Five by five. What in Caritas does that mean exactly? It's one of the more commonly used and irksome phrases used on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but quite how five by five equates with “It's OK” is beyond the reach of my tiny mind. Possibly, it's some alternate take on a High Five clap. It may even be a phonetic reading of some ancient Sumarian meaning of “It's cool”.
One thing I can say with some confidence, however, is that Faith Hope & Trick is five by five. Which is a relief after the dismal Dead Man's Party. Mercifully, the people who sounded and looked like the Scooby Gang but weren't have luckily been replaced by the genuine articles again this week. Even Buffy's a lot more smiley this tine around, having seemingly spent six consistent months with a face longer than the Eiffel Tower.
Faith Hope & Trick gives the third season a much needed boost, but what's incredible about this is its' multi-tasking ability. On the one hand, it's tying up the last hanging threads of Season Two. Buffy's school expulsion is finally lifted by a grudging Snyder, while Giles finally manages to trick Buffy into revealing what actually happened with Acathla. On the other hand, it's setting up a myriad of future plot detours with new characters and the mysterious return of an old face. On top of this, it manages to tell a good, entertaining story in its own right. Kudos to David Greenwalt, who wins the Multi Tasker of 1998 Award.
The story revolves around the three eponymous characters, with the trio of plot strands coming together to baffle, challenge and infuriate Buffy in equal measures. Making the least impact is Hope – Scott Hope, or The Buffy Suitor Who No One Remembers. He's possibly one chart position above Richard from Older And Far Away, but that's about his lot.
Scott deserves some sort of award for sheer persistence, but the problem is, he's always in the wrong place at the wrong time. After asking Buffy to mosey on down at the Bronze, she's distracted by a vamp fight outside. After propositioning her with a friendship Claddagh ring (presumably bought from one of those 99p shops), Buffy runs away after being reminded of Angel's gift. In the end, Buffy does get to reward the poor sap with a date to the Buster Keaton Film Festival, which is admittedly a pretty cool place to go for a first meet. But it's a dalliance that's on for precisely one episode and five minutes. It's dead in the water before it begins, so it's little surprise that Scott Hope is the sort of Buffy character who would score a jackpot answer on Pointless.
Making a bit more impact is the sharp dressed Mr Trick. Mr Trick likes his suits, likes his bling and likes his food. The Sunnydale fast food workers in particular, seem to come off the worst in this regard. Mr Trick is also more “jacked in” (copyright Fritz The Meat Loaf Lookalike) than most vampires. While the majority of vamps seem to take a leaf out of Giles' book, by consulting a musty old tome, Mr Trick is far more wired in to the modern world. “This town, this very street, wired for fibre optics,” beams Trick. “See, we jack in a T-3, um, 2500 megs per, we have the whole world at our fingertips.” Trick's vision for a Search On The Net – Next Day Delivery deal is ahead of its time. If he'd lived longer, he may have managed to set up his very own online business – eek-bay if you like.
The possibilities were there, but alas, Mr Trick would go on to play second fiddle to the Mayor. While the Mayor's undeniably one of the best Buffy villains, it's a shame that the producers couldn't have used Mr Trick more. He would have formed a great double act with the Mayor, if only for the chalk and cheese aspect. Mr Trick's modern-day sensibilities would have clashed big time with the Mayor's old-school approach, and this could have been a great double act. But sadly, this was not to be. As it stands, Mr Trick only gets a shot in the limelight twice. K Todd Freeman's snappy performance and Greenwalt's well-written dialogue combine to make Mr Trick an instant hit. It's just too bad he turned out to be a two-hit wonder (check out Mr Trick's equally funny but dangerous appearance in the brilliant Homecoming).
Trick's certainly far more memorable than dull old Kakistos, a bad guy so forgettable that Buffy can't even remember his name. We're told that this is the vampire who made a certain Slayer run away in fear, but it's hard to figure out why, given that he's so by the book. Admittedly he has a cloven claw where his hand should be and that he killed a Watcher, but in Faith Hope & Trick, he's largely reduced to barking out unimaginative threats and getting Mr Trick to do his dirty work for him. Cue inevitable ass kicking and subsequent dusting. Kakistos is the equivalent of Scott Hope in the baddie brigade – about his only saving grace is that he's not Machida.
But Kakistos is the reason that Faith's in town. Faith has the biggest impact on Buffy and her friends out of the magic three. With Kendra six feet under, Faith has now taken on the mantle of Slayer with considerable gusto. Not only can she hold her own against a vampire, she can wrestle with a mean, teeth-baring alligator and then pass it off as a light-hearted anecdote.
