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Are You Now or Have You Ever Been? - One of Angel's Finest Episodes

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  • Are You Now or Have You Ever Been? - One of Angel's Finest Episodes

    Angel, Season 2, Episode 2
    “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?”
    Written by Tim Minear
    Directed by David Semel

    I just rewatched this episode on Disney+’s Star service (what passes for Hulu with non-Americans), and it still holds up as not only one of the best episodes of Angel, but as a wonderful episode of any TV series. It was surely the finest episode of Angel up to that point, although it would have some strong competition in the weeks to follow when “Dear Boy” and “Darla” aired/

    This episode stands as the finest embodiment of what Angel was originally conceived to be in the first season, and what it would become in season 2 and onwards.

    Angel was first envisioned as a modern film noir. With much of the storyline set in 1952, during American’s most classic film noir period, this episode makes the most of the mood and corruption in the genre. And it pays homage to many classic films, even if not all strictly speaking noir. Most notably is Angel wearing a variation on James Dean’s Rebel without a Cause red jacket – and a scene set outside the Griffith Observatory just like that earlier film. (Although the Observatory scenes in Rebel were in daytime, and Dean was wearing a sports coat and collared shirt in those particular scenes.)

    I also spotted the callbacks to Hitchcock’s Psycho and Vertigo, along with the neo-noir Chinatown.

    And yes, there’s a callback to vampire television of the past as John Kapelos – the hapless human cop partner of both the original 1989 Nick Knight TV movie and its 1992 TV spinoff Forever Knight – as the hotel concierge. I’m not sure if that was by coincidence or design, although Forever Knight had flashbacks in every episode showing its vampire cop’s moral failings in times gone by.

    With this flashback, we enter into an interesting chapter of Angel’s life … when he has a soul but before he met Buffy. My impression from watching season 1-3 of Buffy was that he pretty much spent a century feeding on rats before meeting up with Buffy. Here we see Angel try, and then fail to “help the helpless”. But he’s not dining on rats this time. The episode very clearly shows that Angel is drinking human blood – albeit not from a live human.

    We also see Angel smoking. Sure, it could be a bit of period colour, before the anti-smoking campaigns to come in the following decade. However, when Angel loses his soul in Buffy, he quickly smokes a cigarette. Later in Angel season 2, we see the redefined neither Angel nor Angelus incarnation of the character smoking. When Angel puffs on a cigarette, his morality is spotty at best.

    Minear populates the episode with various types such as a communist Hollywood screenwriter – all characters with secrets. Characters who are unfairly judged, and yet still have more failings.

    At the centre of this is Judy (played by Melissa Marsala). She has the bank theft backstory from Psycho, but most notably she’s mixed race – passing as white. Just as the soulful Angel passes as human. Modern vampires are often depicted as outsider characters, playing with the tropes of racism and homophobia. This episode both allows Angel to stand in the outsider role, but also has its own non-magical, non-metaphorical outsider in Judy.

    At the basic level, one of the things that defines a vampire is its need to feed on blood to survive. This gives Angel a very clinical, non-prejudicial look at the prejudice directed at Judy.

    Angel: Why'd they fire you?
    Judy: Because I'm not what I say I am. I've been passing since I was 15 years old.
    Angel: Passing?
    Judy: For white. My mother was colored, my father - I didn't even know him! My blood isn't pure. - It's tainted.
    Angel: It's just blood - Judy. - It-it's all just blood.
    For Angel, Black, White or Mixed – blood is just a meal to him. Those with flowing blood are all human … with souls. And from Angel’s own perspective every single one of them is superior to a vampire like him. Or at least he feels that way until he sees humanity at its worst.

    With their paranoia heightened by the demon, the hotel residents descend on Judy, and … she testifies against Angel. The title refers to the “Are you now or have you ever been a communist” question asked by Senator Joseph McCarthy and also the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Director Elia Kazan and other former Communists served as “friendly witnesses” turning in their one-time Hollywood left-wing chums.

    It’s a shocking moment for Angel when Judy betrays him – shattering his faith in humanity.

    And it leads to the ultimate expression of the vampire as outsider as Angel is lynched, just as so many Blacks had been lynched in the 19th and 20th centuries. One of the most damning things held against African American actor and singer Paul Robeson when he was blacklisted was that he had formed an anti-lynching society.Albert Einstein was considered suspicious for belonging to Robeson’s anti-lynching campaign.

