‘Damien’ Season Finale- “Ave Satani” Review: All Hail the New King in Town

Damien 1

On the first season finale of “Damien,” things came to a head as Christian and Satanic forces alike waged a war for Damien’s very soul to see which side of the fence he would fall on in the end, in “Ave Satani.” The title, of course, refers to the now legendary Oscar-winning theme music by Jerry Goldsmith.

For those not in the know, “Ave Satani” is the Latin phrase for “Hail Satan,” which would be the opposite of say, the better known “Ave Maria,” which translates as “Hail Mary,” which might have actually been a better title for this final endeavor, given the dwindling ratings and dubious critical reviews the show has received over the season. In that, I mean, the non-traditional, football terminology for a last-ditch effort, of course.

Let me explain. Let’s face it: the show started off on the wrong foot all around. I liked that it made a clear distinction on setting itself apart from other sequels/TV installments and the remake by confidentially and purposefully connecting itself to the original “The Omen” and even going so far as to put creator David Seltzer up front in the credits (which admittedly may have been an enforced requirement- but still, nice to see) and feature “flashbacks” in the form of clips from that classic film within the narrative.

All of this was as if to say: “We’re our own thing, and we’re picking up where the classic original left off, so you can ignore all that other stuff.” Not that I necessarily hated that other stuff, mind you- I quite enjoyed all of the sequels and even the remake, to be honest, which is more than I can say for a lot of ongoing franchises and remakes.

Damien 4

But still, point taken- the show wanted us to know that it meant business- and boy, did it ever. In fact, that was the major problem early on- it was almost too much business. In establishing its earnest, humorless, and straight-forward approach, it may have turned off a lot of viewers in the process. I think the idea is to scare viewers, not scare them off!

But for those of us who hung in there, it actually developed into a pretty engaging show, after ditching the slower pace of the early episodes about halfway through- ironically, just as the ratings bottomed out. The fifth episode marked a series low at 0.371 million viewers, down from the series high, the premiere, which logged in 0.753 million.

For a bit of contrast, “Bates Motel,” it’s companion mate on the same night, regularly clocks about around 1.45-50 million viewers and tends to hold steady with that most of the season- though interestingly, its lowest rated show was also right in the middle, with the sixth episode garnering 1.33 million viewers.

To be fair, the week of the lowest-rated episode of “Damien” coincided with a week that “Bates Motel” didn’t air at all- hence it ending next week instead of at the same time as “Damien”- so that may have had a lot to do with it, but the simple fact is that “Damien” wasn’t holding viewers from “Bates Motel,” which may not be good news for its future prospects.

Damien 10

Like I said, the irony is, the show got better in time, rewarding those who stuck with it, as the pace picked up considerably and the show found its way, adopting a more focused, genuinely unnerving approach. Put another, perhaps better way, I went from somewhat dreading having to watch it again to actually looking forward to it.

That back half was way better than the front half, as the show found its footing and started to achieve its goal of being unnerving and disturbing, rather than desperately trying to be. I think, for me, personally, that moment occurred in the episode (“Seven Curses”) where Damien was urgently trying to track down that war vet he was profiling at the hospital and got lost in a maze of hallways, eventually running afoul of a circle of people chanting, among other things.

That sequence really was chilling and disquieting, rather than playing at being so, as the first half of the season was. The show itself seemed to recognize this and abandoned the whole “Who’s going to die this week and what crazy way will we do it?” approach of the earlier episodes, in favor of a hallucinogenic, truly creepy approach, which worked for me, even though I suppose there’s something to be said for the earlier approach.

I mean, crazy, inventive deaths is what got the likes of “Final Destination” and “Saw” through multiple entries of those franchises, right? So, it can and does work, and in many ways, the original “The Omen” set the stage for that sort of thing, along with the slightly-later on “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th,” where inventive, off-the-wall deaths became horror’s bread and butter.

Damien 6

But that sort of formula can get old and I think “Damien” realized that early on enough to save itself by broadening the canvas and getting a little experimental with things. The next episode after “Curses,” “Temptress” was a clever twist on the tried-and-true “It’s only a dream” gambit, as the entire storyline proved to be all in Damien’s head, the result of his trying to kill himself and being lost in a drug-and-alcohol-induced haze.

In some ways, it shouldn’t have worked- after all, horror fans have seen this sort of thing a million times- hell, they basically made of series of that, too, via the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise from the late, great Wes Craven. But, once again, for me, that was the first episode where I thought, “This show could be great if it played its cards right.”

Luckily, it took this approach and ran with it, keeping up the momentum of Damien’s life spiraling out of control and getting crazier and crazier for the rest of the season, and furthermore, paralleling that with the journey of Detective James Shay (David Meunier, “Justified”), who also found himself becoming unhinged because everyone else thought he was out of his mind.

Side note: Big props to the show as well for portraying Shay as a gay man in a matter-of-fact way without beating us over the head with it. How ironic is it that one of the most realistic, sensitive portrayals of a homosexual couple and their life as parents of a young child is to be found on a horror show? (Of course, those against such things would probably argue, of course it would be found there, as all homosexuals are godless- which, naturally, is hardly the case- but that’s a whole different discussion!)

