Dominion Series Premiere Review: (Ridiculous) Angels Among Us

By Cory Barker

Jun 20, 2014

Dominion S01E01: "Pilot"


The first episode of Syfy's new post-apocalyptic drama Dominion was jam-packed with crazy, combining at least a dozen different plots, genre touchstones, and stock character types to produce one of the more, err, "notable" debuts of 2014. 

We could spend all day debating whether or not it's valuable to make a quasi-sequel to a four-year-old film that didn't really take the world by storm, but alas, here we are, and that's exactly what Dominion is: a follow-up, of sorts, to the 2010 movie Legion. While I don't imagine too many of you will be concerned about how the show maintains the true aura of the source material, the pilot was significantly hampered by having to reestablish everything from the film's world on top of doing all the normal work that any TV pilot must do—introducing characters, creating a sense of place, presenting the stakes, etc.

Consequently, even with the extended, 90-minute runtime, Dominion's opening salvo attempted to cover far too much ground, kickstarting E- and F-level stories that will surely matter later but simply didn't add much to an already-stuffed debut. The politics behind who gets to control the energy reactors? Maybe not entirely crucial in the first episode.


Even the core story suffers too many complications. The series takes place 25 years after the war between angels and humans, with humanity simply trying to survive despite the looming angelic threat. Lower-level angels have joined the side of "evil" with Gabriel (Carl Beukes), but to do so, they had to possess human bodies. That means they look especially creepy, sure, but they can't enter Vega, the crowning jewel of the post-God world, and yet they can be controlled by Gabriel, seemingly from any distance. So we're already dealing with multiple levels of possession. 

Similarly, our (thankfully not-so-reluctant) hero, Alex (Christopher Egan), grew up an orphan, mired in the proverbial 99 percent of Vega society. He joined Michael (Tom Wisdom)'s armed forces and saved the lovely and powerful Clare (Roxanne McKee), but he also sleeps in a crappy barracks and has a random spunky kid for a friend. Oh, right, and also he's the son of Jeep (Langley Kirkwood), who returned from presumed death after 14 years and then subsequently died, passing along his mysterious, indecipherable, and ugly tattoos to Alex. So, he's the Chosen One, of something. 

And while I appreciate that Dominion isn't too interested in dragging out a bunch of lame mysteries regarding the identity of the Chosen one, this was merely the first episode of the show. The pilot didn't even establish the bond between Alex and Michael, and we already know that the former is not supposed to trust the latter. 


And I haven't even addressed...

... the consistent allusions (visual and in dialogue) to the role of religion and the war machine in a post-apocalyptic society

... the discussion of a literal caste system

... the mysterious angel children

... the different, SUPER angels

... the arranged marriages

... Michael's participation in classy orgies

... the full-scale riots

... the multiple characters who don't actually have much to do yet

... or the a sizable swerve in the final seconds of the episode. 

That's right, ALL THE THINGS happened in this opener. It's not that the various elements were all bad, per se. Some of them certainly were—Dominion's attempts to mix politics, religion, and military industrial complex rhetoric was rough. However, the key issue here is that none of the stories really had any time to introduce themselves, let alone develop over the course of the episode. If you told me that one of the angels threw a kitchen sink at Michael, I'd believe you, because this is the most kitchen-sinkiest pilot I've seen in a very long time.

In addition to all the plot and thematic elements, Dominion's pilot managed to present us with more basic cable nudity (hello, butts) and sexual situations (Anthony Stewart Head's David took some creepy/borderline assault-y actions toward Shivani Ghai's Akira in the tub) than usual, delivered by actors who have no problem buzzsawing through their scenes with real, uh, gusto. Head has no business portraying David with an American accent, but the dude was TURNT UP here, right? Alan Dale isn't in full shouty mode yet, but he'd still be no contest for whatever it is that Head was doing. (Some of Dominion's other cast members—especially Egan, Wisdom, and McKee—are being asked to provide something much different, and generally speaking, their energy was more much subdued.) 

All told, no one can say that Dominion isn't flat-out GOING FOR IT. What 'it' is, I'm not entirely sure yet, and I'm not sure that I actually like it, but I really, really want to see how the show tries to reach it in the coming weeks.



