By Nick Schager
November 01, 2019 at 09:00 AM EDT
Apple TV +

See

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As the story of a blind civilization potentially redeemed by the arrival of its youngest visionary members, who are viewed as an evil threat by the old guard, See inevitably feels like a metaphor for Apple TV+ and its hopes of revolutionizing the streaming-service landscape it’s just joined. If that sounds like a bit of stretch, it’s nonetheless in keeping with the grand ambitions of both the platform and See itself, a new dystopian series from Peaky Blinders and Taboo mastermind Steven Knight that stars Jason Momoa as the leader of a tribe of humans who, in a distant future, exist in total darkness.

That post-apocalyptic state of affairs was brought about by a 21st-century virus that — as explained by the debut episode’s opening text — reduced the planet’s population to less than two million. Those that survived emerged blind, and centuries later, the entire concept of vision is treated as a profane myth. Certainly, no one is discussing it in Alkenny Village, an outpost in the Payan Kingdom that sits at the base of towering snow-capped mountains and is surrounded by dense forests. It’s a place built out of wood and stone by its inhabitants, who dress in animal fur and bone jewelry, and whose faces are most notable for their deep scars and milky eyes.

In a cave, Maghra (Hera Hilmar) calls for the aid of Paris (Alfre Woodard), an oracle of sorts whom Maghra later says, “talks to birds and hears the future in your sleep.” For now, Paris is there not to foretell tomorrow but to deliver Maghra’s baby in a fire-lit cave. Maghra wants her offspring’s father to be by her side, but the bellowing sound of a horn indicates that that won’t happen; as Paris explains, a raiding party populated by men, horses, and dogs is coming toward the valley, and a defense must be mounted.

In charge of that effort is Baba Voss (Momoa), a towering badass commander with a bushy beard and man bun, as well as armbands decorated with gigantic animal claws and an enormous blade across his shoulder. Think Khal Drogo by way of Conan, except in more Lord of the Rings-via-Bird Box environs. Just as a sage knows the makeup of the encroaching army thanks to her intensely heightened senses, so too do Baba’s soldiers naturally fall in line behind him on the way to meet their adversaries. Unfortunately, they soon ascertain that it’s no mere raiding party; it’s actually an entire army. Thus, they prepare for battle in the dense forest, engaging in a tribal dance — think a Māori haka, but even more primal — in which they beat their chests and growl chants that would, in another world, serve as the perfect accompaniment to some death-metal guitar riffs.

As Paris helps Maghra deliver her progeny, she confesses that for three straight nights, an owl has told her that the witchfinders are on their way, and that “something tells me they come for you.” At that point, See cuts to the invaders, who are led by Tamacti Jun (Christian Camargo), the ponytailed Witchfinder General, who seeks a heretic that killed the sister of Queen Kane (Sylvia Hoeks). In his custody, Tamacti Jun has an Alkenny turncoat named Gether Bax (Mojean Aria), who — seeking a reward for the intel he possesses — informs Tamacti Jun that, at the end of winter, a three-months-pregnant woman (i.e. Maghra) wandered into Alkenny Village, and was taken in by Baba Voss because he always wanted to have children. Though Maghra never disclosed her baby’s biological father, she did have a necklace, which Gether Bax turns over to Tamacti Jun — and which boasts the name of the traitor they seek: Jerlamarel.

Back in the cave, Maghra delivers a son, only for Paris to discover that a second bun is in the oven, ready to come out. As that takes place, See segues to the forest, where Baba and his fierce comrades — crazy animalistic energy in their eyes — smear mud on their faces and, at the top of a rock wall on a sloped hill, engage the enemy. They do this first with men tied to ropes, who hang over the edge of the wall to strike at their adversaries below, and then in ferocious hand-to-hand combat, with Baba proving his lethal bona fides by stabbing his first victim with his armband claw, and then decapitating him with his blade. Helmed by Francis Lawrence (Constantine, the last two Hunger Games installments), the fighting is brutal and swift. While the warriors don’t have the gift of sight, that only means their initial contact with the opposition is slightly halted; for the most part, it’s difficult to tell that they can’t actually see what they’re doing.

