Buffy The Vampire Slayer Reviews: Enemies

DVD special features. Ain't they great? Packed full of fun facts about the making of your favourite TV programme or movie, they're designed to add great value for money to our favourite shiny discs.

The problem is though, DVD extras are the equivalent of Toto pulling back the curtain on a huffing and puffing Wizard of Oz who's doing his level best to convince a motley crew of visitors that he's some awe-inspiring green overlord head of doom rather than a chubby old bloke pressing down lots of pipes. The illusion's gone – much like the DVD special features which show the mundane process behind the end product. Look, there's a sweaty cameraman zooming in on the hero of the hour! Look, there's take number 39, with cast members pulling the face of a man chomping down on a wasp sandwich. Value for money is all well and good, but DVD extras are essentially the explanation behind an apparently impossible magic trick.

Which is the problem encountered with the latest in the Bad Faith saga in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Enemies' main selling point is the dreaded return of Angelus. Just when we thought we'd seen the back of old snarky gel head fangboy, he's apparently back with a vengeance after a mysterious hooded, shrouded figure works his mojo. You can tell that something's going down, since there's lots of whizzing lights and pompous huffing and puffing from an intrusive choir. It's a grim prospect, especially when he's roped in to become part of the Mayor's and Faith's entourage of evil. Three badasses to battle against? That's Buffy's Christmases all shattered in one fell swoop.

The problem is, it's all one big trick, given that Angel is still his normal self. Having impersonated Angelus to bring Faith's duplicity out into the open, Angel has proven himself worthy of a place in The Great Soprendo Academy Of Knavish Tricks. It's possible that you may only be able to appreciate this episode just the once as a result, since you know what's coming your way in the final act. Apparently the shrouded hoodie puts on one mean light show and presumably has a handy compilation CD of Intrusive Choral Shrieking to add to the illusion. He's a buddy of Giles', we're told, since the librarian introduced him to his wife. Quite who the enigmatic wife is, we're alas not told. Maybe Jenny Calendar had a long lost sister come to visit.

Still, if you're made of sterner stuff and don't mind the knowledge that Angelus isn't actually back, it's still fun to try and trace the subtle clues. It's all in Angel's facial expressions, which wouldn't make him the best at poker in this regard. There's a notable example in which Faith takes Angel to see the Mayor. As far as job interviews go, this isn't the most orthodox, since Angel decides to throw a small knife at his prospective boss. As soon as the Mayor catches it with his outstretched hand and removes it with casual nonchalance, there's one quick cut to Angel, who's evidently rattled by this. It's on for a micro second, and you could take it as Angelus finding a baddie even more powerful than he is, but Angel the Inside Man is disturbed to find that one of the marks may not be as easy to dispose of as first thought.

There are also two sly exchanges between Angel and Buffy that make more sense in hindsight. One is the bit in which Angel offers to carry Buffy's bag. There's an enigmatic look between the two that to my bleary eyes looks like a “Are we still on with this façade?” glance. There's the same sort of expression in which Angel supposedly chains Buffy up to a pillar in his great big mansion of emptiness. It's cleverly done, and subtle enough to add to the mystery the first time around.

The main aim of Enemies is to showcase how far off the rails Faith has come. It's a far cry from the breezy Slayer who showed up to impress Buffy's pals in Faith, Hope And Trick. Since then, Faith has been duped by a posh ex-Watcher, has seen the wrong end of Buffy's fists and has also accidentally stabbed a jabbering mayoral aide through the heart. Ever since the events of Bad Girls, Faith's moral code has unravelled more than a moth-eaten scarf. She's now acquired a taste for killing, and worse still, has managed to get away with the death of Finch.

Faith's undoing is her desire for power. Since she's been in Sunnydale, she's been cheesed off that she isn't the Top Slayer in town. Her friendship with Buffy hasn't exactly been close. In most cases, it's been more of a mutual tolerance rather than braiding each others' hair. Short of killing Buffy for good, the only possible option for Faith to get her much-wanted power is to seek other avenues. It's the Mayor who provides that exit strategy from the path of good, and into the big, bad road of evil – which seems to suit Faith to a tee.

