We’re on Our Side: Aziraphale and Crowley’s Thoroughly Queer Relationship in Good Omens

It’s been a long, long time coming in internet terms. By now, you may be forgiven if you’ve moved on to the next big thing in (SFF) fiction, especially with the Hugo Awards so newly concluded (and congratulations to all nominees and winners again!) because the internet moves infinitely faster than we’d ever have dreamed possible.

But I promised you back in June that I had a whole essay’s worth of writing on Good Omens and here it is! Over 7,000 words of aromantic and asexual (but mostly aromantic) essayage on Good Omens. With many, many thanks to Jenny from Reading the End for basically handholding me through the flaily first draft of this piece. (It was over 10,000 words.) This would be a hundred times less awesome without Jenny’s comments on the first draft when I was an anxiously flaily pile of “I cannot do this” and “But no one will care”.

We’re on Our Side: Aziraphale and Crowley’s Thoroughly Queer Relationship in Good Omens

The thing about Good Omens that stood out to me most was how incredibly seen I felt. I’d resisted watching it for a while. I had deadlines to stick to! Hugo Nominee material to read! I didn’t have Amazon Prime! I have bad experiences with liking things that are hyped by people talking about it! And then there are the shippers…

So, yes, I resisted watching it. And then someone[1] RTed something Neil Gaiman said onto my timeline. In response to a question asking him to label Crowley and Aziraphale as gay, bi or pan, Gaiman answered

Neil Gaiman✔@neilhimselfI wouldn't exclude the ideas that they are ace, or aromantic, or trans. They are an angel and a demon, not as make humans, per the book. Occult/Ethereal beings don't have sexes, something we tried to reflect in the casting. Whatever Crowley and Aziraphale are, it's a love story.
2,8214:46 PM - Jun 8

Existing as an aroace-spec person in popular (SFF) media can be a fraught thing, and this brief exchange is a good example. Popular media – and society in general – has a long history of erasing queerness and fans have a long history of pushing back against this, but it is precisely this combination that makes media culture such a minefield for aroace people to navigate. On the one hand, the way society enshrines (heterosexual) romantic and sexual relationships as the default and ideal in media has pushed queer relationships and queer characters into closets and resulting in the widescale erasure of allosexual queerness. On the other hand, the sheer vehemence of the pushback against this default utterly erases any chance of relationships or characters being read as asexual and/or aromantic. There is a strong sense that two characters with an intimate friendship, such as Kirk and Spock, must be in an allosexual-queer-coded relationship because… this is the only time media allows queer people to have any kind of relationship at all[2]. Allosexual queer people, rightfully and understandably, lash out against this desexualisation by asserting strongly, sometimes aggressively, that queer people have sex. Yet this backlash can lead directly into a mindset that considers asexuality and aromanticism inherently homophobic simply for wanting to be able to imagine an asexual and/or aromantic interpretation. One needs only look at the vitriol thrown against reading Yuri (Yuri!!! On Ice) as a gay demisexual[3] man to see how negative this reaction can be.

Creators have no qualms about erasing established asexuality or aromanticism, or both. Characters such as Raphael (Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments) have part of their identity erased in adaptations. Though Clare has confirmed[4] that Raphael is aromantic asexual, the Shadowhunters adaptation erased the first part of this identity and gave him an explicitly romantic character arc. Though not SFF, when Riverdale straightwashed Jughead Jones, a character who has been portrayed as aromantic asexual for over 70 years[5], much of the outcry was focused on the erasure of his asexuality and the erasure of his aromantic coding was largely tossed aside as irrelevant. Amatoallonormativity, or the assumption that every human being experiences both romantic and sexual attraction, frequently erases aroace existences in some way or another.

Good Omens sees the approach to avoid explicitly labelling a relationship as queer run head-first into (allosexual) queer fans’ reactions to having their own sexuality downplayed or erased. Creator responses can range from very strong ‘no homo’ reactions to making fun of the fans.

So when the co-creator of the original book/writer/showrunner of the adaptation explicitly acknowledged my existence[6] and the possibility of reading Crowley and Aziraphale as queerplatonic as valid alongside other queer readings, you bet I sat up and took notice. The show made me feel seen in a way other mainstream potentially queerplatonic relationships rarely come close to[7].

The beauty of the relationship between Aziraphale and Crowley, to me, is that while one can read it in various ways – romantic partners, sexual partners, intimate friends – their relationship always falls outside of and challenges the amatoallonormative heteropatriarchal society we live in. Labels are important, but they are not the pinnacle of representation. The strength and beauty of what Good Omens has accomplished is that it gives us, deliberately and explicitly, a central relationship – a love story even – that is inherently queer and allows a large number of queer viewers to find representation. It just will not look the same to everyone. To me, it looks like a perfect example of queerplatonic partners.

A Question of Queerbaiting

Gaiman has been criticised for his apparent lack of stance on queer representation[8] in the show, despite having a history of allyship beginning long before it became ‘trendy’[9], and accused of queerbaiting the audience.

In the strictest sense queerbaiting is something like “hinting at characters being in a sexual and/or romantic same-sex relationship while not actually depicting the relationships explicitly or acknowledging it exists”. Well-known examples of queerbaiting include Castiel/Dean (Supernatural), Regina/Emma (Once upon a Time), and Merlin/Arthur (Merlin). There are, however, countless others.

