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Five is the Loneliest Number

Angel Episode 5.6 The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco
AirDate: 5th Nov 03

An episode like 5.6, ‘The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco’, would probably have been better appreciated in a previous season as a brief comedic pause in a longer, more dramatic arc. But as it stands, it’s one more self-contained monster-of-the-week tale that followed on the heels of a wacky everyone’s-under-a-spell episode. Since early reports indicate that Mutant Enemy Productions intends to follow this kind of a format for season five, I guess I need to stop grumbling about what’s lacking and focus on the important things that they’re doing RIGHT.

It’s a lesson that Angel might need to re-learn too. The poor fella’s so buried under paperwork and the mantle of corporate responsibility that it’s sucking out his enthusiasm for smiting evil. As we saw early in the episode, one signature (in his own blood, of course) smacked the demon underworld where it hurts and even ensured the health and well-being of a lot of little tots who’ve been orphaned by vampires. I, for one, was impressed at the volume of large-scale goodness that Chuckie Gunn and his big new brain managed to arrange. And Angel? Was he excited? Proud? Out of his chair and doing a celebratory butt-dance?

Newp. Not even a flash of a genuinely contented smile (his attempt didn’t fool anyone). Aside from all the added responsibility and complications of life at Wolfram & Hart, Angel’s thoughts are undoubtedly with the comatose Cordelia, and a son that he barely had time to bond with before losing him a second time. To make matters worse, he can’t share these woes with any of his friends, lest he draw attention to the fact that their recollections of the last year and a half are spotty at best.

So with all this grief and ennui, Angel’s heart isn’t in the mission lately. He’s still punching the clock and doing good deeds when the opportunity arises, and he’s not expecting anything in return. As he said recently, he’s doing it simply because he can, and what else is he going to do? Traditionally, we admire this sort of a hero – one who helps the helpless as a purely selfless gesture, and because it’s what heroes do.

But Angel’s not supposed to be some white knight that stepped out of a colouring book. He’s got his own reasons for fighting the good fight, and they’ve never been entirely selfless. Here’s a guy who committed the worst kind of horrors imaginable. When it comes to really evil bastards, Angelus gets eternal VIP status. But once the gypsies cursed him with a soul, he was immediately overcome with the full, technicolour reality of everything he’d done, and it came packed with remorse for each and every act. Searing, painful, pull-your-brain-out-your-ear-and-make-you-eat-it remorse that he’ll never be able to wash away. Angel is as guilty of those crimes now as he was 200 years ago, and that’s the crux of the lesson he had to teach Faith last season: You’re still the same killer you always were, and you can’t change history or hide from it. So what do you do instead? You remember all of it, you accept it, and you let it fuel your drive to be a better person. No one wants to do good more than Angel, because no one’s done more wrong. His deepest wish is that before his vampire life is ended, he’ll have balanced the scales and maybe, just maybe, he’ll even be able to say that he came out ahead.

It’s an opportunity that was handed to him, through Doyle, by the Powers That Be. He wanted to fight for the good side and make a difference in the world, and the PTB offered him a chance to really roll up his shirtsleeves and do it on a full-time basis. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse, and then along came word of the Shanshu prophecy and suddenly there was a visible end to the quest. Instead of just fighting evil for as long as he could and hoping that he was making a difference, the prophecy was an indication that he would someday earn the redemption he longed for. Do enough good, sacrifice yourself in an apocalyptic battle, thus saving the world, and earn the chance to be human again -- a real flesh and blood mortal with a beating heart and no aversion to sunlight.

Believing in the prophecy and working toward it didn’t make Angel any less of a hero, of course. It just meant that he would someday know if he’d fought hard enough and been the champion the PTB expected him to be. It provided some tangible parameters to his quest.

Skip ahead a few years, and we find that Angel has lost faith in the prophecy. Despite his best efforts, he’s had the people he loves the most taken from him, and the resolution of the whole Jasmine arc saw him successfully stopping what probably would have amounted to world peace. He’s now had some time to mull over the gratitude expressed by Lilah on behalf of the Senior Partners, and he sees that she was right – the Fang Gang saved W&H a lot of trouble by stopping Jasmine and returning the people of earth to their former state of fear, hatred and chaos. Instead of saving the world, Angel and his friends may well have set it back on a path toward Armageddon. Some champion.

And it may not even just be his own tale that’s prompted him to question the prophecy. Angel’s probably well aware that Spike, a vampire with a soul, fought bravely in an apocalyptic battle and sacrificed his life to save the world. Note for note it’s the Shanshu, and what did it get him? Spike’s a ghost, trapped between Hell and the living world, not human and not even a proper vampire – just a ghost of a vampire who has to struggle to move the occasional coffee cup. If the prophecy didn’t come true for Spike, why should it ever work for Angel?

Here’s where we introduce Numero Cinco, once a great Luchador who, along with his four brothers, dominated the wrestling world and battled vampires and demons. They were great champions, keeping the people safe and enjoying their gratitude and admiration. It was a long and legendary career that saw them face and triumph over all manner of evil beings, including EL DIABLO ROBOTICO!!!

