Six episodes in and season five finally stumbles. “The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinquo” isn’t nearly as bad as many people make it out to be, but it isn’t particularly good either. The chief problem is that the story is at odds with itself. A group of demon fighting luchadors is an inherently silly premise and the episodes delivers some solid laughs anytime it embraces this but, perplexingly, it attempts to meld the premise with a thoroughly morose tone. This story’s too bleak to let us spend much time laughing, and too silly for us to really feel for Angel. The resulting muddle has its moments, but never really comes together as an episode.
Number Five’s been one of W&H’s amusing quirks since he appeared in episode two and I’ll give the series credit for going all in on his back story. Pro wrestling’s a fairly ridiculous soap opera to begin with, which makes an oddly appropriate pairing for Angel’s larger than life world of demons and champions. The episode’s at its best when it uses this union to poke fun at itself; the fact that the Number Brothers never take off their masks, Wes’ awed terror when he says “El Diablo Robotico,” Angel’s bemused look as the resurrected luchadors rush past him. The fact of the matter is that many of the situations the AI team finds themselves in each week are equally ridiculous, the trappings of Mexican wrestling just gives them the opportunity to explore this fact.
The problem is that this episode keeps trying to shift from mock-serious to serious-serious. Spike may mock Angel’s complaints about feeling “disconnected,” but by this point in the series we know that such concerns should be taken seriously. It’s Angel’s connection to other people that keeps him from slipping over to the dark side and he’s rightly upset about losing it. Not that silly stories can’t have serious themes, but these concerns have Angel getting his full gloom on and not in the “let’s make fun of it” way he sometimes does. Far from teaching Angel not to take himself too seriously, Number Five shows him the life of a broken down old hero, forgotten by the people he once saved and forced to eke out a living working for the type of people he once fought. The image hits close enough to home to undercut the episode’s farce, but not close enough to make us take Number Five seriously.
What really irks me about this episode is that I think it squandered two good ideas by trying to combine them. It may be my lapsed pro wrestling fandom talking, but I really think that the luchador idea could’ve worked. Fun departures are what season five’s all about and adding a campy old fashioned superhero squad to this universe’s past should’ve been a great expansion of its supernatural subculture. Angel without hope is an equally worthy idea to explore as it’s worth asking just how long he can keep this up when he gets nothing from it. Sadly, this episode is far less than the sum of its parts.
I like the fact that Spike’s the one to determine how to kill the demon, recognising the “poetry” of its MO.
Best example of this episode undercutting itself: Number Five’s funeral procession. Are we supposed to feel sad or amused as his brothers bear him away?
I appreciated seeing some legit wrestling moves make their way into the climactic fight. “We’re trying to kill it, not pin it… Pinning works.”
Nice continuity nod with Holland Manners being the one to recruit Number Five.
Seriously, “El Diablo Robotico” may be the funniest delivery Alexis Denisoff has ever given. Just think this phrase the next time technology fails you.