All of these examples are fan-theories and creators have, at best, been coy about their agreement. These shows tease viewers with the apparent promise of queer representation only for the creators to then use every loophole available to acknowledge a character as queer or even flat-out denying the reading. It hurts to see a narrative strongly resonate with you only for the creators to say ‘no homo’ and mainstream Western narratives, especially US-produced ones, are particularly prone to doing exactly that. Unsurprisingly, many fans want explicit recognition of a character’s queerness or explicit commitment from creators to a queer interpretation.

Yet, this desire for visible queerness often seems to take an extremely limited form with creators getting backlash for how they handle queerness. Earlier in 2019, author Mackenzi Lee faced backlash for allegedly shifting to using a less specific label for one of her queer characters[10]. Lee’s handling of another character’s sexuality also caused a strong pushback from queer fans[11]. 2016 saw the release of both Sailor Moon Crystal Season III and Yuri!!! On Ice. While there was some backlash in Western spheres against Crystal’s depiction of Haruka and Michiru as a couple, discourse mostly centred on highlighting how the show was not queerbaiting[12]. Meanwhile, Yuri!!! On Ice was heavily criticised for its decision to obscure its main characters kissing on-screen in a public venue. Despite them kissing on-screen in a way that leaves no room for discussion, buying matching rings together, exchanging vows in front of a cathedral, and a whole scene devoted to Victor announcing their intent to marry, people argued that the show was queerbaiting them because it lacked explicit sexual content (even just a kiss) or the characters stating their orientation outright.

As understandable as it is to want undeniable queerness, the reactions to Yuri!!! On Ice show that, in its extreme, this desire invalidates, even erases, certain obvious depictions of queerness. Good Omens falls into this category, though it has the added complication of centring a relationship that can be read aromantically extremely easily.

Gaiman’s tweet, though seemingly unaware of the discussion around queerbaiting, explicitly makes room for a non-sexual and non-romantic queer reading of Good Omens by acknowledging that queerness is not restricted to same-sex sexual attraction. Of course it would be nice if Gaiman explicitly committed to a single reading. There is power in names. But, in a show like this, that power comes at the cost of erasing others and Gaiman’s response counters that. He is not correcting whether Crowley/Aziraphale are queer but what counts as queer. When he says “Whatever Crowley and Aziraphale are, it’s a love story”, he is affirming the queerness of their relationship[13] and expanding our concept of what queerness looks like in media. That is not queerbaiting. Gaiman is only queerbaiting if one’s definition of it is “anything short of explicitly using labels or on-screen explicit sexual content is hinting”.

While the show’s creators do avoid using specific labels, including umbrella terms[14], they are clear on the fact that it is a love story. In an interview with The Telegraph, Michael Sheen discusses the way he played the role:

“I wanted to play Aziraphel being sort of in love with Crowley,” says Sheen. “They’re both very bonded and connected anyway, because of the two of them having this relationship through history – but also because angels are beings of love, so it’s inevitable that he would love Crowley. It helped that loving David is very easy to do.”
What kind of love – platonic, romantic, erotic? “Oh, those are human, mortal labels!” Sheen laughs. “But that was what I thought would be interesting to play with. There’s a lot of fan fiction where Aziraphale and Crowley get a bit hot and heavy towards each other, so it’ll be interesting to see how an audience reacts to what we’ve done in bringing that to the screen.” (Emphasis mine)

Sheen too refuses to put a specific label on the relationship between Aziraphale and Crowley, but he is still clear on the fact that their relationship is built on love.

Tennant, though more coy and reticent in his descriptions of the relationship, also acknowledges that love is at the heart of it, telling Bustle in an interview that, “They are love stories. All of them [buddy comedies] are, and this is too. What direction that love ends up going in is perhaps in the eye of the audience to behold.” Douglas MacKinnon, the director of Good Omens, has said about the pre-title sequence in Episode 3 that “clearly it’s about their relationship, and some would say their love affair. I know Michael Sheen is a hundred per cent sure that Aziraphale falls in love with Crowley and that moment occurs when the bomb drops on the church.” (The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Guide, A Brief History of Inhumanity)

Of course, creator comments mean very little if the creation does not back those claims up…

The Beats of Bromance

For a duo that rarely touches, Aziraphale and Crowley have an intensely physical relationship. Take the dinner scene in Episode 1.

<figure>Crowley (Tennant) staring intently at Aziraphale (Sheen) across a table in a fancy restaurant. Aziraphale is happily eating, while Crowley is wearing shades indoors.</figure>

Crowley is shown leaning forward to… watch Aziraphale enjoy his food. Nothing in this scene suggest that they have been having a conversation. There is no discernible reason for Crowley to be staring at Aziraphale this intently. Moreover, prior to this scene, Crowley had been trying to convince Aziraphale to help him prevent Armageddon, but here he makes no attempt to do so.

Most of their relationship gets shown in a series of vignettes in Episode 3’s pre-title sequence. These scenes were written specifically for the adaptation[15] and show the progression from their meeting at the Garden of Eden[16] to the people they have become 6,000-odd years later.

