CBS Strange Angel
Season 1, Episode 2: “Augurs of Spring”
Directed by David Lowery
Written by Mark Heyman
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Ritual of Abduction” – click here
Wan Hu (Telly Liu) hunts a “beast” through the forest. He finds it feeding on a carcass near a cliff. He fires an arrow into it, and the animal’s angered. It jumps at Wan, who cuts its throat as it jumps.
Cut to Jack Parsons (Jack Reynor) in Los Angeles circa 1930s, reading about Wan in a book, Amazing and True, one of the old pulps. Jack works in a chemical factory doing janitorial work. He also collects dirt and dust for his own purposes, taking it home in specimen jars. That’s because he’s got a hidden passion— he wants to build rockets.
At night, Jack goes to meet his friend Richard Onsted (Peter Mark Kendall) in the desert. There, they test a rocket on which they’ve been working using ignition powder Jack’s made. The test doesn’t go totally as planned. They haven’t been making any progress, either.
At home, Jack’s wife Susan (Bella Heathcote) awaits her husband’s return, asking how his tests are going. He’s clearly fairly open with her, not hiding what he does when he’s not at work at the factory. Financially, their life’s tough. He hopes to change that with his lofty experiments.
We see Jack and Richard shopping around their idea of a rocket to take “man into space.” At this point the only man in space was Buck Rogers. They go chat with a Professor Filip Mesulam (Rade Serbedzija). He’s not sold on their ambitions, neither does he believe much in Mr. Parsons, who was forced to drop out of an undergrad degree due to the Great Depression. Jack wants to break the field of aerospace wide open. He’s not satisfied by written proposals and other bureaucracy. He’s also not confined by the limits of the human mind.
More about Wan Hu. He found the beast, however, there was no real fulfilment afterwards. A “restless longing” kept him seeking some kind of other satisfaction. He was looking for the sublime. Just like Jack. Visually, we’re beginning to see the symbol of Thelema, which is related to the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley.
The Parsons’s have a new neighbour moving in across the street, Ernest Donovan (Rupert Friend). They try to ingratiate themselves to him, inviting him over for dinner soon. Only when it comes time for dinner, Ernest doesn’t show up, and this pisses Susan off. Her husband is too busy dreaming of rockets and fantastical things to care about much else. He and Ernest get to talking later when Mr. Donovan arrives, drunk, crashing his motorcycle outside. The guy talks of the “true path“— this is Thelema rhetoric.
Jack and Ernest go for a nighttime stroll in the nearby trees. They see a cougar in the hills, similar to the beast of Wan Hu’s tale. The two men get to talking more about Jack’s quest to build rockets. There’s more to come from this relationship. There is something strange, mysterious, and maybe exciting about Mr. Donovan. He operates on his own wavelength. He’s slightly dangerous, too. He does help Jack do a bit of unintended brainstorming, leading the hopeful rocket engineer to a breakthrough about liquid fuel. Problem is, he’ll need Richard to get supplies from the California Institute of Technology, and ole Richie’s not so thrilled, not wanting to take such risks.
Late in the night, Jack wakes to strange noises outside his house. He hears Ernest, sees him putting away what looks like a blade and bottles of blood. Hmm. A bit of animal sacrifice, perhaps? Would fit right in with some of the occultism, I suppose. When Ernest leaves, Jack decides on following.
He sees Ernest go to a house. Inside, women are mixing in a bowl using the blood from what was collected. Jack hears a woman singing upstairs, so he climbs up to see what he can see. Chanting comes from inside. He gets a peek in through a window, hearing a Thelema ceremony underway. There’s a woman who looks set to be stabbed. And that’s when Jack tries interrupting them, making a lot of noise. He runs when people inside are alerted, though nobody catches him. Looks like Mr. Donovan is pretty sure he knows their intruder.
Jack tells us of Wan Hu trying to “reach the beyond” by having his throne attached to a bunch of rockets, to carry him into the sky. At the same time, Jack is hard at work trying to make these magical tales from a pulp book a reality, to reach the stars for all of mankind. He even uses Richard’s Cal Tech ID to do a bit of undercover business, snatching methanol from the campus.
This takes Jack and Richard out to the desert, where the former has plans for the methanol he stole recently. They’ve brought Prof. Mesulam to watch, as well. And the rocket engineer has borrowed himself a new phrase: “Do what thou wilt.” Their latest test provides a baseline for the tests that will follow. Fantastic sequence cutting back and forth from Jack in the desert to Wan Hu on his throne. Jack’s experiment allows Richard to gauge pressure, further giving them hope they’re on the right track finally. Although the whole thing ends with quite the explosion, it’s still hope. And good thing Richard’s there to save his buddy from flying debris. Our rocket engineer is a maniac.