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Dominion S01E08: "Beware Those Closest to You"


I was going to say that it's been a while since I've checked in on Dominion, but really, it was only a few weeks ago. By the end of Episode 4—which was already the midpoint of the season—I wasn't ready to give up, but Dominion's stuffiness and self-serious nature weren't really clicking with me. Sometimes I just wish these kinds of shows were willing to have some fun, ya know? 

Well, Dominion didn't necessarily lighten up, but it did burn through enough plot to raise the stakes and make its wooden nature feel slightly less obtrusive. You certainly can't criticize this series for spending too much time on key story elements. The never-ending duel between archangels Michael and Gabriel progressed at a fine clip—despite the fact that Gabriel claimed he was playing it slow—and some of the more ponderous elements (discussions about resources and trade, religious signifiers) were stripped away, mostly because the spotlight settled on the proverbial war for Alex's soul and allegiances.

What I found odd about the the 90-minute season finale, "Beware Those Closest to You," was that it kinda pushed Alex aside in order to devote more time to Michael and Gabriel specifically. That was an egregious choice, particularly because the archangels are Dominion's greatest strength, and both Tom Wisdom (Michael) and Carl Beukes (Gabriel) are having a ball playing such heightened characters. Plus, for a show that was initially pretty clearly dedicated to the "hero's journey"-type arc, Alex spent much of this episode taking orders or standing around and yelling at people to stop being jackholes. That's one of the dangers of a show where the lead character is human but the story is predicated on supreme beings who can fight and fly and do all the cool stuff that the milquetoast savior cannot—at least not yet. "Beware Those Closest to You" definitely wanted its closing moments to feel cool and tragic in that Alex chose to save Vega, Claire, and their developing baby (the Chosen Chosen One?) by joining up with Gabriel, but it didn't work as well as it could have because the character was sidelined longer than I would've expected him to be during the previous 87 minutes. 


Of course, focusing on Gabriel and Michael paid out some small dividends. Last week's penultimate episode ended with flashbacks in which Michael murdered many humans while Gabriel tried to stop him. The finale further clarified those events, letting us know that Michael was simply following his dear old dad's orders, but eventually came to realize the value and sanctity of human life. And Gabriel, for his part, mostly seemed to want power and control, which isn't much of a surprise. Nevertheless, it appears that Gabriel's big plan was to not mess with Alex but with Michael, hoping that he could turn his sibling into the murderous, blood thirsty archangel he once was. Mission accomplished. The apparently all-knowing Gabriel informed Michael of the leadership's "research" into angels, and the supposed good brother didn't take it well. Something snapped, guards were stabbed, and poor Becca's neck got broke. Much like with The Vampire Diaries' Stefan, when Michael goes off the handle, he really goes off the handle. Fair enough; Gabriel knew that, and I guess he waited around for exactly the right moment to pull his brother's wings. 

On that point, a great chunk of the finale relied on one of contemporary popular media's worst story clichés: the villain getting caught on purpose as part of some larger plan. The episode tried to skirt the overwhelming familiarity of a plot turn like that by having Vega's leadership—including the now-in-power Claire and the Wheles—debate whether or not they should just kill Gabriel once he turned himself in, and at one point, Alex announced that there was no way it wasn't a big set-up... but doing all that work and still having it be a big set-up doesn't make it okay. The episode made all of Dominion's human characters look extremely stupid, even as they commented on their own stupidity. Gabriel, Michael, and the rest of the high angels are so powerful as it is; he has eyes everywhere, he knows exactly what is happening at all times. The show doesn't need to make the humans look worse on a regular basis to hammer that point home even more. 


As the centerpiece of the episode, that sequence was a mess. But on the bright side, the "cell" Gabriel was placed in and the wing-prevention vest they threw on him were pretty cool pieces of design. Dominion has a kind of generic glossy finish that isn't always that engaging to look at, but I appreciated "Beware Those Closest to You" for making some earnest attempts to mix up the shooting locations and the color filters. The brief bit where Michael and Alex left Vega to carry out what almost immediately amounted to a terrible plan against Gabriel? Utterly pointless. But it did take full advantage of one little corner of the South African landscape; I need more scenes staged at the abandoned water park. The same could be said for the operation room that Michael raged into later in the episode to find Louis's de-winged body. The green light was almost offensively bright, but it at least it was an attempt to add some flourish to the show, which has gotten stuck in thr rut of a couple of standing sets (as tends to happen). 

I'm focusing on this stuff rather than detailing other plot-related developments because the expedited storytelling created some messes along the way. Claire and William were married, shared a really nice moment, and then very quickly watched everything fall apart once she figured out his allegiance to Gabriel. That was all to be expected, but those beats came fast and furious without much time to settle. While William was a weird character, he wasn't an ineffective one. His feelings for Claire seemed true, but they were also going to be so insignificant in the grand scheme of the show's story.


Relatedly, David very quickly recovered from his experience with the Black Acolytes, managed to sneak his traitorous son out of town during a lockdown, and then murdered the remaining Acolytes to clean up after his kid. Those scenes worked better than the ones with Claire and William because they showed both sides of David, self-interested power mongerer and protective father. Still, it does feel like the show wasn't really sure what to do with the Black Acolytes as an apparatus, especially when the angels themselves have enjoyed so much screen time. I don't know if this means the end of them altogether, but it wouldn't surprise me. I mean, most of them were just burned alive. Maybe a few missed that meeting and can carry the torch onward.

Other characters were given less of a send-off. General Risen simply left Vega to escape it all, presumably to be seen again Dominion gets a second season. Noma, Alex's bedroom partner, longtime friend, and secret high angel, was captured in Gabriel's lair and never seen again. And oh yeah, Arika and Uriel appear to be a couple and I think Arika is actually Evelyn. "Beware Those Closest to You" allowed just enough time for those women to work in some sexposition, but that's a story that will have to be told at a later date, if possible.

Dominion covered a lot of ground in eight episodes, for better and for worse. The decision to ramp up the story churn allowed the show to move away from some of its cumbersome seriousness, but not completely. Most of the characters didn't have especially substantive arcs (or even personalities, in some cases; sorry, Becca) and the concentration on plot meant that world-building, such a crucial element in a show like this, got sidelined as well. But with all that said, Dominion was also not as terrible as many of the moments in the pilot suggested. The improvements were small, but not entirely insignificant. Though a prospective second season would still have a long way to go, I imagine that with more time and more episodes, Dominion could keep making progress.


NOTES

– Look at face. Christopher Egan is quite handsome, right? At least we have that.

– I'm not really complaining, but didn't it feel like the show tried to shoehorn in some of its sex and nudity, as if it was making a concerted effort to compete with Game of Thrones (and really anything else on premium cable)? While the show didn't really do anything over the top, the frisky business was prominent in a number of episodes. 

– If you were concerned that Dominion hadn't pulled any Joseph Campbell-y stuff in a while, Alex had a vision of Jeep not unlike something Luke Skywalker experienced in The Empire Strikes Back

– Apparently brides wear pink(ish) and not white in Vega. it was a small touch, but I liked it. More of that.


What'd you think of Dominion's finale? Do you want a second season?


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