Spoilers ahead for last night’s episode of Dominion.
That Dominion has such a sprawling cast is both a blessing and a curse. Having such a talented ensemble at one’s disposal affords multiple dramatically different viewpoints of the post-apocalypse. Sometimes we see the world through the eyes of the surviving humans, from lowly street urchins all the way up to politicians governing from their ivory towers. Or perhaps we’re soaring high above it all, on the wings of archangels, surveying the rubble of mankind’s folly. Or perhaps we view the world through the black eyes of lower angels, peering out from their ruined human hosts. And, sometimes, the creators decide to throw everything at viewers all at once, in a mind-numbing kaleidoscope of plot fragments that never quite coalesce into a single coherent storyline.
“Bewilderment of the Heart” may be this season’s weakest episode, but this isn’t to say that “Bewilderment” didn’t have moments or ideas that worked. Quite the contrary. The parts that worked wound up being quite effective, and as far as plot devices go, the Darkness unleashed last week by Gabriel is a pretty good one. In essence, said Darkness manifests nightmares and dreams in humans and angels alike, with fatal results. Except Alex seems immune to its ill effects even as chaos erupts all around him. Shots are fired in the control room, except it’s Vega’s soldiers turning their guns on each other and themselves. The sequence is confusing and frenetic and frightening, as it should be. The Darkness quickly spreads across the city, affecting characters in various ways.
The most effective storylines belonged to Arika and Noma, who also happen to be two of Dominion’s more interesting characters. Arika is conniving and manipulative and fiercely intelligent; in short, she is not a human to be trifled with. Meanwhile, Noma is earnest, and courageous, and guileless — the sorts of qualities you’d expect in an angel. Except what makes Noma great are her more human qualities, namely her vulnerability and her desire to be loved. But more on her in a bit.
In a deft bit of writing, the tables are turned on Arika when she finds herself in Rose’s shoes. (You remember Rose, don’t you? She’s the eight-ball from this season’s “Mouth of the Damned.”) In any case, Arika quickly sees her treatment of Rose for what it was — debasing and morally repugnant. This is not to say lower angels are saints — clearly, they’re not. But what Arika did in “Mouth” was prey on Rose’s lingering humanity, all in the name of framing David Whele.
One could argue Arika’s comeuppance was a long time coming, while others could just as easily argue that she did what she had to in order to survive. But as anyone who has watched dystopian dramas like The Walking Dead or The 100, survival always comes at a steep price. In the end, we learn that Arika’s greatest fear is becoming her mother, which is valid enough, given the danger she posed to her own family. But this revelation is not enough to carry an entire episode.
It would be easy to do a round robin of all the various nightmare scenarios experienced by Alex, Michael, et al, but I’d rather focus on Noma. Her reaction to the Darkness is to imagine that her wings have been restored. Understandably, this would be important to any angel, more so for Noma, who sacrificed her wings to save Alex from torture. What we learn tonight, however, is that Noma’s greatest fear is not being able to return to Heaven upon God’s return. That’s a seriously heartbreaking revelation, and once again, Kim Engelbrecht sells Noma’s fearful devastation as she confesses this to Alex. The writers double down on her, though, making her the one the Amphora chooses to protect it from harm. Luckily for her, Alex understands how the Amphora is warping her mind (much the same way the One Ring managed to manipulate first Bilbo, then Frodo in Tolkien’s Middle-earth novels).
Of everyone affected in tonight’s episode, it was Noma I was most afraid we were going to lose — especially once she crept up onto that ledge. Her heartbreak is compounded once she realizes her wings are indeed still gone, as Alex said they were. And speaking of Alex, I know he’s the Chosen One, but his new powers seem to manifest themselves at the most opportune times. Perhaps this is more divine will and less convenient plot device. Either way, he saves the day by sealing the Darkness back inside the Amphora, which turns to dust in his hands.
I don’t mean to gloss over the other characters, but they weren’t as emotionally resonant as Arika and Noma’s journeys. Sure, William is afraid of being called out as a false prophet, and yes, David is forced to confront the monster he’s become. We also learn that Michael, while perfect, is not only afraid of failure, but has been harboring guilt that he didn’t initially care for Alex, only his cryptic markings.
Ultimately, these are important character beats, but they get a bit lost in the shuffle. Yet it’s Claire who really gets shunted aside, which is especially egregious given her trajectory throughout the season. It’s easy to understand she’s lost so much in recent episodes, from her baby to Gates to Alex. And now it would seem the Darkness has driven to take her own life. My guess is she may yet be found in time before she bleeds out. I hope so. The show needs her to stick around a little while longer.
One closing thought:
I really felt there were one too many characters presented as eight-balls. While it was thrilling to see David Whele as one, it was a little less so to see Gabriel as one (even though Carl Beukes acted the hell out of the part). And it was certainly less novel by the time Claire turned up as an eight-ball, too.