Saturday, August 9, 2014

“When We Are Broken, We Are Made Strong in Our Broken Places”

This is part of the prayer recited at secret gatherings of the “black acolytes”, a fanatical religious cult that borrows heavily from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche—at least his bit about being strengthened by “that which does not kill me.” The acolytes are subversives who want to help the angel Gabriel overthrow the city of Vega on Syfy’s Dominion.  Until the most recent episode, they were lead by Principate William Whele, son of the Machiavellian Secretary of Commerce, David Whele.

It is difficult to be a black acolyte these days.  Initiation into their ranks is very painful, and involves the use of a large ceremonial tourniquet that is tightened until the ribs are broken.  The prayer they recite at each service reminds them of this experience, and the glorification of pain is a central feature of their liturgy.  Perhaps this is spiritual preparation for the violent death that often occurs mid service. 

In a previous episode, David Whele arranged to have the congregants massacred by a squad of the Archangel Corps.  In the most recent episode, he leads the service in his son’s absence; while fellow worshippers are still wearing their ceremonial blindfolds, he surrounds them with a pool of gasoline and immolates them before they get to the “Amen.”  (Evangelical efforts have been less than fruitful lately, but the remnant of believers perseveres in the faith.)

David Whele has carried out this carnage on two occasions in order to protect his son’s position in the hierarchy that rules Vega.  Theirs’ is a troubled father-son relationship, of which there are several in the show.  If there was any unifying theme in the latest episode of Dominion, it was that of fathers abandoning their children.

Claire’s father, General Riesen, drives out of Vega and heads across “eight ball” infested wilderness towards New Delphi.  (Will anyone ever actually make it there?)  Riesen has been forced out of power by his own daughter, who has been showing more of her ruthless side in the last few episodes.  Claire marries William Whele, who discovers that Claire is carrying the Chosen’s One’s child.  Whele magnanimously offers to raise the child with her and give it “a normal life”—shades of Jesus, Mary and Joseph! 

But Claire connects all the dots about William’s traitorous involvement with Gabriel and the black acolytes, and orders him executed.  (In Vega, marriage is nearly as hazardous as regular church attendance.)  David Whele rescues his son, but abandons him in the desert outside Vega’s walls, leaving him with a few days’ supply of food and water.  Hmmm—would this be for forty days and forty nights?  As his father drives off, William Whele asks the question that is probably on the minds of all the sons and daughters in the show: “Will I see you again?”  But his father does not answer him.

Alex, the Chosen One, abandons his child not long after hearing of Claire’s pregnancy.  At least he writes a melodramatic letter to his unborn descendant.   He wants the child to have a normal life, and be raised by Claire and William in relative peace and safety. This follows a dream segment involving a bloody swordfight between Alex and the father who abandoned him.  The violent imagery seems intended as a metaphor for doubts Alex is having about his readiness to actually be ‘the Chosen One’.  An important turning point in the show is when Alex leaves the city to enter Gabriel’s mountain citadel.

Meanwhile, the three principal angels, Michael, Gabriel and Uriel, are lamenting the continued absence of their father, who of course is The father, Eternal Parent of us all.  In various scenes we learn of their troubled relationship with Him, especially hot-headed Michael’s, who is implicated as an enthusiastic slayer of mankind down through the ages.    
Besides marriage vows, paternal relationships, and various bones and blood vessels, the other thing that gets “broken” in the episode is the already ambivalent relationship between angels and humans.  The Archangel Michael discovers a laboratory in which angels have been tortured and dissected by human scientists, led by Becca, his human lover, in particular.  He administers euthanasia by sword to the long suffering Louis, who has been eviscerated and chained to a bed.  He utters the words “when Father returns” just before dispatching his colleague.  Enraged, Michael kills Becca and everyone else in the laboratory, with the exception of Alex, who tries unsuccessfully to calm him.

Given all the violence, scheming, lasciviousness and self-aggrandizement that occurs in and around Vega, one wonders when the devil, the Father of Lies will pay a visit—or perhaps he is the one dad who has never left.

Dominion is on SyFy Thursday nights at 9:00 E.S.T.  See for more details.  

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