Angel 2×02: Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?

[Review by Ryan Bovay]

[Writer: Tim Minear | Director: David Semel | Aired: 10/03/2000]

“Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?” is a unique and memorable piece of work; a universal fan-favourite never given anything less than adoration, it is a marvel of production design, photography and atmosphere. In my opinion (which – let’s face it – you’re here to read), it can’t be viewed as simple entertainment. No matter its qualities, it’s not the kind of episode you view repeatedly or for the simple pleasure of it. Much in the same way one doesn’t watch films such as Sin City or Schindler’s List to “enjoy” them. One immerses themselves in such works; in the artist’s vision, which is meant to pull you into the story so effectively that it enriches you, rather than merely sates.

This, unfortunately, is also the episode’s only weakness: Its strict attention to detail and secondary function as a period piece in Angel’s life often makes for some tiring pacing. Filmmaker Woody Allen once said of pornographic films: “For the first thirty minutes all you want to do is have sex, and after that you never want to have sex again,” and watching this episode is much like that: it can be a bit too much of an experience. That said, my initial comments stand. The writing is an intelligently subtle cocktail: The information on Angel’s past is interesting to learn, helps further the season’s theme at a relevant and early point, and contains a world of imagination in its use of the Hyperion Hotel as a character.

Early on in Angel’s first season and even from the start of Angel’s story in “Buffy,” we’ve had one thing told to us to describe how he is different from other vampires, why he is neither human nor monster: his soul. We have been taught that, despite the innate nature of any being in possession of a soul (be they human or half demon), the simple possession of this one key thing is what makes it capable of considering others in its decisions, and being inclined towards selflessness. In this episode, we meet a good deal of people with souls, all of whom, deep down, possess that instinct to do right: To expose evil where they see it, to fight it and take a moral stand. These people have always existed, and this desire to do right can be exploited.

In the 1950’s, an era when racial prejudice, hatred of homosexuality and deep fear of the Communist threat loomed over Western Civilization, Senator Joseph McCarthy and other like minded individuals exploited these fears in a witch-hunt against possible communist spies in America (early in the episode we see one of these “trials” taking place on a television). People were made to walk in fear of one another. Any and all suspicious behaviour was reportable, and accusations flew wildly from the mouths of those who had had their desire to act morally right manipulated, and others who had been accused were always encouraged to turn on others to spare themselves.

We see a microcosm of this social phenomenon unfold via the modus operandi of the Thesulac Demon’s influence over the hotel. It whispers to people slowly and over time, exposing their insecurities and playing off of them, promising them safety and freedom from these fears if they will merely seek out the ‘guilty ones’ around them. This metaphor could’ve easily fallen flat, but what Tim Minear does here is gives us honest and real people for the demon to feed on: Everyone in the hotel is hiding a sin or a secret: something about them that society fears and hates.

This is the world in which we meet a version of Angel we have not seen before. He’s not who we met in BtVS “Becoming, Part I” , though he has progressed from the state we saw him in in “Five by Five” [1×18]. He is empty; a wholly unfeeling nihilist who has shut down his emotions so they can’t hurt him. He’s done chasing after Darla and trying to re-attain his old life as a murderous monster, but giving her up has left him with nothing else. Minear paints us a portrait of a completely different Angel. The Darla arc of this season asks us fundamental questions about the nature of our hero, among them: How horrible a sin can you commit before you’re unforgivable, and how can an ensouled being, with the urge to do right, make the mistake of committing that sin? In essence, the first four episodes of S2 are foreshadowing and thematic setups for the Darla arc, and where “Judgement” [2×01] looked at what one does in the light of ones mistakes (errors in judgement), “Are You Now,” through the characters of Angel and Judy, looks at how ordinary ensouled beings can fall into those mistakes.

