Last night, Syfy premiered their wacky angel drama Dominion. We did not have high hopes, but it turned out to be way weirder than we ever anticipated. And that's great, like a character becoming King of the MGM Grand in Vegas great. Not good like, "wow that's really convincing character chemistry." But it gets points for being fast and weird. Here's our official recap of the pilot for our new guilty pleasure Dominion.
My absolute favorite part of Dominion was the introduction. It's a clever way to explain the fallout between humans and angels while playing around with religious iconography. Plus it's gorgeous; take a look:
So the introduction does all the set-up: Dominion takes place 25 years after an epic angel war in which most of the human race was obliterated. But thankfully, Archangel Michael (played by Tom Wisdom here, originally played by Paul Bettany in the movie Legion) stepped in to lend the human race a hand. Michael basically saves the human species and now he lives in Vega (new Las Vegas), inside what was formerly the Stratosphere, and has orgies. Actually, the orgies are only implied. We see Michael standing amidst a bed full of lightly spritzed, satisfied looking ladies, feeling guilty. And there's nothing better than an angel who's really good at sex, but then spends all the time after sex moping about said sex. Right? Moving on.
So Vega is where Dominion takes place. This desert kingdom is just one of the few surviving human outposts. But Vega isn't some sort of scrappy version of The Stand; the citizens here spent the last 25 years reworking logic and politics so that Vega operates under some strange sort of caste system where everyone is mildly interested in recreating half-assed shout-outs to the Roman Empire.
Inside this walled city are lots of poor people, the military, and two major families who appear to do most of the ruling. These two families are headed by the two biggest actors in the whole production. Anthony Head (and his terribly nasal American accent) is the Secretary Whele. The Whele family lives in the MGM Grand Hotel, or so it would seem. And Alan Dale (of Lost fame) plays General Edward Riesen, leader of the Riesen Clan, who reside in Caesars Palace.
Yes, there's a council of sorts (made up of one of the women Angel Michael was having sex with and a various collection of other minor characters), but it's the Riesen and the Whele families that appear to make the majority of the decisions for the citizens of Vega. And right now, both families are in a bit of a power struggle. Naturally, this all can be fixed by the wedding of the Princess of the Riesen family and the Prince of the Wheles, which works out super perfectly. Isn't that nice how that all worked out?
But of course then there's the main character, Alex Lannen (Christopher Egan of Kings), who has spent his life working his way from the ground level of the caste system to become the personal security guard the Princess of Riesen. No real surprise here: they are in love and have plans to flee the city and start over in a city with no levels, Delphi! And going by the trend of shortening city names to be new city names, I'm assuming this is Philadelphia? It doesn't matter, because none of that happens. Just as they are about to start their lives over, a new sect of angels attack and it's all swords and bullet and brimstone. Michael has to fight a warrior angel—a class of angels earlier thought to be staying out of this dreadful war, but no more. Gabriel (the Angel leader of the human annihilation party) has amassed a new army of winged terrors and is ready to bring hell down upon Vega's doors.
I'm speaking in wildly general terms, as this pilot was over an hour and half long and stuffed opening to end with world-building trinkets and hints. For example, during this attack, Vega is being visited by dignitaries from Helena. It's during that time that you see how Secretary Wheles gets things done (mostly with sex in the bathtub). But he's a cunning politician (in most cases) and is willing to unleash a possessed "8-ball" (a human that has been possessed by a lower level angel) into the city just to prove a point. He clearly wants the Riesen family out and his family in, and is grooming his weasel-faced son for power. But then again, there's Alex.
As the pilot goes on, Alex is THANKFULLY revealed to be "the chosen one." This chosen person is supposed to lead the human race to victory and restore order. He is the little baby other humans pray to, and up until now has been a huge secret. The revelation of Alex as the chosen one in the pilot episode was where I said, "OK Dominion, I'm in." It was a refreshing turn of pace to see a drama not bang the drum of "who's the chosen one" plot when it's so clearly and obviously Alex. No dragging here, full pedal to the metal, this is the guy; let's get this war on. Plus, it doesn't hurt that Alex is a pretty smart, non-trusting hero.
