I was kind of excited to see the new TV series called Damien, which chronicles the rise of the antichrist. It’s fun to see how they can keep the plot interesting, while hiding the crucial and key fact that the antichrist is God’s puppet (so he is either a devout follower who willingly does God’s work, or he forced to do it against his will, or he is manipulated into doing what he thinks is right).
There’s virtually no way to portray the story of the antichrist in a modern setting without making him completely sympathetic, which is why most movies/TV shows about the end of times come off as stilted and lame – you need a believable villain who is acting for something he wants. Tradionally the antichrist is just a puppet, a shadow figure, even though he’s arguably the most badass character in the Bible (he joins all of humanity together in peace, then organizes them into a defensive army against God’s angels).
But let’s start with episode one.
Syria. Christians are being persecuted.
A photographer named Damien Thorn is recording the events. It’s his 30th birthday. An old woman grabs his face and says “Damien, I love you. It’s all for you.” The same words his governess said just before she killed herself when he was 5. She also said some stuff in Latin, which was a quote from the Bible – “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased.” Said to Jesus on his 30th birthday. The old woman gets hit by a rock and “baptizes him in blood.”
Then an old friend of his father’s finds him, and says he’ll start remembering more of his childhood because “It’s a whole new world. The seal has been broken, the trumpet blown. Your father would have been proud. You have so much to offer.”
Why I love it
I have a background in biblical studies. I’m fascinated by the mythology and symbolism in the New Testament, and the idea that it records prophecies of the End of Times.
But the majority of TV shows and movies about Armageddon are just bad. Poorly produced pieces of shit. Damien is a well-produced show with great acting and pacing. It feels like Supernatural. Damien could be the next Dexter; a villain who tries to use his “evil” to do good.
But more importantly, in most other instances, somehow the antichrist/the devil are the evil ones, and those people supporting the rise of the antichrist/devil are miserable Satan-worshiping monsters.
Which doesn’t make any sense at all, because Armageddon is God’s plan, not Satan’s. God wrote a battle plan which ends by throwing the antichrist into the pool of fire – and as the Bible records, the antichrist only wants to unify humanity, create peace on earth, and fight off the invading hordes of God’s angels who want to destroy humanity.
They visit a biblical scholar and he says, “The beast, servant of Satan will be worshiped as a king, then his true nature will be revealed – he will become the greatest tyrant the world has ever seen, plunging it into darkness, plague, famine, war… the end of days… until he is defeated by the returned Christ.”
Which is crazy, because that’s not at all what the Bible says! The four horsemen are sent out by God to bring the human race low. They are God’s plagues on humanity. They aren’t brought by the Antichrist (not even a poor reading of the text could lead to that conclusion, only a drastic perversion of the truth).
Then the professor gets attacked by three dogs, splashing blood up on his crucifix, with background scary Latin chanting music. Which is weird. The implication is…? Damien doesn’t know anything about it. So, the devil is controlling the dogs? He made them kill the professor? Why would the devil care? Wouldn’t the devil want people to help Damien? Actually, probably not – if the antichrist is God’s way to end the world while still seeming like the good guy, Satan would probably do everything he can to stop Damien from becoming the antichrist.
Likewise, his hot friend Kelly gets swallowed up by mud and pulled into the underworld. By… the devil. One assumes (or not?) So Damien drags himself into a church and says “What do you want from me? What did I ever do to you? My mother, my father. How many more. You didn’t have to kill her. Why her?”
He touches the crucifix and it shatters. Then he remembers his father, trying to kill him and getting shot by someone. End of episode one, the strange old lady, who he now realizes has been following him his whole life, rips some of his hair out and he sees he has a tattoo of 666 on his scalp.
Damien shows a very realistic, and sympathetic, view of the antichrist as I’d always pictured him: a normal guy who is suddenly cast into the role – without his knowledge or consent – of being God’s #1 nemesis.
Damien’s ethics (is he good or evil) or his faith (or lack thereof) doesn’t matter. This isn’t a punishment for something he’s done.
Why did you chose me for this? What if I don’t want it?
In Episode 2, someone is already planning to kill him, because they say he’ll be worse than Hitler and unleash horrors upon the world (which is NOT biblical – the Bible says the antichrist will unite kingdoms and usher a period of peace and prosperity until God’s army shows up to slaughter everyone).