REVEALED IN THE TATTOOS


– Serious question: What does Dominion look like in Episode 2? It doesn't feel like there's a clear procedural storytelling engine, so is it simply a full-blown serial from the get-go? That's interesting in its own right, given the kind of shows Syfy has brought to the airwaves recently.

– I'll be curious to hear what you guys thought of the visual effects. The pilot screener I viewed was extremely unfinished, so I currently can't speak to that stuff. The set design is... okay. I understand what the show is going for, but it's a little boring. It's also challenging, because Dominion is shooting in Cape Town but has Las Vegas as its primary setting, so the pilot has so many establishing shots. Big ups to the MGM Grand for squeezing in a lot of not-so-secret love, eh? (At least on my version.)

– Bixby, the little girl, is kind of awful. No fault of the actress; she's just not a particularly interesting character.



THE 10 MOST RIDICULOUS ELEMENTS OF DOMINION'S PREMIERE

1. Basically everything that came out of David's mouth, but particularly the line, "Religious theater is one thing; this is politics."

2. The fact that the angels at the beginning of the episode were actually just playing Texas Hold 'Em when Alex stumbled upon them

3. Angels possessing little kids so that they can infiltrate the lives of high-ranking officials 

4. Las Vegas being called "Vega"

5. The outfit of the angel who Michael fought in the climax of the episode (someone saw Thor and really liked what Idris Elba was wearing)

6. The first tattoo reveal was "BEWARE THOSE CLOSEST TO YOU," as if that's really great wisdom and not bumper sticker philosophy

7. Senator Thorn's dress at the jubilee (I would've voted for her)

8. There were legitimate debates involving the word "jubilee"

9. The reveal that William Weel (Luke Allen Gale) is probably an angel and working with Gabriel

10. Michael wears a bluetooth earpiece 

Of course, there are roughly 73 other things I could've named—share your favorites in the comments!


Did you enjoy this first episode? Will you be back for Episode 2?


  • Comments (322)
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  • mhelms1961 Jul 18, 2014

    Like infinitesimile, I wonder where Lucifer fits in the show. I would assume he is going to show up sometime. Maybe he forces Gabriel and Michael into an alliance!

  • infinitesimile Jul 07, 2014

    I like the show so far. It's easy to get lost in translation if you're somebody who can't keep up with anything 1 subplot deep. For that I will tell you to go watch the Oprah Winfrey Network. But I like fast-paced stories that deliver lots of context, as long as they lead to somewhere interesting; which fall in-line with the overall story.

    Interesting questions that immediately came to mind after the pilot:

    1. How many types of angels are there and what would they look like?
    2. Where are the demons?
    3. Where is Lucifer in all of this?
    4. Will any angels (or demons) join Michael?
    5. Where are the other archangels?
    Hope they plan the years to come well and not get too far off track like Supernatural.

  • Theo-d Jul 02, 2014

    I was excited to hear that there was going to be a show about Angels helping our embattled species ….. And then DOMINION aired …. sigh

    Conclusion? The only saving grace I could find for this show was Actor Tom Wisdom as Archangel Michael. He is totally believable, enjoyable to watch and with fine acting miraculously manages to bring some class to the show ~ he belongs on PBS. Savior Egan is pleasantly okay but totally miscast.

    And that is as good as it gets. Archangel Gabriel's crew is laughable. Armored angels look like they belong in an old Godzilla movie. Frantic crowd scenes and series wardrobe could be easily overshadowed by the 1996 hit “Mars Attacks” and the nude scenes are a cheap peep show nightmare.

    In closing, and if we’re lucky, a future episode will produce an Archangel who will arise and use his talents to cleanse the network of their ineffective efforts thus far … and in doing so obtain and retain a good intelligent fan base … and then, just maybe, the Father will return and the series redeemed. But Archangel Michael “Tom Wisdom” may not want to be bothered …. And if he agrees to stick around to help with the major reparation needed ~ that would be a miracle indeed. We can only pray …
    It is a nice concept .... hoping they can clean it up ~ but for now, I think the Father must be very disappointed ...

  • ChicN Jun 26, 2014

    Eh, maybe, I dunno.

    I liked:

    -Angels being angels. And by that I mean, angels showing up means BAD things NOT good things. As far as I can remember from my much omitted religious knowledge, angels only showed up to preform acts of genocide or drop a truly horrendous proclamation on someone that they had to adhere to or be smote or generally terrorized by God for disobedience.

