Good Omens has been a bit under fire since the new TV series on Amazon kindled a whole new audience’s love for it. Well, what do you expect? You create a piece of media steeped in religion-based comedy, you’re bound to see some mixed responses. But one of the reasons for the backlash is rooted in, frankly, one of Good Omens’ best elements: its clever subversion of the oft-unquestioned concepts that Heaven is always good, Hell is always evil, and mere humans are always, somewhat helplessly, caught between the two.
Be warned: Spoilers ahead!
Good Omens, both in text and on screen, tells us from the beginning that humans are in fact far from helpless, that our very humanity is what dictates the push and pull of the world:
It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.
As we go on through the story, especially on screen, we discover the reason humans seem to be a greater force than either Heaven or Hell: Imagination.
To understand the role of imagination, we need to first look at the roles of Heaven and Hell, and of angels and demons. What strikes me about Good Omens more than anything—even more so in the show than in the book—is that angels and demons really aren’t all that different.
We expect Hell to be full of beings that play dirty, behave with brutality, and only care about getting what they want. But we also expect that Heaven will be full of love and compassion. Good Omens gives us a glimpse into a different world—one in which Heaven and Hell truly are two sides of the same coin, both equally unforgiving and equally more interested in being right than in being righteous.
Angels are ruthless. Angels care only about winning their war; they physically assault Aziraphale for not obeying, and they prioritize their victories above all of humanity. Gabriel tells [who he thinks is] Aziraphale to “shut [his] stupid mouth and die already” when he appeals to that thing Heaven is supposed to be all about promoting—the Greater Good.
So where is Heaven’s compassion? In the angel Aziraphale, it turns out…and, unexpectedly, in the demon Crowley. Having spent six millennia on Earth, they’re far more human than either of their respective teams—and have developed a very human-like sense of imagination.
Because Aziraphale and Crowley have spent enough time among humans to have an imagination, they can imagine things beyond this binary that has been constructed for them. They have the ability to do things no other angel or no other demon can, simply because they have an imagination. Because they have seen themselves and the world around them as more than the roles they’ve been assigned.
When Aziraphale is told that he as an angel can’t possess people, his sly “But demons can” reminds us that they are made of the same stuff. See, the other angels can’t imagine Heaven being anything but Good, Hell being anything but Evil, or especially angels having the same capabilities as demons (or vice versa), but Aziraphale and Crowley, because of their imagination—because of their HUMANITY—can.
Humans are, after all, the real heroes of Good Omens. The beings divine and demonic in this grand celestial war are all background noise. Even our protagonists, Aziraphale and Crowley, are the love story subplot on the periphery of the main action.
The entire culmination of the story ends with one boy deciding that his role, determined for him millennia prior, isn’t for him. Adam literally rejects reality as he’s been told to accept it in order to stop Armageddon.
Humanity is the key to saving the world.
This is, in my eyes, the heart of Good Omens. Humans can imagine ourselves and each other, and most importantly the world around us, as something other than what it is. That gives us this profound and beautiful ability to build the world as our own, regardless of what we were given.
That ability, that knowledge not of what is but what could be, is the saving grace of humanity. It’s what gives us more power over the world than all the forces of Heaven and Hell.
Maybe that’s the knowledge the apple gave us, when Adam and Eve took those forbidden bites. Maybe this knowledge that we were never meant to have is what gave us everything we are, including the power to shape the world.
And there never was an apple, in Adam’s opinion, that wasn’t worth the trouble you got into for eating it.