Airtime: Mondays at 10PM on A&E
Episode: Season 1, Episode 4 (S01E04)
Tweetable Takeaway: By starting to flesh out its supporting characters, #Damien delivers its best episode yet
This week’s episode of DAMIEN, “The Number of a Man,” was the show’s best yet, with the first inkling that there may be some potential in its story. In this episode, Damien tries to use Detective Shay’s obsession with him to turn the tables on Ann Rutledge, while the supporting characters finally receive some much needed, well, characterization.
Previous episodes of Damien had a number of flaws, the most glaring of which were its reliance on a prerequisite knowledge of The Omen’s dense mythology, contrived and unearned plot developments, and a lack of depth in its characters. Thankfully none of those flaws were to be found in this week’s episode, and it actually had some positive elements that gave me glimmers of hope for the future.
The most compelling plot thread on Damien can be found over at Armitage Global, where we meet up with John Lyons and Ann Rutledge as the company holds a meeting commemorating the life of Troy, that character who was briefly introduced before being killed off in the previous episode. John and Ann discuss Damien and we begin to learn the particulars of their individual responsibilities in helping to bring about the Antichrist. After an episode of power-jockeying, John tells Ann, “You have Damien. I have everything else in place. We need to work together, not against each other. We need to trust each other.” It’s clear the two don’t trust one another, but what’s less clear is why that’s the case, since as far as we are currently aware both of them work at the same company, have known each other for decades, and both want to bring about the Antichrist.
I don’t expect political machinations on the level of House of Cards or Game of Thrones, but I will admit that I’m curious to see how the battle over Damien’s stewardship progresses. An uneasy detente is reached between John and Ann, and we later see John telling Damien not to trust Ann. Is John being genuine in trying to steer Damien away from Ann, or is he creating a false dichotomy between them, forcing Damien into choosing between them, thus ensuring that at least one of them receives his loyalty? I don’t know, and inasmuch as I care about anything on Damien, I’m excited to find out.
In previous episodes, I felt that the writers intentionally made every character Damien came into conflict with so odious that the viewer would have no choice but to root for Damien. In the first few episodes, my theory was proven accurate, with Detective Shay and Ann Rutledge being such obnoxious characters that I did find myself wanting Damien to smite them both, despite not actually about his fate in the least. This episode started to dispel that notion though, finally delivering some much needed depth to Shay’s character that made him appear for the first time to be something other than a walking, talking obstacle constantly in Damien’s path.
It was nice to see Detective Shay articulate the logic behind why he suspects Damien of some uncertain malfeasance regarding all of the mysterious deaths that have been occurring around him. It was still unfortunately lazy writing that allowed Shay to learn of all these disparate events that happened outside his jurisdiction, but nonetheless, now that he possesses that knowledge at least he is acting in an appropriate manner with it. I also appreciated him giving Damien the benefit of the doubt for a brief moment, since there’s no evidentiary reason to suspect any wrongdoings on Damien’s part, not because he’s the mastermind that Shay thinks he is but rather because Damien is a dullard completely oblivious to everything that’s happening around him at all times and could never be a mastermind of any sort. Shay finally listened to Damien, however briefly, when he said to investigate Ann Rutledge. Shay visits Ann and asks to see her underground bunker, last seen filled with The Omen memorabilia, only to discover that her “panic room” is stocked top-to-bottom with wine bottles. The episode ends with Shay at home with his husband and young son, which further humanizes him after we witnessed Shay receive a homophobic comment from his superior officer at work. Shay’s son gets lured to the outside pool by one of the dogs that are always lurking in Damien. Shay realizes he’s missing and jumps in after him, and in the process he sees a face emerge in the pool cover before he finds his son and rescues him.
I leave this episode feeling like I better understand Detective Shay and his motivation, and after watching whatever Satanic spirit is hunting down Damien’s enemies, I’m rooting for Shay to learn the truth about Damien’s nature and stop him before it’s too late. That’s a big improvement on where I was on Shay coming out of last episode, where I was so irritated by his contrived schtick that I was rooting for him to get killed off already.
