Season 1, Episode 1: “The Beast Rises”
Directed by Shekhar Kapur
Written by Glen Mazzara
* For a review of the following episode, “Second Death” – click here
A new series from former The Walking Dead showrunner Glen Mazzara begins! No doubt it was a long time coming, after all the revival series talk lately and films being turned into tv shows all around us. Mazzara does his best to transfer The Omen in all its horror glory onto the small screen, which is no easy task. Let’s see how he does.
The premiere starts out with Damien Thorn (Bradley James) heading inside an old church, moving towards the large crucifix on the altar. Candles blow out, either by wind or by him. “What do you want from me?” he asks Jesus on the cross – “What‘d I ever do to you?” A nice opener, with Damien tossing rosary beads at Christ.
Flash to three days earlier in Damascus. Damien is a photographer working in Syria currently, alongside his friend Amani Golkar (Omid Abtahi). Taking shots among the crowd, Damien witneses an armed patrol come rush out apparent illegals, who are really suspected of harbouring terrorists. He too is pushed out of the way. Then he runs into Kelly Baptiste (Tiffany Hines) also in the area. They end up having to get clear once things start to go haywire. When Damien tries to help a few people in the street, an old woman he saw earlier grabs him and recounts those oh-so-infamous words: “Damien, I love you – it‘s all for you.” We get actual flashes back to the Gregory Peck-starring classic, as the young caretaker hangs herself for little Damien. Now they’re like his flashbacks, running through his head.
This event is the catalyst for Mazzara’s series. It’s as if Damien is determined now after briefly viewing his own past, moments lost to him over the years.
Amani and Damien end up separated from Kelly, unfortunately they further end up in the hands of the authorities. Back in New York, they find themselves “banned from Syria”, which is wild. And Damien is now hooked on discovering those secrets of his past. He calls Kelly, who heard and saw what happened with the old woman. Problem is Kelly has a sore spot with Damien re: their past relationship. I like how the concept is that Damien’s forgotten or repressed his heritage, whatever the case may be, now those bits and pieces are starting to slip through the cracks. And he’s got a life, a whole existence aside from that. This being Antichrist thing sure will cramp those things. Crush them, maybe.
Damien goes to see an old buddy, likely from military academy (if that’s canon here), named Cray Marquand (Cody Ray Thompson) – he works for the International Monetary Fund, head in fact, so the old buddies Damien has kicking around certainly have high connections; or they’re at the top of the food chain.
Even further, up pops Ann Rutledge (eternally talented babe Barbara Hershey). She knows all about Damien. “The past is like a noose around our necks,” Ann says eerily: “Wouldn‘t you say?” She describes herself as in the “protection business“, whose job description is looking after “special interests” and such. Ominous, dare I say?
When Kelly meets up with Damien, she reveals the old woman in Syria spoke to him in Latin about a “beloved son” and a connection to John the Baptist/a voice from the sky. There’s a further connection to Christ, his supposed 30th birthday. Damien reveals “visions” that are essentially repressed memories, that they’re coming back to him; the party at his house where the nanny committed suicide, again. The words of the nanny echoed through time to set Damien on a course to discover his true self again.
Damien and Amani go about trying to find pictures of the old woman, though, the latter does not know the extent of why his boss/friend is so keen on finding her. Kelly comes to help later. She and Damien go see a professor in relation to Damien, his father, who sought out a “biblical scholar” and the professor tells him of Mr. Thorn’s obsession with finding out about Satan, and so on. Lots of “end of days” type stuff from the aging professor, which Damien doesn’t exactly buy it. “The devil has many names,” says the professor. The number 666 comes up and makes Damien look terribly uneasy. So what about the birthmark? Does he have it, or did it disappear like so many of ours?
Great atmosphere and mood so far. The tone of the show isn’t all the dark yet, but there’s a foreboding aspect, with shadowy cinematography, and a wonderfully creepy score so far. Watching the priest in his home attacked by the dogs is a brutal moment, which builds up perfectly with the score behind it. A little dose of blood, too. Dig it.
A call to Kelly informs her and Damien of what happened to the priest. Now Damien’s worries deepen. He casts her out, fairly emotionless. Their relationship is rocky as is, now he makes it worse. But perhaps it’s because of his lingering emotions, he may not want to bring anything worse on her. Especially if all this Antichrist business is true. Unfortunately, Damien doesn’t realize how damn true just yet.
When Kelly gets her car stuck, strange things begin happening. A river of mud starts to suck her into the earth, car and all. A pit of quicksand forms in the mud and the message is clear, as Damien tries to save her: she isn’t safe anywhere. The pit sucks her under, or something in it does, anyways. Cut to the daytime, as Kelly’s body is dragged from the mud. Her sister Simone (Megalyn E.K.) rushes to the scene where she at first gets mad with Damien, an already negative presence in her mind. Then they begin to bond a little. “She’s in a better place,” Simone says to Damien: “This can‘t be all we have. I really need to believe that right now. Death isn‘t the end.” All to the man who may have recently discovered his claim to the title Antichrist. Yikes.
In the meantime, in the world of the Holy Scripture there are forces gathering in preparing for the Antichrist. Word of Damien being in Damascus has spread, as well as the fact the priest who recently died had met with Damien. More callbacks to the original film here; daggers and such.
Cut to Damien stumbling into the church from our opening. He looks haggard, worn out, sickly even. He kneels before the altar and the statue of Christ crucified. And then, as if screaming out too much, the statue crumbles. The head of Christ lays at Damien’s feet. Too much, Mazzara? Plus, more flashbacks directly to the original film; edited in clips. Not digging that aspect, I must say.
Outside the church, Damien encounters the old Syrian woman. She grabs a handful of hair from his head. Will this reveal the birthmark? Yes?
Too much calling back to the original here, as Damien looks at old pictures of his – the old woman from Syria is glaringly obvious in many of them, looking sinister in windows and huts and street corners behind even old family photos of Mr. Thorn and the family.
I love that the birthmark is there and all. But how’d he not notice it for so long? Too many questions. How did he NEVER see that creepy old woman in the photo? Sure, it might just seem out of place before and now it’s relevant, but still – this entire finale reeks of being jammed in, as if they wanted Mazzara to give more connection with the first movie. Not digging that one bit.
I’ll give the series more than just its premiere before judging too heavily. There were bits I really liked, then others that were forced, contrived, and too conveniently placed in there to be organic. Hopefully it gets better with the second episode “Second Death” – show me what you’re made of Mazzara! Build on this one.