Good Omens was released on Amazon (not Netflix) at the end of May and was almost immediately pronounced to be an incredible success, much to the delight of fans and critics. The actors, fun production, impeccably rendered dialogue, and generally tongue-in-cheek undercover satire that Neil Gaiman has made into a personal brand during these adaptations, all came through. The novel was faithfully, although not painstakingly rendered. It was fun, it was lighthearted with dark undertones, it was sweet and hopeful, and most of all, perhaps best of all...it was very, very gay.
“But Linda,” you’ll hear someone say, (possibly my friend Greg), “you read the gay into everything. I could get drinks at a bar with John and you’d write erotic friend-fiction about us by the end of the week.”
While, fair point Greg, (I do make everything at least a little bit queer), I have to protest in defense of Good Omens. It is in fact, extremely, wildly, without-a-doubt, a love story between an angel and a demon. There are a lot of in-text defenses for just how intimately queer Good Omens is, but the fact is that as a fan, I don’t really care whether or not another fan reads it as queer. I don’t need to be vindicated by other viewers (although it is nice); just ask the -0 people who read my Poe/Luke fanfic a few years ago. I’ll be the first to admit, there is little to no textual support for that one, and yet...there it is. Queer as the day is long.
So look, I’m not here to tell anyone that they’re wrong about their interpretations of Good Omens, but if you didn’t come away from that six episode Romeo-and-Juliet romp without thinking to yourself, ‘well they're certainly married,’ I reserve the right to judge you, or at the very least, give you a bit of a side eye.
From the text, there are a lot of reasons why you would draw the conclusion that these two otherworldly beings are in love. First, they speak to each other, which no other angel and demon do. They repeatedly run into each other, have each other’s backs throughout history, and frequently perform acts of service for each other. They get drunk with each other, comfort each other, and they were there when it first began, in the garden, when Aziraphale offered the first bit of kindness to Crowley, possibly the first act of its kind that he had ever received. (An interesting turn to note: this is directly inverted from the book, where it is Crowley who shelters Aziraphale from the oncoming storm. Who knows what is meant by any of this, but at the very least we can be confident that this reversal was done for some reason, and absolutely on purpose.)
They lie to their superiors, always ending up in just-around the same place at just-around the same time, and they generally go out of their way to be kind to each other, and to be kind to the world around them. This means different things for both of them, of course. For Crowley, it means performing acts of goodness when he is very clearly meant to be wicked. For Aziraphale, this means allowing Crowley to buy him dinner, not judging him, and acting with open love and honesty at every point, and not being above saying, ‘I don’t know’ whenever Crowley questions the ineffable plan. These things, after all, aren’t meant to be understood or interpreted by any single person, not even Agnes Nutter.
And in conclusion, if Michael Sheen’s delivery of, “You move too fast for me, Crowley,” doesn’t convince you that at the very least Sheen is playing it as a love story, then I’m sorry, but you need to get your eyes checked, because I saw a demon’s heart break in that scene.
I can go into the why’s and how’s of these ineffable husbands later, but another interesting point is that Neil Gaiman, the original co-author, had a hand in this adaption. Not just a finger either, but a whole two hands in the narrative screenwriting pie. Gaiman has shown that with the right amount of leeway, he can create something really incredible. American Gods was a critical hit as well, and besides the fact that Bryan Fuller (remember Hannibal? Same guy!) was at the helm, Gaiman did a great job of updating the material to meet a modern market. Namely: more women, more people of color, no transphobia even when the opportunities presented themselves, and a central queer relationship. He even said so himself: the TV show is a love story.
So look, the original book has been a stalwart in queer fandom for a long time. It was published in the 90’s, and there wasn’t a lot you could get away with in commercial fiction as far as queer implications are concerned. Gaiman has remained relatively tight-lipped about the speculation on sexuality surrounding our beloved demon and angel, but he’s been vocal about a few things. One: that this is a faithful adaptation of the original text, a recreation he thinks, that Terry Pratchett would have been proud of, two: that all interpretations are valid, and that he will not use his privilege as the author to define what people read into his work, and three: that Good Omens in a love story.
That should be it, right? The author said that something is a love story, then it is. While I agree on the basis of ‘my characters, my story,’ there’s another level here. What the author intended only matters in as far as how it is presented and prepared. The actual interpretation of the work, what others see in it, what others read onto it, the stories and narratives that we as fans layer over the work, is much more important.
The revival of fandom meta that has come out around this new release is truly, widely extraordinary. There are examples of how, in fact, Crowley was always trying to do the right thing, and just pretended to do the bad thing, and how Aziraphale ended up doing the bad thing even while trying to do the right one. An example is when Crowley, in the first episode, convinces Aziraphale that in order to thwart the apocalypse, Aziraphale must mentor young Warlock alongside Crowley, in order to give the human race a fighting chance. Aziraphale was willing to let things just “play out,” which would mean that the son of the Devil on Earth would have only a demon’s influence steering him through puberty. Another good example of this is when Crowley gives humans knowledge, (what can be so bad about that?) and Aziraphale in turn gives them a sword. Not just any sword, but a flaming weapon that was later on shown to exemplify War in all her glory - obviously not a good move on the angel’s part. These reversals and gray areas do very little at all to support my theory that these two metaphysical creatures are very much in love, but it is something fascinating to chew on.
