Why We Fight is the absolute epitome of an episode anchored by really, really cool ideas, only they're not depicted all that well on-screen. It's an episode generally considered pretty bad, but I'd rather take an ambitious but flawed hour over something as generic and flat as, say, Unleashed or Hell-Bound. It's unfortunate though, because the very concept of Angel being recruited by the government in 1943 to investigate Nazi plans to create a line of vampire super-soldiers is so strong and intriguing. But, outside of a few powerful scenes, Why We Fight is a real chore to get through.
Folding into the 'interesting concept, weak delivery' motif, Lawson should be a really absorbing character. Sired by an ensouled Angel, he exists as a vampire but also has traces of soul within him, leaving him this husk of self-doubt and misery, thriving off the blood of humans but feeling no pleasure from it. Unsurprisingly, he's gone batshit. Again, this is such a great idea, but those modern-day scenes are so listless and underwhelmingly acted that you gauge absolutely no emotional attachment to him. It's a real example of something unexpectedly backfiring when transitioned from script to screen.
The flashbacks on the submarine prove better, particularly the ridiculous Prince of Lies (God bless you, Camden Toy, and your chameleon creepiness) and the equally overblown Nostroyev ("I was Rasputin's lover!"). And, yeah, of course Spike is involved somehow, but just when you're about to whine about him being shoehorned into the plot, James Marsters forces you to come around to it with his natural charm and Spike's casual indifference to the Nazi scheme and the hooey he's stumbled upon.
While I love the era in which the episode is set, primarily because Are You Now or Have You Ever Been? was so remarkable, there are too many issues preventing Why We Fight from being truly great. The pacing is horrible, the acting is sometimes too restrained, and there isn't a huge sense of peril in the present-day scenes. But, like I said, it's far more enjoyable than most of the early season five standalones, since it's at least trying to say something. It doesn't totally come across, but you can sense a couple more re-writes could have made it really shine. C+
Guest stars Eyal Podell (Sam Lawson); Lindsey Ginter (Petrie); Scott Klace (Fury)
Writers Drew Goddard, Steven S. DeKnight Director Terrence O'Hara