Strange Angel episode 9 review: Newer mysteries arise and older ones remain unaddressed as the Parsons hit crossroads
Susan Parsons, and not Jack is the center of the penultimate episode of 'Strange Angel' as we delve deeper into her insecurites with the help of The Grand Magus.
We're almost at the end of the first season of CBS All Access' new biopic 'Strange Angel', with Thursday's episode, titled 'Sacrament of the Ancestors' marking the penultimate episode of the series. So far, 'Strange Angel' has been a show that has spent careful time and given attention to detail while unfolding the plot (at a somewhat patience-testing pace) and the characters, and the tradition continues in episode nine as well. After being teased with several unexplained flashbacks and hallucinatory sequences in earlier episodes, this one, unfortunately, does a rather poor job of tying the ends together, leaving the finale with the tall task of wrapping things up meaningfully within 50 minutes.
The episode opens with a small leap in time since the previous one. Both Jack and Susan are at the Agape house as The Grand Magus, Alfred, delivers his sermon, with a fully naked woman seated n the center of the gathering - something we've grown accustomed to by now. We learn that Jack has dropped out of the CalTech team after the ugly fight between him and Richard in the last episode. But Susan has now been inculcated into the Agape house. Strangely enough, instead of being delighted by this, Jack is somewhat uncomfortable, as he sits with his eyes closed, battling his conflicts in his head. Jack's test of faith is a major theme in the episode, but a bigger focus of the show is Susan, who continues her one-on-one sessions with the Grand Magus.
The last episode suddenly introduced us to a new mystery through Susan's hallucination, where she sees a young girl in Jack's mother's orange grove with a slice of an orange wedged eerily in the little girl's mouth. In this episode, we spend a whole lot of time trying to unravel this mystery during Susan's "sessions" with Alfred. After many failed attempts to get through her, Alfred notes that Susan is ever so "ethereal", concluding that her elemental type must be 'Air'. Later in the episode, he delves deeper into Susan's mind using a mix of his psychoanalytic techniques and occult rituals, wrapping Susan under a thin red cloth until she suffocates with her revelation and bursts forth in tears. Through a cinematic flashback, we learn about Susan's deep-rooted hatred for oranges, which stems from a traumatic childhood experience when her brief teenage romance in the orange groves was cut short violently by her step-father. This revelation adds no immediate value at this point in the show and frankly is a waste of time. Especially so, considering the show has been teasing us constantly with Jack's own childhood and his never-spoken-about relationship with his estranged father, the enigmatic Marvel Parsons (who it seems also flirted with his fair share of occultism). The fact that these secrets are underplayed while we watch Susan's childhood repressions surface is slightly frustrating.
The first half of the episode ends with a shot of Alfred asking Susan, "Why would you be so frightened of yourself?" Somehow, it doesn't really feel like a question that the audience would like to explore at this point, precisely because so many other teasers from previous episodes are still left hanging. To add to the unnecessary additions of new twists while leaving previous knots untied, Susan yet again suffers another hallucination in the episode, this time it is the reflection of a man's shadow in her dressing mirror.
Meanwhile, Jack is at crossroads throughout the episode, embroiled in uncertainty and conflict. He has been offered a promotion at his workplace, the Pueblo Powder Company, and recognizes it as the means to give Susan the life she always wanted. But accepting it might mean abandoning his dreams of putting a rocket on the moon forever. Yet another point of conflict for him is Susan's enthusiasm towards Thelema. All this while, Jack was sour with Susan for her not being accepting of his encounters with the occult and visits to Agape. But now that she's finally a part of it, he suddenly wants her out. His hypocrisy is fueled by a not-so-subtle jealousy of the Grand Magus, who he now fears knows Susan better than he does. We get a good glimpse of the chauvinism of the 40s here. While Jack himself was off selfishly seeking solace from the "high priestesses" of the Agape house just a few episodes ago, he can't stand to picture Susan in the same light as the other promiscuous women in the Order.
While Jack wrestles with his problems, Richard has his own to deal with. Deciding to patch things up with his old friend, he decides to take his new lady love Marisol to dinner with the Parsons. Richard is oblivious to the fact that Marisol and the Parsons know each other through the circles of Thelema and a confrontation with Susan during the dinner reveals that she was put up to the task of seducing Richard by The Grand Magus. Richard ultimately fails in his mission to appease Jack, with the dinner ending on an even sourer note than before, further deepening the divide between the two childhood friends. Later in the episode, there's also a cringe-worthy scene where Richard tries to mathematically prove how Marisol is "the one" for him, before awkwardly professing his love for her. Marisol decides to take Susan's advice and come clean with Richard about the true story of how her first meeting with him was not a coincidence.
After Jack learns at the dinner about how he's been replaced by another superior chemist on the CalTech team, he furiously sets about mixing chemicals in his garage, set to prove that he can do just fine without the CalTech team. Meanwhile, through a series of juxtaposed jump-cuts, we see Ernest in the neighboring house deeply engaged in a ritual as he draws a pentagram on the floor with his own blood - something he explains to Jack as his final step before his "ascension" in The Order. Jack and Ernest take a trek to the hills behind their homes, the spot where they first met. Jack tests his rocket, only to watch it explode mid-flight, yet again. Jack is now left with nothing to fall back on. His belief in science, Thelema, his own abilities are all doubted in one stroke and Ernest yet again plays the rescuer. But this time, Jack suspects that Ernest has been doing this at the behest of The Grand Magus in the hopes of furthering his own "workings". A scuffle ensues as Jack and Ernest wrestle on the ground. The next morning, Ernest is gone but something tells me that we haven't seen the last of him yet.
Jack ultimately tears free of his conflict and makes a decision. He takes the promotion at work, interpreting the failed rocket experiment as a sign that he must abandon his dreams along his journey to "manifest his will". The burden of this decision is seen right after, as he returns home and trashes his garage, wrecking all the material that he's worked on for years and putting it in a pile before setting it on fire. When Susan comes home from the Agape house, she sees her husband on the brink - a man who has lost all faith. This final scene towards the end of the episode is arguably the only pay-off in the episode.
A recurring theme in the episode is "The Grand Beast", something that we have learned over the show is central to the belief system of Thelema. As Jack's life's work burns before his eyes, he ultimately reaches for the Holy Book of Thelema and against Susan's warning, chucks it into the fire. The book burns with an eerie blue flame before crackling into embers that promptly drift off in the wind and land on the roof of the Parsons residence. As Jack scrambles to the roof with a bucket of water, we see the flames take the shape of The Great Beast, it's pawprints marking the tiled roof as its several heads roar with rage. How much of that sequence is symbolic and how much of it is real remains to be seen as we head to the season finale of 'Strange Angel'. Overall, although the episode has its moments, the lows far outweigh them, leaving us with an episode that raises more questions than it answers. Hopefully, the final episode of the season will redeem it by addressing Jack's childhood and his relationship with his father.
Don't miss the season finale of 'Strange Angel' next Thursday, Aug 16 on CBS All Access.