Another meta that has gone around, (which isn’t particularly relevant but is endlessly fascinating and truly deserves a place in this article for the sheer brilliance of it), is that maybe, perhaps, as a demon who didn’t fall but “sauntered vaguely downwards,” Crowley was never actually a demon at all. The newest posit floating around is that Crowley is not only an Angel, but is in fact the archangel Raphael. Raphael is one of the foremost angels in the Bible, Talmud, Kabbalah, and the Quran, and he doesn't get a mention even once in either the book or the adaption. Raphael is also the angel of children. Crowley, when hearing about the flood that would destroy all of humanity, asked “even the children?” In addition, as the patron of travelers and happy meetings, Raphael-as-Crowley starts drawing in more merit. There is not a single scene after their initial meeting where Aziraphale is not delighted, entranced, or ultimately grateful that Crowley has shown up, either to save his ass, his books, or his cover. Lastly, to get particularly literary about it, in Dante’s Paradise Lost, it is the angel Raphael who was sent to warn Adam a second time (following God’s warning) about the dangers of the tree of good and evil. Maybe, in Good Omens, Raphael took a quick bite of the Apple first, just to see what all the fuss was about.
While very little of this is relevant to the main crux of this article - which is that Good Omens is queer as hell babes - I wanted to point out that while this met textual interpretation is bonkers, it’s also...valid. That’s the point. That no matter what, pulling evidence from the text to make a sweeping generalization about the text itself has always been a stalwart of criticism through the ages. People are allowed to get as absolutely crazy as they want with their theories and conclusions, as long as there is evidence in the text.
Even then, evidence in this case is a fast and loose term. It can be as simple as the way that Aziraphale is so very, very calm, when he’s getting manhandled by Crowley in the former abbey of the chattering nuns (interuppted by the nun with a quick, “Sorry to break up an intimate moment,” - that’s gay boyos!), or as obvious as the way that Aziraphale gives Crowley a deeply appreciative twice-over in Regency France, smiling like he’s just received a very good meal. There’s also the scene where Aziraphale is being accosted by his Angelic superiors for “consorting with the enemy,” and Uriel calls Crowley “Aziraphale’s boyfriend,” and instead of correcting Uriel, Aziraphle just smiles like an absolute fool because Uriel intimated that he and his crush were dating when in reality he should have been denying the accusation and trying very hard not to make his superiors suspicious, angry, or reactionary.
Evidence can be as small as the way Crowley blows away the stain from Aziraphale’s jacket or as deeply moving as Crowley’s absolute breakdown when he thinks his friend has been killed. He gets riotously drunk and considers moving out of the solar system just to escape the memories he made with his ex. If that's not classic rebound behavior I don’t know what is. He then goes on (after Aziraphale gets ghostly with him) to promise to go wherever Aziraphale is, without regard for the impending apocalypse or the state of either of their sides.
So here’s the kicker: It’s great that Neil Gaiman is supportive of multiple interpretations of his work. It’s cool that he’s an ally, not just to fans, but specifically to queer fans. It’s also cool that Michael Sheen is so supportive of fanfic and fanart that he has given us all the best defense of fanfiction I’ve ever seen from a mainstream actor. It’s cool, but it’s not the word of God, if you know what I’m saying. The problem we’re running into is that it’s all subtext. It’s all open to interpretation. Crowley and Aziraphale are never explicitly shown to be romantically intimate, they don’t speak such things into existence, and there is nothing on the page, in the text, or on the screen that resembles a physical intimacy, besides that of long standing frenemies. In order to determine our beliefs about their relationship, most of us have to read in between the lines. (That’s queer love for you though.)The author may have written it one way (queer as hell), and the actors may have “played it” one way (deeply in love), but at the end of the day, all we’re dealing with is interpretation. And interpretation is always, way up for grabs.
To review: the queerness of Aziraphale and Crowley is not necessarily up for debate here, as it is in fact, all relative. I’m not trying to convince anyone of it. I know how I read the book, how I viewed the show, and I’m pretty convinced that these two characters are about as in love as you can be without being explicit about it. What I’m more interested in is showing people, (possibly people like my friend Greg, who is one of my favorite people out there, but incredibly heterosexual), is that queerness has so long existed inside interpretation, that many queer people regard queer interpretation and rewriting it to be just as important as the canon material.
Ultimately, though, it is important to be able to watch something and see how there could be interpretation away from the heteronormative constraints under which it might have been made. What you choose to read into a work can (and should!) differ, but recognizing that there are different interpretations is extremely important, and even necessary to allow queer people, people of color, and those of marginalized genders to see themselves in work that has not been traditionally welcoming. We must understand that the stories we see are the stories we live out. They're interpretations and understandings of ourselves, that we see reflected in the larger society. To deny those interpretations is almost as if we deny others the right to read themselves into the story, to be the hero, to save the world. Representation, even implied, matters.
Aziraphale and Crowley may not be lovers, or married, or even sure about where to get their next meal after the Apocalypse was averted, but I know that they are in love, and sometimes, love is ineffable.
Linda is a twenty-something millennial living and working in the Hudson Valley who loves fandom, pop culture, sailing, tarot cards, and crying in movie theaters. If you want to listen to her talk about pop culture, the repeating cycles of media, and those stories that we can’t get out of our heads, you can listen to her podcast, Retronym, on iTunes.