Marshall

This was the order that George Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff, gave to Capra in February, 1942. These films were meant to be both educational and inspirational; to improve morale among the troops more than “deadly effects of prepared lectures indifferently read to bored troops.” (George Marshall) When I first read about that quote, I thought of Buffy’s S7 speeches and how ineffectual they were in motivating her troops. This would be no less true in this case. Speeches are not going to cut it for Angel: he needs to be reminded why he’s fighting from the source(s), not from people preaching at him.

Although this episode may be the one titled “Why We Fight,” it isn’t the first one that has served the purpose of reminding Angel about his reasons for fighting. Several episodes this season have been trying to counteract the SP’s propaganda. Last week was the first time we actually saw Angel get it. Cordy set the stage, and this present episode is a nice follow up.

The reappearance of Lawson, a reminder of Angel’s past (yes, Angel’s past this time, not that of Angelus), was a necessary evil (again, no pun intended). Is it any coincidence that Angel’s being reminded that, in 1943, he acted as an agent for a large corporation (the US government) that wanted to control him for their own gains and he still managed to achieve his goals instead? I doubt it. Lawson, prior to becoming a vampire, was a human who understood his reasons for fighting. He stood his ground against the vampires on the submarine and he sacrificed himself for his men. As he said, “There’s a difference between orders and purpose, Sir. I didn’t sign on because I needed directions.” This line is almost buried in the episode but it struck me as very important. Angel didn’t sign on with W&H to follow their orders, their directions–he signed on with a purpose. He wanted to stop evil from spreading. Lawson may have said the words this time but that has been Angel’s MO since this show began.

This is the exchange between Lawson and Angel:

ANGEL: Those are our orders. Isn’t that the point? Following orders?

LAWSON: There is a difference between following orders and purpose, Sir. I didn’t sign on because I needed directions. Hell, growing up I used to make fun of the military boys. I always figured they wouldn’t know how to tie their shoes if someone didn’t give them the go-ahead. But then I saw pictures of what the Krauts were doing. Evil is spreading, Sir, and it’s not just over there. It was on my ship, it killed my crew, and we gotta stop it. Now, I’ve been scared outta my mind since I signed on for this duty, but I can keep it together. I can even handle dying if I know it’s for a greater purpose.

=

ANGEL: We’ve got a job to do. That job is going to help us win the war. I don’t need you to understand every detail. Just know we’re fighting on the same side. I need you to trust that I’m going to get us all through this, safe and sound.

It’s this dialogue that has driven my thoughts on this episode as it is the moment we get a reference to the “Why We Fight” series of films created by Capra. Lawson said, “But then I saw pictures of what the Krauts were doing. Evil is spreading, Sir, and it’s not just over there.” He doesn’t specifically say where he saw the pictures but, since the Capra series was originally in 1942 and was designed to show everyone why we had to join the war, using pictures of atrocities occurring in Europe and elsewhere, I feel confident it’s very possible Lawson saw those pictures in one of these films. When Lawson uses Angel’s words against him, about trusting him to keep everyone safe and sound, he’s now the one opening Angel’s eyes to the situation Angel has created at W&H. By keeping the details about Connor from them, Angel has handicapped them in dealing with the SP.

I’m not sure how to take the last scene between Angel and Spike. Is Angel “getting” it, or is he also looking for a “reason?” All I can do is hope that Angel does get the picture. He needs to come clean and make sure everyone has the information they need to survive inside the belly of the beast. His nightmares, Cordy’s death, and his past literally coming back to haunt him are all signs of what is to come if he doesn’t figure out why he’s fighting and soon.

Yeah, but, did you like it?
I’ve noticed that my “reviews” end up being more analytical than review-ish. I think that is because I have a hard time “rating” episodes. Even when I don’t love the episodes for the actual storyline, I always appreciate what that episode contributes to the overall arc. Still, as I was in the shower today, I realized the best way I can rate and episode would be on how I’d view it when I get the DVD set. For instance, as soon as I get my S5 DVD set, I’ll probably watch “You’re Welcome” and “Soul Purpose” right away; I’ll wait to watch “Why We Fight” until I watch all of the episodes in order. So although I liked it, it was not one of those episodes I can’t wait to see again.

And, as always, there are other things I noted that don’t fit with my theme:

  • Gunn’s Mind Block. I’ve watched that scene several times now. I don’t think Gunn was faking it. I am leaning more towards the SP invoking some kind of mind block. He was talking about how they can summon another liaison to the SP. Seems like they don’t want that just yet…which kind of worries me. What has Lindsey been saying to them or, if you will, doing to them?
  • Wesley amuses me. “She did leave swearing vengeance, that doesn’t usually go well for us.”
  • Demon Research Initiative. The origin of Riley’s story. Scary.
  • Lawson=Law’s Son. I dunno why I’m even noting this. I just thought it was a clever name for this character.
  • The ‘Do. I’ll agree with everyone who complained about Spike’s slicked back look. It wasn’t flattering. However, I still like JM dark; but then I always like my men dark.
  • Stealing Lee’s Line. DAMN BUT, DB IS HOT!! I know some people didn’t like the way DB looked in this episode but I thought he looked HOT in that turtleneck.
  • Would you like some deja vu with that Grey Poupon? “He just likes wearing the jacket.” “Yeah that doesn’t help me understand why we are working with him or keeping him alive, for that matter.” “I’ve got him under control.” Those lines could have been said by just about everyone to Buffy in Season 6/7.
  • To kill or not to kill. I saw some discussions about whether Lawson wanted Angel to kill him or was just seeking revenge. I have to side with the folks saying the former. He indicated that he’d been following Angel’s movements through the years. If he really wanted revenge, why wouldn’t he have attacked Angel when he was a sad, pathetic vampire eating rats in alleyways? Instead, he chooses to come when Angel is running W&H? Gotta go with the idea that he wanted Angel to make good on his promise to kill him if he ever saw him again. Being dusted was his reason. Death was his mission.
  • Speaking in tongues. I love that Joss and Co. don’t just have the actors fake it when it comes to foreign languages. Nothing annoys me more when someone is “speaking” another language and nothing they say actually makes sense in that language. I was able to follow what the German was saying as he said it.
  • Free Virgin Blood Parties. Although Spike didn’t explain himself, I wonder if he was looking for a present for Dru at the Virgin Blood Party at which he got captured.
  • Quote of the Episode. “I used to have a bit of a head for numbers. It’s funny how you lose part of your mind when you stop using it.”

* Thanks to Patti for helping me figure out how to phrase my thoughts on this subject.


References:

Schoenherr, Steve. “Why We Fight.” 11/20/00. http://history.acusd.edu/gen/filmnotes/whywefight.html
(Feb.13, 2004)

“George Marshall.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 2/6/04. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Marshall
(Feb. 14, 2004)

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