This Van Helsing review contains spoilers.
Van Helsing Season 1 Episode 12
As we approach the end of the first season, Van Helsing continues to entice viewers with its finely crafted narratives and deftly directed story arcs. Tonight simply extends that trend. Much of this dialogue driven penultimate episode revolves around Vanessa working out her personal demons as she begins the long awaited trek to find her daughter, but the sudden complications emanating from Mohamad’s turnabout force her to reevaluate how, when and if she’ll ever reunite with her daughter.
Directed by Amanda Tapping, “He’s Coming” establishes a dark tone from the start spending nearly nine minutes to establish the new dynamic among Vanessa, Mohamad, and newly turned Sam. Though I understand it has its place, I’ve never been a fan of the frenetic editing style favored by many contemporary directors, so being able to comfortably observe Vanessa and Mohamad engage in meaningful conversation reveals sides of both we rarely see. Leading the way to a safe haven, he tells her “I was different before all this,” as they settle down in the cabin he claims to have visited when he was a boy scout. However, now that we’ve seen the entire episode, the veracity of that statement appears questionable, but that’s one of the appeals of his character — whether or not he was ever really a scout is irrelevant. When he tells Vanessa that he had no choice as Dmitri leads her away, his explanation rings hollow, and we realize that we know just as little about his true nature as we did when we first met him back at the hospital. His words have meaning; it’s just that any pathos he engendered has disappeared now that we can’t trust anything he says.
And as we look back on Mohamad’s assimilation into the group, it’s easy to say we should have seen the signs, but master manipulators know just which buttons to push and what needs to remain in the shadows. Though he’s young, he’s learned his lessons well. Seemingly reading the collective minds of the audience, Vanessa brings up something Sam said in the woods just before they left him behind. “Tell her the truth. What truth,” she asks Mohamad. He evades the question and says Sam was just stalling to beg for his life, but it’s clear she’s skeptical and should be second guessing her decision to continue on together. Still, we don’t know what Sam wanted Mohamad to reveal. As savvy as she is in so many ways, Vanessa continues to make bad decisions when it comes to people. Holding trust dear as a link to humanity makes sense, but when you consider it in the context of her reality, if she doesn’t begin vetting her companion more intensely, disaster remains the likely result. To quote Fox Mulder, trust no one.
It becomes painfully obvious that either Vanessa remains oblivious to the fact that this is a different Mohamad, or she doesn’t care and is willing to take him on despite any noticeable foibles? I don’t know that we’ve ever seen Mohamad angry, but his insistence that Vanessa accompany him to the camp to search for his sister should have set off alarm bells. When she balks at deviating from her prime directive to travel to Denver and search for Dylan, his reaction catches everyone off balance. “And here I was starting to think we were becoming a family,” he tells her. How can she not be suspicious of this change in character? In the end she acquiesces to his desire even though this is clearly not the same Mohamad.
Tapping presents a number of visually stunning scenes along the way whose significance only becomes clear later in the episode. Vanessa and Mohamad reach the outskirts of the camp and head down a tree lined lane in the middle of a forest as subtle light streams through the foliage. We know this idyllic setting has to be a metaphoric mirage, and in retrospect, it’s painful knowing that he’s leading her to an unknown fate. Mohamad likely knows enough about Dmitri’s plans and understands Vanessa’s value towards shaping a vampire driven future, making his betrayal that much more reprehensible. The introduction of the Red Brigade is nice touch, but the collaborator model has been done often enough that it’s going to be difficult to avoid clichés.
Now that Mohamad and Vanessa have reached the camp, revisiting his desire to find his sister Sheema seems relevant. We know she’s not there, so it’s reasonable to wonder whether the siblings have been working together, and is he being honest about having no other choice but to turn Vanessa over to Dmitri? It seems unlikely that this is anything other than a long con.
