Or Nah? is a feature where we watch and review the first episode of a new TV show. We’ll let you know if it’s worth checking out. As always, these reviews are the opinion of the reviewer, but we’ll try to adequately explain why you should or shouldn’t give the show a chance and provide shows for comparison.
S1E1: The Beast Rises (Pilot) | Mondays | A&E – Ten episode season
Starring: Bradley James, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Omid Abtahi, Tiffany Hines, and Barbara Hershey.
Damien Thorn, the son of a former ambassador, works as a photo-journalist in Syria. He remembers little of his childhood, but an unnerving encounter while on assignment brings back some of those repressed memories, all of which leads him to learning the truth about his identity and heritage.
Damien Thorn turns 30 on the day he witnesses and captures on camera the forced relocation of a Christian community in war-torn Damascus. While there, he has a disturbing confrontation with an old woman who knows his name and tells him she loves him right before she’s clocked on the head by a large stone (presumably cast by someone without sin). Happy birthday, Damo. Cake later, okay?
Kicked out of Syria for doing his job (and not before meeting up rather awkwardly with his ex-girlfriend, Kelly Baptiste), Damien makes it his business to find out what he can about the mysterious old woman who knew so much about him. He’s been having these mad dreams and visions, see? Damien recalls his fifth birthday when his governess killed herself in such a public fashion, telling him that it was all for him, and that she loved him. As governesses do.
Kelly follows Damien back to New York with some new information, leading them to the doorstep of a professor who knew an archaeologist friend of his deceased father’s. Damien is hit with some disconcerting news about his family, as well as being given a primer lesson in Revelations 101. (All this is very important for later, I promise.) Said professor (Lost’s Sam Anderson) is deeply impassioned by proceedings, saying “He may not be fire and brimstone, Mr Thorn, but the devil does exist. He lurks in the dark corners of the heart.” He then hands Damien a set of rosary beads and implores him to accept Christ as his savior. Damien says “Nah, I’m good.” All very portentous.
What follows is pretty much the only reason why you’re curious to see how this show pans out: violent death.
Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to Damien’s loyal protectors – the Hellhounds. And say goodbye to the professor, ripped to shreds for his troubles. It pays to mind your own business when it comes to Satanic prophesies; just ask Kelly, Damien’s now dead ex-girlfriend, drowned in a pothole full of mud. What a filthy way to go! Still, now her sister Simone is out looking for answers, and she’s no fan of our (anti)hero.
In the meantime, there is the wonderful Barbara Hershey, taking on the role of mentor, one would assume. “The past is a noose around our necks,” she purrs at one stage. Fans of this genre can look forward to plenty of scenery-chewing by the accomplished actress. I know I am.
Damien is very true to its roots. There are snippets abound in the series premiere from the movie that started it all, The Omen. Clips of the governess’ suicide, as well as Robert Thorn’s deranged attempt to murder his own “son”, are spaced well throughout the pilot. Mentions of the archaeologist, Bugenhagen, also adds to the show’s nod to its own mythos. The sequel, Damien: Omen 2, appears to be largely ignored. No bad thing. I always thought it weak. (I do, however, hold a special candle for Sam Neill’s portrayal of adult Damien, in full Anti-Christ mode, in the otherwise unexceptional Omen 3: The Final Conflict.)
The pilot is bookended by a scene in a New York church where a disheveled Damien, shocked by Kelly’s death, angrily asks a crucified Christ what is it He wants from him, what is it he has done to deserve such tragedy. Christ answers by splintering into pieces at Damien’s touch. I liked this scene. Bradley James plays it well. In fact, I’m very happy with James in the main role. It’s a new challenge for him, one I think he’s more than capable of. After spending a number of seasons playing a mythical character whose destiny is to save England, James now gets to play another mythical character with an opposing philosophy.
And more gory deaths please. Thank you.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK
Dialogue is not this show’s strong suit. Yet. In order to fill in the 25 year gap between Damien’s parents’ death and his emergence as the Anti-Christ, compete with tattooed 666 (its revelation – heh – another great scene), a fair amount of exposition is thrown at the characters and viewer.
Any show is only as good as its ensemble. It’s going to take time for the supporting cast to gel and get with the program. Ten episodes are all that Damien has for the time being. Bar the main character himself, and Hershey’s Ann Rutledge (the show’s Billie Whitelaw, I imagine), the rest of the cast got to see little action (bar Kelly’s fatal mudslide, that is). I hope they’re injected with a bit more life. Looking down the list of writers, it appears that David Seltzer, the creator of The Omen, is on board for one episode at least. That one should be interesting.
Editor’s Note: We will be publishing weekly reviews of Damien for the rest of the season.
Horror is a hard genre to sell on television. For my money, only two shows have done it right: the late, great, and much missed Hannibal, and the A&E’s own Bates Motel. Nothing in this pilot suggests that Damien can reach these dizzy heights. But then, there’s nothing to suggest it can’t. So, for now, it’s onward and upward. Let’s see what the rest of the season has in store. The future looks ominous…
User Review( votes)
*The pilot’s director is Shekhar Kapur, the BAFTA-winning director of Elizabeth. I just thought I’d throw that one in there, for what it’s worth.