    Unlike humans, the noose does no physical harm to Angel, but it does cause him to leave the residents of the hotel at the mercy of the demon. It foreshadows what Angel does to the Wolfram & Hart lawyers in Reunion. For the writers of Angel, this is a slide into darkness – a moral failing. Some (misguided, in my opinion) Batman fans would see this sort of thing as cool, such as in Christopher Nolan’s 2005 film Batman Begins, when Batman refuses to save his foe.

    What Angel gives up in the 1950s is a proto-version of his Angel Investigations team. If things had gone slightly different, it’s easy to imagine Judy and Book City’s Denver allying themselves with Angel to fight the demons in the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, doing an alternate universe where that happens might be the best use of the multiverse that’s appearing in Buffy comic books in 2021.

    I love that Angel namechecks the most famous and iconic of vampire hunters when temporarily subdues the young wannabe.

    Angel: I know you got a reputation, that's why I'm here. Now, it’s been a long time since I've opened a vein, but I'll do it you pull any more of this Van Helsing Jr. crap with me. Are we clear? I want the books in the back.

    I love the Hyperion as a headquarters, and it makes perfect sense that Angel would choose it as the headquarters. Not only is it the physical embodiment of the Los Angeles that the show is trying to evoke, but it’s also a reminder of when Angel strayed from the past. He’s correcting the mistakes of the past, doing good every day. Where better than where he once failed to do so?

    And even though Gunn is still technically an independent contractor, I feel this season’s Team Angel is really coming together here.

    I love that Angel assumes the childish bickering between Gunn and Wesley is the result of the Thesulac demon’s influence until Cordy tells him that they were both like that on the car ride over.

    Oh, and the Thesulac Demon foreshadows Wesley’s betrayal of Team Angel in season three.

    Thesulac: I don't remember ordering take-out, but I like what you brung me. Not as delectable as the last one perhaps but full of tasty paranoia just the same. (laughs then indicate Wesley) especially *that* one!
    Wesley: What did he mean by that?
    It’s played for laughs here, but we do see the destructiveness of Wesley’s overly paranoid interpretation of prophecy next year. Did they already know where they were going with Wesley’s arc?

    This episode is an embarrassment of riches – in homages to film and television, genuine history, new details in Angel’s fictional history and looks forward. There’s a thematic richness and depth to “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been” matched by very few other Buffyverse episodes.

    So, what do you think?

  • #2
    This is great PuckRobin ! I didn't notice/realise there were so many film references in it and loved reading all the details you gave about those. It has just added to my appreciation of an episode that I already absolutely adore.

    For me, AYNOHYEB is the best episode across AtS. As you say, it is the richness of it. Even without having realised there were the film/television connections, there is so much to love in this episode. They chose a period of history that has a very distinct visual look to it and using the idea of a survived piece of architecture in the Hyperion is a great way to link from present to past. I love your point that then using this as their new headquarters works for having that presence of his history sat alongside the current mission and desire to do the right thing now and strive for better in himself.

    The revelations that AtS added in to Angel's history in showing the times he struggled since he became souled were excellent and really broaden understanding of the character. This and Darla in particular really do help to draw connections between Angel souled and soulless too. Something that fans often seem to struggle with because the distinction when he loses his soul is made stark in his response to it. The smoking element is a great example though of how continuity can be there even if there appears to be extreme swings. It isn't that souled Angel isn't a smoker, it is that he is holding himself back when souled. Soulless in S4 is another great example of the idea of Angel souled showing restraint as unsouled he chooses to readily taunt the group about their weaknesses because he no longer cares about hurting them, readily wanting it instead.

    The elements of perceptions and fears are brilliantly played through the plot of Are You Now and the inclusion of Judy as a character for Angel to relate to and then also be betrayed by creates fantastic drama throughout. The pace in the episode and the flow between the present and past is masterfully done. Often themes of identity and secrecy are used in both shows and this episode sitting alongside Real Me works really well with that. Distrust, external forces that can affect people's perceptions, the wish to be understood all work with how people reflect on their own identities from the responses to them of those around them.

    Having Angel allow his lynching without violently retaliating only to then walk out on the people and leave them to their fates under the influence of the Thesulac is a really powerful moment for considering his internal struggles and the path he walked before we first met him in BtVS. As you say, setting up excellently for the wine cellar to come.


    • #3
      I really like the episode, but hate the ending. I think it's a bit manipulative to have Judy still living in the hotel and needing Angel to release her. It loses points for that.


      • #4
        Great post!

        I absolutely adore this episode as well. It's easily my favourite episode of AtS which, to be honest, I always feel a little guilty about as it features so little of the ensemble cast, but it's just so incredible. An "embarrassment of riches" is the perfect way to describe the layers of movie and period references, gorgeous cinematography, foreshadowing and character work that it contains. It encapsulates the mission statement of both the series and Angel's character better than any other and brings me to tears every time.

        There's a couple of lines that resonate with me so strongly and stay with me long after the episode has finished;

        "Angel, this is a house of evil"
        "Not anymore"

        "You look the same"
        "I'm not"

        "You got your feelings hurt, didn't you? Stick your neck out... and they throw a rope around it. And you thought you made a friend. News flash, you had! That's what made her the yummiest morsel of all. You reached her. Restored her faith in people. Without you, she would've been just another appetizer."

        "I'm so sorry I killed you. Can you forgive me?"
        "Of course"

        When AtS touches on themes of forgiveness, redemption, lost souls and the beautiful/ugly sides of humanity it truly moves me. To me that is it's core themes and when the series really shined. It's a bit unfortunate it gets preoccupied with tales of 'heroes and champions' in S3-S4 and I think it contributes to why, IMO, the characters are generally more unlikable in those seasons then when they're portrayed as flawed people just trying to do their best in S1-S2.

        This episode contains 2 of my favourite scenes in the entire series. The first is when Judy betrays Angel and her horrific, ugly shriek of "It was him! Look he's got blood in his room! He's a monster!" That line is like a blow to the stomach every time I hear it. It is a gut-wrenching betrayal and it's ripple effects echo throughout so much of Angel's journey up until now. I immediately think back to Buffy snarking at Angel in The Harvest when she asks if he knew what it was like to have a friend ("that wasn't meant to be a stumper"), Angel being ashamed and then so moved by Buffy accepting his demon face and kissing him in What's My Line and ultimately achieving true perfect happiness because of her acceptance ("You shouldn't have to see me like this" "I didn't even notice"/ "She made me feel like a human being"), and Angel telling Faith in Consequences that until he meet the Scooby Gang he thought humans only existed to hurt each other. It adds so many layers to previous scenes and his motivations and actions. And as you say PuckRobin, the rejection of who he is and labelling him monstrous for being different is right alongside the paranoid, racism and homophobia depicted throughout the episode.

        The subsequent lynching is one of the rawest and most violent scenes in the Buffyverse and I'm still surprised The WB allowed the horrific sound effects of the rope and his feet dangling like that. And then the brilliant scene of the demon appearing behind him as he drops to the floor is just pure perfection *chefs kiss* I love the acting of both DB and the actor who plays the demon, the dialogue is absolutely perfect, and the staging and directing is sublime as Angel turns his head abruptly and walks away as the music rises behind him. It's one of those scenes in television when everything just comes together so perfectly and on top of all that it is clear foreshadowing to the wine cellar scene in Reunion

        My other favourite scene is with Judy at the end. It is heart-wrenching to believe she's been alone for decades and wasting away with guilt and paranoia. In many respects it parallels Angel's years of isolation as he came to terms with his guilt. And Angel offers her what he so desperately wants for himself ("Forgiveness" - In the Dark) and in doing so frees her from her metaphorical/literal prison ("Of course"). It makes me weepy every time I watch it

        The final scene where the Hyperion is used as a symbol for Angel himself and his desire to change and atone makes it one of the most meaningful set pieces in either show and a perfect home base. He forgave Judy for her betrayal but he also knows that he has a lot to atone for too and that the hotel represents that better than anything. Changing it from a place that contained the worst aspects of humanity into a place that runs to "help the helpless" is Angel's way of changing too.

        Honestly, if I had to keep just one episode of AtS it would be this. It may not be the most action packed and the other characters may not feature in it much but it really is AtS at it's very best. It's DB's favourite episode of the series as well (might be Minear's too) and I can see why.