If one takes the asserting that their relationship is a love story at face value, one can expect the narrative arc of their relationship to follow the structures of a romance novel. For the purposes of this discussion, Billy Mernit’s 7-beat structure for romantic comedy, as discussed in Writing the Romantic Comedy is a fit that works well with the overarching comedic tone of Good Omens, especially given how strong the similarities between romcoms and buddy movies are. Breaking down Aziraphale and Crowley’s relationship into Mernit’s structure results in the following:

The Setup

The Setup is defined as “a scene or sequence identifying the exterior and/or interior conflict (i.e., unfulfilled desire), the ‘what’s wrong with this picture’ implied in the protagonist’s (and/or antagonist’s) current status quo”. (Mernit, 110)

While a large aspect of the setup is, of course, the fact that Crowley and Aziraphale are a demon and an angel, giving an easy answer to what the status quo and exterior conflict is (they are hereditary enemies), it takes the show longer to establish the interior conflict. In Episode 3, the first two vignettes have Crowley initiate conversation. It is not until the scene in the Roman pub when Aziraphale runs into Crowley and explicitly reaches out to him that the setup is truly completed.

<figure>Aziraphale (Sheen) recognises Crowley (Tennant) in a Roman pub and looks at him happily.</figure>
Aziraphale, in a white toga, notices Crowley…
AZIRAPHALE
Crawley? Crowley? Fancy running into you here!
Aziraphale sits next to him.
AZIRAPHALE (CONT’D)
Still a demon, then?
CROWLEY
What kind of a stupid question is that? ‘Still a demon?’ What else am I going to be? An aardvark?
AZIRAPHALE
Salutaria! In Rome long?
CROWLEY
Just nipped in for a quick temptation. You?
AZIRAPHALE
I thought I’d go to Petronius’s new restaurant. I hear he does remarkable things to oysters.
CROWLEY
I’ve never eaten an oyster.
AZIRAPHALE
Let me tempt you to… Oops. That’s your job, isn’t it?

While the scene is slightly longer in the published screenplay, the show’s cuts allow it to focus not just on Aziraphale’s apparent happiness at running into Crowley again, but it also serves to demonstrate what an angel could like about Earth. By showing the way that Aziraphale is willing to reach out to Crowley and what his interests on Earth are, the show completes the Setup as it now offers both an exterior and interior conflict.

The Inciting Incident

Mernit defines this as what “brings man and woman together and into conflict; an inventive but credible contrivance, often amusing, which in some way sets the tone for the action to come”. (111) The show actually offers two potential moments for this incident, depending on whether one is following their personal arcs in Episode 3 or the broader arc of the show as a whole.

If the former, this beat is set in Wessex when Crowley realises that they could both simply lie to their bosses about the work they have done. The screenplay refers to Crowley’s idea as a life-changing idea.

CROWLEY
So, we’re both working very hard in damp places and just cancelling each other out?
AZIRAPHALE
You could put it like that. It is a bit damp.
Crowley has an idea. A life-changing idea…
CROWLEY
Be easier if we’d both stayed home, and just sent messages back to our head offices saying we had done everything they asked for, wouldn’t it?

It is this idea to exert some autonomy over their lives that will, ultimately, pit them together against the forces of both Heaven and Hell. When it comes to their relationship, however, this moment takes place in Elizabethan England when the audience first sees Aziraphale agree to Crowley’s idea. The screenplay explicitly describes this decision as “For a moment [Aziraphale’s] noble better nature rejects the idea out of hand. Then, he falls…”, but the show also starts to emphasis a sense of closeness from this moment on.

Consider how close Crowley and Aziraphale are standing in an almost-empty theatre. While it may simply be a result of splicing together multiple takes, the end result creates the suggestion that Crowley has moved deliberately closer to Aziraphale than is strictly necessary for their conversation.

<figure>Crowley (Tennant) amused at Aziraphale (Sheen)’s attempts to disavow their friendship while standing close enough to touch.</figure>

The fact that he is clearly trying not to laugh at Aziraphale’s attempts to disclaim any kind of friendship between them – Aziraphale is a terrible liar because he gets flustered and nervous – echoes the way in which anxiety about being openly queer can be shown. We see a similar dynamic in Yuri!!! On Ice, for example. The anxious partner is swift to awkwardly deny any sense of a (queer) relationship while the confident partner is bemused. Throughout the show, Aziraphale will deny his closeness to Crowley multiple times and, as will be shown, this increasingly upsets Crowley and is the source of their break-up moments.

This scene, however, also highlights how much both Aziraphale and Crowley care about one another. Aziraphale’s first reason to refuse Crowley’s plan is concern for the demon’s safety, saying “If Hell found out, they wouldn’t just be angry. They’d destroy you”. Crowley, meanwhile, offers to make Hamlet a success because Aziraphale cannot, the first time he offers the angel an act of service for no personal gain and out of no personal desire to see the play succeed.

In front of them, Shakespeare is talking to the oyster seller…
SHAKESPEARE
It’s been like this every performance, Juliet. A complete dud. It’d take a miracle to get people to come and see Hamlet.
Crowley looks at Aziraphale.
CROWLEY
Yeah. All right. I’ll do that one. My treat.
AZIRAPHALE
Oh, really?
CROWLEY
I still prefer the funny ones.

Even without looking at Sheen’s pleading face, it is clear that, left to his own devices, Crowley would have let the play flop. It is only because Aziraphale enjoys Hamlet and wants it to be a success that Crowley agrees to perform a miracle – a term until now only used to describe Aziraphale’s angelic magic – to ensure the play will be a success. Aziraphale has already agreed to go to Scotland for the both of them and Shakespeare’s complaint is only the catalyst for the unspoken conversation between Aziraphale and Crowley. Though the show allows the viewer to cast their own explanation on their relationship, it is undeniable that the two are already genuine friends.

This friendship can also be seen in the next vignette set in Revolutionary France. In this scene, Aziraphale is imprisoned and awaiting a beheading. Crowley uses his magic to save Aziraphale and the angel invites him to dinner a second time. Michael Sheen’s face when Aziraphale realises Crowley is there is priceless happiness.

