Saturday, July 26, 2014

“Beautiful Dreamer, Wake Unto Me”

In arguably one of its better episodes, the latest installment of SyFy’s Dominion focused on the classic theme of grown children struggling to reconcile with their parents.     It being such a dark show, this family dynamic involved extortion, pistol whipping, exorcism, and euthanasia via strangulation.  The emotional conflict of a young woman taking on the mantle of adulthood was sensitively portrayed in the Riesen home, while the challenge of a young man seizing the reins of power and authority from his father was the insightful focus over at the Whele house.

At the encouragement of Alex, the Chosen One, Claire meets her eight ball mother, who is chained to the floor in a large storage room.  She learns the awful truth that her father has been having a long running affair with the lower angel who possessed her dead mother’s body.  Understandably, she experiences a short period of denial, and wants Alex to shoot her—he had almost done so in the last episode.  From the eight ball we learn of the difficulties of being one of the lower angels, a kind of bodiless, disenfranchised underclass clinging to the lower rungs of heaven.

We also learn from Claire’s zombified mother that the human soul can still survive in some form in a body possessed by an angel, that eight balls—they do not like to be called that—are often remorseful for taking human bodies, and believe that they can be redeemed by the Chosen One.  Alex obtains “The Apocrypha”, an ancient book that contains a prayer for evicting lower angels who have possessed human bodies.  Inhabiting human bodies is something angels apparently have been doing for centuries, causing their victims to be frequently misunderstood and mislabeled.

(The real “Apocrypha” is a collection of books that are considered canonical by the Roman Catholic Church and placed in the Old Testament; Protestant Bibles typically do not contain these books.  They are interesting for containing the scriptural basis for the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory.)  

Claire and her mother are reunited, if only briefly, after the latter convinces Claire she is genuine and trustworthy.  The eight ball knows the lullaby that Claire’s mom used to sing to her, the annoying and sappy “Beautiful Dreamer”, originally composed by Stephen Foster and published in 1864.  Here is the first verse:

Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee;
Sounds of the rude world, heard in the day,
Lull'd by the moonlight have all pass'd away!
Beautiful dreamer, queen of my song,
List while I woo thee with soft melody;
Gone are the cares of life's busy throng,
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!

In last week’s episode, Claire’s eight ball mother had purchased a music box that played this tune and snuck it into the Riesen house as an engagement gift.  She also knows Claire’s secret childhood nickname.  It is “Izzy”, short for Elizabeth, the name her mother originally wanted her to have.

But Claire is definitely not an “Izzy”, at least not any more.

In a scene reminiscent of the classic 1973 horror film, The Exorcist, Alex reads from the Apocrypha in order to “evict” the spirit of the angel from Claire’s mother.  Mother and daughter are together at last, but only for a few moments.  The process is so traumatic that Claire’s mother is left comatose, and in a closing scene, Claire administers euthanasia by clasping her hand over her mother’s nose and mouth.  (SyFy series seem to make not infrequent use of euthanasia in some form to effect a dramatic departure of interesting minor characters.)

Ironically, Claire uses knowledge of her father’s affair with the eight ball to blackmail him into stepping down from the council, allowing her take command.  She achieves what the conniving David Whele has failed to do over the past couple of episodes.  The fact that Claire can blackmail her father and implement a mercy killing of her mother  in the same episode reveals this “woman of the people” to be quite ruthless in her ambitions.

Meanwhile, over at the House of Whele, David confronts his son about his leadership of the fanatical Church of the Savior, and its fundamentalist branch of “Black Acolytes”.  The Acolytes are in league with the evil Archangel Gabriel—who knew?—and thus forced to have their clandestine gatherings in dark, candle-lit basements.  The elder Whele arranges to have all the congregants massacred during one worship service, and his son vows revenge against his father.

There is a climactic scene at the Whele household, where William holds his father at gunpoint, his dad jeering and egging him on.  He is about to shoot his father in the head—a suspenseful moment for me, because the evil Secretary of Commerce is my favorite character so far—but then backs off.  Even better, William instead beats his father unconscious with the gun, has him dragged to a gathering of the surviving Acolytes, and forces his father to convert to the new religion by undergoing the excruciating initiation ritual.  Finally the two have an activity they can share in and thereby deepen their relationship—a bit more intense than cub scouts or high school sports or fishing.

More sophisticated viewers than I will find all of this preposterous and over the top.  But if one approaches the show as a nightmarish, somewhat Freudian inspired psycho-drama, where repressed anxieties and hostilities are graphically acted out on screen, it can be very engaging.  The religious theme brings with it the hope of some kind of future redemption for all involved.

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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