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Good Omens puts a feminist and queer twist on the apocalypse
Usually, when we think of angels and demons, at least in Christian mythology, we think of them as diametrically opposed forces, destined to fight against one another through all time. While that’s technically still true on the grand scale in Good Omens, the series focuses on the unlikely relationship that develops between Aziraphale, an angel, and Crowley, a demon — and how that relationship and other themes in the series are treated is refreshingly feminist and queer.
The two meet shortly after Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden. Crowley slithers up from his work tempting Eve to find Aziraphale having given his flaming sword to Adam. Together, the progenitors of all humankind walk out into the desert while Crowley and Aziraphale discuss the ramifications of their actions. "Funny if we both got it wrong, eh? Funny if I did the good thing and you did the bad one, eh?" Crowley says to Aziraphale.
From then on, the two remain close throughout human history, under the guise of keeping one another in check in regard to their good or evil influence on humanity. They even agree to thwart the apocalypse brought on by the Antichrist, but find themselves in dire straits when they realize the child they have been nurturing isn’t who they thought he was. With six days until the end of the world, our unlikely twosome has quite the work cut out for them.
Spoilers within for Good Omens.
Good Omens is an adaptation of the 1990 novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Gaiman assumes multiple roles for the Amazon/BBC adaptation, including writing every episode, showrunning, and executive-producing. In addition to being involved in many aspects, the adaptation represents something deeply personal to Gaiman, who promised Pratchett he would adapt the book before his death: “Suddenly, this thing I had said to my friend was a last request. As a way of dealing with the grief, I started writing [the teleplay for] Good Omens.”
The satirical series has garnered intense reactions from audiences. In fact, according to USA Today, 15,000 people signed a petition to have the series canceled. (The petition has since been deleted.) Instead of addressing the actual platform for the series, Amazon, the petition was addressed to Netflix, which responded on Twitter, “ok we promise not to make any more.”
The people who signed the petition were upset by many things, including what most of us would call representation in the series. After all, God is voiced by Frances McDormand — A WOMAN?!?! — and Adam and Eve are portrayed as the first humans would have been: as a Black couple. It is not surprising that trolls were infuriated by these concepts. One, in particular, took to Twitter to tell Gaiman off, not understanding how few f**** Gaiman gives.
“You can take your bullshit show and your forced diversity elsewhere,” the troll tweeted according to the Huffington Post. (The tweet has since been deleted.) The troll continued, “I shut it off after the first minute.”
Gaiman’s works frequently feature feminist themes — which is not to say there aren’t also problematic elements — and seeing him make such a bold, progressive comment in response to vitriol only accentuates the series’ feminist lens.
Besides, for every person who hates the series, there are many, many more who have loved it. It’s not hard to see why.
The humor in the series is just the right mixture of absurd, insightful, and British. The storylines are varied and yet culminate in a tight, satisfying conclusion. The delightful and wicked commentary on the Christian apocalypse is by no means subtle, but by all means revelatory, if you will forgive the pun. Not least of all, Michael Sheen and David Tennant give truly fantastic performances, as does just about everyone in this star-studded series; notably, Sam Taylor Buck delivers an 11-year-old Antichrist that is both terrifying and adorable.
What’s really cool about the series is its persistent feminist and queer undertones, something desperately missing from the Christian apocalypse elsewhere. Fundamentally, the apocalypse imagined in Revelations and other Christian myths — and parodied in the series — is a patriarchal one. (Is there such thing as a feminist apocalypse? IDK, but Good Omens gets close.) After God’s chosen people have been raptured, those left alive on the planet will watch a civil war of theological proportions play out. That apocalypse, brought upon us by the Antichrist and the Four Horsemen, will allow the forces of Good to prevail at last, damning everybody else.
One (of many) truly problematic aspects of this apocalypse is that it is predestined, and thus no one participating has any free will. People are being damned for who and how they were born — even worse, they were created just to be damned. Good Omens grapples with this very theological concept, and that’s part of what makes it so feminist.The most obviously queer and feminist aspects of the series are Aziraphale and Crowley and the relationship between them. Both characters embody paradoxes. Aziraphale is an angel who loves to eat and drink, who loves the carnality of humanity. Crowley is a demon who would like to keep his distance from mayhem ever since he got caught up in Lucifer’s rebellion. But, instead of being narrowly defined by the realities created for them, Aziraphale and Crowley engage in an act of forming themselves. They read, they appreciate music, they drink fine wines, and they scheme. Oh, do they scheme.
