“Are You Now or Have You Ever Been”
Written by Tim Minear
Directed by David Semel
Angel is showing Wes and Cordy stuff about the Hyperion Hotel, the abandoned hotel he and Jo exited the sewers through last time. Cordelia brings both guys their breakfast beverages, and she’s put cinnamon in Angel’s blood. How sweet of her. (But seriously, that’s the nastiest thing ever.) Angel has reason to believe there may be a supernatural reason for the hotel being abandoned, and he wants them to do some digging. What seems odd to Wes is that this isn’t for a case.
The camera zooms through the black and white photo into the year 1952, when the hotel was still open for business, the lobby full of people. The manager gives the bellhop deliveries for various residents. The bellhop is particularly reluctant to deliver the bill to the guy in 217, for some reason. The camera does lots of slow zooms in the hotel. It’s very cinematic, and I love it. The bellhop approaches 217 like one on the way to the gallows. He gives the faintest knock ever, then quickly leaves the bill on the floor and hastens back to the elevator. The resident opens the door just as the elevator door closes. It’s Angel.
In the present, the hotel is pretty rundown. Angel comes inside through the sewers, since it’s daytime, and walks around the lobby. As he walks, it turns back into 1952, where past Angel comes in and heads over to the elevator. The manager tells a black family there are no vacancies. Racist git. Up on the second floor, a shifty guy is standing in front of one of the doors. Down at the other end of the hall, two men step out of a room while Angel opens his own door. They seem more than friendly, but when they notice Angel looking at them, they shake hands and the shorter man leaves. Angel and the other resident both shut their doors at the same moment.
Inside his room, Angel pulls a glass bottle of human blood out of a paper bag, then goes to get some ice from the box down the hall. There’s a man standing there, talking to himself. And there are eerie whispers coming from that direction. The shifty guy is knocking on more doors. Angel goes back to his room and puts the blood in the container of ice when he notices there’s someone in his room. A young woman. She pretends she’s the maid. Angel doesn’t believe her. He’s about to kick her out, but she really doesn’t want to be found by “her boyfriend.” They notice that someone is trying to pick Angel’s lock. Angel opens the door. It’s the shifty guy, who’s looking for the girl. Angel tells him to leave, and doesn’t tell him she’s in his room. He has a gun in a shoulder holster. When he tries to step inside, Angel slams the door against his face, twists his arm, and tosses him into the elevator. This doesn’t improve his reputation with the bellhop. The girl, whose name is Judy, is delighted and wants to make a better impression with Angel, but he strolls back into his room and shuts the door in her face.
The slammed door transitions us back to 2000, where Angel is looking at the door of his old room, and we get that awesome ghostly whistle sound.
Wesley and Cordelia have made some progress with researching the hotel. The company that owns it has been trying to sell for years with no luck. There have been quite a few deaths there since the ‘50s. What Cordelia doesn’t understand is why they’re even doing this. Wesley doesn’t know either. But then Cordy sees Angel in one of the photos. Wait...this one? ‘Cause he’s not in this one at all.
Oh, except she’s actually looking at this completely different photo. Nice job, props department.
And why is Angel even in focus in that photo? Wouldn’t the photographer have been focusing on the people in the foreground? Whatever. Wesley thinks maybe Angel didn’t tell them about his connection to the hotel because he’s ashamed.
In ’52, Angel lights a cigarette. In the adjacent room, his neighbor is playing loud music. It’s the rambler from before. He’s still talking to himself. He picks up a gun, puts a pillow against his head, and shoots himself. Angel, who’s now enjoying a nice cold glass of blood, hears the gunshot and the record skipping. He doesn’t get up to investigate.
We get a brief glimpse of Angel in the present before the camera pans around the corner into ’52 again, where the bellhop is telling the manager about the dead resident. Seems the hotel is a popular destination for suicides. The manager starts hearing the whispering. It tells him the hotel will get shut down because of the suicides. He thinks the voices have a point, so he decides to keep the man’s death quiet. He instructs the bellhop to store him in the meat locker. In the lobby, rumors are spreading about the dead man. An old man hears voices saying it might not have been a suicide.
