Review: ‘The Passage’ is full of mystery, strong characters and fangs
A fast-spreading pandemic threatens to wipe out the human race. A group of American scientists has potentially found an antidote that makes people immune to all infectious diseases. There’s only one hitch: It’s derived from a virus that’s been known to turn folks into blood-sucking creatures that look a lot like vampires.
Total annihilation or a fanged populace that drinks vital fluids for breakfast? Decisions, decisions.
“The Passage,” which premieres Jan. 14 on Fox, certainly isn’t the first television series to tap the primal fear of extinction-by-pandemic. “The Walking Dead,” “The Strain,” “12 Monkeys” and countless films have played with the same idea in various forms.
Executive produced by Ridley Scott (“The Martian”) and Matt Reeves (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”), the thriller series has the potential to be network TV’s latest addictive end-times saga, thanks to several meaty mysteries and strong characters that drive the story forward.
The origin story behind the problematic antidote is the show’s first hook. Two medical researchers — Dr. Jonas Lear (Henry Ian Cusick) and Dr. Tim Fanning (Jamie McShane) — trek to the Bolivian highlands after hearing about a subject who is immune to all diseases, and potentially, to the aging process.
But the creature they find deep in the bowels of a dark cave barely resembles a human. When it attacks Fanning, the beast is killed, but not before passing on the virus-resistant virus. Once back home, Fanning begins to show signs he’s headed in the same subhuman direction.
Fast forward three years, and he’s mute, iridescent-eyed and blue-skinned, living in an observation cage at Project NOAH, a clandestine scientific medical facility in Colorado.
Lear is torn up by his friend’s condition, but the researcher in him is also fascinated. Their fraught relationship is one among many that make “The Passage” as much a human drama as a viral vampire thriller. It should be noted, however, that the V-word is forbidden inside the confines of Project NOAH. Instead, the Nosferatu types are referred to as “patients.”
There’s also plenty of action in the first three episodes available for review, but more interesting are the questions about who should be sacrificed as a lab rat for the greater good of mankind, and why. There is promise in the drug if researchers only could isolate its life-saving properties and dispense with the monstrous side effects. So Project NOAH recruits death row inmates for “drug trials” on a voluntary basis and progress is slow.
It’s a race against time, though, so they seek out younger subjects for their experiments.
The series narrator is a 10-year-old orphan (Saniyya Sidney). “I’m the girl from nowhere, the one no one will miss,” she says. “That’s why they chose me. My name is Amy Bellafonte. This is how the world ends.”
She’s tough, smart, adorable and charming as she ushers viewers into an otherwise creepy and dark saga. Federal agent Brad Wolgast (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) is tasked with bringing Amy to the facility, but he instead defies orders and goes on the run with her in hopes of saving the girl’s life. Car chases and shootouts abound. Wolgast’s decision will pit him against his former colleagues and allies, including an ambitious doctor, Maj. Nichole Sykes (Caroline Chikezie).
Will Amy end up as Patient Zero of a new life-saving drug? Or will she become a child vampire, which everyone knows is the scariest strain of undead imaginable.
Adapted from Justin Cronin’s sci-fi trilogy of the same name, “The Passage” has a few pacing issues, especially when it gets bogged down in the back stories of characters that initially seem peripheral. But overall, it’s a series with the promise to intrigue, terrify and bring nuanced tales of fanged villains back into the weekly fold (it’s been a long time since “True Blood.”) Just don’t call them vampires.
When: 9 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14-DLSV (may be unsuitable for children under age 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language, sexual content and violence)
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