Sanctuary

>Having become a fan of Amanda Tapping from the Stargates, it seemed like it was time to check out Sanctuary. Sanctuary is one of those rare stories of success, where it started as a web-series and became so popular that Syfy decided to pick it for a show (they have since purchased the rights to Riese–which also has Amanda tapping involved though to a lesser degree–and are considering that for a show, so people start watching the web series please because it’s quite good).

Sanctuary tells the story of Dr. Helen Magnus, a 157-year-old woman who has spent her life finding, helping, and studying Abnormals–creatures that are mutated (either naturally or through science) and cannot remain in normal society. They are both not safe from others or others are not safe from them. she is primarily helped by Henry, a tech-wiz/werewolf, Big Guy (no real name) an Abnormal who was saved by Magnus and helps out around the Sanctuary, Dr. Will Zimmerman, a psychiatrist recruited for his ability to connect with and understand people, and her daughter Ashley who is their martial arts/weapons expert. (SPOILER: Ashley is later killed off–though some contend that she is not definitively dead–and replaced by Kate Freelander, a once-criminal who reforms when taken in by Magnus.)

This show is meant to be groundbreaking in its extensive use of the green screen (most of the show is shot using one) and in being the first show in North America to be filmed on RED camera (getting rid of tape and has better resolution than HD). I almost wonder if the RED camera actually hurts rather than helps them, because while the green screen effects work particularly well in some places, it is somewhat obvious in others that they are being superimposed onto a fake background. I wonder if the RED camera, with its sharper resolution, makes this more clear. Even on these occasions it doesn’t hurt the show enough to really bother me. More often than not you have to be thinking about it to notice.

The show’s weaknesses:
-Though I understand why Tapping has a British accent for the show (her character, Dr. Magnus, comes from England), it does not come off as natural. (Ironically, she was actually born in England and grew up in a very British household.) The argument is that, having lived as long as Magnus has, in as many places as she has, it would make sense that her accent is somewhat screwy, but at points it just pulls me out of the moment.
-Sometimes the show isn’t complex enough, lacks the multiple layers that make other shows more successful. This was especially true in the beginning of the series where it did not fully utilize its characters or their backgrounds. Sure, we get some good stories about Magnus’s background and a bit about the others, but we need to go deeper into them.
-It is also the relationships between them that are missing. Magnus and Ashley’s relationship, for example, should have many layers. Especially once Ashley learns about her father. But instead, we barely delve into Ashley’s feelings of betrayal before (SPOILER) she is killed off (to fan’s great anger). Even then, we don’t get nearly enough of Magnus’s grief over her loss as we should. (This is an area that most shows fail at. What I love about Grey’s and Private Practice this season is how rather than settle the emotional issues from a big event, they have carried then out to really let us watch the different characters deal with it.) We could use more than two episodes dealing with Henry’s past and his werewolf roots. Even Will’s story with how his mother died (and what’s his father’s story by the way) would be nice. And we certainly don’t know anything about Big Guy’s past besides the fact that he was not welcome by his people and what happened once he was found with bullet wounds. How did he even get shot?
-This may seem like a silly thing, but there is no question that one of the large draws of the show is Tapping. She brings with her fans from her 11 years as Sam Carter on Stargate and while she is trying to distinguish herself from that role, there is one particular place where I think she has separated herself too much: she almost never smiles. I know, that seems silly. But think of it like Julia Roberts never smiling in her films. I think Tapping’s charisma is largely in her smile, which always seems genuine and inviting. By never smiling, we lose one of the most basic ways to connect with her. (I only realized this when she smiled in an episode and I was suddenly reminded that not only had i not seen it in a while, it made her much more charming.) Interestingly, when the show was picked up, one of the things they said is they didn’t want it to be as dark, yet Tapping smiles much more in the webisodes than in the actual tv series.
-(SPOILER) Killing off Ashley was a mistake. There is no question about that. In principal I agree with the idea that killing off an important character is key to the danger element of a show where the characters are constantly being put in life-threatening situations. At the same time, I firmly believe what Yunjin Kim (Sun on Lost) pointed out in an interview once. I can’t find the exact quote but basically, she said that the moment they run out of story for a character (both their back story and their growth), they are killed off. I think this is the way to do it, so we don’t feel cheated out of something but we are connected enough to the character that we lose. The issue with killing off Ashley is that there was so much to her story that wasn’t done. (I also dislike the argument that they needed someone who was outside Magnus’s control, because let’s be honest, there’s no indication that Kate is outside her control and they could have just added Kate not replaced Ashley. The hate for Kate is more because she replaced Ashley than because of Kate herself. I’m sort of indifferent) Again we get more about Ashley in the web series than we do in the tv series.
-I don’t find it even remotely believable that Will is mission ready with no training. We had no indication that he could even shoot a gun and suddenly he’s going on dangerous missions?

For all my complaints, I do really like the show. I think it has a lot of strong points:
-They’ve built up an excellent back story for Magnus, with all the famous people she’s known and the Five. Particularly with John Druitt. The more we go into her story and her life, the more interesting she becomes. The many reveals of famous events and how they aren’t what they seemed are one of the strongest points of the show.
-Will and Magnus’s relationship, while often not delved into deeply enough, has had some great moments. Particularly the two episodes where they were trapped together with no one else to talk to. (Those were both particularly strong acting moments for Tapping, among other things.)
-Henry is also a potentially interesting character. In the episode where we deal with his transformation we get a close look at him and it is definitely one of his shining moments. The episode with him in the werewolf asylum is pretty solid too, but I think we could see more.
-The moment they brought in internal Sanctuary politics, the show hit a new stride. It made the whole thing feel multi-dimensional. (I think this threat to Magnus’s position was resolved too quickly, but I hope it isn’t the end of this storyline.)

As a whole, this show reminds me of a benevolent Torchwood (haven’t seen Primeval but people seem to compare it to that too), in that they aim to help more than hurt Abnormals. Plus it’s more science than aliens. The strength that I think this has over Torchwood is the complex characters (beyond Jack Harkness, the characters are fairly straightforward) and a bit more moral complexity.

As of yet, there has been no official word about whether or not the series has been renewed for a fourth season, but the rumors are yes. I hope so. People, start watching this show and stop boycotting it because of Ashley. I miss her too, but TV shows don’t bring characters in and out based on fan reaction and it is clear that they don’t intend to bring her back anytime soon (at least, we’re nearly done with season 3 and she’s still not around so it isn’t looking up).

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2 Responses to “Sanctuary”

  1. Jacob Black Says:

    Good article – thanks for posting.


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