What – you haven’t heard of it?

But fifty years before the events of this episode, Numero Cinco saw brothers Uno to Quatro slaughtered by the Aztec demon Tezza… Tex… TecQua… Can we just call him Tex? Tex put Cinco’s brothers in the ground, before Cinco finally managed to defeat him in a ferocious battle. All good in the hood, yeah?

Not quite. Cinco’s victory was bittersweet, as he’d lost his family and closest allies, and the hero’s life no longer seemed so fulfilling. Realizing that his heart wasn’t in it, he accepted the invitation of a young Holland Manners to go to work for Wolfram & Hart, where he’s been ever since, leading right into episode 5.6 and his sudden dismissal from W&H after an unfortunate misunderstanding that saw the new boss getting thrown through a window (for the record, I LOVED the flashbacks to the illustrious career of Los Hermanos).

This brought Angel and Cinco together, as Angel needed his former mailroom clerk’s help to put Tex back out of commission. Over the course of their brief adventure together, each of these weary champions learned a valuable lesson from the other.

Cinco learned that his champion spirit didn’t die with his brothers, and when all seems lost and you feel like your heart’s desire is forever beyond your grasp, one thing still remains to put gas in your tank. Hope. He’d previously stopped hoping that his brothers would ever return to him, or that he would ever again be useful in the fight against evil. But when his instincts kicked in and he leapt to Angel’s defense in the fight against Texaco, the blood that ran from his hero’s heart dripped onto the resting place of his fallen brothers, bringing them to the surface for the last great battle that he’d been dreaming about. With the mission accomplished and Tex Avery seemingly dispatched forever, Cinco enjoyed the icing on his cake by joining his brothers permanently, in death.

“Hmmm”, thought Angel. “There might be something to learn from this. Numero Cinco stopped being a hero only because he gave up on himself, and he stopped believing that the Powers That Be would reward his courage and dedication. He convinced himself it was futile, and until something came along to wake him up, it was.”

And then he thought, “Do these pants make me look fat?”

So returning to Wolfram & Hart’s office, Angel decided that he should maybe give the Shanshu prophecy a closer look. Maybe it’s crap, maybe there’s no brass ring, and maybe the satisfaction of helping the helpless will have to be enough to drive his mission. But in the same way that Cinco was rewarded in the end with what he most wanted, there’s always the possibility that the prophecy will someday come true and our tortured hero will be able to head out into the sunshine to see if his cookie dough has finished baking.

And we’ve all gotta hope for something. Me, I’m hoping for bigger and better episodes this season, and while I really enjoyed ‘The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco’, it was more of a portent of upcoming greatness than an actual “instant classic”. Since I’m behind on reviews, I already know that the Goddard-penned episode 5.7 was another step in the right direction. So it’s happening, just very gradually.

Take care, everybody.


PS: Just so the Spike fans don’t bust me for not addressing his status in 5.6, let’s just say he’s still a ghost, still pretty funny, and still in need of something more worthwhile to do on this show than standing around commenting. Bring on the fleshiness!

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Latest Comments

The Numero Cinco episode was embarrassingly bad-the worst this year.

Posted by: Matthew Gomez on February 5, 2004 03:10 PM

Actually, the whole scene with Spike asking to "...make me like i was..." is ambiguous. However, Joss Whedon has repeatedly said (which is confirmed in several episodes in Season 7) that Spike's intention all along was to have his soul restored. I think Season Six's finale was meant to trick us in believing that Spike wanted his chip removed, in the same way, they tried to make us believe that Giles may actually be "the First".

Posted by: Mya on January 30, 2004 04:30 PM

If I remember, Spike didn't go to the demon to get his soul back. He went there to do something about the all-consuming, Spike-destroying love he had for the Slayer. I think his wish was "Make me what I was, I wanna give the Slayer what she deserves". Or something close to that. He never actually said "Give me my soul". But the demon gave it back to him because you never get what you want, only what you need.
Spike having a soul was what the Slayer deserved. Interesting, huh?

Posted by: Kathy on December 17, 2003 07:28 AM

You assume that this demon is only in the soul-retail market. He seems to me to be more like a genie with an attitude. Yeah, he'll grant you a wish, if you jump through a couple hundred flaming hoops first. And about other vampires not knowing the location--maybe they do. Maybe some vampires came to the demon and died in the trials, or maybe some came and got their wishes granted, but I highly doubt that another vampire would actually ask for a soul. Spike is unique in this case.

Posted by: MayQueen on December 6, 2003 12:28 PM

Awesome Daryll. If Spike knew about this demon, what about Angel. Instead of having a permanent soul Angel has a cursed, non permanent soul. This is assuming because Spike had to fight for his soul, that makes his truly his. Most likely the demon has been there for awhile so why is it Spike seems to be the only vampire that is aware of its location? Yes, it does change the game and I still can't get rid of a sneaking suspicion that how he got his soul may matter later. I don't know for sure. Merely speculation but if the Shanshu turns out to be fake who knows what other surprises may be in the works. Cheers.

Posted by: jp on November 26, 2003 09:41 PM
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