In the second episode of the second season of Angel, YES. YES GOOD. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.
Okay, as of right now, this is easily my favorite episode of Angel. It was like a combination between a slow noir thriller and an episode of The Twilight Zone, all given this brilliant framing device that switched between the past and the present. We get more of Angel’s life; we get a thoroughly appropriate reference to Joseph McCarthy that gives this episode a lovely context; we have Wesley’s constant paranoia, which I hope never fades away because it’s beautiful.
It’s another example of a story that simply couldn’t work on Buffy. This “Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been” has to take place in Los Angeles, and it has to involve grown adults. It wouldn’t work without Angel either, because as much as this is about a demon who feeds on uncertainty and fear, this story wouldn’t be as rewarding if it wasn’t also about Angel’s path of redemption. Plus, seriously, who knew that there was a point in time when Angel could be even more brooding and detached than he is now? I don’t think Angel had a single expression cross over his face in 1952 aside from annoyance.
But honestly, that’s the point. I wouldn’t like Angel’s story if he’d just suddenly decided to help people. At this point, he is merely existing. He’s stopped drinking the blood of living humans, but that’s the only thing he’s conceded. He stays out of the way of everyone around him, he hides, and he spends his waking hours (EVERY SINGLE ONE) hating humanity around him. Seriously, he barely tolerates any human interaction in the first half of this episode. As far as I can tell, this isn’t even an issue of Angel learning to help people. He needs to learn how to talk to them first.
Yet this isn’t the only thing that Angel has to worry about. I really found the entire story with the Thesulac demon because of how creepy it was. The crimes and violence plaguing the Hyperion Hotel are gradually revealed, and it’s made all the more unsettling because it’s not until the last few minutes that we even see the culprit. It’s kind of a fascinating metaphor for prejudice and doubt, isn’t it? It’s a voice inside one’s head that directs you to fear those around you. We see this manifested in so many different ways, from the manager turning away a family because they’re black, or even in the stare that Angel gives the gay couple. (Which isn’t saying that Angel meant that in that way, but it was clearly intentional to have visibly queer characters on screen for those few seconds. You could tell the older man read Angel’s staring as an accusation, even if that’s what Angel didn’t intend.) It’s represented in Judy’s story as well, as the fact that she wasn’t white was used against her at her job, which inspired her to steal money and hide out in the Hyperion Hotel. In short, that place became a veritable buffet for the Thesulac Demon, and his whispers encouraged these people to turn on each other and themselves. Truthfully, though, he didn’t create the situations that brought this out in these people. All that shit was already there, you know?
(Also, seriously, I can’t write this review without saying that there was a LITERAL death of a salesman in this episode and IT WAS SO APPROPRIATE. Also, if you’ve ever watched The X-Files, “Gilnitz” is a very familiar name. I LOVE THIS SHOW.)
It’s over the course of this story that Angel very gradually opens up to the possibility of connecting with another human being, and he does this by choosing to help Judy. I don’t know that we’ll ever really know exactly what made Angel change his mind. I think that the episode suggested that Angel related to the idea of being judged negatively just for who he was, but I’m also fine with the fact that it’s not spelled out. Either way, for a brief moment, he choose to trust Judy. He has hope, and that hope is then COMPLETELY FUCKING CRUSHED. He even warned Judy that fear makes people into fools, and in a moment of pure fear, she turns against the one person in the whole hotel who was willing to help her.
It really is a heartbreaking and immensely disturbing scene, especially because the crowd cheers the hanging of Angel. Even if some of them realize what they’ve done, they experienced joy at lynching another human being. (I think that’s probably kind of problematic in the sense that lynching in America was pretty much exclusively of black folks and not vampires, though I do understand that the writers were probably trying to evoke that imagery. Still, it was really upsetting to watch.) I don’t know who the hell that guy is who played the Thesulac demon, but shit, he was creepy as hell. Bravo.
At least in terms of the past, there’s no easy end for Angel. Believing his hatred for humanity has just been validated, he tells the demon that he can have the whole tell. Angel isn’t ready to save any souls at this point in his life, and he chooses to walk away from it all. It’s why the present story is so important. Angel chooses to finally return to the Hyperion Hotel, bringing along Wesley, Cordelia, and Gunn, to face the demon he allowed to feed off so many tortured souls almost fifty years prior. The battle itself seemed kind of short and anticlimactic, but that’s okay because then we find out JUDY NEVER LEFT THE FUCKING HOTEL. I’ll ignore the logistical nightmare this presents (HOW DID SHE EAT OR SLEEP AND HOW DID SHE HAVE POWER) and just appreciate the horrific sense of poetry this suggests. Angel forgave Judy for what she did to him, and in the process, he freed her from the grips of a demon. UGH THIS IS SO GOOD. I really like this!
Also, for real, is Angel serious? Is the Hyperion Hotel the location of the new office? LIKE REALLY BECAUSE THIS IS SOME GHOSTBUSTERS SHIT AND I LOVE IT.
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