goodomens

Living on the edge of the unknown

“If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that life can change completely in a single second.”

So I responded to an upset eighteen year old Canadian as we sped towards Lyon airport, the sun setting to the right of us, the long shadows of an unknown future striding to catch us from behind.

Two hours ago we had been told that everyone had to leave Taize. In a split second we had accepted an invitation to evacuate to England, our common colonising ancestor. After a stressful hour six of us had booked tickets for the only two flights we could find, for 2pm the next day. We had packed our belongings in 10 minutes, and now we were rushing to make it to the airport before France went into lockdown and the rumours of closed borders, unknown restrictions, and cancelled flights became reality.

Even as I spoke those words I was aware they were pretentious, patronizing and rather idiotic. I was also aware they were true.

Using up my last euros at the airport…

We constantly live on the edge of uncertainty. Some of us have had more reason to be aware of this than others. For as long as I can remember I have known I will not have my mum forever, and yet that split second phone call during my lunch break at work when I heard she had a mass in her pancreas still changed everything.

For as long as I can remember I’ve devoured books where dramatic things happen. Kids die too young; people are wounded in battle; last minute inheritances save the day; all is lost and all is rescued over and pver again. Yet I still remember exactly where I was when I found out that my ten year old friend had died suddenly from an undiagnosed brain tumour.

In the weeks leading up to my travels I chose not to dwell on my hopes and excitement because I knew that life is rarely smooth and expectations often go unmet. Still, the last thing I expected was a pandemic, and the hours that preceded our hasty departure will be remembered for a while.

I don’t know how my story will end, but after a sleepless 30 hours spent watching as flight after flight was cancelled and wondering if mine was next while praying the UK would not close its borders before I got in, I am currently enjoying a happy interlude.

Isn’t this stunning? There are times out on the moors when I feel God has given me eternity in the space of a few seconds.

My days are filled with sharing household responsibilities between the five of us; watching TV; knitting; Taize style prayers; walking on the desolate moors; and reading. It’s a dreamlike existence. Each morning I am beyond thankful to have a place to stay thanks to a generous friend (and their generous family) and each evening I am beyond thankful to hear that my family in Australia are still well and healthy.

At times I feel like I’ve entered an Enid Blyton book. I love moss so so much; it makes me so happy you wouldn’t believe.

I don’t know what will happen once the UK emerges from lock down and we come out of quarantine. I don’t think anyone does. The world will never be the same, and so I wait and watch and pray. I hope the lays of Europe will settle in beneficial lines for me, but I do not know.

A pastoral scene

Each of us, all the time, live precariously. It’s easy to forget this. To forget just how quickly the world can be remade, to forget how easily all the future can be undone. We are but dust and ashes, and so, so fragile. All this pandemic has done is pull back the veil a little. Right now everyone of us is being confronted with the reality of our existence simultaneously: It is uncertain. It is unknown. It is terrifying.

And so what? Do we sit and wait around for the world to end in either a bang or a whimper? Do we throw in the towel, or begin to cotton wool our nests against an apocalypse? You could. People do. But isn’t there a better way?

So many times in those chaotic few days I thought I’d never reach Yorkshire. In the first few days after I arrived I still felt like it would all be snatched away. It still could, but that’s in God’s hands, not mine.

Everything has changed, but nothing has changed. I find this really comforting. Life always was uncertain, always has been terrifying. What this pandemic does is give us the opportunity to see clearly and to decide how we will respond. Not just to the current crisis, but to the remainder of our unstable lives.

God was the answer when life seemed safe, and he remains the answer know we know it is not.

I feel utterly and entirely spoilt. God did not have to send me off to quarantine to such a place as this – and I am so, so grateful.

And so we march on. Wavering on the precipice of eternity, hands held out to Jesus. For this minute I am alive, and all the other minutes have been woven carefully into the very material of the universe by a Master Craftsman. What is unknown to me is known by He who knows me and makes himself known.

For now, that is enough.