Van Helsing continues its trend of skillfully masking its horror through narrative devices and visual artistry, and when Vanessa enters a building and finds what amounts to a human butcher shop, the subdued dark orange lighting accentuates the evil taking place within the walls and is what makes this gruesome scene watchable. Don’t get me wrong; I love it for what it accomplishes, and while it’s difficult to view, it’s necessary to understanding what Vanessa is forced to deal with. In spite of what she sees, Vanessa’s hubris may be showing, and even though the butcher takes her out and strings her up, she manages to get away, savagely taking him out with a spike to the throat. But how long can she keep this up?
This sequence doesn’t get any easier to stomach as Vanessa comes upon an old woman who tells her this is a blood farm, and that there are no children there. Vanessa realizes that Mohamad lied to her, and then in a stunning reversal of fortune, we learn that Mohamad has set her up to be taken by Dmitri. Whether it was wirework or Kelly Overton’s athletic prowess, Vanessa’s desperate leap at Dmitri fails to yield the expected result but certainly reminds us why the vampires seek her. And then in the episode’s monumental bombshell, Dmitri catches her mid-air and holds her by the throat until she passes out. “You look just like your mother.”
We’ve speculated about whether or not Dylan might still be alive due in part to genetic skills passed down from her mother, but now with the revelation that Vanessa’s mother may have played a role in the vampire fraternity, the young girl’s whereabouts suddenly become more significant. She’s no longer just a little lost girl.
While the bulk of “He’s Coming” centers on Vanessa, viewers once again gain ground in an attempt to piece together the power structure over which Dmitri reigns. Not to be outdone, though, Taka (Ryan Robbins) and his group plan to destroy The Citadel, Dmitri’s base of operation. It’s been challenging to get a handle on Taka’s agenda, and in light of Mohamad’s aboutface, nothing would surprise at this point. When Brendan (Terry Chen) resurfaces and encounters Flesh and his group fleeing an assault on Eden, Taka now has a pawn with which to acquire the services of Vanessa. However, when a concern that the resistance will leave them out to dry, we now have to reassess Taka’s endgame.
And then there are the vampires. Though we don’t see Rebecca this week, we learn a great from and about Dmitri and Julius. Summoned to meet Dmitri at The Citadel, Julius is clearly subservient, and when he informs Dmitri of Vanessa’s abilities turning vampires back to human, Dmitri wonders whether her power will work on vampires who have lived for hundreds of years. But these two have a complicated relationship. “I created you, Julius. You’ve done nothing but disappoint me.” In fact, he challenges Julius to try to best him and take his power though Dmitri is clearly stronger. “The elders need me to find the answers. To resurrect them. Restore them to their dominion. And allow them to live for a thousand lifetimes.” So there are vampires older than Dmitri? Are we talking literal resurrection?
All this upheaval aside, the role of the most enigmatic character on Van Helsing remains fluid at best, and now that serial killer Sam has found a new home among Julius’ family, he’s wrestled the honor away from Rebecca. In their last encounter, he tells Vanessa something we all understand; “You should have killed me.” In a final act of twisted love, Sam wants to turn Mohamad so they can be together. It’s not surprising that the young man balks at the offer, but we momentarily forget the horrific acts Sam’s committed and understand his angst at losing the only person he loves.
Somehow Magdalene has managed to survive and recognizes the value that recent addition Sam brings. Having been feeding on animal blood, Sam’s going feral, but allowing him to feed on human blood cures his blindness (after being shot in the face by Vanessa), but now presents a quid pro quo. “I saved you,” she tells him. “Now you can save me. Tell me about the woman.” Though he agrees to tell her about Vanessa, Mohamad is off limits and it’s interesting to see Sam in such a vulnerable position.
In the end, “He’s Coming” tests our mettle and prepares us for the impending confrontation sure to come in next week’s season finale. What makes Van Helsing so compelling is that there are so many unknowns still on the table, and though our protagonist seems to be in a bad place, as likely as not, someone we least expect will rise to the occasion to be the heroic figure so badly needed.