<figure>Aziraphale (Sheen) has heard Crowley’s (Tennant) voice again for, so the viewer is left to assume, the first time in centuries.</figure>

While it is arguably happiness because Aziraphale has spotted a way out of his current predicament, this interpretation hardly fits with his characterisation so far. He has looked this happy every time he has encountered Crowley in the past and given his struggle looking past or outright breaking rules it seems unlikely that his first thought upon realising Crowley is there is “Now I won’t have to die because someone else can perform a miracle to save me”.

The Turning Point:

The Turning Point is “a new development that raises story stakes and clearly defines the protagonist’s goal; most successful when it sets man and woman at cross-purposes and/or their inner emotions at odds with the goal”. (112) This point happens in the vignette in Victorian England as they fall out for the first time. In this scene, Crowley asks Aziraphale for a favour, but tellingly it is not Aziraphale’s refusal to grant it that causes their fall-out. It is his denial of their relationship.

The scene casts Crowley’s request of a favour as unusual and, indeed, though he has freely given his help, Crowley has not asked anything of Aziraphale. The agreement between them, which is a mutually beneficial situation, seems to be the only example the angel can think of. While that agreement (to “stay out of each other’s way” and “lend a hand when needed”) was Crowley’s idea and initiative, it is hardly the same as a favour. Crowley’s “This is something else” also shows the difference because his request is clearly a deeply personal one: a suicide pill “for if it all goes pear-shaped”.

In this scene, Crowley also eschews something most viewers would expect a demon to do: call in a debt. It would be entirely unsurprising if Crowley mentioned saving Aziraphale in Paris, seemingly of his own volition and at great risk to his own safety. Yet Crowley never attempts to guilt Aziraphale into getting him the Holy Water he wanted and he does not even seem particularly angry about Aziraphale’s refusal.

AZIRAPHALE
Out of the question.
CROWLEY
Why not?
AZIRAPHALE
It would destroy you. I’m not bringing you a suicide pill, Crowley.
CROWLEY
That’s not what I want it for. Just… insurance…
The paper says, in Crowley’s handwriting, HOLY WATER.
AZIRAPHALE
I’m not an idiot, Crowley. Do you know what trouble I’d get into if they knew I’d been fraternising? It’s completely out of the question.
CROWLEY
Fraternising?
AZIRAPHALE
Whatever you wish to call it. I do not think there is any point in discussing it further.
CROWLEY
I have lots of other people to fraternise with, angel.
AZIRAPHALE
Of course you do.

The first thing to note in this exchange is that Aziraphale is, again, more concerned with Crowley’s safety than the rules he believes in so strongly. His first instinct to refuse is not because he is helping someone on the opposite side but because Crowley could be hurt. None of the other angels the show introduces would choose that order. Of course, part of the conceit of the show is that Aziraphale is a terrible angel and not good at his job whereas the other angels are, but it also neatly showcases that Aziraphale thinks Crowley’s existence is worth more than those rules.

The second thing to note is that Crowley is not upset when Aziraphale refuses to fetch him Holy Water. He only gets upset when Aziraphale describes their relationship as ‘fraternising’ and the Holy Water is entirely forgotten. Crowley and Aziraphale fight over the nature of their relationship, but not about Aziraphale’s refusal to do Crowley a favour.

‘Fraternising’ has two meanings, both of them relevant to a queer interpretation of their relationship. The first is “to associate with others in a brotherly or congenial way” and the second is “to associate on friendly terms with an enemy or opposing group, often in violation of discipline or orders”. Aziraphale, of course, means it in this second way and Crowley takes offense to that characterisation of their relationship. Given that, in the scenes we have seen so far, he has voluntarily performed a heavenly miracle just to make Aziraphale happy and another one to save Aziraphale’s life, and he has made it quite clear that ‘his side’ would do far worse than ‘send a rude note’ if they found out about it, it is not a stretch to imagine that he might object to the idea that Aziraphale still thinks of him as, at best, a frenemy. Whatever the exact nature of their relationship at this point, what makes Crowley angry is the way Aziraphale has devalued it.

The Midpoint:

Described by Mernit as “a situation that irrevocably binds the protagonist with the antagonist (often while tweaking sexual tensions) and has further implications for the outcome of the relationship” (113), the midpoint in Aziraphale and Crowley’s relationship is undoubtedly their reconciliation in World War 2, when Crowley enters a church, at great risk to himself and in constant discomfort throughout the scene, to, in his own words, stop Aziraphale “from getting into trouble” because he “didn’t want to see [Aziraphale] embarrassed”. This is the scene when Aziraphale, according to cast and crew, first realises that he loves Crowley. The screenplay, again, explicitly makes mention of the way their relationship unfolds in this scene[17].

Though the screenplay offers no hints on how to perform, it is clear that Sheen’s Aziraphale is still angry, aggressively taking a step towards Crowley.

<figure>Close-up of Aziraphale (Sheen) angrily asking Crowley (Tennant) what he is doing disrupting Aziraphale’s clandestine meeting.</figure>
AZIRAPHALE
What are you doing here?
CROWLEY
Stopping you getting into trouble. Ow!
AZIRAPHALE
I should have known. Of course. These people are working for you.
CROWLEY
No! They’re a bunch of half-witted Nazi spies running about London, blackmailing and murdering people. I just didn’t want to see you embarrassed. Ow! Ow!
(…)
GLOZIER
The mysterious Anthony J. Crowley. Your fame precedes you.
Aziraphale is softening. They haven’t spoken in a hundred years: he’s realising they are still friends.
AZIRAPHALE
Anthony?
CROWLEY
You don’t like it?
AZIRAPHALE
No. I didn’t say that. I’ll get used to it.

