'Strange Angel' episode 06: Cast navigates 'sex magick' and false prophets as they explore ways to manifesting their will
Sexual frustration remains the main theme of the sixth episode of Strange Angel as we dive deeper into Jack's secret dealings with Thelema.
"Master Crowley tells us that the greatest obstacle in manifesting our will... is sexual frustration." That's the line that the Grand Magus at the house of Thelema feeds Jack just before taking his picture in the latest episode of 'Strange Angel', CBS' new period drama that straddles the boundaries between science, morality, sexuality and the dark mysteries of the occult.
In our review of episode 5, we noted how the midway through season 1, the show had begun to lose steam as it put the plot on the back seat to explore the psyche of the characters, most recently through a Peyote fueled trip in the Californian desert that strengthened the bond between Jack and his erratic neighbour Ernest Donovan (Rupert Friend). Episode 6, titled 'The Mystic Circle of the Young Girls', takes us back to the desert - this time with the sober CalTech team - as Jack and the boys pitch tents to set up what would, later on, become the JPROL or 'Jack Parsons Richard Onsted testing Laboratory' (and eventually NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory).
There's a lot of foreshadowing in the opening sequence. Jack jokes to Richard about dropping the 'OR' from the name and just making it JPL. "At least here no one will see us blow ourselves up," says Richard before hanging a sign at the tent that reads "Suicide Club". All of these point ominously towards the tragic end of Jack's life at 37 that occurred after an awry chemical explosion. But the whole affair is soundtracked by an incongruously happy swing tune and it all makes for a very interesting setup.
The overarching theme through the episode, as mentioned earlier, is sexual frustration, with each character dealing with theirs in their own way. In one of the most graphic scenes of the series so far, we see Jack at the Thelema House, seated around a gathering at the center of which is a young woman writhing in ecstasy as the Grand Magus indulges in some ritualistic cunnilingus! Jack is irresistibly drawn to the performance, which is shown through yet another hallucinatory sequence, as Jack's eyes turn green and we hear a low gnarl, symbolizing the animal trapped inside Jack.
Meanwhile, Ernest and his wife Maggi (Elena Satine) are also at the house and we see the couple indulge in some "sex magick" with a young recruit of Thelema.
One of the shows many historical references pop up again, this time in the form of Winston Churchill's announcement of war against Germany. Oddly enough, the announcement is juxtaposed with Ernest and Maggie's ménage à trois, as Jack sits in his car listening to Churchill on the radio.
Immediately after, Jack goes home to his wife Susan (Bella Heathcote) and goes down on her for what is evidently the first time in their marriage (this is 1939 remember!). Susan initially enjoys it, but then draws away, chiding Jack and calling him disgusting. Susan later tries talking to her precocious young sister about sex, but is unable to express her feelings. There's also a revelatory scene in which Susan touches herself in front of the mirror, but again she is interrupted by her own sense of Catholic guilt, also touched upon throughout the show.
Jack and Susan's marriage has now attained the same status quo again, a marriage built on a healthy foundation of lies and deception. Jack has started lying to Susan about the Thelema meetings and even slips a 'love potion' under the bed on the suggestion of the Grand Magus, but Susan finds it accidentally. She takes it back to the pastor at her church, where he warns her that the Bible speaks of "false prophets", who he likens to wolves in sheep's clothing.
This metaphorical reference to the wolf is also shown literally through the magic-realism sequences, ultimately culminating in the closing shot of the episode when Jack transforms into a werewolf and howls at the moon. Jack is also reading a story centered around a werewolf in his 'Amazing Stories' comic book. Richard's faith in the rocketry project is tested in the episode as Jack discovers a letter he's typing to their mentor in Germany, Werner von Braun, who we learn later in the episode is working with the Nazis, much to Richard's disappointment.
Richard's sexual frustrations are exploited by a young charming woman - a fresh recruit at the Thelema house that the Grand Magus (who we'll surely see more of in the coming episodes) employs to help Jack by "restoring Richard's passions."
The woman succeeds in getting Richard excited about the project again and he even scores her phone number. After his disillusionment with Von Braun, it looks like Richard is back on the same page as Jack again, but the strain on their partnership is still visible.
The episode also shows off its period drama sets as we get a glimpse of Maggie's workplace at RKO Studios in Hollywood. Things get tense between the Donovans, as we get to see Maggie's vulnerability and fears of Ernest "exploring" other women through the Thelema circuit. Later in the episode, Maggie gets a hint of Ernest's homosexuality after she watches the film that Ernest shoots out in the desert with the ruse of documenting Jack and the team's experiments. Ernest's film is full of homoerotic shots of Jack and a complicated relationship is now brewing in the show.
Overall, the show is a welcome change from its deliberate pace, even if it comes at the expense of a small jump in the timeline from the previous episode. The character development is much fuller in the episode and branches out to all the key characters instead of just Jack and Ernest. Finally, occultism is playing a much more significant role in the show after the long wait. Aleister Crowley is actually named for the first time and I get a feeling that the graphic "sex magick" scenes are only going to multiply through the rest of the first season. Things are finally rolling along on 'Strange Angel' and the final three episodes should give us a gripping account of the first chapter of Jack's life.
'Strange Angel' is currently streaming on CBS All Access. New episodes are out every Thursday.