Somewhere else in L.A., Judy walks out of an observatory and finds Angel having a smoke over by a fence that looks out across the city. She tries to make small talk, but he doesn’t oblige her very well. Then she switches to talking about the suicide in the hotel. Then she thanks him for his help. He still doesn’t really want a friend. She awkwardly heads back inside.
Wes and Cordy find an article about the bellhop getting arrested for murder. They now have all their research on the hotel organized by year. Dang, they’ve found a ton of stuff.
In ’52, the people in the lobby (now including the old man) have convinced themselves it wasn’t a suicide. Angel walks past them up the stairs to his room. Judy catches him and invites him into her room instead. She also thinks it was a murder, which means police will come. She thought she’d warn him, just in case. For the life of her, she can’t get her cigarette to light. Angel asks if she’s worried about the P.I. from before. Yeah, that guy wasn’t her boyfriend.
She reluctantly tells him her story. She was the teller at a bank in Kansas, and she now has a bag full of their money under her bed. She stole it to get back at them for ruining her life after they found out she was half black, passing for white. She lost her job and her fiancé dumped her. Angel tries to convince her there’s no such thing as blood being “tainted” by race. She might believe him, but the problem is nobody else thinks that way. She makes an odd, disconnected statement—a lot like the people who hear the whispers. She feels trapped by this mistake she made, but Angel tells her he’ll help her. He picks up the case of money and leads her out of the room.
Wes and Cordy’s research continues. They’ve found out that Judy has been missing since ’52. Uh oh.
In ’52, Angel stashes the money in the rafters of the hotel’s basement, while Judy frets about what’ll happen to her if the police find her. Angel notices the whispers. He tells Judy to go stay in her room while he takes care of the thing screwing with people in the hotel. Judy is hopeful that if she just returns the money, the bank will forgive her.
In the present, Angel finds the case of money just where he left it. Seems Judy never got a chance to return it. At Cordy’s apartment, Wesley thinks all the crap that’s happened at the hotel is connected, but he isn’t sure how. Cordelia informs him that it’s a Thesulac demon, which drives people mad with paranoia and feeds off their insecurities. All of which Angel just told her on the phone. She hands it off to Wes. In the hotel, Angel’s poking around in the hotel’s fuse box. He gets the power back on. If they’re going to kill the Thesulac, they have to make it corporeal.
In ’52, Angel goes to a bookstore for information about how to get rid of the Thesulac. Denver, the proprietor, tosses him a Bible, which burns his hands and makes him vamp out. Slick moves, Denver. He grabs a cross and a stake, but when he gets up, Angel’s gone. He yells into the street that he’s going to turn his bookstore into his residence if vampires keep showing up. Some pedestrians gawk at him, and then Angel gets him in a headlock from behind, still vamped out. Uh...what about the gawking pedestrians? Haven’t they all just witnessed vamped-out Angel threatening a dude now? Way to go.
At the hotel, the bellhop tells the manager about how he had to “make” the suicide’s body fit in the meat locker. Yuck. (And that’s what gets him convicted of the man’s murder and later executed.) The gossiping residents are still going at it, and much less politely now. The actor and the writer accuse each other of being gay and a communist, respectively. They all tell the manager they’re going to find out who the murderer is.
Judy’s sitting in her room, hearing the whispers about how she’ll end up in prison. At the bookstore, Denver’s found some stuff that’ll help Angel against the Thesulac. He has to make it corporeal, then electrocute it. Angel leaves with the stuff.
At the hotel, everyone’s now yelling accusations at each other. The P.I. (with a bandage on his nose) comes in flashing his badge and a photo of Judy. When Angel gets back, the place seems deserted. He hears a noise, but that’s just the transition to the present! Wes, Cordy, and Gunn are meeting Angel in the lobby to take care of the demon. They start the raising ritual. Wes and Gunn are squabbling like a couple of toddlers. The ritual seems to be working.
In ’52, Angel finds a mob of residents on the second floor corridor, all swarming around Judy. He drops his merchandise and goes to help her. She breaks away from them and runs towards him...only to yell that he’s the killer and has blood in his room. They turn on him instead, and Judy stands there crying as they beat him unconscious. Then they carry him to the balcony overlooking the lobby and lynch him. He’s coherent enough to make eye contact with a horrified Judy before they toss him over the balcony. Everyone except the bellman comes to their senses and are appalled by what they just did. Once everyone’s gone, Angel opens his eyes, pulls himself free of the noose, and drops to the lobby floor. The demon materializes next to him. It’s tall and robed and walks on a bunch of tentacles poking out the bottom of the robe. It’s really enjoying the meal it’s getting in this hotel. It tells Angel that Judy is a much better meal now that Angel restored her faith in people. It asks him what he’s going to do about the hotel full of people who could use his help. Angel tells it to take them and walks out.
