*This review contains spoilers*
Fox's new show 'The Passage' based on Justin Cronin's best-selling trilogy of the same name is a wonderful mix of science fiction, supernatural, and the dystopian genre. And true to its essence of horror that the genres call for, without diving into cliches, the second episode of 'The Passage's debut season finally brings in the elements of gore alongside a nuanced backstory unfolding.
The official synopsis of 'The Passage' describes it as "an epic, character‐driven thriller about a secret government medical facility experimenting with a dangerous virus that could either cure all disease or cause the downfall of the human race. It leads with the story of a 10‐year‐old girl named Amy Bellafonte (Saniyya Sidney), who is chosen to be a test subject for Project NOAH and Brad Wolgast (Gosselaar), the federal agent who becomes her surrogate father as he tries to protect her."
It is this very dangerous virus, derived from a South American bat which is believed to be the origins of the vampire legend, that proves to be the reason behind the destruction and havoc wreaking upon the world, instead of providing a cure to all diseases as it was expected to. Episode 2 of 'The Passage' - You Owe Me a Unicorn'- takes us into the past of Dr. Tim Fanning (Jamie McShane) - the scientist with a gigantic ego and even bigger ambition - who teamed with his best friend, Jonas Lear (Henry Ian Cusick) and started Project NOAH.
In the first episode, when we are introduced to Fanning, we see him as the pale-skinned monster with sinister golden eyes and a network of veins crisscrossing across his face like streaks of lightning. It is established that Fanning also is crumbling under the impact of the virus and has turned into a superhuman monster along with the other subjects of the experiment - a development that the second episodes aims to explain with references from his past.
Fanning's backstory shows him to be somewhat of a haughty, fame-thirsty human, interested in the lucrative potentials of the 'cure for everything.' In that, Fanning isn't looking to discover the cure to help humanity, it's more for personal gains in terms of fame and money. This proves that even though he wasn't always physically a monster the way he is in the show's present, but he was a bigger monster on the inside. It was probably his monstrous ego that led him to rush into the enclosure of one of the subjects infiltrated with the alpha-vampire virus, and the rest is an exact retelling of how we have always witnessed vampires getting 'turned' on screen.
With Fanning having turned from evil mastermind to Patient Zero, the establishment of gory essences in the story becomes crucial, because what would a vampire story be without gritty sequences of bloodsucking and feeding right? The narrative soon shifts to the present and we see Vampire Fanning along with his sort-of-sidekick, Babcock (Brianne Howey), going about their usual quenching of thirst in the rest of the episode. In a very bad-vamp, good-vamp style, we see the two of them teaming up to lure fellow subject, Carter (McKinley Belcher III) - who has been recently infiltrated with the vampire-virus - into the web of their mini-mutiny, but they are only met with reluctance from his side.
This sequence is vital to the plot and not just a portrayal of agitated test subjects because it is here that we get the first whiff of the intentions of these monsters bordering between the realms of human and supernatural. We know they aren't entirely like humanoid zombies devoid of any thought process, and that's what makes them even more dangerous. Let's add to that the bonus of Babcock feeding on a creepy, bullying maintenance worker, and voila! Classic horror.
Both the timing and execution of the sequence are impeccable here; the lithe and sickly Babcock taking over the burlesque bully of a maintenance worker is a scene filled with karmic release and despite its elements of blood and gore, makes for a calming watch. Much like vampire Fanning's quick mind, Babcock's thought process is strategized and cunning. Viewers can tell that she has thought about this and put some intense planning into how she's going to take down her enemies, and at that moment, the flicker of ruthlessness in her gaze adds to the intensity of the scene, as it warns us of just exactly how powerful these test subjects have become.
It is the simple storytelling format that makes 'The Passage' so perfect for a lazy-afternoon thriller watch. Meanwhile, the show also goes about experimenting with non-linear narratives and expected, yet unsettling jump scares, and that's exactly what makes everything about it so gripping. There's also the simultaneous portrayal of the father-daughter bond developing between Amy and Brad, and Jonas Lear's guilt is the ship that sails most of the story through its second episode. The show's pace, so far, is quite well spaced out and it manages to ace when it comes to sprinkling elements of the various genres, and seeing all the action unfold in an apocalyptic climate only adds to the excitement.