This spoiler-free review is based on the first three episodes.
See has all the makings of a sprawling sci-fi epic: a post-apocalypse culture with warring factions, a strong tribal leader in Jason Momoa’s bear-like Baba Voss, and a brilliant premise of a totally blind culture that leaves shows about zombies and nuclear holocausts in the derivative dust. It even has the passage of almost two decades in the first two episodes, giving the saga an uncharacteristic depth almost immediately without indulging in exposition or rushing things in any way. Aside from a few minor flaws, this series is a worthy flagship for the new Apple TV+ streaming service, which will enter the digital content fray on November 1, 2019.
The show wisely opens mid-conflict, trusting viewers to get a sense of the world from the quick voiceover, which tells us that a 21st century virus killed all but two million people on Earth, leaving the survivors blind. The war chief (Jason Momoa) prepares to defend against an approaching enemy as his wife Maghra (Hera Hillman) prepares to give birth with the help of the village wise woman, Paris (Alfre Woodard). Everything from the audible cues for warriors to take their weapons to the singing Paris employs to guide the babies into the world by sound tells us all we need to know about this world without sight.
The storytelling is admirably tight at the start, hinting that something special about the twins being born is related to the reason the attacking army is at the foot of their mountain. Some of the tribal chanting feels more silly than inspirational, but the call to arms does precede an incredibly impressive battle of the blind, complete with fighters hanging over the defensive wall by rope with no fear of vision-dependent weapons like bows or spears. Juxtaposing the aggression with the pain of childbirth is a great way to heighten our emotional investment from the very start, even as things are clearly about to change.
And things change quickly! Years pass in quick glimpses as the tribe escape their enemies, and the babies, gifted (or cursed) with vision, grow up in hiding from Queen Kane and her witchfinders who consider the mythical power of sight to be a heresy. But always in the background are the magnificent unspoiled vistas of British Columbia, reminding us that the Earth has healed and returned to its natural splendour without sighted humans dominating the environment. As the twins struggle with what to do with their new-found power, the message is clear: maybe the world is better without the fifth sense.
In the meantime, the vast timeframe keeps things grounded in reality in an empty, pristine landscape that would be easy to hide in. Whereas Queen Kane and her subjects have made their home inside a derelict hydroelectric plant that still provides a modicum of electricity, Baba Voss and the Alkenny tribe are guided to a hidden but lush valley by a mysterious benefactor and live there long enough for the twins to learn how to read and discover more about the ancient world when their books were written.
Some aspects of this science fiction story border on the fantastical, but it all seems to fit well in a culture that has reverted to superstition and myth. Several characters seem to have preternatural hearing or some other sense that allows them to act as seers or clairvoyants, and even Paris purportedly talks to the birds. A character known as The Shadow appears to be a fae spirit but is actually a member of the tribe, fulfilling some unknown purpose. Technological artifacts are said to be made of god bone, and the sun is referred to as a deity known as the Godflame. These narrative quirks serve to enrich the culture and strengthen the worldbuilding of the show.
See, which has already been renewed for a second season, provides plenty of material for conflicts within conflicts, including a betrayal from within, a secret past for Baba Voss, a forbidden relationship, a warped version of religion, and even the potential for corruption of the power of sight. The attention to detail in creating a respectful and realistic portrayal of life with blindness is very much appreciated, including the casting of blind and low-vision actors like Marilee Talkington. In the first three episodes provided for review, the full potential of the series is impressive in scale, and if See even reaches half of what its capable of, it will carve out one of the most unique niches in science fiction television in recent years.
See premieres on Friday the 1st of November as part of Apple TV. Read about the other shows streaming on the new service here.