Whether or not you can use your eyes, you might as well roll them at Apple TV+’s hokey dystopian drama.
The easy joke about See, the Jason Momoa-led dystopian show about blindness is that it has no vision. But it’s also one of the rare shows of Apple TV+’s premiere slate that at least appears like it’s working with a mostly solid (if shakily ableist) foundation.
At its best (and indeed, most problematic) when mining the idealistic differences between the old and new generations as an allegory for sight, See is rarely ever more than gobsmackingly obvious. But it’s occasionally entertaining when not smothered by turgid dramatics and a pervasive humorlessness.
Showrunner Steven Knight (most recently of the mesmerizingly idiotic Serenity fame) seems to want to meld the grim majesty of recent fantasy like Game of Thrones and “the chosen one” dystopic fiction du jour, with a glimmer of José Saramago’s Blindness thrown in. But there’s very little that feels dynamic here other than snippets of ornate production design and the battle sequences – which at least work to involve blindness in a way that feels like more than bad dinner theater.
In a future world, human society has been decimated to 2 million people and the entire population has become blind due to an unexplained disease, civilization has devolved into a form of moral and physical feralness, the survivors existing around the detritus of a past world.
Libraries worth of knowledge have been lost in this period, as a vengeful and violently silly queen (Blade Runner 2049‘s Sylvia Hoeks) dispatches Witchfinders, like the menacing and histrionic Tamacti Jun (Christian Camargo), to search for “heretics” (those who can invariably see) throughout the various patches of civilization that still exist throughout the world.
But while the milieu is largely established through the relationships between the monarchy and the villages, the show largely focuses on Baba Voss (Momoa), a leader of a tribe of people known as the Alkany, and Maghra (Hera Hilmar), a woman who wandered into the village mysteriously pregnant years ago and became Baba Voss’ wife and an essential part of the tribe. Among the other principal characters is Paris (Alfre Woodard), who’s cast in the unfortunate role of a kooky prophet.
As the series begins, Baba Voss is trying to fend off the Witchfinders who are encroaching on their land. In a clever touch, the battle is less a melee than presented in a segmented rhythm as all the blind fighters lunge forward with a quick attack before retreating backwards. As such, the fights have an unexpected clarity, culminating in a genuine highlight in the third episode. Set in a concrete arena, a fighter annihilates a group of men by throwing stones on the ground to mislead them and sneaking behind them to slash a deep ring around each one’s throat. It’s a gruesome scene, and even as it’s indebted to Zatoichi, there’s a sense of verve in the filmmaking that’s totally absent in the rest of the show.
Rather, the majority of the show is focused around Maghra’s mysterious offspring, Haniwa (Nesta Cooper), and Kofun (Archie Madekwe), two characters who span the spectrum of clichés about tribal archetypes, and Jerlamarel, a potential savior who wants to return the world to its former glory. Jerlamarel is known throughout the land as a dangerous mystic, but the show does a poor job of speaking about him with any substance other than hushed dialogue about his corrupting spirit and his threat to the queen.
It’s occasionally entertaining when not smothered by turgid dramatics and a pervasive humorlessness.
Haniwa also feels trapped by decades of tropes about tribal heirs wanting to leave their home and explore the world, while Kofun is defined by his devotion to his family even as his sister tempts him away with the promise of the world outside their seen limits. Together, they’re technically fine in a way that the rest of the show fails to achieve but so conceptually light that they can barely hold up the weight of the show.
In the three episodes available for review, the notion of sight is a nearly constant consideration as plotlines never really have to emerge organically. Rather, they feel like a daisy chain of deus ex machinas as the plotlines converge with each other in ways that rarely feel anything other than inevitable. Add to that a constant unintentional comedy to the overwrought dialogue and See is mostly a slog, especially in the interminable pilot. The second and third episodes slightly improve by prioritizing emerging rather than known perspectives, leading to a sense of exploration of the world beyond the cloistered setting of the pilot. But there’s a continually nagging feeling that these expansions are accidental saving graces, allowing air to peek out from a place of suffocated and rotted potential.
It’s not impossible to suggest that See will have the foresight to know how to simultaneously expand its world-building and flesh out its cardboard thin characters, but that feels like an unlikely course correction. For now, watch See at your own peril.
See is currently turning heads on Apple TV+.