I do see a lot of TV pilot screenplays. Most I just read as “deep research.” Some I address explicitly in various stories for the site, perhaps where you might not expect it. This one, though, I’m going to write about, all by itself.
Because right there on the title page it says “Based on the Graphic Novel by Avatar Press” and, frankly, I thought somebody might have told me about this by now. But no. It was a real surprise.
I never read Christos Gage’s original comics, so I came into this teleplay – written by Gage and his wife, Ruth Fletcher Gage – absolutely ice cold. I didn’t even know what genre the show has been designed to fit in. I expected it wasn’t going to be a rival for The Mindy Project or New Girl, not with this title, but really, that was all I had to work with in the beginning.
The first scenes, the teaser designed to play before the opening credits and first batch of commercials, read mostly like a police actioner. Mostly. We open with a sorta-kinda SWAT team raid on an apartment building. They’re here to intervene in a hostage situation. A desperate man with a semi-automatic rifle is posing a threat to his ex-wife and kids.
And then we meet John Dusk, the commander of the squad sent in to resolve this stand off. And then we find out that John Dusk has Powers.
That’s my capital P in Powers. I’m talking about the kind of powers that used to always come with capes, cute names and aliases. John Dusk, specifically, has an aura, a kind of energy shield that he can use to deflect bullets, pin people to the wall, throw them into the sky, even punch or spear them. To my relatively unschooled mind it has some similarities to what a Green Lantern can do, but it’s played more realistically.
Dusk has been employed to use his Power for the police. In the world portrayed in Absolution, anybody with a superpower has been sanctioned for service within the forces of law and order. This should not only keep them in line, it will also tap into their Powers for “the greater good.”
But the story soon shows us that, for all the capital P at his disposal, Dusk might be rather lacking in power with a lower case p.
As I understand it, there aren’t a lot of superpowered people in this world, so they keep getting rotated back into service. They’re going to see a lot more awful things than even the average special unit cop. Perhaps too much… and they aren’t being given a lot of choice about it. This reminded me of Stop Loss, and soldiers sent on tour of duty after tour of duty, and there really does seem to be a real risk of PTSD for these guys.
At the same time, Dusk is also starting to perceive the police force as impotent. He’s skewing towards a rather more hardline view on crime and justice. More absolute, I might say. And the law won’t permit John Dusk to exact justice as he sees fit. His version of that “greater good” idea is somewhat out of step with the law.
So what happens when a man with Powers finds out he hasn’t got enough power? It’s an interesting proposition and – no spoilers, I promise – has been very explosively dramatised.
In truth, you could take the Powers out and this could be about a man with an arsenal of deadly weapons deciding to take back power – in some respects, it’s as though Dusk is meeting his unfortunate shadow in the hostage scenario that opens up the pilot.
We’ve recently seen FX try and fail to get a pilot of Powers – no relation – onto our screens and this Autumn, Marvel are going to let loose with Agents of SHIELD. It seems like the deck is being stacked for something like Absolution, a next step deeper into the possibilities of superpowered TV. It’s not middle of the road stuff, but I know there’s a crowd out there that would eat this up. A show like this is going to be the next Walking Dead.
I was thinking that I’d ask my Avatar overlords nicely for some copies of the comics now, just so I could see how the story ends, but then I realised, actually, on TV, there’d be much more. The TV version wouldn’t have to wrap up in just six short instalments.
Luckily, then, there’s obvious potential for a long run. Potential in basic stuff like Dusk’s Powers – his aura does a lot in this pilot, and there are hints that it can manage even more; but also, most importantly, in the central dilemma. John Dusk discovers the powers that be don’t share his moral code, but he does have the Powers to do something about that…
I’m going to pester for some sort of behind the scenes word on what is happening with this pilot. It’ll be particularly fascinating to find out who has, or might be cast…