The Passage spares no time in establishing a world-ending medical catastrophe and a cute, compelling lead, but hopefully subsequent episodes settle down a bit.
This recap of The Passage Premiere, “Pilot”, contains spoilers.
In a way, you have to admire the premiere episode of The Passage for its sheer willingness to get things done. There are some network shows that relish taking their time, but apparently not this one. It’s based on the same-named 2010 novel by Justin Cronin and concerns vampires and the end of the world, all of which is established before the opening credits of the pilot. You can’t knock it for pace.
You can knock it for some other things, though. It’s a bit silly. An opening in Bolivia introduces Dr. Jonas Lear (Henry Ian Cusick) and his ill-fated buddy Dr. Tim Fanning (Jamie McShane), who is bitten on the neck by a man purportedly two centuries old and develops fangs and a taste for blood, but nobody uses the word “vampire” besides the local kid who keeps the old dude in a cage. But it’s pretty clear he has become a vampire. So, yeah – silly. And it gets sillier a bit later.
Fanning becomes Patient Zero, and a hush-hush initiative dubbed Project Noah – “Are you guys building a boat or something?” – is established in a repurposed hotel designed to study the effects of this mysterious new ailment. Vampires, it turns out, are immune to disease, so the idea is to harness that potential to cure the incurable by experimenting on death row inmates. One’s a neo-Nazi, so is probably better off. Another, Babcock (Brianne Howey), is a sexy blonde who looks pretty normal, only you get the sense if you shined a torch in her ear her eyes would light up. One of them hangs upside down from the ceiling like a bat, just in case this vampire thing wasn’t entirely clear.
See? Silly! But it’s also kind of compelling because rather than attempt to depict folkloric blood-sucking monsters as realistic The Passage instead elects to just plonk them unaltered in an otherwise realistic setting. But that’s compelling in an eye-rolling, I-can’t-believe-they’re-doing-this way. It won’t work for everyone, even though it mostly worked for me.
Another thing the vampires can do is ingratiate themselves in the minds of non-vampires, although the pilot didn’t make much of this beyond a couple of jumpy dream sequences. But the seed has been planted. And while we’re on the subject of things that the premiere introduced but didn’t expand on, what are we to make of the latest death row inmate, Anthony Carter (McKinley Belcher III), who agreed to be subjected to experimentation? The Passage bothered to characterize him, so we have to assume he’ll be important. Maybe I’ll read the book before next week’s episode.
But all this is mostly setup. The bulk of The Passage’s premiere was devoted to the burgeoning relationship between Brad Wolgast (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), the usual decorated ex-Special Forces Fed with an array of personal traumas, and Amy Belafonte (Saniyya Sidney), a young girl whose mother recently died of an overdose and whom Project Noah determine will be a good fit for the first round of testing on children. The Passage doesn’t do a good job of justifying the decision to experiment on the young, even for the greater good – we’re clearly supposed to consider both sides of the argument, and there are scenes devoted to questioning the ethics of it all, but the pilot moves so speedily that the scientists of Project Noah are quickly promoted to the roles of uncomplicated villains, while Wolgast, who goes rogue with Amy, is positioned as the heroic savior despite being quite willing to hand her over not all that long before.
You get the sense this would all work better in novel form, and I’m willing to believe it does, but in the opening episode of a network show, it just feels crammed-in and unconvincing. But what saves The Passage is Gosselaar and Saniyya Sidney, the latter being a quite remarkable young actress who is immediately charming and believable. They share several excellent scenes together, from quiet bonding to frantic escapes under fire, and there’s something about their pairing that just really works, irrespective of how messy the premiere feels or how absurd some of its ideas are. If The Passage banks on these two as the reason people will keep tuning back in, the show’s onto something. Let’s just hope it slows down enough to realize it.
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