Dominion: SyFy’s Newest Post-Apocalyptic Show Takes Wing
Based 25 years after the near-destruction of humanity at the hands of the lower-ranking angels of Heaven and the Archangel Gabriel, Dominion has hefty mythology to work through for viewers. Given it’s a continuation of a movie with generally negative critical reviews (“Legion,” released in January 2010), Dominion has a lot to accomplish as it gets its legs under it.
Don’t let yourself be scared off, though—if shows drawing from B-Movies as their premise were summarily dismissed, where would the Whedonverse be? Can Dominion do what Buffy the Vampire Slayer did and build a rich, sustainable storyline out of an admittedly campy flick? The jury’s still out, but here’s my spoiler-lite take on what works for the fledgling show, and what we still need to see, after viewing the first three episodes:
The Mythology: As a Supernatural fan, Dominion is going to take a bit of mental adjustment on my part: the 10-year run of
Supernatural has had a major impact on how TV watchers view angels and demons, and has advanced the idea that angels aren’t always good, infallible, or righteous. Supernatural played with the Apocalypse being an angel throw-down (subverted by unlikely human heroes) all because God left the building and the angels think it’s humanity’s fault (or more likely, because he’s just not there to tell them ‘no’ – this entire apocalypse industry is run on absent fathers, it seems!).
In that regard, there’s a lot of overlap that could help Dominion draw viewers from one of the most dedicated genre fandoms in the world, a move that has served Sleepy Hollow and other newer shows well, when they reached out to SPN fans.
That said, the Eight Balls look a lot like demons to your horror genre fans. Lower ranking angels they may be, but they’re doing the black-eyed demon thing. They’re scampering up walls like insects (always creepy, no matter what show it’s in, so well done there), and they’re twisted images of humanity. I like the adjustments we’re making to our concepts, though, because it differentiates this show from others. I like what they’ve kept (like the angel wings) and how they’ve adapted them (less ‘Precious Moments’ pretty wings, and more bullet-shield, weaponized, badass wings).
The mythology is probably Dominion’s strongest point right now, because it is intriguing for its differences, and clearly there’s a lot of it worked out in this storyline to draw from. That said, we need to see where the “Chosen One” aspect is going, and how it differs from what we’ve seen before on Television.
The Characters: In some ways, we are still coming to know these characters. Promotional images released for Dominion gave us pictures of each of the main cast with their archetype helpfully appended for new viewers, and it serves as a handy visual guide as we meet the sweeping ensemble cast: Michael as “The Guardian Angel,” Alex as “The Rebellious Soldier,” General Riesen as “The Selfless Leader,” and so on. Right now, those taglines all summarize them too well. Archetypes, like Tropes, give us a way to recognize and relate what we see on our televisions to what we have seen in the past—we look at these character types and think “like Castiel,” “like John Connor,” “like Admiral Adama.” The trick to successful television is that now we need those archetypes subverted a little.
We need to see ourselves in the protagonists in some ways, or at least we need a way to relate to them or appreciate them as individuals from just their designated role. We need more than just their motivations, we need their flaws, their humanity, their sense of humor or personal failures, the quirks and the cracks in them.
What Dominion has done well so far is show us the schemers: Arika, Gabriel, and David Whele have all come to stand out from the rest of the characters because we’ve seen them plot and scheme and fail and regroup in a way that’s very Game of Thrones. Viewers do like intrigue. We don’t always necessarily relate to those characters, though. Michael, on the other hand, has drawn fans in because we can’t relate to him entirely—there is an “otherness” to the archangel that is serving him very well at this point in the story, and may carry him through the whole of the series with fan favor. By injuring him severely, Dominion has helped ensure that there’s enough sense of risk in what he’s doing for the humans that you can respect his choice to fight for them.
In the long run for a successful show, I think Dominion’s human protagonists need to become more multi-dimensional and less archetypal.
The Setting: Let’s just put it out there now: taking the iconic “Sin City” of the USA, Las Vegas, dirtying it up and breaking it down before making it the stronghold of an archangel and humanity was a good choice. Seeing soldiers in Vega base themselves out of New York, New York Casino, or Michael nesting down in Stratosphere tower, grounds the post-apocalyptic aspect of this world in a very visual way. They throw out new city names, such as Helena, but point out the air force base they’ve clearly acquired, therefore offering the lay of the land in this new world by superimposing it over the familiar. It’s not a geography lesson, but it’s smart.
This world is dark and broken, with long, lonely spaces that emphasize how devastated the population has been, and they’re working that well. The sets and world-building have, much like the mythology, given us an intriguing space to play in. They’ve hinted enough at different cultures of this world, such as Helena’s women-only society with its distinctive abayas and jilbabs, Delphine’s idealized society without a caste system (which I anticipate will be illustrated as a false Utopia with just as many problems, at some point in this story), and Gabriel’s Rocky Mountain orgy house that provides a sense of scale.
