FEATURE: Angel - Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been
Previously on Angel: In the ongoing battle against Wolfram & Hart, Angel's offices were the first casualty, blowing up rather spectacularly. They're in need of a new place.
After he briefly visited an old hotel in the previous episode, Angel becomes intrigued by the building’s past and gets Wesley and Cordelia to start investigating as he heads down to the hotel itself. The Hyperion dates back to the 1920s, but Angel has a history that he doesn’t disclose at first, having been a resident there in 1952. Strange events date back throughout the hotel’s past, including during Angel’s residency when a man in the room next door kills himself and sparks off an amateur investigation with disastrous results. Meanwhile, in the present, Angel seeks to destroy the Thesulac demon for good.
I adore the Hyperion set in all its 1920s glory. The production design and the way that it is shot in the 1950s flashbacks gives it a Gothic feel; long, dark corridors seem to stretch on forever, people lurk in shadows and it never feels entirely visible. Some of the colours used, muted greens and reds, also ensure that the episode has a pulp fiction look to it (of the Dashiell Hammett variety, not Tarantino). 1950s Judy is a classic mysterious dame with a stolen stack of cash and a secret; she's passing as a white woman at a time when being Other was not at all recommended. Like Angel, she's an outcast. He gets to be her brooding hero, begrudgingly deciding to help her.
That style builds into the world of the other guests of the hotel, glimpsed only through brief scenes in which they speculate about the guy who killed himself in 215. There's a blacklisted writer (McCarthyism is in full flow, seen briefly on a TV clip containing the episode's title) who sees it is as one of his plots, a blonde in a green dress with the kind of husky voice you expect in a noir and an actor who may as well have walked straight off the set of Dragnet. Just the facts, ma'am. Of course, they don’t actually have a clue what’s happened because it’s a Thesulac demon sucking the life out of the guests.
Everything, naturally, spirals out of control. Judy saves her own skin by pointing the finger at Angel and suggesting he’s a murderer. The angry mob hangs Angel and the Thesulac demon feeds on their rage. Setting it in the 1950s, a time of great paranoia and prejudice, is a masterstroke and really builds into the general uneasy atmosphere that the flashbacks carry. The moment is a crucial turning point in Angel’s post-soul life, trying to help out humans and receiving their ire and violence as a result. It’s hardly surprising that he allows the Thesulac to feed on the residents of the hotel after the lynching. It’s a really dark move and one which blurs the line between Angel and Angelus somewhat,
There’s a heavy foreshadowing of Angel’s indifference to Dru and Darla feeding on Wolfram & Hart lawyers later in the season, but there’s not just darkness there. There’s hope too. The final scene with Old Judy, in which he forgives and comforts her after her years of torment since his apparent death, shows Angel’s life is one of peaks and troughs. He may lose his way occasionally, but with the right people around him, he’ll find his way back.
Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been is a classy affair, one of Angel's finest, that both looks great and does a lot of solid character work for Tall, Dark and Forehead too. I like that there aren’t any really big set pieces here, no heavily choreographed scraps. Instead, it feels like Angel at its most human, exploring the kind of negative side of mankind whilst also demonstrating the need for forgiveness in order to move on. Plus, Angel looks pretty natty in 1950s threads.
Quote of the Week:
Angel: Watch his tentacles!
Cordelia: Excuse me?!
Let's Get Trivial: The odious bellhop's name is Frank Gilnitz, a reference back to writer Tim Minear's time as a writer and story editor on The X Files. "Gilnitz" was a name often used by The X Files writers' room for incidental or unseen characters, usually with the first name John. An amalgam of John Shiban, Vince Gilligan and Frank Spotnitz, the name became a running joke in the sci-fi series.
Demonology 101: Angel catches a Bible that is thrown at him by the bookshop owner and it burns his hands. This is the first time in the Buffyverse that it is confirmed that Bibles are harmful to vamps.
LA Who's Who: The concierge, Ronald Meeks, is played by John Kapelos. You Breakfast Clubbers might recognise him as Carl, Shermer High School's janitor.
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, Judgment, here.