I wasn’t expecting much from a broadcast network drama that combines vampires, a global pandemic, Zack from Saved by the Bell, and E’s girlfriend on Entourage, but The Passage — based on the expansive Justin Cronin trilogy — not only contains a lot of promise, but the first two episodes are surprisingly good in and of themselves. In fact, The Passage contains some of the ingredients that initially made The Walking Dead so compelling, and the series-long mythology has a real shot of hooking viewers for the long-term, assuming that subsequent episodes (and seasons) can keep up this momentum.
Here’s a snapshot overview of the premise, which is still the series’ biggest lure. There’s an impending global pandemic — thousands are dying overseas — and within three months, the fatal flu is expected to reach the United States and wipe out the population. However, scientists in America — led by Desmond from Lost (Henry Ian Cusick) — have a potential secret weapon. Three years prior, they found a vampire-like creature in a cave in Bolivia, which bit one of their own, Dr. Tim Fanning (Jamie McShane), who not only stopped aging but became impervious to disease.
The cure for mortality, however, does not come without side effects, namely hideous features, the inability to speak, and a thirst for human blood (Oh, and also, they lose their teeth). The scientists, however, believe that they can modify this vampire virus to make everyone impervious to disease without any of the nasty side effects, like vampirism. Attempts to do so with death-row inmates, however, haven’t worked, although the scientists do discover that the younger the patient, the longer it takes before the side effects set in.
The ethically dubious solution, of course, is to test the cure on a child, which brings us to Brad (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), an FBI agent charged with retrieving an orphaned child, Amy Bellafonte (Saniyya Sidney) upon which they can test the cure. Unfortunately, the scientists picked the wrong goddamn FBI agent for the job, because Brad lost a child about Amy’s age not too long ago (how is still shrouded in mystery). He’s not about to give Amy up to the bad people with the lab coats until, of course, the men with guns (led by Vincent Piazza) working for the bad people with lab coats chase them across the country in an effort to nab Amy and shut Brad up, with deadly force if necessary.
(The cross-country trip, by the way, went through my hometown, and it’s super bizarre to see the name of a relatively unknown, small town show up on a network drama. Also, that’s not actually Benton, Arkansas.)
In any respect, the relationship between Brad and Amy (plus Brad’s ex-wife, played by Emmanuelle Chriqui) brings the end of the world events down to a more intimate level, and Gosselaar — as he was in Pitch two years ago — is surprisingly great in the role, while Saniyya Sidney is also terrific as the orphaned child. The cat-and-mouse game between Brad and the feds, however, won’t last long (in fact, it’s over by the second episode), and eventually, we’re likely to see what happens when Amy is injected with the “cure.”
Ultimately, it’s a race: Can the scientists find a cure for the global pandemic before it wipes out America, or will they inadvertently unleash a world-ending vampire virus in their efforts to do so? Either way, it sure feels like the end of the world as we know it, and with plenty of source material from which to work, The Passage is likely heading toward a postapocalyptic world that pits humans vs. vampires. If the show can maintain its breakneck speed and continue unspooling the plot at a fast clip without running out of kite string, I expect viewers will still be around to see it.