Sanctuary is not a groundbreaking show, but it has a charm that cannot be denied. I have always said that the first season of any show (especially a sci-fi show) can be a bit ropey. But with Sanctuary and its developing plot, there is great potential there. So even though, I was not blown away by the first season, I am still intrigued to see where they will go with many storylines that have been established.
Sanctuary follows Dr Magus, who works at a research facility called the Sanctuary. Here, she with a team including her daughter, investigate monsters or as she affectionately calls them “abnormals”. They track down abnormals to learn more about their genetic makeup, but also to provide a safe haven for them to live.
But not all abnormals are benign in nature, with many posing a great threat to humanity. On the opposing side, the cabal seeks to dominate or destroy abnormals for their own selfish gains. Dr Magus and her team are the only ones who may be able to stop an all-out war between humanity and the abnormals.
Unfortunately, Sanctuary cannot be praised for its originality. The story about monsters that are misunderstood has been done countless times before, such as X-Men or the lesser-known Dark Angel. But I do find its approach to be interesting. Rather than portraying all abnormals as out of control, a large portion of the abnormal population is fairly ordinary with just unusual appearances or abilities.
When they are a threat to humans, it often has a reason that you can sympathise with. Even the one egomaniac that might be a potential threat to humanity and the supernatural beings, his race was exterminated. So there are no clear cut black and white lines being drawn in this. Even the Cabal, who are the more clear cut evil antagonists in this, we don’t know much about their goals as of yet. Though it is clear that they definitely fear the abnormals.
My first impressions of all the characters were not favourable. Though I was very impressed with Amanda Tapping managing to sustain an English accent, and thoroughly immersing herself into the Helen Magus character, I forgot about her previous role as Carter in Stargate. Unfortunately the same could not be said for the rest of the characters.
Her daughter, Ashley Magnus, does not seem to have that much depth to her that does not revolve around her mother. Apart from her scenes kicking abnormal or human ass, there is not much development with her character’s arc. There is a brief sub-story where she feels betrayed by her mother, but it seems like this is so forgotten as they pivot to other characters.
But perhaps my least favourite of all the characters is Dr Zimmerman, who has the emotional depth of a doorstop at the best of times. He is given a backstory in which his mother was killed brutally and is still haunted by it. Perhaps this is why he pursued a career in police work. Nevertheless, the actor does not seem to be able to do much with it, feeling very cardboard in every scene that requires emotional acting.
It probably doesn’t help that he feels like a poor man’s Sherlock Holmes. His gift to this team is to notice details that no one else can, but the showrunners never really amplify this in the show. Most of his conclusions seem rather rudimentary that any investigative person could figure out. It does not take a genius to figure out someone is scared when people are getting killed all around that person.
Thankfully though Helen Magus and the rest of the recurring characters in this manage to gloss over any cracks that are present in other characters. With a lot of characters who are integral to the story in this, it is probably more to do with trying to cram all their backstories into one season that made a few of them feel incomplete.
As a fan of practical effects over CGI, Sanctuary can be a bit disappointing at times. They rely heavily on green screen for a lot of the backdrops and the monsters are nearly always CGI. Due to this, you are usually very aware that large portions of it are computer-generated. It is a shame, as I think if they have used real locations, it would be much easier to forgive the CGI. The CGI on the monsters tends to vary in quality, with some looking a bit cartoonish, but others more chillingly scary. But this is not a show for terrifying monsters, so I was not expecting great effects, but it does take you out of the show a lot.
Sanctuary does have a lot of flaws with it, but as I said, this could just be its growing pains in the first season. Most sci-fi shows do not have a large budget to work with, so you have to be more forgiving than with other shows. It is really the story that they are building that draws you in wanting to know more.
You find out several facts about all the characters, but there are still mysteries that have not been revealed. I find myself desperate to know what the Cabal’s ultimate end goal is, as it is clear they have much bigger plans than is being revealed. As well as how other powerful characters’ goals might intersect with both Sanctuary’s or the Cabal’s plans. Due to this, I do not doubt that the second season will up the ante on all the groundwork that they have laid, so I am excited to see where each character develops.
Sanctuary is a sci-fi show that may be flawed but is still addictive to watch despite all of this.
Sanctuary Season 1 is available to stream on Prime Video in the US and to buy on Prime Video UK.