The script explicitly acknowledges that ‘friendship’ is part of their relationship. Crowley uses his demonic powers to redirect the bombs to fall on the church he and Aziraphale are in. Though Aziraphale’s magic is strongly hinted at being what saves them both, Crowley is the one who rescues Aziraphale’s books, calling it a “little demonic miracle of [his] own”. Again, this is something he has done without prompting from Aziraphale and for no apparent reason other than because he knew Aziraphale would be upset to lose them. This is the second time that, though Crowley could easily have asked Aziraphale for a bottle of Holy Water in return, he does no such thing. Especially important here is that when Crowley hands over the books, the musical cue is a slow violin version of their theme, suggesting if nothing else that this scene is an important development in their relationship.

The Second Turning Point:

Mernit describes the Second Turning Point as the point where “stakes reach their highest point as the romantic relationship’s importance jeopardizes the protagonist’s chance to succeed at his/her state goal—or vice versa—and his/her goal shifts.” (115)

The second turning point in Good Omens comes when Aziraphale decides to get Crowley a thermos full of Holy Water after all in a scene that is, effectively, a farewell. In this scene, the viewer learns that Crowley has become so desperate for his insurance that he is willing to break into a church to get it. Aziraphale, having heard about Crowley’s caper and deducing what it was likely about, decides to give him a thermos of Holy Water.

<figure>Aziraphale (Sheen) tells Crowley (Tennant) “You go too fast for me, Crowley”.</figure>
AZIRAPHALE
I work in Soho, I hear things. I hear you are setting up a caper to rob a church. Crowley, it’s too dangerous. Holy water wouldn’t just kill your body. It would destroy you completely.
CROWLEY
You’ve already told me what you think. A hundred and five years ago.
AZIRAPHALE
And I haven’t changed my mind. But I won’t have you risking your life. Not even for something dangerous. So you can call off the robbery.
(…)
CROWLEY
Can I drop you anywhere?
Aziraphale opens the door to the car.
AZIRAPHALE
No, thank you. Oh, don’t look so disappointed. Perhaps one day we could… I don’t know… Have a picnic. Or dine at the Ritz.
CROWLEY
I’ll give you a lift. Anywhere you want to go.
AZIRAPHALE
You go too fast for me, Crowley.

Viewers ought to have no trouble coding this as a farewell between two people romantically attracted to one another who have tried to fit their lives together and failed. Aziraphale’s gift of the thermos – the only time Aziraphale gives Crowley a gift that is not a dinner invitation – which he was so reluctant to give is a sign of how much Crowley matters to him. Not only does Aziraphale go against what he believes in, but he goes against his own feelings about giving Crowley the Holy Water. By his own admission, he has not changed his mind about anything. The only change is that he has realised Crowley is willing to put his life in jeopardy for it.

What, exactly, causes Aziraphale to say that Crowley is moving too fast for him is left up to the viewers’ imaginations, but it is clearly related to the ways in which they both navigate the rules set before them by Heaven and Hell, and the way that Aziraphale struggles with them. Throughout the show so far, Aziraphale has been uncomfortable with rule-breaking and the way Crowley encourages him to do so. Sheen’s acting ensures that Aziraphale looks heart-broken at the idea of leaving Crowley and feeling that it is the only option he currently has. Their respective goals may not shift visibly, but their relationship has.

The Crisis:

The crisis is the point where we must take the most liberties with applying the beats and structure of a romantic comedy as outlined by Mernit because it is the point when Episode 3’s detour into the development of Crowley and Aziraphale’s relationship rejoins the main narrative. According to Mernit, the crisis is the point “wherein the consequences of the swivel decision yield disaster; generally, the humiliating scene where private motivations are revealed, and either the relationship and/or the protagonist’s goal is seemingly lost forever”. (115)

Of course, neither Aziraphale’s decision to hand Crowley the thermos of Holy Water nor his decision to walk away lead to disaster, or even humiliation. No, the crisis in their relationship is intimately tied to the main narrative of the plot. It is the final scene of Episode 3 when Crowley and Aziraphale have their second big fight and where they stop working together to stop Armageddon and give up on their relationship.

Though Crowley eventually walks away from their argument over who, if anyone, should kill the Antichrist, when Aziraphale calls out to him, he softens and turns back, trying to entice the angel to run off with him. The close-ups of Michael Sheen’s face flash through several emotions ranging from hope to happiness to resolution. “Run off with a demon”, after all, is very much against the rules Aziraphale is still doing his best to follow. Aziraphale’s reasons for why he is turning Crowley down shows Sheen’s voice on the verge of tears as he plays an angel desperately trying to lie about what he wants.

Crowley keeps trying to reach out in this scene, calling to Aziraphale’s emotions and their shared history, but the angel continues to push him away, and then, when Aziraphale cries out “It’s over”, Crowley… gives up. According to the screenplay, “Crowley takes a deep breath, as if he’s going to keep talking. And then he lets it all go,” and he walks away from his best friend for over 6,000 years. The show, however, focuses this goodbye on Aziraphale’s face as Sheen again shows that the angel is close to crying.

