Season five has dealt almost exclusively with the consequences of Angel’s decision to take over Wolfram & Hart. It’s been fine fruit for storytelling but it tends to obscure the fact that Angel’s poor decision making extends a lot farther back than last year. Angel has always been defined by his baggage and so it’s nice to see some of it getting pushed to the forefront again. That said, “Why We Fight” doesn’t really have enough to say about Angel’s character, the flashbacks being more concerned with having some fun than with exploring anything profound. That’d be fine, except I get the impression that it thinks a bit more highly of itself.
Fun is certainly had as the inherently entertaining idea of Angel on a WWII adventure is combined with some of the best vampire comedy that the series has ever done. I suppose it’s a good thing that Angel never devolved into Highlander, but the premise still lends itself to so many stories that I can’t help but mourn all the ones we never saw; take our familiar hero, drop him in an exotic/locale of your choosing, enjoy. Special Op Angel is pretty fun on his own, but it’s the other vampires that really put this episode over the top. Spike’s presence is a bit awkward (more on that later) but the Nazi regalia is a clever way to deal with him without the iconic look and he’s a necessary means of giving Angel someone to talk to. Nostroyev is solidly hilarious during his few seconds on screen and the Prince of Lies… need I explain how awesome it is that they found a way to work Nosferatu in?
Unfortunately, all this farce does nothing to support the grim proceedings in the present. It doesn’t take a genius to see where the flashbacks are leading; we realise that Angel is Lawson’s sire almost from the get go, just as we realise that Angel must’ve had a “good” reason and the journey under the sea doesn’t add much to that. I kept expecting Lawson’s scheme to have some ironic tie back the choice Angel made in the past, but it really just comes down to beating the bad guy.
Then again, maybe the lack of any overarching structure is the point. Lawson was a man (and is now a vampire) in need of purpose and it’s appropriate that he not find it here. He admits to some pleasure in seeing Angel twist, but that’s not the same thing. Purpose would make this scheme something more than an indulgence, give shape to decades of doing “everything a monster does.” But Lawson (and vampires generally IMHO) aren’t capable of such depth; their appetites are just that, appetites, and Lawson’s inability to take satisfaction in that is his special curse.
Is this curse related to the fact that his sire had a soul? Possibly, or it could just be a perversion of who he was as a human. The reason doesn’t really matter, the point is that Lawson is lost, something Angel can sympathise with. If good vs evil were the sort of struggle that both men seem to want, one with easily defined sides, clear victory conditions, and quantifiable stakes, they’d both be happy. As it stands, the significance of Lawson’s is unknowable. Is it what he wanted? What he deserved? Should Angel have “won,” given his own culpability for this situation? There aren’t any satisfying answers but that doesn’t eliminate the need for them.
Spike really is a sore thumb in this episode. The coincidence of him being on the sub strains credulity to begin with, but Angel not staking him just feels utterly contrived. It might be possible that he wouldn’t risk a fight with Spike with so many innocent bystanders in close quarters, but that needed a bit of dialogue to support it. It’s even more absurd that Spike would have meekly left the sub rather than throwing down with Angel at the end.
Remember how I complained last week about this season’s lack of ensemble feel? Well the supporting players have even less to do this week. I still think that this was, on balance, the strongest season for each of the characters individually, but those strong independent threads were created at the expense of the team.