Review: SYFY’s Dominion Wants To Be Your Summer TV Fling
And you should let it.
You’ve seen the ads, a classic pose of Saint Michael, the Archangel, his wings spread, his sword poised to slay the demon at his feet — but hold up. In place of the standard devil, there’s a man wielding two guns. That’s because Dominion is a show set in a not-so-distant future where God has disappeared, leaving angels and man to a kill-or-be-killed grudge match.
But just in case that’s not enough to lure you in to Dominion’s religion-inspired fantasy drama, its producers have stuffed the cast with recognizable faces from Game of Thrones, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Once Upon A Time.
Syfy’s new series is a hugely ambitious one, creating a sprawling story in a post-apocalyptic world where mankind has been reduced to pitiable numbers and scattered to the winds. 25 years ago, God vanished, and the Archangel Gabriel descended to Earth with “the dogs of heaven” — a lowly band of angels who possessed humans to wreak havoc and try to kill mankind’s last hope: a savior born to a single mother in a truck stop in the middle of nowhere. The only angel who sided with mankind was the tattooed warrior Archangel Michael. Sound familiar? That’s because the 2010 action movie Legion plays as precursor to Dominion. But having missed that flick is no deal-breaker, as the show’s pilot ep is thick in exposition and backstory.
Our introduction to this dystopian world, where mankind has been forced into a string of heavily protected colonies, is Alex Lannen (Christopher Egan of the short-lived Kings). He is a soldier of Vega, formerly Las Vegas before it was razed by an unholy war. Alex has snuck out of Vega’s city limits to explore what lies in the no man’s land beyond, and he finds a gnarly trio who look like they could make The People of WalMart, but are actually low angels in rancid disguise. Their eyes are black, veins protruding, mouths ragged and twisted.
What follows is Dominion’s premiere action sequence. And it’s impressive, involving a high-speed car chase fleeing a homicidal angel, CGI creepers and loads of firepower. Two more major action sequences play out later, and each boasts some staggering screen combat. But some of the CG effects and crowd scenes are where Dominion’s aims are short-changed by their budget, looking hokey and unreal. Still, they are satisfying thrilling. And Syfy was quite crafty scheduling the show’s premiere the week after Game of Thrones wrapped up. If you’re craving a new saga with complicated caste systems, duplicitous dealings, and fantastical beasts, Dominion delivers, and with plenty of fan service.
Alex returns to Vega relatively safe, and is given a brisk and ruthless inspection to make sure he hasn’t contracted possession while out of bounds. For Dominion, take what you know about angels and fold in the contagious element of vampires. Speaking of vampires, one of the high rulers of Vega is played by none other than Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Anthony Head. Far from the sweet, bookish and British Giles, here he plays Senator David Whele, a dangerously ambitious and American villain. Admittedly, it takes some adjusting to get used to that accent that sounds shockingly like Donald Sutherland.
Syfy knows you’re still crushing on Head, and so they tease a sex scene with foreign delegate Arika (Shivani Ghai). Not only do we get Head in sly seduction mode, swirling bathwater then diving a hand in deep and strategically, we also get a tease of him undoing his robe. Plus, we’re given Syfy promise of whatever nudity they can get away with, courtesy of the sly shot below. There’s also a co-ed shower scene for soldiers — very Starship Troopers, though no breasts. But hey, props to Dominion for delivering in its first episode more man ass than Game of Thrones has all season.
Speaking of Game of Thrones, Roxanne McKee, who played Dany’s servant/friend/sex adviser Doreah, finds a new home as Vega’s defacto princess, Claire Reisen. Unfortunately, while Alex broods over the return of his long lost father Jeep, his grudging bond with Michael (Tom Wisdom), or his plans to run away with Claire and his little orphan pal, Bixby, this princess is offered little to do in the pilot. Mostly, she looks pretty–as all women in the show do, save for Bixby (a cross between Les Miserables’ Cosette and Aliens’ Newt) and the low-ranking angels. But in the pilot’s final act, where the city is under attack and the trio could easily sneak out amidst the mayhem, it’s Claire who makes the noble decision to stay and do whatever they can to defend their home and people. Here’s hoping Claire will have more power or use in the coming episodes, as her General dad (Once Upon a Time’s Alan Dale) is predictable, and a bit a bore.
Ultimately, the pilot episode offers so many rules and so much backstory that it can be overwhelming. But the main points are these: Gabriel is mounting a massive army of low and high ranking angels to wipe the remains of mankind off the face of the Earth. Vega is the most advanced survivor colony, in part because the Archangel Michael resides and helps watch over it, as he has Guardian Angel-style for Alex, the baby from Legion who is destined to save the world. Alex not only needs to worry about the big picture battle of this series, but also the political underhandedness of Senator Whele and his traitorous son William (Luke Allen-Gale) who is a spy for Gabriel. But for now, he knows neither of these things yet. Having been abandoned by the only dad he ever knew, Alex is dealing with some serious trust issues. And now the mystical coded tattoos that have been passed from Michael to Daddy Jeep to Alex are warning him to “Beware of those closest to you!” Thanks for being so helpful and in no way confusing, magic tattoos!
Overall, this episode was promising. While Legion got a lot of critical scorn, it was a movie with an intriguing concept and a bonkers brand of action. So far, its spin-off series is being true to both while expanding the world it set up. I’d like to see the women in the show get more than looking pretty time. But as the first episode was largely about laying down the groundwork, I’m hopeful there’s still opportunity for that. Personally, I’m looking forward to meeting the much discussed but so far unseen Evelyn, ruler of the human colony Helena. For now, we don’t even know who might play her!
Next week’s episode is called “Godspeed,” and in it, I suspect we’ll see Alex continuing to handle (badly) his new designation as mankind’s last hope. He’ll have to hide his tattoos to keep his savior identity secret, which means no more group showers for him. Btu now he has a new friend in shifting message tattoos! But who controls them? Could it be God isn’t gone?
In the meantime, you can rewatch the pilot, which is now streaming on Syfy.
Kristy Puchko (@KristyPuchko) is a New York-based film critic, entertainment writer, and co-host of the movie review podcast Popcorn and Prosecco. When she’s not eat/sleep/breathing all things film, she can be found nerding out over board games, Adventure Time, Game of Thrones, or Jeff Goldblum.