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Dominion introduces a promising, if familiar, new world

Illustration for article titled Dominion introduces a promising, if familiar, new world
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Syfy’s new offering Dominion will be familiar to genre fans, but not because it’s a continuation of the 2010 film Legion. A working knowledge of the film isn’t even necessary; the series hits the ground running and assumes viewers who haven’t seen Legion will catch up, a pace that ensures viewers will hold on to the important details and not worry about the rest. No, Dominion feels familiar because it draws heavily from other sources, particularly the one whose success Syfy presumably hopes to emulate: Battlestar Galactica.

Set 25 years after the events of Legion, Dominion takes place in Vega, the sprawling, fortified city that’s arisen on the site of former Las Vegas. The strongest of the handful of large cities comprising the post-Legion world, Vega has a merciless, complicated caste system built on family influence, acquired skills, and adherence to the laws of the city. At the top of the heap are two families—House Riesen and House Whele—who rule over the nominal democracy, with the General Edward Riesen (Alan Dale) as Lord Of The City, and Secretary Of Commerce David Whele (Anthony Head) its second in command.

There’s a familiarity to Vega, too: The rich live in luxury, the poor scrape by. The barracks where protagonist Alex Lannon (Christopher Egan) lives are reminiscent of Starship Troopers, down to the coed showers, and the command center of the city is lit in chilly blues—with lens flares to boot. More intriguing are the tidbits given about religion, one of the many elements prompting comparisons to the re-booted Battlestar Galactica. In a world where angels streamed from the heavens to possess and conquer humanity, atheism isn’t much of a choice. Replacing worship of God is the prophecy of a Chosen One, living in secret among the people, who will arise to lead humanity to salvation. Claire Reisen (Roxanne McKee), the general’s daughter and Alex’s secret love, is among the faithful; in one of the pilot’s more awkward moments, she narrates a quick primer on the prophecy. Not everyone believes, however, and the pilot hints at nuance within the faith, as well as subversive sects with competing agendas.

Egan previously starred in NBC’s little-seen and short-lived Kings, another series that seemingly inspired this one. The actor fits comfortably into his Dominion role, handling his early action beats and later emotional moments equally well. It can be easy for the earnest-hero type to fall flat, lacking the color of more flamboyant or heightened characters, but Egan gives Alex a personality beneath his stolid exterior. A flashier role is that of the Archangel Michael (Tom Wisdom in a role originated in Legion by Paul Bettany); Wisdom keeps Michael unearthly but engaging, with occasional smiles adding needed levity to a perilously dour character. Dale is asked to do little more than lend gravitas to his scenes as General Reisen, one of the elements that will hopefully change as the series continues.

It’s Anthony Head, however, who is the most fun as the villainous Secretary Whele. While the nominal antagonist of the piece is the wrathful angel leader Gabriel, Whele is the threat close at hand, scheming to wrest control of the city from Reisen in a familial power struggle of Shakespearean proportions. Head dives in head first as Whele, demanding the audience’s attention throughout and affecting an American accent that would take Buffy The Vampire Slayer aback. Rather than blindly power-hungry, Whele is presented as a man shaped by his experiences after Gabriel’s initial attack, one who has no faith in saviors. The levels of the character vacillate over the course of the pilot, but Whele has a lot of potential and Head is an absolute treat. Less thrilling are the supporting characters, a collection of love interests, third wheels, and exposition dispensers with only the barest hints at character development.

Dominion has a lot going for it: strong leads, an interesting premise, a complex world. It has fun and satisfying action, creepy and distinct baddies, and high stakes. It also has a few giant blind spots (particularly its underdeveloped female characters), and so many plot and character twists drawn from other series that it could easily devolve into a bland knockoff. It still has a lot of work to do, but with care, Dominion has the potential to grow into something special.