Damien 1

Moving on… things got legitimately exciting for that final string of episodes, as an old friend of Damien’s-turned-loose-cannon-serial-killer was introduced (an effectively creepy Joe Doyle, of “Salem” fame, who tellingly also played “Judas” in “Killing Jesus,” making him perfect casting here). This forced Damien to start thinking about picking a side, as well as who his real friends were.

Meanwhile, those friends also had to figure out what side of the coin they fell upon, with Simone (Megalyn E.K., of “The Following” and “The 4400”) initially going with Sister Greta (erstwhile Calamity Jane Robin Weigert, of “Deadwood” fame) and the Christian faction, while Amani (Omid Abtahi, “Argo”) ultimately sided with the Satanic faction. Both paid the price for their choices, but in the end, only one was left standing- and interestingly, it wasn’t the latter.

I also liked that the show kept you guessing as to how things were going to turn out right up until the end. Was Sister Greta going to successfully be able to save Damien’s soul? Were her methods any better than the Satanists? Did the Satanists seriously just cap a line of nuns, Mob execution-style? (Indeed, they did!) Was Damien going to go ballistic and kill everybody? Would anyone be able to stop him? Who would be left standing in the end?

We got all those answers and more, as Amani was killed by the dastardly John Lyons (Scott Wilson, a long way from his kindly-but-tough “Walking Dead” character), despite knowing he could have used him for leverage against Damien, while the arguably even worse Ann Rutledge (Barbara Hershey, ably expanding on her villainous “Black Swan” character) ultimately played upon Damien’s love of his friends to get him to side with her.

Damien 11

In the end, there were casualties on both sides, but also one surprising resurrection- and it wasn’t Damien. Despite Damien’s warnings that something bad would happen if Shay came after him, Shay nonetheless made an attempt to kill Damien that spectacularly back-fired- or should I say, side-fired? – and ended up killing Simone instead.

In exchange for bringing her back to life, Damien agreed to ascend to the mantle of the Satanic movement’s leader- and his wish was indeed granted, as the show ended with Simone rising from the dead. In turn, everyone bowed to him even, surprisingly, Shay, who I’m guessing must have thought, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Hey, it was either that or accept Lyons’ fate and be eaten alive by crazed Rottweilers!

Though the fate of the show itself is in question, the prospect of a better show in season two is, I think, a much better bet than letting it go, given the way we left things. I just love the idea of a Vatican hit squad, which I believe was somewhat present in “The Final Conflict,” if I remember correctly.

It was easily taken to the next level here, as we got a scene with the Vatican peeps loading up for bear, which was shot as if it were a scene from a Tarantino flick, and heading to the States to confront Damien and his Satanic army, which should make for a good time in my estimation. I also liked the nod to the original series’ ending, with Damien cracking a smile right into the camera for the final shot.

Damien 9

Those complaining that the show was too much of a slow burn for its own good- certainly a valid argument early on- would undoubtedly get their wish of a more action-packed show, should it return next year. It would also be on a much broader canvas that the more tunnel-vision-oriented approach of the first season, what with both sides established and plenty of room for new characters to enter the scene. I’d definitely be interested to see where things go from here, despite my initial misgivings about the show.

All in all, despite being a slow starter, “Damien” pulled it out in the clutch, and it’s worth mentioning that its rating on IMDB rose to a respectable 7.2 by seasons’ end and a 73% positive rating on “Rotten Tomatoes” to boot, despite a dismal 11% positive rating from critics. (Full disclosure: I’m among those critics quoted on “RT,” albeit in the minority of liking it.)

It seems as though, those who stuck with it were rewarded for their patience, while those without the patience didn’t realize how much better it got. Ah, what do most critics know, anyway? (Said the critic, lol.)

I, for one, would welcome a second season- if anything, things were finally starting to get really interesting, so I say bring it on. Only time will tell if that proves to be the case. In the meantime, “Damien” pulled it out in the end, garnering at least this critic and dedicated horror fan’s respect. If this proves to be the show’s final bow, I can live with that.

Damien 3

What did you think of the first season of “Damien”? Were you impressed all around, or did you also think it got better as it went along? Would you also like to see it come back for a second season? What would you like to see happen in a second season, if there is one? What was your favorite episode this season? How about your favorite moment?

As for me, I thought that was pretty cool when Sister Greta went to remove the 666 birthmark…only to find that there was another one embedded in Damien’s skull! Also pretty nifty was the neo-“Evil Dead” attack-of-the-vines scene that killed off Veronica (Melanie Scrofano), Ann’s daughter; and the “death” of the tattoo artist, even though it proved to be a hallucination. For some reason, I also found that scene with Simone in the same episode to be pretty unnerving as well- the one with the bloody steaks. I halfway expected one to go all “Poltergeist” on us! (As in the original movie, not the restless spirit.)

Sound off down below with what you thought, and maybe I’ll see you next season- if there is one!