All good dramas must have a compelling conflict and characters that we care about, and in See, both of those elements hinge on how blindness is a part of the world. Taking place 500 years after a virus decimated humanity and left the survivors blind, See does more than allow the writers and director a chance to speculate on how society might change under such circumstances; it also taught the actors a lot about their craft and helped them relate to each other in character. This unique aspect of the series will definitely be evident when Apple TV+ subscribers view the premiere after the service goes live on November 1, 2019.
Creator Steven Knight explained at a recent press junket that a team of people was needed to make the blind world as real as possible. “This begins with a big what if,” he says. “What if humanity had lost the power of vision for this amount of time? How would they actually survive? So one asks oneself first and puts things into the script that one think would be a possible solution to problems, but then when the process of actually making it real happens, a team of people come together… we consulted all kinds of people about how these problems would be solved. So it comes from a combination of different things, but as with any human civilization in peril, the imperative is survival.”
Series director Francis Lawrence, known for his work on The Hunger Games, stressed the importance of making the vision of a future without vision realistic and respectful. “We came up with this idea to hold a think tank in London and brought a bunch of people in… We had an evolutionary biologist, we had a survivalist, we had some other scientists, just talking about what the world would look like with civilization greatly reduced… What are the different ways that people could navigate? What are the different ways that people would build villages? What are the sort of different ways that people would build clothing and armor and weapons, and what are the fighting styles going to be?”
When asked if in some ways, the world might be better off without its vision-related concepts of vanity and judgment based on appearance, Knight acknowledged some things could improve. “One of the questions of the series is: is it better or worse that humanity has vision?” he says. “In the opening shots we see a perfect Earth; the Earth has healed itself, so that is better. And as a result of the loss of one of the five senses, humanity has lost its ability to completely dominate the environment, and that also means they have lost some of the ability to satisfy ambition and desire. And so therefore there has had to be a collective humanity breath… So I would say yes, it’s better.”
Actors like Yadira Guevera-Pip, who plays a tribal warrior named Bow Lion, agree that humanity might benefit from the intimacy necessitated by the lack of sight, as with the characters in See. “The way that we naturally relate to each other is healed, and it comes more from a place of family and connection and of survival in a more real way than we feel now with the grocery stores and the iPhones and the subway, with all those guarantees of survival that we have,” she says. “There’s a strength actually that we gain from removing this part of ourselves.”
Alfre Woodard, who plays a wise woman in the tribe named Paris, thinks there are couple of reasons for this stronger bond. “We make family; we make tribe. It’s a decision,” she insists. “Some of it is practical, how people come upon each other because the world isn’t populated. The bonds are even stronger, so because [Paris is] born in that lineage, she accepts the responsibility, the way most women do, of keeping the lore, taking care of, bringing life in… It’s her job to keep the idea of family alive.”
Lawrence thinks the powerful sense of family is what will appeal to viewers of See, since the post-apocalyptic worlds that he’s known for need more than just the conflict of survival. “I’ve done stories before about the world without civilization but not one that takes place many hundreds of years later, and the idea of blindness was also really fascinating to me just because I knew that in terms of the vision and the worldbuilding is going to be unified by that idea so that every decision was going to be based on that idea,” Lawrence says. “And it’s a very emotional story because it’s really at its heart about a family. And so as much as I love worldbuilding, you need something emotional and relatable to latch on to for it to work.”
The irony, of course, is that, although the world has returned to a beautiful pristine state illustrated by the magnificent landscapes of British Columbia where See was filmed, the blind inhabitants of this future must experience its glory without the power of vision. “It’s been hundreds of years since the bulk of civilization has gone away, so a lot of the pollution and damage that we do to the environment has gone away and started to heal. That drove us to shoot in some of the locations that we shot in,” Lawrence explains. “And part of what is ironic is that you’re in these unbelievably beautiful places, and a majority of the characters can’t see it. But they can experience it in many different ways: they can smell it, and they can hear it, and they can feel it.”
Fortunately, viewers can experience See with both their ears and their eyes as they visit the world of the future in which the myth of sight is about to make a surprising return. What the power of vision will do to the society in the show is part of its core concept, and when the series makes its debut along with the Apple TV+ streaming service, subscribers will be thrown into the conflict along with those trying to protect the children with the heretical fifth sense and those trying to exploit or destroy them.
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Michael Ahr is a writer, reviewer, and podcaster here at Den of Geek; you can check out his work here or follow him on Twitter (@mikescifi). He co-hosts our Sci Fi Fidelity podcast and coordinates interviews for The Fourth Wall podcast.