Most importantly the two share a tender dandy love that is obviously queer, whether or not they would subscribe to any LGBTQ label. On top of that, considering that angels are not born, but created, and have no need of reproductive organs, it’s safe to say that they are nonbinary at least in a very literal sense (as is true in the novel), and perhaps socially and physically as well. For instance, Crowley seems as comfortable dressed as Crowley Poppins as he does as Crowley Bowie. It doesn’t matter how femme or not his appearance is. It doesn’t matter if he’s wearing a skirt or sporting a wig. He’s always swaggering in his full gender-defying glory.
At first, the queerness feels like subtext, like another time queer audiences have to read between the lines to see the love we so often wish for, but it’s hard to miss the genuine love and commitment between Aziraphale and Crowley. There’s an interaction so tender — and a line so potently delivered by Sheen that it will make your heart flutter and sink — that calling their love subtext feels impossible.
Aziraphale has just provided Crowley with holy water so that if he decides he must, Crowley can end his existence. Aziraphale isn’t exactly happy about it, but he’d rather help Crowley than see him get hurt trying to steal holy water. An enthused Crowley offers Aziraphale a ride.
“Perhaps one day we could, I don’t know, go for a picnic. Dine at the Ritz,” Aziraphale says tentatively.
“Anywhere you want to go, I’ll take you,” Crowley replies.
“You go too fast for me, Crowley,” Aziraphale says before exiting the car.
It’s a short exchange, but it is so tense, so emotionally charged, so filled with love and hesitation and desire that I don’t know how anyone could come to any conclusion other than that Aziraphale and Crowley are nonbinary, asexual partners who have been together and falling in love for over 6,000 years. And, since Sheen and Tennant both came to similar conclusions (and Gaiman confirmed their love), I’m sticking to it.
Crowley and Aziraphale may be the main event on Good Omens, but the feminist themes just keep on piling up. Adam decides that instead of being the Antichrist, hurting and controlling his friends, and destroying the planet, he just wants to be a normal kid. He wants to be soft and playful and love his dog. He wants to be himself, not some monstrous dictator his friends fear. So he rejects his biological father, Satan, calling the father who raised him his true dad. It’s a beautifully feminist moment that says we control our own fates — and demonstrates that not everyone would rather have power than love. In fact, most of us would rather not start or participate in an all-consuming war.
Speaking of War, Famine, Pollution, and Death, the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse are given an update in Good Omens. War uses she/her and has a seductive approach to conflict; Pollution uses they/them and supplants Pestilence as most creepy and horrifying. Many of the angels and demons are also female-presenting. Why is that so wonderfully feminist? Because women and nonbinary folks can be evil, too! That’s right, kids: You can grow up to be an a** regardless of your gender identity!
Finally, and definitely my favorite besides Ineffable Husbands (the ship name for Aziraphale and Crowley), is the witch Anathema and the hapless witch hunters who think they’re going to catch her. Anathema is both proudly independent and deeply committed to her family’s legacy. And she might be the only human who realizes she’s facing the apocalypse, but that doesn’t stop her from barreling headfirst into the fray. And when witch hunter Pulsifer finally finds the witch, he just goes ahead and falls in love with her, a wonderfully nonviolent outcome that has historically played out differently with the death of a woman at a zealous man’s hands.
Over and over, Good Omens fundamentally rejects toxic masculinity and instead proffers a nonviolent, feminist, and queer perspective on the end of the world. From the tender genderfluidity of and love between Aziraphale and Crowley to Anathema’s unwillingness to give up despite the odds, the series posits that there is a better way to live — and that our solutions lie not in violence, but rather in understanding ourselves and each other first.
Along the way, Good Omens dismantles the binaries that keep us apart, no longer accepting good or bad, body or soul, man or woman, friend or lover, but rather asserting our interconnectedness, our fluidity, our reliance upon one another.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.