    -The security system Vega had going on.
    -The Delphi (?) ladies. I want to see how they live more than the too familiar set-up of Vega.
    -Michael is a hot piece in a show lacking in hot pieces.
    -Senator Thorn's tatas

    What I didn't like:

    -Angels inexplicably deciding to go after mankind after God fucked off
    -Alex is bland and the actor is too unattractive to distract from the bad dialogue he has to spout
    -The love square. Just no. Well I guess it's not really a love square, because two people are in "love" and the other two are their respective passive-aggressive, stalkerish, rejected suitors!
    -Chemistry-free Romeo and Juliet and their star-crossed-I-don't-give-a-fuck problems
    -Lesbians that conveniently become bisexual for power or babies!
    -Caste systems that only serve to stagnant a society
    -Alex's pet moppet
    -Jeep dying! I was expecting a little more Michael/Jeep warrior!bromance
    -Michael feeling sad and anxious about sex, though I commend him for fretting over making babies, but maybe use a condom, dude. If they have nuclear reactors, they have condoms. Also, if anyone is going to be carrying potential monster hybrids on this show, I want it to be Michael, lol. I'm tired of supernatural beings/aliens functioning just like humans.
    -ASH terrible American accent. Channeling Dick Cheney, but some how MORE ridiculous.
    -ASH still being a scheming dick in a world where it's a real possibility that he will spend eternity either being tortured in heaven by rogue angels or tortured in hell for his earthly misdeeds.
    -OK, I didn't dislike this, it actually cracked me up. Gabriel living it up in frozen over Hell, Colorado!
    -Also, strangely hilarious, Michael taking a whip to Alex. I mean, really?

  • RachaelNexus Jun 26, 2014

    We loved the first episode! Just like the majority in the comments here, I do think this review is harsh and done hastily.

  • saafaalaoui Jun 26, 2014

    Beware or those closest to you? I think that's Claire. I have a bad feeling about her....

  • ChicN Jun 26, 2014

    I really wished the message had been in cursive and Alex not being able to read it!

  • zombassador85 Jun 24, 2014

    I think this review is harsh. The show was entertaining, and I loved it. I hope it can keep up the momentum, and not have to sit and pander to the people who can't seem to pick up on simple ideas expressed in a different way. I also LOVE the fact that Alex is revealed as the chosen one right away! I hate when shows draw out revelations like that when it is so obvious. All in all I guess I am sick of picking apart shows piece by piece. Especially because this show seems to be either a love it or hate it thing.

  • sasalee Jun 24, 2014

    so much has already been said. hubby likes it. i'm going to give it the 4 episode test, I suppose. but i can't get over tony head w/o an english accent. it was most distracting to me.

  • droid327 Jun 24, 2014

    Also, though I just found this out myself...Jeep isn't Alex's dad. That's probably the only point from the original Legion movie that may prove important....Jeep took care of Alex and his mom, but his father was not identified in the source material AFAIK.

    Given the rather hamfisted foreshadowing Michael made about fathering children, its entirely possible that Alex is half angel himself, possibly Gabriel's son if not Michael's.

  • gothceltgirl Jun 26, 2014

    I was wondering that myself. Half-angel potential, hmmm...

  • droid327 Jun 24, 2014

    I think perhaps the most insightful review of this series pilot compared it to BSG...I think that's probably what the execs were going for here - "Lets make BSG again, only do it with angels instead of robots in space". It seems to be establishing that same focus on politics and character relationships....I was hoping it would be a little more like SG1 (as you might tell from my avatar), in the sense of being more about developing story arcs and fighting the angels, playing up the "Us vs Them, war against impossible odds" aspect of it, rather than the "Everyone's a rotten bastard by the end" aspect.

    It also, to me, evoked the corny sci-fi of the 70s, things like Logan's Run...changing Las Vegas to "Vega", the Crystal Dragon Jesus religion that developed seemingly in one generation, the "Romans in Space" fashion and décor. It just seemed like they were trying to make things different just for the sake of "ooooh its the futuuuuure!!"

    The politics played out very derivative of Dune, too, with the feuding houses, the Bene Gesser...err, Inara the Companio....err, the Arabic women from Helena (? as in Montana?), even the little girl who looked like Alia putting a Gom Jabbar into Jeep.

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