Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Angel, "Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been" Review (2x02)

Brief Synopsis: “Angel directs Wesley and Cordelia to investigate the mysteriously abandoned Hyperion Hotel that he stumbled across last week. As they piece together the building’s dark history, they discover that Angel was staying in the hotel when it was closed down in 1952.”

"Judgment" (2x01) quick link here                                                                                                                    "First Impressions" (2x03) quick link here

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With that being said, let’s get started, shall we?

Like Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s “Restless”, “Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been” is an episode of the Buffyverse that I didn’t appreciate a great deal when I first watched it. I was eleven years old and the subtle nuances and spectacular storytelling was lost on me during that time due a slower-than-usual pace. However, this episode doesn’t need a blistering pace and action-action-action! It’s has a unique film noir style to it that flawlessly switches between present day Angel and the Angel that existed in 1952, when Angel was a reclusive vampire living in the Hyperion Hotel. It’s a character dissection of Angel’s mental state after regaining his soul. This is new territory for the show. We’ve seen Liam (Angel) before he was turned into a vampire, we’ve seen Angelus rising from his grave, we’ve seen Angelus as a brutal murderer running alongside Darla, Drusilla, and Spike, we’ve seen Angel just after being re-ensoulled, and then we jumped forward to Whistler finding Angel and taking Angel to watch Buffy be called as the Slayer. We know almost nothing of Angel’s life in the 20th century at this point.

“Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been” shows us Angel’s worst act as a vampire with a soul. He leaves an entire hotel of tortured souls to the mercy of a demon because he’s given up on humanity and trying to help people who turned their back on him and tried to kill him. It ties directly into Angel’s mission statement since returning to Los Angeles almost 50 years later. The events of this episode play a large part as to why Angel is seeking atonement and redemption so many years later. It’s yet another example of an episode that simply couldn’t take place on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. People’s insecurities and fears in high school and college are vastly different to adult insecurities a lot of times. When you take these fears and drop them in the 1950s, you have a story that’s coming from a very paranoid time period in general. In the 1950s, racial hatred and lynching was rife, homophobia was everywhere, everyone was paranoid post-WWII, and nobody seemed to trust anybody. Would this story work as well in the year 2000? Absolutely not. Plus, this story needs Angel as it explains so much about his character. Can you believe a time existed where Angel was MORE broody than he was in Sunnydale? GOD DAMN! Did he smile once in 1952? Did his facial expression change ONCE in this episode during the flashbacks? Even when he beat up the detective his facial expression remained the same. He should have kept the puppy we later see him save during a flashback in “Orpheus”. He’d have been happier for it. Angel is existing here, nothing more. He’s floating through his afterlife trying to avoid all human contact. Part of this is because he’s trying to avoid people to protect them from himself, part of the reason is because he’s too busy brooding and feeling remorseful for all the atrocious crimes he committed as Angelus, and part of the reason is because he’s given up on humanity. He’s seen too much.

This episode is phenomenal and arguably my favourite of the season. Everything about this episode seems to work. From the terrific musical scoring that might be the best the show ever produces, to the superb directing, to the wonderful choice of colours for the hotel itself, to the paranoid atmosphere that was obviously in the hotel before the demon was made apparent, to the fascinating insight into fears and prejudice in the 1950s...everything works. It leaves this episode feeling highly memorable.

The episode opens with Wesley and Angel talking about the Hyperion Hotel, which Angel stumbled upon while helping Jo in the last episode, “Judgment”. I won’t lie to you, I adore the Hyperion Hotel beyond anything that can be considered normal behaviour. I want to live in it. I was so disappointed when I discovered that the interior of the hotel is a set and not the interior of the external shots of the hotel. Almost all of the doors in the lobby lead to nowhere! I feel lied to! After spending most of the first season in Angel’s batcave apartment, the Hyperion Hotel is a glamorous, captivating change of pace. The batcave worked well when Angel was depressed and broody after first moving to Los Angeles, but now that Angel has a positive mental state due to helping the helpless and the Shanshu prophecy, a bigger space is needed. I love the colour scheme, I love the layout, I love the space, I love the fact that most of Angel Investigations end up living there, I love the fact it has 68 rooms, a theatre room, and a swimming pool, yet almost none of it gets explored in three years of Angel Investigations living there...where was I?

This is more of a public service announcement than anything, but, Cordelia, don’t put cinnamon in the man’s blood! It’s blood. This is not a Starbucks. It doesn’t need additional items in it, it doesn’t need specially heated milk or cream, and it doesn’t need flavouring. If you mess with his blood again, he gets permission to drink from you until you get him some more from the butcher’s shop.

