“Why We Fight”
Written by Steven S. DeKnight and Drew Goddard
Directed by Terrence O’Hara
We open on a U-Boat in WWII. Men are running through the sub in a terrified panic as alarms go off. Judging by the growling, there’s definitely at least one vampire in there. It kills the captain. The guy the camera spends the most time on looks like he could have been the body double for Chris Evans as the pre-serum Steve Rogers. It’s unsettling. Is there something about those facial features that just exude wholesome ‘40s patriotism or something?
In the present, the A.I. team is discussing Eve in Angel’s office. She’s vanished and they’re mostly sure that Lindsey is being tortured somewhere in punishment for tricking the Senior Partners. Gunn stumbles when doing his legal exposition and brushes it off as exhaustion. Time to call it a night! They all still feel like they have a ton of work to do, so they can’t really relax. They agree to meet up again in the morning after they’ve pulled work-related all-nighters.
The elevator dings after they disperse. The man stepping off is none other than dark-haired Steve Rogers. So...he’s a vampire, then. Fred finds him poking around in her lab. He acts very pleasant, except for how he knows her name and that she’s new at W&H (and how he’s accompanied by sinister music). He asks Fred if she likes her job. She talks like she’s engaging in pleasant conversation, but it’s just a cover for trying to flee, which he realizes. He tells her he and Angel go way back.
Cut to ’43 again, in Angel’s flat in New York City. A few suits break down the door and surround him, crossbows raised. One of them looks uncannily like both Eric Bana (Bruce Banner two incarnations before Mark Ruffalo’s version) and Peter Facinelli (Carlisle from the Twilight movies, but much more likeably Maxwell Lord on Supergirl). I can’t figure out who he is from the credits or IMDB, and it seems unlikely that he’s either Bana or Facinelli, because they had both already leveled well past “background extra” in their acting careers.
He could easily find work as a stunt double for both of them. Anyway. The guy in charge of these crossbow-wielding dudes talks like a stereotypical military man. He would like to recruit Angel for the war effort. Specifically, he wants him to help bring in a fancy prototype submarine that had been captured by the Americans before something went wrong. These government/military dudes know a lot about Angel—more, it seems, than the Watchers’ Council knew, like that he has a soul. These guys are the Initiative in its infancy. And they’re prepared to strap weights to Angel until he sinks and deals with that sub, if he won’t go willingly. The reason they want Angel’s help is that they’re pretty sure vampires are what sabotaged the mission.
On the sub, dark-haired Steve Rogers tries to cheer up one of his men. They’re all locked in the cabin (or whatever the part with the bunks is called on a sub), including one Nazi from the sub’s original crew. They can hear the men who didn’t make it into the cabin screaming and dying horribly outside. Dark-haired Steve Rogers is apparently called Lawson. Aww. I was having fun calling him that. Oh well. He wants to go try rescuing the dying men, but one of the other guys points a gun at him; he doesn’t want to risk the monsters getting in. Before the situation can turn nasty, they hear weird metallic noises on the outside of the sub. They follow the sounds to the engine room and realize something is in the tubes. Whatever’s causing the noise starts tapping SOS on the inside of the hatch. They open it, to reveal Angel crouching inside, very uncomfortable.
In the present, Wes comes to his office, where Fred is already bound and gagged in his chair. Vamp Lawson sneaks up on him and knocks him out.
In the sub, Angel tells Lawson his military clearance, which seems to give him command over the crew. It’s a bit over-the-top, but I love it anyway. A couple of the crewmen think Angel must be Captain America or something. Dangit, no, it’s your officer who’s Captain America. Angel is Batman, but, like, if Batman were broke and actually had powers tangentially related to bats. Angel orders Lawson to lock the door behind him after he goes to see what’s attacking the other men.
Angel makes his way through the sub. The second door starts opening before he can finish turning the wheel himself, and Spike pops through, black-haired and wearing a Nazi jacket. He’s quite pleased to see “Angelus.” He assumes Angelus, like him, got captured at a “free virgin blood party” scam. *snort* He’s a bit heartened that he wasn’t the only one to get caught. Then he shows Angel to where the other two vampires are. One is Nostroyev, a Russian vampire who fancies himself a very impressive and infamous figure. He’s very offended neither of them has heard of him, particularly because he was Rasputin’s lover. Bahahahaha. The other vampire looks like a very deliberate tribute to Nosferatu. He’s the Prince of Lies, and he’s basically like if a vampire could get dementia. I think he might be even higher than Penn on my list of favorite single-episode vampires. He’s freaking fantastic. Just look at this wheezy evil laugh he does while reminiscing on slaughtering the crew!
