Spotlight on … Dominion

So by now you shouldn’t be surprised to hear I’ll give any fantasy/supernatural film or drama a go. Of late, the only time I showed reticence was with Guardians of the Galaxy. Didn’t see it at the movies, but have just watched it on a borrowed blu-ray. My instinct after the trailer was pretty spot-on with that one: not entirely my thing. Very well done, but I’m not really the target demographic. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it – I think the work on Groot is astonishing, and on the racoon. (I really really want a pet racoon!) But it’s just a bit too rompish for me. I much prefer the darker, grittier style of Marvel storytelling as shown in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Guardians is just a bit too popcorn for my angst-loving heart. But like I say – entirely entertaining.

Which preamble leads me to nattering today about a SyFy channel offering: Dominion.

This show joins the stable of tv dramas spawned off the back of a movie. The movie in question this time is Legion, starring Paul Bettany as the Archangel Michael who’s fighting Heaven’s war against humanity – but on humanity’s side. Specifically he’s fighting to save the life of an unborn child who’s destined to be saviour of the world. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it does have its moments, Paul Bettany is his usual wonderful self, the rest of the cast is strong and there’s a sense it was meant to be the opening salvo in a series of films. But the box office wasn’t strong enough and that seemed to be that – until the idea was picked up and furthered with Dominion.

Here’s the deal: following the events of Legion,  some twenty-odd years have passed and the world is now a struggling post-apocalyptic nightmare. In the US, civilisation has mostly collapsed and a number of independent city-states have risen out of the ashes. The show’s action takes place in Vega (Las Vegas) where the archangel Michael (now played by Tom Wisdom) works with the city council to keep the surviving citizens safe from marauding rogue angels and the larger, more sinister machinations of his brother archangel Gabriel. Within the city there’s a power struggle between the heads of the two major houses, Whele and Riesen, with both men using their children (a son and daughter, respectively) as pawns and weapons. Meanwhile, the chosen saviour has grown from infant to young man, blissfully unaware of his intended destiny, and is working as a member of Michael’s security team.

There’s a great deal of political game playing and skullduggery, some romance, and a lot of supernatural mystery. Alliances form, break apart, reform, change the course of history. Family plays a major part in the story – the one characters are born into, the one they make for themselves, the scars incurred by surviving an apocalypse. It’s a rich and rewarding tapestry, fertile ground for storytelling.

But even though I’m recommending it, I find Dominion a bit frustrating, actually. The premise is sound, the world-building is for the most part well-handled, and there are some excellent performances. But as I treadmilled my way through the first season (of 8 episodes) I found myself editing the dialogue (Less is more! Less is more! Let your actors act without having to say all the words!) and also groaning at some of the acting choices – missed opportunities to add non-verbal depth, to take a beat in the right moment, to stress the right word in a sentence, to tell us even more of the story via the visual medium. I mean, yes, I get that tv drama is a brutal medium, everyone’s under the gun, but that just means actors need to do their homework off the set.

Mind you, this could just be me. I mean, not everyone is as anal about dialogue and performance as I am!

That being said, though, top marks go to Alan Dale and Anthony (Stewart) Head, who play the respective heads of Vega’s two main founding families. Dale as General Riesen will be familiar, because he crops up all over the place in various guest/character roles. And of course, every Buffy fan will be thrilled to see our beloved Giles, now post-Merlin, tearing up the scenery as the often-appalling Consul Whele, consummate bureaucrat and political survivor. Some of the best acting in the first season comes courtesy of these two, whether they’re facing each other, giving fathers a bad name as they use their children as pawns, or dealing with other characters.

The younger generation,  playing Claire Riesen and William Whele and Alex Lannon aka The Chosen One, have some excellent material to play but the results are more mixed. Christopher Egan (Alex) doesn’t quite get there, for me. He tries, and he does have his moments, but either his lack of experience or his limited natural gifts keep getting in the way. I shout at the tv most during his scenes. To be fair, he improves as the season goes on, but I wish he’d come out of the gate stronger. William (Luke Allen-Gale), another new face, fares better. Of the three, I think Roxanne McKee fares best. Her Claire has some genuinely wonderful scenes.

As for Tom Wisdom, well, he’s not too shabby. I think Paul Bettany is the better actor (can’t wait to see what he delivers in Avengers 2) but some of Wisdom’s material as Michael isn’t always brilliant.

I know I sound like I’m damning with faint praise, but I think it’s more that I am frustrated. With a little more precision, better editing at the script level, more rigour with the acting, I think Dominion could be absolutely electric. Thematically it has some great stuff, and some wonderful performance moments. But even with its drawbacks, I really enjoy it and I am looking forward to seeing its second season.

So if you haven’t seen it, and you enjoy supernatural/political drama, give it a go. You might well find it as entertaining as I do!


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