Judy is a woman with a dangerous secret that if publicly let out, would result in humiliation and harm (in fact, it already has for her). She’s a half-black woman passing for white who has been rejected by the world at large, and is unwelcome on either side of her family for what she is. This is a conflict Angel knows well, and it is why he decides to help her against all his present instincts at this point in his life. He’s more interested in privacy than helping Judy when the P.I. comes to his door (and he initially only helps out to keep his affairs private), discourages Judy from returning the money and walks akin to an ignorant shadow through the Hotel and all its problems, willfully cut off from the pain of the many people there. Angel senses the Thesulac creeping and does nothing.

Judy, on the other hand, is in an opposite place in her life. She’s almost where Angel was at the start of the series. Torn between two worlds and scorned by them both, she is nonetheless repentant for what she has done, seeking forgiveness and possessing the capacity for it. She too is cut off, but is searching to re-establish herself emotionally, and it’s why she tries desperately to reach Angel. However, he still can’t hear her, nor does he forgive. Judy is a good person in a bad position, and out of fear and the Thesulac’s manipulation, eventually gives Angel up to do what she thinks will save her.

Angel has always been an explosive character that reacts outwards and dramatically when he experiences a great loss (I’ve pointed out that this is the major difference between he and Buffy, who acts implosively in similar situations, as evidenced by her will to die in “The Gift”). The true surprise is what it convinces him to do. Jostled around, manipulated and lied to, he’s been pulled in to a situation he didn’t ask for and had his deepest feelings touched. That’s not something he’d just forgive. The heart-wrenching betrayal provokes a reaction that haunts the soul when it plays out again in “Reunion” [2×10]: Angel tells the Thesulac demon to “take them all.”

The connection to “Reunion” [2×10] is especially worth noting. It is followed by “Redefinition” [2×11], in which Drusilla herself notes that the new creature hunting her and Darla is neither Angel nor Angelus. What he is in the present timeline, however, is a being that has learned to live with himself. The events of S1 led to him accepting himself and his place in the world. In one touching scene towards the end of the episode, he is able to forgive Judy at last and give her peace. I also liked the final scene where Angel acknowledges that the hotel was once a house of evil, but is now free to be something greater that can help people: the new home for Angel Investigations.

Before I finish, I feel obligated comment on the beauty of the visuals. There were a lot of shots that I really enjoyed, from the first transition (from 2000 to 1952), to Angel’s journey from the lobby up to his room as the patrons talk about the deaths, to the chilling hanging scene and the appearance of the Thesulac. Much of the atmosphere here is thanks to the director’s eye and it is particularly noteworthy that the script and the camera were able to mesh creative visions so well, as dialogue-based shows such as these often rely strongly on the word alone.

In a lesser series the musical swells, long steady shots and low, creeping lighting would’ve been used as a shallow exhibition of directorial ‘talent,’ but here it is not only well in place, but it takes the episode to a deeper and more meaningful level, doing something incredibly visual with the written word. It is easily one of the best looking episodes of this show’s 110 episode run. In the end, it’s not hard to see why it is a fan favourite, and is sometimes even placed in fan’s Top 10’s. There’s little not to love, and I actually find myself wishing that it had been the season premiere; save for Faith’s appearance, the previous episode was competent, but not really noteworthy.


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ The bellhop’s paranoid reactions to seeing Angel on several different occasions.
+ Chris Beck’s music; much like Buffy’s “Hush,” the episode is low on action, and the eerie interludes and crescendos help mold the atmosphere.
+ Cordelia messing with Wesley, pretending she discovered the demon.
+ The appearance of the shop-keep Denver. His use again in “Reprise” [2×15] makes for excellent continuity.
+ Angel looking terrified for Judy as he approaches in the corridor – and the subsequent look of shock when she betrays him.
+ The emergence of the Thesulac in both time frames; this scene is wonderfully shot.


Foreshadowing

* The main theme of the episode, much like the plot of “Judgement” [2×01], is a parallel to the season’s main arc, focusing largely on one aspect of this major theme: How beings inclined to do good can fall into or be pushed into making terrible mistakes.
* Angel’s character circa 1952 is very similar, if not exactly the same, to the person he is to become later in the season due to Wolfram and Hart’s manipulation of he and Darla.
* Wesley is called “especially paranoid” by the Thesulac demon. While many fans are not exactly sure what this means, it may refer to his hero complex, and how in S3 he becomes fearful of the truth of the prophecy and acts behind Angel’s back.


