Dominion Episode Review 1×01 – “Pilot”

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Dominion Cast

Heaven and Humanity Come to Hellish Blows in Pilot Episode of Syfy’s New Supernatural Action Drama “Dominion”

This show will form part of our Four Episode Challenge Series this summer. Here’s how it works:

Give a show four episodes with which to draw you in, impress you, challenge you, make you feel something deeply. Give yourself 4 episodes for the chance to find out if you care what happens to the characters you’re watching enough to become invested in the story. As you watch along, we will be reviewing those four episodes and experiencing them alongside you. And if after all that, it does none of those things for you? Then no biggie. You gave it a good shot and you can move on. But if it really makes its mark on your mind, you’ll be glad you stuck around!

When it comes to picking fights, humanity it would appear has stupidly picked its biggest one ever as the curtain rises on the Pilot Episode of Syfy’s new supernatural action drama “Dominion”. Indeed, it’s a dark time for mankind: it’s 25 years since it was revealed that God, it appears, is gone, and in His place sits a legion of vengeful angels who see humanity as the ones responsible for His disappearance. But thankfully for us, that legion is also a deeply divided heavenly house. On one side sits Gabriel, the archangel who would destroy humanity down to its last man, woman and child; and on the other sits Michael, the archangel determined to save a race of creatures that he believes must be worth saving if God thought they were worth saving. Neither side is prepared to give in, which can only mean one thing: war is coming, and it’s coming in biblical proportions. And in the midst of all this, is Alex Lennan – orphan, foot soldier and guard to the woman he’s secretly planning to marry (assuming her dear old dad, The General gives them his blessing) – who wouldn’t be lying if he said he really could be having a better day.

There are missing Gods; men who would be gods; and men who seem unable to think of anything worse than being God: all tumbled together in a writhing mass of power and politics, in a world where salvation and survival are rarer commodities than ever.

But are the good guys all good? It is all so black and white in this battle of wrong and right? Or are the bad guys just good guys doing bad things? Well, let’s dive in and meet this divine cast of characters as they embark here on the first step of the show’s journey, and find out shall we?

The Chosen One

In some ways, this show feels like television’s way of saying “Well?! You wanted Christopher Egan back didn’t you?! It’s not our fault you didn’t specify how!” But truth be told, as ridiculous as the show feels – particularly in the beginning – it is Egan (who plays the main man and Chosen One, Alex) who both hooks you in the beginning and makes you feel more than anyone else that you should hang around, despite the initial feelings you get from the show at the start.

Indeed it’s wonderful to have this delightful Australian actor back, especially considering the last time we saw him was, what, like six hundred years ago? in that movie Eragon. For his part, he was arguably a great choice to play a character like this. He has just that right amount of sweetness, charm and boy next door goodness to pull off the role of this reluctant (but thankfully handsome, because like handsome always helps) warrior of heaven, as he’s tasked to somehow save the world from almost guaranteed destruction. Technically speaking, he’s actually not too shabby of an actor given the right vehicle; plus he will draw those YA fiction loving Twilight girls in to the Dominion fandom (see the Final Verdict below and you’ll get my drift here) like moths to a flame. Or, you know…like Bella Swan to frowning and melancholy, masochistic, undead glittering dudes. #ComeAtMeTwilighters

Despite a somewhat lacklustre script for the most part in this pilot, Egan is arguably one of the most believable of all the actors in the context of their roles, which is a credit to him because there were lots of moments early on in this episode where it all felt rather less like a budgeted, network supported TV show and more like what The Hunger Games would be like if it had been written by a moderately talented, Merlin-shipping fanfic enthusiast: something that has the potential to be challenging and confronting, but instead turned into a great lump of sugar coated sci-fi drivel, full of everything but what matters at the heart of a great story.

But it’s easy to forget too that it’s only the beginning we’re judging here. The show is not without potential and it’s still early days; indeed in Egan’s case, if the writing improves he could actually do well in Dominion. But his believability will depend, I fear, solely on what should be a far edgier script and plot than we saw in the pilot. That said, hope, dear friends. Let us have hope that it will improve.

Dominion Family William and David

Seated At The Head of The Table

The other big draw card here is the British Magnificence that is Joss Whedon alumni, Anthony Head, in his role as the disillusioned and conniving politician and Vega game player David Whele. Head, of course, arguably staked a permanent claim (yes, I went there) in our pop-culture loving TV hearts as the witty, brilliant and jaded Rupert Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

For his part, there’s a gravitas and just plain cool that he brings to any project he touches and really, Dominion should have been no different. But while he’s okay here, for my part I do think they’ve dropped the ball in giving this Champion of the Queen’s English a very dodgy American accent to work with. In a show that relies on us as viewers to suspend so much disbelief, there’s a certain level of importance then in making the smaller, more mundane elements believable: even things so simple as correctly allocating people’s accents and voices. And sadly while his acting chops are still up to scratch, Head’s Yankee accent is about as natural as Snooki Polizzi’s tan.

Alan Dale – who plays the governing leader of Vega, General Edward Riesen – is likewise another excellent TV veteran who (although he’s still around as we head into episode two) feels very much like a wasted asset at this point for this show. Dale is a wonderful actor who has portrayed many a convincing and commanding leader in his TV time. But why put him in the shoes of such an impotent character? Indeed in the case of both of these men, it really feels like we as viewers have been served the TV equivalent of a fantastic piece of steak, but then given little more than dodgy airplane cutlery to eat it with.

Dominion Romance Becca and MichaelA Serious Case of Deja View

It was a mixed bag, really, when it came to the supporting characters and their respective plot arcs in this pilot, particularly in the sense that – aside from Alex and his innocent little vagabond friend Bixby – it’s hard to know who to really like enough to emotionally invest in them as the series goes forward.

