Thomas Wolfe wrote that you can’t go home again, however, “Coming Back,” the fourth episode of SyFy’s vampire drama Van Helsing, challenges that premise on a number of different levels. Having safely returned from their parts quest, Axel and Vanessa now must contend with a splintered group teetering on the edge of self-imposed implosion while an undercurrent of distrust festers barely below the surface.
On the one hand, it’s somewhat surprising that the two safely return to the hospital, though from a storytelling perspective it’s doubtful anyone would have suggested going to search for them even though they are most responsible for the pack still being alive. The episode’s title provides multiple layers of meaning, not the least of which implies that the hospital, for better or worse, has become home to the survivors. Nonetheless, Vanessa’s desire to find her daughter supersedes any part she may play in the group, and more importantly, in the odyssey to prevent the human race’s extinction.
It’s not clear whether or not Vanessa understands the role she potentially represents during this holocaust because, unlike Jessica Jones, whose reluctant hero persona permeates the eponymous Netflix superhero show, Vanessa faces much higher stakes as mankind’s savior. Nevertheless, to this point, she wants nothing to do with the messianic responsibility, especially now that she knows her daughter fled their apartment and may still be alive. Writer Jonathan Lloyd Walker’s decision to have Mohammed accompany her on the return to her apartment brilliantly sets up several potential personnel disruptions. With Vanessa captured at episode end, Mohammed returns to the fold, and while his emotional reunion with Sam certainly tugs at the viewer’s heartstrings, the young man seems less invested than his mentor.
And while the stakes continue to rise relative to Vanessa’s inherent ability to rid the infected of their vampiric qualities, it’s the introduction of new characters and a new understanding of the heretofore cloudy power structure outside of the hospital’s confines that really sends Van Helsing into a higher gear. When we first observe Sheema (Naika Toussaint), she’s engaged in a bit of sexual voyeurism, but as the narrative unfolds and we begin piecing together the puzzle that is “Coming Back,” it becomes impossible to ignore a connection between her appearance and Mohammed’s desire to leave the building simply to go with Vanessa for some fresh air.
Now that we understand Mohammed’s motivation for venturing outside is the desire to find his missing sister, we may be witnessing the first seeds of a symbiotic relationship moving forward. Of course, the reactions of Sam and Axel loom large over this plot development, and we wonder whether or not they’ll step in to quash any further unscheduled excursions. Either way, it can’t be long before they all decide to take their chances on the outside.
Any time a show introduces new characters, a danger exists that a fragile balance could be disrupted, but not so here. In addition to Sheema, we also encounter a group of survivors who apparently have their blood harvested. Will we see more of Campbell, a man who wants to rebel against the oppressors and brings out a neatly folded American flag and a motivational speech. The others refuse to follow, however, setting up a potential alliance with Vanessa down the road. Are the writers taking on too much here? It is dangerous, but Walker and director Jonathan Frazee aren’t done yet treating viewers to an inside look at the Others, those already infected, and their attempt to survive this ever widening disaster.
“Coming Back” deftly establishes a hierarchy among the vampires, and we’ve learned that the lowest seem to be Ferals who appear subhuman while the Feeders occupy the next rung up on the ladder. Who is the older woman that implies Julius is merely following orders and needs to regain his place? There must be someone else pulling strings but who? Dmitri? Without doubt though, most fascinating is Rebecca (Laura Mennell), whom Sheema observes having sex with a terrified young man. She appears completely unaffected, outside of the black leather and restraints, but suddenly begins feeding leaving viewers more puzzled than when the scene began. Why does the virus affect individuals differently?
Back on the home front, there is, at best, an uneasy peace. Doc refuses to acknowledge that her predicament is not as bad as the situation with which Flesh must contend. Though all of that becomes moot when Flesh finds Cynthia hanging from rafter having hung herself propelling the story into a classic whodunit. It doesn’t take Doc long to determine that this is a murder and not a suicide, so now, as if things aren’t shaky enough, the killer walks among them and determining the culprit won’t be easy. Or did the killer come and go leaving Axel and the others to turn on each other?
Despite everything that precedes it, the episode’s conclusion proves to be either a stroke of genius or the haphazard actions of a desperate mother. What does Vanessa hope to accomplish by sending Mohammad off with the newcomers, leaving herself alone since she knows the Feeder group wants her? And though she manages to take out a few with her shotgun, she’s eventually taken to the ground as the Feeders begin feasting on her flesh and blood. Was that her plan all along? Will next week’s episode open as a bloodied Vanessa rises amidst the vampires slowing returning to human form?
Now that we’re a third of the way through the first season, Kelly Overton’s portrayal of the emotionally vulnerable woman coming to terms with the horrifying realization that she alone may be responsible for saving the human race, dominates each and every scene in which she appears. And while Axel’s dutiful Marine earns our admiration, it’s the subtle introduction of the enigmatic Rebecca that sets up a potentially engaging confrontation. Van Helsing is right where it needs to be. Each and every character living on the edge with death just around the corner. There’s no going back.