<figure>Aziraphale (Sheen) looking hopeful at the idea of running off with Crowley (Crowley).</figure><figure>Aziraphale (Sheen) looking crestfallen at the realisation that this goes against the rules he holds so dear.</figure><figure>Aziraphale (Sheen) telling Crowley (Tennant) they’re not friends because, when push comes to shove, he thinks he cannot be friends with a demon and be true to his purpose.</figure>

Crowley, in a final farewell, puckers his lips as if angry and storms off with a final, clearly sarcastic comment.

<figure>Crowley’s (Tennant) angry farewell face after Aziraphale (Sheen) rejects him once again, and right during the lead-up to the Apocalypse at that.</figure>

No longer working together to stop the Apocalypse, the crisis in their relationship is one that could, ultimately, doom the world, and all because Aziraphale has tries his best to deny the relationship between them rather than accepting it and accepting Crowley.

The Resolution:

The Resolution is “A reconciliation that reaffirms the primal importance of the relationship; usually a happy ending that implies marriage or a serious commitment, often at the cost of some personal sacrifice to the protagonist”. (116) This point is, of course, when the two meet up again at Tadfield Airbase and where they resume working together to help Adam save the world. Arguably, the resolution takes place later, when the viewer learns that Aziraphale and Crowley traded faces and places to avoid death after preventing Heaven and Hell from destroying the Earth, but that moment begins at Tadfield Airbase. After aiding in averting the war between Heaven and Hell as well as the destruction of Earth, Satan’s arrival is imminent. Crowley is ready to give up until Aziraphale threatens him. In a scene with more description than most others, the screenplay renders it:

CROWLEY
This is Satan himself. It isn’t about Armageddon. This is personal. We are fucked.
Aziraphale picks up the sword from the ground, and holds it awkwardly, as if it might go off. He’s not threatening Crowley with it, just making his point that he can do dangerous out-of-character things if he needs to.
AZIRAPHALE
Come up with something, or… Or I’m never going to talk to you again.
Crowley nods. That one hurts. What the hell. Crowley snaps his fingers… and time stops.

Aziraphale has, at this point, already done at least two things entirely out of character: he was the one clamouring for Adam’s death when push came to shove, and he was the one whose idea confused Gabriel and Beelzebub into calling off the war. But here he is actually back to his regular self and specifically uses Crowley’s affection for him as a motivator to get Crowley to find some way to save them all from certain doom.

While, arguably, Aziraphale might never speak to Crowley again because they both got killed by Satan, that is clearly not what Aziraphale means. He is ready to fight and ensure that they triumph over Satan as well, even though that is entirely out of character for him. After all, he was the angel who offered a demon shelter from the rain instead of choosing to fight him or otherwise chase him out of Eden. And his threat works because it is, however indirectly, Aziraphale’s way of saying that they are friends and his relationship with Crowley matters to him. It is, in a moment where they both think they are going to die, the worst threat he can think of.

Somebody to Love

Studying only the narrative beats in Good Omens means missing out on other queer-coded moments, however. Emily Asher-Perrin’s “The Good Omens Miniseries is a Love Story, and I Will Never Recover From It” published at Tor.com, though dismissing aromanticism and asexual as queer as well as the power of an aromantic reading as “there are endless stories dedicated to platonic friendships between two male friends” – stories which will inevitably see their friendship erased on the altar of allosexuality and as such never get to stand as being about friendship in their own right – offers a good overview of many of the moments where the show uses subtle cues to indicate that Crowley and Aziraphale are, indeed, in a relationship, however much the audience is invited to apply their own labels.

Notably, though, several of the characters in the show outright assume that the two are a romantic/sexual couple. Uriel even explicitly called Crowley Aziraphale’s boyfriend, saying “Don’t think your boyfriend in the dark glasses can get you special treatment in Hell”. Crowley’s reaction to learning of Aziraphale’s apparent demise is a powerful example that does not fit easily within an analysis that looks at the relationship’s collective arc sketched out previously.

Crowley is trying, still, to play it cool . . .
CROWLEY
Aziraphale! Aziraphale! Where the Heaven are you? You idiot. Aziraphale! For Go— for Sa— for SOMEBODY’S SAKE, where ARE you?
We hear rumblings as things fall . . .
Crowley looks around desperately. Behind him a window smashes . . .
A firehose spurts water through the window, into the inferno, and straight into Crowley.
Crowley is knocked backwards, into the flames.
Out of the fire, he gets to his feet . . . His hair is a mess. His dark glasses have been knocked off, revealing his real eyes, yellow and slitted like a snake’s. His face is filthy. His clothes are burned and ripped, and he is angry and upset.
CROWLEY (CONT’D)
(on the verge of tears)
Aziraphale?
He picks up dark glasses and puts them on. They are melted, and the glass is shattered, and they are ridiculous.
CROWLEY (CONT’D)
Right. I’m done. I’ve had it. I don’t care about any bloody angels or humans or anyone. I hate you all. Somebody killed my best friend, and I don’t even care who did it. Bastards, all of you.

The show deviates from the screenplay, truncating Crowley’s monologue. What viewers actually got was “Aziraphale! Aziraphale! Where the Heaven are you? You idiot. Aziraphale! For Go— for Sa— Ah! For SOMEBODY’S SAKE, where ARE you? [groans] You’ve gone. Somebody killed my best friend! Bastards! All of you!”