Spike is keen to kill the rest of the humans on board. Angel firmly informs him they won’t be doing that. The other three are annoyed (well, mostly the Prince of Lies is just baffled by the fact that they’re apparently underwater, but Spike and Nostroyev are definitely annoyed!), and Angel uses logic to convince them: as tasty as they are, the humans are the only ones who know how to get them back to land. So wait until they reach land before killing any more humans. Spike rolls his eyes. It can’t be that hard! He touches three buttons before making a siren go off. Nostroyev decides to kill all but one of the crew. He isn’t interested in taking orders from Angel. Angel makes as if to let him walk past, then surprise stakes him before repeating his orders. Spike and the Prince of Lies are on board.
Vamp Lawson has finally reached Angel in his office. Angel isn’t particularly surprised that he managed to sneak in, because their security seems to be rather terrible. Lawson has been keeping tabs on Angel over the years. He’s surprised to find him fighting evil while working at W&H. It’s both oxymoronic and a big leap from living off rats in alleys.
We return to the flashback, where Angel is leading the crew back into the control room. They’re to watch each other’s backs and give orders to Spike and the Prince of Lies. The guys all seem super uncomfortable with this. Spike wants to sit in the captain’s chair and make the boys bring him drinks. The Prince of Lies is keen to help, but in a hilariously sinister way. I love him so much.
Angel wants Lawson’s help moving the bodies of the dead crewmen. Lawson doesn’t get why he has to work with Spike and the Prince of Lies when they’re the ones who killed his captain and his crew. Angel feels they need all the help they can get to bring the sub in and complete the mission, but Lawson enlisted because he believed in what they were fighting for, and working with monsters who just killed his men is antithetical to that. Angel wants Lawson to focus on the bigger picture: this mission will help the Allies win the war. He doesn’t need to know the details. Angel will make sure the remainder of the crew makes it out alive.
In the present, Vamp Lawson has been reminiscing about all of this. He wants to know if Angel ever cared about the mission or the crew, or if he was just trying to save his own life. Angel gets him chatting to the point where he drops his guard, and then kicks the coffee table into his knee and uses one of the shattered legs to try to stake him. Lawson catches his hand and reveals he has an ace in the hole. Which is that he has Fred, Wes, and Gunn strung up with thin wire in Angel’s office. They’re precariously perched on wheeled chairs. If they lose their balance or the chairs get bumped, the wire will garrote them like slicing cheese.
Back in ’43, Lawson is checking on the crew and the condition of the sub. They’re moving and nothing’s currently after them, so it’s going well for now. Spike is still being very annoying. He wants to steer, he wants to be called Captain, and he’s not impressed with Angel’s sailor talk. Angel sends him off to perform a menial task. Lawson is confident in his crew’s abilities, but then someone starts screaming. It’s the Nazi. The Prince of Lies is confronting him about the freaky Nazi research they were using him for. When Angel tries to get him to pipe down, he smacks him across the chamber. Lawson shoots him, and he swats him aside too. He’s threatening to kill the Nazi when Angel stakes him. Aww. Bye, the Prince of Lies. The Nazi is very grateful, but Angel punches him out too. Haha. The human crewmen are freaked, but Lawson orders them back to their stations. Angel confirms Lawson’s suspicions, that these are vampires.
Spike has found what ticked the Prince of Lies off so bad, so it’s time to interrogate the Nazi! The Nazi isn’t impressed with Spike’s vampface. Of Angel, Lawson, the Nazi, and Spike, Spike is the only one who doesn’t speak German. The Nazi tells Lawson (and Angel, who’s keeping his German knowledge on the DL) that the research is about the Nazis trying to turn vampires into a behaviorally conditioned army. Also, the US government didn’t just want the submarine, they wanted this research so the Initiative could get a headstart on the crap they would eventually be pulling in ’99. The Nazi laughs when Lawson assumes it’s only the Germans doing this stuff. Angel admits he knew about it. He and Spike then have the most ironic dialogue exchange ever, referencing both Angel’s underwater summer between S3 and S4 and Spike’s chip. Nice. Lawson is still an idealist, so he doesn’t object when Angel orders Spike to torch the vampire research. Which he does, while singing “God Save the King.”