[Score]

95/100

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23 thoughts on “Angel 2×02: Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?”

  1. [Note: Fallen posted this comment on August 23, 2006.]

    Don’t know if I can agree with the pacing issues you saw, but great review though. Love how in-depth you got there, made a lot of good points also.

    I couldn’t possibly give the episode any less than 100%, but I can see where you’re coming from though.

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  2. [Note: Grounded posted this comment on August 23, 2006.]

    I don’t see how the pacing can be criticised either. :S

    Random trivia: The bellhop’s name is Frank Gillnitz, which is a combination of Frank Spotnitz and Vince Gilligan who were writer/producers on the X-Files, Tim’s gig before Angel.

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  3. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on August 23, 2006.]

    The first time I saw “Are You Now” I actually nearly fell asleep several times. It was just way too slow. Admittedly I wasn’t very into AtS yet because of a S1 that really was lacking, imo, but I still agree with Ryan: the pacing is still quite slow. Overall great review though. I’d have probably given it a *bit* less myself though.

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  4. [Note: Grounded posted this comment on August 23, 2006.]

    I’m still not seeing it. The episode is patient, not slow. Something is slow if it dallies too long without furthering the plot or character motivation. There are very few, if any, superfluous scenes in AYNOHYEB.

    Of course, you can still fall asleep during it – but if you’re paying attention the episode is deeply engrossing from start to finish.

    Best episode ever. 😀

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  5. [Note: Dingdong posted this comment on August 23, 2006.]

    Funnily enough, the pacing didn’t really bother me. I think it’s mainly due to the fact that the pacing is often a little too uneven in the other of the first four standalones, and it’s more consistant here.

    I always thought there were continuity issues in AYNOHYEB, but on closer inspection I think I might have been wrong, after all. It’s definately my favourite out of the standalone episodes up till “Dear Boy”.

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  6. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on August 23, 2006.]

    Oh, mine too DD. It’s a great episode, no doubt. I just feel it’s often a bit overrated.buffyholic

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  7. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on September 22, 2007.]

    This one is a great episode. It isn´t slow, it just builds up to the finale. Who could think that an episode about a hotel could be so successful? Really wonderful acting, writing, everything. The review is awesome too.

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  8. [Note: Leelu posted this comment on March 4, 2009.]

    My only complaint about this episode is really only the name of the demon. “Thesulac” is entirely too similar to “Thesulah.” I don’t see how they could have forgotten the latter, since it plays an integral part in Angel’s life (an orb of Thesulah being the key to restoring his soul). But it’s really a rather minor nitpick, I suppose.

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  9. [Note: Nathan.Taurus posted this comment on January 21, 2010.]

    The Bellhop, Frankie, being executed for the suicide of the salesman was funny to hear and after seeing his reaction to Angel being lynched was probably proof enough to the police of what kind of a person he really is to convict him on a murder. But what about the hotel manager?

    That was a lot of luck for the bag of cash to remain unfound for almost 50 years considering people tagging the walls nearby. Also, how was Judy never found and how did she survive for such a long time with such a neat room for all those years?

    One of my favourites for the second season.

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  10. [Note: Beth posted this comment on June 1, 2010.]

    This is one of those episodes that I want to like, and I totally understand why people do, but I just can’t get that into. I think I just don’t connect with the Judy character. I’ll give it another try, though. 🙂

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  11. [Note: RunawayMarbles posted this comment on July 4, 2011.]

    Judy really annoyed me, honestly. Not entirely sure why.

    So does the demon just live off people’s emotions, or does he literally EAT them? That was kind of confusing. Plus the notion that Judy could live in her room for forty seven years. Was there THAT much food in the meat freezer?

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  12. [Note: NullNix posted this comment on July 12, 2011.]

