Saturday, August 2, 2014

“Angels Are Not People”

But they sure do act like them in SyFy’s Dominion, especially in this week’s episode.  The show is fascinating because of the creative license it takes with narratives and mythology drawn from the Old and New Testaments, as well as other sources.  The latest episode was aptly titled “Ouroboros”, the Greek name for a motif that appears in various cultures and contexts.  Depicted as a snake or dragon devouring its own tail, the Ouroboros is a symbol that can suggest circularity, self-generation, and eternity, but also a self-devouring process.  The latter notion was in view in “Ouroboros”.

During the last episode, “Principate” William Whele beat his father unconscious and then inflicted on him a brutal initiation rite.  This was in revenge for his father’s massacre of numerous “Black Acolytes” during a worship service at the Church of the Chosen One.  The violence of that act, and its suggestion of imminent patricide, highlighted the depravity that is possible in religious fanaticism.  Given the prevalence of sectarian violence in the world today, these scenes are some of the most disturbing yet believable ones in the show.  

In a wonderful scene that combines irony, Jungian psychology and Christian imagery—along with a loaded revolver and David’s pet lion Samson—William actually explains the concept of the “Ouroboros”, applying it to the psychology of personality development.  He intends to remake his father as part of a religious conversion; the first step is to break down the elder Whele’s personality and habitual ways of thinking. 

William contrives to get his father into the walled off courtyard where Samson lives, and provides him with a revolver containing just one bullet.  As the lion’s cage opens, the son tells the father he has only a few choices:  he can kill his son, kill himself, or kill Samson.  The lion is understood to represent his father’s identity.  “Samson is the deification of David Whele,” says William, the Psychoanalyst-from-Hell.  David’s decision shatters him; in a closing scene, the son is triumphant and the father is broken and “devoured”.  William is seen spoon feeding his traumatized father a bowl of soup to restore his health and sanity.

Alas, Samson was one of my favorite characters on the show. 

Meanwhile, on a more social and political level, the Archangel Gabriel has infiltrated the city of Vega and impersonated Louis, one of the neutral higher angels who have been living clandestinely among the humans.  Gabriel, his sister Uriel, and Michael begin to squabble more violently over their involvement with Alex, the Chosen One—in so doing, the angels begin “devouring” each other and their kind. Gabriel begins killing the neutral higher angels in gruesome ways, and those that try to flee the city are shot down by the city’s defenses.  The carnage resembles the coming attractions for Spartacus, the SyFy show that follows Dominion. 

(There is also an opening and closing scene—“Babylonian Desert, 1900 B.C.”—depicting a blood spattered Michael who confronts his brother Gabriel in a battlefield strewn with dismembered corpses.  An historical overlap between the two shows seems possible, allowing the potential for an interesting mash up of plot lines—just  a thought.)

Appalled at the violence, one of Alex’s friends in the Archangel Corps states what would seem to be obvious: “Angels Are Not People”.  But Alex, along with his doubts about Michael’s trustworthiness, has begun to wonder to what extent the eight balls and the other angels are redeemable.  His skill at bringing about “evictions” has grown—in this episode he was able to dispel Gabriel’s spirit from Louis—and his experiences have broadened his view of angels.  Surely it is about time for a diversity training program to help the Archangel Corps deal more sensitively with cultural differences between humans and angels.

An intriguing idea is interjected by Gabriel during one of the more theological segments of the show.  He tells Alex to read the Book of Genesis—always a good idea!—especially the story about Noah.  Gabriel hints that humans got the story wrong, and have turned it into an inaccurate, misleading metaphor.  He reveals that Noah did not build an ark.  It was really a bunker.  Later on, Gabriel snickers and says, “Won’t be long before we have another flood on our hands.”  It will be interesting to see how this idea is developed in future episodes.

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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