Crowley and Aziraphale’s quest to locate the Antichrist begins, and we’re introduced to a whole host of new faces in Good Omens’ second episode, ‘The Book‘.
WARNING! This review contains spoilers for the first episode of Good Omens. Keep reading for our spoiler-free thoughts on episode two (‘The Book‘), and scroll down for a more spoiler-filled discussion – if you dare!
As opening episodes go, ‘In The Beginning’ was undeniably bonkers – not that fans of the novel were expecting anything different! We’ve now been thrown headfirst into the strange world of Good Omens. It’s full of angels and demons, not to mention the satanic nuns, a hell-hound, and a gang of eleven-year-olds led by the Antichrist (of course).
The conclusion of this first episode left Crowley and Aziraphale coming to terms with a devastating revelation. Despite their best efforts, they’ve wasted the last eleven years mentoring the wrong child. To make matters worse, the Antichrist has named his hell-hound, setting Armageddon into motion. The question now is, where is he? And can he be stopped?
Good Omens Episode Two: ‘The Book‘ – Spoiler-Free Review
If you thought there was a lot to take in during episode one, fasten your seatbelts! This second episode is about to introduce you to a whole plethora of new names and faces. ‘The Book‘ brings with it an abundance of character introductions. Established fans of the novel will surely have been anticipating these almost as highly as that of Crowley and Aziraphale.
Throughout the episode, we’re transported back and forth across time and space. After watching ‘In The Beginning‘, I found myself somewhat on the fence about the narration, as provided by God (voiced by Frances McDormand). I must admit that, particularly as someone who’s very familiar with the novel, her exposition feels a little excessive at times. There’s at least one moment where the action is paused to give background information about some of the characters. Whilst this undoubtedly provides some good insight, I can’t help but feel that it would’ve been more effective to show us rather than tell us. Nevertheless, McDormand‘s narration (plus the occasional placard) will no doubt be appreciated by viewers who’ve not yet read the original text.
As well as meeting so many brand-new figures, ‘The Book‘ also lets us spend more time with Good Omens‘ already-established characters. In the run-up to the series, I was somewhat sceptical about the decision to introduce a new character in the form of Jon Hamm‘s Gabriel. However, his appearances so far have been among the most funny and memorable moments of the show thus far. His visit to Aziraphale’s bookshop at the beginning of this episode is brief but brilliant – a real highlight! As well as this, David Tennant and Michael Sheen have firmly cemented themselves as perfectly cast in their respective roles as Crowley and Aziraphale. It’s delightful to see Neil Gaiman take lines directly from his and Terry Pratchett‘s novel, and let us hear them spoken verbatim by our two lead characters.
For all its jumping around, episode two does a fantastic job of bringing in each new strand of the story, and connecting them together. In fact, there are times when the show creates new connections not present in the novel. Thankfully, it does so whilst still largely remaining faithful to the original text. What minor tweaks are being made only serve to illuminate the existing characters and narrative, as well as making it easier for newcomers to follow this tangled web of people and places on-screen. Indeed, there’s plenty of moments in this episode fans of the novel are sure to appreciate, probably more than said newcomers. There’s also at least one small nod to Doctor Who in this episode, which you won’t have to look to hard to spot it!
Now you’ve heard our spoiler-free take on Good Omens episode two, ‘The Book‘, if you haven’t seen the episode, go and watch it!
Keep scrolling for our spoiler-filled review below – if you dare!
Good Omens Episode Two: ‘The Book‘ – Full Spoiler Review
As previously mentioned, Good Omens‘ first episode concluded with Aziraphale and Crowley making a terrible discovery. The boy they’ve been tutoring for the past eleven years is, in fact, not the Antichrist. Now, it’s up to this unlikely pair to figure out just what happened to him, where he is, and how to stop him bringing about the end of the world. Easy-peasy, right?
But before they can do that, there’s quite a few more people we need to meet. This second episode transports the viewer backwards and forwards in time, as more and more strands are added to the story.
