Good Omens Review

  • Series Title: Good Omens
  • Season: Mini-Series
  • Episodes: 6
  • Discs: 2 (Blu-Ray)
  • Network: Amazon Prime / BBC
  • Cast: Michael Sheen, David Tennant, Frances McDormand, Sam Taylor Buck, Adria Arjona, Michael McKean, Miranda Richardson, Bill Paterson, Jack Whitehall
  • DVD: Widescreen Blu-ray (R1, NTSC)

This review contains spoilers for Good Omens.

Good Omens is a 6-episode mini-series adaption of the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. The series follows Aziraphale (an angel) and Crowley (a demon) for 6000 years, though the vast majority of the series focuses on the last 11 years before the End of the World. Though Aziraphale and Crowley are meant to watch over and prepare humanity for the coming apocalypse, the two become comfortable in their respective positions and even become friends. And the series really does emphasize the friendship between two people who are, by definition, very different.

After the introduction of Aziraphale and Crowley, we see Crowley deliver the Anti-Christ to a convert of demonic nuns who are supposed to see he is substituted for the child of a spoiled, rich, American ambassador. However, another couple arrives at the convent hospital the same night. In a sequence illustrated with 3-card monte, the baby is delivered to the wrong couple and the Anti-Christ is raised by a typical English couple in Tadfield. The couple name their child, whom they don’t know is the anti-christ, Adam. The wealthy, privileged American couple, at Crowley’s suggestion, name their child Warlock. For 11 years, Crowley and Aziraphale look in on occasion on Warlock, not realizing that things have Gone Horribly Wrong.

It isn’t until Adam/Warlock’s 11th birthday that Crowley and Aziraphale realize something has gone wrong when the promised Hellhound never arrives at Warlock’s photo op with his adoptive parents. Meanwhile, Adam is playing in the woods with his three friends, when a dog approaches them. Adam wants to keep the dog, despite his own (adoptive) parents having previously told him he can’t have a pet. He names the Hellhound, Dog. And thus, the hellhound rather than being vicious and scary is a small black and white dog that’s loyal to Adam, but would never hurt anyone. This also starts the countdown to the end of the world.

Crowley and Arizaphale figure this out, decide they like their jobs on Earth, and they each have no desire to “serve” in Heaven’s or Hell’s final fight to the death after the Earth is destroyed. Most of the rest of the series involves their trying to prevent the apocalypse. But considering they don’t even know who the Anti-Christ is, they aren’t having much luck.

Meanwhile, Though Shalt-Not-Commit-Adultery Pulsifer, gets ready to burn a witch in 1600-hundreds England. When he and his crowds appear at her door, she accuses him of being late. When she’s burned Pulsifer and his crowds are destroyed in an explosion because Agnes, as we learn later, had loaded herself with gunpowder and small metal objects like nails and pins. Agnes was a prophet and wrote her prophecies down in a book, that is handed down among the women of her family. But unlike most books of prophecy, Agnes’ prophecies are always accurate, if at times hard to understand. The current owner of the book is Anathema Device. She travels to England from San Francisco to prevent the end of the world. She arrives in Tadfield, meets Adam, and his friends, and even meets Shalt-Not-Commit-Adultery Pulsifer’s decedent, Newton – who by chance had been recruited into the Witchfinder Army by Shadwell, the sergeant-general.

All the characters converge and things start happening. But in the end, after feeling his power, Adam (along with Newton and Anathema) rejects it, decides to stop the end of the world (his friends influence him in this) and he even rejects Satan (his father). Crowley and Arizaphale are to be punished for “not doing their jobs” by their respective bosses, but find a unique way to get out of it.

But really, that is plot – what this series is really about is a friendship, a strong friendship between Crowley and Arizaphale. And it’s also, in the end about more romantic relationships especially Newton and Anathema and Shadwell and Madame Tracy (the madam/psychic/etc who has the apartment below his). Despite what could be dark subject matter – the series has a lighter touch. I read the novel years ago, and remember it being more funny, but I enjoyed how the series presented the story. I recommend this mini-series.