The introduction of Faith's interesting for a number of reasons. It alters the dynamic between the two Slayers for one thing. Compare Buffy and Faith with Buffy and Kendra. While Kendra was the humourless square compared with Buffy, the shoe's now on the other foot. Faith is full of wild tales and “living it large”, while Buffy is left with a weak anecdote about the Three. All of a sudden, Buffy's friends want to be Faith's new pals. If that's not enough, Faith is working her five by five magic on both her potential boyfriend and her mother. No wonder Buffy's failing to find the fun. All of a sudden, she's gone all Spock, while Faith's usurped her Captain Kirk status right under her nose. Given what happens, it's interesting to see Faith having a blast with Buffy's nearest and dearest. “You guys are a hoot and a half,” she tells Willow and Xander. “If I'd had friends like you in high school, I... probably still would've dropped out. But I might've been sad about it, you know?”
One thing that does come through here is that already, there's an underlying tension between the Slayers. Not only is Buffy jealous of Faith for stealing those closest to her (especially when she's working overtime to make them come around again after recent events), she's also unimpressed by Faith's over-zealous attitude when it comes to slaying. “The job is to slay demons!” she shouts at Faith. “NOT beat them to a bloody pulp while their friends corner me!” Already, we're finding out that there's a violent rage to Faith, and this is a facet of her personality that will be taken to extremes in the future. Plus of course, the frosty atmosphere between the two will seem like a warm summer's night compared to the relationship between them by the season's end.
It's maybe worth pondering on the fact that maybe Buffy's jealousy and curt acceptance of Faith have already set the wheels in motion for Faith's eventual path this season. If Buffy was nicer to Faith, could this have stopped her switching sides later down the line? Maybe. Maybe not. Whatever the argument, Eliza Dushku makes an immediate first impression as Faith with a fantastic performance full of life and personality. Admittedly, some of Faith's dialogue is a bit too overdone, but Dushku rises above this and sets herself well and truly on the way to creating one of Buffy The Vampire Slayer's most memorable supporting characters.
While there are lots of new kids in town this episode, Faith Hope & Trick still finds the time to settle some old scores. The most effective of these is Giles' sweet trick that he plays on Buffy in order to allow her to close the book on her recent torment. He pretends to work on a binding spell so as to keep Acathla closed and asks Buffy for an exact account of what happened. While Buffy tellingly evades the question, she eventually confesses the truth and tells of how she had to send a resouled Angel to hell. “There is no spell,” he quietly confesses to Willow after Buffy's left the library. With Hank out of the picture, Giles has taken on more and more of a paternal role to Buffy, and this is one of his finest examples, done without show or applause. Just a simple method of allowing Buffy to finally confront her demons.
Which she does at the end, by placing the Claddagh ring in Angel's old haunt. This would have closed the chapter if the tables weren't turned again. The ending of the story is an unprecedented bookend to the opening sequence of the first act in which a decaying Angel yells at Buffy to go to hell in another memorable dream sequence. I suppose there's a good argument that Angel's return does cheapen the ending of Becoming, but then he was never actually killed – just sent away to live a life of eternal torment. The mystery of what Angel is doing back will be strung out for the next few episodes, but thankfully it's given a reasonable explanation in Amends.
Faith Hope & Trick has everything you could want from a Buffy The Vampire Slayer story. It's nice to have the characters back on form. Willow's thankfully back to normal, and gets some great moments such as her first venture into off-campus lunch, her frowning face when she goes too far or her sheepish reaction to making comments about Giles' clucking noise when he gets exasperated. Already though, Giles is showing concern about Willow's forays into magic. “These forces are not something that one plays around with, Willow,” he says with a worried look in his eye. “What have you been conjuring?” It's a throwaway exchange for the moment, but in the long-term, it holds greater meaning, especially when Giles' concerns prove correct a few seasons down the line.
There's less for Xander, Cordy, Oz and Joyce to do this time around, although there's a marvellous sequence between Buffy and her mother at dinner. Buffy accidentally blurts out that she died and this evidently shocks Joyce to her core. “Oh, I hate your life,” she shudders. “I-I know you didn't choose this, I know it chose you. I have tried to march in the 'Slayer Pride' parade, but... I don't want you to die.” It's a far better depiction of Joyce this time around, and one that squares with her earlier caring mother persona. Kristine Sutherland does a wonderful job here, depicting a mother torn between her concern as a parent and her acknowledgement of her daughter as a free spirit. Mind you, on a separate note – look at the way that the couples uncouple in the opening sequence. That's got to take on a greater meaning later in the season, surely?
This is a solid episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer that does everything that's asked of it. The numerous introductions are handled well and the story runs along without a pause for breath, forming a fast paced and enjoyable 45 minutes of escapist fun. The direction from James A Contner is dependably good. Conter knows how to stage an action sequence, with Faith's first on-screen clash with a vampire barrelling along at a speed of knots. The dream sequence is handled very well too, and hey, after me mentioning Third Eye Blind in the last review, the real deal provide a suitably bleak “Background” song for this scene.
Wrapping up the past and opening up future possibilities, Faith Hope & Trick scores well – while providing a diverting and well-told story into the bargain.
Five by five.