See: 1.01 Godflame, 1.02 Message in a Bottle, 1.03 Fresh Blood
Apple has thrown its hat into the ring and joined the already quite crowded (and soon to be much worse) world of digital streaming services. Apple TV+ has launched with a handful of original content that it hopes will attract the eyeballs of viewers who are already spoilt for choice. Leading the charge is their flagship series See, written by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight and directed by The Hunger Games helmer Francis Lawrence. Apple have certainly spared no expense, with each episode reportedly costing a whopping fifteen million dollars. See is anchored by Jason Momoa, fresh from his billion dollar megahit Aquaman. With Apple dropping the first three episodes at launch, has all this talent and money been used to create a show worthy of spending your hard earned cash on a subscription? The short answer? Yes and no. The long answer? Read on.
Your enjoyment of See will absolutely depend on two things; your ability to accept the basic premise and your ability to suspend disbelief and not ask too many questions of the plot. If you can do both these things, then there is a lot of fun to be had within the first three episodes. If you can’t, then I’m afraid you’ll be constantly shaking your head and probably shouting at your TV screen.
We’ll start by addressing the show's premise. A title card at the beginning of the first episode gives us the general but vague background. A deadly virus has decimated the world's population, with less than two million people surviving. For reasons not yet explained, the people who did survive are all left completely blind. Several centuries pass and this is where we pick up the action. The diminished population has adapted to being sightless and indeed the very thought of having vision is seen as heresy.
Their belief system that sight caused humans to become arrogant and self destructive is an interesting one, as is the notion that being struck blind is a punishment for man’s hubris. The problem that comes with this however is that you have to accept that within a few generations everyone seems to have forgotten everything about the world and reverted back to almost a medieval way of thinking. Imagine the kids living out in the desert from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and you’re pretty much there. The sun is referred to as the Godflame, witches are hunted and there seems to be no recollection at all as to how the world operated before the virus. This could all have been cleared up if the time that had passed was several thousand years, but we’re only told it’s been a few centuries. I appreciate that without sight handing down records would be difficult, but you’d think stories and information would have been passed verbally from generation to generation. Alternatively, one survivor is depicted using an electronic device, so there would technically be audio recordings. This brings us onto the other issue. What would a world inhabited only by blind people be like and how effectively could people function?
The first episode opens with a battle scene. It is brutal and expertly staged as Baba Voss (Momoa) leads his warriors against the evil Tamacti Jun and his men. With ranged weapons being pretty much out of the picture, everything is up close and personal. Swords, cleavers and spears are swung and thrust with reckless glee. Blood geysers spurt and viscera stains the screen red. Now obviously you have to buy into the fact that all the combatants are completely blind. As such you might think that deadly combat would be a much more chaotic and random affair with “friendly fire” incidents happening pretty regularly. This is the crux of the whole show and it lives or dies on accepting that blind people could function in this way.
Granted the survivors have developed things to assist them as they go about their lives. The dwellings of Baba Voss’s village are laid out in a grid pattern with ropes crisscrossing to assist with guidance. Haka-like chants are used in combat to ascertain the position of your fellow troops, as are various horns and other devices. There’s a nice touch where people click their fingers or rattle bracelets round their wrists when someone is handing them objects allowing them to hone in better. It also seems that some people display almost supernatural abilities to compensate for their loss of sight. Incredible hearing and smelling skills are used by some of the tribes folk and a few even show an unnatural empathic trait that allows them to sense strong emotions from a distance. The show falls short of actually depicting these as magical abilities, even though Paris the village elder has prophetic dreams and claims to be able to talk to owls. All in all though, throughout the first three episodes people generally tend to act almost like they are fully sighted and it’s easy to forget they aren’t meant to be able to see anything. As I’ve said, if you can accept, that then See can be an exciting and worthwhile watch.
Jason Momoa is well cast as Baba Voss; his sheer size and screen presence make him the perfect fit for the role of village leader. Sometimes his delivery is a little lacking, although this is probably down to the script. Quite often he’s given short staccato lines which he grunts in a guttural fashion. There was a particular scene where he really reminded me of someone familiar. After racking my brain, I realised he sounded exactly like the Cookie Monster, which I’m guessing wasn’t the effect he was going for.