Despite some improvements in Shay’s character this episode, and despite my newfound intrigue in the Armitage subplot, I still have a lot of issues with Ann Rutledge as a character and Barbara Hershey’s performance. The character’s constant Satanic puns are horribly obnoxious and not in keeping with the tone of the show, which is very earnest. The puns might be less out of place on a show with a better sense of humor than the mirthless Damien, and to this end Hershey’s performance have been so campy from the outset that it feels like she’s acting in an entirely different show than everyone else.
While some clarification was found on Ann’s role at Armitage, she still has a tendency to only speak in lazily enigmatic hints that serve no purpose except to irritate the viewer. When Damien tells her that he’s seen enough death surrounding him and that Ann has to stop the killings, and that he’ll slit his throat to stop her if he has to, Ann challenges him to do it. Does she actually want him to do it? I don’t know, because I don’t know what the perks are for being chummy with the Antichrist, but I’d suspect not, since she surely wants to be around for the moment when he arises. At a certain point, the writers need to realize that the show does not function well as a mystery and it’s better off telling me the truth about their characters so I can find a reason to care about them instead of slowly and ineffectively dripping out their backstory.
The show’s two other side characters, Amani and Simone, receive some additional screen time with some subplots that help establish their stories outside of their immediate connection to Damien, but neither storyline fares as well as Detective Shay’s. The more interesting thread in Amani’s storyline was his introduction to the attractive Veronica, who we learned in a previous episode is a Satanist aligned with Ann Rutledge. It would appear that the Satanists are trying to get a foothold in every aspect of Damien’s life, and after Amani was so easily seduced, it’s hard to see the difficulty they’ll have in achieving that goal.
The less interesting thread in Amani’s storyline is about him finding a photography collective willing to accept Damien as a member, contingent upon an interview Amani has to convince Damien to go to. When Damien doesn’t show, Amani offers an impassioned defense for him, calling Damien the best photographer, as well as the most courageous and selfless person, that he’s ever met. While that’s all well and good and I’m sure Damien will get that spot in the collective if he’s so inclined, this line of dialogue is symptomatic of a larger issue with the show and how it communicates its characterizations. Why am I, in episode four, hearing Amani talk about Damien’s courageousness and selflessness? I haven’t seen that in action yet and that’s not how I, as a viewer, feel about Damien so why do the writers think that by simply telling me that, I will begin to feel it? Why am I also, in episode four, hearing Amani talk about the hellish encounters he’s had as a war photographer? The writers need to start showing me, in the present tense, what makes these characters special or interesting, instead of only telling me how wonderful they all consider themselves to be. I want to know what role these supporting characters play in the larger narrative at hand and why I should care about any of them to begin with.
Amani’s characterization and role within the story at large is one issue. Simone is an another issue entirely. Simone, as a character, only exists within this show as of yet to display grief about the death of her sister Kelly. What the writers fail to grasp is that Kelly was an ill-defined character who died after twenty minutes of screentime four episodes ago. I didn’t care about Kelly then because I was never given a reason to and I certainly don’t care about her now, and when the only reason I’m given for caring about Simone is that she was Kelly’s sister, well, that’s just not going to happen. Simone did have what could have otherwise been a compelling subplot in the episode, which sees her and her mother consult a witch doctor after both come to believe that Kelly is trying to commune with them from beyond the grave. The witch doctor kills a chicken, drains its blood on Kelly’s belongings, and sets them ablaze, and after the fire turns blue and seems to speak to Simone and her mother, it extinguishes itself, leaving behind a seared ‘666’ on Kelly’s journal.
What does the ‘666’ on Kelly’s journal mean? Does it mean that Kelly is actually trying to communicate with Simone? And if so, if she communicating from Hell? Or is it the Devil trying to communicate with Simone? And if so, why? Does the Devil want to reach Damien through Simone? I don’t know. But at least I’m intrigued to find out. And that’s something I couldn’t have said about any previous episode of Damien.
Eric enjoys watching and making movies.
Eric Colasante | Contributor