What is it about angels?
Gone are the days when those in desperate need of divine intervention might receive unexpected help from a bumbling yet good-natured angel named Clarence. Today’s angels, like most modern-day protagonists, are anti-heroes, or in this case, “fallen angels.”
Syfy’s new post-apocalyptic drama “Dominion” is based on characters from the 2010 feature film “Legion.” It kicked off June 19 with a 90-minute pilot that established the series’ backstory (for those who hadn’t seen the film — or those who did and didn’t quite make sense of it all). But the program also owes a debt of gratitude to titles like TV’s “Supernatural,” Japanese anime “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” the movie “Gabriel” and the video game “League of Angels” — projects that have ushered angels into the pop-culture mainstream.
“Dominion” is set in the year 25 A.E. — or After Extermination, not that humans have been exterminated. Not yet anyway. But they have spent 25 years fighting the Extermination War against the angels of Heaven. Angels have never been terribly fond of human beings. After all, we’re God’s favorites while they’ve gotten stuck with all the dirty work. Can you blame them?
The archangel Gabriel (Carl Beukes) finally decided enough was enough and took action, leading an army of lower angels in a bid to eliminate humanity. These lower angels — dubbed “The Dogs of Heaven” and “Eight Balls” by the human resistance — are “lesser spirits without a physical form” who have to possess human bodies in order to exist on Earth. Gabriel might have an edge in the war were it not for his brother, fellow archangel Michael (Tom Wisdom, “300”), who defected from his heavenly perch to battle against the extermination.
Twenty-five years after the angel onslaught, the Extermination War has wound down and scattered pockets of human survivors now dwell behind the fortified walls of once-major old-world cities. A majority of the drama in “Dominion” plays out in one such community — the metropolis of Vega, formerly known as Las Vegas. The Archangel Corps, an elite paramilitary force, has been charged with protecting the city and its people while opposing factions struggle for political control within its walls.
General Riesen (Alan Dale, “Lost”) — the man who led humanity in its efforts to defeat Gabriel and his army — oversaw the development of Vega and now serves as “Lord of the City.” His young daughter Claire (Roxanne McKee, “Game of Thrones”) is next in line to succeed him, but her loyalties are divided. She is betrothed to William Whele (Luke Allen-Gale, “Captain America: The First Avenger”), leader of the Church of the Savior, a religion born since the Extermination War that believes a “Chosen One” shall rise up and lead humanity to ultimate victory over the angels.
Claire and William’s prearranged nuptials are a political maneuver engineered by their fathers as a way of securing Vega’s caste system. William’s father, David Whele (Anthony Head, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), is Vega’s Secretary of Commerce, a ruthless and cunning man who sees his son’s impending marriage to Claire as a way of gaining control of Vega for himself.
Despite a sense of loyalty to both her father and the lower class, Claire is secretly in love with Alex Lannon (Christopher Egan, “Resident Evil: Extinction”), a member of the Archangel Corps. In the pilot, she and Alex were prepared to flee the city for a new life together — until Claire learned her father was stepping down as Lord of the City, leaving her as the only thing standing between the lower class and the malicious intentions of David Whele.
“Dominion” is a pleasant addition to the Syfy schedule. It features an enticing yet understated production design that allows the performances to take center stage; there is a lot of chemistry at work here between the actors. Not that “Dominion” is short on action: One of the highlights of the pilot was a violent infiltration by Gabriel himself into the inner sanctum of Vega’s politically elite.
Still, character development remains the program’s strong point. Tom Wisdom is intriguing as Michael, the archangel who betrayed his own kind to defend humanity, yet still doesn’t understand or fit in with human beings. His curiosity, however, has led this fallen angel to bite from the forbidden fruit: Michael’s involved in a sexual relationship with Senator Becca Thorn (Rosalind Halstead, “Day of the Triffids”), one of General Riesen’s top advisors.
“Dominion” threads together involving storylines without becoming overly convoluted. The identity of the Chosen One, for instance, could have provided plot fodder for the entire first season — yet producers opted for the big reveal up front in the series’ pilot. It’s refreshing to find a program that answers more questions than it proposes. It’ll be interesting to see where these answers lead in “Dominion’s” 10-episode first season; the series airs on Syfy on Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET.