As I wrote about last week, the first episode of Syfy's Dominion was so busy in its attempt to establish nearly a dozen stories (and re-establish its connection to a middling four-year old film) that it was both overwhelming to watch and somewhat challenging to project what the show would look like on a week-to-week basis. However, having seen a second episode, there's some good news and some maybe less good news about Dominion's future.
The good news illustrated by "Godspeed" is that Dominion appears capable of telling its (still pretty silly) story at a weekly clip without diving into full nutso mode each time. Plus, there was a sense of propulsive moment plot-wise here; this wasn't a retread of the first episode, nor did it get bogged down in more episodic, standalone adventures. "Godspeed" carried right on from the pilot, provided some useful information, and established a more stable core than it had in week one. In my mind, those are all good things to see from a second episode, especially for a show that came out of the gate with a very messy pilot.
The less good news? I'm wondering how enjoyable Dominion can actually be long-term if everything (and everyone in the cast) takes this so seriously. While I would posit that almost everyone in the cast was better in this episode than they were in the pilot and the story itself felt more streamlined, the lack of pure insanity was missing. "Godspeed" wasn't grossly dim or "gritty" (the worst descriptor), but I haven't yet decided if I prefer the kind of silly dumb we saw last week or the more professionally produced, slightly less dumb that this episode offered.
Let's expand on the good though! Although the pilot made it clear that this is Alex's story—he of the mysterious, magical tattoos—it also struggled to get that story off the ground because of the array of other things happening in the episode. Tonight's effort parsed down some of the other stories just enough to let Alex's struggles with the tattoos, being The Chosen One, his relationship with Michael, his father's death, etc. breathe. Of course, this was all traditional hero's journey stuff—refusing the call to action and all that—but it gave Christopher Egan material to lead into and find more of the character. It probably helps when all of the other characters were speaking at Alex about his importance to all mankind, giving Egan the opportunity to brush it all away, or by the end of the episode, decide to leave the glorious city limits of Vega.
Egan's Alex wasn't alone. Across the board, this episode gave characters and actors more—and perhaps more importantly, better—material that wasn't just exposition or empty tirades featuring lame buzzwords. Roxanne McKee's Claire was more assured and less of a naive religious drip, Luke Allen Gale's William had that fine moment where he passed out medical kit vouchers to the homeless, seemingly just because he wanted to, and Anthony Stewart Head's David brought energy to each scene without simply thundering through them with his loud voice (and still dumb accent). The world is still being defined, and that's okay. Nonetheless, these characters started to feel more like people in "Godspeed," which helps make their supporting roles in the macro-level hero's journey work much easier.
The thing is that this episode still had quite a bit of exposition, particularly of the character variety. As I mentioned, multiple people explained Alex's importance to him and others throughout the hour, but we also saw Claire and General Risen describing the establishment of the V System, Vega's caste framework used "so everyone had a job to do" in the aftermath of God's departure, and David's brief explanation to Alex about his pre-apocalypse profession as a televangelist (which makes total sense, by the way). But I can be a bit more receptive to those types of scenes when they're relatively quick and efficient, especially if the show isn't too invested in Lost-style regular flashbacks. If you told me before tonight's episode that Head's David would deliver a monologue about being a televangelist, I would have groaned repeatedly, but with some restraint from the actor, it unspooled just fine. Not great, but certainly not awful.
This episode also managed to use some of the weak spots in logic with the premise to its advantage. It's a little dumb that Michael can simply summon Gabriel—mid-orgy no less—for a chat, and yet all that it really led to was a couple of empty threats and some armchair analysis of the latter's daddy issues. I get that this can't be a full-stop war week in and week out, but that was a relatively chummy convo for two leaders of the opposing forces in a post-apocalyptic world. Context free though? Very solid. Tom Wisdom was also better here than he was in the first hour and there was a kind of comfort present in the scene with Carl Beukes' Gabriel.
Similarly, the show wants us to think that these recent angel (or 8-ball) attacks are something exceptional and yet, we've now seen multiple infiltrations in just two episodes (and only a few days time for the characters). Here, it was Claire's hired hand Felicia that was revealed to be a deadly angel who happened to stumble across Alex's tattoos (better start wearing long sleeves bro) and subsequently trying to murder him. But hey, the fight sequence looked better than I expected it to and moved nicely through a couple of different locations, so I was willing to give it more than a pass.
There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that this second episode was an upgrade over the pilot. "Godspeed" gave me a much better indication of what Dominion could look like every week and created opportunities for the actors to rise above the exposition or the weak dialogue to develop some solid scenes. As I said up top though, I'm not entirely sure that makes Dominion a more entertaining or watchable show. There was charm in the insanity, and some of that has been sanded off for more coherent, but also sort of distilled stuff. I like this version of the show more, but I'm still curious to see where this goes over the next couple of episodes.
REVEALED IN THE TATTOOS
– Well, I guess if you want to talk about the stuff that was nutty here, we could point to the final sequence, where it was revealed that General Risen has an angel lover outside of town. That rascal!
– I enjoyed Alex's drunken rants to Claire, particularly his line that he became a soldier not to help people but so he could "get three meals a day."
– Very little Bixby this week. That in itself makes this an upgrade. And what does Senator Thorn add to this show yet?
– I'm not necessarily complaining, but I am fascinated by the increase in sex and nudity on Syfy programming like this and Defiance. It's like the network realized that it lost some of its core fans with the name change and rebrand that came with it, and probably lost even more viewers as networks like HBO and Starz started to embrace genre-y programming, and now it's desperate to catch back up. "Hey! We can show you bare butts and orgies with a lot of shadows! Come back!"
– Gotta be honest: I'm not entirely sure what was happening with Arika and her cohort in the cell. She's trying to blackmail David into keeping her alive, but what was with all the scratching on the ground? Fill me in!
What'd you think of episode two? Are you still keeping with this one?
AIRED ON 8/7/2014
Season 1 : Episode 8