TV series based on the life of a trailblazing, Satan-worshipping rocket scientist who corresponded with ALEISTER CROWLEY and inspired the craziness of L. RON HUBBARD? Count me in! That was my response to the trailer for this new series available exclusively through CBS ALL ACCESS. After watching the series premiere episode AUGURS OF SPRING, I'm happy to report that I'm still onboard with this series created by MARK HEYMAN (BLACK SWAN, THE SKELETON TWINS), but I've got more of a taste for the lamb's blood and what looked like the beginning of a human sacrifice in one scene. I'm not so much onboard with all the rocket propulsion stuff. The life of JACK PARSONS isn't the kind of life story you hear about from men of science. He was one of the founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Aerojet Engineering Corporation and was famous for his advancements in the liquid fuel and solid fuel rocketry that got NASA off the ground. In the late thirties, he converted to THELEMA, a religious movement founded by ALEISTER CROWLEY and joined the AGAPE LODGE, eventually becoming it's leader. Of course, all of this occult activity and unpredictable behavior got him expelled from both the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Aerojet Engineering Corporation. Through his occult activities, he forged a friendship with future Scientology founder L. RON HUBBARD, who ended up cheating PARSONS out of his life's savings. Making matters worse was McCarthyism. The House of Unamerican Activities accused PARSONS of espionage and the pioneering rocket scientist soon found himself without any means to support himself or his work. In 1953, he died in a home laboratory explosion. While it was deemed an accident, many believed it to be suicide. He was 37 years old.RELATED LiNKS:
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In the premiere episode, we are intorduced to JACK PARSONS as a janitor in a chemical mixing plant with a fascination with the pulp science fiction published in the pages of AMAZING AND TRUE magazine. Working in a plant gives him access to chemicals that will prove beneficial to a series of test launches that he and his Cal Tech partner RICHARD ONSTED (PETER MARK KENDALL) are conducting. Their rocket launch, within the first ten minutes of the episode, only makes it to 43.27 feet before crashing to the ground. These experiments are costing money that JACK and his pious wife SUSAN (BELLA HEATHCOTE) don't have and the strain between the two is evident. Following some frigid love making, due in no part to PARSONS, the couple notice a new neighbor moving in next door, curiously at night.
Despite the failure of their most recent rocket launch, PARSONS and ONSTED seek funding for a functional rocket motor. They convince Cal Tech's Professor FILIP MESULUM (RADE SERBEDZIJA) to witness their next experiment. In the meantime, they hope they can make improvements to the existing motor before then.
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PARSONS and his wife make an overture to their new neighbor with banana bread in hand and are greeted by a standoffish ERNEST DONOVAN (RUPERT FRIEND) cradling a goat. The couple offer him a seat at the dinner table but ERNEST is a no show. Hours later, ERNEST shows up drunk and crashing his motorcycle into some trash cans. A curious friendship is struck between the two men - a friendship fueled by mutual restlessness and frustration. Our already free-spirited PARSONS now has a devil on his shoulder. ERNEST tests this newfound camraderie by crawling the fence of a stranger's house and submerging himself in their pool. When PARSONS comes to his rescue, thinking this is a drunken suicide attempt, ERNEST jumps from the water and submerges PARSONS. Seeing bubbles beneath the water gives PARSONS a moment of scientific inspiration. It is the pockets of air in the existing rocket fuel that has caused combustion in recent launches. PARSONS believes that the only way to prevent this is to switch to methanol. Given it's volatility, ONSTED is reluctant, however comes up with the idea to make the the next launch an inverted, static one which will simply measure the thrust of the engine using a pressure gauge, therefore working in a controlled manner with measurable results. I'm quoting the show, I swear!
Later, PARSONS wakes up to the sound of a screaming goat that is suddenly silenced. He goes to his window to see ERNEST getting aboard his motorcycle carrying two milk bottles full of blood. PARSONS gets out of bed, gets into his car and follows ERNEST to a mysterious looking house. Through the window he sees the contents of the milk bottles being poured into something by two women. When he hears mysterious chanting, he follows it to it's source, a window from the second floor. He crawls to the top of a garage and looks in the window to find what looks like a black mass taking place. Standing on the altar, past a thin veil, is a nude woman. The robed individual performing this mysterious rite, wields a knife. PARSONS yells "no" and the cermeony is brought to an abrupt stop. The congregants, the robed man and ERNEST turn around to see PARSONS looking at them. PARSONS falls to the ground and is chased by a man running out of the house. PARSONS gets into his car and drives away. We're forty minutes into the show, and this the scene the resonates the most.
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On the night before the engine test, PARSONS gets a hold of ONSTED's wallet and uses his campus idenitfication card to score some methanol for the fuel. ONSTED is still resistant ot the idea of using methanol, but realizes he can't dissuade PARSONS from making this addendum to the experiment. The day arrives and PARSONS, ONSTED and MESULUM meet on the outskirts of Pasadena. To the untrained, unscientific eye, the success of the engine testing looks like a failure. Even anti-climactic, but it's enough to get PARSONS away from his menial work as a janitor. When he goes home to celebrate with is wife, she informs him of an ominous message left on their door. It looks pretty Satanic from here.
It's a wonder that I hadn't ended my subscription to CBS ALL ACCESS with the first season of STAR TREK DISCOVERY now finished. There is nothing else on the streaming service that you couldn't watch on HULU or NETLFIX with less of a headache. I loved STAR TREK DISCOVERY and STRANGE ANGEL is a show that could work, but I get the feeling it's going to be a rough road. I don't care if RIDLEY SCOTT is an executive producer. What holds it back is all of it's rocketry mumbo jumbo. In a show like BREAKING BAD, WALTER WHITE's formula for blue meth didn't take an entire scene to explain. In one sentence from WHITE, the formula was established. If it could work for meth it can work for rocketry, especially when we are dealing with an actual historic figure. Advancements in rocket science are all well and good, but it's the occult that will have me coming back for more. There is also the family dynamic. We can't wait to see a clash between PARSONS and his father-in-law VIRGIL BYRNE (MICHAEL GASTON) - a righteous, sanctimonious debt collector. There is also the chaos that JACK and SUSAN are in for when the occult begins to take hold of their lives. JACK REYNOR may be playing the titular character here, but I'm already getting the feeling that this could end up being RUPERT FRIEND's show. All of the ingredients are there and we just need to see it all come together and explode in the most, dramatic and delightful way. Now I'm glad I kept CBS ALL ACCESS a little longer.
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