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Dominion - Review

Dominion is the 19th episode in Season Ten of Stargate SG1.

Review

Dominion is a roller-coaster ride of an episode. Twisting and turning at breakneck speed, there is little time to catch a breath before the ride ends and the viewer is left wondering what exactly happened. As a potential series finale for the Ori storyline or even for Ba’al, it exudes the air of cancelled-TV-show, but as a book-end to Flesh and Blood, it works very well, placing Vala’s relationship with Adria at its centre.

Having lost the focus on the mother-daughter aspect of the two women in the middle of S10, Dominion returns to it with startling intensity. Claudia Black gives a wonderful performance as a conflicted Vala; one who understands her daughter is an enemy they must stop at all costs but yet who still feels the tug of a maternal bond. Black excels in both ‘are you OK with this?’ scenes (one with Browder, one with Shanks) and when she brushes a lock of hair away from a dying Adria’s face. Her portrayal, and the dialogue that reflects Vala’s internal thinking, makes the final decision to pick up the gun at the end believable. All of this is a nice nod back to Flesh and Blood where Vala previously stopped Daniel shooting Adria. Black and Morena Baccarin have worked out a believable back and forth in their interactions and have a wonderful chemistry as mother and daughter on screen.

Baccarin plays Adria very well; her portrayal of an Adria infested with a Ba’al symbiote less so. While the dialogue is all Ba’al, it fails to resonate without Cliff Simon’s twinkling eyes, smug smirk and deep accent; Baccarin simply can’t reproduce it. Still, as Adria, Baccarin remains hugely watchable, capturing the mix of woman, child and Ori. That said, Adria remains a rather two-dimensional character as a villain. There was such potential for the character shown in Flesh and Blood, particularly around Adria’s conflicted emotions about Vala, which suggested that she would be much more complex and ambiguous as a villain. Some of this is alluded to in Dominion; her saving Vala at the beginning, her wish for her mother to remain with her, the throttling of Vala as she finally understands her mother would kill her if necessary. But it all feels a little too late as Adria hasn’t had an opportunity within previous stories to fully develop, and within Dominion the scenes are kept so short and tight that she cannot – which neatly raises an issue around production.

There was enough content in Dominion to justify a two-episode story, just as there was with The Shroud. From a series production perspective, the decisions to keep these as single episodes along with a run of standalone episodes since the latter, has been, in my opinion, a mistake. The stories themselves have suffered, as has the development of Adria as a character, but so too has the overall sense of the importance of the Ori arc to the series. An extended version of Dominion might have renewed the importance of the Ori arc, balanced the season, and it might have improved the balancing of the characters.

Dominion is unsurprisingly very Vala heavy with all the other SG1 regulars reduced to support characters without any opportunity to move beyond the usual boundaries of their function within the team with Daniel simply reduced to compassionate friend. It might have helped had some Vala notes been shifted to another character such as her idea to lure Adria using the false memories or the Tok’ra recognising her, but extending the story into two episodes would have allowed a sub-plot to showcase the others more. I like Vala, and while I accept there has been efforts made to allow the others to shine in other episodes, this emphasis on her at the end of S10 with Dominion and Family Ties does leave a rather skewed impression that the show isn’t Stargate SG1, or even Stargate Command, but rather Stargate Vala. It’s a shame given the huge strides that have been taken in showing the SG1 team spirit this season.

Overall, I do think the cancellation played too much a part in final production quality with Dominion. While I’m not unhappy this isn’t the final episode and I stand in awe of the script, direction and production that packed so much into Dominion, the story itself exudes the air of being a cancelled show rushing to end its outstanding arcs both around the Ori and Ba’al, and this isn’t helped with the pacing.

The episode is a roller-coaster; a slow build-up as Vala relays her false memories of a break with SG1 to Adria suddenly gives way to Ba’al grabbing Adria. From that point on, the episode jumps to breakneck speed with the explanation of Vala’s memories explained away, the death of the Ba’al clones, Ba’al’s infestation of Adria, their grabbing her back, the idea of the Tok’ra, the surgery, Adria’s reawakening and Ascension all told with brevity. It's all good and highly enjoyable, but the action whips around so fast and there is so much to follow, that the viewer is breathless at the end and wondering along with Landry whether anything of import actually happened as the team conclude Adria could be reincarnated in future and its unlikely that all the Ba’al clones are dead – more’s the pity. Hmmm; could the TV movies possibly be in mind?

Dominion is enjoyable, action packed and it does provide some form of closure to the events associated with the Ori, Vala and Adria in S10, but it fails to showcase SG1 as a team which the rest of S10 has done so well. The decision to make this story one episode feels like a misstep as, in the end, it rushes through everything too fast giving a clear signal that the show itself is hurtling towards the finish line. It would have been so much better had it slowed down and allowed us to fully enjoy the ride.

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