'Strange Angel' episode 8 review: Jack and Richard fall out as Susan confronts the Grand Magus
'Not for one second do I doubt the power of my will. Because I know what's coming. I've seen the future'. Is Jack Parsons on the brink of a breakthrough or just deluded?
In the previous episode of CBS All Access' new period drama biopic 'Strange Angel', we saw Jack being dragged deeper into the world of Thelema and Sex Magick as he is abandoned by Richard and the CalTech team to pursue their own projects. Meanwhile, Susan's concerns about Jack grow after she researches Aleister Crowley and confronts Ernest's wife Maggie, who finally gives up on Ernest and moves away, leaving him to battle his inner demons alone. Finally, thanks to Jack's devout belief in "manifesting his will" and his commendable salesmanship in front of General Braxton, the CalTech rocketry team gets a chance to present their idea to the military honchos in Washington D.C. Richard tells Jack this good news but doesn't share the fact that Jack is not invited to D.C. along with him. In our review of the episode, we speculated that this reveal would further deteriorate the relationship between the best friends turned partners in science, but refreshingly, it does not turn out to be so.
Although the episode does show the harshest point of conflict between Jack and Richard so far, it's not because of Jack not being allowed to go to D.C. In fact, he takes it surprisingly well and the reason why gives us a good idea of how completely lodged Jack is in Thelema and the teachings of Crowley by this point in the show. Episode 8, titled 'The Evocation of the Elders', opens with a curious black-and-white sequence of Richard and his new girlfriend Marisol (who the Grand Magus recruited to help further Jack's pursuits) at the cinema. After several attempts to make contact with Marisol, during a particularly frightening scene in the film that the couple is watching, Marisol flinches and grab's Richard's hand as the shot suddenly bursts into full HD color. It's a deft touch in an episode that is otherwise focused heavily on the narrative and the interplay between the core characters, without much time for cinematic stunts like these.
While Richard is off experiencing a massive culture shock in Washington, back in Los Angeles, Jack continues to slip away from Susan with the marriage now in a state worse than ever before. Jack sleeps in the garage as Susan doesn't let him share her bed until he quits Thelema and his feeble attempts to convince her how the occult has been doing great things for them is brushed off by Susan's church-bred morality and fears. Jack lies to Susan to skip work and go find an extremely drunk Ernest, who is stranded somewhere on a beach at Point Dume.
What was initially supposed to be a recovery mission turns into a full-blown camping trip for the two neighbors, as we see Ernest at his lowest, doubting his faith in Thelema as he battles his conflicting emotions and feelings for Jack. In a quid-pro-quo moment, Jack reinstills Ernest's faith as they lie down and talk by the campfire. As mentioned earlier, this is when Jack reflects on his nonchalance about not being invited to DC. As he tells Ernest, "Richard got to fly up there, above the clouds. Closer to the stars than I've ever been. It should have been me on that plane. But I'll tell you this much: not for one second do I doubt the power of my will. Because I know what's coming. I've seen the future."
Flying is also a recurring motif in the episode, and fittingly for a show that is all about rocketry and reaching beyond the stars. Being set in the 1930s, flying is still a rare thing and we see Richard panicking during his first ever flight although he works with propellers and rockets all the time. Further, in the episode, Ernest secretly takes Jack to an orange orchard with a small two-seater plane parked in the middle, which he promptly hijacks for a joy ride with an absolutely enthralled Jack Parsons. Richard's uneasiness with flying contrasted with Jack's joy is a subtle touch to show who is actually more invested in their once-shared dream of transforming science fiction to actual science.
Meanwhile, Richard is overwhelmed and severely underconfident before his big presentation in Washington. As has been made evident in the show so far, Richard is the sheepish number-cruncher and the brains in the operation whereas Jack is the maverick visionary with the silver-tongued skills of salesmanship. Jack even tells him that much plainly before Richard leaves and even gives him a briefing full of his own illustrations for a society on the moon, believing that the best way to appeal to the military is by using the space race as a symbol of political power. Richard meanwhile, believes that his mission in D.C. is to just present the scientific facts as they stand.
Richard's palpitations are ultimately quelled by a long-distance phone call to Marisol, who, with her coquettish words instills a new confidence in Richard. Richard ultimately pulls off the presentation successfully, repurposing the pitch as a 'jet propulsion' technology to power flights with shorter take-offs. This foreshadows some of what's to come later in the show. Indeed, as the historical facts stand, Jack Parsons is one of the founders of CalTech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
When he comes back to California and tells Jack what he assumes is good news, things take a turn for the worst. Jack admonishes Richard for settling for something so small, accusing him of selling "his idea to the highest bidder" and losing sight of the ultimate goal. Richard hits back by calling him delusional and blames Jack's recent eccentricity on Ernest, who Jack strongly defends at the risk of further alienating Richard.
While all this is happening, a major focus of the show is also on the character of Susan. Completely helpless after Maggie's leaving, she is now desperate to seek any means to get her Jack back from the Thelemite Ordo Templi Orientis and the grip of the occult. After she calls Jack's workplace and finds out that Jack indeed lied to her, she puts up a brave face and decides to visit the Agape Lodge to get her husband back, only to realize that Jack is not there. But this puts her directly face to face with the Grand Magus of the lodge, who immediately starts to seduce her into the cult by playing on her vulnerabilities in his typical, cool, collected manner. Before Susan can even get her point across, he touches her wrist gently and identifies a pain in the joints, which Susan later discovers disappears.
Susan later finds a drawing Jack made of his father Marvel Parsons as she rummages through Jack's stuff in the garage. She decides to confront Jack's mother hoping to find out more about Marvel, who has always been shrouded in mystery and who she thinks has a possible connection to Jack's occult indulgences. Indeed, more than once before, the show has hinted at the fact that Jack's father also dealt with the occult and in this episode, Jack's mother says "Marvel Parsons was born with the devil inside him," further hinting at a flashback in coming episodes that'll hopefully explain things better. Curiously though, in a show that's rife with hallucinatory and dream sequences, this episode features only one and with a major twist: this time, it's Susan (and not Jack, as is usually the case) who hallucinates in her mother-in-law's orchard, seeing a little girl in white with an orange wedged in her mouth. What this means is anybody's guess for now.
Ultimately, Susan returns to the Agape Lodge to confront the Grand Magus yet again, thinking she's better equipped. But yet again, the Grand Magus employs his skills of seduction to disarm Susan. The Grand Magus yet again seeks out Susan's pain, bringing her to the verge of tears. He repeatedly asks her if she's actually there for Jack and each time Susan responds, her convictions are slowly fading thinner. The episode could be a turning point especially for Susan, who it seems is on the brink of getting sucked into Thelema herself. In real life, Jack Parsons was married to Helen Parsons-Smith, who ultimately left him because of her inability to tolerate Jack's polyamory. How the show weaves that line between the fabric of reality and dramatized fiction remains to be seen but something tells me this episode is the first stitch with which it'll address the entire narrative.
Stay tuned for the next episode of 'Strange Angel', which airs on Thursday, August 9 on CBS All Access.