The Order was never a good show. It also didn’t try to be one. When the Netflix occult thriller debuted in early 2019, it looked and felt like a throwback to the kind of knockoffs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that littered the airwaves in the early 2000s. I reviewed the first season of the show, and I kind of liked it despite some problematic narrative choices. Now that the second season has debuted this week on Netflix, I am a little annoyed that I wasted so much time and trouble looking for something redeeming in a pointless garbage fire that seems to see Sharknado as an aspirational high to strive toward. The new season also has a troublingly conservative bent that seems out of step with the subject matter and the times. The Order has gone from entertaining b-movie storytelling to actively awful trash.
The first season centered on the hero’s journey of Jack, a college student, werewolf, and wizard who infiltrated a secret Hermetic society to take revenge on his evil wizard father. The narrative wasn’t original, and it leaned too hard on the white male savior narrative as a teenage boy and his father fought for control over women and power. But it did so in an entertaining enough way that I didn’t mind the clunky writing, threadbare production values, and silly story.
The second season overcorrected so hard that it destroyed what little made the first season work. The current season picks up where the previous ended, with the werewolf fraternity known as the Knights of St. Christopher working with the Hermetic Order of the Blue Rose, albeit unwittingly since the Order has wiped their memories. I’d love to tell you that there was a story here, but the first two-thirds of the season meander aimlessly through episodic battles against an array of one-off villains, with the outlines of the overarching story coming into focus only in the last three hours of the ten-episode season. The obvious model for the season’s structure in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the show does far too little work to build toward its disappointing climax. With so little through-line, the final battle against the Big Bad seems to come out of nowhere, and lands too few emotional punches. The Order desperately wants to be The Magicians but lacks the depth and care to pull it off.
That wouldn’t be a fatal flaw if the episodes themselves were entertaining. Buffy’s weak fourth season, also set at college and against an evil secret organization, had similar flaws but contained some of the show’s best episodes. But The Order can’t craft good episodes because it seems no one involved cared about making good television. The first season provided some emotional tethers to its characters by asking us to understand their conflicting needs and wants, their ties to family and friends, and their internal struggles. This season has flattened all of the characters with a narrative steamroller, leaving two-dimensional pancakes floating through the story like in a Looney Tune. Consider the fact that Jack’s entire tragic backstory, hero’s journey, and inner conflict from season one vanished in season two. He has no motivation, no particular wants or desires beyond what the narrative demands. But he does have a new haircut, emphasizing actor Jake Manley’s uncanny resemblance to a young Ethan Hawke. Randall (Adam DiMarco), a standout character from season one, is this time a quip-machine comic-relief cartoon. It’s hard to care about the story when the characters have turned to cardboard.
The writing is similarly weak. The writers have leaned heavily into a plagiarist’s approximation of camp. Every line tries to be a joke, often at the expense of “woke” culture, and none of them is funny. They have the setup of jokes but they are so stale, so cliché, or so tone-deaf that they just don’t land. By the time that members of the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 show up as themselves to participate in an occult ritual, the show all but literally jumps the shark by leapfrogging right over its own groan-inducing Sharknado joke to an even worse joke about Ian Ziering and Jason Priestley that is tied to the 90210 reunion series which was hot news when they shot this last year. Worse, in the absence of a real story, three-quarters of the seasons is devoted to that most fascinating of storylines, bureaucratic infighting, as new layers of bureaucracy are revealed and paperwork gets filed, meetings are held, and votes are cast. Thrill as people you don’t know debate the arcane rules of order for an imaginary organization!
But perhaps the strangest change between seasons is the decision to decenter Jack. He was the hero from the first season and the audience’s point-of-view character. This time, he has been pushed out of the hero’s role and out of the center of the narrative. Instead, the series tries to become an ensemble adventure drama, but it doesn’t have the rich characters or compelling stories to hold an ensemble together. The decision just makes the show seem rudderless. With no hero and a succession of weak villains, the characters wander around saying things of no importance, having side-quests of no consequence, and vamping it up as though their overacting rises to the level of artistic camp. This is not the 1966 Batman, even if it thinks it might be.
However, what elevates this from merely bad to actively awful is the theme that the writers chose to inject into the series. Last year, I complained that the show seemed to rely too heavily on the American archetype of the young while male hero who dominates due to his exceptional freedom from feminine social rules and authoritarian constraints. This time, the show leans very hard into a more troubling idea: that conservative elites have divine sanction to rule over the masses due to their inherent superiority.
Both the werewolves and the hermetic occultists are traditionalists, representatives of centuries-old elite secret societies that believe they have the right to control resources (specifically magic), withhold them from the public, and manipulate people and events for the benefit of their members. Their memberships are chosen according to family connections or genetic superiority—like Nazis! They are steeped in traditions and work tirelessly to maintain an archaic status quo. Literally, the Hermetic Order wants to keep everything the same, stop anything from changing, and preserve their elite control of magic against unauthorized knowledge-seekers. Both the Order and the Knights take it upon themselves to have the right to murder at will and to manipulate anyone’s mind and body for their purposes—again, like Nazis. And they are the heroes. All of the white male heroes emerge from the season unscathed, while every minority and woman is either killed, possessed by a male, stripped of her power and autonomy, or worse. The lesbians fared worst of all. One had her mind wiped and the other was sent to hell—like you do with women and queers. The one sexually fluid white male escaped this fate, I guess, because he decided to go exclusively straight.
The villains only bring this into starker relief. Aside from the one-off monsters, the four major villains of the season are (a) another secret society that operates as an egalitarian and equalitarian commune, (b) a communist professor who wants to use magic for social justice, (c) a communitarian Asian magician who wants to redistribute magic equally, and (d) a woman who wants to free herself from the shackles of oppressive patriarchal rules. I think you’ll see a theme here.
It’s a disturbing message for this day and age to promote aristocratic elitism as an aspirational ideal, and worse to celebrate the subversion of social justice in the name of genetic superiority and social hierarchy.
The Order might have done better to dump its fascist leanings and instead focus on making its genetically superior elites more fully human. Telling stories about college life through a supernatural lens might have been the smarter choice. As it stands, we are left with fascist propaganda masquerading as popular entertainment, flying below the radar among the second tier of Netflix offerings. The Order sucks.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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