Saturday, June 21, 2014

Dominion, Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

Opening exposition!

25 years ago god vanished and the angels decided the humans did it. The angels decided to wipe humanity out, led by Archangel Gabriel. While some higher angels decided to play Switzerland, the lower angels joined Gabriel in his genocide. Lesser angels don’t get bodies though so have to possess humans which made their first attack

Archangel Michael wasn’t in favour of this genocide thing and decided to side with humanity, teaching them how to build strongholds (the pretty picture shows towns with big walls outside which is quite possibly the most useless defence ever against an enemy with wings, but whatever). Michael also saved a child who is the Chosen One who will Save Mankind and even has Magical Markings to prove who he is (he’s one sword-in-the-stone and strawberry birthmark away from a full set of clichés)

Gabriel and his angels retreated so I assume there’s no active war at the moment. Which of course, raises the question of what mankind needs a saviour for.

Exposition over – let the show begin!

In a ruined casino (very atmospheric), a man stocks up his big 4x4 (presumably he’s scavenging). He hears something and goes to explore (see, this is why I can never be a protagonist. I hear something in a big, spooky, deserted ruined casino and I am gone. I would set whole new records getting out of there). He explores and finds 3 people playing cards – they have long nails and strange black veins on their skin. One invites him to join them in an extremely creepy voice.

He shoots one (he must have a real thing against gambling). He runs and they chase – including one woman leaping vast distances and crawling across walls (see, this is why I would have run a long time ago). He jumps into a jeep and drives off, leaving the leaping woman behind but the man grows black wings and follows.

He drives through ruins towards a walled town, call on his radio to a command centre to open the gates and that there’s an angel following. He yells at them to open the gate while battling the angel that breaks his wonders and attacks him with his tongue (no, I’m not using a “tongue lashing” line. That’s far too easy). He drives at the gates while warnings blare in the command centre (the boss seems to be taking his sweet time deciding whether to let him in or not) and lots of dangerous looking automated defences start buzzing ominously. He breaks hard, throwing the angel off his car right into some anti-aircraft guns.

And lo, the angel of the Lord doesn’t do well against high explosive rounds. Now they open the gate and let him in (though they still point lots of guns at him). After checking him for possession he gets lectured on leaving the city without clearance and the man, Alex Lannon, responds with snark; because there was a group he wants to tell General Riesen, who I assume is a big boss. But because Alex is one of the Archangels men (presumably Michael), he’s taken there instead. Alex isn’t a fan of this idea.

Cut to a room with a bed full of half-clothed decorative woman, one of which, Becca, goes to see a man who is having a bad case of the morning-after-guilt, apparently a habit of his. He’s worried because he shouldn’t have kids, that would be super bad (nephilim I take it) and he has to stop. She, very sensibly, tells him to stop then (she’s taking no responsibility for his orgies). He jumps out a window – growing wings on the way down.

Archangel Michael has a bad case of the drama llama.

Alex is driven very very very slowly for the streets of Vega (Las Vegas has been very inventively renamed) so he can look pensively out of the window. I think we’re supposed to be seeing signs of squalor or police state, but it looks quite nice for a dystopian. Just in case we miss it, the driver helpfully informs us the city is going to hell (hey, no angels there! Bonus! Unless fallen ones count.)

Alex is taken for questioning to see how he got out the city with a vehicle – Alex continues to be snarky (and apparently has Issues with Michael). Michael arrives and makes a point of retaining a whip from the dismissed questioner. Michael reminds Alex that the gates should be closed while Alex asserts everyone’s right to leave – which Michael doesn’t seem to disagree with except in Alex’s case. Alex tells Michael about the angels (“8-balls” apparently) and the one with wings which is apparently unusual though it’s the fact they were playing cards that gets an “are you serious” look from Michael. Alex is spared being “purged” for leaving the city because he’s Archangel corps. He gets whipped instead (probably should have taken his shirt off first).

But after three lashes General Riesen arrives to tell Alex to go back to duty so long as he keeps all news of the angels outside very very secret. He and Michael have a refined argument, Michael is all for the rules and thinks Alex lacks discipline while Riesen apparently owes Alex over something to do with Claire (his daughter) and, besides, Alex has snuck out of the city since he was a child – he knows the outside better than anyone.

