“The Passage – Episode One – Pilot” (2019) 

Horror/Sci-Fi

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Ten Episodes

Created by: Liz Heldens based on the novels written by Justin Cronin

Featuring: Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Saniyya Sidney, Vincent Piazza, Brianne Howey McKinley Belcher III, Jamie McShane, Caroline Chikezie, Emmanuelle Chriqui

Amy:My name is Amy Bellafonte. I didn’t used to believe in monsters. I do now.”

Another year goes by and yet another vampire based television show begins, this one based on the excellent adult trilogy ‘The Passage’ by Justin Cronin that charts the world as it passes from a pre apocalyptic period through to an ante period through to the post part which takes place over a one thousand year time period. There is no doubt that the first novel, ‘The Passage’, is the strongest of the three, it is the best written as well as narratively inventive bringing in a variety of characters continuously, not afraid to lose favorites in a variety of ways, always moving the plot forward in an as realistic way as possible, for fiction within the horror/fantasy genre. The question was always going to be, will this adaptation be something great, with a unique look, a production that stuck to the inventiveness as well as the originality of its source material, or would it end up being like another more pulpy adaptation that has already been and failed. I am of course referring to “The Strain” (2014-2017) which was an adaption of another vampire trilogy, albeit more pulpy, written by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, which ended up straying so far from the novels original intention as to reduce it to its most basic premise which turned off not only the original readers, but made it a clone of almost every other pre/post apocalyptic story of which by now, are a dime a dozen, especially in television. 

The answer is that the writing is on the wall from the very first episode, in fact the very opening of the series was full of warning signs about where this story was going to go, which was strip all the nuance as well as the original parts of the novel back to make this a dull looking short cut to the interesting parts of the story, jettisoning the smaller moments for unexplained sweeps in the narrative arc that really do not set it apart from any similarly themed stories before.

The plot of the “The Passage” (2019) focuses on Project Noah, a secret medical facility where scientists are experimenting with a dangerous virus that could lead to the cure for all disease, but also carries the potential to wipe out the human race. When a young girl, Amy Bellafonte, is chosen to be a test subject, Federal Agent Brad Wolgast is the man who is tasked with bringing her to Project Noah. Ultimately, however, Wolgast becomes her surrogate father, as he tries to protect her at any cost. Brad and Amy’s journey will force them to confront Project Noah’s lead scientist, Major Nichole Skyes, and the hardened ex-CIA operative in charge of operations, Clark Richards, whom Brad trained. It likewise brings them face-to-face with a dangerous new race of beings confined within the walls of Project Noah, including former scientist Tim Fanning and death-row inmate Shauna Babcock. In seeking out any allies he can find, Brad also turns to his former wife, Dr. Lila Kyle, for help. But as Project Noah’s scientists home in on a cure that could save humanity, these new beings begin to test their own powers, inching one step closer to an escape that could lead to an unimaginable apocalypse.

Normally I recommend substance over style but in the case of “The Passage” the first element that the producers should have set up was the look and feel of the series, building it from the ground up so that it looked like something unique, not something that had been seen before, especially on television, what this should have attempted to do was look at a successful fantasy, something akin to the best episodes of “Game of Thrones” (2011-present).

The next element is the story which has been broadly ported over from the novels, although as I have said all originality has been left in that source material. I do not want to get into a pointless as well as endless comparison of the novels to the television series, in saying that I do not have a clue as to why anyone would purchase the rights to a novel then not use the best parts of the story (and narrative), instead homogenising it so that all the spark departs, leaving a bland mess. What is needed is the slow burn of the first novel, introducing characters maybe in a similar way in which they were in the novel, with little fanfare but deep background that highlights the importance of all the main stars that come to appear in the novel. It reminds me of the difference in the worst Stephen King based movies to the best ones, where character arcs are of the highest importance.

At this stage the brightest part of the series is Saniyya Sidney who has already appeared in two excellent films, “Hidden Figures” (2016) and “Fences” (2016), here she shines above all others as Amy, the main character in both novels and series. At this early stage it does seem she might be better than the character that has been written for her, the reasons for her being, the relationship with her mother, the other worldliness of her actual being, the reason she is wanted, her actual attractiveness to Wolgast and finally why the story is centred around her. The rest of the cast are all good enough, mostly unknowns who serve what they have been given, but that is the central weakness of the entire series, which at this stage will not go beyond its initial run.

It is possible that the series will improve but one wonders why the first episode that is just called ‘Pilot’ had to be directed by two directors in the form of Jason Ensler and Marcos Siega. In my mind these are both seasoned television directors that have had to come together to produce something to show an audience which for a forty odd minute episode screams of issues behind the scenes.  

The question is on the basis of the first episode is this a series to start watching or to avoid, well if you are a fan of the novels I would avoid but if you have never heard of them then you may find this interesting, but with the first episode being so ordinary with signposts firmly in place it is obvious where this is going. Not only that but in this era of ‘peak TV’ there are far better ways to invest your time, even on network TV.

Episode One – Pilot

Directed by: Jason Ensler & Marcos Siega

Written by: Liz Heldens

Scientists at a clandestine government facility deemed Project Noah are working hard to figure out how to turn off the part of the virus’ nastier aspects; because no sane human being would volunteer to be a test subject, the docs work on Death Row inmates. 

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