THE PASSAGE: Mark-Paul Gosselaar in the “You Owe Me a Unicorn” episode of THE PASSAGE

The Passage Review: Pilot / You Owe Me a Unicorn (Season 1 Episodes 1 and 2)

Reviews, The Passage

The Passage had me at vampires at Mark-Paul Gosselaar, but after just two episodes, I’m sold on this new drama for the complexity of its characters, the suspense, and the psychological questions.

Full disclosure: I’ve read a portion of the first book in the series, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten at this point. So I’m not even going to attempt to discuss similarities and differences from the book, though many are already apparent based on the little I’ve read so far. I may wait until this first season is finished before returning to the book so it won’t color my opinions.

The new series, which is based on the novel trilogy of the same name by Justin Cronin, premiered last week. This show could have been hit or miss pretty easily. We’ve seen plenty of TV shows tackle the supernatural in ways that felt too forced or too silly. That’s not the case on The Passage Season 1 Episode 1, “Pilot,” or The Passage Season 1 Episode 2, “You Owe Me a Unicorn.”

What The Passage does to avoid this, first and foremost, is to focus its energy on the characters. The vampires, as everyone is so hesitant to call them so far, aren’t entirely the point.

THE PASSAGE: Brianne Howey in the “You Owe Me a Unicorn” episode of THE PASSAGE
THE PASSAGE: Brianne Howey in the “You Owe Me a Unicorn” episode of THE PASSAGE airing Monday, Jan. 21 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.© 2019 FOX Broadcasting. Cr: Erika Doss / FOX.

With a strong and diverse cast, this is a story of a man whose life has fallen apart and the little girl who needs someone like him to look after her. Brad and Amy’s connection is the driving the force of the story and what gives the story its heart. Their relationship is endearing, and they understand each other in a way no one else really can. 

Mark-Paul Gosselaar is remarkable in the role of Brad Wolgast. Even though we’re only two episodes in, this might just be the best role he’s ever played on television (most recent credits include Pitch and Franklin & Bash).

The anger, the heartbreak, and the love he shows for Amy provoke a visceral reaction in the audience — you can’t help but empathize with him at every turn, even when he yells, smashes his phone, and throws it out the window. Because while that anger is difficult to watch, but it comes from a place of love for this little girl he’s decided he must protect at all costs.

Brad: It’s so clear to me that what I’m supposed to do right now is to make sure that she’s safe.

The Passage Season 1 Episode 1 Pilot - Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Saniyya Sidney
THE PASSAGE: L-R: Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Saniyya Sidney in THE PASSAGE © 2019 FOX Broadcasting. CR: Eliza Morse / FOX

Now, let’s talk about Amy Bellafonte for a moment. Saniyya Sidney plays this smart, tough, adorable little girl incredibly well. She’s lost her mother, and now she’s been kidnapped, though she didn’t exactly make that easy.

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She’s so clever — from her efforts to try to get away when Brad and his partner first show up, to the way she elaborates on Brad’s story to the teachers about being a newly single dad who’s struggling to keep everything together. 

And while the phone call when Brad pulls over and passes out is ultimately a bad thing, it’s smart of Amy to think of calling Brad’s ex-wife — understanding that would be a person she could ask for help over anyone else.

She may be a young girl, but she’s got a strong instinct for survival. She trusts Brad for a reason early on. She also isn’t afraid to speak up for herself, and Brad definitely owes her a unicorn.

I hope she gets it at some point.

THE PASSAGE: L-R: Saniyya Sidney and Mak-Paul Gosselaar in THE PASSAGE on FOX. ©2018 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Steve Dietl/FOX

The second episode ends with Brad surrendering to protect Amy, and Amy has the chance to escape with Lila. But she’d made a promise to Brad earlier — if he doesn’t leave her, she won’t leave him. 

So she surrenders too, and they are taken away together. 

This is all just the beginning of the story, and what’s happening elsewhere explains why Brad needs to protect Amy in the first place. 

Because elsewhere, we have a modern vampire story that revolves around a government experiment that turns people — in this case, death row inmates — into vampires.

Once people are turned into vampires under this experiment, they are cured of any other ailments and cured remarkably quickly. The side effects, of course, aren’t worth it by a long shot.

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The idea behind this is fundamental to so many stories: what would it mean if we could live forever? And what’s the price of immortality?

Even the oldest vampire stories get at this idea, and The Passage does it in a modern way that involves science, making the whole thing feel believable enough to give you nightmares.

The characters involved in the experiment — both the doctors and the most recent subject of the experiment, Anthony Carter, as just as complex and worth investing your time in. Carter is a death row inmate who trades execution for something unknown, a decision he seems to already be regretting.

The Passage Season 1 Episode 1 Pilot
THE PASSAGE: McKinley Belcher III in THE PASSAGE © 2019 FOX Broadcasting. CR: Eliza Morse / FOX

At the facility, he realizes he’s being treated much like a lab rat, and he’s already questioning the legality of what’s happening. It’s all so secretive, and why inmates? Carter, played by McKinley Belcher III, has a sadness about him already, and the slow realizations he’s having feel haunting.

The dreams he has are especially significant. He gets a few more hints about what’s happening to him, including the concept of giving up pieces of himself, and he sees the same man — Dr. Tim Fanning (Jamie McShane) — who has a message for Henry Ian Cusick’s Jonas. 

He’s already changed the world.

Jonas is another standout character at this point, and we’re already learning about his backstory and why he become involved in this project in the first place. As one might expect, it’s very personal. It’s because of his wife.

But Jonas isn’t fully on board with everything. The experiment is one thing when it’s death row inmates, but now that a child is involved, he’s questioning it, while Dr. Sykes (Caroline Chikezie), is remaining focused on the big picture of doing what she believes is good for the world.

Jonas: We’re not qualified to decide what’s right or wrong, because we don’t know the difference anymore.

THE PASSAGE: L-R: Caroline Chikezie and Henry Ian Cusick © 2019 FOX Broadcasting. Cr: Erika Doss / FOX.

Though these ideas are centered on vampires and far-fetched government experiments, they are no less universal. Moral grey areas, wanting to save the ones you love, and again, the question of what it would mean to live forever — those are ideas we can all connect to. 

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Everything is working together and executed in a way that makes The Passage one of the most engaging shows I’ve seen in a long time — and I watch a lot of television. 

Stray thoughts:

  • It’s too bad we lose Lacey so quickly. It speaks volumes how tragic her death is considering we met and lost her all in one episode. What an excellent character.
  • These vampires are pretty damn terrifying. Also, why on earth would you provoke one?!

What did you think of this episode of The Passage? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Reviewer Rating:

User Rating:

[Total: 5    Average: 3.6/5]


The Passage airs Mondays at 9/8c on FOX.

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Ashley Bissette Sumerel

Ashley is the founder and editor-in-chief of Tell-Tale TV as well as an English Instructor with degrees in Literature, Creative Writing, and Cultural Studies. She'll never grow tired of watching Gilmore Girls and is happy to talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer for as long as anyone is willing to listen. Ashley is also a member of the BTJA (Critics Choice).

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