Dominion episode 1 review: Pilot

Review Rob Leane 22 Jun 2014 - 13:16

Rob checks out Dominion, Syfy’s televisual follow-up to the supernatural cinematic flop Legion…

This review contains spoilers.

1.1 Pilot

Backflips! Assassinations! Lens flare! The pilot episode of Dominion, the televisual follow-up to the much-maligned 2010 supernatural action film Legion, tries hard to encourage audiences into forgetting the flaws of its big-screen predecessor though occasional dollops of action and suspense. But does it work?

Well, at times. Dominion kicks off with a hugely promising double-whammy – an animated sequence retelling the events of Legion through snazzy stylized stained-glass windows, followed by a tense opening scene which sees our lead character Alex (played incredibly straight by Christopher Egan) stumbling upon a rogue pack of evil angels and hurriedly trying to escape.

This results in a pacey action sequence which combines our first glimpse of angels in flight with a speedy escape car, a big gate that won’t open and a trigger-happy gun turret into some well-executed, solid action.

For those who aren’t familiar with Legion, or have tried their best to forget it, the plot here picks up in a world where God has sodded off twenty-five years prior and his angels, split into two teams led by the evil Gabriel and the (mostly) righteous Michael, have fallen to earth to start a turf war full of flying, fights and, if the pilot is anything to go by, faffing about.

Indeed, the sheer amount of exposition crammed into this ninety minutes of telly makes Dominion impossible to outright praise. While the action is good when it pops up, there’s just so much standing about and chatting in between, with plot-points and transparent foreshadowing crammed in at every possible opportunity, that by the end Dominion truly feels like one of the longest opening episodes to anything, ever. 

Whereas writer Vaun Wilmott clearly thinks that explaining and name-dropping this particular lexicon of clunky terminology through forced dialogue is the right way to go, you can’t help thinking that gradually introducing audiences to the world through carefully crafted visual moments, fleeting references and tantalising teases throughout the series could have been a lot easier to handle.

Whereas Game Of Thrones has got us believing in fire-breathing dragons, skeletal zombies and big ol’ giants through a well thought-out slow build, merely accepting Dominion’s singular central conceit, the existence of actual angels, becomes a struggle after such relentless spoon-feeding.

There are enough redeeming factors to at least make you consider checking in for the rest of the series though, with the excellently choreographed action, surprisingly high-calibre special effects and a few intriguing characters being the main saving graces.

Tom Wisdom’s turn as the conflicted Archangel Michael is the stand-out performance here, with his post-orgy shame contrasting nicely with his more angelic moments which see him imparting wisdom on the hero, (literally) swooping in to stop an enemy endangering at a public event, and going toe-to-toe with a ‘power’ (the elite fighter angels who have sided with the evil Gabriel).

This turns out to be a hugely entertaining bout directed with flair by Legion’s Scott Stewart – it’s got the edge-of-your-seat tension, pacey editing and visceral thrills of the hand-to-hand combat scenes from Arrow, which can only be a promising sign. Again, it’s frustrating to see such an engaging sequence cross-cut with yet more spelling-out of plot points.

Sadly the actual protagonist Alex, the son of Charlie and Jeep from Legion, has approximately two dimensions fewer than Michael, with his doomed romance with Roxanne McKee’s Claire (who you’ll recognise from Game Of Thrones and/or Hollyoaks) playing out as more wooden than a B&Q garden furniture sale.

Again over reliant on dialogue, we’re told Alex is rebellious but trustworthy far more times than we get to see him actually do anything except whinging and standing around. When the obvious reveal that Alex is the Chosen One fated to save the world from Gabriel’s plans arrives, you can’t help but wish the mantle could’ve fallen to one of the more likeable characters.

In short, Dominion’s pilot is worth checking out for fans of supernatural fiction, if only for the intriguingly duplicitous Michael, a few bursts of well-directed action and some surprisingly good effects. If you only look for good character drama in your televisual choices though, you’d be better off looking elsewhere.

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