This Van Helsing review contains spoilers.
Van Helsing Season 2 Episode 10
“You have a duty to do whatever you can with your God-given gift.”
Van Helsing takes a sharp turn off the vampire highway with a rare bottle episode, and Vanessa’s eyes are opened to an even more insidious danger with which she must now contend. “Base Pair” gives Kelly Overton the stage to herself and the opportunity to shine in an environment in which we so seldom see her. And shine she does.
While the rest of the cast’s absence leaves a bit of a vacuum, the red ballooned opening scene announces a narrative shift that more than makes up for that deficiency. Certainly, the mountain retreat of BlakTek’s headquarters represents a refuge from the grit and grime of daily life below the clouds, but it also offers an alternative for Vanessa that makes sense given what she’s already learned along the way. The only problem for Vanessa and the viewer lies in the veracity of what’s revealed by Abigail and Dr. Bruce Harrison.
Another red balloon tease opens the episode as a man, already in possession of at least one balloon, comes upon another hanging in a tree. Are these markers, or does he merely find them in their final resting spots after their release from the purported safe haven? Regardless, we know that these messages are reaching their intended targets, though to be fair, the initiators likely hope for more than one person per balloon. That he’s attacked and killed by a vampire whose face bears a remarkable similarity to The Sisterhood only adds to the developing mystery. Is the refuge near to the BlakTek complex, and if so, are the two aware of each other?
From the start something just doesn’t ring true, and Vanessa approaches her strange surroundings with a healthy amount of skepticism, so it’s a bit troublesome that she lets her guard down so easily. Once we learn that Abigail and Harrison have been running an elaborate con on Vanessa, it’s no longer clear how much they’ve disclosed is even true. As a narrative device, leaving the viewer as well as the character in the dark about certain details opens up new avenues for exploration. For the time being then, it’s up to each to decide how to proceed.
We already know that vampires have been around for hundreds of years, so when Harrison tells Vanessa that the government hired him to find a cure for vampirism, there’s a ring of truth to that statement. After that, however, it’s up to us to fill in the gaps about the events that led to his current obsession with extending his own life. Taking the story into the genetic manipulation arena and combining it with traditional vampire lore makes Vanessa’s quest even more confusing, but it also gives Van Helsing room to grow. What should give Vanessa pause though, apparently does not. The ease with which she breaks into Harrison’s office to read his files and copy of Historia Vampyre should set off her internal alarms, but she takes it all in stride because Abigail has worked her motherly magic.
Are Vanessa’s abilities God-given, or are they the result of an accident as Abigail contends? Her account that Vanessa’s mother “accidentally infected herself with an experimental serum developed from the DNA of a very special vampire” seems plausible given what we learned about the sisters’ time at The Farm, however, it’s also possible that the Van Helsing blood coursing through their veins is the result of something that goes back long before the experiments of their youth.
While some of what Vanessa learns during her time at BlakTek may be true, Abigail and Harrison manage to glean some crucial facts from her that will influence the narrative moving forward. Knowing that Scarlett is alive makes Vanessa somewhat expendable which explains how easily Abigail fires three bullets into Vanessa’s chest at episode’s end. While the importance of the dreams has been coming into sharper focus, how the Elder ultimately figures into the equation remains unclear. Unlike Abigail, we know that it might be a few minutes and she’ll undoubtedly be pissed off, but Vanessa will rise and recover from the gunshot wounds. Will she play it cool and leave the facility, or react and end up in a holding cell. However, because of the facility’s location, even if she manages to escape, the terrain and conditions present a formidable barrier.
Based on the dreams and Abigail’s assertions, the Elder holds the key to more than just Harrison’s genetic experiments, but it seems pretty obvious that neither scientist truly understands the implications of what it will mean to free this ancient vampire. His insistence that he’s working on a cure rings hollow, but this tale grows increasingly complex by the minute. If it’s true they want Vanessa to find the Elder and release him so they can harvest his DNA, then why the elaborate subterfuge. It seems there could have been a way for Harrison to bring Vanessa on board more easily unless his quest truly is only about his own longevity. It also seems likely that they underestimate the Elder’s power, and while throwing Vanessa to the wolf doesn’t appear to bother them, their hubris will no doubt come back to bite them.
If the narrative moves away from the day to day survival mode that has characterized the bulk of the series, then Dr. Harrison and Abigail make for solid additions to the cast, and whether the focus shifts to the scientific or historic, “Base Pair” opens plenty of doors. Colleen Winton as Abigail exudes the perfect blend of motherly comfort and conniving cynicism, and even though she’s not Vanessa’s mother, she does know a lot about the sisters’ past at The Farm. Still, her stake in all of this hasn’t yet been made clear. What does prove interesting is the relationship between Harrison and Abigail. Even though they appear to be working together, her statement to him that she’d rather be any place else than BlakTek, raises some important questions. Why stay?
Dr. Harrison (Johnny Riordan/Continuum) presents a more complex character, and now that he asserts Vanessa’s DNA does not contain the answers he’s looking for, his attention will shift to Scarlett. Riordan’s understated approach to hiding Harrison’s true agenda plays perfectly, and his obsession with unnaturally extending his own life sets up several possible showdowns. Once he realizes the difficulty involved in killing Vanessa, will he reassess her value as a test subject as continues studying vampire genes in isolation? Will Vanessa kill him and/or Abigail or view them as sources of information?
Easily overlooked in all of this is the vampire test subject Martin whose moving story reminds us of the human and emotional cost exacted by The Rising. Recounting the incident for which he seeks to atone makes what happens next even more horrific, and whether Vanessa believes Abigail’s explanation makes no difference. We’ve witnessed numerous examples of Vanessa’s ruthlessness, but here, in this supposedly more civilized environment, Martin’s sacrifice seems to have lost its meaning.
Despite the appearance of only one regular cast member, Van Helsing still manages to expand its storytelling reach and brings Vanessa one step closer to a seemingly inevitable confrontation with the Elder. “Base Pair” extends the narrative into the scientific realm, but at the end of the day, we need our base pair of Vanessa and Scarlett back together to wreak havoc where havoc is needed.