In a post-apocalyptic future, Mankind has been devastated by disease, our species reduced to a mere 2 million souls, sightless and crawling on the face of the Earth. Generations later, society has reformed into tribes and developed new modes of survival, of communication, of battle and of culture to circumvent their blindness. Vision has become a whispered and distant legend, barely understood, and ‘light’ itself is a byword for heresy. A pregnant stranger seeking refuge with the Alkenny tribe is taken to wife by its leader, Baba Voss, but a vengeful faction puts the Witch-finders on her trail. Their coming heralds change for the tribe, and the wrathful attentions of Queen Kane. The new-born twins offer something else though – hope – because they share a special gift with the heretic, Jerlamarel: the power of sight.
Since I’m tangled up in AppleTV+ (hooked as I am on Foundation), I figured I may as well delve deeper into its content. I’m paying for the damned thing now, after all. Topping my watch list were Tehran – a hacker/spy thriller set in Iran – and the reimagined new series of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories. However, I kind of got sidetracked when I caught the trailer for See, featuring Jason Momoa and Dave Bautista in their full-on barbarian warrior outfits, eyes clouded, weapons drawn. It looked frickin’ awesome, so I burned through the first couple of episodes on Sunday morning. I would have binged the whole damned season given the chance, but I had other responsibilities on my plate. Anyway, here are some thoughts based on what I’ve seen so far…
A huge amount of thought has clearly been put into selling this post-vision society through every facet of production from the physical design of the village to cultural rules, spirituality, and the means of navigation. Sound naturally plays a strong part in the production, as does the physicality of performance—and these are two elements that really impress.
Bear McCreary’s music is stripped back, percussive, matched to flashes of imagery in the opening credits (reminiscent of Daredevil) to get across a sense of…not echolocation, because so far as I can tell there is no equivalent super-power at play here, but just getting across the notion of how vital sound is to these people. That an understanding of the world can be built from sense other than sight. The music speaks to a deep part of the human psyche, stirring watchfulness in ways I cannot quite define. The Alkenny tribe frequently use call-outs, touching base, reinforcing themselves as a united front, stamping spears in warning or approval. And then there is silence, immediate and complete when called for, so their trackers can listen out for breaths and bending branches. I wish I had a proper sound system so I could fully appreciate the work done on this front by Bear and the sound designers.
The way the tribe move, heading into battle or simply moving about their daily business, is fascinating. I’d dearly love to watch some behind-the-scenes footage of the training the actors went through to perform in this way. It looks both alien and entirely naturalistic, placing great attention on centre of gravity and *surety of foot-work – essential for a people who cannot see the ground before them. And the blind-fighting is something else, both wild and intensely intimate. At its core is the need to maintain physical contact in order to detect what the opponent is doing, to counter and control them. It’s a deadly tango of blade-work and wrestling, both wild and intensely intimate. Stunning stuff. Baba Voss confronts the traitor Gether Bax in one memorable scene that appears tender and forgiving but is filled with implied threat amid the intimacy shattering any sense of personal space. These hands can kill, (the performance whispers) and I can lay them upon you with impunity. Another neat touch – if you’ll pardon the pun – comes in their form of writing, utilising strings of intricate knotwork to be read by the fingers, inspired no doubt by the Quipu of Incan South America. In this way notes can be left for people or carried far afield by bird messengers. Queen Kane even devises a clever tactic to alert her of forgeries.
There is a theme that runs through all post-apocalyptic tales – the choice between scratching at old wounds, burying them deep to survive, or finding ways to move on. These are embodied by Queen Kane (Sylvia Hoeks), Baba Voss (Jason Momoa), and Jerlameral (Joshua Henry) – but no answer is cut and dried. There is no doubt that the old tech in Kane’s control could be used to help humanity, yet she prefers to keep us in darkness, harnessing the power for herself. Baba Voss is the hardened pragmatist, atoning for past sins. He tries to hold the line and protect his own, but he will fundamentally do whatever has to be done. Jerlamarel is barely seen. He is the heretic, the saviour, the idealist who wants to redeem humanity and its sight. At this point it’s unclear how he plans to do this, and whether it is even possible. The most interesting character for me though is Paris (Alfre Woodard) – the wise woman and midwife of the tribe – who acts as the moral centre of the piece. It is she who voices hard truths and helps to guide them all. A compelling performance, filled with nuance, warmth and weight.
There are plenty of other topics that warrant a reviewer’s thought and critique – such as gender and race politics in a post-apocalyptic world, the dissonance and joy of Lou Reed’s Perfect Day as a religious hymn, and the apparent (and if so, disappointing) decision to equate **sexuality with villainy or weakness in this show – but I think they can wait until I’ve had a chance to watch the series unfold. For now, I think I’ll just wrap things up by saying this is an interesting show with powerful performances and (the potential at least for) some complex discussions around tribe and society; self-service and community; of what it takes to rebuild on the other side of cataclysm; and (when reflecting upon our own lives) deciding what is truly worth cultivating in humanity versus that which is damaging or ephemeral.
If post-apocalyptic fiction is about the fantasies of reconstruction – of seizing the chance to remake the world free of the tortuous burden of increments – then mankind is living on the edge of that dream, that nightmare right now. And as ever, we are just trying to survive—caught in a tug of war between those who wish to restore a fetishised version of the past and those visionaries who see a positive new beginning. What will our own world look like after Covid? How much responsibility will we take as individuals to carve out a better future? Will we pull our weight or just sit back with the masses, hiding, praying, and waiting to see? Timely stuff, if one chooses to view it that way. For everyone else, this is a rip-roaring and original new show, full of intriguing notes, desperate moments, and a deep sense of connectedness. Highly recommended.
Viewing experience: 5/5
* And my God, wait until you see the village Shadow! She is a tribeswoman specially trained to move without sound, to hide her heat and very presence, yet be within inches of the person she trails. It is creepy, balletic, and otherworldly.
** Masturbation as prayer is a new one on me. Interesting, but as the high-voiced practitioner is evil with a capital E, the metaphorical implication falls like a hammer. Incest is another short-hand for moral deviance in the show – one which few would care to debate – but the use of it here seems purely functional, to discredit the genuine pain and valid cause for outrage that the traitors have against our main character.
*** Some might accuse the show-runners of cutting a little too close to the bone if they had begun this project in 2020, but the first episode aired before the pandemic knocked us on our collective arse. It’s just one of those funny little coincidences, I guess.
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