Alex goes to see Clare who is teaching a class of children about the 8-balls and the Saviour (who is apparently hidden so well even Michael doesn’t know where) in case you weren’t paying attention during the exposition. Class is dismissed and Alex goes from guarding Clare to kissing her and promptly tells her about the 8-balls that her dad told him to keep secret. That’s not the only secret, Clare needs her father’s permission to marry; in part because all citizenry is classed according to a number (V0 is bottom, Alex is V2 and Clare is higher than that) which is why Alex wants to run off to another city, Delphi, where people are equal. She agrees to leave only if her dad says no to the marriage right before a guy arrives to remind Alex he’s far too base and lowly to be alone with Clare.

The guy is William and he has the elaborate title “pricipe”. He flirts a bit with Clare and throws in some allusions to a promise (I’m betting they’re expected to marry) before kneeling for a prayer session (waaait, who are they praying to?)

Alex goes to his barracks and is joined by starving waif of a child, a low-numbered victim of Vega’s ruthless class system. He plans to take her with him when they leave the city.

To contrast with the starving waif we have General Riesen and Consul David Whele (William’s dad) in opulent surroundings with a full table of apparently luxurious food for the dystopia. They discuss the angels, the general is sure it was all fine and wants to keep it quite – David thinks a little panic may be a good thing to keep everyone in line.

To the barracks with communal showers and introducing Alex’s friends – Noma and Ethan. Noma seems to have put together some of the clues about Alex and Clare. They’re interrupted by helicopters buzzing in and they observe from the window. A delegation from another enclave, Helena, arrives – they’re dressed very differently and have brought a child, which is noteworthy since Helena hides their children by law. This little titbit is there to reveal that Alex totally doesn’t believe in the chosen one Saviour, even though he virtually has “Chosen One” tattooed on his forehead.

Anyway, the scheming David Whele is meeting with Arika from Helena to discuss alliance – she’s fine with trade, not so fine with them joining to go to war with Delphi. He shows her the nuclear reactor he’s got working again which Arika finds extremely enticing and offers, in addition to usual trade, 500 brides for the technology to build their own reactor. As she goes to freshen up, David talks to his son, William, about what Helena offers – it’s the only enclave with an airforce. Something that makes her a valuable ally once the Wheles have forced the Riesens out.

It’s a busy night, Michael also gets a guest – a man called Jeep who has been missing, presumed dead for 15 years. And was apparently important enough that the Wheles built a bad statue in his honour. He has tattoos that are apparently both important and incomprehensible despite 15 years of trying to find an answer (I’m guessing the answer isn’t “you got drunk at 18 and the tattoo artist just wasn’t very good and didn’t understand your slurred instructions”). He also wants to know all about Alex (yeah they don’t say Alex but it’s very obviously Alex they’re asking about). Jeep also adds that war is coming which is a complete shock to no-one I’m sure.

Riesen and Clare talk, not about her impending marriage, but the way everyone thinks they’re prisoners because they’ve been behind the walls so long (um… the fact you flog them when they try to leave may also have something to do with it). He’s also decided that Vega is now super strong and stable and doesn’t need a military dictatorship any more so he’s going to step down. Clare thinks people aren’t ready to lead themselves (hmmmm) but, more importantly, Senator  Whele is an evil man of evilness and he’s not going to give up power.

If Riesen doesn’t continue to be a dictator the city will become a dictatorship! I’m assuming that line sounded better in her head. He points this out to her. In light of all this, Clare decides not to bring up her nuptials.

Speaking of evil Whele, he’s getting all up close and sexy with the naked Arika in her bath talking about the Savant boy she brought with her group (and instantly attracting Whele’s interest).

The next day Clare briefly tells Alex she’ll run away with him since she couldn’t talk wedding bells before Michael collects Alex and takes him to see Jeep – who promptly attacks him. They fight until Alex wins and Jeep happily praises Michael’s training before the painful family history comes up. Jeep is Alex’s father who ran out on him when he was a child (he left a note! Such a nice man). Making him an Orphan which in Vega’s evil class system, instantly made him a V1 and struggle to survive, forcing him to become a soldier. Oh and left him in the care of the non-human and not-exactly warm and cuddly Michael.

