The Ineffable Romance of Good Omens… Four Years, One Pandemic, and Two Hollywood Strikes Later
Alexis Gunderson on the Funny Calm Before a Storm
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Spoilers ahead for Season 2!
I am generally of the opinion that high-concept shows with baked-in conclusions should be allowed—no matter how many new subscribers their splashy premieres net their respective streaming homes—to end with a single-season bang.
Still, even I have to admit: It is extremely funny that Good Omens, one of the best examples of that conclusively high-concept highwire act from the last handful of years, has followed literal Armageddon with a regular, schmegular Season 2.
No new book of prophecies, nice or accurate, clutter the series’ six new episodes, which are now streaming on Prime Video. No return of any number of be-hogged horsemen of any be-deviled apocalypse, no bigger, more flaming heavenly swords. No domesticated demon dogs nipping at the heels of their now-teenaged Antichrist-adjacent master, nor orders of Satanic nuns running a moving screen against the bloodthirsty forces of God. No unearthly agenda at all, in fact, ineffable or infernal. Just the demon Crowley (David Tennant) and the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) more or less playing house, tacitly accommodating their deep emotional partnership as they spend the handful of on-screen hours not devoted to historical meet-cute flashbacks alternately babysitting a dangerously amnesiac Archangel Gabriel (Jon Hamm) and endeavoring to miracle up an unlikely romance between highstreet small business owners Maggie (Maggie Service) and Nina (Nina Sosanya).
If that sounds like so much Good Omens fanfic, you’re not far off. Dipping a toe into Archive of Our Own’s prolific Aziraphale/Crowley tag in the weeks leading up to the streaming series’ Season 2 debut—during which time press had been provided screeners for the first five of the six total episodes—I came across any number of slice-of-life stories that would have felt right at home in the sophomore season. There was a very sweet one about Crowley taking a three-year-long nap in his plant-filled Bentley during the pandemic, inspired by a cutaway shot from the Season 2 trailer, that was so tonally spot on, it had me doing the critic’s version of a double take.
But while AO3 denizens will certainly be chuffed at finding, at least in the gently rambling bulk of this newest season, such a familiar version of Crowley and Aziraphale on their screens, fans of the plot of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s novel on which the Prime Video series is based might feel a bit at sea. After all, both that book and the first season of the streaming adaptation ended with some pretty clear signals that a second Armageddon was on the horizon. The literal legions of Heaven and Hell were armed for war. Agnes Nutter had sent a whole second tome of prophecy forward through the centuries to her however-many-great granddaughter, Anathema, Back to the Future: Part III-style. Crowley and Aziraphale had made themselves official thorns in their respective sphere’s backsides by switching bodies for a day to avoid permanent obliteration. Things were just getting spicy.It is extremely funny that Good Omens has followed literal Armageddon with a regular, schmegular Season 2.
And now here’s Season 2, four years, one global pandemic, and two Hollywood Guild strikes later, concerning itself with the tedious machinations of plot only insofar as co-showrunners Neil Gaiman and Douglas Mackinnon recognize that Crowley and Aziraphale need at least some scaffolding upon which to hang out and flirt. (Well, hang out and alternately slink/dither, which for those two amounts to pretty much the same thing.)
This isn’t to say there aren’t gestures, in the first five episodes, at something bigger—chief among them some kind of secret, existence-endangering celestial plot, heralded by the buck-naked arrival of an empty-headed Gabriel in the season premiere. But what threads ostensibly tie that arc to The Next Big Story are easier to lose track of than not. Or at least that’s the case for the first five episodes. (There’s a reason, it turns out, Amazon elected to withhold the finale from press screeners in advance of the premiere. But more on that in a moment.)
Take, for example, the earthly matchbox that mysteriously shows up in Heaven in Episode 1, a passage from the book of Job inscribed on its side, seeming for all the world like it must tie to Gabriel’s story in some way. Archangels Michael (Doon Mackichan) and Uriel (Gloria Obianyo) barely spend two episodes half-investigating the Earthly artifact before passing the whole business off to Muriel (Quelin Sepulveda), the naïve-but-eager 37th-order scrivener who originally found it. But while Muriel’s plan to go undercover makes for a charming Episode 3, it quickly becomes clear that she’s introduced as early as she is not to serve as an effective investigative tool in The Gabriel Matter, but rather to set up one more domino in the run that comes crashing down on Crowley and Aziraphale at the end of Episode 6.
