Friday, July 4, 2014

“What Doesn’t Kill You…”

Last week’s episode of Dominion featured numerous shootings, knifings, one mass poisoning, and somebody getting fed to a lion.  The city of Vega seems to have an inexhaustible supply of both killing methods and victims.  However, there was a definite uptick in the amount of violence last night.  By my count, there were two dismemberments, (one involving decapitation), a roadside massacre of a family, ritual scarring during a religious ceremony, one near suicide, one mercy killing, three shootings, and at least two impalements on swords. 

No one was thrown to the lion in last night’s episode, though its owner, David Whele, the evil Secretary of Commerce, suggested this consequence to one of his adversaries.  His lion’s name is Samson, so of course his mate is Delilah, and Whele is breeding the lions—presumably to have more of them to throw the innocents to.  Shots of the streets of Vega in last night’s show appropriately featured vaguely Roman statuary and architecture.

The mention of Samson and Delilah is one of a number of Biblical references sprinkled throughout the show.  Part of the fun is spotting these, and appreciating the cleverness of Dominion’s creators in weaving them into the plot and setting of the story.

The excessive and at times confusing violence seems intended to help with characterization, to “flesh out” the characters.  Viewers will come to a deeper appreciation of just how bad most of the players are.  And this is a challenge so far at the beginning of this show: nearly everyone in it is evil and manipulative in some way.  They are all villains, or at least untrustworthy because of their hidden agendas.  So whose side do you take?  Which characters can you really care about? 

A deeper appreciation of angelology seemed also to be the intent of the third episode.  The reader is referred to the show’s website (see ) for explanations of the complex hierarchy of angeldom.  Suffice it to say that the show succeeds in creating a medieval mindset about the organization of both heaven and earth.  The bureaucracy of heaven’s minions is mirrored in Vega’s rigid caste system of citizens labeled V1s, V2s, V3s and so forth.  In taking possession of human bodies, the angels are subject to the same sensual and behavioral temptations as humans, only magnified because of their supernatural nature.  

This may be their vulnerability, despite super human strength and speed.  There are already numerous incidents of commingling among human and angel characters—almost no one is staying on track with the plan.  The embodied angels are also able to suffer, which further humanizes them.  In one scene, even the great defender of humanity, Michael the Archangel, is mortally, or rather immortally, wounded.

One interesting detail about the angels in Dominion stands out:  ordinarily they do not require light to see, but embodied in human form, they lose this ability and only enjoy ordinary human sight.  This means they are unable to detect their own kind among the human population, who may be concealing themselves for various purposes.  As a result, viewers now know that the city of Vega is infiltrated by numerous allies of both Michael, (probably good) and Gabriel, (definitely bad).   The origin of this notion of angel’s special eyesight—related to being in close proximity to the Creator—has several references in the Bible.  Here is a couple:

“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Psalm 139: 11-12)

“There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.” (Revelation 22: 5)

This insight is echoed in the painful and perverse initiation ceremony of the acolytes in the Church of the Savior.  Under William Whele’s leadership and the evil Gabriel’s tutelage, the acolytes blindfold themselves and utter self-flagellant remarks about the importance of pain in reaching enlightenment.

There are of course hundreds of references to angels in both the Old and New Testaments, as well as extensive use of the dichotomy between light and darkness as a metaphor for good/evil, enlightenment/ignorance, God’s presence/absence, and so forth.  The world of Dominion is a pretty dark place.

Nietzsche makes an appearance in the third episode, chiefly as a riff on the philosopher’s famous quotation “Whatever does not destroy me makes me stronger”, more popularly rendered as “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.  Not only is it the theme of the initiation ceremony for the Church of the Savior, it is also the fatherly advice offered to William Whele by both his father, the Secretary of Commerce, and the angel Gabriel, his spiritual guru.  William’s biological father wants him to be more like his pet lion Samson; Gabriel wants him to get used to pain so that he can inflict it more enthusiastically later on.

Aside from the bloody human-angel war of attrition in the background, and lessons in late 19th century philosophy as applied to angelology, the chief focus of last night’s episode was updates on various soap opera romances in progress.  Couples’ relationship counseling is strongly recommended for all involved. 

The general is finding it harder and harder to please his sexually insatiable angel mistress who also demands gourmet food.  Claire agrees to marry William, but only to bring about political reform for the oppressed masses of Vega.  High ranking council member Becca Thorne is being blackmailed by David Whele:  if she does not gather information about the Archangel Michael’s vulnerabilities, he will inform the public of her affair with the angel, making her a pariah. 

Meanwhile, David offers Arika amnesty in a deal that may benefit both Vega and the rival city of Helena:  David wants an air force with which to attack Gabriel’s mountain headquarters; Arika wants nuclear power for her city.  In a touching moment—the two have had an on-again off-again affair—David offers to provide a decent burial at sea for Arika’s recently dismembered sister.  Sis had been disassembled and shipped to her in a crate as a warning.

These two, David and Arika, are far and away my favorite characters on the show, so hopefully Dominion’s creators will not kill them off too early in the season.  SyFy excels in creating fascinating over the top villains you love to hate.  (I still have fond memories of the awesomely evil Constance Sutton, the malevolent chief operating officer of the Ilaria Corporation in last year’s Helix.  I am hoping that in future Helix episodes her head will be reattached so that she can resume uttering her noxious corporate-speak.)

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

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