“DAMIEN: Season 1, Episode 1” (TV Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
When it comes to the pilot for DAMIEN, there is some good news and there is some not-so-good news. In terms of the former, DAMIEN is setting the stage for a horror series that’s not only blood and respectful to the original OMEN film, but also may be set the biggest scale for a horror series to date. Yet in terms of the latter, with the pilot laying ground and catching up unfamiliar viewers to THE OMEN mythology, the series doesn’t quite get the opportunity to establish its own identity in its inaugural outing.
In DAMIEN, the series is a direct sequel to the original film, following Damien Thorne 30 years after losing his parents and now living as an esteemed photojournalist. While on assignment in a warzone, Damien encounters a destitute old woman, who recognizes him by name and causes him to remember 15 years of repressed memories. Now, Damien begins to question his role in the world while those around him fall victim to peculiar, inexplicable accidents.
In many ways, DAMIEN is more than just a serialized sequel: it’s very much so a modernization of THE OMEN universe in style and in substance. While there thankfully are enough dark undertones to hopefully lead to some seriously dread-inducing stuff later on in the season, the pilot definitely is brooding melodrama (quite akin to BATES MOTEL) mixed with vicious kill sequences. Speaking to that, DAMIEN’s first episode isn’t necessarily a home run in terms of writing, but for a launching pad, DAMIEN does hit all the proper genre bases while putting the pawns in place for the prophecy. And for those hoping that former WALKING DEAD showrunner Glen Mazzara’s involvement is going to pay off with more bloody viscera, the first episode at least sports one gruesome kill to make die-hard OMEN fans proud.
Speaking of OMEN fans, one’s reaction to the DAMIEN pilot will likely be measured by the viewer’s relationship to the original series. To be honest, DAMIEN might actually play better for OMEN newcomers than accustomed fans; in terms of the chronology and the rules of the universe, the audience could certainly benefit from that separation. Yet for OMEN fans, DAMIEN provides several hints and flourishes that will payoff more so for those familiar with the material, while the occasional flash of Gregory Peck or David Warner does have an admittedly nostalgic value that’s appreciated. And in any case, DAMIEN is certainly a different beast than THE OMEN that it follows; the pilot does have blood, doom and gloom, but nevertheless doesn’t carry the ever-so-influential suspense that Donner injected masterfully in the original film.
Luckily, DAMIEN does have a solid cast at its forefront, particularly Bradley James who really embodies DAMIEN both physically and emotionally. James not only brings a visibly authentic vulnerability to the role, but a legitimate sense of imbalance, as if he could spring into action hero mode or rage-filled villain at any second; that kind of duality is rare in an anti-hero performance and guarantees James will be the breakout to watch out for. However, James is not alone; while her role in the pilot is brief, Barbara Hershey’s performance as Ann Rutledge is creepy and affectionate; one can only imagine the dark places Hershey will be able to take the notoriously nefarious character. Meanwhile, Omid Abtahi does a really great performance as DAMIEN’s best friend and colleague, and both Sam Anderson & Tiffany Hines provide solid turns in their limited yet crucial roles, the former of whom brings the religious gravitas of the storyline to the table efficiently.
Overall, DAMIEN’s first episode shows the character- much like the show itself- finding its footing in a new, daunting universe, so while the writing could be stronger, the performances do hold out hope that the show is going down a sinister path. In fact, DAMIEN is quite an exceptional companion to BATES MOTEL, both in style and execution as many of BATES MOTEL’s flaws and strengths can also be seen dead-to-rights in DAMIEN. However, with the globe as the playing ground, DAMIEN does show the potential to truly bring biblical horror to the small screen, and one could imagine that the show’s wicked ways of dispatching its ensemble might be reason enough to keep tuning in, even if DAMIEN only stays its good-but-not-great course.