Only in Britain..

Reading:

Making Money, a discworld novel – Terry Pratchett

Thomas Clarkson’s  award-winning (and literally world changing) “An essay on the slavery and commerce of the human species, particularly the African” (1785)

The wrath of a loving God, unravelling a Biblical conundrum – Br John of Taize

Sel. From Martin Luther’s Table talk

Various fan fictions and online meta analyses.

… I also watched North and South for the first time. Seemed appropriate given the locale (I’m living in the North now). I know everyone seems to love it, but… I just couldn’t deal with the romance. On what basis do they love each other? They’ve never even had a proper conversation. It drove me up the wall.

Our rewatch of Good Omens and Doctor Who was much more enjoyable. And also appropriate given Eccleston is northern?

And credit for the title goes to the Star Trek episode “the city of the edge of forever”. Likewise, credit for the second title in the previous post goes to Gabriel Marquez’s Love in the time of the cholera.

Lastly, T. S. Elliot owns “a bang or a whimper” and his poem is absolutely stunning: https://msu.edu/~jungahre/transmedia/the-hollow-men.html

Review: Good Omens (2019)

[PS: This is obviously not travel-related. Just something I thought I should post as I tie up loose ends. Incidentally (or not) I will be reading Good Omens (book) on the plane.] 

TV series |6 episodes | Amazon Prime

Based on the eponymous novel by Neil Gaimen and (the late) Sir Terry Pratchett

Good Omens

What would happen if the angel guarding the gate of Eden, and the serpent who tempted Eve were flung down to earth and spent six thousand years together?

What would happen if they both discovered they rather liked humanity and the world in general?

What would happen if they became friends?

Good Omens, that’s what. Good Omens (starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant) follows an angel (Aziraphale) and demon (Crowley) pair as they attempt to avert the impending apocalypse and save the world, all while keeping their actions hidden from their respective bosses.

Joining them is an eleven year old Antichrist and his gang of precocious friends; a witch tasked with bearing a book of (true) prophecies; the klutzy descendant of a witch killer; a still-in-active-service witch-hunter; a middle-aged lady of questionable morals; the four horsemen of the apocalypse; a hell-hound named Dog; some vengeful demons; some up-tight arch-angels; and a black Bentley.

What could possibly go wrong?

VERDICT: A fun look at the end of the world through the eyes of a demon and angel pair who are intent on saving humanity. A cluttered cast, but enough chemistry and twists to make it worth watching.

 

What I liked

Enemies to Friends

I love the ‘enemies to friends’ trope. I love seeing unlikely duos overcoming their differences to fight on the same side, and even respect and like each other. It makes for good characterization and interesting plot developments, and was done really well here. David Tennant and Michael Sheen have great chemistry. 

Perhaps more importantly, the angel and demon retain enough of their respective ancestry to keep the viewer unsure. The demon really is selfish and at times awful, the angel really is trying to help people and be kind – and this leads to inevitable clashes. Yet at the same time, they have each rubbed off onto each other over the millennia which adds another unexpected element to the mix. It’s hard to preempt their actions which keeps things interesting. 

Let’s alter the source material

I really enjoy adaptations. I find conspiracy theories fascinating. I love the extra challenge of discerning what is true and what is false; what has changed and what remains the same. In this case the ‘source material’ is as old as time: the biblical story itself.

Is it an accurate retelling? Of course not! The facts of the biblical account are shamelessly altered to fit the story. I think this can enable those who know the original account to look at it through new lenses, which is always helpful. I also think it can be very harmful when people take Good Omens at face value, assuming it to be a correct representation. But then again, that sort of un-discerning consumption is always unhelpful. 

