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Dominion S01E04: "The Flood"


We've all consumed enough popular culture to know that stories based on or inspired by Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey are pretty played out. The monomyth has done some great things for popular storytelling, but it's also an enormous crutch, particularly for stories about a supposed chosen one. Though it's not an exact application, Dominion's early roadmap for Alex has been reliant on the monomyth, and while that makes sense in a world like this one, it hasn't been terribly exciting. Watching characters run away from their supposed destiny and complain about the pain and strife they've caused doesn't make for consistently great TV. Christopher Egan has been doing his best, but the show's reliance on that framework is indicative of its somewhat bland—but mostly still enjoyable—nature. 

However, the positive spin to all this is that with "The Flood," Dominion expedited Alex's Hero's Journey, or at least recognized that it was no longer prudent to stall on that front. Amusingly, this was an episode that went through some rote plot mechanics to get Alex and the story to that important endpoint. The destination was compelling, but the journey? Not quite. 

The issue wasn't necessarily the thought; it was the execution. Having an overwhelmed Alex run away from Vega and the people he cares about in order to try to understand who he is and what he could be capable of is a fairly standardized mini-arc for a character of this type. But he had to come back sometime, and the show capitalized on Michael's injury as a way to make that happen. The episode's first act and a half tried to produce some hectic scenes to illustrate the confusion and danger that both Alex and Michael faced once they were back in Vega; the former was tossed into prison for desertion while the latter struggled to survive in the hospital. Unfortunately, everything happened so quickly that it never had any time to take hold. Of course Alex wasn't going to stay in prison for long, and of course Michael wasn't going to die, but "The Flood" burned through both of those plot pivots really rapidly, to the degree that all I could do was think about how orchestrated it all felt. The strings were a little too obvious.


That's the kind of weak plotting we see on TV all the time, however. Not an irredeemable issue. What worried me more was how and why Alex decided to sack up and reveal his identity, even to just one person in a crazy hostage situation. These magical tattoos are a tricky element, because in theory, Dominion's writers can have them serve any purpose that want. The first time the ink "told" Alex something, it was (for the writers) to drive a wedge between Alex and Michael. In this episode, he had a vision involving water and the line "SHE DIED FOR YOU." Of course, that line came back later to help Alex deal with the hostage-taker, Senator Frost, who decided he was tired of following the Whele and Riesen dynasties in a world where there should be a chosen one. 

While the penultimate scene of the episode made some kind of effort to suggest that Alex really has no idea what he's doing and that's the endearing part of his decision to step up, he also didn't do much of anything in making that decision, you know? The tattoos gave him a vision. He recited the information from that vision. He happened to be correct. It was a sequence that underscored the allure and power of the tattoos, but it didn't fully serve the character. Did he decide to interject himself into the hostage situation solely because of the tattoo-enabled vision, or because Claire gave him a kick-in-the-butt speech about how running from Vega made him very similar to his father? It's probably both, but "The Flood" focused more on the first thing and that's a dangerous precedent to set. The tattoos can't be the ultimate problem and the best solution whenever Dominion wants them to be. Alex isn't without agency, and it's good that the show didn't waste too much time on him whining about how everything is his fault. Nevertheless, if Dominion is going to spend time on the journey, this character needs to be more self-actualized, separate from the tats.


The procedural-y story at the center of all this, the hostage plot, was about as predictable as you can get. Part of the problem is that in 3.5 episodes, the show hadn't fully asked us to develop an emotional attachment to David Whele or General Riesen to the degree that it would be a bummer if they died. The scrambling to save them, including the bureaucratic discourse between Senator Thorn, Claire, and William Whele wasn't particularly engaging—but again, not miserably awful. However, the Senator Frost character was fine and the episode made up for some of the more generic stuff by the end of the hour, in hammering home that what Frost said was completely true: Whele and Riesen don't want to give up their power to the chosen one, or anyone else, and they're willing to do anything to keep it. They popped Frost after Alex walked him off the plank, and then Whele took it to another level by killing Bixby in the hospital, simply to close the circle on who knows about Alex's secret. You guys know that the show scored big points in my book by removing the kid from the equation, but this was quite the way to execute that plan. Angel-on-angel fight sequences only go so far. Dominion is going to have to survive by telling stories about the evils of man and raising questions about whether or not humans should be saved at all. So here again, "The Flood" pulled a few solid moments out of what were otherwise less successful plots. 

Up north, as the show likes to call it, the sibling conflict between Michael and Gabriel grew even more complicated with the return of their sister Uriel. Like a lot of things on Dominion, it strikes me as silly that there is this major war between the two big archangels—and yet, every week, they have a somewhat heated conversation. The budget isn't there for all-out warfare, and I appreciate the attempt to make Gabriel seem sympathetic on a small level, but these chitchats have grown repetitive already. Uriel's presence added some flair to the squabbling this week, if only because she appeared willing to play both sides to suit her unknown personal wishes. With much of Dominion still concentrated on the humans in Vega, the angel stories are simply moving at a slower rate. That's okay, but they can't be in a weird holding pattern forever. If Gabriel is truly just going to wait for Alex to come to him, he—and the viewers at home—are going to be waiting a long time.


As you folks know, we here at TV.com like to give shows four full episodes to make an impression on us. After Dominion's pilot episode, I wasn't sure what the show would even be, but I was intrigued by the possibilities. Although I would assert that Episodes 2 through 4 were better, and significantly less insane, than the first one, it also feels like some of the stupid charm has left the show as it has technically improved. "The Flood" was indicative of that idea, in that it ran through some familiar stuff with some hints of bigger, weirder moves up ahead. For a show this high-concept and, frankly, with this many characters, even four episodes probably isn't enough for Dominion to figure it all out. There are still enjoyable elements here, but let's hope that everyone involved realizes that with this premise, it's not against the TV law to have some fun. 



NOTES

– Senator Thorn had things to do this week. That was nice. As I mentioned above, the crisis management stuff wasn't good, but at least the show remembered that she has an interesting relationship with Michael. Apparently she loves him, so that's a thing.

– Good on Dominion for using fundamental resources as part of the hostage situation. It was time to be reminded that running water is still a concern in this world. 

– Are we supposed to be shocked that the piece of a saber lodged in Michael's gut was of an UNKNOWN ALLOY? It's a sword used by an angel. 

– Speaking of angel-related mysteries, it appears that they can be healed by burning a feather and letting it drip onto the wound. Wouldn't you like to see more of that kind of stuff? It does feel like they writers haven't worked that hard to create a world with its own oddities, rules, etc.

– Alex is going to start his training with Michael next week. That should be fun; hopefully it involves more than just gun play and "clearing your mind," and all that crap.


So let's hear it, folks: Does Dominion pass your 4-episode test? Will you keep watching?


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