Then depth charges start dropping all around the sub. They’re in trouble. There are three or four destroyers closing in on them. The crew does some hasty maneuvering, going deeper in an effort to avoid detection. It doesn’t work. They take a nasty hit and end up dead in the water. Angel has Lawson go check to see if he can fix it. Another hit comes and they start taking on a ton of water. Angel drags Spike along to seal off the other compartment.
Lawson starts working on whatever’s broken with the propulsion. Angel squeezes a pipe shut to stop a leak, and then Spike notices that the Nazi has vanished. That’s because he’s where Lawson is, and he’s stabbing him with his screwdriver. Lawson bashes the Nazi’s head off a poky metal thing, which seems to kill him, but he’s in bad shape.
In the present, Vamp Lawson is still reliving the mission for his captive audience. He didn’t particularly enjoy his final human moments.
In the flashback, Angel finds Lawson as he’s dying from his wound. Lawson is distraught, because he knows he’s the only one who can get the sub moving again. He’s already blaming himself for the impending deaths of the rest of the crew and the failure of the mission. Angel realizes the only way for Lawson to survive long enough to fix the sub is if he turns him into a vampire. So he does.
It takes long enough for Lawson to wake up as a vampire and start working again that the humans are nearly out of air. Spike would like to eat the one who looks closest to suffocating. But then the systems come back online, and Angel puts a grudging Spike back to work. He goes to talk to Lawson, who’s noticeably lacking in that idealism that made him so Steve Rogers-esque (in addition to the way he looks exactly like Chris Evans, I mean). He’d rather eat his crew than save them at this point. Angel beats him up. The sub surfaces. They get air, and they’re not being chased. Angel informs Lawson that he gets to swim for shore. Which is twenty miles away. If he sees him again, he’ll kill him. Lawson looks at the crew. He cares more about the sub than he does about them. He heads out to start swimming. Spike marvels at how much of a jerk “Angelus” is, but Angel just calmly stares at him until he realizes he’s going to have to swim for it too. Bahaha.
In the present, Lawson hopes the Initiative at least tortured Angel after the mission was over. But Angel hid out until the end of the war. Lawson knows the mission helped the Allies win, but he seems rather bitter about being the price. He wants to kill Angel’s crew in revenge. He wants to feel some kind of satisfaction in his existence, because he’s only ever felt empty in all these years of doing the normal vampire stuff. He wonders if there’s something wrong with him, or if it’s because of Angel. Angel isn’t sure; Lawson is the only one he ever turned after he was cursed.
They fight. Lawson thinks maybe he got a piece of Angel’s soul—just enough to take the fun out of vampirism for him, but not enough to make him good. Lawson blames Angel for how he’s nothing. Angel sends Lawson crashing through the wall of windows. He picks up a shard of wood and goes for Angel, but Angel grabs his arm and turns it slowly back towards Lawson’s own chest. He stakes him.
The next morning, Spike finds Angel sitting in front of his window. Fred told him what happened. He’s a bit disdainful of how long it took Lawson to air his grievances. Angel thinks Lawson was looking for a purpose, not revenge.
I really like “Why We Fight.” The setting alone is enough to win me over. As I’ve said before, flashbacks don’t annoy me like they do some people, and I particularly enjoy flashbacks to the ‘40s. And then there’s the Prince of Lies, who, again, is just a delight. It’s also pretty cool to see the Initiative in its early days. Continuity for the win! Now let’s see how I do at picking apart the less superficial bits. I’ll save some of it for Angel’s analysis section, but overall, the theme seems to be that you can’t always win by doing what’s right, but is winning still worth it when that happens? Lawson did end up completing his mission, but he came out the other side indifferent to his crew and everything else he was fighting for. Was the price worth it? Was there another way? He was robbed of his belief that you can win by doing what’s right, first by the revelation that his country was not as firmly planted on the moral and ethical high ground as he thought, and then by the necessity of becoming a monster to complete the mission. I kind of feel like this episode would have made more sense if it had come before “You’re Welcome” instead of immediately after, but just because Cordelia helped Angel regain some of his conviction, it doesn’t mean he’s completely sure of himself. It’s just kind of a two steps forward, one step back situation.
