Review: Dominion 1×1 (SyFy)

Death would be preferable

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, SyFy

It used to be that there was a reason for adapting movies into TV series. Not necessarily a good one, but there was a reason: people liked the movie so why not cash in on that? It always helped if it was a good movie, because that tricky difficult bit – coming up with a proven good idea and a source material that people would enjoy – was already out the way.

So I’m at an absolute loss to understand Dominion. SyFy might as well have beamed onto our screens a picture of a six-legged cat attacking Luke Goss from Bros with a packet of instant custard and a small porcelain statue of the Ayatollah Khomeini and that still would have made more sense than Dominion.

Remember the 2010 movie Legion, in which Paul Bettany was involved in a war on Earth among the angels after God absconds? Liar. Of course you don’t. Even if you had seen it, your brain would have tried to purge the whole unpleasant experience from your memory. You’re probably just thinking of season five of Supernatural. Easy mistake to make.

Fact: There are literally no fans of Legion. None whatsoever. Science has proven this.

But supposing you were bitten by a rabid bat and in your fevered state, your memory became clear, you suddenly remembered Legion and you decided to make a TV version of it. Wouldn’t you want to at least call it Legion or maybe have something in common with the original movie?

Not so with SyFy. Dominion it is and the whole show is set decades after that war between the angels. Humanity is now living in semi-feudal socities sealed off inside gated cities, while humans possessed by lower angels, particularly those in league with the evil archangel Gabriel (cough, cough, The Prophecy, cough, cough), try to assail those cities and infiltrate them. 

Meanwhile, there’s a prophecy of a saviour child who will come to end the stalemate and the war (cough, cough… oh, done this already). Except no one’s quite sure where the good archangel Michael hid him.

Throw in something about nuclear reactors, Anthony Head from Buffy and Alan Dale from Neighbours as human leaders pairing their offspring off with each other, missing dads with angelic script on their bodies, a bit of Battlestar Galactica, a bit of Mad Max, an angelic orgy, some sword fights, some gun fights, some anti-aircraft batteries, some Las Vegas cage-fighting and a cast of British, Australian and South African actors faking US accents for no good reason and without much success and you have just the first two episodes of Dominion – a candidate for the title of ‘worst TV programme ever made’.

Here’s a trailer.

Dominion is an epic supernatural drama set in the near future. Specifically, 25 years after “The Extinction War,” when an army of lower angels, assembled by the archangel Gabriel, waged war against mankind. The archangel Michael, turning against his own kind, chose to side with humanity. Rising out of the ashes of this long battle are newly fortified cities which protect human survivors. At the center of the series is the city of Vega, a glistening empire that has formed from the ruins of what was once Las Vegas.

Dominion stars Christopher Egan (Resident Evil: Extinction), Tom Wisdom (300), Roxanne McKee (Game of Thrones), Alan Dale (Lost), Anthony Stewart Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Luke Allen-Gale (The Borgias).

Is it any good?
It’s desperately poor, desperately stupid, desperately over-complicated, desperately formulaic and desperately derivative. So no. One might even say that’s it’s so not good, it’s evil.

SyFy, of course, is no stranger to world-building and despite the fact that its Defianceisn’t exactly the world’s best TV show either, Dominion pretty much follows the same template. Gated city under attack from an evil enemy? Check. Different groups with different cultures all trying to co-exist together? Check. Made-up languages? Check. Plucky soldier hero who doesn’t play by the rules? Check. Women mistreated and generally regarded as decorative property in a cod-feudal yet futuristic society? Check. Endlessly dull plots about the reactor that powers the city’s defences? Check. Infiltrators to deal with? Check. 

About the only thing different is that you occasionally get a hint of Battlestar Galactica to relieve the formula, with locker scenes for all the soldiers that appear to have been lifted and applied with tracing paper from the original. Remember SyFy: copying something doesn’t make the end result as good as the original, particularly if you get six-year-olds to do it.

