I’ve heard mixed reviews from my friends but I like almost everything about this show. Let me start by saying that my educational background is in classical history and early Christianity. I’m not really one for belief, but I don’t mind shows that exhibit religious belief if there’s proof of what you’re believing in, like with Sisko in Deep Space Nine. This is clearly the case with this show, as there are actual angels. The plot is a continuation of the terrible, no good movie Legion, whose only redeeming feature was Paul Bettany who brings awesome to everything. The show takes place years later, after the war is finished; God has disappeared and the archangel Michael is still fighting on behalf of humanity–his Father’s favoured, and favourite, children. These angels are not perfect, Michael is subject to temptation, has sex, and expresses concern that he might have children, evoking biblical discussion of half-angel children abominations (something also evoked in the DC limited series Kingdom Come, where superheroes’ children wreak havoc on ordinary humans).
We see in Genesis 6: 1-4:
When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose…the Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
The Nephilim are bigger and stronger than other humans, their ultimate descendants are the enemies of God’s chosen people and include among them the famous Goliath. Michael understandably doesn’t want to introduce any other species to the equation.
There are a lot of other literary and religious themes found in the show:
-The show is set in Las Vegas–the modern day Sodom and/or Gomorrah, now named Vega. The irony is delicious: a biblically themed story involving angels set in America’s most decadent city.
-The general who runs the city lives in a part of Las Vegas that looks like Tiberius’ island of Capri. He also lives in Caesar’s Palace: as a general who has the pretence of possible democracy in the future, it’s perfect. He’s effectively Julius Caesar.
-Bread and circuses: the first episode includes a party for all the citizens, clearly a distraction. When we say “bread and circuses” we are referring to the Roman chariot races, run on a track called the Circus Maximus – basically, the big circle.
-The hero of the story is named after another classical warrior who united an entire culture: Alexander.
-People in Vega live by a kind of caste system. It’s hard to move up, although it’s possible. The members of the council that makes the Big Decisions call themselves consuls–the title used by the men in charge of Republican Rome. Roman emperors also used the title, although it was largely done as lip service to the idea of democracy.
-Different cities interact but they have different cultures due to isolation and are now effectively city states. We see a group from another city, Helena (probably Montana). Helena is also the name of the mother of Constantine, the first officially Christian emperor. Not all the cities in this story are Christian, even after the revelation of God and angel: in Helena, for example, they worship the divine feminine, not a patriarchal god. In Vega, they worship the chosen one to come, the one who will save them from the Angels. Not exactly Christianity.
As for patriarchy, it’s easy to evoke in a culture where the mothers in the main families all appear to be dead or otherwise missing without mention. Maybe all the fathers are supposed to be compared to the Heavenly Father?
These are just a few of the themes that I noticed in the first episode. The plot and dialogue are complicated and sophisticated enough that it doesn’t need to spoonfeed anything; some things are better left unsaid and they do it very well in this show. Some of the best dialogue is reserved for Anthony Head, the character whose reveal of his job, Pre-Angelic War, is both unexpected and unsurprising. He really is awesome. Watchers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer should bring their pacemakers, he’s playing Ripper here, without any redeeming qualities. His character has a remarkable amount of hubris for someone who does not believe despite all evidence to the contrary. I mean, in this show angels actually exist, and yet he refuses to abide. He is angry at God, the worst kind of “non-believer” because, of course, you’re angry at something, so you must believe in it.
There’s a lot of other interesting but superficial examination of religion, religious beliefs, and religious organization. I’m very interested to see how that plays out. For example, the idea that God is dead is not new; what it means here, though, is that angels have the free will to choose their own actions; they are the stand-in for humanity here, literally the better angels of our nature, fighting it out.
I know that no one wants to see the same old stuff, and god knows the bible is old, but really, there aren’t any new stories; sometimes we just have to repackage and reorganize the old ones. Sometimes the best stories evoke stuff that resonates with us in a way we wouldn’t otherwise recognize. Like old friends and old enemies, when we meet them again we are both different. Every generation interprets their parents’ stories differently–the stories mean different things to different people. Dominion repackages, restates, and subverts biblical themes, often all at once. I just hope it manages to do it in a way that interests people who don’t have an extensive background in religious studies, because I want to watch the rest of the show. So everybody needs to watch it. Start doing it right now. I’m serious.