At one point, Alex's body is peppered with magical tattoos, thus revealing his chosen one-ness. No one has been able to decipher the language of these markings, but in a POV shot from Alex's eyes, you can see that he can read this divine message, and the message is "Don't trust those closest to you" or something like that. And instead of telling the seemingly righteous and supposedly infallible Angel Michael, he lies. Sold.
Thank god we're not going to have to follow around some labradoodle hero; Alex is smart. Now we may think he's a little dim for falling in love with the Riesen Princess, but it makes for good drama. He's our second favorite character next to Angel Michael, who seemed like he would be a tedious bore in the commercials but actually comes across as some kind of moody dick. And that's interesting (for now at least).
So now that we know who the chosen one is, the rest of the leaders of Vegas do as well, but the proletariat don't. None of that really matters, though, because there is a war coming with whole new slew of deadly angels that no one is really prepared for, and that is great. Again, it's full steam ahead, and we like that kind of pace—especially because, if you really stop and think about the workings of Vega, the whole thing kind of crumbles, so it's best to keep the characters themselves smart and the action thick.
That being said, I'm concerned that Dominion may buckle under the glut of its quickly growing collection of genre tropes. There are so many ridiculous scifi riffs and staples in this series I wouldn't be surprised if people started counting their status via Community's Meow Meow Beans, right down to the nonsensical obsession with Roman Empire dress with a twinge of retrofuturistic '70s dazzle.
Let me list just a few of the many things Dominion hit on the scifi trope checklist:
There is an adorably hatted orphan character, with sad eyes and poorly knitted clothes, who, for reasons unknown, is best friends with the main character and can enter his military barracks whenever she wants. But it's cool, because they are best buds and have a secret handshake.
Coed, group showers, for no discernible reason that we can see other than to remind the audience that this is THE FUTURE.
Elaborate, solo King dinner feasts with comically massive amounts of extra food, while the poors outside riot out of hunger and displacement.
Whacky outfits from neighboring cities. Remember people, it's only been 25 years.
And, of course, the futuristic Roman Empire obsession, which I'm going to harp on a little more now. I've been to Caesars Palace, quite a few times. I can honestly say it would make more sense if people were walking around in The Hangover t-shirts rather than the copious toga-styled ensembles, with warriors dressed like ancient soldiers. The television screens still work on the Vegas strip, so clearly they can still use that. But for the big Jubilee party, Vega hosts an odd gladiators-in-the-colosseum fight between their best champion and a random 8-ball angel they kidnapped. It's weird. Like, I would be weirded out if everyone around was just super into pretending they are in Rome 25 years from now. And yes, the Riesen house does use the Caesars Palace logo as their family crest, and yes, the Whele Family uses the MGM lion logo for their family crest as well. And that is just hilarious. It hasn't been that long, people still KNOW that is the logo for a hotel!
But overall, I liked Dominon, I really did. It's much smarter than I ever anticipated, and the plot made a lot of fast-paced decisions that will definitely bring me back next week. Alex and Michael are both great characters, and the Angel villains are scary enough to warrant drama. However, I'm not sure how the heads of the two Vega households will fare week to week. I don't think I have a good handle on the Riesen family, but that's OK; I can wait. The Wheles and their villainous politicin' via Giles and his new accent are entertainment enough (especially now that we know his son is a little rat fink).
Whether or not the tropetastic future will become burdensome remains to be seen. But the meat is good. We'll be back.
- Michael is SUPER worried about having kids. So yeah, looks like he's having a kid, right?
- Lots of namedropping for Evelyn from Helena (whose wife Secretary Whele presumably had relations with). She was imprisoned this episode for traveling with that creepy angel/boy. I bet that will cause trouble.
- Getting a strong feeling the reveal that angels can be ANYONE now is Syfy desperately trying to channel the "who is secretly a cylon" vibe from BSG. Hope it works.