This shift allows Tennant and the viewer to focus on Crowley’s sense of loss and pain at losing his best friend. Combined with the way the chorus from Queen’s Somebody to Love plays over the final moments of the scene and how Crowley seemingly gives up on trying to save the world now that Aziraphale is gone from it, an alloromantic reading of this scene that would easily lead someone to believe the show is queerbaiting, though, as Asher-Perrin points out, this is “honestly taxing to one’s logical faculties”. There is literally nothing in this show that suggests Crowley and Aziraphale are not in a relationship of some kind. Every time their relationship comes up, whether it is in glances between the two, music choices to underscore certain scenes, the structure of their collective arc, or simply having even tertiary characters unchallenged in their assumption that the two are a couple, the show chooses to present them as partners in a relationship. Yet what that relationship is exactly is left up to the viewers.

For an alloromantic (and allosexual) queer reading, interpreting Crowley’s repeated statements that he and Aziraphale are friends as code for “romantic/sexual partners” is crucial. It is these words, these moments, that prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the show is queer even if it shies away from using labels. The assumption here is that two gay characters who, for whatever reason, cannot say “I love you” instead couch their relationship in terms of friendship. Part of this assumption is rooted in the way alloromantic and allosexual queer people have historically been forced to frame their relationship as “just friends”. Reading the show through an alloromantic and allosexual lens, even if it does not acknowledge the relationship by having Crowley or Aziraphale say “We’re a gay couple” themselves, is then a powerful moment of reclaiming queer visibility and shaking off the reading that they are “just friends” may seem to make sense. After all, it chafes when one is forced to describe one’s relationship in terms that do not suit it, when one is denied words and visibility.

So let us assume, just for a moment, that the narrative is intended to be read solely as an alloromantic and allosexual moment in which its queerness stands before the audience as proudly, as loudly, as visibly and as recognisably as it may. That we are indeed intended to hear Crowley’s “We’re friends” as “I love you romantically and sexually”, that it is, in short, a conventional romance in all ways[18]. When discussing her approach to writing Baker Thief in an interview, Claudie Arseneault remarks that “Romance’s popularity is built directly upon amatonormativity (the idea that a central, romantic relationship is the norm all humans experience and should be aimed for)—a key element of aromantic oppression”. Baker Thief is a book that seeks to “reframe romantic tropes within non-romantic relationships”. This statement neatly encapsules the trouble with this assumption about the narrative in Good Omens. By reinterpreting what Crowley means when he says “friends”, amatonormativity and allonormativity present a situation wherein their relationship must be romantic and sexual in nature and the experiences of aromantic and asexual viewers gets erased completely.

For an aromantic (and to a lesser extent asexual) reading, the way Crowley describes their relationship consistently as friendship is significant, especially since other characters assume their relationship is romantic and sexual in nature. The differences between a platonic friendship where the characters are ‘just friends’ and a queerplatonic friendship where the characters are ‘more than friends’ can be fuzzy and difficult to grasp, especially for alloromantic readers, hence relying on amatonormative phrasing to suggest that there is, indeed, a difference between the two even if it can be difficult to quantify. Applied to Good Omens, one must ask to what extent the moments the audience codes as romantic are inherently romantic moments and to what extent amatonormativity has forced a certain interpretation upon these moments.

If, as Michael Warner states, “Queer struggles aim not just at toleration or equal status but challenging institutions”, then a queerplatonic reading of Crowley and Aziraphale’s relationship as friendship and, specifically, as a queerplatonic, aromantic relationship, challenges the dominant institutions of amatonormativity and allonormativity by virtue of falling outside the conventional boundaries society has set for both ‘regular’ friendship and romantic/sexual relationships.

The depiction of Crowley and Aziraphale’s relationship falls outside of romantic/sexual relationships by virtue not of the show’s refusal to label it – it does, at least twice – but by virtue of having Crowley insist, repeatedly, that their relationship is one of friendship. The show’s balance between Crowley’s unwavering description of their relationship as friends and other characters’ interpretation of their relationship as romantic/sexual is one that is likely to be familiar to those aromantics who would like a partnership, a queerplatonic relationship, without this relationship immediately being interpreted as something it is not. Aromantic people in a relationship are assumed to be in a romantic relationship by default. Lack of understanding of aromanticism may lead to this assumption persisting even after people have been corrected.

A queerplatonic reading of Good Omens still puts Crowley and Aziraphale’s relationship outside of the ideals sketched by heteronormative patriarchy even before one tries to account for amatonormativity and allonormativity (and before one decides to throw gender identity into the mix) simply because male friendship is not depicted with this level of intimacy or vulnerability. Bromances seem to come largely in two varieties: action films, with all the masculine traits to go with them, and bromantic comedy, which often seem to centre on the male friends finding (heterosexual) partners together. Soulfully gazing into the other’s eyes, begging them to run away with you, playing specifically romantic songs to heighten the emotional response to certain scenes, doing things just because it makes the other smile… These are not hallmarks or staples bromance narratives are particularly known for and they are not actions Western society associates with how men should interact with one another.

