Monday, January 9, 2012

Review of Season One of Sanctuary

I know that Sanctuary technically falls into the category of science fiction but I recently had the occasion to watch the first season and became incredibly captivated.  The fact that it's a Canadian show and I am Canadian has nothing to do with it, so just hush.
The Sanctuary is a building that contains a sample of the worlds monsters and mythical creatures.  There you can find anything from elementals, mermaids, to lizard type creatures. Its basic purpose is to protect unnatural animals and humans from the world, and the world from them.  It is run by Dr. Helen Magnus played by Amanda Tapping.  Her protege Dr. Will Zimmerman, a former agent in the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI, joins the Sanctuary when he is approached by Magnus to help her deal with creatures and people that have emotional problems.  He is attracted to this position because all of his life he has been on cusp of the unseen world and working to at the sanctuary will provide him with all of the answers to questions.  Also at the sanctuary are Ashley Magnus, Helen's daughter, Henry Foss the resident computer geek who maintains the sanctuary's defenses, and Bigfoot whom Helen saved and now works as her butler, chauffeur, and body guard.

Helen Magnus is one member of a group of scientists from the Victorian era known as "the five."  Somehow Magnus managed to find a pure sample of vampire blood which she turned into some sort of serum which each member injected with different results.  Magnus had her aging slowed with no sign of this ever disappearing, Nigel Griffin became the infamous invisible man, Dr. James Watson, the man on who Sherlock Homes was based on had his intellect increased, Nikola Tesla became a vampire, and John Druitt, her lover and father of Ashley developed the ability to teleport between time and space. Druitt's change made him unstable and he became Jack the Ripper. 

The cabal is a group of scientists who see these creatures as a threat to humanity.  They do experiments on them with the hope of creating a weapon that will destroy them for all time.   Magnus is seen as a direct threat to their operations when she frees the morrigan and attempts to teach these young women what freedom truly is.  Once the Sanctuary is on the radar of the Cabal they will stop at nothing to and even create a weapon that makes abnormal extremely violent, in an effort to encourage humanity to become aware of their existence and rise up and destroy them.  All that stands between the cabal and their goal is the sanctuary and the members of the five.

Sanctuary does do a lot of the monster of the week but takes clear to dole out meta plot on a pretty consistent basis.  In many cases we are offered an alternative earth that directly interject Magnus into historical events.  The Nazis we are told were abnormals, along with most U.S. presidents. She has been just about every where and has met most historical figures.

Like many other shows on television, Sanctuary does not have many characters of colour to speak of.  In the first two episodes, we are introduced to Will's Black girlfriend who ceases her relationship when he refuses to inform her about what he is really doing at the sanctuary. Sylvio Rudd, the Sanctuary's weapon supplies is quickly killed on a mission to the Himalayas to recover the abominable snowman along with a Tibetan character name Tashi, who tagged along on the plane.  The other two characters of colour are a husband and wife team. Then there is Danny, an Asian college friend of Will's who is used for genetic experimentation by the Cabal. Will goes rushing to his rescue and gets captured leaving Magnus to come to the rescue of them both.  After curing them both Danny is returned to his Black wife and mixed children.  Amy Saunders is an intrepid reporter who accidentally walk into a warehouse where the sanctuary team is investigating an abnormal who is insect like and deadly.  Her character is is ambitious but she is framed as conniving and untrustworthy. In the end, Magnus is forced to trick her to ensure that she does not have the proof to release to the public a tape that has all all of their actions. 

As you can see by the above description, the characters of colour appear for a single episode and are either sacrificed, saved by Magus or constructed in a negative manner.  This sets Magnus up to fulfill the role of great earth mother, nurturing and saving because she knows best.  It is both patronizing and frustrating. This is a difficult pill to swallow, because as a protagonist, Magnus is both strong, capable and incredibly intelligent.  She is single minded in her goal to protect the world's abnormals. Despite all of the positive that can be found in the character of Dr. Magnus, we cannot escape the way that racial dynamics ultimately frames how she is understood.

Many of the abnormals are still dependent upon Dr. Magnus, though they are technically hyper able beings.  In the first season, we are introduced to one disabled boy. Robbie Meyers is capable of sketching whatever he has seen in his lifetime, without looking at the paper.  He is autistic.  Magnus is introduced to him when the police investigate the murder of his father.  In the end Robbie is united with his brother and we are left to believe that all's well that ends well.  We are given no more information about whether or not Robbie learns to negotiate his gifts of even if gets counseling after watching his father die right in front of them.  There is absolutely no room for disabled characters when they can cast hyper able beings as dependent and disabled in some way. This episode almost felt like the writers and producers were going for inclusion points.

I suppose that people of colour and disabled people should be grateful for the little exposure that they received because Sanctuary is decidedly straight.  There is a complicated relationship between Magnus and her former lover, and John Druitt and obvious sexual tension between Will and Ashley but there really is no romance to speak of, and still yet the writers gave us enough information to ensure that all the characters are understood to be straight.  There is absolutely no justifiable reason to have all straight characters on this show and though GLBT erasure is common, it certainly does not make it any easier to swallow.

Despite all of its problems, I loved this show.  Each episode was really compelling and they actually spend some money on special effects. It is easy to invest in the characters and the constant reference to an alternate world keeps one guessing.  To tell this story, we have to travel backward in time and there is an immense potential for potential plots because Sanctuary is not limited to a specific form of supernatural that is the focus of the story.  The very fact that there are no limits to the plot is so exciting that even when they do the monster of the week, one is never certain if there is a greater point at play.