'See': TV Review

Rarely better than so-so.
11/1/2019

Apple TV+'s new Jason Momoa drama about a world without sight has interesting elements, but not enough depth or vision.

Through its first three episodes, Apple TV+'s new drama See is a roller coaster of a show. No hour went by without my checking my watch, giggling at several ridiculous performance choices and writing down multiple nonsensical plot points in my notes. Yet no hour went by without a concept or two that I found intriguing, a shot or two that I found breathtaking or an action scene that I found ambitious.

As you'll find is a trend with this first batch of Apple TV+ originals, See isn't close to a good show thus far, but it does just enough to make you believe that under the right circumstances, there might be a good show here somewhere, eventually.

Created by Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders), a reliable generator of interesting ideas, See explains in introductory text that it's set centuries after a virus in the 21st century decimated the planet's human population and left the two million-ish survivors unable to see. As the story begins, the remaining vestiges of humanity have condensed into insular tribes and the very idea of sight is considered the stuff of witchcraft, an unimaginable thing to be feared and not sought out.

Our hero is Baba Voss (Jason Momoa), a well-intentioned warrior hiding from his shady and mysterious past. Baba Voss, long desirous of an heir — not hair, mind you, because no Jason Momoa character could possibly be desirous of better hair than Jason Momoa possesses — is newly married to Maghra (Hera Hilmar), a woman who recently arrived at the tribe pregnant with another man's baby. That man is the notorious Jerlamarel (Joshua Henry), who is generally off-screen because he's wanted under charges of witchcraft and rumors that he has the gift of light or something. Midwife Paris (Alfre Woodard) is quick to suspect that Maghra's baby (or babies) would have similar powers. And if they don't, there isn't much show here.

Pursuing Jerlamarel to the limited ends of the earth is Tamacti Jun (Christian Camargo), a tax collector and witch-hunter for Queen Kane (Sylvia Hoeks), ruler of a somewhat more advanced clan than the one Baba Voss leads. Queen Kane, who communes with God through orgasms in a way that has to be seen multiple times to be believed, is determined to capture Jerlamarel, and it stands to reason that she isn't going to be passive about the possibility that he now has kids to worry about as well.

Directed by Francis Lawrence (Red Sparrow) and shot in an assortment of photogenic British Columbia locations, See has unquestionable epic scope. Baba Voss' crew roams through endlessly lush forests, mountains and lakeside settings, while Queen Kane's settlement is much more evocatively set at an abandoned dam surrounded by similar natural elements. My most common note throughout was, "Well, at least that's pretty."

The big picture concept, explored with actual spiritual and intellectual complexity in Jose Saramago's novel Blindness, is occasional fodder for a smart moment of ingenuity as you ponder how sightlessness informs everything from basic hunting excursions to the set-up of tribal housing to the ritual scarring of people's faces to general military strategy.

Early episodes feature several skirmishes supported by reasonable speculative "How would two blind armies battle?" consideration and aided to no small degree by a performance of towering physicality from Momoa.

But the episodes aren't all clever or action-packed and Momoa's performance is much less engaging in non-physical terms. See, which covers nearly 18 years in three episodes, is dramatically choppy throughout and frequently self-indulgently slow, as if to guarantee that production got value out of its time traipsing through the wilderness.

This opens the door for questions, many questions. Some may be answered in future episodes. I don't know. These questions include:

Does any of this make any sense and is the sense that it makes borderline offensive? The decision to set the show an unspecified number of centuries in the future is meant to somewhat erase quibbles about an overall thesis that could be boiled down to: "There but for sight goes society." So we don't know how immediately civilization collapsed after everybody lost their sight, nor is there any real understanding of how human evolution left our blind future ancestors to acquire semi-magical enhancements of other senses; it feels like most of the research was done by reading back issues of Daredevil. I'm sure See had experts and futurists on hand, but their work is only fleetingly evident. It's a strange and condescending thing that See posits that the future of humanity hinges on genetic aberrations who recover the ability to see, when those characters are presented as fairly insufferable — as if to unintentionally say, "An annoying, sighted person capable of reading To Kill a Mockingbird is more valuable than any paragon of blindness."

Given the plot, shouldn't the show be a more sensory-varied experience? Lawrence and his production team do a great job of making See into a visual spectacle. They do almost no job of capturing any inkling of the perspective of the show's main characters. The sound design is solid, but unremarkable (though Bear McCreary's score is, as ever, an asset). The cinematography is wildly conventional in its attractiveness. There are opportunities here for much freshness and risk-taking, and this does the bare minimum. That extends to the dialogue as well: For all of the names that point to linguistic progression, See barely gives you any glimpse of how communication might have developed in a world where one might assume that auditory interactions have acquired new layering. Compare this to the joy Knight takes with the vernacular in Peaky Blinders and it's unimaginably dull.

What is Alfre Woodard doing here? Maybe Paris is going to suddenly become a thrilling and complex character in the second half of the season? I can't say. But nothing I've seen thus far gives any indication of what an actor of Woodard's stature would have been attracted to, and the legitimacy she adds to the project is beyond anything Apple could have paid her. It's baffling. Really, there are very few parts of any substance here. Momoa swaggers and grunts with authority. Camargo glowers and grunts. With bellowing and orgasming, Hoeks definitely gives the cast's biggest performance and she's surely memorable. Most of the supporting cast, though, is not, nor are the characters they're playing. These aren't good roles, and yet they're prominent roles and I have to, as I usually do, ask why the show wasn't cast entirely or nearly entirely with blind or vision-impaired actors.

Maybe some of these questions will be answered eventually, but I'm not going to be patient enough to wait around much longer. After three episodes, See is rarely better than so-so.

Cast: Jason Momoa, Alfre Woodard, Sylvia Hoeks, Christian Camargo, Hera Hilmar, Archie Madekwe, Nesta Cooper

Creator: Steven Knight

Director: Francis Lawrence

Episodes premiere Fridays on Apple TV+ starting November 1.