        ~ Banner by Nina ~


        • #5
          Originally posted by Priceless View Post
          I really like the episode, but hate the ending. I think it's a bit manipulative to have Judy still living in the hotel and needing Angel to release her. It loses points for that.
          I really like the scene. Angel's a show about an ex-evil vampire who wants to atone, and be forgiven for his past. It's nice to see a role reversal where Angel's the one who's been wronged, and grants forgiveness to Judy.

          As far as Judy still being alive, on the audio commentary Tim Minear explains that the demon has a symbiotic relationship with Judy. As long as the demon lives, Judy lives. Which is why Judy dies not long after the demon does.

          Also Tim Minear said on the commentary that Angel sent the money back to the bank. He didn't use it to buy the hotel.
          Last edited by Lostsoul666; 10-10-21, 02:35 AM.
          My deviantart:


          • Stoney
            Stoney commented
            Editing a comment
            Uh, just the vast unexplained wealth instead then.

          • TriBel
            TriBel commented
            Editing a comment
            Stoney I think in RL most vast wealth goes unexplained (hence Pandora Papers). In some instances (royalty), it's just a given. In fact, Marx uses vampirism as a metaphor for capitalism. I always presumed this was - in part - the trope figured by DMP

        • #6

          Drugs and commentary about them appear constantly throughout the “Buffyverse” to act as an “alter reality” POV and explanation for it, I think. There are campaign signs on the wall, Xander’s t shirt, and to all that “tea” (marijuana) that the “Brits” consume, notably, the “watchers,” as examples.

          I just found some family in Europe, and have had to “synthesize” the American character in one sentence. I feel, all this “freedom” has not really connected us, but has shown its truth from the "segregationist" (root of all evil) religions and then race, even expressed in every single wave of immigrants we get), to the violence we * institutionalize * with both greed (and the right to kill to maintain it, as a “necessity” against * each other *--all clear in the very founding of the country. The Spaniards came for the * labor * to take the gold. The rest came to take the gold and then * all * the land around it.

          While greed may have started interest in this country, it is * race * that defines it. The shame of slavery and absolute lying in the Constitution of counting a black person as 3/5 of a human person admits its own hypocrisy.

          Joss tried to tackle the American sense of itself as a young, rebellious over anything, country that takes “European” cultural ideas, to dress and even cover, the actual, central violence (and entitlement to it) of the American character, now and in history, as * the * solution held as the American approach and expressions of “freedom.” The rights that are enshrined in the Constitution are regularly hypocritical (a black person is 3/5 of a person for slavery to also be institutionalized and, unlike gender, cannot ‘pass.’)

          I still wait for women, who “make” all other persons on the planet, to have a clear and actual and enforceable amendment of * autonomy* in the Constitution, since they seem to always be at the bottom of the list, including in the current ‘Black Lives Matter.” Gender and sexuality are baffling to me in a court of law, other than in abuse in all its forms of children, unwanted or imposed gender assignments for ‘institutional” convenience (and, especially costs containments)—I don’t see such as more than human rights, whatever religion or culture would wish to enforce.

          As for smoking, the drug of tobacco was a "sacred herb," and used as such (mindfully for the "means" toward specific, altered sense, and; also, * without prescription *--in fact “doctors” were posed as selling it for its “health benefits” (Especially aimed at “hysterical” women for its “calming” effects. While some cultures fear women’s “insatiable” sexual nature and need to control all “provocation” in draping them from view, others keep women as ‘children” with no sexual expression, other than in making them “tramps” or, worse, “whores.” (See the meanings of red in dress, nail polish, lip stick, etc). Women are ‘types’ categorized by men and * sustained * by women who were utterly dependent upon men for their lives. America never had “queens”—hence the worship of “Hollywood” or dynasties of the powerful, who had built a fortune on utter and savage theft or exploitation immortalized in the powerful institutions of libraries and colleges.

          Cigarettes are specifically the sign to show sex will or has happened, in he alter sense of “glow” and to add the “calm” of a “deep breath” after sex).

          The U.S. has been a health crisis-- because of the additional, addictive, chemical additives to tobacco, but it did “pass” as acceptable in social circles, with hosts providing ashtrays. Humans have always made 'pain relief' a center of both ritual and invention, and the "more pain relief” the more deadly the drug, it seems, in misuse of that drug, it seems to be. I always show that the US ,world surprassing record on drug use as proof of the amount of pain of its people, in need of escape and relief, in its utterly unequal and unjust realities.