Our first stop is North Africa, present day. It’s here that we meet our first Horseman (or should be that be Horse-woman?) of the Apocalypse – War, as played by Mireille Enos. Her introduction is brief and impactful. It’s also somewhat different to its equivalent moment in the novel. Nevertheless, its message rings loud and clear – War delights in creating conflict and chaos wherever she goes. As Sandalphon says, ‘You can’t have a war without War.’ We’re also introduced to the International Express Delivery Man (‘The Summoner), who finds himself hilariously out of place in this freshly re-ignited warzone.
Next up, we’re taken back to seventeenth-century Lancashire. Here, we find Agnes Nutter, soon to be burnt at the stake for witchcraft by Thou-Shalt-Not-Commit-Adultery Pulsifer. Expanding this moment beyond its original composition makes it one of the unexpected highlights of the episode. Josie Lawrence reprises her role as the enigmatic prophetess to great effect. Viewers may not be aware that Lawrence voiced Agnes Nutter in the 2014 BBC Radio Four adaptation of Good Omens. Additionally, it’s hard not to laugh as Agnes’ neighbours scoff at the notion of ‘running in an unladylike manner around the village’ for the purpose of improving one’s health. Indeed, this episode treats us to several never-heard-before prophecies from Agnes. She really was looking out for her ancestors when she advised them to invest in ‘Master Jobbes’s machine’! I’m sure there’s plenty more nuggets of wisdom lurking in the montage at the end of the episode…
Another of the stand-out moments of ‘The Book‘ is provided by Paul Chahidi‘s Sandalphon and Jon Hamm‘s Gabriel. In the run-up to the show’s premiere, I was somewhat sceptical about its decision to introduce new characters into an already complex narrative. It appears my apprehensiveness was unfounded, however. Hamm in particular has provided some brilliant moments so far. It’s always entertaining to see otherworldly being attempts to blend in with normal human society (think ‘the Eleventh Doctor in The Lodger‘).
As a long-time fan of Gaiman and Pratchett‘s novel, I was especially eager to see how some of its more central figures would be realised on screen. Jack Whitehall being cast as wages clerk-turned-witchfinder Newton Pulsifer initially surprised me. Best known for his comedic roles in Fresh Meat and Bad Education, he most often plays a caricature of himself. His characters are usually immature and over-confident. I can’t say I found him entirely convincing as Witchfinder Major Pulsifer. However, he impressively embodies awkward and down-on-his-luck Newton throughout this episode.
Similarly, Adria Arjona‘s Anathema Device is very true to her literary counterpart – focused, determined, and carrying the weight of Agnes’ prophecies on her shoulders. Much the same can be said of Michael McKean‘s zealous and thoroughly odd Sergeant Shadwell. I’m not sure I can say Adam and friends have that same endearing quality as in the novel, but perhaps they’ll grown on me as the series progresses?
All in all, it’s been a real delight thus far to see so many of these familiar characters so brilliantly cast and brought to life. Similarly, so many memorable moments from the novel are brilliantly adapted for the screen in this episode, from the potentially deadly management training course, to Aziraphale miraculously healing Anathema’s bicycle. Any moments that have been altered from the original text (such as Newton and Shadwell’s first meeting) could still have been taken straight from its pages. It’s so satisfying to hear to hear Tennant and Sheen in particular speak lines from the book verbatim, and still have them sound natural. Plus, Tennant masterfully reminds us that as a demon, Crowley still has a truly menacing side. Even if he is only threatening plants, it’s no wonder they do what he says!
On that note, as the series continues, I do wonder how my own experience of watching it compares with that of someone unaware of who the characters are, and how their story pans out. I’m as yet undecided about the series’ narration, as provided by God (Frances McDormand). Much of it is no doubt appreciated by newcomers who have never read the original novel. However, I can’t help but feel that some of her exposition (such as the information she gives us about Adam’s friends) could have been more effectively shown rather than told to the viewer. In much the same vein, it does seem that said newcomers might be missing out on some of the running gags so far, not least the reason why Queen feature so heavily on the show’s soundtrack.
Nevertheless, such a long-awaited adaptation of such a well-loved work could never have been entirely perfect. Plus, for the most part, Good Omens has done a marvellous job of translating many of its iconic characters and scenes from page to screen. Now Aziraphale is one step closer to locating the Antichrist, will he and Crowley be in with a chance of averting Armageddon?
Good Omens is available to stream now on Amazon Prime, and is due to be broadcast on BBC Two later this year.