After Angel asks Wesley and Cordelia to research the Hyperion Hotel, it soon becomes apparent that Angel used to live there during the time it was closed down and some of the staff were arrested for hiding a corpse. The episode quickly flashes back to 1952. I love the fact that John Kapelos, the janitor from “The Breakfast Club”, works in the hotel as the manager. I also love the revelation that the bellboy was afraid of an ensoulled Angel.

(John Kapelos)

I’ve touched upon the subject of pacing already, but I think the slow-paced nature of this episode works really well. For example, shortly after flashing back to the 1950s, we get an almost two minute scene of Angel walking to his room, walking to get ice, and then walking back to his room. In a regular episode, that would have been the kiss of death. Here, it gives the audience time to adjust to the new environment and allows us to glimpse into Angel’s current mental state and living circumstances during the 1950s. Angel’s darker mental state in the 1950s is apparent because Angel has a cigarette in his mouth while staying at the Hyperion. If there’s one thing we’ve learned on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” thus far, it’s that only evil people and people with a troubled mental state seem to smoke...oh, and that sex is always bad and can never end well for anyone ever because sex is sticky and unhygienic. We’ve also learned that.

Towards the beginning of the flashbacks, it’s apparent that Angel has no desire to talk to Judy or interact with humanity at all. When Judy pretends to be a maid in order to hide in Angel’s room from the detective that’s after her, Angel quickly tries to escort her out. The only reason he helps Judy get rid of her ‘boyfriend’ (the detective) is so that he can get her out of his room and out of his life as soon as possible. Notice that he slams his door in Judy’s face as soon as he’s sent the detective (with a nice new broken nose) down in the elevator. She interrupted his brooding time and he’s not happy about it. He’s also staying in room ‘217’, the same room number as the room that’s haunted in “The Shining”.

After a salesman kills himself in his hotel room (‘Death of a Salesman’), it’s apparent that a demon is inside the hotel whispering seeds of doubt and paranoia in people’s ears. The Thesulac Demon is a very interesting one-episode villain because most of its powers aren’t physical at all. There’s already a gigantic amount of fear and insecurity in the hotel because of the time-frame in which this episode takes place, so the Thesulac Demon has to do very little in order to manipulate and feed off of the people that are contained within the hotel. A gentle whisper here, the turning of a thought there, and the Thesulac has an all-you-can-eat buffet at its fingertips. The most interesting part of all of this is how people react to the paranoia. Everyone reacts differently due to their personalities it appears. Some people, such as the salesman, turn to depression and suicide, others are quick to blame the people around them, some turn to suspicion, and the most extreme turn to lynching and hiding bodies in order to keep the hotel open. It’s very interesting to witness how easy it is for the Thesulac. It’s a great reflection on the society that existed in those days. I also just discovered that Tony Amendola (the man behind the Thesulac Demon) was one of the men who murdered Dexter's mother in "Dexter"! Sweet summer child!

Slowly, very slowly, Angel starts to bond with Judy. This is significant because Angel clearly hasn’t befriended or helped a human in many, many years. It’s the first time in a long time that Angel has put himself out there emotionally and made a connection with somebody. I think that Angel chooses Judy as this person because he can identify with her struggles. Like Angel, Judy is walking in two worlds, but belongs to neither. Judy is ‘passing for white’, but her blood is ‘tainted’ because she’s half-black. She’s rejected by the white community for not being completely white and she’s rejected by the black community for not being completely black...just like Angel since being re-ensoulled. Angel is no longer a murderous vampire and is shunned by other vampires for that. Yet, he’s not a human either. He doesn’t age or die and he can’t go out in the sunlight. He belongs to neither world. Plus, Angel is judged by other people that are staying in the hotel because he keeps himself to himself. For that reason, he’s considered creepy and dangerous. Both characters are judged for being something other than ‘normal’ or what is deemed ‘acceptable’. Ugh, I hate stereotypes and racism so much. After Judy’s former-employers found out that she was half-black, they fired her. That was the only reason why. That’s what life was like in the United States in the 1950s. In retaliation, Judy stole a lot of money from them on her way out of the company (which she hasn’t spent a dime of). She’s basically the Angel of the 21st century that we know and love...walking in two worlds, but belonging to neither, feeling lost and directionless, and trying to make amends and seek forgiveness for her past crimes.

Judy: “I’m not one thing or the other, I’m nothing.”
Angel: “I know what that’s like.”

(my heart is melting over these two)

I’ve just got to mention that the actress who plays Judy (Melissa Marsala) is absolutely spectacular. She’s arguably the best guest actress that the show has encountered thus far. She takes this one-episode role and brings it to life in a way that few would be capable of. She’s empathetic, vulnerable, empowering, and even when she turns on Angel in a moment of panic, she’s still likeable and you understand why she did it (self-preservation).

