DAMIEN Review: “Ave Satani”

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Damien Banner
Airtime: Mondays at 10PM on A&E
Episode: Season 1, Episode 10 (S01E10)

TB-TV-Grade-C

Tweetable Takeaway: #Damien finally embraces his role as the Antichrist in this disappointing season finale


Over the course of its first season, slowly shed the narrative deadweight of The Omen films that had threatened to derail it early on, but even as it laid out its vision for what the television version of that story could be in its own right, its execution so often faltered, and so frequently did so in spectacular fashion, that with its season now concluded, I don’t think it ever made a convincing case for why anyone should care about what might happen in the rest of this story in the unlikely event that it receives an order for a second season. This disappointing season finale only further illustrates the faults that have plagued Damien since it began, and at this juncture there’s no reason to believe that a second season could provide a fix for any of them.

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Like the rest of the season, Damien‘s season finale, called “Ave Satani,” provided bits and pieces of what could make for a compelling story on paper. But as the show so often did, it only managed to squander whatever potential it may have had at every turn. One major issue with the show throughout, again on display in this episode, was that despite its high body count, the stakes never felt consequential for its lead characters. Last week’s episode seemed like it may have provided some of those requisite stakes when Damien stabbed Sister Greta, presumably to death, following his exorcism at her hand. But after we quickly learn in this episode that the stabbing didn’t actually kill her, whatever impact that scene may have had last week is immediately extinguished. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the show doubles down on this stubborn refusal to kill one of its main characters later in the episode. After Greta and Amani have both been buried alive by John Lyons, following Greta being stabbed and Amani shot, we come back to their grave later and see a hand burst out of the ground, meaning that at least one of them isn’t dead. Again, all this does is serve to detract from whatever minimal impact their presumed deaths may have had earlier in the episode, it makes the actions on the show feel less consequential because so many characters have such foolish and unnecessary plot armor.

While that was bad, the worst part of the episode was the disappointment of the climactic sequence of the season, the long-awaited scene in which Damien breaks down and accepts his fate as the Antichrist. This scene lands with a complete thud because the writers made the mistake of hinging its emotional impact on the death of a character whose life the audience was never given a reason to care about in the first place. After decades of witnessing the deaths of dozens of people in his life, including his father, his ex-girlfriend, and countless innocent civilians, we’re supposed to believe that what finally pushes Damien over the edge is the death of Simone, a character whose reason for existing on the show, or in Damien’s life at all, was never made explicitly clear. While the writers must have loved the cleverness of killing off Kelly, the presumed main love interest of the show, in shocking fashion towards the end of the pilot, it never managed to subsequently justify the continued presence of Simone, her sister who replaced her in the narrative in the second episode.

I appreciated the unique angle from which Simone initially entered the story, but beyond that she was nothing more than a hollow character existing on the periphery with little impact on the plot. We saw occasional intimations of a romance between Damien and Simone, but there was never any sense of chemistry nor any reason for them to be drawn towards one another save their mutual grief over Kelly’s death, so the audience was never invested in their relationship. Because I didn’t care about Damien and Simone as a romantic couple, or even really think of them that way at all, for Damien to react in such a histrionic fashion to her death felt completely unearned and I had trouble buying the idea it was impactful enough to push him over the edge and make him embrace the Antichrist role he had previously been willing to kill himself to escape from. His hysterics are made worse by the fact that earlier in that very scene Damien was told that Amani, who by all accounts he had known for much longer than and was much closer to than Simone, was dead, and he didn’t even seem to bat an eye.

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Generally speaking, I thought the writers made a mistake in slow playing Damien’s acceptance of the Antichrist mantle for as long as they did, although I can understand their reasonings on a structural level. If this was an original concept for a show, it would make sense for the writers to take a whole season making the audience believe that a normal, well-adjusted person would decide to become the Antichrist. But for them to drag out his acceptance of the role for so long, despite the fact that the viewers know from frame one that Damien is the Antichrist, so all of this intermediary plot before he accepts the role feels like wheel-spinning, and to then have the final act that convinces him feel so inconsequential and unearned was a major disappointment.

While the show is called Damien, and it makes sense that the story is seen almost entirely from his perspective, with only brief sojourns into the ongoings of the Vatican church (seen through Sister Greta) and Armitage Global (seen through Ann Rutledge and John Lyons), in retrospect this season would have been much better off focusing less on the immediate periphery of Damien’s life and more on these two large institutions that have been waging a cold war between good and evil in the shadows for decades. The Vatican, and especially their unwillingness to actively engage Damien (which after Greta’s exorcism seems like it may have been the right move after all), did not receive the screen time that they should have this season, but they did feature prominently in the one aspect of this episode that would excite me for a potential second season. After seeing the four missing Daggers of Megiddo appear, and go in the suitcases of Vatican assassins being sent on their way to kill Damien, I want to know more about the Vatican and its role in the conflict to come. But alas, this is too little, too late on that front.

To me, this season showcased the perils of focusing on the uninteresting immediate periphery of Damien’s life instead of having the broader focus that could feature more of the power brokers on both sides of the battle between good and evil. Most of the scenes with Ann Rutledge and John Lyons jockeying for power were less than spectacular, but again, on paper they were a good idea. Like with the Vatican, the show would have been better off leaning further into the internal strife within Armitage Global, and making it more compelling, because there’s potential for a quasi-Game of Thrones show within this that could examine the human dynamics at play in this staggeringly consequential battle between good and evil that could impact the lives of all humans on Earth, which is being waged by regular people on both sides whose motivations ought to be delved into much further.

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As the story stands now, we have Damien finally embracing his Antichrist role after he makes a pact with the devil to serve him in return for Simone’s resurrection. While I didn’t care for that scene on a conceptual level, and thought the random band of followers all coming from nowhere to pledge fealty to Damien was more silly than affecting, the one piece of long-gestating storytelling that did stick the landing in the episode was Detective Shay’s begrudging acceptance of Damien’s power in the scene. Ann Rutledge is also left as the sole steward to guide Damien’s ascent, after Damien sicks his Rottweilers on John Lyons when he learns that Lyons killed Amani.

I can see where the story could go next season, and in theory, it could make for interesting television. This forthcoming battle between good and evil is the aspect of the story that I was actually interested in seeing explored in Damien, and it’s not impossible that in retrospect this season is looked back on as the unfortunate but necessary set-up for a more rewarding series to come. But unless the show makes a dramatic change in whoever is responsible for the writing, there is no reason to think that next season will be able to deliver on whatever potential is there, since this season never managed to deliver on the vast potential its story had.

TB-TV-Grade-C

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Eric enjoys watching and making movies.
Twitter: @Colasante

Keep up with all of Eric’s reviews here.
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