Of the top of my head, alterations (from evangelical canon) include:

  • The serpent is a demon named Crawly (later Crowley) who didn’t really know what he was doing
  • The angel at the east gate (Aziraphale) gives away his flaming sword to Adam and Eve to protect them
  • Holy Water is a Thing, capable of destroying demons
  • Angels and demons alike are fallible. They can both be violent, petty and out-of-touch with humanity
  • God is a female and appropriately (for plot purposes) removed and distant
  • The Antichrist is Satan’s actual son

good-omens-episode-3-crucifixion-1

[Aziraphale and Crowley watching the crucifixion]

What I didn’t like

It didn’t go far enough

I think Good Omens played it a bit safe. I understand why – political correctness; not wanting to alienate a section of the audience; plot purposes. But it could have been so much more!

We see this in a fascinating conversation about whether “The Great Plan” (which all the heavenly and hellish principalities know) and the “Ineffable Plan” (which only God knows) are actually the same, and whether all these beings are actually working for God or just themselves.

Unfortunately this helpful critique is smashed to the ground by the heavy-handed exchange that follows:

Gabriel: God does not play games with the universe.

Crowley: Where have you been?

Ultimately Good Omens uses some biblical motifs but that’s it. It’s not a sustained critique, or even a satire or parody. Which is fine… but it lingers on the border between the two camps long enough that this feels disappointing.

Still, one point I find particularly interesting is that Tracey has to “give up” being a “fallen woman” in order to get her redemption. Which seems a bit more aligned with orthodoxy than the series’ affirmation that “being human” is better than being good or evil. 

Plot over characters

The relationship between Aziraphale and Crowley lies at the heart of Good Omens, to the extent that when they are not on screen, the plot drags. There are too many characters, they often come across as a bit caricatured, and everyone knows the world isn’t really going to end.

The final episode taps into this when it resolves the “end of the world” plot halfway through, and then spends thirty minutes tidying up Aziraphale and Crowley’s future and relationship.

Unfortunately, there were some times when the plot got directly in the way of characterization.

For instance when Aziraphale calls Crowley “nice” and Crowley slams him up against a wall and begins to say “don’t call me that -” and then someone interrupts with news of the Antichrist and we move on. I think this was an opportunity to really delve into the characters, to make them defend their beliefs, to force them to confront their inner natures, and it was missed. 

Ultimately, the ‘character premise’ in Good Omens is far more interesting than the ‘plot premise.’ 

The ending was rather cliche

The race to save the world ends with the usual affirmation about humanity. Everything human and natural is good. Higher Powers and Destiny are not. The angel and demon are at their best when they are most like the humans around them. It’s all very comforting, and it is truly is touching – but I can’t help but wonder (again) couldn’t we have done more?

Sure, my heart swells to the backdrop of “A nightingale sings in Berkeley Square” and Crowley and Aziraphale toasting each other “to the world,” but it still seems like an incredibly safe ending for a premise that appeared so high stakes. 

We’ve just learned that there’s another dimension underpinning all of life, but it doesn’t really matter, does it? Pity, I could have been fooled into thinking it might.

Notable mentions

  • The twist at the end was really well done, and showcased the actors’ extraordinary ability.
  • God as narrator worked for the first episode, and worked well – but after that I felt it got a bit laboured.
  • The scene where Crowley gets drunk: “I just lost my best friend” and then Aziraphale appears: “Awfully sorry to hear that old chap.”
  • The scene where Aziraphale gives Crowley Holy Water, evidently thinking it will be used as a ‘suicide pill’ when Crowley’s superiors come to Damn him for being too nice of a demon. Crowley’s gratitude and Aziraphale’s “you go to fast for me” was one of the most moving parts of the series.
  • “Queen” playing in Crowley’s Bentley
  • Crowley having a throne in his flat and threatening his plants into good health
  • The Montage™ of them meeting through the ages
  • Adam Young’s earthly dad. I don’t know, he cracks me up.
  • Crowley as a Nanny and Aziraphale’s “party tricks”
image courtesy of: https://www.filmsjackets.com/good-omens-david-tennant-blazer; https://tvline.com/2019/06/01/good-omens-episode-3-crowley-aziraphale-friendship-cold-open-photos/