In the nineteenth episode of the first season of Angel, Angel takes on the task of helping Faith cope with the grief and guilt of the life she’s lived, but meets resistance from everyone else in his life. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.
I can’t imagine that “Sanctuary” was an easy episode to write, and that’s why I ultimately adore it so much. There are numerous things here that could have been completely and utterly ruined, and it’s just amazing to me that they’re not. How do you show a sympathetic, guilt-ridden side to Faith? How do you have Wesley confront the idea of giving Faith the benefit of the doubt? What do you do when Buffy shows up OH MY GOD I DIDN’T NOTICE HER NAME IN THE OPENING CREDITS. I think when it comes to a fictional world like this, I really want characterization (especially as complicated as it is here) to be examined in a way that’s respectful to what’s happened. That’s what works so well with “Sanctuary.” Even something as simple as Cordelia going on paid vacation to avoid Faith makes a whole lot of sense to me, you know? Not that I don’t want Cordelia around because every episode is better with more Cordelia. But this isn’t her battle; she has no interest in rehabilitating Faith at all, and yet she knows Angel isn’t going to change his mind about taking on the case.
Thankfully, the show also respects the fact that forgiveness is not an easy thing. Wesley and Buffy aren’t portrayed as being irrational for rejecting Faith’s presence in Angel’s life. Even if Angel inherently understands the pain and suffering that Faith is going through, he can’t truly understand the rage and betrayal they both feel for this woman. (And seriously, how rad is this parallel when you think of how Giles felt about Angel when Buffy was trying to protect him post-torture? OH GOD I LOVE EMOTIONAL CONTINUITY SO MUCH.)
I’ll be honest: I was worried about how the show would deal with Faith’s guilt. Here’s a character who initially started off as a breath of fresh air in Buffy’s life, and she’s had a year-long decline intoâ€¦ well, whatever she is now? I don’t feel the need to define Faith or pigeonhole her as anything. I am more interested in her behavior as an expression of the trauma and heartbreak she’s experienced over her lifetime. More than ever, we can see how the loss of Mayor Wilkins has sent her over the edge, and I think that line at the very end about how nothing she does has any meaning is an unintentional reference to that man. He gave her life meaning, even if she was doing something horrific. And I think it’s important to make that distinction, to appreciate the complexity of her character and her actions.
While I certainly understand that people like Wesley and Buffy have very justifiable reasons for hating Faith, I think Angel’s the only person aside from the Mayor who has actually appreciated Faith. He tried to help her in “Consequences” because he knew what it was like to feel truly evil, and that’s why he’s giving her a second chance. (To be fair to Buffy and Wesley, I actually think they genuinely wanted to help her, too, and I can’t blame their emotional distance from her after what she did to them.)
I was impressed, then, with Tim Minear and Joss Whedon’s writing over the course of “Sanctuary.” The dialogue between Angel and Faith is painful and awkward, and it’s exactly what it should be. This could not be something solved in one episode. It had to be uncomfortable to watch, and Faith had to resist what was happening, too. She’s a stubborn person, and even if she wants to get rid of the pain in her heart, it could not be an easy journey. And I’m even glad that there was a bit of humor in their first conversation. (“So how does this work?” OH LOL ANGEL YOU ARE SO OBLIVIOUS SOMETIMES.) The dynamic between these two actors is among my favorite moments in the show, too, and it helps that Angel’s characters gets some range that we don’t normally see. I mean, let’s be real here. Angel’s a pretty stoic guy, so I enjoy it when he strays from that.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Joss Whedon show if any attempts at joy or happiness weren’t complicated by 40 million other things. But it’s done so well! I’m not complaining! I wasn’t surprised by Wolfram & Hart’s involvement, as Lee explains quite plainly why they need to get their shit in control:
“The first assassin kills the second assassin sent to kill the first assassin, who didn’t assassinate anyone until we hired the second assassin to assassinate her.”
I mean right that makes total sense. No, seriously, it does! I did find it hilarious that not only did that silly law firm fail at every single attempt on Faith’s life, but their last plan of going through legal avenues to get her ending up falling apart too, since Faith beat them to it. Also OH MY GOD KATE I MISS YOU SO MUCH. Also, did anyone else feel like Kate was going to rip off Lindsey’s face when he referred to the death of her father? For real, I thought it was going to happen.
On top of this, bless Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. The man had absolutely every reason to betray Angel and Faith and get Faith sent to be rehabilitated by the Council, and he chose to trust Angel. I just adore his love for Angel, okay? It makes me feel all warm inside! Also, there’s even more evidence that he’s getting really good at being a rogue demon hunter under Angel. He was such a badass with Weatherby! 180!!!! I LOVE YOU FOREVER, WESLEY.
So yeah, let’s just talk about the moment when this episode becomes simultaneously unbearable to watch and immensely exciting. Bringing Buffy into this was a brilliant move on the writers’ part. Not only does it complicate the story more, but there’s a fascinating way they provide some closure with her involvement with Faith. At the very least, there’s a chance for Buffy to confront Faith, despite that initially all she wants to do is beat her to death. I didn’t expect Buffy to forgive Faith, and I’m glad the moment never happens. It wouldn’t have felt real. Faith pretty much ruined a large part of Buffy’s life, and Buffy has no interest in Faith’s guilt. And she shouldn’t! It doesn’t change any part of her life or make her feel better. But there’s something that comes up later that I was intrigued by: Angel insists that this is not about Buffy.
It’s a point I didn’t initially agree with because Faith is intricately tied up in Buffy’s life, so yeah, this is about her in a way. But I think I misunderstood what Angel was trying to tell her. Angel wasn’t comforting Faith out of romantic interest; he wanted to save her soul. Hell, even Buffy wanted Faith in jail, and that’s where she ultimately ends up. I found it telling that Buffy didn’t deny that she came for revenge, despite that I genuinely understand why she wanted it. But Buffy intervened in a process she didn’t comprehend, and she tried to make Angel feel bad about it. It was in this moment that I knew that “Sanctuary” couldn’t have ever happened on Buffy, and, for that matter, helps support the fact that Angel exists. I can’t even say I have anything to compare this experience to, either! I’ve never watched two shows that exists in the same fictional universe, but tell stories that largely have nothing to do with one another. Yes, there are crossover moments like this one, but even the tone of the two shows is moving further and further away from one another. Angel has been about redemption from the start, and that’s why Angel is in the business of saving souls, rather than saving lives. Giving Faith a path to peace isn’t something I would expect to see on Buffy, and certainly not after what Faith did in seasons three and four.
I don’t know that Angel will actually chase after Buffy, but it’s clear to me that these two shows must be different and exist on their own at this point. The only reason Buffy mentioned Riley at all was to hurt Angel, and I don’t think that was very fair of her. Still, I think that there’s no real fault or blame to assign in this episode. The whole thing is a complicated mess of morality, but in the end, it looks like Angel has truly helped Faith find something to cling on to: accountability.
I don’t know that we’ll ever see Faith again, so if this is the end of her story, I’m immensely satisfied. She doesn’t get a feel-good moment of clarity, though that smile we see in her jail cell is a start. At the very least, that spark of hope has been lit within her, and that’s most certainly because of Angel.
ugh I love this show so much.
PS: This deserves its own space. There was an X-FilesÂ reference on Angel. My life is complete.
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