Outlander Season 1 Vol. 2 Review (Spoilers)

  • Series Title: Outlander
  • Season: 1 Vol 2.
  • Episodes:  8
  • Discs:  2
  • Network:  Starz/BBC
  • Cast:  Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies, Bill Paterson, Graham McTavish, Douglas Henshall, Laura Donnelly
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC)

This second DVD set for Outlander picks-up where the first set cliff-hanger left off. Jamie manages to rescue Claire from the clutches of Black Jack Randall. They return to the MacKenzie’s castle but all is not well. The MacKenzie discovers that Dougal has been raising money for a rebellion against the English king and in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite cause. The MacKenzie is not happy about it. Dougal is banished, and Jamie’s ordered to see to it that Dougal leaves MacKenzie lands. Jaime warns Claire to stay out of trouble – and to stay away from Geillis, the local healer and Dougal’s secret mistress. Claire, however, is tricked to visit Geillis and the two are accused of witchcraft. Ned Gowen attempts to legally get Geillis and Claire free, but the trial turns against them. Claire learns that Geillis is also a time-traveler – from 1968. As Claire is from 1945 or ’46 – Geillis is from her future. Ned urges Claire to turn on Geillis but she refuses. Jaime arrives to rescue Claire, and Geillis sacrifices herself so the two can leave. Knowing that they cannot return to the MacKenzie clan castle, Jaime and Claire head to Lallybrook – the Fraser clan castle. Jamie finds his sister, Jenny, married and pregnant with her second child. Everything is going fine at the Fraser castle when the Watch arrives. Even with the brigands in the castle, things seem fine, until Jamie is forced into a position to agree to help with their raid. The raid is a trap – Jamie is captured by the British, and most of the gang are killed. First Claire and Jenny try to find Jamie, then Jenny returns to her castle and her new-born baby daughter, and Claire works with the MacKenzies to rescue her husband. Although they save him from being hanged, it isn’t before Jack Randall finds him first and tortures him. Once Jamie begins to recover from his ordeal, he and Claire head to France on a ship.

Although disc one of this set was a bit slow, I flew through disc two. I sat down to watch one episode this morning – and ended up finishing the entire disc (between a few short breaks for meals and such). “Wentworth Prison” and “To Ransom a Man’s Soul” the last two episodes of the set, are intense and definitely R-rated. Captain Black Jack Randall not only tortures Jamie physically – but mentally, not simply raping him, but using his power to get Jamie to submit to sex that isn’t exactly forced – though it is, because Jamie is a prisoner, and his submission to everything Jack wants is the price for Claire’s safety and freedom. Jack expertly moves from harming Jamie to caring for him, but it isn’t a surprise that a bit of Stockholm Syndrome sets in. (As Claire’s from the mid-1940s I’m not sure she would know the term. She seems confused by her husband’s suicidal depression even after he’s rescued and she cares for his worst physical injuries.) Claire is determined to rescue her husband from his melancholy, however, and her determination eventually wins the day.

Outlander is a series where the women, though few and far between (other than Claire who’s the pov character) are very strong. Jenny Fraser Murray is extremely strong – not only strong-willed in dealing with her brother and her husband but running the Fraser estate, and even riding off with Claire to find Jamie within days of giving birth. Jenny’s an admirable character – and she’s a realistic look at how women needed to be strong in such hard times as 1700s Scotland. Geillis is also strong, knowing she’s going to die anyway, she sacrifices herself so Claire can escape. Geillis chooses her own fate, knowing she has no way out. By her sacrifice, Claire is allowed to escape with Jamie. And Claire, now fully in love with Jamie, purposely chooses to be with him, when he takes her to the standing stones. Claire is also a bit more free with her story, telling Jamie who she is and more importantly when she’s from. Jamie, in turn, tells his sister that Claire might “tell her things, things that seem impossible – listen to her”. Claire discovers this when she tells Jenny to “Plant potatoes, sell off excess land for gold, and that famine is coming.” Claire even tells her entire story to a Franciscan brother. And she uses her reputation as a witch to threaten Black Jack Randall – cursing him and telling him the date of his death. These slips Claire makes seem very dangerous – we’ll see if they catch up with her.

Overall, Outlander is an excellent show. It’s beautifully shot, with excellent music, and a fine cast (many familiar Scottish actors make appearances such as Bill Paterson and Douglas Henshall.) I will keep an eye out for future seasons on DVD. I don’t get Starz on my satellite system, so I can’t watch the show as it airs – but I do intend to buy season 2 whenever it becomes available.

Read my review of Outlander Season 1 Volume 1.

Outlander Season 1 Vol. 1 (Spoilers)

  • Series Title: Outlander
  • Season: 1 (DVD set is Vol. 1)
  • Episodes:  8
  • Discs:  2
  • Network:  Starz/BBC
  • Cast:  Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies, Bill Paterson, Graham McTavish, Gary Lewis, Annette Badland
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC)

I read the book Outlander in the late 80s/early 90s sometime, and although I liked it – I didn’t love it. So much so, that, though I had gotten the first three or four books as a set from a book club (I don’t remember which one – it was either Book of the Month Club, Ladies Literary Guild, or the SF & Fantasy Bookclub). Anyway, I read the first book but not the rest in the set.  Diana Gabaldon’s book series has now swelled to eight books.