Baba and company win this skirmish by causing the rock wall to collapse into hundreds of rolling boulders that wipe out the Witchfinder General’s battalion. As they retreat to the village, Maghra — compelled by tradition that says newborns must hear the names of their true father — confesses to Paris that her kids’ true daddy is Jerlamarel. Baba, meanwhile, tells parliament that the Witchfinder General will be mounting another siege as soon as the rain subsides and that everyone must prepare. He takes a moment to visit with Maghra and the newborns — embodiments of life at the moment of impending clan extinction — and, afterward, discovers that parliament has decided that the Witchfinder General only could have arrived because there are actual witches in the village. Namely, Maghra’s babies.

A standoff ensues between Baba (and a few loyal comrades) and the rest of the village, but before they can come to blows, Paris informs everyone that they’re not actually trapped in Alkenny; though they’ve historically believed there was only one way in and out of the village, the man who brought Maghra to Alkenny (i.e. Jerlamarel) actually told Paris about a bridge that he built over a roaring ravine that can grant them safe passage. Most are skeptical about this, given that it seems impossible for a single man to have performed such a feat. Yet with few options, they pack up and head for the bridge, which does exist. A few token casualties aside, they make it safely across the bridge before Tamacti Jun and his dogs can stop them. Baba then cuts the bridge down — although first, he lets Gether Bax cross over, assuming that he was an unwilling prisoner rather than a collaborator.

Thwarted, Tamacti Jun sends word via hawk to Queen Kane, whom we meet in her palace at Kanzua Dam, an ancient edifice of concrete and metal whose gears still turn. Bald except for a long ponytail, Kane is robed in a feathery shawl by her minions and then sits in a chair where — in the craziest moment of a pretty crazy premiere — she spreads her legs, licks her hand, and proceeds to pleasure herself while praying to God, thanking him for the “Godflame” he’s granted them, and asking him to condemn those who trespass against them. She then orgasms, licks her finger, and says “Amen.” Seriously.

Now that Queen Kane has been established as a demented ruler, she receives Tamacti Jun’s message and oversees a meeting with her cabinet in a dark room illuminated by two rows of fire and featuring a wall full of giant knotted ropes. They have a conversation about the “devil” Jerlamarel, who murdered her sis and preached the “vision heresy,” and debate whether he could have passed his power of light on to his progeny. No one quite knows if that’s possible, and we learn that Jerlamarel was born to a slave and fed the queen and her servants in this very room. It’s suggested by Kane’s right-hand man that Jerlamarel may not have even been able to see (after all, who could verify it if everyone else is blind?). Kane, however, is sure that he was what he said he was.

Kane then explains (to us, primarily) that in the past, men used the power of sight to almost destroy the world, burning forests and polluting the air. She demands that Tamacti Jun be informed of his new mission: find the babies and bring them to her.

At this point, See returns to Baba and his caravan. Maghra tells her nomadic compatriots about Jerlamarel, and over the course of 30 days and nights, they follow windchime-like markers left by Jerlamarel to a secure clearing protected by a waterfall, where the mystery man has left them supplies to build a new village. Paris informs Baba that though this feels like paradise, “you will be chief of a tribe that must hide from the world, and the witchfinders, forever.”

Vigilance is, therefore, the order of the day. Still, at episode’s close, Baba is seen holding his two adopted children, basking in the sun’s rays — a moment of bliss that’s complicated by the final image of one of the infants staring up at an airborne hawk, which it sees.

Second Sight:

  • Despite this taking place in a future far removed from our present, it’s good to know that some contemporary things are eternal — like car tires, which (because they don’t decompose) are part of the supplies Jerlamarel leaves for Baba and his tribe.
  • Queen Kane is introduced listening to a record, meaning that at least some old-world electric tech has survived, at least in locales like the Kanzua.
  • Without sight — and, consequently, no traditional written language — humanity has adjusted by using knotted strings and rope as a method of communication. It’ll be interesting to see if we get more details about this technique as the series progresses.

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