Saturday, June 21, 2014

“I’ve Got an Angel in Pursuit!”

SyFy’s new show Dominion, which premiered last Thursday night, is a fascinating mix of exotic theology, totalitarianism, and comic book action.  The show takes place in the near future, after an apocalyptic battle between humanity and the angels.  God has unaccountably left and gone away, allowing the angel Gabriel to lead a horde of “lower angels” to wreak havoc against mankind. 

These evil angels are capable of possessing humans and converting them into super powered yet articulate zombies, able to scale walls and ceilings as well as leap great distances.  Unlike zombies, the Possessed can be dispatched pretty much like ordinary humans, with bullets, knives or swords—a head shot is not necessary.  But they are fast, and some can actually fly.  Alex Lannon, one of the main characters, encounters a few of them—they are called “eight balls”—during a reconnaissance mission outside the walled city of Vega.  Alex must flee back to the safety of the city, which provides an opportunity to demonstrate the city’s defensive capability, in a scene very similar to one in Starship Troopers.  

Only the archangel Michael, who has broken with his fellow seraphim and cherubim, stands between Gabriel’s minions and beleaguered humanity.  He is the tireless defender of the remnant that has survived the conflagration.  Yet Michael’s human defendees feel considerable ambivalence about the rigid code and hierarchy he has imposed on them to ensure security and survival.

(If this is what the angels are like, how bad can the demons be?)

Although only 25 years have elapsed since the war with the angels, humanity has regressed nearly a thousand years in social, political and economic organization.  People live in fortress city states, where   candles, religious statuary, and Greco-Roman architecture exist side by side with plasma screens, high-tech weapons, and video surveillance cameras.  Resources are scarce; emissaries from rival cities must barter for food, medicine, wives, and a nuclear reactor.  The archaic costumes, set design, and urban scenery really suggest an alternative universe, where the Medieval “Age of Faith” co-exists with advanced technology.

As in Helix, the first episode of Dominion introduces a plethora of characters and subplots, so viewers may want to take notes, (or visit the show’s website at  The city of Vega, where the show begins, is a totalitarian world filled with conspiracies, bizarre religious beliefs and social unrest.  The people grumble under an oppressive caste hierarchy that mirrors the organization of the angels in heaven. The Archangel Michael rules and defends Vega from on high, but delegates authority to General Riesen, the “Lord of the City”, and David Whele, the conniving and power hungry “Secretary  of Commerce”.  (Will capitalism and corporate interests ever be fairly portrayed on TV?)

The noble General wants to arrange a marriage of his beautiful daughter Claire to the Secretary’s fanatical son William, thus politically uniting the House of Riesen with the House of Whele in hopes of bringing about political reform.  As “Principate”, William is head of the Church of the Savior, which holds that a human has already been born who will lead mankind to victory over the angels.  

Only the most fundamentalist of Christians will find this notion blasphemous, because the theology in Dominion is so well off the beaten track of orthodoxy.  If anything, the traditional faithful may be charmed to see people actually engaged in prayer on television, and the concept of simple faith and piety is a recurring theme, (especially when contrasted with the machinations of the treacherous Secretary).

Claire, who wants justice and democracy for the people of Vega, is much opposed to marrying the Secretary’s son William.  She is secretly in love with Alex Lannon, a soldier in the Archangel Corps.  This relationship will certainly complicate things over the next few episodes.  Meanwhile, the Secretary is secretly involved with Arika, the beautiful emissary from the rival city of Helena, who wants to make a deal for nuclear technology.  Alex Lannon has befriended a poor orphan named Bixby, whom he wants to escort to the distant democratic city of Delphi.  He plans an escape from the walled city of Vega with Bixby and Claire, but an angel attack near the end of the show thwarts this.  (As with Helix, the underlying format of Dominion, despite all the weaponry and exploding evil angels, is the soap opera.)

There is some speculation as to whether “the Chosen One” has arrived in Vega, and this matter is clarified in the pilot, when a miracle occurs involving mysterious, hieroglyphic tattoos.  None of this has to make sense. 

Given its wildly imaginative alternative universe, frenetic action and engaging subplots, the show can be forgiven for borrowing heavily from a number science fiction movies and shows.  In fact, viewers may enjoy spotting the contributions from Starship Troopers, the Matrix franchise, Blade Runner and perhaps even Les Miserables, among others.  Some of the urban sets depicting the oppressed citizenry of Vega reminded me of the old 1980s science fiction dystopia, Max Headroom.

Dominion is on SyFy Thursday nights at 9:00 E.S.T.

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