Claire Randall is a World War II combat nurse who returns home after VE Day to her husband, Frank, who had worked for the OSS during the War, and thus stayed home in London. They head for Scotland for their second honeymoon – and Claire disappears. Claire has been transported by the standing stone ring back to Scotland in 1743.  In Scotland, Claire has to use her wits as well as her knowledge of herbal medicine and botany to survive.

When Claire first arrives in 18th-century Scotland she is attacked and nearly raped by an English Redcoat, named Capt. John Randall – known as Black Jack. He looks exactly like her husband, Frank, and Claire knows he’s one of Frank’s ancestors. However, he’s also a sadistic bastard, basically. His attempts to capture and rape Claire become a re-occurring theme in the first eight episodes.

Claire is rescued by a Highlander named, Jamie, who takes her to the MacKenzie castle. Claire uses her skills as a nurse, and knowledge of botany and herbal medicines to become the clan’s new healer. She hopes to escape and return to the standing stones and return to her own time and husband. But in the meantime she becomes involved in the Jacobite (supporters of the Catholic Stuart King of England – the one who lost) intrigue, castle life, and feels a connection to Jamie, though, at first, there is very little romance.

After the first four episodes, which set up the basic plot and setting, Claire is taken by Dougal to help collect the rents on MacKenzie lands. She meets Ned Gowen, a lawyer, who keeps the books and writes receipts for the taxes. She witnesses the Scottish people paying not just in coin but in kind (chickens, grain, goats, pigs, etc – all live). She also witnesses Dougal raising additional “unofficial” cash, using Jaime’s horribly-scarred back to shock the locals into giving. Jaime had been flogged, twice, by Black Jack Randall. Initially, Claire is outraged – thinking Dougal is lining his own pockets. She eventually learns they are raising money in support of the Stuart king and Jacobite rebellion. Once she learns this, Claire tries to convince Dougal his cause is doomed. He takes that to mean she’s a loyal British spy.

Claire is then captured, interrogated, and nearly raped (again) by British Redcoats, and Black Jack. Since she keeps her mouth shut about what she knows, the MacKenzies trust her more. To protect her from the British, Dougal decides to “make her Scottish” and has her marry Jamie – who reveals his last name is Fraser. (We’d known from the beginning that “MacTavish” was a nom de guerre that he was using because he was a wanted man.) Shortly thereafter, Black Jack Randall kidnaps her again (just as she had approached the standing stones) – she manages to do all right in her interrogation, until Jack brings up “the Duchess” – which is a mistake, as the Duke was never married (she’d correctly guessed, from her husband’s Frank Randall’s discussion of his work and research, that a certain Duke protected Black Jack), then he’s attacking her, again, rips her dress off, again, and attempts to rape her. Claire’s situation seems dire – when Jamie appears in the window.

Outlander looks gorgeous! Scotland is beautiful. The costumes are wonderful, yet very realistic. I liked that Claire is not a Hollywood-styled beauty either. She’s somewhat plain-looking. Not unattractive, but very normal. I also really liked that Outlander doesn’t portray history in black-and-white. Both the Scots and the English do horrible things to each other. Claire is suitably appalled at the brutality of the time. She’s also drawn to Jamie, but in volume 1 she also wants to return to her husband in 1945. And Claire is something of a historical artifact herself. One gets the feeling that if she stepped through her standing stones and arrived in 2015 – she’d feel just as confused and out of place as she does in 1743. Even her nursing skills would be out of date.

Outlander is, in many ways, built like a bodice-ripping romance novel. However, rather than having a character from 1743 acting and thinking like a modern woman, Claire Randall (Beauchamp) Fraser is a modern woman who accidentally wanders in to the past. Also, the past isn’t romanticised (that much), and the author treats history as something that is full of grey, not a simple “we’re right/they’re wrong” duality. In Outlander, it’s people who are good, bad, or in between – not the sides of the battlefield they represent.

This series started a bit slow, but, like a good “page-turner” novel, the pacing picks up more and more – and I watched the last four episodes over a weekend. It definitely has the feel of a novel for the screen. I highly recommended it, and I definitely plan on buying Volume 2.

Trivia:  Yes, Diana Gabaldon based her Scottish Highlander, Jaime, on the Second Doctor’s Companion, Jaime, on Doctor Who. She even mentions it in the behind-the-scenes extra feature on disc 1.

Additional Trivia:  Annette Badland and Bill Paterson both appeared in Doctor Who – in Boom Town and Victory of the Daleks, respectively. Bill Paterson also appeared in Law and Order: UK as a Crown Prosecutor (lawyer).