CBS Strange Angel
Season 1, Episode 3: “Ritual of the Rival Tribes”
Directed by Tucker Gates
Written by Allison Miller
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Ritual of Abduction” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Sage” – click here
Out on the town, Jack (Jack Reynor) and Susan (Bella Heathcote) Parsons are enjoying themselves. Having drinks and dreaming of a bigger, better future. Only they’re not out. Susan’s just remembering all the promises “and more” from her husband when they were about to get married. Their current life is far from what she envisioned. No matter what Jack keeps telling her.
Susan’s also still rooted in her family life, as well as the life and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Her mother (Kerry O’Malley) and stepfather (Virgil Byrne) are equally as stiff. She doesn’t dig the “comfort to be found in the familiar” like all the others. She’s starting to year for something, anything different. Doesn’t help that Ernest Donovan (Rupert Friend) keeps lurking. Because she’s drawn to him, for better or worse. And he’s always keeping an eye on things— watching, noticing, remembering.
At Cal Tech, Jack’s rough methods aren’t all the rage with everybody. His partner Richard Onsted (Peter Mark Kendall) is used to it, mostly, whereas Gui Chiang (Keye Chen) and Samson Hunt (Zack Pearlman) are still getting used to him. Soon enough, he’s ready to change, anyway. All for the scientific method! Yet the others are reluctant to let Jack have too long of a leash, even if he’s trying to push the boundaries of known science.
From the house nearby, Susan hears the sounds of Igor Stravinsky’s orchestra, the same music she was listening to earlier. Leave it to Ernest to have a garden party with The Rites of Spring playing. He admits to seeing her at the store, listening to the record he saw her listening to, and continues trying to reel her into his world slowly.
Jack’s telling fibs along the way to keep Susan happy, and Richard plays along so as not to upset his colleague’s home life. He has great intentions, but he’s willingly deceiving the woman he claims to love. It’s not a good look, Mr. Parsons. Especially when his wife is so incredibly devoted to him. Not to mention she’s left pining for excitement in her life. Sooner or later that’s going to come to her, one way or another.
On campus, Jack tries convincing the others to do “full–scale tests.” Chiang isn’t into it, and even more so because he doesn’t want to be sent back home where things are not great for the Japanese. Samson’s loyal to his friend and won’t be a part of the plan Jack’s cooking up in order to do what’s necessary. Nobody ever said progress was easy— or entirely legal. Just Jack and Richard go together at night to the chemical factory, where they take a “barrel of nitric acid and a cylinder of dinitrogen tetroxide.” They load the chemicals into the truck, then head off into the dark with materials for new tests.
Later that night, Jack and Richard find Samson willing to help after reconsidering. The guy’s even got a way for them to get the illegally-gained materials across campus without being in the open. So, they cart the goods towards their laboratory, right under the nose of any other students, faculty, or security. Jack doesn’t get through it without nearly burning the place. Worse, he trailed nitric acid across the grass outside after almost busting the barrel open completely.
That gets them brought in front of board at the college. Richard and Samson stand with Jack in solidarity, as does Chiang, who stresses “the necessity” of what they were doing in order to make progress. Jack’s grateful for what his colleagues have done. With the help of Professor Filip Mešulam (Rade Šerbedžija), there’s no disciplinary action. Other than the team having to go the way of written proposals now to satisfy the bureaucracy of Cal Tech. And should the proposals be rejected, they’ll all be reassigned. That’d leave Jack in the lurch, big time. This makes Jack do some stupid shit— he cashes the check from Susan’s stepfather without telling her, and she only finds out when she’s got to pull overtime at the office. Yikes.
That evening, Ernest invites the Parsons’s to a gathering of his group. They’re not so sure about going. He leaves them with a cryptic message: “I have made a secret door. Into the House of Ra and Tum.” Oh, yes, we are getting severe Aleister Crowley vibes in here more than ever! Then, Mr. Donovan’s gone leaving the unhappy married couple in their driveway contemplating whether they ought to go. And they decide to give it a try.
At the house, Susan gives the cryptic message to someone at the door, then she and Jack are let inside. They wait in the foyer, as the Minder (Rob Zabrecky) calls upstairs to let someone know the couple is there. They head up with the Minder, past a picture of Crowley, past one of the Thelema symbols with the 93 at the centre. Further in, people in robes and other weird outfits chant together. Jack and Susan are welcomed into the group. They drink from a chalice passed around. A priest-like figure speaks to everyone. Then in the middle of the room a naked woman is unveiled. During the ceremony, Susan runs out of the house, and Jack follows fast behind her. It’s too much for her Roman Catholic mind to take. Meanwhile, Jack’s intrigued. This isn’t the end of his brush with Thelema and Crowley by a long shot.
Yet another fantastic episode. I wasn’t sure after the initial one, now I’m totally sold after the last couple. Strange Angel doesn’t go overboard, it takes the weird mystery one step at a time. Some reviewers complain about it being too tame. But I don’t need to see explicit sex and nudity all the time just because this is based on Crowley. What it needs is atmosphere, of which there’s plenty. The drama and the plot are all excellent. The visuals+cinematography are extraordinary, if you’re paying attention. Bring on more.
“The Sage” is next time.