'Dominion' Review: Angels Fail To Inspire In New Syfy Attempt
Apparently, the best way to make a series is to adapt it from a 2010 movie (Legion) that bombed critically. Syfy commissioned this series in an obvious hope to fill the void left by Battlestar Galactica and their multitude of Stargate series that have all ended over the last few years. The pilot runs for ninety minutes with little commercial interruption. It’s obvious a great deal of money and effort were placed into the CGI and set design — both Syfy and series developer Vaun Wilmott really want this series to land, but instead it falls to the earth with an incredible thud.
The world we’re given is a post-apocalyptic warzone, where angels and humans are at war. There are a few cities left — designated Green Zones that are walled off — where caste systems and arranged marriages are, for some reason, popular again. The city we see here is Vega, which is actually Las Vegas after it seemingly collided with Detroit. Thanks to the expository narration from Alan Dale, who plays General Edward Riesen, we get the basics: 25 years ago God gave up and disappeared. The angel Gabriel (Carl Beukes) blamed humanity for this, and with an army of other angels, razed the planet. Michael (Tom Wisdom) the archangel, however, led an army of his own to defend humanity, and at some point raised a child who will be the Chosen One who will be revealed through his awesome tattoos (they’re going for the millennial audience, after all).
The quarter century time jump is necessary for a jumping on point, but unfortunately leaves out some potentially interesting beats. How would atheists and members of other religions react to realizing the Judeo-Christian theology was the correct one? If God and his angels exist, doesn’t the Devil exist also? What does he have to say about all of this? Is he in support of Gabriel? Or Michael? Does he care? Do we?
That aside, the world that’s built in Dominion is questionable, but interesting in its melodrama. Alex (Christopher Egan), a lowly soldier and eventual Chosen One, is in love with the high-born Claire (Roxanne McKee), and they plan to run away together but she decides she can’t because she’s going to end up ruling Vega. The archangel Michael is still around, but he’s full of self-hate and doubt, which he deals with by having orgies (our hearts do so bleed for him). Anthony Head is the highlight of the series, playing the greasy David Whele with no subtlety whatsoever – but that’s the point. His American accent is distracting however, and at times I wondered if it was dubbed in later, but that could just be the fact I’m so used to him from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. While the personal struggles are well-worn tropes, it’s the setting that may yet help save the show. Though there are dozens of shows and films that depict a post-apocalyptic humanity, we’ve yet to see an angel civil war as the focal point. Wilmott and his writers have a bevy of religious texts to draw inspiration from, so this series could still make something of itself.
All things considered, Dominion isn’t a terrible show. It’s certainly not the worst thing on SyFy or on The CW (where this series could just as easily have ended up). It’s the lazy writing, overbearing exposition, inherent and unchecked flaws, and its apparent belief that all that can be overcome by sex appeal that makes it grating. Egan, McKee, Head and Langley Kirkwood do the best they can with what they’re given, but the dialogue is cheap and expository, and the motives the characters have are usually simple and trite.
The world itself is beautifully rendered and it’s easy to tell the amount of passion that went in to the making of this. But, as attractive as the window dressing in this show is, no amount of well-built sets, CGI and scenes involving scantily clad Roxanne McKee, Shivani Ghai, and Rosalind Halstead can save it in the long-term. SyFy went as far as they could with the level of violence and nudity available to basic cable, and the writing sometimes manages to depict an interesting metaphysical mythology, as if attempting to channel the spirit Game of Thrones, but for its ninety-minute run-time, Dominion says very little.
One of the main problems is we’re not actually given a reason as to why any of this is happening. Why did Gabriel, in all of Creation, specifically see humanity as the reason for God’s disappearance? What would destroying humanity do at this point? How do our weapons kill angels? How/why is Alex the Chosen One? If a Chosen One was foretold, doesn’t that mean god’s disappearance and the angel civil war was foretold hence the necessity for a Chosen One, and wouldn’t that mean this whole thing was something the entire angel army would know about ahead of time so they would have no reason to wonder why God disappeared; therefore rendering the entire war and the series itself moot?
The questions that surround this world might have been answered in the Legion film. However, if your story needs a supplemental story to explain its plot and fill in the plot holes, then it has failed on a critical level to do its job in creating a complete mosaic.
Pilots are tough; even the best of them hiccup. While this introduction was hardly positive, fans of the genre will likely give Dominion a few episodes to work itself out.
Dominion continues Thursday at 9 p.m. on Syfy.