Regardless of whether the viewer interprets Crowley and Aziraphale’s relationship as queerplatonic or romantic, it always falls outside of the boundaries of what society deems an acceptable type of relationship between two male-perceived characters simply because people, especially men, in society are denied the kind of emotional closeness and affection evident between the two unless they are in an explicitly romantic relationship. A queerplatonic and aromantic reading of their relationship disrupts that assumption and, indeed, other than its use of romantic songs, none of the actions are restricted to romantic partners. Friends, too, can do things – sometimes grand things – for others simply because it makes them smile. It is only amatonormativity that teaches us they cannot. Crowley and Aziraphale’s relationship falls outside of the bounds of what Western society deems appropriate for friendship through their actions. It falls outside the bounds of romantic relationships through Crowley’s insistence that it is friendship. Their scenes, with Crowley’s assertion of friendship taken at face-value, add up to a relationship that is something more intimate than friendship is often assumed or, more accurately, allowed to be. Whether their relationship is seen as platonic, romantic or sexual, any and all interpretations must account for the intimacy of these two characters, the sheer amount of joy and pain Aziraphale shows when they meet or argue, the anguish Crowley feels when he believes Aziraphale has died, and the way the show’s domestic interactions add up to a picture that suggests they are on their own side together, as partners. How their relationship is shaped beyond that is, well, ineffable.

References

Alexander, Corey. Interview with Claudie Arseneault. 26 June 2018. 18 August 2019. <https://coreysbookcorner.wordpress.com/2018/06/26/interview-with-claudie-arsenault/>.

Asher-Perrin, Emily. The Good Omens Miniseries is a Love Story, and I Will Never Recover From It. 4 June 2019. 18 August 2019. <https://www.tor.com/2019/06/04/the-good-omens-miniseries-is-a-love-story-and-i-will-never-recover-from-it/>.

Gaiman, Neil and Terry Pratchett. The Quite Nice and Fairly Accurate Good Omens Script Book. Headline, 2019. Ebook.

Good Omens. Dir. Douglas Mackinnon. 2019. Streaming.

Jenny. Crowley and Aziraphale and Queer-Baiting. 10 June 2019. 18 August 2019. <http://readingtheend.com/2019/06/10/my-hot-take-on-crowley-aziraphale-and-queer-baiting/>.

Mernit, Billy. Writing the Romantic Comedy. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2000.

Saunders, Tristram Fane. Michael Sheen on Good Omens, sex scenes, and why Brexit led to his break-up. 28 November 2018. Newspaper. 18 August 2019. <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/radio/what-to-listen-to/michael-sheen-martians-good-omens-brexit-led-break-up/>.

Warner, Michael. Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. Print.

Whyman, Matt, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Companion. Headline, 2019. Ebook.

Young, Sage. Crowley & Aziraphale’s ‘Good Omens’ Friendship Is Meant To Be Ambiguous, According To The Stars. May 2019. 18 August 2019. <https://www.bustle.com/p/crowley-aziraphales-good-omens-friendship-is-meant-to-be-ambiguous-according-to-the-stars-17936453>.

End Notes

[1] Do not ask me who; this was eons ago in social media time.

[2] It can also be seen in the frequent assumption that all Boston marriages and romantic friendships are by default secretly sexual.

[3] Of all identities on the asexual spectrum, demisexuality is easily the one that should be least offensive to allosexual queer people since it is the one most obviously sex-inclusive. While this erases many nuances within the asexual community, it is telling that even with an asexual reading that explicitly implied queer sex was happening this vitriol existed.

[4] Sadly, the tweets Clare was responding to have disappeared. While the tweets still show Clare explicitly calling Raphael asexual – both tweets feature a variation on “Raphael is asexual” – the one describing his romantic orientation only says “I should have also said aromantic” with no direct context for which character Clare is referring to remaining.

[5] Chip Zdarsky’s run has him explicitly use the label for himself.

[6] Asexuality and aromanticism have, as concepts, been around since the 19th century, and yes they were just as pathologized as other queer identities.

[7] The one exception of that to date is Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

[8] For an example and a counterpoint to my thoughts, see this excellent post from Jenny at Reading the End.

[9] Diversity is not a trend, of course, and marginalised people have always been here, but it is only in recent years that marginalised people have succeeded in creating some visible if still superficial shift. But works like the Sandman comics, which may be dated, were hugely influential at the time and should not be dismissed, especially when they establish a pattern of allyship.

[10] Lee and the marketing have explicitly described Monty, the protagonist from The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue as bisexual, but she allegedly answered “queer” when asked about Monty’s sexuality in an AMA on June 17th, 2019 and appended it “I don’t like labels so read him however you want!”, however reverse searching the image yields no results. Lee has previously stated in interviews that she is someone who “who isn’t crazy about labels.

[11] Lee’s response to a fan’s question whether Monty’s sister was aroace was effectively ‘wait and see’. This response is one of the broader forms queerbaiting takes: it relies on queer people being so desperate for and curious about the potential for representation that the very possibility that a character may be queer is used as a marketing tactic.

[12] Unlike the original English dub which presented them as cousins. Curiously, while Sailor Moon discussions often engage strongly with Haruka’s sexuality and gender identity, they often seem to ignore the bisexual-coding inherent in Usagi’s characterisation.

[13] While there are many different kinds of love, ‘love story’ has a specific meaning. Merriam-Webster, for example, defines it as “a tale of lovers”. It defines “lovers” as “two persons in love with each other” and offers “an affectionate or benevolent friend” as a secondary meaning for ‘lover’. The only reading Gaiman’s words exclude is an allocishet (or straight) reading.

[14] And this, if anything, is worthy of criticising and discussing. Is labelling characters ‘queer’ still queerbaiting because it is not specific enough for some or is this ‘good enough’?

[15] In The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Companion, Gaiman explains that he needed something for Aziraphale and Crowley to do in this episode.

[16] Where, you may remember from Episode 1, Aziraphale is the one who offers Crowley shelter from the oncoming rain under his wing.

[17] Though not, it must be said, in this exact place.

[18] Save the one where they get to say “I love you” with those exact words.

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