Episode 101 “Pilot”
It’s been 25 years since Archangel Michael protected a young, pregnant girl, stuck in a diner in the middle of nowhere, from an angelic attack. The world looks different now, and it’s not really the shiny, happy utopia we hoped it would be. The events we’ve seen in the 2010 movie Legion were only the beginning. God is still nowhere to be found and angels are as angry, as we remember them. Humans do not intend to go gently, and refuse to just give in and die. Nothing seems to have an easy answer, which makes Dominion a good summer entertainment.
We meet Alex Lannen (Chris Egan), while he gathers supplies in a nondescript, abandoned building, on the edges of what looks like a long destroyed city. Unfortunately (or fortunately for the viewers), his escapade isn’t as easy as he’d hope for. Within moments, he runs across three lower ranking angels, possessing human bodies, and what started as a supply run turns into a fight for his life. After shooting one of the enemies in the head, he decides to run. And with good reason as one of the possessed sprouts black wings and goes after him.
Once Alex gets to his car and starts driving towards safety, it becomes apparent that the angel will not just let him go. Our poor hero radios in for help, begging for the gates of the city to be opened, so that he can find sanctuary within the walls. His fellow humans, watching his approach on the monitors, aren’t willing to take chances and risk the angel getting inside their city. For a second there, the odds are definitely not in Alex’s favor, but the city’s defenses kick in and destroy the winged enemy. With the area clear, the gates are opened and Alex is allowed in. The soldiers quickly scan him, to see if he’s possessed and send him to his superiors to be punished.
It becomes obvious that in this new world, there are certain rules everybody needs to follow, and Alex broke a few of them. Leaving Vega (what’s left of Las Vegas after angels set out to destroy the human kind) is not allowed and could result with Alex being demoted and thrown out of Archangel Corps, a military branch founded by Michael (Tom Wisdom) himself.
Michael, who, when not actively involved in defending humans, is apparently exploring humanity via some sort of orgies. While he kept his Lone Wolf approach to fighting, it seems he gave in to what he probably perceives as a weakness and got himself into some vague relationship with Senator Becca Thorn (Rosalind Halstead). We’re treated to a lot of bare skin (with body parts strategically covered or cut from the shot – it’s Syfy after all, not Starz or HBO) and a conversation between the two that is meant to set a more emotional conflict for the main angel in the cast. Michael insists that “this” (their relationship, the naked orgies, all of the above; it’s not specified) has to stop. To that Becca responds with the perfect answer, telling the Archangel that if he wants it to stop, he should just stop. It’s refreshing to see a female character (that judging from the pilot is there simply to be the love interest), who is not desperate for affection, begging the man to stay and not give up on their love… She refuses to take blame for his own weaknesses, and that makes me respect her even more. You go, girl! Michael, in a very manly fashion, decides to finish the conversation by leaving the room – through the open window.
But back to Alex, who is being chewed a new one by his superior. The boy clearly has a problem with authority and he refuses to feel guilty for disobeying orders. Then again, his commanding officer’s idea of reprimanding him is to get in his face and scream insults. Makes me want to disobey him, just to make a point, so I have to side with Alex on this one (and not only because we share a name). The unnamed angry superior is quickly replaced by Michael. Alex remains unimpressed by the Archangel (armed with a scary looking whip), which makes him either really brave, or really stupid. He does, however, brief Michael on the three possessed he encountered, before he receives three lashes as punishment. Before the punishment can get any further, they are interrupted by General Riesen (Alan Dale), who sends Alex away, back to his duties as a security officer.
Which seems to be a code the writers invented to introduce us to the Chosen One Mythology that’s crucial to Dominion, and to show us the girl Alex loves with his whole heart, and (of course) can’t be with. They sneak around to share kisses and gentle touches: him in a rough, leather Corps uniform, her in a white dress (that’s cut in weird places, I have to wonder if the designer is a guy, because that dress is not functional AT ALL) and a flower crown that’s a dream come true to all Tumblr meme lovers. That’s how they decide to introduce us to Claire Riesen (Roxanne McKee)? If I wasn’t already aware (thanks to the cast interviews I posted in RUMOR HAS IT) that the unfortunate Romeo and Juliet relationship will not play a central role in the show, I would be throwing my laptop right now. The type of forbidden relationship is such an overplayed trope, it’s annoying. So thank goodness for spoilers. As it is, Alex and Claire’s semi covert tete-a-tete serves as another way to show the unequal caste system that’s been adopted in Vega.
It means Claire, who’s a member of the ruling caste, cannot even dream of marrying Alex, a soldier very low on the totem pole. Yet another rule, our hero is willing to break. While Claire wants to ask her father for permission to break caste law and marry her soldier, Alex is planning to run away with her to a different human city, where (I assume) they could live happily ever after. It’s not even a spoiler when I tell you, that’s not going to happen. It’s only the first episode, after all!
Unbeknownst to our star-crossed lovers, Claire’s father and the most powerful member of the ruling council, Senator David Whele (the awesome Anthony Head) have other plans. Plans that they want to announce at the annual Vega’s Jubilee, an event that conveniently happens that evening. Event that ends up being a lot less joyful than people anticipated.
