Good Omens, the show based on Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s whimsical fantasy of an angel and a demon trying to prevent the Apocalypse, is returning for a second bite of the apple in July. And I for one am thanking God, and not only because David Tennant and Michael Sheen as the demon Crowley [pronounced Crow-lee] and the angel Aziraphale [pronounced Aziraphale] are the peanut butter and strawberry jam of performing duos—if you haven’t yet seen their three season Covid-Zoom fever dream 'Staged,' oh boy am I excited for you.
No, I thank the Powers that Be because we're getting this show in a time when queer people are under attack. States are erasing mention of us from schools and libraries, along with stories of people of color; drag queens are being assaulted; transgender people’s rights to their own bodily autonomy are being stolen. And though Good Omens presents as a silly show about a bumbling angel and a lazy, fashion-forward demon, under the surface, it’s also a joyous and insistent celebration of queer life.
The queer love of Aziraphale and Crowley
That celebration of queer life starts with our heroes, who — as fan fiction has so abundantly demonstrated—make for a great couple. Maybe the best sequence in the entire series is the beginning of episode three, which steps back from the End Days narrative to give us the history of Crowley and Aziraphale’s relationship. Over the course of half an hour, what begins as a friendly colleagueship quietly grows into something deeper. By its end, both angel and demon are willing to sacrifice themselves for the other, though in Good Omen's wonderful askew way, that means radically different things for each character. Crowley endures the pain and danger of entering a church in order to save Aziraphale’s life. Meanwhile Aziraphale eventually sacrifices his beliefs in order to give Crowley the means to kill himself, a request that burns him at least as much as the consecrated ground does Crowley’s feet.
(One of the many favorite parts of the show is the different ways in which Crowley and Aziraphale express their affection. Crowley’s care for Aziraphale is always demonstrated in high Shakespearean fashion, fierce words and heroic deeds. When he steps out of the burning ruins of Aziraphale's bookshop and say "Somebody killed my best friend"—SO MANY FEELS.)
(Aziraphale’s love for Crowley is more that of a Victorian bodice-ripper: fraught, helpless, and almost comedic glances; words waiting to tumble out if he could only find a way to say them; impossible personal choices.)
While there’s no physical intimacy shown between our heroes in Good Omens, for me that choice ends up adding to the sense of celebration in their relationship. Being queer is not about having to identify as one thing or another, having to "pin things down," but about just being true to who you are. Crowley and Aziraphale work as a couple because they allow one another to be themselves, as painful as that sometimes is. And Pratchett and Gaiman give their unique and funny love the same respect.
Being who you are, when the world wants something different
Looking beyond Crowley and Aziraphale, there are no other seemingly queer relationships in Good Omens. But each of the characters shares in what is a fundamental queer experience: discovering you are trapped in an institution that wants to convince you that you have to be less or other than you are, and summoning the courage to go your own way. Some of Good Omens' heroes, like the Witchfinder Shadwell or the witch Anathema Device, try at first to embrace their institutions, at the expense of being alone. (As silly as Shadwell is, there’s also something heartbreaking about watching this lonely old man keep shunning the one woman who loves him without reservation.)
Others, like the child Adam or our heroes, find themselves constantly butting their heads against the roles that they’re told they have to play. Either way, every character’s journey in Good Omens is about learning they can throw off those structures and be true to their own feelings and desires. Anathema and Pulsifer ignore the history of enmity between witches and witchfinders to begin a relationship, one that ultimately liberates them both. Shadwell finally sits down to dinner with Madame Tracy. Adam rejects what has been written into his very being.
And in every case that change comes about through a combination of courage and community that queer people will recognize intimately. Time after time in Good Omens we walk with characters through the struggle to choose the quiet voice inside them over the shriller voices of authority around them–Sister Loquacious, trying so hard to fit in before finally following her own instincts; Anaethma, similarly trying to insist she is, as her last name suggests, just a device of fate before finally burning her ancestors' prophesies. Even as these characters' journeys are couched in Gaiman & Pratchett's wonderfully whimsical humor, their choices are ultimately brave.
And what allows them each to claim the desires of their heart is the help of others like them. For me, Madame Tracy is like the ocean; it doesn't matter how many times Shadwell pushes her aside, she just keeps coming back to him with the same quiet patience and invitation. (I really, really love their story; Michael McKean and Miranda Richardson are just so good.)
Sometimes the help of others can be painful, too. Even after a childhood that largely undermined the plan Heaven and Hell had for him, Adam still ends up pretty close to full-Omen: he's levitating, he's got red eyes, he takes away his friends' mouths.
(This is never a good sign.)
And yet, what brings Adam back from the brink is his friends' rejection. They are what makes sense to him. They, his parents and his dog are his real family. A life without them isn't worth living.
Fighting the system and building community
In the end, Adam will literally rewrite the order of the universe so that the father who raised him was his biological father rather than the Devil. So many queer people can tell similar stories of when they did the same (though maybe without changing the order of the universe) and elevated the families that found them when their biological relations rejected them.
And of course, there's the final change in Aziraphale. After spending the entire series trying to believe that Heaven really does mean well, it just needs better information, Aziraphale finally accepts Crowley’s conclusion that Heaven is just as lost as Hell. The two of them are on their own side now. And what I find particularly moving is that Crowley and Aziraphale's “own side” is also humanity’s. Stepping outside the rules of good and evil that have been set up for them doesn't just free them, it helps everyone. It's true of all the heroes present at the Apocalypse, in fact; in choosing their own instincts and needs over some external authority's rules, they end up ensuring the continued possibility of happiness for everybody on the planet.
For me, Good Omens captures the core of queer life: a community of people celebrating the revelation we’ve each had, with one another’s help, that we can be who we are. At Pride (and at every other time, too), we are gonna dance that dance no matter how much the haters try to stop us. And just as the suffering of those trapped on Crowley’s M25 did help bring on the end of the world, so our parades and our parties and above all the joy of our lives lived in truth will help the world to be a freer, more accepting and fun place for everyone. Naughty angels and fabulous demons all, we are on our side, and also on the side of humanity, whether they know it or not.