Good Omens: Fast Friends at the End Times

Abby Olcese

Our most formative relationships aren’t echo chambers. They’re dialogues that leave us forever changed. They open us up to new ways of seeing the world, ways of seeing that make us reconsider assumptions we’ve always held.

Good Omens, the Amazon mini-series adapted from the 1990 novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, uses this idea to challenge the monolithic, absolutist notions about good versus evil that get lodged in our brain from an early age. It pokes fun at how we’ve been taught to think about these concepts, as opposed to the far more nuanced nature of reality. On a surface level, the series does this through straight satire. However, Good Omens’ central relationship—a centuries-long, secret friendship between an angel and a demon—cleverly embodies this idea as well.

Aziraphale (Michael Sheen), the angel, and Crowley (David Tennant), the demon, first meet in the Garden of Eden. Crowley tempts Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Aziraphale is the angel tasked to guard Eden’s entrance with a flaming sword after Adam and Eve are cast out. Both share sympathy for the first humans.

Flash forward to 2008, as the forces of Heaven and Hell are preparing for the end times. Crowley is tasked with delivering the infant Antichrist to unsuspecting foster parents, kicking off the road to the apocalypse. Crowley performs his duty, but isn’t ready for the world to end. Neither is Aziraphale. The two friends secretly attempt to prevent the Antichrist from fulfilling his destiny, only to discover that a mix-up on delivery night sent the spawn of Satan to the wrong family. Now, they must rush to find the actual prince of Hell and stop him from bringing about the end of the world, as their bosses above and below sharpen their swords for battle.

Good Omens has fun setting up the archetypes that it then intends to knock down. Representatives of Heaven all wear white. Hell’s demons are clad in black. Crowley has flaming red hair, like flames. The setup of the show, and the novel, is a direct parody of the 1976 horror classic The Omen. There’s a play on that film’s Satanist nanny and catastrophic birthday party. There’s a hellhound and horsemen of the apocalypse, all the typical things one might expect from a religiously apocalyptic story about the end of the world.

Then Gaiman, who wrote the adapted screenplay, and director Douglas Mackinnon subvert those ideas. Despite all the grand posturing between forces above and below, Heaven and Hell aren’t very different apart from surface aesthetics. Heaven is bright and open while Hell is dark and crowded, but both resemble offices. And both run on many of the same bureaucratic internal rules.

Good Omens has fun setting up the archetypes that it then intends to knock down.

The biggest subversion of all comes in the form of Crowley and Aziraphale themselves, who, despite being on diametrically opposed sides, genuinely care about each other. The first half of the series’ third episode is dedicated to showing how their relationship has developed over time, including several incidents in which the characters put their lives on the line for each other. The most sacrificial of these moments comes when Crowley enters a church during the London Blitz to save Aziraphale from being taken down by double-crossing Nazi agents. The hallowed ground burns Crowley’s feet like hot coals, but it’s worth the pain to help his friend.

Crowley and Aziraphale’s friendship starts from a place of shared experience, as both characters are their respective organization’s sole Earthly representative. But eventually, Crowley and Aziraphale come to understand one another on a deeper level. Aziraphale knows Crowley is capable of selflessness, even though it should go against his coding as a demon. Crowley knows Aziraphale is too kindhearted and empathetic to harshly judge others, even though it’s part of his job. They challenge each other’s understanding of good and evil and come to the conclusion that nobody, not even themselves, is capable of purely one or the other.

It’s the kind of transformational relationship that brings to mind 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” Paul’s statement, which contrasts immature faith with the change that comes from spiritual growth, comes at the end of his famous description of love: never delighting in evil, rejoicing in the truth, always protecting, trusting, hoping, and persevering. That proximity suggests the two might be linked.

Anyone who’s ever been close with another person can affirm that relationships inform our perspectives. Where once we dealt in absolutes, when we care for someone who might not believe everything we do—or love someone in spite of our differences—we begin to see that they are more than their ideology, religious beliefs, or political positions. In Good Omens, Crowley and Aziraphale’s platonic love for each other moves them to a more mature, informed understanding of the world. This doesn’t mean we abandon the fundamental beliefs we know to be true, but that we are able to see others the way we should see ourselves: as flawed but beloved children of God.

Outside of its rich central relationship, there are other parts of Good Omens that come across as disappointingly undercooked. God appears as a bemused, disembodied narrator (Frances McDormand), but she never makes her intentions known, despite plenty of questions regarding the divine plan. Satan shows up only briefly, as a large, angry red monster emerging from the ground. One or two instances of intense violence—holdovers from the novel—are played for laughs, and the cheeky way they’re handled hasn’t aged very well since 1990.

Fortunately, the natural chemistry between Sheen’s Aziraphale and Tennant’s Crowley does more than its fair share to make up for these failings. The delighted look on Sheen’s face whenever Crowley makes an appearance speaks volumes about how much he cares for his friend. Tennant gives Crowley a fantastic swagger and mask of detachment that belie his need for connection, and the importance he gives his relationship to Aziraphale.

In our polarized world (one that sometimes feels pretty close to the end times itself), depictions of true friendships that reach across ideological barriers remind us of the importance of grace and perspective. Good Omens gives us not only that, but a relationship which transcends the dividing line of good and evil itself. Crowley and Aziraphale’s friendship is built on a dialogue lasting centuries, with myriad opportunities for them to learn from and surprise each other. It reminds us that love is patient and kind, as well as capable of slowly changing us from the inside out, helping us grow.

Topics: TV