Judy:”My blood isn’t pure. It’s tainted.”
Angel: “It’s just blood, Judy. It’s all just blood.”

It’s so interesting to hear a vampire say that.

Angel goes to a local book store to read up on the Thesulac Demon and steal a book that will allow Angel to bring the Thesulac into a corporeal body. The store owner, Denver, will be used later on in the season (“Reprise”), when Angel goes to the same bookstore 50 years later. How cool is that?

Wesley: “Angel!”
Angel: “Guys, don’t listen to it, alright. Whatever it’s whispering to you, just ignore it.”
Cordelia: “They were like this all the way over here in the car.”
Angel: “Oh.”

I cannot contain my euphoria over Wesley and Gunn’s childish bickering. Wesley is a highly educated former-Watcher and Gunn is the leader of a street gang that has been fighting vampires since he was a child, and here they are arguing like two eight-year-old boys in school. Love it. Who’d have thought that they would have a blossoming bromance in less than half a season.

The episode then flashes back for the final time. The detective has found Judy and the residents of the hotel, encouraged by their paranoia and insecurities being fed by the Thesulac Demon, start violently shaking her around and threatening her. Angel tries to come to Judy’s aid, but before he can Judy turns the mob’s attention to Angel by proclaiming that Angel has blood in his hotel room and that he’s a monster. The mob violently beat Angel and hang him over the hotel balcony in the lobby. The scene is hard to watch. It’s especially hard to watch when you realise that things like that happened to black people (due to the KKK and other organisations) and gay people all the time in the 1950s. They were viciously persecuted and beaten or murdered because of one facet of their identity. Angel’s hanging was unexpected and surprisingly blood-thirsty, which made it all the more shocking and memorable. Of course, Angel is a vampire so the hanging doesn’t kill him. What it does do, however, is leave Angel justifiably pissed off.

When the Thesulac appears to Angel, Angel tells him to “take them all”, before disappearing from the hotel. This moment reminds me of something that Angel says to Faith in season four’s “Orpheus”. Angel tells Faith that even with a soul he’s done a lot of things that he wishes he could take back. I’m sure this ranks as #1 on his list. Just because Angel has a soul now, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t make mistakes. Sometimes costly mistakes. In this moment, Angel distancing himself from humanity and his hatred towards the world at large is justified in his eyes. Angel, a character that we’ve grown to know and love as someone who helps the helpless and saves souls, is in such a dark place that he leaves an entire hotel full of people to the mercy of a demon and saves no souls from the demon’s wrath. It’s a wonderful story and shows how much faith the writers have in Angel as a character. Not many shows would allow their lead hero to be seen as such a bad person. Angel acts exactly the opposite of the way the Angel of the 21st century would have acted...or does he? In some ways, this is a preview of what is to come for Angel during this season. After Darla is turned into a vampire again by Drusilla and the two go on a murderous rampage, Angel turns back into this version of himself. A version I’m going to label ‘Darth Angel’. I can’t call it ‘Dark Angel’ because that’s the name of a pretty decent television show. He’s not the Angel we know and he’s not Angelus. He’s a darker version of his ensoulled self.

What’s interesting here is the parallel between this episode and “City Of”. In 1952, Angel was distancing himself from humanity and having no human contact because he didn’t want to hurt anyone or be tempted by human blood. Finally, he reaches out to someone and that person betrays him. After this episode, Angel reverts back to the loner he was before meeting Judy until Whistler stumbles across Angel in a sewer many years later. After drinking Buffy’s blood and leaving Sunnydale in “Graduation Day Part Two”, Angel yet again distances himself from humanity and the temptation of draining a human. Doyle approaches Angel and explains to Angel that Angel distancing himself from humanity is making him less human. In turn, this makes humans less relatable and empathetic for Angel and makes them appear more like food. Luckily, Angel deciding to put himself out there emotionally and trying to connect with people works much better in Los Angeles the second time around.

I laughed so hard when the Thesulac Demon said that Wesley was especially paranoid and then Wesley reacts with paranoia – “what did he mean by that?!”

The fight between the Thesulac Demon and Angel Investigations was insanely short (the Thesulac was electrocuted in less than a minute after being brought forth), but it didn’t detract from the episode. The demon isn’t the focal point of the story, Angel’s journey, Judy’s journey, and their connection is. This leads us to the most emotional scene of the episode...

(kill the bad demon man, Dexter!)

