Welcome Sanctuary fans,
We continue our special review series with focus on Sanctuary at Comic-Con in general and Penance in specific. Several of our team are currently in San Diego for Comic-Con. WHR is very much looking forward to the Sanctuary panel Saturday July 24, 2010.
I myself am looking forward to Vancouver for the fabulous “The Sanctuary Experience” also known in the Sanctuary fandom as TSE or Vanctuary. You don’t have to be an abnormal like me to know that Sanctuary is a fantastic show and I hope you enjoy my analysis. Thank you for reading.
When I first heard about this episode, the actual name did not hold much water for me. Instead, the excitement stemmed from what we, the fans thought would be a reunion between former SG1 stars, Amanda Tapping and Michael Shanks.
In the very first scene, the ease between these two actors perpetuated the long-time friendship that we as the audience needed to believe that their characters had. There was quick banter, genuine emotions, and even a “wink” to Stargate fans in a quick quip by James about Magnus’s hair (Shanks and Tapping respectively). I, and I’m sure countless other fans, had hoped to have an episode where Magnus and James worked together to battle the bad guys.
The idea that Shanks and Tapping were back on screen together made fandom go ecstatic.
The sad part, (which we didn’t know at the time) was that this would be the last time we’d see Magnus and James playfully chatting with one another; however, I was strangely satisfied in the end by how Shanks’ character was used to bring about a certain revelation about Kate.
The actors that shined in this episode were Agam Darshi and Michael Shanks. The rest of the cast as always, were good, but their roles were more part of the larger storyline, and not set deeply in the subplot that wove its way between Kate (Darshi) and James. Mind you, Amanda’s performance as Magnus when the lovely doctor showed her poker face, and pulled a bluff over The Duke, was superb. Even when she’s being quite forthright, she’s still wonderfully eloquent.
Before delving deeper, let me first acknowledge some of the people not on camera who rocked this episode. Writer, Alan McCullough provided throughout Penance, dynamic character development, witty zingers, and extraordinarily interesting twists and turns. Once mixed with the emotionally charged score by Andrew Lockington, and the well-crafted eye of director Brenton Spencer, I found myself, and I’m sure countless others, in unexpected tears by the end.
While we can never be sure just how much is real scenery, and how much Anthem is creating from green screen — because it’s absolutely flawless — when it came to James, we saw just how well equipped they are to turn an ordinary guy into an abnormal human being. As James reached effortlessly into his “pouch” to take out a canister that holds a mysterious fire element abnormal, visually it was seamless and looked strangely real.
Of course in true Sanctuary form, the fire element burning inside canister was not anything you’ve ever heard of before, but something you’re now intrigued to learn more about. However, also to true Sanctuary form, there was little time wasted on immediate explanation. Instead, to balance out the wonderfully chill conversation between James and Magnus, the energy picked up, and we’re thrown into heart-pumping action, with the intermittent wisecracks from Henry Foss (Ryan Robbins). “Eight scary looking dudes are searching the area.”
Visually there were three parts to this episode that stand out. The first being the opening shot. We begin by looking through binoculars, seeing into the world of the Sanctuary from the character’s viewpoint, and then through transitional images, we meet all of the primary characters before seamlessly transitioning into the episode. It’s a rapid-fire, gritty welcome that fits perfectly with the urgency of the episode.
The second was when James carries Kate over the threshold and into the dirty room: the quick shot to the doorknob, the split-second slow down as they walked over the threshold, and then the great use of the transitional images. What could have been a much longer, drawn out scene hesitates for a moment, allowing for the suspension to build, and for the audience to struggle keeping up. The third was the flashback to Kate’s dad’s death. You got to hand it to the team at Sanctuary productions, they truly understand the proper way to flashback, so that it does not detract from the episode, but rather goes back to move forward.
Throughout the episode, the core Sanctuary team kept us rooted to the main idea that flows through the entire show: Sanctuary for all is not an empty motto. Indeed, they get themselves in heaps of messes with all types of abnormals, and this episode is no different. We meet The Duke (Aleks Paunovic), an interesting abnormal who is so volatile, that he’s actually radioactive. Paunovic’s performance was stellar. As he beat the guy senseless with the golfclub, and then sat back and asked for a new one, he seemed to channel both Tony Soprano and the godfather all in one “mobster monster” package.
At it’s heart, this episode had a reverent story about two people who should have never met, and now were forced to confront the truth. Every time we cut back to Magnus, Will (Robin Dunne), or Henry, I longed for them to get back to Kate and James. I wanted to see what was happening there. Would he save her? Would she live? What information were we going to learn in this seemingly benign twist of fate? Not to mention, the interactions between Kate and James were exceptionally down to earth, and provided us with a bit more of a feeling for who Kate was. We find out just why she has become so tough, and then we are confronted (just as she is) with the person responsible — James.
Andrew Lockington takes us on a musical journey throughout all of this, through heavily charged rapid music, to more subdued tones. The score itself also works well to differentiate the two plot lines that are running concurrently. If you listen closely, the music changes between subplots, keeping our heart pounding as the Sanctuary team deals with trying to find Kate and James, saving Will, and trying to apprehend The Duke, while bringing in subtle hints of chanting as Kate relives her past, and makes the horrid discovery that James was the one who killed her father.
In the end, however, it is not Magnus and her band of merry abnormal hunters that save the day, but rather the unlikely James, who swoops in and with one final soft crooked smile, steps into the car with the Abnormal Mafia, and out of Magnus’ life forever. It was a heart-wrenching moment when Magnus understood that James had removed the canister that held the fire abnormal (which “made weapon grade plutonium look like lamp oil”), and had replaced it with a bomb.
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