The other outstanding cast member is Sylvia Hoeks (Blade Runner 2049) as head villain and all round nut job Queen Kane. Sporting a shaved head and with masturbation being her chosen method of communicating with her god, Hoeks gives an electrifying performance. As the completely unhinged Kane, she doesn’t hold back and absolutely commits to the role. She is ably assisted by Christian Carmago as her Witch Finder General Tamacti Jun. The villains are definitely the more interesting characters so far, with the good guys lacking any real personalities, except for Baba Voss.
This is one of the show's main problems at the start. Whilst the battle plays out we also get to meet Baba Voss’s beloved Maghra, who is in the process of giving birth to twins. We are introduced to her and several other characters and we are meant to care about their plight but unfortunately we have only just met them and have no real connection. It is soon revealed that Maghra stumbled into the village only six months ago, already pregnant, so it seems slightly odd that Baba Voss acts like they’ve been sweethearts for their whole lives. The father of the twins is someone called Jerlamarel. This is a name mentioned a lot; the Witchfinder is searching for him, and again it’s played like this is someone we should care about. But apart from a quick scene in episode two where he shows up, it isn’t really explained why we should be excited for him. Presumably his backstory will be explained later.
The main plot of See reveals itself in the second episode, after we jump forward three years and it has become apparent that the twins are not blind. Protecting them from Queen Kane and her Witchfinder General is only part of Baba Voss’s problems, as he also has to deal with traitors in his own camp. Keeping the twin’s sight secret is paramount as their are plenty of people who would turn them in for heresy. I was surprised when episode three suddenly jumps forward in time again; this time the twins are now in their late teens. I suppose it makes sense that the makers of the show wanted to have the two sighted characters old enough to take advantage of their ability. Strangely no one else seems to have aged, unless you count a slight greying of a few hairs. This is most noticeable with Hera Hilmar who plays Maghra especially, as she’s only five years older than the actors playing her twin offspring.
See, unsurprisingly for such an expensive show, looks spectacular. Filmed on location in British Columbia, it takes full advantage of the expansive scenery. The photography is lush and gorgeous, the direction is solid and the battle scenes are good, particularly in the third episode where Baba Voss takes on some slave traders who have captured his adoptive son (who incidentally gets ambushed and taken really easily considering he’s the only one who can see). It’s the script that lets the show down with some of its ideas, half baked at best, down right preposterous at worst. The world building is handled well, again with the caveat that you can accept the things people are capable of doing. It’s not on par with something like Mad Max: Fury Road in terms of depicting a multi faceted and lived in culture, but it does throw up some nice touches from time to time.
Unfortunately for every piece of impressive filmmaking, there’s a plot hole that comes along and lets it down . The bad guys motivation seems to be solely that they are bad guys and that’s why they’re evil. Also they dress in black and look menacing to let you know they’re bad even though no one can see and has any idea what a colour is. Similarly, the good guys dress mainly in white and earthy tones. All the clothes are quite intricately braided or embroidered which again raises the question of why? Also, why did everyone leave the cities after the virus? Surely if you’re all suddenly blind you’d stay in a familiar area where there is already shelter and food. Running around in the wilderness where you can easily fall into a ravine or river, get savaged by a bear or just generally trip over a log, doesn’t make a lot of sense. Ultimately this is the problem with See and means you will either love it to hate it.
You can almost imagine the producers sat there thinking how can we fill the gap in the market left by Game of Thrones finishing? Also Birdbox was a big success for Netflix so maybe there’s something there? Smash the two together and hey presto, here’s a high concept idea. Game of Thrones alumni Jason Momoa just sweetens the deal. With more care and attention to the script and a bit more thought into how a sightless world would actually function, See could be a great show. As it currently stands, it’s a pretty standard cliched fantasy plot punctuated with a few nicely violent action scenes. The show is only three episodes in, so hopefully it has time to improve.
Apple is switching to a weekly release for the remaining episodes and I’ll admit I’m enjoying it, enough even with all its faults. Will it ultimately rank as a classic piece of science fiction fantasy? We’ll see.