Vampires, witches, werewolves: These otherworldly beings have had their time on television, many of them on The CW. Now the home of The Vampire Diaries enters new territory, with supernatural beings who are a little more godly.
The Messengers’ heavy mythology gives its pilot momentum. Something strange happens to a group of people (all young and attractive because it is The CW, after all) and as it unfolds for them, so it does for the rest of the audience. The premise is mysterious enough to keep things intriguing for the show’s first entry, but its challenge will be holding onto that momentum and making sure it doesn’t take the show off the rails.
An explosion hits Earth, affecting only five people in different places around the United States, all from varying backgrounds: a federal agent (JD Pardo), a mother (Sofia Black-D’Elia), a budding televangelist (Jon Fletcher), a troubled high schooler (Joel Courtney), and a scientist whose soap-operatic history comes out of nowhere (Shantel VanSanten). Each has a backstory that is not all sunshine and lollipops. Their pulses stop: It’s assumed they are dead, but they’re being reborn in a way. All of a sudden, they wake up and start experiencing new phenomena, from super-strength to telepathy. What connects them all, though, are the translucent wings that appear on their backs—reflected in mirrors or windows. Some of these people see their new reflective features; some aren’t yet aware. Their newfound status somehow finds them all heading to Houston.
While it’s never explicitly stated—yet, anyway—that these people are angels, one of the more interesting aspects of The Messengers is that none of them are perfect. Each person is introduced in a precarious situation, but the path-setting decisions they make after the “incident” are morally ambiguous. Courtney’s Peter is attacked by his tormenter and uses his recently discovered strength to beat the ever-loving shit out of the guy. TV preacher Joshua has perhaps the most interesting reaction to his almost-death experience: He envisions the apocalypse, even as his father (who’s in the same line of work) warns that they are there to offer hope. Joshua holds a certain amount of power through his profession, and he’s menacing in his intensity about what he foresees. Angelic, these people are not.
Pushing the moral ambiguity is the camp factory known as The Man (Diogo Morgado)—the product of the explosion that kicks everything up into high gear—who seems happy to incite the darker side of these chosen people. Morgado, ironically enough, played Jesus in Roma Downey and Mark Burnett’s The Bible (as well as the subsequent theatrical re-cut, Son Of God), but in The Messengers he literally has fire in his eyes. Morgado smirks his way through The Messengers, eventually revealing his true goal: a vendetta against a young nurse (Anna Diop) who was shot outside of her hospital seven years prior to his arrival on Earth.
There’s also little talk of God in the outset. Any kind of Christianity is only mentioned by Joshua out of professional need. It’s hard to judge from the pilot alone, but common sense about the brand CW wants to push is not of the Downey and Burnett variety, which in recent months introduced religiously themed TV like A.D. and The Dovekeepers. The mythology surrounding popular notions of angels and absolute evil will certainly be an interesting landmine for creator Eoghan O’Donnell and executive producer Trey Callaway. But the CW has dealt with such issues before, namely in Supernatural, where Callaway once hung his hat. That show has introduced biblical elements, while simultaneously avoiding any concrete talk of religion.
With such a complicated subject matter, The Messengers certainly has its work cut out for it to stay coherent while still staying accessible. But the pilot moves briskly enough, keeping up the desire to learn how these people deal with their newfound powers and identities, and how they will react when The Man comes a-calling.