I also have a theory about Lawson’s soul! I think he straight-up kept it. I think Angel’s curse carried over to Lawson when he turned him, and so Lawson ended up a vampire with a soul fresh out of the grave. But why, you ask, would Lawson have killed people and done typical vampire stuff even if he had a soul? Because unlike Angel and Spike, he didn’t have any baggage on his conscience. They both became souled vampires only after over a century each of unspeakably evil acts. They both mentally recoil in horror at the thought of continuing to do those kinds of things, because of those memories. It seems to me that it would take an exceptionally strong-willed soul to fight back the instincts of a vampire demon. (And, heck, maybe it’s part of the mechanism of Angel’s curse and whatever that demon did to restore Spike’s soul that the soul is automatically in the driver’s seat, not the demon—Lawson wouldn’t have that, so the demon could just shove the soul aside.) Without the kind of psychic baggage Angel and Spike have to make vampirism seem repugnant, Lawson’s demon could have just carefully whittled away at his soul’s defenses, rationalizing here and tempting there until Lawson was left with no way to stop it. But he still wouldn’t enjoy it. It’s like how Marcus from “Carpe Noctem” was fine with being a vampire after swapping bodies with Angel, and how memory loss Liam in “Spin the Bottle” eventually decided he might as well live up to the vampire stereotype if nobody was going to give him any benefit of the doubt. Marcus might have been a hedonistic lout who didn’t mind condemning healthy young men to death in exchange for getting to have brief bursts of youth for himself, but Liam was just a dumb teenager, not malicious at all. Marcus, Liam, and Lawson all failed to fight the instincts of their demons. Lawson wanted a mission, and for sixty years, he assumed the only mission available to him was “be a vampire.” He was wrong, which is why it was never fulfilling and ultimately had him seeking Angel out so he could put him out of his misery. I wonder what would’ve happened if Angel had been able to subdue him so that Fred and Wes could run tests on him, or if he’d realized on the sub that Lawson might still have a soul.
Lawson and the submarine crew seem to be a pretty solid metaphor for Angel and his team in W&H. There’s danger on all sides, no easy way out, and monsters trapped inside with them. Lawson and Angel both care about their crews and the good fight, and they’re forced into situations where they have to use questionable means (or work with questionable allies) to complete their missions, which makes them question everything else as well. I guess in “You’re Welcome,” Angel fought Lindsey with Cordelia’s help, and that’s something he did back when he was more sure of himself and his purpose, so it was easy to feel good about it. He still has a ways to go before he’s as sure about what he’s doing at W&H.
So these flashbacks pretty much confirm that Spike had no idea about Angel’s curse for at least a few decades. Even though he was killing gypsies while Darla was trying to persuade them to undo the curse, he must’ve been too drunk on blood to pay attention to what Darla was trying to accomplish. I’m think Drusilla must have mentioned Angel’s curse to him at some point between WWII and when he showed up in Sunnydale in fall of ’97, because he spent at least a full day on that sub with Angel, completely oblivious to his soulfulness, which makes it unlikely that he figured it out without help in “School Hard.” Especially considering that Angel seemed much more willing to enjoy some fresh human blood with him then than he did in the submarine. Actually, maybe it occurred to him after reaching land that Angelus was behaving rather strangely, and he discussed it with Dru and she remembered about Angel’s curse.
Gunn is showing signs of starting to lose his law upgrade, and it’s clearly frustrating him. I like that this is already being set up.
Considering how unabashed Fred has been in several previous episodes about using weapons, I’m kind of surprised she doesn’t have at least a few of them hidden in her lab for easy access in case of an attack of some kind. I wish she’d gone for a crossbow or something instead of just trying to get away from Lawson.
Lorne only has five lines! He didn’t even get to be one of the ones strung up by Lawson! Do the majority of the writers just not care about him at all?
Wesley is being oblivious to Fred’s interest in him, but his reaction on seeing her bound and gagged clears up any shreds of doubt that might still exist as to whether or not he’s still in love with her. Lawson made a serious gamble by thinking he could use Fred as a distraction to get to Wes like that. I guess he didn’t hear about what Wes did to the cyborg he believed was his own father.
“Don’t ever go to a free virgin blood party. Turns out, probably a trap.”
“I WAS RASPUTIN’S LOVER!”
[after presumably being trapped on a submarine for weeks] “Ve are undervater?”
“Check the torpedoes before I stuff you in a tube and send you for a swim, Captain.”
“I am as ancient as the darkness itself!”
“Yeah, you’re real old. We get it.”
“I’m not getting trapped at the bottom of the sea!”
“And I’m not getting experimented on by his government!”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.