Dominion: Pilot review

The premiere of Dominion on Syfy shows that sibling rivalry can be a hell of a thing. Here's our review...

To say that SyFy’s newest offering, Dominion, is simply another dystopian tale is to gloss over what may help turn this show into a guilty pleasure for many.

In this reimagining of heavenly creatures, these ethereal beings are angels in name and appearance only. While they certainly exude holier-than-thou attitudes, Dominion‘s angels are demons in sacrificial lambs’ clothing.  Indeed, in this alternate universe, angels are not mankind’s benevolent guardians—they are our enemies.   But we’re not bumbling innocents.  It’s because of our lack of faith that God decided to turn His back on us.  And the archangel Gabriel (Carl Beukes) isn’t too happy about this turn of events. He’s especially unhappy that his brother, the archangel Michael, has chosen to fight on the side of mankind.

If this premise sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Dominion is based on 2010’s Legion, which starred Paul Bettany as the archangel Michael (played here by cool-as-a-cucumber Tom Wisdom). The show’s creators (including Legion’s director Scott Stewart, who directed the pilot) insist that being familiar with Legion is not a prerequisite for watching Dominion.  Essentially, the show, set 25 years after the events of the movie, is a reboot. Fair enough.

Spoilers from this point on.

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At its core, this show is about two things: sibling rivalry and, ostensibly, absentee fathers. In this case, one AWOL dad happens to be THE Father, and the other happens to be A father—Alex Lannon’s father, to be exact. Alex (played by Christopher Egan) is a soldier in the walled city of Vega (nee Las Vegas), raised by the archangel Michael after being abandoned by his father. But, of course, Alex is no random, ordinary soldier. Indeed, as it turns out, Alex is the fabled chosen one, a savior, albeit a reluctant one.

While this revelation would bring hope to a normal, rational person, Vega’s second most powerful human, council member David Whele (played with obvious relish by Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Anthony Head), is non-plussed about Alex. David believes ruling through fear and intimidation is the best way to battle a growing complacency. While his tactics are decidedly unorthodox, he’s right to remain vigilant, especially when it’s discovered that Gabriel “has amassed an army of the possessed” in nearby Boulder.

Which brings me to one of the things that is truly interesting about this show—its reinvention (or interpretation, if you will) of angel mythology.  There are two kinds of angels: Higher angels, like Michael and Gabriel, and lower angels.  The latter are more like spirits; they must possess humans to assume corporeal form. These lower angels, once they have taken possession of a human, are known as “eight-ball angels”—though they pretty much behave like your basic demon.  Even so, as I mentioned before, most angels are not our allies, behaving more like instigators and terrorists.

Vega has its own caste system as well.  Known as the V-System, Vegan society is comprised of six classes: Basic Class (the lowliest class, which includes the unemployed and orphans), Professional Class/Labor Class, Agriculture Class, and, finally, the Ruling Class.  Above all other classes stands but one—the archangel Michael.

Yes, there’s an awful lot to keep track of in the nearly 90-minute pilot. I was only able to fully comprehend the V-System after reading through SyFy’s dedicated Dominion website, The website is definitely must-reading for anyone who wants more backstory about the events leading up to tonight’s pilot. 

That being said, the premiere is a bit clumsy at times, tasked as it is not only with world-building but creating a new angel-based mythology.  Either one of these things would be difficult to attempt on its own, so I admire the creators’ ambition in taking such a big first step. But at the end of the day, it’s the somewhat underdeveloped citizens of Vega who get short shrift. But as with any new series, characters can be developed as the season unfolds.

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So far, the power-hungry David Whele is the most intriguing and fleshed-out character.  In this role, Head reminded me a lot of The Governor on AMC’sThe Walking Dead—David’s charisma is underscored by a dangerous, self-serving agenda.

As for Alex, beyond being revealed as the chosen one, he stands the biggest risk of being a cypher. Yes, he’s in love with a woman who is betrothed to someone else, but unrequited romance does not necessarily a character make.

But, again, this is only the first episode. There’s still plenty more world-building to do and angel mythology to explore in the coming weeks. I’ll keep watching—will you?

Some closing thoughts:

Alex’s father’s name is Jeep? Am I the only person who thinks this is odd?

I like the irony of setting a show about angels in Sin City.

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Why do angels speak with English accents? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Still, why? Angels do have their own language, at least in this show.

I don’t know what to make of the orphan girl, Bixby. She certainly looks like the sort of urchin one would describe as ‘Dickensian.’  That being said, I found her to be distracting. A weird quibble, yes, especially when talking about a show with warring angels. Indulge me. 

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3.5 out of 5