Airtime: Mondays at 10PM on A&E
Episode: Season 1, Episode 5 (S01E05)
Tweetable Takeaway: On a weak #Damien episode it becomes clear the titular character is the least interesting part of the show
After five episodes of the show (half the length of the season’s ten episode run) it’s become clear in this week’s episode, titled “Seven Curses,” that the least interesting aspect of DAMIEN is Damien himself. While Bradley James seems to be putting in effort and doing his best, he just doesn’t have the acting chops to elevate what is a poorly defined and inherently uninteresting character on the page. While the peripheral subplots of the story have shown signs of potential in recent weeks, they continue to receive very little screen time, which is bothersome given how much more consistently engaging they are than whatever it is Damien happens to be doing in a given episode.
It should be said that this episode was not completely without merit. There was a kernel of an interesting plot thread in Ann Rutledge’s storyline this week and on the other side of the aisle, we finally got another brief glimpse of Robin Weigert’s exorcist character Sister Greta. But both of these scenes that piqued my interest must have combined for less than four minutes of screen time, with most of the episode instead devoted to Damien’s contrived and unsatisfying storyline.
First, let’s start with the good. The scene between Ann Rutledge and her daughter Veronica was a solid one, and it helped fill in the practical logistics of what had previously been an utterly absurd concept. The idea that Ann maintained a vigilant obsession with Damien for decades has only been used to elicit shock or laughter thus far in the series, and this was the first time that it felt like a real choice committed to by a real character, now that we are finally starting understand the repercussions of her devotion. We also have a better sense of who Veronica is and what motivates her now, after it was revealed that she views Damien as the “prodigal son” of her family, and that she feels she’ll never be able to live up to Damien in her mother’s eyes.
This kind of subtle character work and world-building is what Damien needs more of. Too often the show lets plot dictate the flow of its narrative instead of its characters, which leads to sequences that happen not because they’re motivated by character but simply because they need to happen for the story to continue, which makes the scenes end up feeling contrived and unearned. We see some additional, much-needed characterization and world-building on the other side of the conflict as we reunite with Sister Greta several episodes after Damien’s presence in New York was made known to her. Greta steals a Dagger of Megiddo (that’s referred to as “Philadelphia”?) from a secret display in Vatican City but gets caught by a bishop before she can escape with it. The two argue over their different approaches to the news about Damien in New York: Greta wants to go there immediately and kill him, but the bishop reminds her of her place, that she is only to observe, report back, and allow the Vatican to decide whether Damien should live or die. Much like the hierarchical struggle between the older and younger generation occurring on the side of evil, the side of good is similarly divided at the moment, with Damien in the middle of the awakening battle between good and evil, torn between the two sides.
This scene also does an effective job of articulating to the audience why they should feel okay rooting for Damien and/or Armitage Global instead of those are ostensibly the “good” guys in the story, those who want to stop the Antichrist’s rise. The Vatican’s response to Damien’s rise, which should be at this point beyond mere suspicion and scuttlebutt after the preponderance of evidence that’s accumulated to support the idea, is embodied in this bishop character. He dismisses Greta’s insistence about the veracity of the claims about Damien, showing the church to be an obstinate, foolish organization not worthy of the sympathy an audience who would normally side with their definition of “good” in a story about the Devil.
Now after dealing with some good, let’s get to the bad, because there’s a lot more of that in this episode. The writing of the episode was, unfortunately, quite bad. I was particularly perturbed by the contrived way in which Damien came about meeting Alex. The episode starts with Damien going to a VA hospital to meet with a doctor about his PTSD, despite the fact that the hospital only provides care for veterans, which Damien is not, so there’s no real reason why he should even be there in the first place. While there, Damien happens to run into Claudia, the woman whose son he saved from the train tracks several episodes ago. So there’s a coincidence upon a coincidence upon a coincidence. And then Claudia mentions that she happens to have a husband staying in that hospital who would love to meet Damien to thank him for what he did. This is just lazy writing by writers who don’t know how to organically develop plot threads over multiple episodes nor how to introduce a new storyline without the seams of the writing showing every step of the way. The writing isn’t aided at all by some atrocious direction that attempts to visualize Damien’s slow descent into a nightmarish hellscape as he journeys through the creepy hospital hallways trying to find Alex later, which only ends up making the entire affair feel laughably banal.
There’s a sliver of an interesting idea present in Damien’s storyline, but it’s never handled in a compelling or satisfying way. In meeting Alex, who was paralyzed during the war, Damien reflects upon the similarly dire situations he faced while on assignment as a war photographer, the psychological effects of which he is still dealing with. Damien starts to photograph Alex’s struggle, hoping to be able to make his pain and misfortune known, but Alex reveals that he doesn’t want his story told, he just wants to kill himself to spare his family of the burden that he’s become, and he wants Damien to take photos of him doing it.
What this storyline attempts to do is mirror Damien’s indecision about whether to embrace the dark side that Ann claims is within him or to cast that away for good and try to solider on with a normal life. Alex believes that because of the constant pain he’s in, the financial drag it places on his family, and the emotional burden he is to them, he would be better of killing himself to spare them further pain. Damien is in a similar situation. While he may not be physically impaired like Alex, he is dealing with his own psychological baggage, one aspect of which is the fact that no matter what he does, people around him are constantly dying because of him.
Seeing a reflection of himself in Alex, and seeing the two paths down which he could walk- choosing whether to allow Alex to kill himself and photographing the occasion, or putting a stop to it and warning his wife- inspires Damien to follow through on Alex’s initiative. After documenting Alex’s suicide, Damien sneaks into Ann Rutledge’s house and tries to kill himself inside of an old car in her garage, no longer able to deal with all the bloodshed he feels responsible for.After a brief fake-out where we’re led to believe Damien is dead, we see him being dragged out of the garage by one of the dogs of hell. Unluckily for Damien, while he may be done with the sinister forces closing in around him, they’re done quite done with him yet.
Eric enjoys watching and making movies.
Eric Colasante | Contributor