Other than that, it’s absolutely ignorable, impenetrable rubbish that takes no prisoners in helping its audience to understand what’s going on while paradoxically feeling it necessary to spell out the absolutely obvious: dad gives his son a photo of his mother; son has to say “I didn’t realise you had a picture of my mother,” just in case you had a stroke in the middle of the scene and couldn’t infer even basic human interactions any more. Characters are drawn from the Big Book of Fantasy Stereotypes and Clichés. I spotted one genuine American accent in the entire show and only one other convincing American accent from the almost exclusively non-US cast: some were so poor, they distracted from the nonsensical plot, so I imagine that was a deliberate act of Christian charity by the actors in question.

One of the only bits of fun of Legion was seeing angels with guns and rocket launchers blowing things up and Dominion‘s saving grace is pretty much the same. While the gun battles are pretty generic, though, here we get sword fights, thus proving my theory that no matter how rubbish a show is, in this day age, you can get good martial arts fights on pretty much any budget. 

But the producers have extended that fun to other ‘appetites’, with the supposedly good Archangel Michael allowed to have orgies with numerous women. Being one of the few angels with his own body – the lower ones have to possess humans to be able to do much – you’d wonder if he had the gonads for that, but apparently he does. You’d also wonder if one of the few angels still on God’s side would disobey his commandments so obviously. Given that he’s dead worried about having kiddies, presumably he’s catholic and sticking by the ‘no condoms’ rule, so why so flexible elsewhere? Inquiring minds don’t really want to know, but it’s really hard to switch them off during something so terrible.

Anyway, this is a ludicrous, pointless show, so trying to fathom its logic is to be on a hiding to nothing. If you watch it, you only have yourself to blame and next time you complain about not having enough time to do something or there being nothing on TV, I’ll point out to you that you wasted your life on this show and have only encouraged SyFy to make more shows like it by watching it.

So if you value your immortal soul and higher brain functions, steer clear of Dominion.

* My bet is that within two to three weeks, you won’t be able to remember which of the two shows is which. Go on, close your eyes and try to remember which one is Dominion and which one is Defiance.

  • benjitek

    Spot-on about Dominion. Hollywood Reporter gave it the first '0' rating I've ever seen from a publication: http://www.hollywoodreporter.c

    Hollywood Reporter: “…The world is blowed up. Yes, blowed up with an “ed” not an “n.” Because only people who say it like that will like this dumb piece of schlock…”

    USA Today recommends watching it with the sound off:

    USA Today: “As for this Syfy sequel to the torched-by-an-angel movie Legion, it's the kind of series that is best watched with the volume muted and your brain off. Silence will allow you to enjoy the sight of good and evil angels flying and fighting without actually having to hear any of the badly written and delivered dialogue that surrounds them. (Pity any actor who has to say lines like “There is no me without you.”) And a thought-free approach will stop you from obsessing over why an American city would suddenly turn into Ancient Rome, or why the producers assume we've all seen Legion and we're all on board for the cumbersome back story. Because both are a mystery to me.”

    Would agree to disagree about Defiance though. Initially, I didn't like it. Only watched the 2-hour pilot when it first aired. SyFy + an alien girl adopted by a human father — had me thinking they'd attempted a project with the family channel. Recently took a look at episode 3, got my attention — episode 4 started a binge-viewing marathon. a story arc — and a good one — who knew? Imaginative, well-written, good characters, well-acted — very non-SyFy… 😉

  • I watched the first three eps of Defiance but gave up after that. I heard it gets good in season two, but I try not to look back once I've given up on a show – life's too short n'all that.

  • benjitek

    It gets good in season 2 because it continues season 1 😉 Should you ever have a gap in viewing (unlikely) — give it a try. Personally, reminds me of Firefly — not so much the plot, but the quality of writing, believable characters, western-ish feel, etc…

  • JustStark

    In a bizarre coincidence I was wondering about this because last night I was clearing out my hard disk and watched a film called F that I had recorded last year or the year before or sometime.

    (Do not watch F, it is terrible)

    While watching I was looking through the cast's IMDB entries and noticed this, mainly because of how bizarre all the stills from it looked: it looks like something from the era of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, doesn't it?

    Anyway now I know I should avoid it but still, there's just something about toga sci-fi that is like a slow-motion pile-up where you know you should look away but it's just so horrible it's fascinating…

  • There's a slight hint of Dune to the design, but also a nod or two to Renaissance art. How much of that is because of the Las Vegas setting, I'm not sure.

    It's a terrible show, either way.

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