Alex has daddy issues. Jeep should not expect a “Vega’s Best Dad” next father’s day. Alex disowns his father and Jeep looks all angsty, though running away and telling everyone you were dead 15 years ago probably makes any claims of fatherhood pretty weak anyway. Alex leaves and Jeep actually asks Michael if he did the right thing for Alex (uh, you went away for 15 and left your son to starve. I’m going to go out on a limb and say “no”). Alex goes on to tell Staving Waif to be ready for them to flee the city (I will now lay odds that Starving Waif will die tragically for Manpain)

To the Evil Wheles who briefly exposition about the Acolytes, a group of humans that still worship angels. Senator Whele has captured one of the 8 Balls, the woman survivor of the group Alex fought, and brought it into the city (something even William find dubious) with which he hopes to stir up some panic.

Jeep meets with the ruling Council to give some bad news, Gabriel (evil angel) has built a big fortress and gathered a huge army of the possessed in Colorado. And they all have wings. Worse, some of the higher angels have decided to stop playing Switzerland and join Gabriel in splattering humanity – and they are impossible to distinguish from humans. These angels are Powers, the 2nd Sphere, warrior angels meant to keep other angels in line. Including Furiad, an angel Michael recognises

In response, Jeep and Michael say they know who the Chosen One is but aren’t telling (ugh, shall we guess?)

Whele stands up and delivers a brilliant “fuck you and the horse you road in on” speech. He is not taking anything Michael says on faith – he’s seen where faith got humanity before, nor is he pinning his hopes on a child god. The war continues until humans or angels are wiped out – and they need to go ahead with their jubilee festival to bring hope to the people. It’s an awesome speech and such a shame he’s evil.

Party time! Arika gets judged by one of her fellow Helena delegates for getting all sexy with Whele. Jeep tries to make up for over a decade of abandonment by giving Alex a picture of his mother (mummy issues to join the daddy issues). And Sentaor Whele makes a big speech which includes the engagement of Clare to William – Clare seems quite surprised by this turn of events. General Riesen seems to have known about this.

To add to the surprises, he also has a Gladiator-like moment with Thomas (super champion of the city) in an arena cage fight with the captured 8 ball. Michael is Not Amused, nor is General Risen, that he brought and 8-Ball into the city. In his fortress, Gabriel sees through the 8 Ball’s eyes and he waves at Michael – the possessed woman duplicating his movement – then snaps her chains and uses them to club Thomas to the floor. The possessed woman leaps into the crowd that scatters in panic as she grabs spectators and kills them

Michael leaps from his viewing stand, wings out and stabs her. But she’s not the only problem – a wave of winged angels approaches the city, getting far closer than expected before being noticed. Alarms, guns and chaos! All the civilians run for shelter (Alex has a moment where he can follow Clare or help Starving Waif – he goes for Starving Waif). He collects her and then gets Clare (and kiss in public and she tries to discuss the wedding which is the worst timing ever). Alex also has a bad case of the awful timings – wanting to leave the city while it’s under attack. She begs him to stay, that she’ll fix it – and he takes her to the bunker.

2 angels manage to get over the wall (because walls + flying enemies = not great defence) and head to the reactor one is Furiad wearing armour that makes him bullet proof and turns his wings into weapons. Michael confronts him and after some posturing in Angelic, nifty fight scene follows. Michael wins (Archangel and all that) but the other angel destroys the reactor, blacking out the city before Michael can finish Furiad off.

Alex insists on leaving to help Michael, but Jeep makes him stay to protect the leaders should they breach the bunker. Then the little child from Helena stabs Jeep in the stomach before leaping out an air-vent – his agility suggesting angel-ness. Dramatically awful death scene between Jeep and Alex in which Jeep calls Alex the chosen one (he was stabbed in the stomach with a butter knife, c’mon people!). As he dies the tattoos on his arms disappear and transfer to Alex. Waaait, does this mean his dad was the Chosen One since he had the markings?

Clare kneels before him and Whele has Arika and her entourage arrested while Arika protests innocence. Riesen is not in agreement, he doesn’t want a war with Helena and he thinks Arika may have been ignorant – he’s also not remotely impressed by the 8 Ball at the arena. But Whele is happy – the “demonstration” was perfect, reminding everyone who the enemy was and what they had to be focused on. He examines Alex’s arms and then notices Starving Waif. He’s appalled that a lowly V1 was allowed in the bunker. Clare speaks up for her and Whele tells everyone to keep the Chosen One a secret.

Michael arrives, assures Becca he’s fine and tells everyone the reactor is safe. He confirms the boy was another Powers angel and that Alex is indeed the Chosen One he saved – and he kneels as well.

Back at his home Whele is in a snit that the Chosen One is real, not that he believes it. His devout son, William is definitely a believer though and quite upset that his father isn’t. Whele considers Alex a threat to him (even more than the angels) and he even sees Clare is in love with him. William is appalled by the dismissal of his beliefs, trusts Clare and also doesn’t agree with imprisoning Arika. Especially since Arika is Evelyn’s wife (the ruler of Helena).

When Alex goes back to Michaels Michael explains how he always watched over Alex and helped train him. Alex points out the tattoos where on Michael, then went to Jeep then him – how come he’s the Chosen one and not someone else?

The tattoos are written in an unknown language and apparently Alex must learn how to read them since they’re a guide on what to do. He stares at them and they move – forming words “Beware of those closest to you”. He doesn’t tell Michael for obvious reasons.

And William goes to a secret meeting to kneel before… the angels. Gabriel calls him “my son.”

Ok points to the CGI and the action sequences. They looked all kinds of cool. I always say shows like this can’t afford to skimp on the special effects.

We have an interesting world and an excellent  premise which definitely has me hooked. There’s some huge promise of some excellent epic coming here. I like all the conniving and plotting with the political wrangling, the reality of the dictatorship (a kind of “none of you are good here”), the class system opens up for lots of complexity along with the involvement of other city states. There’s a huge amount of depth and possibility here.

I think the class system was, perhaps, a little heavy handed (Starving Waif is so going to die). And the whole star crossed lovers/love triangle thing is really unnecessary. I also thinks more needs to be made of the religion Clare follows – who does she have faith in? Who is she actually praying to? For that matter the whole Chosen One theme (ugh, I hate hate hate the Chosen one trope) is lacking – who made this prophecy? When? How?

I'm also not sure if I can follow the time line. 25 years into the future? Yes it's a huge event and a lot can change with upheaval - so I can buy Helena's odd clothing, the Roman Empire accents in Vega etc - but why "Vega"? It's 25 years - is there a reason why they changed from "Las Vegas"?

Still, world building and concept will keep me watching beyond hollow plot points.

My main problem at the moment is I like none of the characters (except Anthony Head. Obviously, even with a traumatic American accent).

I really can’t abide Alex Lannon – a wise-arse protagonist who thinks he’s too good to follow the rules and is supposed to look roguish and tough by mouthing off to any kind of authority but instead looks like a teenager trying to be cool – which looks bad on teenagers and even worse on a man in his mid-20s. It’s a tiresome cliché and always leaves me wanting something to eat protagonists like this. He also has daddy issues that are off the chart.

Inclusionwise – well it’s the first episode so I tend to hold off, but even so we had so many characters introduced and there’s already some dubiousness. Of the main characters, Clare and Akira are adult women (and Becca is apparently main according to the site) and all three are somewhat defined by their relationships. Becca with Michael, Clare in her love triangle, Akira is less so – but as ambassador the first thing she seemed to do is sleep with Whele.

Akira also serves as the main POC on the show and the only LGBT person, if her marriage with Queen Evelyn is anything to go by. But she is quite literally the only “foreigner” on the show in its context so we have a “POC from over there” feel (emphasised by the very different culture Helena has). And that bisexual wife of a Queen is both separated from her wife and cheating on her (and we can claim politics but her own delegation is very disapproving)

Some development is needed. Of these and some of the more minor characters that may balance the books – like Noma, Thomas (if he’s alive) and Faruid.

I quite like Becca telling Michael to “just stop.” He’s playing all tortured and worried about having kids and acting all tempted – she throws it right back. If he’s afraid of his nephilim babies then he needs to stop having sex, isn’t her fault or responsibility, Mikey, you control your own angelic penis.

So, high potential, a great concept… but I think it needs some development to make me actually like it as it is rather than what it could be