“My name is Amy Bellafonte. I didn’t used to believe in monsters; but I do now. I saw them change everything.”
They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. There is no better example to that than the events that occur in the fictional world of The Passage.
Based on the best-selling trilogy by Justin Cronin, The Passage takes readers through the fall of civilization. How a potential cure for all disease transforms people into monstrous creatures with a desperate need to ingest the blood of others. In effect, vampires.
Though at times a bit truncated, The Passage series premiere does a solid job introducing the principal characters in the world before The End. It starts in 2015 with two doctors –Tim Fanning and Jonas Lear—whose search for the world’s oldest man leads them to the Bolivian Highlands. Things quickly spiral and Dr. Fanning is bitten by the ancient creature before it is killed. That single bite sets off a chain of events that, while providing the newly created Project Noah with its purpose—the antidote to all disease—there is a slight snag in the test subjects. Despite being immune, each subject eventually breaks down, falling into a fugue state. Though more research needs to be done, the news that the Chinese avian flu has rapidly progressed to epidemic and may be less than 3 months away from popping up in the States, time is short. They need a younger host, a child, to obtain complete success.
Enter Brad Wolgast. One of two primary protagonists, his mission is to deliver Amy Bellafonte to the project as she is the perfect candidate: ten years old with no family and, more importantly, no paper trail. If she disappears, there will be no pictures of her on a milk carton, no Amber Alert, or pleas on the eleven o’clock news. Just as important to Project Noah’s goals, much of the series’ success relies on the father-daughter dynamic between Amy and Wolgast. If their relationship comes across as stiff or uninteresting, the first half of The Passage, the one that takes place in the now, will lose a lot of its steam.
Thankfully, the chemistry between Wolgast (Mark-Paul Gosselaar from Saved by the Bell fame) and Amy (Saniyya Sidney–American Horror Story, Fences, Hidden Figures) works. Much of it has to do with the pair’s interaction with one another but the background elements of each character also help drive it along. Though we don’t get much about Wolgast’s past, he has an ex-wife (Lila) that still loves him and they lost a daughter. A loss that Wolgast blames himself for. Amy loses her mother early in the episode to a drug overdose. Wolgast’s paternal instincts kick in almost immediately and his understanding of the danger Amy may be in pushes him to disobey orders and protect Amy from the experiments awaiting her in Colorado.
While the two protagonists are imperative to the show’s success, the secondary characters that will eventually be the antagonists are also vital. While the pilot’s goal of setting the stage for this new world was successful, there’s only so much writers can fit into 45 minutes of screen time. In that, we only get passing knowledge of Project Noah’s staff which includes the already mentioned Dr. Lear, Dr. Nichole Sykes, and Clark Richards (security specialist, friend and former comrade of Wolgast). Though their purpose is true (curing disease), their sights are so set on their end goal that they don’t see just how dangerous their experiments on their human subjects (all death-row inmates) has become. It’s that blindness to what is being created right before their eyes that will eventually transform this series into a modern day drama to a post-apocalyptic horror wasteland.
Whereas it is always a difficult prospect adapting such a massive book (766 pages!) to a visual format, the pilot episode of The Passage checks most of the important boxes when setting the stage for a compelling narrative. Sure, there are a few aspects that are sped through (Fanning and Lear’s search for the Ancient Man, for example) but they are tertiary concerns. Being that the vast majority of Season One will take place in the now, we will no doubt get more room to develop the secondary lot of characters as well as delve deeper into the transformations occurring on the other side of the glass. But when that glass breaks, Hell will no longer be a road travelled for our characters. It’ll surround them at every turn.
The Road Less Travelled
- Series premieres are always a difficult affair. To set the groundwork for a successful season, so much is riding on an audience connecting to either the story or the characters (sometimes both). The key is having at least one character that stands out as the audience avatar, so viewers can relate in some way. The Passage gives us two in Amy and Wolgast. For very different reasons, both are lost in the world, adrift and searching for a lifeline. They find it in each other and, in their relationship, we find the heart of the show. The horrors of what Fanning, Babcock, and the others represent will soon be upon us, but without Amy and Wolgast, it would be all for naught.
- There is a moment where one of the guards mentions to Lear that he and others are having horrid nightmares about Fanning and the other don’t-call-them-vampires. Lear seemingly brushes the guard’s concerns aside but I’m not sure if that’s because he can’t believe it or doesn’t want the research to stop. Either way, his reaction is extremely reckless, especially considering the fact that they are dealing with something so unknown.
- Even without reading the book, it’s clear that Anthony Carter, despite being on death row, is worlds away from the other subjects. There is a gentleness about him that hints at a story untold; a man whose fate may not be deserved. He will be an integral part in how the world ends.