Saturday, June 28, 2014

“You Need Me to Connect You to Him”

The citizens of Vega, in Syfy’s new series Dominion, would benefit greatly from an outbreak of the Narvik B virus.  This human engineered pathogen gave the cast of last year’s Helix a clear focus:  everyone was trying to steal the virus, or get away from it, or prevent its spread, or recover from its effects.  There has been an outbreak of sorts on the SyFy channel lately—of religion.  Both Dominion and Helix touch on religious themes.  Helix for example addressed issues of immortality, ethics and mankind’s hubris.  The new shows on SyFy appear to involve considerable reflection on religious ideas and imagery.  Amen!

(Cultural note:  why are there so many shows and movies lately dealing with the Apocalypse?)

Despite overt discussion of faith, (unavoidable in a show containing angels), Dominion lacks a central focus to keep the show headed in more or less one direction, at least so far.  Viewers may find it difficult to follow, much less remember, all the interweaving subplots.  Where is all this heading?  To be fair, there have only been two episodes, and viewers are still getting to know the principle characters, and come to a working understanding of all the details of this fascinating alternate universe.

Vega is besieged by marauding angels.  They are essentially airborne zombies that can cling to walls, ceilings and roofs like flies.  They attack from outside the city’s defenses, but as of last night have managed to disguise themselves and infiltrate the city as spies and assassins.   Within Vega’s walls there is political unrest, an emerging religious fanaticism, problems with a nuclear reactor, struggles between two powerful families, and numerous romantic entanglements.   War is looming with the rival city of Helena—as if there was not already enough armed, and winged, combat. According to the show’s inventive theology, God has abandoned this mess, leaving the angels and humans to fight a long and inconclusive war.

For some reason, the angels only kill humans one at a time, avoiding the weapons of mass destruction that humans might use in similar circumstances.  This is going to be a long war.

In one of the more profound moments of the second episode, the archangel Michael and his supernatural opponent Gabriel land like crows on a distant cliff side to talk about humanity’s fate.  Michael tells Gabriel that their “father” would be ashamed of what he has done to mankind, but Gabriel argues back that God cannot stand the sight of humans and has abandoned them.  After all, Gabriel says, humans were given immortality, and paradise, and bodies made in the image of their Creator—“and turned the planet into a pit.” 

Michael tells Gabriel that the issue really is not humanity at all.  His violence is simply lashing out in anger because he feels he himself has been abandoned by God.  But Gabriel has the last word, a dig at Michael’s own insecurity:  Will the humans continue to see Michael as their savior, now that they have their own “Chosen One”?

There is a passage in 1 Corinthians—6:3—where Paul is criticizing believers for taking their legal issues to court instead of resolving them among themselves:

“If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?  Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?  And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?  Do you not know that we will judge angels?

Not a few angels may have been irritated by this presumption, given that they were on hand doing with will of God long before the arrival of mankind.   In Dominion, Gabriel implies that God loved humanity more than the angels, a great injustice.  There is certainly precedent for angels going their own way when impatient with their Creator.  Denied a promotion eons ago, the angel Satan and was cast out of heaven and sent to hell, where he began a second career as mankind’s nemesis.  But the devil is conspicuously absent from Dominion, probably because he is not needed at the moment.

No one would mistake the theology of Dominion for anything approaching Christianity.  For one thing, the notions of “turn the other cheek” and “love thy enemy” are completely absent.  There is the Church of the Savior, whose followers have faith in the arrival of a human “Chosen One”, but this recalls Old Testament prophecies about a national deliverer for the nation of Israel, not a Christ-like figure.  The leaders of Vega and her rival cities of Helena and Delphi seem reminiscent of the corrupt and violent warlords depicted in the Old Testament Book of Judges, (“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”)

Another Old Testament reference may have been a source of the idea for the closing scene of the second episode.  Viewers discover that General Riesen has been going outside the walls of the city to consort with a female angel.  Heavens!  In Genesis, just before the account of Noah and the flood, there is this mysterious reference: 

“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them.  They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” 

There is still debate about just who the Nephilim were, but the passage is suggestive.  Humans having intercourse with supernatural beings—where have we heard of this before?

The second episode contained a lot of loose ends as far as the plot goes, but interesting back story was offered.  The rival city of Helena is run by women who worship a female deity.  Sisterhood is powerful because the women control the only surviving air force on the planet.  Expect some awkward moments should “God the Father” ever return to His creation.  The Machiavellian Senator Whele revealed that before the war he had been a televangelist.  Now a complete agnostic, Senator Whele did retain the insight that his power and influence over others rested in being a middleman:  “You need me to connect you to Him”.  (Machiavelli ought to be made the patron saint of Vega.) 

There are also fascinating details in the architecture of the city, the interior décor, and the behavior of the various social classes that create a fantastic, yet weirdly familiar parallel universe.  In Dominion, Syfy has created another engaging science fiction/fantasy, and gets points for reintroducing discussion of important religious ideas in an entertaining and provocative show.

Dominion is on SyFy Thursday nights at 9:00 E.S.T.  See the show’s website at for more details.   

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