Dominion Romance Claire and AlexFor example, while in the pilot we didn’t examine Gabriel in any context other than via his reputation, we spent a whole lot of time with the main archangel on humanity’s side: Michael. I’ll be honest and say here that I found it really hard to be won over by this portrayal of him. Perhaps it’s that I’ve spent too many seasons watching Supernatural, where the concept of archangels has been examined and developed with such depth, humor and insight; all I know is that I found myself struggling to be sympathetic to his cause, and spent much time confused about how I should feel about him. I mean on one hand, there’s something very jaded and false about him – where it feels like we as the audience will never quite be able to believe him – but at the same time, he also showed a brave and noble warrior heart as he battled…well, what would you call them exactly? Super Angels? (All I know in the case of those guys is that comic book Hawkman called and dude, he wants his duds back). That’s not to say though that Tom Wisdom did a bad job here, though. I just think that like Chris Egan, his believability will rise or fall based on the quality of the story he has at his disposal at any given time.

And what of the love story? What of Alex and his affair with the general’s daughter Claire? For my part, I think Roxanne McKee as Claire and Egan in his role as Alex had a certain amount of chemistry but they lacked real fire, and that’s an area where I think they both paid the price in the end, and will keep paying it if they don’t make a point of getting it right from now on.

I just found it hard to push myself to the point of belief where I was mentally torn enough as to the choice of either of these characters in their desire to stay together despite the odds facing them, and as a viewer I think it’s that potential for tearing that will really see an audience make that big step of emotional investment in a show. But still, there is some spark to be found, so I hope we have some more interesting growth to look forward to there.

Final Verdict

Dominion in a lot of ways will tap easily into that niche genre that’s been dominating Young Adult fiction for a few years now (think Lauren Kate’s wildly popular Fallen series), and in that sense this pilot ticked all the right boxes for that audience. But by the same token, that whole “fallen angel/nephilim/heaven vs us = hell” concept has been done almost to death on TV at the moment. So for a show like Dominion to be truly successful, it needs to demonstrate (and quickly) how it ultimately plans to stand out from that jostling TV crowd. This pilot would have been the perfect place to do that.

Instead though, what we got sadly was a rickety opening effort; a plot that teetered at times on the just plain silly, despite correcting in the last ten to fifteen minutes where the plot and the pace began to pick up again as we learned a little more about the mysterious tattoos Alex has inherited – markings that will assist him to win the war he has been called to lead in. That was something that surprised me given the fact writer of this episode – show creator and EP, Vaun Wilmott – has written episodes for a hard hitting show like the brazen and brilliant Sons of Anarchy. Who knows, though. Perhaps it may just be that he needs a chance to get used to the parameters of this universe – which is obviously very different to SoA – and the characters within it, before he really hits his stride.

Vision wise, director Scott Stewart’s strong background in visual effects seemed to greatly influence much of how he staged this episode, particularly in the various action sequences. Of particular note were the opening scene as Alex encounters the three ‘Eight Ball’ lesser angels playing cards in the abandoned warehouse; and in Michael’s one on one fight with The Power. Sadly though – whether it was due to a lack of resources, or even simply a case of rookie directing – the action and vision of this episode at a few core times lacked cohesion. But again, like the writing, who knows: perhaps it is just a case of coming to greater understanding of this particular world as the show moves forward, that will assist in better telling this story.

In the end, it must be said that Dominion has all the right ingredients. For starters it’s an interesting and meaty concept to play around with: lots of epic, supernatural goodness; lots of potential for romance and big ol’ battle and action sequences; lots of black and white versus grey characters in the ethics department. But despite the availability of this content, the first episode of Dominion was sadly a little unimaginative for my taste. A bit too chicken dinner. It offered me nothing that I hadn’t already seen before, and worse, nothing that I hadn’t seen done better elsewhere. That said, there were occasional flashes of deeper emotion and solid writing that make me think that Dominion still may have some really good stuff still to offer viewers as we all move forward though. But how about you, dear viewer? What did you think? Did you find it heavenly, or hellish? We would love to know so be sure to leave your comments below, as we wait now to find out just what twists and turns may await us on the darkly divine road ahead.

Final Thoughts and Questions…

  • Making William Gabriel’s son was a clever twist – I didn’t see that coming.
  • Actually speaking of William, I like that they went with that whole understated televangelist get up for him. He’s like a less redneck, less bloodthirsty and more likeable version of Steve Newlin from True Blood.
  • Chris Egan is so pretty, he could even make a cavoodle look ugly. NO SERIOUSLY I GOOGLE CHECKED AND IT’S TRUE.
  • Did I also mention that he is so perfect and adorable, I feel like I have every right to scientifically expect that wherever he walks, a spray of daffodils will spring up in his divine wake? Well I do.
  • Vega? Really? The WHOLE WORLD comes crashing down in a haze of spiritual warfare, and the best place an archangel could help you hole up was in Nevada? OMG I SUSPENDED LESS DISBELIEF IN BRIDE OF CHUCKY (although to be fair, not as much as I did during the Kim Kardashian/Kris Humphries Wedding Special #realtalk).
  • Is it just me or is Gabriel’s circa 2000-and-whatever-future-year-this-is wardrobe remarkably similar to what the bad guys always used to wear in Xena: Warrior Princess? Discuss.
  • That special kid who turned out to be an angel was ALL KINDS of Children-Of-The-Corn freakish. #OneWayTicketToCreepyTown
  • Those Power-Angels…well, they’re very Power Ranger-ish, aren’t they. Power Rangels. UGH THAT’S GONNA STICK.