It’s a bit Mad Max (complete with a Thunderdome ring fight!) and a bit The Stand (complete with Vegas!), and they feed the Christians to the lions (well, the believers in the Savior myth that saw Alex get his tats, at least), and that’s all something many fans can get behind because. . . well, we’re suckers for a gritty world.
Representation: There are subtle things that can be done on a TV show that do a great deal to normalize concepts, and Science Fiction is supposed to show us potential for our world and make us think. For instance, you could look at the co-ed showers of the Archangel Corps and think ‘equal opportunity eye candy’ (and there is doubtless a grain of that), or you could realize that when a scifi world has that, what they are frequently showing (and what they later emphasize with Noma) is that the perceived gender gap in that militaristic world is gone. Now, obviously this isn’t entirely true throughout the rest of society, given the surprise arranged engagement of Claire to William, but that is lampshaded by all characters involved as being a douchey political move that she still has the final say in. Also, Whele stripping the cultural garb off of the women of Helena did have the television bonus of making attractive women wander around in basically their underwear, so. . . well, we’ll have to see how that goes. It seems they balanced that in their accounting books by stripping Alex down to show off his tats several times, so YMMV.
Meanwhile, by making Arika (the bisexual consort of another woman) a member of the core cast, and by identifying the best friend of the ‘Messiah’ of this world, Ethan, (another soldier in the Archangel Corps) as a gay man–without making it the defining characteristic of these characters or reducing them to queer stereotypes–Dominion shows that in this future, these have become normalized aspects of society. Sure, there’s a crappy caste system that makes everyone’s life pretty terrible unless they’re in the ruling class, but you can have a terrible crappy life just like everyone else. And isn’t that just beautiful?
We’re seeing a bit more branching out in terms of the ethnic diversity in the cast, but there is still room to grow on the racial diversity of Dominion. It’s not quite as white-washed as your average CW fare, but they could use to incorporate named PoC angels, soldiers, and politicians without making a big deal out of it, in much the way they have their queer representation.
The Tone: Dominion is a dark and serious story. It’s pretty meaty scifi in that regard, which you probably could expect from a post-apocalyptic aspect. However, is it too dark and too serious? Gabriel, so far, has been the brighter spot of Dominion, with his pudding and his horn-blowing (nice allusion, there, Show), but is this world devoid of humor and/or relatable hope?
Game of Thrones, for instance, is an extremely dark show (someone dies weekly, it seems), but has Tyrion Lannister and other characters ably negotiate through what that world demands of them with their tongue tucked firmly in cheek. Supernatural can be downright playful even while emotionally devastating viewers, and has (had?) Dean Winchester there to offer a snarky comment or call their demonic and monstrous foes fugly. The Walking Dead, meanwhile, focuses on the struggle of humanity within the confines of its world—it’s less about injecting humor and more about rooting for these characters to be able to maintain self in a world that turns humans into monsters.
Hope, when it’s given only in idealized form (such as the “Chosen One” myth, or an escape to Utopia), is often hard to grab for many fans. Humor or hope, somewhere in the storyline, gives viewers something to cheer for outside of badass wing-fights.
Fandom: Dominion has had an interesting groundswell of interest over the last few weeks, and I feel as if we’re watching fandom in a Petrie dish. The Show knows aspects of social media that work—show creators and actors engaging fans on Twitter, for instance—and they’re attempting to grow from it.
The timing of their show is excellent for that: Supernatural is on Hiatus, Constantine hasn’t yet started, so they’re in a time period in which they could stand to pick up a lot of fans who are currently waiting on their own shows to kick off. If they want to hook themselves an active fandom, they need to play it hard during this window, and I believe they’re trying to.
You can never really predict fandom dynamics, and what will get a strong enough response out of viewers that they’ll engage and stay engaged with the work, but this is the crucial time period for it, and I am interested to see what will come out of this.
Overall: Will Dominion soar? I think that there’s a lot here to be explored with a great deal of potential. They’ve hooked this viewer for now, and I’ve seen a growth of interest in the show since the third episode aired. As a fan of genre TV, of mythology and of scifi, I hope to see Dominion succeed.
What are your thoughts on Dominion? Share with us in the comments below!
Author: Exorcising Emily
Emily is one of the first contributors to the Geekiary and helped set the standard for convention Twitter coverage for conventions. She’s been involved with fandom all of her life, especially active in the Firefly, Veronica Mars, and Supernatural fandoms. She’s known for her excitement over tea and the planet Pluto, as well as her activism towards fan led charity events and anti-bullying initiatives.