In the present, the demon is corporeal, and it seems to think Wes, Cordy, and Gunn are the next meal Angel’s delivering it. Especially Wes. Wes is indignant. Angel realizes that the demon is still feeding in the hotel. Gunn pins one of its tentacles to a pillar with a crossbow bolt, and Angel shoves another into the fuse box. It gets electrocuted and vanishes in a wave of energy. Go team! Wesley’s still rankling from the demon’s comment about him. Angel leaves them and heads upstairs. He goes into room 214 and finds Judy, an old woman now, sitting inside. She recognizes him. She thinks the lynchmob killed him and it’s all her fault. She apologizes, and she tells him the demon promised she’d be safe there. Angel tells her she is safe, and she can go out. She’s so excited, but she wants a little nap first. He helps her over to her bed. She asks if he can forgive her. He doesn’t even hesitate. She dies.
Wesley is still obsessing over what the Thesulac said. Cordy and Gunn find him ridiculous. Angel comes downstairs. Cordelia is looking forward to never being in the Hyperion again (Gunn too), but Angel announces that it’s their new office. Wesley feels that’s not a great plan, considering the place’s history of malevolence and death. Angel thinks it, like him, can turn over a new leaf.
I love “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been.” It feels like a movie. The transitions between past and present are excellent, the camera work is beautiful, and the music adds to the slow, weighty tone of this story. In a way, this episode does for the Hyperion Hotel what “Real Me” does for Dawn. The Hyperion will be the main setting for three whole seasons, and it’s part of Angel’s past. It’s like the Sunnydale High library or the Magic Box, or, perhaps even more, like Serenity. It’s a setting that’s so intertwined with the lives of the characters that it’s almost a character itself. We’ve seen multiple episodes now where Angel fights for someone else’s redemption as an extension of his desire for his own redemption, and here, he does that for the Hyperion. No other building could feel as much like home to him as one that has the same kind of history he does. I love how the story of Judy and the Thesulac demon unfolds, both in ’52 and in ’00. It’s a very quiet episode. Not one that would end up on most people’s top five lists, probably, but it’s just about perfect.
I wonder how things might have changed for Angel if he’d succeeded in killing the Thesulac in 1952. Would he have spent the next forty-four years until Whistler showed him Buffy doing what he does now? Would Judy have been his Cordelia and Denver his Wesley? I wonder if this job is one of the reasons he came to L.A. after leaving Sunnydale. He knew he already had unfinished business there. I also wonder how much influence the Thesulac had over Angel. That thing was powerful enough to convince a man to kill himself and to get Judy to turn on her only friend. Maybe it was powerful enough to convince Angel to leave it alone, and because the Angel of 1952 lacked the conviction of present-day Angel, he walked out instead of fighting back.
I think the only real character stuff for Cordelia is when she teases Wesley by pretending to know more than he does about what’s wrong with the hotel. Also, the way she goes from talking about how much she hates the hotel to being willing to work there instantaneously after Angel announces they’re moving in. That seemed like a combination of her trust in Angel and her knowledge of how stubborn he can be.
The Thesulac’s comment about Wesley might be some super early foreshadowing about him. He’s not that paranoid, but he will be the one who betrays Angel a season and a half from now. Did the writers already know the details of that, did they just have a vague idea that Wesley would betray Angel at some point, or were they just making a throwaway joke? Maybe the answer to that is in the DVD commentary. I can’t remember.
Gunn is only in the episode for a couple of minutes, but it’s cool seeing how he interacts with the team. He’s having way too much fun messing with Wesley, but he’s very good at following Angel’s orders (even when those orders only consist of “Gunn!”). He instinctively knows how to fight as part of a team, even when he’s not the leader of that team.
“I’ve been accused of a great many things in my time, but paranoid was never one of them. Unless people have been saying it behind my back.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.