CBS Strange Angel
Season 1, Episode 4: “The Sage”
Directed by Nelson McCormick
Written by David DiGilio
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Ritual of the Rival Tribes” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Dance of the Earth” – click here
A car bomb goes off, seriously injuring a law enforcement officer in his driveway. At home in his garage, Jack Parsons (Jack Reynor) has clippings about the incident. He’s working on figuring out what sort of bomb did the job. He testifies in court about the “high explosive” used in the bombing. He’s an “expert witness” for the prosecution. What this will do is thrust the Cal Tech rocketry lab into the spotlight, seeing as how young Jack’s quite charismatic, and the case itself is high profile.
Meanwhile, on campus, Prof. Filip Mešulam (Rade Šerbedžija) is looking over the latest proposal. He finds some of the stuff Parsons wrote needs discussing. But court duty’s kept the rocket engineer away. Jack is too busy showboating, which may or may not come back to bite him in the ass later. We’ll see about that. Calling himself “the Head” of the team might not look too good, either.
At home, Susan (Bella Heathcote) is doing a favour for her stepfather, Virgil (Michael Gaston). She’s looking after her much younger sister, Patty (Laine Neil). She also winds up meeting Maggie Donovan (Elena Satine), wife to the elusive Ernest (Rupert Friend), after the Donovan car broke down in the Parsons driveway. We find out Maggie’s quite the character in her own right, though a lot more subtle and seemingly less dangerous than her husband.
The engineering team aren’t totally pleased with Jack. He acts as if it were for the greater good, whereas his longtime partner Richard Onsted (Peter Mark Kendall) feels his time is best used working, as do Samson Hunt (Zack Pearlman) and Gui Chiang (Keye Chen). That is, until they’re offered a much sought after invite to the Athenaeum. The actual name is a reference to the school in Ancient Rome, but it’s a real private club at Cal Tech.
Jack has to dress to impress for the Athenaeum. Susan helps hem a suit belonging to his father, that his mother Ruth (Hope Davis) brought for him. He’s ready to finally come into his own as a man of intellect, in the very same room “Einstein ate in.” Simultaneously, H.G. Wells is broadcasting War of the Worlds as a straight story, and some believe that “Martians storm the Earth.” (Note: this puts us around 1938-1939.)
The lads arrive at the Athenaeum, where there are Nobel laureates, scientists fleeing the Nazi regime, and plenty of other important people. They soon discover they’re “show ponies” being used to make Cal Tech look a bit more modern, youthful, and a hopeful draw for all sorts of things. Before the event begins, a complaint comes through about Jack. Some professors don’t like that Mr. Parsons was representing Cal Tech in the press. So, the young engineer leaves willingly, but not happily, especially when Richard stays “for the project.”
Outside, Jack hears more of the Wells broadcast. He imagines a Martian tripod standing over the Athenaeum, people fleeing from inside as rockets and lasers tear the place apart. At the bar, Jack has a drink and sees a bit of the aftermath of people believing Wells was truly broadcasting the end of the world. He continues having strange visions, too. Seeing things that aren’t there. Or, are they? Could they be just lying below the surface, waiting to be revealed?
The home life of the Donovans is interesting. They’ve got family photos up on the shelf, right next to one of the Great Beast, Aleister Crowley. Doesn’t seem like Maggie knows everything about her ow husband, so it’ll be compelling to see more of their relationship. Ernest slips out to go meet Jack at a bar for a drink and a chat. Makes things all the more fun that it’s Halloween.
At the Athenaeum, Richard and the lads meet Josef Breitner (Endre Hules). Richard isn’t as good a talker as his pal Jack. Breitner isn’t hugely impressed. He thought they’d already built a rocket. Because of this, the team fall into approval for building one. And thus, more work and experimentation is born!
Susan’s worried about her husband. She finds out he wasn’t at the event. Later in the night, Richard comes looking for Jack, finding him still not home. Susan isn’t angry, she seems more disappointed for her husband. At least now she knows he’s definitely out with Ernest, like Maggie suggested. Nevertheless, she hears about “the prototype” they’ve been cleared to build. So there’s some truth to what Jack has been spouting.
Out together, Ernest and Jack get into some weird stuff. The engineer heads into the back rooms with several dancers who are clearly prostitutes, as well. There’s a weird tension happening with Ernest. He seems to have a fascination with Jack, perhaps one more than friendly. When one of the girls suggests he’s a certain “type of guy,” he goes ballistic. Whoa. Repressed much?
Jack gets home very late. He doesn’t tell Susan the truth, though she knows, and he keeps pretending everything is totally fine. And the prototype is great. However, he’s still feeling disrespect for how he’s been treated. He wants to be given the proper respect for his work.
Across town, Ernest goes to the lodge. He confesses to one of his fellow Thelema members that being with Jack makes him “feel like a freak.” His friend suggests that the thoughts of others don’t matter, only your own will. He talks about each person you love being “a key” that unlocks a specific part no other person can unlock. What will Jack unlock in Ernest? What will Ernest unlock in Jack?
I’m at a loss as to why some people aren’t enjoying this series. Fantastic, right from the start! If you’re looking for something totally based in Crowley’s debauchery, this was NEVER meant to be that. The story of Parsons is one of subtlety, as he gradually slipped into a weird world of magic-based faith, unbridled sexuality, and madness, crossed with his already existing world of science. We don’t need endless orgy scenes or anything like that. The slow burn character study is worth every second of build up!
“Dance of the Earth” is next time.