“The Passage”, and possibly the end of civilisation as we know it, begins with a group of scientists including Desmond from Lost searching out a magical old man in Bolivia who is apparently immune to all disease and has survived 250 years. Turns out this is only because he hasn’t met Desmond and co yet: in a near-perfect (if perhaps unintentional) metaphor for colonisation, as soon as the invaders show up, they upset the delicate system preserving the balance between the old man and the wider community – in other words, they let the old vampirey man out of his vampirey cage – and everything goes so badly wrong that not only is the world’s oldest man now the world’s deadest man, but he’s infected Dr Desmond’s best pal Dr Tim with the vampire virus which may eventually destroy us all. Whoops.
A few years later, and Dr Desmond and co – now calling themselves Project Noah – are keeping Dr Tim sitting in a glass case looking veiny and terrifying, beside a number of glass cases containing similarly-affected persons originally tempted away from Death Row with the promise of clemency, time and participation in a secret “drug trial” for the government. All of these promises being true, technically, but lacking a little detail in the fine print.
(I should pause at this point to say that Dr Desmond and co don’t want to label Dr Tim and his friends “vampires”, but since the individuals in question are impervious to human ailments and feed on human blood, I feel pretty relaxed about using the term myself.)
As if non-vampire humanity doesn’t have enough problems, however, an outbreak of avian(?) flu somewhere is apparently about to take us all out before Dr Tim and co even get a chance to, so Project Noah decide it’s time to go for broke and see how the vampirey virus works on a child. Accordingly, Federal Agent Zach from Saved By the Bell/ aka Agent Brad Wolgast is dispatched, along with another agent whose name I don’t remember so we’ll call him Agent Jerk, to collect Amy Bellafonte, the poor orphaned kid who’s unwittingly drawn the short straw.
Although Agent Zach/Brad initially appears to be cool with this, he’s obviously much more complicated than that: he has an ex-wife he still loves (not unusual for tv) who still loves him back (slightly less common), a Secret Pain (who doesn’t?), and a stern expression concealing a tender heart and a great way with kids. And he’s read A Wrinkle In Time, which means he’s cool too. So when the secretly awesome Agent Zach/Brad meets the openly awesome smart, no-nonsense Amy, the two very quickly bond, ditch the appalling Agent Jerk and hit the road, with the most sinister goons Project Noah can rustle up in hot pursuit.
So “this is how the world ends”. A lot of work and a lot of money looks like it’s gone into this expensively-shot, well-choreographed and well-acted pilot episode, but it’s almost completely ruined by the lengthy trailer Fox released in advance – as someone who hasn’t read the source novel, I could have been thrilled and shocked so many times watching the episode, but since the trailer told me almost every major point of signicance beforehand, I was mostly just mildly entertained and never remotely surprised. Except maybe by the vamps taking over people’s dreams, which was properly scary and freaked me the hell out.
There’s something else that sets The Passage apart from your other basic apocalyptic vamp/virus tv shows that even the trailer couldn’t ruin, though, and that’s the bond between Amy and Agent Zach/Brad, which could have come across as weird and forced, but instead feels unusually solid and sincere almost immediately. Saniyya Sidney and Mark-Paul Gosselaar play off each other beautifully, and their scenes together are very sweet and often quite moving (even when they’re hurtling about the country trying not to get captured by evil government agents).
I’ve seen a lot of dramas about the end of the world – pre, post and peri – and they only ever work if they have characters and relationships (of whatever sort) you care about. The other characters in The Passage I’m not remotely bothered about at the moment – the ex-wife, ex-BFF Richards and everyone at Noah are all a bit perfunctory so far – but after this first instalment, I care about Amy and Agent Zach/Brad a whole lot, so if The Passage focuses on them and they keep being lovely together, I’m in. I don’t think I’ll be reviewing every week but, for now at least, I think I’ll be watching.