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Angels In America

Episode One Recap

This mammoth TV event opens with a hypnotic title sequence which starts in the heavens.  During a haunting score, a panning shot from the clouds zooms past American cities San Francisco to New York. 

It's October 1985 and our story begins at a funeral in New York.  Louis Ironson (Ben Shenkman) takes his gay lover, Prior Walter (Justin Kirk), to his Jewish grandmother's funeral.  The Rabbi (a disguised Meryl Streep) speaks about the struggles the first Jewish immigrants faced when coming to America.
"She was not a person, but a whole kind of a person,"  the Rabbi says.  "The ones that crossed the ocean and brought with them to America the villages of Russia and Lituania.  How we struggled and fought for our family."  As Louis and Prior listen intently, the Rabbi concludes with a hint of things to come.  "You can never make that crossing that she made. Such great voyages in this world do not exist, but everyday of your lives, the voyages you cross are journeys."

The same day as the funeral, Roy Cohn (Al Pacino) a high-powered lawyer, is visited in his office by his protégé Joe Pitt (Patrick Wilson).  Roy and Joe are like chalk and cheese.  Roy is vulgar, mean and treacherous while Joe is a devout Mormon, who gets offended every time Roy uses the Lords name in vein.  "I like a guy with principals," says an impressed Roy.  Roy offers Joe a promotion in Washington D.C, in the Justice Department.  Although Joe is keen, he must first consult his wife, Harper (Mary Louise Parker).

We are introduced to Harper - an unhappy, vallum popping, housewife - during one of her hallucinations.   Home alone, she talks to an imaginary travel agent. Joe returns home to tell her about his career prospects in Washington.

After the funeral, Prior shows Louis a lesion and tells him he has Aids.  Louis, who is afraid of sickness and disease, likes to think that the lesion is only a burst blood vessel.  "Not according to medical specialists," admits Prior.  "Lesion number one; one dark kiss from the angel of death.  I'm a Lesion-are," jokes Prior. Obviously upset, Louis storms off, leaving Prior by himself.  "I'm off to bury my grandmother," Louis says.

Joe tries to convince Harper to move to Washington.  She doesn't want to go.  She's paranoid about leaving her surroundings.  Joe discovers that Harper has taken a dose of Valium again.

At the graveyard, Louis confides in his rabbi.  "What happens when someone abandons someone he loves who is in great need?" asks Louis.  "Why would a person do such a thing," says the Rabbi.  "Maybe he isn't so good with death," replies Louis.  The Rabbi then refers Louis to a priest.  "Catholics believe in forgiveness, Jews believe in guilt," he says.

In their bedroom, Joe once again tries to convince Harper to move.  Joe calls Harper a recluse and Harper accuses Joe for keeping secrets.  "You should have never married me, you have all these secrets and lies," she says.  In a sombre moment, Harper attempts to seduce Joe, but he is not responding.  "The world is coming to an end," she says while lying down on her pillow.

Louis and Joe meet in the bathroom of the courthouse where they both work.  Louis is hysterically upset about Prior. Joe consoles him.  When Louis assumes Joe is gay (because of the way he speaks) Joe gets upset and leaves the room.

Both Prior and Harper pop pills - Prior for his AIDS treatment and Harper for her addiction.  Strangely, they meet each other in a mutual dream/hallucination. Prior is dressed as a woman and quotes screen legend Gloria Swanson. 
"Are you my imaginary friend?" asks Harper.  "Imagination can't create anything new, can it?  It only recycles bits and pieces of the world and re-ensembles them into visions."

Prior and Harper bond and play a game called "threshold of revelation".  Harper guesses Prior has Aids and Prior tells Harper that her husband is gay.  The revelation is a breath of fresh air to Harper.  She now knows why her husband is not attracted to her.  Before Harper leaves the dream, she tells Prior: "There is part of you that is entirely free of disease - I can see that." 

As Prior begins to get sicker, a blinding light opens up in the ceiling, and a single feather falls.  An authoritative voice tells him to prepare for an arriving messenger.

Harper confronts Joe about his closeted homosexuality.  "When you come thru the door at night, your face is never how I remembered it.  You terrify me," she says.  Joe tries to walk out but Harper threatens to burn down the apartment.  "My pill-popping is not our problem," she says.  Joe looks Harper in the eyes and tells her he's not gay.

Prior and Louis are in bed together.  When Prior starts talking about the horrific symptoms he is having, Louis gets upset.  "Prior, would you hate me if I walked out on this," asks Louis.  "Yes," replies Prior as he pecks his lover on the check.

After being confronted by his wife about his homosexuality, Joe gets upset and wants to pray.  He suggests that he may have gay tendencies.  "Does it make it any difference that I might be one thing deep within.  No matter how old or ugly that thing is, as long as I fought with everything to kill it.  Just as long as my behaviour is decent and correct."

During a medical check-up, high-powered lawyer Roy Cohn is told that he has Aids.  Although he admits having sex with men, Roy says that Aids is a gay disease and only for men with no clout or power.  He demands that it is not Aids but cancer. "Homosexuals are men who know nobody, who nobody knows who have zero clout," Roy says. "Aids is what homosexuals have, I have liver cancer."  "You may call it any damn thing you want, but what it boils down to is very bad news," says his doctor.