At first glance, Apple TV+’s sci-fi/fantasy series See has an intriguing premise: after centuries of innovation and progress, humanity’s ambitions led to catastrophe, illness and destruction, that left the entire population of Earth struck blind and meant subsequent generations (now born without sight) regressed to a primitive, tribal existence.
In See, we catch up with a tribe led by Game of Thrones and Aquaman star Jason Momoa, aka Baba Voss, a warlord with a dark past who comes to realise that his adopted children may have the legendary, feared and forbidden ability of sight – and tries his best to protect them from evil forces who would destroy them or exploit them for their own ends.
And yes, a world without sight, built entirely around touch and hearing, is a very strong concept for a sci-fi or fantasy dystopia. Sight as a superpower? Ingenious. It’s just a shame that See doesn’t have the worldbuilding nous to make it actually seem convincing.
You see, despite cast workshops, the involvement of partially sighted actors and blindness advocates on set, the visionless world developed in See is never really convincingly or consistently portrayed.
Sometimes, the actors are struggling through environments on their hands and knees, using clever techniques to talk to each other or utilising a form of knotted rope communication (which may be borrowed from the Incas) to pass on messages – at other times, however, they’re engaging in pitched, organised battles against multiple foes, using whips, swords and siege ladders, attacking their foes while bedecked in war paint that nobody can see.
Click on a trailer (though not Apple’s own, given that they’ve turned off the comments on YouTube) and you’ll find disbelieving viewers wondering why a sightless society has developed complex ceremonial costumes, or used flaming torches to illuminate caves that they can’t see, or is able to engage in swordplay, or ride horses, or train horses for that matter.
Often, the limitations of this sightless world are obvious and interesting – Baba Voss is able to hide in plain sight on a bridge if he keeps quiet, a traitor rejoins his tribe based on voice alone, and the citizens of this world use some pretty ingenious techniques to find their way through the landscape.
But unfortunately the show only wants to apply these rules sporadically, sometimes realistically portraying the limitations of its characters and sometimes just letting them do what they want, like gallop horses through the woods, fight their way through their foes and deliver stagey public executions that, once again, no-one can see.
Maybe none of this would matter if See was well-made and well-acted, but unfortunately that’s not the case either. Apparently, the series cost around $15 million dollars an episode to make – not far off later series of Game of Thrones – but (perhaps ironically) there’s no visible sign of this excess on screen as morose actors shuffle across drab forests, fields and rock faces in generic hand-stitched tribal clothing.
One scene where the Alkane tribe rejoice at their paradise of a new home is almost comical, with the actors just… standing in a field near some tree stumps in a wide open area. While some of the expense of filming may have come from shooting in largely untouched regions of Vancouver, British Columbia, onscreen they just come across as similarly grey, damp and not particularly interesting locations. Never before have I so appreciated the location scouts on a show like Game of Thrones.
And the performances are equally underwhelming. In case I haven’t made this clear, this is the sort of post-apocalyptic world where everyone talks breathlessly and earnestly in made-up slang about “the ancestors” and refers to each other by their full names at all times, creating a heightened tone devoid of any (intentional) humour or nuance.
Of the two main stars, Momoa is somewhat mumbly and bland but basically fine as Baba Voss (inexplicably, he at one point fights a bear hand-to-hand), but Alfre Woodard – a veteran of stage and screen and an Oscar nominee – more or less shouts her way through her role as wise woman Paris, who drones on endlessly about destiny and the new world when she’s not making bizarre, inexplicable remarks.
“That’s not what the owls tell me!” she proclaims when a young woman claims not to know the parentage of her new babies – there is no previous context to her relationship with owls.
When I watched the first episode of See, I genuinely thought it might be one of the worst things I’d ever watched in a professional capacity. Later, I’ll admit, I was more drawn in, and some of the ingenuity of the visionless world (even without a sense of consistency) was interesting to uncover.
But overall this is still a boring, muddled creation of a show that’s filled with attempted shock moments (there’s a bit of masturbation and incest and some nasty gore) and philosophical musings that never really hit home. It doesn’t look that interesting, the characters aren’t that interesting and the story certainly isn’t that interesting.
Maybe it would have worked better as a book – but this particular version of the story certainly isn’t a must-see.
See streams on the Apple TV+ app from Friday 1st November