Similarly sketchy is the mysteriously omnipresent “Everyday” (Buddy Holly, 1957), which arrives in Episode 2 in a promising one-two punch. The song technically is the pin that pulls together The Gabriel Matter in the season finale, but it also fizzles out as a driving concern in Aziraphale’s season-long investigation. And so on with Shax’s (Miranda Richardson) dimly ambitious hordes of hell, and with the failure-to-launch romance between Maggie and Nina, and with the spookily accurate statuary featuring Gabriel’s face that Aziraphale finds in a Scottish cemetery and then almost immediately forgets about once presented with the possibility that Crowley’s very existence might be under threat.
Because that’s the thing—no matter what else a second season of Good Omens could have ginned up as possibly, maybe, theoretically to be going on in Heaven, Hell, or the rest of the whole damned world, the only story that really matters is the one between Aziraphale and Crowley. Neil Gaiman is very much on the record about having set out to create an eons-deep love story between one book-loving angel and one plant-loving demon. So the idea that he and Season 2 co-writer John Finnemore might have gone out of their way to shine their spotlight on that romance in the celestial couple’s long-awaited return makes every lick of sense. Just as it makes sense, given the massive swell of fan (and critic) love for the 28-minute cold open to the third episode of the first season, that the bulk of this newest season’s episodes feature extended “minisode” flashbacks to Crowley and Aziraphale’s many, many millennia becoming each other’s person.Fans of the plot of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s novel on which the Prime Video series is based might feel a bit at sea.
The angel and the demon having a dinner party while torturing and then delivering Job? The demon and the angel exchanging existential philosophies while delivering and then failing grave-robbing Victorian street urchin? The angel and the demon mucking about with amateur sleight-of-hand stage magic at the height of the Blitz while evading Nazi zombies? Don’t mind if we do! Sure, these minisodes break up the narrative momentum of The Gabriel Matter—and sure, it leaves vanishingly little time for the audience to get to know Maggie and Nina well enough to care about either of them as characters, never mind as potential romantic endgame. But what the first part of this season may lack in a coherent mystery-box organizing principle, it makes up for in Tennant and Sheen’s but what if we were ineffably in love? scenery chewing.
Which is all why it is so effectively devastating when the screw turns in the last act of the finale and Metatron (Derek Jacobi) presents Aziraphale with an offer that he can’t (but absolutely should) refuse—not despite all the preceding episodes being so plot-light and fan-fictiony, but because of it. The cozy, contained life that Crowley and Aziraphale had built together after the first Armageddon (and before that, eons of pretending to just barely tolerate each other) was the rug that tied the Good Omens room together. And Metatron’s offer was Gaiman well and truly pulling it.
That Gaiman—here with Finnemore and Mackinnon, but with Pratchett long beforehand—had a Second Coming up his sleeve all along isn’t surprising. And not just because the first season (and book!) ended with the arrival of a second volume of Nutter prophecies. This season, after all, opens with Aziraphale bursting Crowley’s nebula-creating bubble by reminding him that The Great Plan calls for the whole thing getting shut down in another six thousand years, and that, pretty as it is, the universe itself is mainly just meant to keep the “humans” on “Earth” dazzled in the meantime. (“Oh but that’s nothing!” Crowley exclaims in genuine bafflement and hurt, the seeds of Heavenly disillusionment visibly taking root. “The engines won’t even have properly warmed up by then!”) Gaiman and Pratchett, infamously, had gamed out a story for a sequel they never got to write. The bigger celestial plot was always just waiting to take the stage.
But Gaiman, facing the wide-open runway of an ending left by the original, officially un-sequeled novel, hasn’t used this second season as a landing pad for that long-planned Second Coming. Instead, propelled by the heady composite jet fuel of fan love and critical acclaim, he’s used it as a kind of plot-agnostic emotional thermal for the audience to ride alongside Aziraphale and Crowley. Never mind the literal mystery (match)box set up in the season premiere—the point of these six swift episodes was never for viewers to follow the pair down investigative rabbit holes and piece together quirky but important capital-C Clues. The point was to watch Crowley and Aziraphale’s connection deepen, not just today but throughout the history of creation, and, as a result, to grow ever more invested in it—even as we know that on the other side of that thermal is the dangerous, sinking pressure that presages a calamitous storm.
Which, if you’ve made it all the way through the emotional drop at the end of Episode 6, is exactly where the Good Omens team has left off.
So okay, Amazon. We know Gaiman’s got a Season 3 Apocalypse ready to go. The writers and actors are waiting for you to get back to the negotiating table to make a fair deal. The ball is in your court.
Season 2 of Good Omens is streaming now on Prime Video.