    RunawayMarbles, Minear’s commentary on the DVD says that this was meant to be a symbiotic relationship: the demon kept Judy alive and kept her properly paranoid, feeding off that, while also keeping everyone else from entering her room. It looks like the flow of life was pretty direct, rather than e.g. dropping food in her lap, because when the demon was killed, Judy died within moments. Unfortunately the episode ran nine minutes long and a huge amount had to be cut, including the exposition that would have made this clear.

    Still, what a tragic life 😦

    (One thing that confuses me, though: Angel tells the Thesulac to ‘take them all’… but that’s in 1952, while the hotel is only abandoned in *1979*. This demon works very slowly indeed. Also, how come nobody ever tried to dust or look up where the money bag was in the *27 years* of presumably mounting paranoia after it was placed there? Still, this is a peccadillo in a seriously excellent episode.)

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  13. [Note: Other Scott posted this comment on November 6, 2012.]

    Anyone notice 50s Angel smoking in this episode? I’m pretty sure that is not possible without breath. Minor inconsistencies don’t mar an episode like this much, though. This is the first time we’ve seen Angel this tortured over something he did while he had a soul, and I think that makes it so much more powerful than the many things Angelus has done. He basically condemned Judy to spend the rest of her life in a room with a demon feeding her paranoia. That is so harsh, and it makes one wonder why Angel didn’t try to go back and fix this sooner.

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  14. [Note: Iguana-on-a-stick posted this comment on November 6, 2012.]

    Uh, Spike’s always smoking. So did Angel when he was evil in Buffy season 2. Plus you need breath to -talk-. Vampires are obviously able to breathe in and out. They don’t metabolise oxygen and don’t need the breath to survive, but the physical movements are there. The only inconsistency is in “Prophecy Girl” where Angel claims he can’t give Buffy CPR because of “lack of breath.” You could try explaining this away by claiming Angel was lying to cover up the fact he didn’t know CPR, or that it’s a mystical thing and the breath of a dead person cannot sustain a living one, or just chalk it up to a writer error. But the error is not with this episode.I agree with your other comment, though.

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  15. [Note: Alex posted this comment on November 7, 2012.]

    We’ve had the vampire-breathing discussion several times on here and the only conclusion we’ve ever come to is that it’s wildly inconsistent throughout both shows. Iguana, although you’re right that vampires needs to breathe in order to talk, I can think of two occasions on Angel where a vampire is getting his/her windpipe crushed and is still able to talk.Angel claiming that he can’t give Buffy mouth-to-mouth is the root of most of the confusion though, I think, because it’s so early in the series and therefore establishes the idea that vampires can’t breathe very early in the show’s mythology. But they never stuck to that afterwards. In fact (correct me if I’m wrong) I don’t think it’s ever mentioned again that vampires can’t (not just don’t need to) breathe.

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  16. [Note: Other Scott posted this comment on November 7, 2012.]

    Right, of course. I have no idea why I just noticed this now. Probably because Angel was the one who said he had no breath and Spike wasn’t.The show isn’t really overly concerned with mythology or perfect consistency anyways. Its pretty upfront and honest about that, and as long as it just keeps doing the other things well that is fine with me.

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  17. [Note: Sam L posted this comment on September 25, 2013.]

    I’ve never really cared about the whole breathing/not breathing thing when it comes to vampires — I never thought it distracted from the consistency of the Whedonverse.

    The only small glitch that IS a problem is that there’s a picture of Angel from 1952, which is how Cordelia and Wesley discover his ties to the hotel. I realize that was intended as a reference to “The Shining”, but a vampire’s image would not show up in a photograph, just like they wouldn’t see their reflections in a mirror.

    Aside from that, it’s a top-notch episode.

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  18. [Note: Erelion12 posted this comment on October 15, 2013.]

    I was just watching this episode and I noticed that in the newspaper clipping of Judy that Cordelia and Wesley are looking at while trying to piece together the story, the text of column on the right, under Judy’s picture is the same as the lower part of the text on the left column. Wonder why they couldn’t come up with another 3-4 lines of journalese? Anyway, great episode. I am rewatching Buffy and Angel and I love these reviews!