          Also, cigarettes have (obviously) been a sexual metaphor for many genders, while Marijuana is not (of itself, not in human expressions of other "pathologies" of addictive behavior). Cigar use by * white * people was relegated to males, and women smoking them was "scandalous."

          This episode is the center of a great reveal to Angel's "existence" and, to me, really is the point of having had a series for the character at all. It is specifally "American" in (finally) addressing race, which Joss is actually so terrible at doing, despite the efforts to deliberately * use * black persons, who are, actually, too complex in this American story. Note the ‘typical’ slayer as a female was *ignorant * and *child like * in her obedience to the tyranny of male dominated (and female enforced) institutions; while her own humanity, let her dare to step “outside” the conventions, made her even consider Buffy’s POV, as both “same” in her “unique” condition (and duty), yet even consider another * as * an “outsider” to her very own kind, in dating a vampire-with-a-soul, Angel.

          “The Outisder” in a word is the summary word and its fatal. The "Innside"--abtw, a failed series by Tim Minear--is only a private and personal, idea of the redemptive to anyone. "The other" has to be seen to see that "inside."

          "Entitlement" as "number one" drives W.A.S.P and MALE still.



          • #7
            Originally posted by sybil View Post
            Drugs and commentary about them appear constantly throughout the “Buffyverse” to act as an “alter reality” POV and explanation for it, I think. There are campaign signs on the wall, Xander’s t shirt, and to all that “tea” (marijuana) that the “Brits” consume, notably, the “watchers,” as examples.
            Wait what


            • #8
              A lot of what makes this episode amazing has been said already. It's truly a magnificant hour of tv.

              There is something else about this episode I adore and that is a more nuanced idea about morality/doing what is right. This Batman fan (misguided or not) would be less inclined to call Angel's actions after the lynching "a fall into darkness". Instead I would call it incredibly human. As been mentioned a few times already, it seems to forshadow the final scene in Reunion and we will see the same taste for revenge in Forgiving as well. Both episodes are written by Tim Minear. And if we look back, we see something similar happen in Sanctuary (again Minear). Only in that episode it's Buffy who was pushed too far and went looking for revenge. Later on Minear introduces Groo, an obnoxious guy who is always kind and good. An absurd character to show the audience what happens when your heroes aren't allowed to have their unheroic moments.

              In Blood Money Angel says:

              "You want to know what my problem is? I'm screwed. That's my problem. I can't win. I'm trying to atone for a hundred years of unthinkable evil. News flash! I never can! Never going to be enough. Now I got Wolfram and Hart dogging me, it's too much! Two hundred highly intelligent law-school graduates working fulltime driving me crazy. Why the hell is everyone so surprised that it's working? But no, it's 'Angel, why you're so cranky?' 'Angel, you should lighten up. You should smile. You should wear a nice plaid.'"

              It's a plea for realism and some mercy. Angel is obviously at fault for the break with the other three, but so are Wes, Cordy and Gunn. The whole supporting cast (Lorne and Kate included) dehumanized Angel in a way; they refuse to accept that he can't handle everything. In their eyes he is the big guy who will lead them, carry the world on his shoulders and turn the other cheek when you lash out. And when it goes wrong after all the pressure and Darla being sired while he has no support of his friends, they go all suprised Pikachu on him. In the end Angel needs to save himself and does that by formulating a kind and more merciful way of looking at doing what is right. In a way he is forgiving himself for his misstep. Something Holtz and Connor couldn't do. And that's the difference I guess. Buffy and Angel can lose themselves for a moment but they can forgive and find their way back.

              And all those ideas Minear has about doing what is right, humanity, forgiveness and heroes are formulated in AYNOHYEB. Like it's an essay about his ideas about these themes.


              • #9
                The way that works as a theme with the ties drawn between Angel and Judy is brilliant. A human reacting to the fear of prejudice and being reduced. It's great for showing how these things can cycle and perpetuate and, as you say, how human it is to fail sometimes. The Thesulac as a metaphor for the damage that fears and insecurities can reap is fabulous. That Angel and Judy have that moment at the end to both draw a line under what they did I've come to really appreciate.