My much anticipated first watch of Strange Angel started rather surprisingly – so much so that I thought, “Is CBS All- Access playing the right show or is my Roku malfunctioning?” Beginning in what appears to be a forest at night, where a Chinese hero is for some reason tracking a huge, other worldly tiger. Everything is red. He says he has to face death to know what life’s really about. We definitely seem to be coming into the scene in the middle.
But, a ha!, we soon discover that we’re in Jack Parson’s (Jack Reynor) mind. He’s reading a graphic novel on his lunch break at the chemical factory where he works as a janitor. We see him sweep up something that looks like gunpowder and, while “dumping” it into the bin, he instead sneaks it into a jar.
Everyone’s leaving work and one of his coworkers invites him out for a drink. Jack says he’s got other plans, and we think – as the coworker probably does – that Jack’s got a hot date. Au contraire! Jack’s soon heading out of Pasadena (oh, reader, the 1930s advertising billboard is really great – certainly Pasadena is a little more hemmed in these days) into the desert, where he meets a cyclist called Rich Onstead (Peter Mark Kendall) – a Caltech evidently his partner – to do a couple of rocket test launches. In Jack’s mind’s eye, the rocket is huge, but it’s really small and it fizzles and crashes to earth after only a few dozen feet.
Cut to Jack’s wife, Susan (Bella Heathcote), reading a bible. She hears Jack’s truck outside, and quickly hides it under her bed. She meets him at the door, where he seems surprised to see she’s awake. They discuss the trials, he lies about how high the rockets are going, and he wants more money but Susan says the mortgage is two months behind. Jack says to hold them off a little longer. They have really boring looking sex (well, Susan certainly looks bored), and then as Jack has his post-coital cigarette he finds a new neighbor moving in next door. “Who moves in the middle of the night?” Jack asks.
Cut to CalTech, Jack meets up with Rich at the Graduate Aeronautical Laboratory (GALCIT), and goes off to meet Rich’s Department Chair Filip Mesulam (Rade Serbedzija) to plead for funding to support their rocket engine research. Susan’s had it with Jack spending all their money when as Rich says they can’t get good resulted. Mesulam says it’s all absurd and knocks Jack for not having even gone to college. They are turned down, but Jack refuses to take no for an answer, implying to Mesulam that they have actually already succeeded. Jack invites Mesulam to watch a launch. He agrees.
Jack tells Susan he’s basically got the funding in the bag and they go visit the new neighbor, Ernest Donovan (Rupert Friend), who inexplicably opens the door holding a goat. He acts a little weird and shifty, and agrees to come to dinner with his wife when they are settled.
Suddenly we are immersed in another red-tinged graphic novel, except Wan Hu (Telly Liu) can’t recaputure the rush of killing the other worldly tiger, even when surrounded by sexy women. Jack is reading it to his wife, who doesn’t like the lurid details but gets the point: Wan Hu wants to grasp the sublime. They are being stood up for dinner by Ernest. Susan is upset because Jack is gone a lot, working on his rocketry, and she really wants some friends in the neighborhood.
Jack is working late wen Ernest literally crashes his motorbike into his man-shed workshop. Ernest is drunk and like Jack says he’s got a screw lose. Ernest didn’t feel like coming, because he’s trying to find his true path and he can’t do that making suburban small talk. He says Jack doesn’t say what he really thinks. Ernest decides to climb the hill behind their houses, and he gets Jack to come along. They see a mountain lion. It’s very similar to the opening graphic novel hunt scene.
Then Ernst breaks into a neighbor’s backyard and jumps in their pool, and Jack jumps in to save him, because he’s not coming up. Ernest basically does that stupid thing where he tries to drown someone as a joke, and while he’s almost drowning, Jack has an epiphany about the fuel they are using in the rockets.
He meets up with Rich to talk about liquid fuel, which won’t hate air pockets and will give them better results. Rich says it’s too volatile and says the won’t do it. Jack says he wants to take a risk, and Rich wants to play it safe. Rich refuses to get the supplies from CalTech and he wants to call the whole thing off. But then Rich has an ideal about measuring thrust, and getting actual data, by launching the rocket upside down.
Jack gets home late and sees Wacky Ernest from next door slipping out on his motorbike with what looks like jars of blood in the saddle bags. He follows Ernest to an occult temple and sneaks onto the roof to watch, eventually interrupting the ritual because it looks like the priest is about to stab a nude woman, but not before the priest says, “do what thou wilt” (among other things). Jack falls off the roof and runs like the dogs of Hell are chasing him, but Ernest recognizes the car.
Susan is at her job at a Collections Agency owned by her father. She says she and Jack can’t go to dinner Sunday, because Jack has too much going on, and then her father, who is concerned about Jack’s spending, and basically gives her a hard time for having a ne’er-do-well as a husband. He wants to meet with Jack face to face to make him prioritize paying their overdue bills.
Cut to Jack’s workshop. He and Rich are prepping for the launch. Jack hugs Rich, and lifting his wallet and ID, gets the supplies for liquid fuel from CalTech without Rich’s knowledge. He works long into the night. Next morning, Susan wakes him in his shop, and we see Rich and Jack, in Jack’s truck, followed by Mesulam, heading once again into the desert (I love the detail here of the news broadcast, which is about the meetings between Neville Chamberlain and Hitler, when Britain appeased Germany in advance of World War II). Rich checks the wallet Jack gives him carefully, and then Jack outruns Mesulam’s chauffer-driven car.
Cut to Susan praying that the day goes well in Church. She doesn’t usually go to church for morning mass and Father Shelby says Jack should probably do some of his own praying once in a while.
They get to the launch site just far enough ahead of Mesulam for Jack to break the news to Rich about the liquid fuel. Rich is pretty angry, and says Jack’s math is all wrong and there’s a big risk of blowing up. Mesulam arrives in the middle of the argument and Jack says to Rich, “Do what though wilt,” and Rich agrees to the launch anyway.
Cut to Susan arriving home and finding a torn brown paper note attached to their door with a huge hunting knife. She’s clearly really upset.
This leads to what is hands down my favorite this week. In a Mythbusters type scene, Jack. and Rich test their rocket engine. After a blown hose, they try to ignite it. It doesn’t go off at first, and Mesulam congratulates him on his very elaborate cigarette lighter. But then it ignites, and burns really well. Rich tries to cut it off, saying “that’s enough,” but Jack says “You can’t know what’s enough until you know what’s more than enough.” Then he cranks it up like Adam and Jamie laying on the C4, and, standing up to watch it, Jack almost gets his head torn off by shrapnel when it inevitably explodes – but not before they exceed the capability of the gauge to measure pounds of thrust, and realize they’ve got enough to get to the ionosphere. All through the scene, Wan Hu shows up – with images and ideas from the graphic novel interspersed with images of the rocket engine test.
Jack arrives home in a celebratory mood and he’s pulled up short by Susan’s note. The note contains an occult image. “What can it possibly mean?” Susan asks.
The episode ends on a high note and a heck of a cliffhanger. While it started off a little slow, this show has quite a foundation to lay, and this episode is mostly concerned with that groundwork.
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