Derek’s Review – 2.02 “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been”
The best thing about this episode is its sense of atmosphere and place. The Hyperion is a beautiful set and it has huge influence on the flashbacks and their effectiveness. We’ve see flashbacks before on the show but they have never been this lengthy or contemplative. There is a real sense of uneasiness and a interesting duality of being exposed and claustrophobic in the hotel scenes.
This is Angel’s version of the 1950’s which is like Angel’s version of LA, it’s hyper-realized comic book-y version. It is recognizably “our” world but with elements exaggerated. Paranoia and prejudice exists in the ‘50s, still does, but the element of the supernatural changes it for this world. The climax of the story with Angel being lynched and hung is among the most disturbing scenes of the show yet. It’s also one of their best scenes, the mob mentality taken over and leading to horrible acts is a great way of showing the message of the episode. The effect that fear and distrust can have on a society, even an isolated relatively small one like the Hyperion’s.
Unfortunately I have problems with almost everything else in the episode and they start with a little lady named Judy. I actually like Judy and the actress that plays her. Though the fact that they didn’t get an actress who was of mixed African-American descent is bothersome to just flat out troubling. The main problem I have with Judy is I don’t buy into her bond with Angel. It’s Beauty and the Beast syndrome. Angel is indifferent to outright hostile to her for most of the episode and then they have one scene where they connect about something and he’s her new best friend. They are making friendship bracelets and getting ready to kill demons together. It’s way too rushed.
The thing they bond over is also incredibly problematic. Context does matter and is not exactly what happens in the scene but Angel makes the connection that Judy passing for white is much like him being a vampire with a soul. It is technically true that they are both in limbo between two identities. Yet comparing vampirism to racism is a very slippery slope.
I don’t care enough about their relationship to feel emotive when Angel goes upstairs and sees elderly Judy still alive. It is very effecting to see Angel with tears in his eyes, something that hardly ever happens, but Old Judy shares nothing with Young Judy. The actress’ performances don’t line up at all. I’m sure it might have been more cost effective to hire a new actress but I really wish they had just make-upped Young Judy no matter how fake it would have looked. I’m not into their relationship to begin with and there is complete disconnect in that scene.
The Rebel Without a Cause homages also irked me. Angel and Judy’s looks are so clearly inspired by James Dean and Natalie Wood in the movie. There is more a reliance on the connotations of the characters of that movie than actually building up a real emotional connection between Angel and Judy.
It should be mentioned that it was very interesting to see Angel, not Angelus or Liam, to be “bad” in this episode. Angel is so uncaring and angst-y in the flashbacks. It should bother me that he’s trying so hard to be James Dean and he’s not but it doesn’t. The idea of Angel being this disinterested with life was more compelling than the actual performance. If anything I would have liked them to go even darker with Angel’s attitude in this episode which leads me to:
Angel knowing condemning the people of the Hyperion after they have hung them is chilling. Angelus is evil and scary but there is something far more terrifying about Angel with a soul letting people die because of his feelings of betrayal. It’s just a really dark moment that makes Angel as a character even more compelling.
This isn’t a bad episode by any means. If anything it feels like an episode of the TV show that writer (Tim Minear) is working on, American Horror Story. Visually interesting and creepy but lacks any real emotional connection between characters.
61 out of 100