Without telling anyone, Senator Whele ordered his men to capture the one angel that survived the attack on Alex at the very beginning of the episode. As he explains to his son, William (Luke Allen-Gale), citizens of Vega have become complacent. Apparently, they aren’t afraid enough for Whele’s taste and he is about to change it all. Unfortunately, his plan to chain the angel in the middle of an arena and have a human gladiator slay it with a sword goes terribly wrong. The woman, apparently controlled by Archangel Gabriel (Carl Beukes), breaks free and causes incredible panic.
And that’s only a start to humanity’s problems. Michael is forced to step in and kill the angel from the arena, but more are coming. In that moment, the show answered a question I’ve been asking myself since the very beginning. As expected, humans adapted to the new enemy: they developed weapons capable of shooting angels off the skies, they came up with scanning technology that would show if someone’s possessed. In 25 years since that fateful night at the diner in Legion, humans created technology and changed their culture, all in order to survive. And they succeeded. What we were introduced to was a society that adapted to a new predator, and a world stuck in a peculiar status quo. A situation, while allowing for survival, is not exactly susceptible to a bigger conflict. Sure, it’s believable that different fractions in Vega would conspire to get the power, or that various religious groups would clash, or that the lower castes would at some point rebel against the injustice. And it would no doubt make for an interesting TV. But none of that would give us the urgency and desperation that’s present when the entire human kind is threatened with extinction.
Which is why we are introduced to a third kind of angel, Furiad (Anton David Jeftha), who was created more powerful than your run-of-the-mill formless angels, so he could keep the angels in check. They are more powerful, harder to kill and can possess humans without being detected by the new technology. A way for the writers to make angels a threat again. And sure, they look a bit chunky during the big confrontation with Michael, but that’s mostly because TV budget isn’t exactly the same as movie budget and Syfy isn’t HBO – they can’t afford to throw money at a show that hasn’t proven itself yet.
As the Archangel Corps and Michael himself deal with the attackers that breached the city defenses and damaged the reactor, Vega’s rulers evacuate to a safe location that doubles as a command center. Alex, who managed to track down his lover and friend wants to use the panic to escape the city and disappear. Which makes sense, given that moments before the attack he had to watch Senator Whele announce his son is now engaged to Claire. But the object of his affections is changing her mind. According to her, it’s one thing to sneak out in the middle of the night and hope for the best, it’s completely unacceptable to use the chaos of the attack as distraction to run away from the fight. Let’s not blame Claire for being the writers’ tool of keeping the main character where the action is happening.
No matter the circumstances, Alex ends up exactly where he’s supposed to be: in the headquarters/panic room, where he can watch the destruction of Vega on a big monitor, just like everybody else. One person who isn’t watching the events on the screens is a little boy who came to Vega with a delegation from another city. He is concentrating more on a knife that’s just begging to be picked up from the table. He takes that knife and plunges it deep into Jeep’s (Langley Kirkwood) stomach. I will admit, it was the first (and only) moment where I actually yelled “NO!” at my TV screen. Jeep, the only character, except for Michael, who was present in the Legion movie (where he was played by Fast&Furious Lucas Black), who I hoped would be a part of the TV show, was stabbed by the new angel and died right there and then. We shall mourn your passing, and hope (against hope) that you return in some kind of flashbacks.
As Jeep bleeds out on the floor, the only one reacting to it (after obligatory shots have been fired at the angel, who escaped anyway) is Alex. There are tears and final words, and in a way it’s moving, if you ignore yet another overplayed trope of passing the power onto the hero, as the father figure dies in his arms. And pass the power, Jeep does. We see the intricate tattoos that covered his body disappear, and magically reappear on Alex. Our hero, shocked at what’s happening unbuttons his sleeve to reveal even more tattoos under his clothes. He is quickly pronounced The Chosen One. Senator Whele, in a moment that makes all the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans laugh, claims the Chosen One is a myth and doesn’t exist. Nobody buys that, given what they just witnessed and the fact that Michael reveals Alex was the child he saved all those years ago.
Later that night, Alex and Michael are alone in Michael’s rooms, inspecting the tattoos. The Archangel asks if Alex can read the tattoos, since they are the roadmap to humanity’s survival. Alex tries his best, staring at his forearm, until the tattoos start to move, rearranging themselves into a omnious sentence: BEWARE OF THOSE CLOSEST TO YOU. It affects him so much that when Michael asks again if he can read anything, he responds with “No.”
During the final moments of the episode, we see a figure approaching Archangel Gabriel’s stronghold to inform him that the Chosen One has been found. And, gasp!, that figure is revealed to be William Whele!
All in all, I liked the episode. Anthony Head with an American accent seems even more threatening than in his usual British glory. There were small details that irritated me a little (how far exactly is Gabriel’s place from Vega? It has to be close if William got there…), but overall the show promises to be very entertaining. It’s been years since Syfy had a show that hit all my buttons, but the complex social ladder and the premise of Dominion are it. And sure, I will no doubt cringe at the romantic subplots, but I’m interested in the bigger world building and the potential it all has. I am definitely looking forward to the next episode. I’ll see you again next week, with another recap.
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