The priest, who was plotting Damien’s death, has a heart attack. The implication is that somehow Satan got to him, as if Satan goes around killing priests. As if Satan was behind everything, and sending the antichrist. Satan has nothing to do with the antichrist. There is no scenario where the antichrist has a chance at winning.
At least in the biblical version, which is one side of the story. It probably makes sense to assume that God’s perfect power and guaranteed victory are anything but – otherwise why all the fuss? It makes a lot more sense to think that God’s desperation is in part do to the knowledge that the future is uncertain.
Maybe there is a way for the antichrist to do something to save the world.
Yes, save the world.
It’s vital to remember that the antichrist cannot be planning to end the world, because that’s exactly what God is trying to do. Nowhere in the Bible does God say, “the end of times will come, and the antichrist will rise up to destroy everything, but don’t worry, you’ll be saved.”
Instead, God says, “I will destroy the world, and my armies will fight against the antichrist, who leads the armies of mankind.”
The antichrist is fighting to save the world, from God.
After Kelly’s service (his friend who got eaten by a sinkhole), a priest comes up and tries to tell Damien it was God’s plan. Damien says he’s heard a lot about God’s plan: coming wars, plagues, untold suffering, then Jesus swoops down and saves us. He’s not wrong.
Damien is biblically accurate. The priest tries to tell Damien that the Book of Revelations was meant during a time of persecution to inspire perseverance (in other words, it’s a metaphor, not to be taken literally).
The priest keeps badgering him, until Damien can’t take it anymore and finally starts talking back, giving a classic argument from evil. “I just don’t buy it. If God is around, why kill Kelly in a parking lot when she’s risking her life trying to make the world a better place? It’s unacceptable. I mean he should do better. I’m supposed to believe some mythological idealogy from 2000 years ago that it all means something and is part of some divine plan, I’m sorry Father, but that’s not good enough. It’s a cruel joke. If God’s the one telling it he’s a sadistic prick.”
Everyone hears him.
Aha, so his character is revealed: he’s an atheist.
A super creepy ghostly girl identifies him as 666.
A weird homeless man tells him the darkness is coming.
And then the Christian assassin tries to kill him with an ancient dagger. But the assassin gets hit by a car (that was being driven by a Christian driver).
So there are two sides to this story.
1. The antichrist is going to destroy the world, so God needs the Christians to murder him. But they can’t. Even though, supposedly, this is God’s side, and God is all powerful, Damien is protected while all the people on God’s side keep dying. If this really matters, at all (and we’re supposed to believe it does, this is the only thing that matters) then why is God just sitting back and losing?
2. The antichrist is just a guy trying to figure out WTF is happening. People are trying to kill him and he defends himself. He doesn’t particularly care for God, if he exists, so he’s not going to just sit back and let people kill him, or destroy the world, or anything else. He’s going to fight to stop it, because just sitting around and letting himself be God’s puppet is unthinkable.
Which version is the truth?
In episode three, Ann Routlege makes it clear she’s not a Satanist. The other mysterious people running things are worried that Damien was almost killed. Ann says, we can’t force him into this.
“You know he has to accept his role. Embrace it… we can’t just put a gun to his head and say ‘bring about the apocalypse.’ There are very mysterious forces at work.”
They call Damien “the deliverer, who is also the destroyer.” And they don’t know who the old woman was, who knew everything and spoke in latin (the one that “baptized” Damien).
Surprisingly, the TV series goes out of its way to show Damien as a hero (he stops and saves a child’s life, while chasing a guy… then the guy gets killed, another accident). So who is killing all these guys? Is it the devil killing anyone who’s threatening Damien? Or God? The guy he was chasing was part of the secret group protecting Damien, who want him to be the antichrist… the other deaths were religious. Whoever it is, they are killing randomly and indiscriminately.
Damien feels bad about all these people dying around him. His friend says, “You tried to save them. That’s who you are. But you can’t save everyone, you’re not God.”
So who are the bad guys? What do they want?
Who are the good guys? What do they want?
These are basic character-motivations that should always be considered if you want to tell a good story, otherwise, everytime someone happens you have to ask, yeah but why would that character do that? What’s in it for them?
Unfortunately, Damien – and with it, the Book of Revelations – has no clear answer, except this:
God wants to destroy the world.
The Antichrist and the humans want to save it.
That’s biblical. But it’s not an easy story to tell, because that’s not the way most Christians see it (they haven’t read their Bibles). And if you made a story about the antichrist being a superhero and saving the world (as I plan to) it would be controversial.