SPOILER WARNING: I don’t know if I’m giving anything specifically away, but if you haven’t seen Rosemary’s Baby, read the book or seen the original, put this away until after you have.
NBC decided to celebrate Mother’s Day with the premiere of one of the great mommy stories of all time, Rosemary’s Baby. To put it in SEO terms, SPOILER ALERT: Rosemary is carrying the devil’s baby bump, (Baal, I hate that phrase.) But if you didn’t know that going in, I feel bad for you.
Okay, so why is Rosemary’s Baby a great mom story, you might ask. Well, this is a mother who loved her baby. This is truly a story of the unconditional love of a mother. Regardless of what that baby might turn out to be, mommy loves it. This is the kind of love we see from Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones. Cersei is shocked, shocked, by the things her son Joffrey did. And Cersei is not easily shocked. But Joffrey is her baby. He was her first. The first of his name. Rosemary has the same fierce mother love.
The other immediate Mother’s Day connection is the original Rosemary, Mia Farrow. I grew up on Mia Farrow’s Rosemary. She seemed the epitome of middle-class moms. Like all new mothers, she cut her hair, so the baby wouldn’t have something to grab onto, or throw up into: It was functional and stylish and probably scared Frank Sinatra. It was shorter than The Beatles’. Mia’s Rosemary supports her husband, a struggling actor. And she doesn’t really complain that she’s having a SPOILER ALERT devil baby. Mia Farrow went on to be one of the great modern symbols of motherhood too. She adopted a brood. Forget, for a moment, the scandals that surround the extensions of the extended family. Zoe Saldana has some big booties to fill.
I grew up on Rosemary’s Baby: Ira Levin’s book and Roman Polanski’s original film, but my introduction was through Mad magazine. If you don’t like that you can go to heaven. NBC’s version differentiates itself from the original immediately. First, it opens with what looks like the last attempt at a Parisian Rosemary opting for what is called the only irredeemable sin, suicide. It cuts to a shot of an ultrasound and we know we’re not in the same territory. This is modern. It is today. You can forget about protecting yourself with modern medicine. It’s not going to help you here. All the advancements of medical science are no protection for what’s to come.
Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse relocate to Paris from New York City where they hope to start fresh after a miscarriage sidetracks their happy lives. They don’t see that they’re being shadowed by lurking figures. Or how easily they can be manipulated through a purse snatch and an inside job. Suspense takes a deft hand and there is a terrible tendency lately for television to lay everything out. Not just that they give clues too soon, but that they do it often and far too blatantly. Rosemary’s Baby is no different. Worse, maybe. Every single mysterious tease is telegraphed, lit and featured, like one of those signs in old Bugs Bunny cartoons, “Eat at Joe’s.” What makes the book so scary is that you don’t know that these people, who live right down the hall from you, are hiding something.
Everything looks to be too neatly tied together. Again in the book, all the connections between the Castevets and their outer circle don’t come together until it’s too late. Here everything is laid out. You don’t even have a chance to jump to a conclusion. Long before Rosemary shows any real wariness, Guy is already telling her she should stop being paranoid and that she acted insane. She really hadn’t yet. We know that she’s going to, whether this is fresh or not. The first time Guy calls her out, it was like a wink at the audience.
Patrick J. Adams’ Guy is too nice a guy and it’s not just that he gets pre-emptively defensive. There is no threat to this Guy. He’s more of a passive aggressive personality than the truly aggressive predators that are usually drawn to satanic promises. I mean, think about it, you don’t sell your soul to be the head of the English Department. But there he is, not so clean, but at least he’s writing regularly. Is he supposed to be collaborating with the devil?
Jason Isaacs brings Lucius Malfoy’s cartoonish evil to Roman Castevet. Guy describes Roman as one of the most annoying, egotistical people he’d ever met, but they don’t show exactly why. Sure, when Roman Castevet speaks it’s like E. F. Hutton, everyone immediately hushes and waits, but what comes out of his mouth isn’t as bad as all that. Though, Guy is right, who gives a cat as a parting gift? Carole Bouquet plays Margaux Castevet as a satanic siren wrapped in a bouillabaisse of buoyant French bourgeoisie. That is, until she prays. Margaux is the only successfully ambiguous performance.
The demon seed scene, the insemination, was both the highlight and the biggest disappointment. Where is the naked sagging flesh of life-long sinners? It looks more like a duck orgy in Disneyworld than a devilishly assisted fertilization. I’m sorry, but Mercata, the devil, might as well have jerked off in a cup. Viewers could barely tell that this was supposed to be a Black Mass. I know that networks can’t be explicit about things like non-consensual sex or bestiality, but part of the charm of infernal workings comes from debasement. Rosemary’s supposed to be fucking a goat-horned beast not a fairly hot devil.
And Mercata may be the real devil? Did I hear that right? Besides that it was again much too soon, he’s supposed to be the real thing? Where is it ever established that Mercata is Satan incarnate? In a book, or movie, filled with so many literary and diabolical references, the name and character Mercata alludes to two works by one of my favorite of all time Satanic writers, Dennis Wheatley. He is a veiled reference to Aleister Crowley, the self-proclaimed Great Beast, a magus, not the devil himself.
The only scary moment came when the tongueless contractor came bounding down the hallway at Rosemary after fixing the non-existent fireplace. Zoe Saldana broke down and dissociated, leaving herself open to the all-too-tempting caress of a spiritual healer in heat. Saldana showed off all kinds of possibilities in this sequence. She also pulled up some heat in the Castavets’ hallway with the devil. The Devil is a chintzy ripoff of Robert De Niro’s Louis Cipher in Angel Heart.
It’s also too long. Rosemary’s Baby lingers too much on incidentals when it could be amping suspense. The suspense it blasts with fog horns. It’s only the end of the first night and it should have been over already.
So, yeah, Rosemary’s Baby, part one, was a Mother’s Day gift from NBC. It will look good on The Hallmark channel one day.