Faith's desire for power also manifests itself through her attacking techniques. She's proven to be a formidable opponent in past tussles with vampires, but she takes this to extremes with a poor old demon who's showed up this episode with the tantalising chance to acquire the Books Of Ascension. The demon isn't your archetypal bad guy, he's a kind of nerdy collector expert, the sort who stumbles on valuable artefacts and then sells them on eBay for a hefty price. It's possible that he'd be the sort who would ironically source the still-missing 1960s episodes of Doctor Who (which would at least have put an end to the now beyond-a-joke Omnirumour). He's relative small fry in the demon world, but this doesn't stop Faith giving him a bunch of fives rather than a bunch of fivers. Worse still, Faith decides to go all Billy Loomis on the poor chap, who ends up virtually sliced in two.

There's an interesting bit in which Faith actually looks horrified at what she's done. She later turns up at Angel's place with dried blood on her hands, telling the vampire that she's come back down to Earth. That sense of power is like a drug for Faith, and once the effects have worn off, she's left in a very dark place indeed. She's fast heading out of control, but because she's switched allegiances to a man who would sell his auntie for a case of dollar bills, she's got no one to put on the brakes. Which is the story of Faith's life, given that we hear tales of how Faith's mother was too interested in the shelves of the local liquor store to care two hoots about her. It's too bad that Faith tries to turn Angel to the dark side, since he's the only one who actually has experience of what she's going through at the moment.

As it stands, Faith only succeeds in alienating another possible friend who could have been on her side. Talking of which, the best friend she could have had is now well and truly off the Christmas Card list. Faith's jealousy of Buffy has now boiled to overspill, and it's there for all to see in the brutal final act of Enemies. “You get the Watcher. You get the mom. You get the little Scooby gang. What do I get? Jack squat. This is supposed to be my town!”

Part of the problem with Faith's growing hatred of Buffy is that Buffy's the better Slayer of the two, and deep down, Faith knows this. “You had to tie me up to beat me,” says Buffy. “There's a word for people like you, Faith. Loser.” For all her threats and bravado, Faith's not in the same league as Buffy, and it's debatable whether this contributes to her growing self-loathing which reaches a head in both the next Buffy season and the first Angel season. Certainly, she's not smart enough to realise that she's been had by both Buffy and Angel. “What can I say, I'm the world's best actor!” she sneers at Buffy, only for Angel to quietly pipe up “Second best.” It's actually a great reveal this, especially the way in which director David Grossman slows down the action to emphasise Faith's slowly dawning realisation that she's been played.

It's a well-played trick, but it comes at a price for Buffy. She's been in date mode again with Angel, having taken him to see a pervy movie at the cinema. Which is like taking someone trying to cut down cigarettes on a tour of the local tobacco factory. Naturally, Buffy isn't best pleased when Angel is forced to snog the face off Faith. It may be part of the big plan to bring Faith's duplicity out into the open, but it's yet another hint that the Buffy/Angel relationship will never work out. It won't be the last time that this is indicated, as matters reach a teary head later on this season.

Although the element of surprise is lost on repeat viewings, Enemies still contains enough good stuff to make it an enjoyable 45 minutes. It's a tour-de-force for Eliza Dushku, who really lets rip with Faith's brittle hatred and rage, especially in the face-off scenes with Buffy. This could have been a melodramatic botch-up, but Dushku ensures that these scenes are played for real, and the end results are very effective.

It's also great to see her unusual father/daughter relationship grow with the Mayor. Wilkins lectures Faith on the importance of healthy bones by offering her a glass of milk, and furthermore, instead of yelling at her for the failure of the task, simply cheers her up with the prospect of a round of miniature golf. More class acting from Harry Groener, who continues to make the Mayor into one of the show's most unusual but sinister bad guys.

And let's not forget David Boreanaz, who's probably been itching to get some substantial material these last few episodes. Amends aside, Angel has largely been sidelined this season, so at least Enemies allows Boreanaz to play Angelus with real gusto again. It's sometimes easy to forget how good Boreanaz is as Angelus, so at least Enemies is a notable reminder.

It's nice to see this season alternate between more stand-alone episodes and the ongoing story arc. It's the right balance that makes the third season stand out from the pack, and sure enough, the next episode will see a return of the stand-alone kind of story. Enemies manages to propel the ongoing story strands well, and even though the initial surprise is lost on rewatching, there's still much to like.