Divine: The Series
A little over two months ago I was asked to review a relatively new web series that had recently finished its first season run. Yes. Two months ago. Sorry about that Swoots. Normally I relish the challenge of watching and analyzing a show oriented around the supernatural, especially one that has the casting coup of everyone’s favorite Angel/God, Misha Collins. Yet in this case, something was keeping me from feeling the urge to devour the episodes, as I would, say, with a new season of the Guild.
I finally figured out what it was and can thankfully say: don’t do as I did. Fire up your browser and tear your way through the six episodes on offer until season two rolls around.
Divine: The Series was written by Ivan Hayden (visual effects supervisor on Supernatural) and Kirk Jacques, directed by Hayden, and created and produced by Hayden, Jacques, Collins, and Jason Fischer (production coordinator on Supernatural).
The story follows the travails of three priests in a run-down mission on the wrong side of the tracks, who endeavor to care for a being (angel? miracle?) named Divine, who walks the streets protecting the innocent (and penitent) from the demonic creatures who threaten humanity. The narrative employs a modernist (and post-modernist) conceit of non-linear storytelling, dropping the viewer in the midst of a plot stream, with few clear indicators throughout the series as to the chronological orientation of each episode. Hayden, in one of the making of videos, asserts that time is of no consequence, with each episode dropping more clues about who these people are, what brought them to this religious outpost, and what the mission of the divine creature really entails.
Before I detail the things the series does well, let me first tackle that which kept me procrastinating the task at hand. The series is incredibly smart to drop Misha Collins into the first episode, ensuring that the rabid Castiel/Supernatural fan base will be hooked from the outset. It is unfortunately in this initial episode that the miscast character of Jin first appears. Actress Chasty Ballesteros sets the mood as the episode’s first speaker and it is so tonally ill judged that if it wasn’t for the presence of Collins you might be tempted to simply leave at the outset. The typical Jin line delivery is to scream, and said delivery is so wooden, for a character that seems such a cliché, that it takes a monumental effort to get past it and to keep watching. I am loath to call out just one person as the primary problem with a show, but every time Ballesteros is on-screen the story withers. Even the scenery chewing character of Jack in episode 2 can’t steal her crown. What makes it all the worse is that, for the most part, she is surrounded by people who can act, which makes the character stand out in ways that it simply wasn’t meant to.
However, there are enough things done well in the series that you shouldn’t let Jin keep you from watching. Granted, it took me two months to reach that point.
The visual effects are rather stunning for a web series, especially in episode two. It’s not at all surprising to discover that many of the cast and crew have worked on Supernatural because this series feels like an offshoot of that. Hayden has said that he wanted the series to feel like a graphic novel and it does – the atmosphere, the characters, the narrative could all easily grace the pages of a comic book that explores demons and divinity.
The three actors who play the priests (Misha Collins, Allen Sawkins, and Ben Hollingsworth) are the strongest of the ensemble and ensure that the episodes tie together in a way that keeps audience interest. In fact, I would argue that Hollingsworth’s arrival in episode three, as Father Andrew, is the moment that the storyline becomes more than supernatural special effects and actually begins to explore the mythology and purpose behind the show. It was episode three that changed my mind about the series and led me to watch the rest posthaste.
However, season one is not going to tie things together in a neat bow – if you’re looking for answers you’re going to need to wait for season two. Season one delivers many mysteries, which are augmented by the non-linear approach to storytelling. It’s a bold move, spending a season of episodes establishing a foundation, unsure of what will happen with the viewership, but I guess that’s a benefit to a web series – you’re not tied to a network and its rating requirements.
So my overall verdict: definitely watchable, if you can get past the initial acting hitch at the outset. If you’re not convinced by the first two episodes, hang in there for episode three and the narrative development. The special effects are fantastic, as is the music, and if you can get hooked by the storyline, then you’ll look forward to the next season.