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?