After the Thesulac quips that the room service at the hotel is as good now as it was back then, Angel realises that Judy is still alive in the hotel. After defeating the Thesulac, Angel travels to Judy’s old room and finds an older version of Judy still living in there. I think my heart just broke. Angel is able to offer Judy some peace and forgiveness before she passes away in her sleep without ever leaving the hotel in 50 years. It’s so beautiful and emotional that Angel is able to forgive Judy for her moment of weakness 50 years earlier. Angel has seen much more of the world and humanity since then. People make mistakes and that’s okay. Judy’s more than paid her penance by feeling guilt-ridden for 50 years and feeling so distraught that she was never able to leave the hotel. Also, how disturbing is it that Judy’s been stuck in that room for FIFTY YEARS?! Nobody deserves that! Judy never left because the Thesulac told her that she’d be safe there. All Judy ever wanted was to be safe and stop running away from her past. In her final moments, she looks to Angel and asks “am I safe?” Angel tells her that she is. With Angel’s forgiveness and the Thesulac gone, Judy can finally rest. This does raise the question of how Judy survived for 50 years without food. I’ve got mental images of the Thesulac drifting into local food shops and buying loaves of bread to keep Judy alive.

Wesley: “I’ve been accused of a great many things in my time, but paranoid has never been one of them. Unless people have been saying it behind my back.”

Trust Wesley to answer paranoia accusations with paranoia...again.

Angel: “We’re moving in.”

Yaaaaaay! Angel is using the site of his most terrible moment as someone with a soul in order to start helping people and saving souls from the same location. What a beautifully poetic ending to a spectacular episode.

Quote Of The Episode

Wesley: “Angel, you don’t find me especially paranoid, do you?”

Angel: “Not especially.”

Wesley: “Oh, thank God. I was worried.”


What are your thoughts on "Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been"? Did you enjoy this episode? Dislike it? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments section below!

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  1. I've always called that S-2 fugue personality DarkestAngel myself. One of five, counting the comics, six if you're big on my fics :-). D'C'A'

  2. Ah yes. Over the Buffyverse this remains one of my favourite episodes. The best of S2 of Angel in my opinion and possibly my favourite of the first few seasons.

  3. I love this episode. And the Hyperion Hotel. I wanna live there. It was glamorous, beautiful, straight from another era. I love it! I usually love flashbacks episodes, and this one was great.

    Oh, and Tony Amendola will always be Master Bra'Tac for me, from Stargate SG-1 :-D He was recurring on that show (was on 26 episodes), as Teal'c Master and Mentor. He was on Once upon a Time too! He's a busy guy.

    Thanks again Shane for an awesome review!!

  4. The scene between Angel and old-Judith is really sad. Poor girl, spent the rest of her life stuck in a room, when she was actually afraid of that.

  5. So cool! I love this episode, a bit sad, Angel's brooding again and that takes the fun out of it, but I love flashbacks and it's important to the story, and they finally find a new place so iconic!

  6. Loved the episode! Paranoid Wes is so funny!

    - Gillie

  7. so cool! I love this episode, a bit sad, Angel's brooding again and that takes the fun out of it, but I love flashbacks and it's important to the story, and they finally find a new place! So iconic!

  8. When Angel first aired I decided to start watching in order to get clues as to what was going to happen on Buffy. I was very pissed off that Boreanz left the show. THIS was the ep that made me a true Angel fan, independent of BTVS (my fav show of all time). This ep had everything! A glimpse into the man Angel was after being reinsouled, a film noir field complete with all the prejudices and attitudes of the time. I disagree with Shangel though. I DO think this ep is a classic and CAN work today. There is still homophobia and racism in the world, add class division and the fear of terrorists and you've got yourself a reboot friends. But I digress.. as I am apt to do. After watching BTVS an Ats in their entirety I wonder how closely related to The First Evil the Thesulac is. Both represent self doubt in a way, the Thesulac can be corporeal through electric current the first can TAKE form through the dead but is NOT corporeal and both whisper things in their victims ears before encouraging them to kill themselves. The only difference is the Thesulac works alone for the most part while the First must possess another or another's dead form to be effective. Judy reminds me of the female lead from psycho (played by Janet Leigh I think) she too stole money from her employer and was on the run, she ran to the Bates motel and well we know what happened next.
    The scene where Angel tells the demon to take them all shows how flawed even an ensouled vampire can be. As we later learn Angel has done some cruel things in his past to humans or allowed demons to hurt humans AFTER he had a soul. Up until THIS point we thought he was seeking redemption for his acts as Angelus.
    Although it is used as comic relief the mention of Wesley's paranoia (insecurity) is telling as we continue to watch the show.
    This is my fav ep of the season and in my top 5 of the series.
    PS As far as adding cinnamon in blood. Spike, by this time has mentioned that he uses Wheat a Bix to give his blood texture so cinnamon doesn't seem quite so unusual.

  9. My favorite Buffyverse ep