Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Damien, Season 1, Episode 1: The Beast Rises

This… is not selling it to me. And that takes some effort, because Bradley James can read Dickens to me (Dickens! Who nearly killed my love of literature) and I’d back it.

Not that that’s a criticism of his performance – he’s pretty epicly bringing the acting, the pain, the angst and the drama… but the show really isn’t supporting it and has a lot of problems besides.

So this picks up after the Omen films, kind of, with the evil devil child Damian now all grown up to the age of 30 with no real memory of his childhood, his parents or all the dark evilness. He’s now a photojournalist going to warzones and reporting on atrocities (supported by considerable wealth and connections) – like Damascus in Syria. He has a friend, Omani, and a not-quite-ex-love-interest-with-whom-he-has-issues Kelly. While taking photos he runs into an old woman who magically restores some of his memory of the BAD THINGS.

He quickly becomes obsessed with finding this woman. Which brings me to my first issue with this episode: what is happening in Syria is horrendous, brutal and deeply tragic… not only does this show use the atrocities happening in Syria as a backdrop, but they’re barely worth any attention at all. It could have been a natural disaster zone in China for all the actual Syrian conflict was relevant. It was just dropped in as background imagery and then absolutely none of the characters cared. Damian’s attempt to get back into Syria, Kelly tracking down where refugees were being forcibly removed? All of it was about Damian finding this old woman – the actual conflict didn’t even register with them.

They don’t find her, but Kelly is quick to help Damian track down more clues to his past because that woman said something ominous and Biblical in Latin. She starts making some hug comparisons between Damian and Jesus and generally pushes the whole ominous devil-child theme with little foundation. Which is my second – and third – issue. Firstly Kelly and Damian apparently have History yet one quick “I have ominous dark feelings so push you away” and ta-da dealt with! She’s on board again. I also don’t remotely buy how quickly she was to buy the whole devil-child idea with comparisons with Christ and deciding to visit an expert on revelations – because his mentor once knew Damian’s now dead dad. I mean, why would she run with this? Damian describes his nanny’s tragic suicide when he was a child which would point to deep seated mental trauma to address (especially as he’s just remembered it) not “oooh time to check the Book of Revelations!”

The priest they consult also gives us lots and lots of ominous Beast and Antichrist rhetoric and I really don’t know why everyone is taking this seriously still. I mean it’s really ominous and thematic but why are Damian and Kelly really sat there discussing revelations with an old priest they just met?

This is what I keep thinking over and over again – we have some really powerful themes and some really good acting but the story itself doesn’t support it. And these actors are doing AMAZING work with some really dubious, badly paced writing that doesn’t support the excellent performances they’re bringing to the show.

After this, Damian (who is now fully buying this whole antichrist thing) kicks Kelley out because he has to be all alone. She leaves, sad, grieving, angry – and dies in some terrifying, probably supernatural manner.

It’s brutal, it’s awful – and it seems to be actually happening. She is dead. Yes, my next issue is the Black female love interest is dead in the pilot. She’s scheduled for a few more episodes so I’m desperately clinging to the fact she will be back

But even if she is, the way her death is handled is shoddy. See, we have a brief moment of Simone (Kelley’s sister)’s grief – but it’s largely just so she can talk faith in front of Damien. While Damien has a complete epic, amazing meltdown, griefstricken and horrified with an amazing amount of epic angst and grief and pain. It’s incredibly well acted, really well presented – and really entirely centres his grief and pain above everyone else’s. And it doesn’t even work, because we haven’t seen Kelly long enough to buy this level of epic angst after her death. Especially since this angst is all about Damien, all about his grief, all about his suffering and his memories and his doubt over who he is and what he is. Then he touches a crucifix – and the statue of Jesus shatters…

Again, I have to emphasise this, this performance is epic. So very epic. But the story is not backing it, really is not backing it. There’s no foundation to this portrayal, to make this portrayal make sense.

Along the way we also see some other people who are aware of Damian – there’s an ominous woman called Anne Rutlidge who has apparently been following the family for while, making ominous statements. The catholic church is also paying attention – and ominously holding knives.

And the finds the old woman again – who appeared in all of his old photographs, apparently following him. He rips out some of Damien’s hair – exposing a 666 tattoo.

I don’t think even Bradley James is going to make me a fan of this show – and it’s only more cringeworthy to see this running into the maw of Lucifer.