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  19. [Note: Monica posted this comment on December 1, 2013.]

    Such a beautifully unique episode.

    I’m one for flashbacks, a sucker for them, even, and this is no exception. The entire atmosphere is incredible, and is really what makes this episode what it is. It stands out from any other, and will remain one of my favorites. Brilliant way to show just what to expect from Angel later, as he does indeed revert back to his state of mind in this episode once we hit Redefinition. Although this episode is highly disconnected from the main arc(s) of the season, I still find it very integral.

    I have a hard time figuring out if I prefer this or “Waiting in the Wings.” Both very interesting episodes with unusual atmospheres that work on, in my opinion, every level. The latter manages to incorporate every character aside from just one, while the former is more unique. I don’t think I’ll ever come to a decision.

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  20. [Note: Jahn posted this comment on July 31, 2014.]

    I’m a little surprised to find that this episode is so lauded. It’s good, certainly, but there’s a lot here that brings down the quality.

    – In Angel’s two minute trip upstairs, he passed by the black family being turned away, the communist hearings on TV, and a gay couple several feet from his door…so every dark 50s cliche. Remarkably contrived writing. Totally pulled me out of the mood and reminded me that the writers really, really wanted me to know all this.

    – Likewise, when Judy was going on about prison and being confined being worse than death, it was so obvious that it was foreshadowing to some similar fate for her. She may as well have been winking at the camera.

    – Wanted fugitive and vampire who met earlier meeting at the Griffith Observatory. How convenient. Why was Angel even there?

    – The Thesulac demon’s modus operandi and its parallel to the paranoia culture of the 50s was just way too on the nose. Metaphors on Buffy and AtS are usually far more subtle. Likewise, they really spelled out the similarity between Judy’s predicament and Angel’s, as if the viewer couldn’t figure it out.

    In the end, I liked the unique setting of the episode and I did rather enjoy it, but it’s nowhere near a favorite, and I’ve only seen the first season and these two of season 2 (going through on Netflix). I couldn’t get drawn in because of all the hand holding in the metaphors and the contrived writing.

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  21. [Note: Kyle posted this comment on July 31, 2014.]

    Many of the things you’ve listed (if not all of them) seem to me to be minor cons, that, or I disagree with your stance on a few of them. Granted, the pace is slow, but that seems to be pretty much the only thing that holds this episode down.

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  22. [Note: Noah posted this comment on July 31, 2015.]

    Likewise, when Judy was going on about prison and being confined being worse than death, it was so obvious that it was foreshadowing to some similar fate for her. She may as well have been winking at the camera.

    Great tragedy is not about watching a character undone by the unexpected, but rather watching them undone by what they do or should see coming but can’t avert. It’s destiny: Judy’s own fear of imprisonment traps her, and causes her to be imprisoned by that very fear. That’s great writing.

    – In Angel’s two minute trip upstairs, he passed by the black family being turned away, the communist hearings on TV, and a gay couple several feet from his door…so every dark 50s cliche. Remarkably contrived writing. Totally pulled me out of the mood and reminded me that the writers really, really wanted me to know all this.

    Yes, we get the full spectrum of 50s cultural problems, of the kind we’re used to seeing. But that’s not actually what this shot is about. We are also seeing Angel walk through a hotel of suffering, helpless people, and he does nothing to comfort or help them. He doesn’t care, and if he does, it’s not enough to cause him to act on their behalf. That character insight is crucial to understanding Angel this episode and this season.

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  23. [Note: Boscalyn posted this comment on June 17, 2016.]

    I think the similarity between Thesulah and Thesulac was intentional. After all, the Orb of Thesulah gave Angel a conscience, and what is the Thesulac demon but a conscience? A rotten, evil conscience that drives people to murder, but a conscience nonetheless.

    I mean, I think this episode is pretty deliberate with its interwoven metaphors so it wouldn’t surprise me if that was an intentional throwback.

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