'Strange Angel' episode 07: Jack submits to sex magick
Jack submits to sex magick, Susan fears the worst while Ernest battles with his innermost demons in an episode that sets the perfect launchpad for the climax of the show
For fans who've been patiently waiting for the deliberately paced exposition of CBS' 'Strange Angel' for the last two months, the pay off has finally arrived in the form of episode seven, aptly titled 'Glorification of the Chosen One'. The 'chosen one' that the title speaks of is, of course, rocket scientist and occultist Jack Parsons (Jack Reynor), the main subject of the period drama biopic, who in this episode is finally inducted fully into the LA chapter of Aleister Crowley's Thelema cult. The plot of 'Strange Angel' thus far through the season has been like a lit fuse of Jack's many rockets: slowly burning with an anticipatory hiss, signaling the arrival of a big bang in the finale.
The prologue of the latest episode, penned by John Lopez and directed by Meera Menon ('Farah Goes Bang', 'Equity') begins with a deep sense of foreboding. It jumps between alternate shots of Susan (Bella Heathcote) researching Aleister Crowley and his religious cult of Thelema at the local library and shots of Jack indulging in a graphic scene of sex magick with a 'high priestess' of Thelema. As Susan's finally starts to get a hint of what her husband has gotten into, Jack's faith in Thelema and its ability to help "manifest his will" deepens as he is finally indoctrinated among its ranks, but at the cost of losing his loved ones - a theme that is explored further in the episode as well.
Early in the episode, Jack's rocketry project seems to have hit a wall yet again, this time because of Richard (and the rest of the CalTech team) abandoning him to pursue his other project with propellers. Jack continues with his pursuit nonetheless, with Ernest (Rupert Friend) at his side to document his tests. There is a tense scene where we see Jack with a detonator in his hands reciting a passage from The Holy Books in Thelema, which further goes on to show his unwavering faith in the cult that Ernest introduced him to in the first place. Ernest has now slowly been taking Richard's place in Jack's life and the rift between Jack and Richard which was hinted at a couple of episodes ago takes full effect this time around.
The historical references in the period drama continue to flourish, this time with a touch of fine subtlety. Jack and Richard's mentor at CalTech, Professor Filip Mesulam (Rade Serbedzija) receives a package with the Nazi seal on it, presumably from his family in Europe. The package reveals two candles with a hidden note inside written in Hebrew. As the candles burn, items of jewelry start melting out of the wax. Although we're never told what the letter says, Mesulam's reaction is enough to imply that his loved ones are now either inside or on their way to a concentration camp.
Mesulam's character takes a curious turn in the episode. After watching Jack's films documenting his rocket tests, in a moment of vulnerability, he shares a personal anecdote with Jack about his youth and how he was refused a chair at the University back in Europe because there were "too many Jewish professors on the board" (another reference to the onset of war in Europe). After being Jack's hardest critic throughout the show, he finally sympathizes with Jack and shares a few mathematical equations with him that theoretically confirm Jack's efforts with solid fuels. But he also warns Jack that without Richard, he would be like a car "with gas pedal, but no brake."
Jack's frustrations with Richard ultimately take him to an emergency session with a high priestess at the house of Thelema. Now obsessed with "manifesting his will", he kneels in front of her as she cuts her palm and mixes her blood with a concoction of strange powdered substances and wine. After he takes a sip, we get to see the first and only hallucinatory sequence of the show (now almost a staple in almost all episodes). It's a spellbinding CGI sequence that ultimately culminates into an outward pan of the solar system starting from the sun, past the Earth and to the moon, all timed beautifully to the sounds of the ecstatic moans of the high priestess. The final vision that wakes Jack from his sex magick reverie is that of an astronaut planting a flag with the Nazi Swastika on the moon.
Fueled by this new revelation, Jack sets off to manifest his will by breaking into the highly exclusive Athenaeum Club on CalTech's campus. Jack finds Professors Mesulam and Tillman in conversation with General Braxton (Karl Makinen), who plays a significantly large role in funding some of CalTech's programs in light of the war efforts. With his newfound confidence bordering almost on arrogance, Jack sweet-talks Braxton by appealing to his political sentiments. There's another moment of foreshadowing here. "Going to the moon is not just a scientific inevitability," Jack tells Braxton. "It's a strategic necessity. Forget about Europe. Up there is the future. And the first nation to plant their flag on its surface will be the greatest superpower the world has ever seen. Now do you want that flag to have the Swastika or the Stars n Stripes?"
As per the show's timeline, Jack's premonition comes a full 30 years before America finally placed the first man on the moon to win the space race and claim its title as a global superpower (using rockets developed on Jack's early prototypes). Meanwhile, while Jack is off chasing his dream, Susan is left with a tough choice after learning about the depravities of Thelema. She decides to go over to Maggie's to discuss her fears, armed with a jug of gin and lemonade. We get to see Maggie's vulnerability fully fleshed out in the scene, as she warns Susan that it's much worse than she thinks, telling her about what actually goes on during the sex magick sessions at the Thelema House. She warns Susan that Jack is still not too deep in, unlike Ernest, and that it's not too late to pull him out, leaving Susan with the dreaded option of fleeing or confronting Jack.
Maggie also soon after confronts Ernest about his homoerotic leanings towards Jack, but he shuts her out. Later in the episode, Ernest follows someone who looks just like Jack to a gay bar. Things get tense when the police arrive for a regular stop as we are reminded of the intolerance of homosexuality in the early 20th century. There is a particularly gripping moment when Ernest comes to terms with his own identity as he rebelliously shatters a glass on the police inspector's head, only to be beaten bloody and arrested. After bailing him out and nursing Ernest's wounds Maggie ultimately makes her choice and leaves him. Susan sees her leaving and is now more distraught than ever.
When Jack finally returns home, he sees the newspaper clippings about Crowley and realizes that Susan knows what he's been up to. The marriage is now completely fractured, with nothing to hide anymore, which is realized as Jack stands outside Susan's door profusely apologizing, but to no avail. Finally, thanks to Jack's confident display at the Athenaeum, Richard is forced to move back to the rocketry team, which is now funded by the military. When he comes to tell Jack about the good news, he finds his friend sleeping in the garage because of his 'marital issues'. When Richard tells Jack about the good news, it only strengthens his devotion in Thelema as he believes that it was the high priestess' magick that changed Braxton's mind. He tells a confused Richard that he willed this moment into existence with an almost scary fervor.
The fuse is indeed about to hit the powder keg very soon on 'Strange Angel' and the episode lays out a lot of groundwork and context that could possibly set the stage in further seasons (if the show does get renewed) to explore Jack's ultimate meeting and friendship with the likes of Aleister Crowley and L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. Tensions are high as Jack slowly alienates himself from his loved ones to blindly walk the path of Thelema, which he now believes is the key to realizing his dreams. The episode has set the perfect cliff for the climax that is to follow in the final three episodes of the season.
On the next episode of 'Strange Angel', titled 'Evocation of the Elders', we get to explore Jack's deceased father's involvement with the occult as things between him and Richard further turn sour. Also, Susan finally meets the Grand Magus and makes her decision to fight or flee. Catch the next episode on Thursday, August 2 on CBS All Access.