This Van Helsing review contains spoilers.
Van Helsing Season 2 Episode 11
After last week’s revelatory bottle episode in which Vanessa learns some harsh truths about her past at the Farm, Van Helsing goes the stripped down route once again. And yet, the adventures of Sam and Mohamad no longer hold enough allure to carry the evening by themselves. Directed by Jonathan Scarfe (Axel Miller), “Be True” finds itself in an awkward predicament. In isolation it presents a compelling character study that uncovers some of the dark layers of Sam’s childhood, and at least partially explains his deep connection with Mohamad. As part of the overall arc, however, it falls short in providing much meaningful narrative movement.
Now that Scarlett and the others are aware of the black helicopters, and Vanessa has actually been inside BlackTek, there’s no going back to the old days of simply bobbing and weaving through scores of vampires on the way to Denver. What roles do Sam and Mohamad play now that the story has moved in a different direction? Sam’s a murderous sociopath, so turning him back makes no sense, and while killing him ultimately will bring some satisfaction, at this point, his death doesn’t really do much. Theoretically, Vanessa can turn Mohamad back, and though he can once again add value to Team Vanessa, he’s not the missing piece to the puzzle.
That said, the flashback to Mohamad’s first encounter with Sam and the intimate details of their backstory explain exactly what drew these two together in the first place. Watching Sam prepare to hang himself out of desperation caused by the isolation he feels also moves Mohamad to action, but again, it’s difficult to feel empathy for the man who collected the fingers of his victims even before he became a vampire. Still, Scarfe allows the scene room to develop, and learning that Mohamad communicates with him via sign language shows an early key to their relationship.
Since becoming vampire, Sam has apparently regained his hearing, so to learn the origin of its loss provides telling insight into how he’s become the monster we see now. However, it also explains the sense of contentment he feels since he’s been made more or less whole again. His declaration to Mohamad that “I will never be human again,” adds to the confusion of trying to understand this man who still seems to struggle to find an identity with which he can feel comfortable. Is his desire to turn Mohamad an attempt to save the young man’s life or simply a move to give him back his companion once again?
Of course we feel sorry for young Sam, as he’s emotionally and physically abused by his preacher father, and while it’s likely what set him on the path of deranged behavior he’s since followed, his adult actions remain inexcusable. Did he really grow up in this place as he says or does it merely represent the environment in which he struggled to find his place in life? “All I ever wanted was to be me and to be loved,” he says. And while he seems the picture of a normal young boy, finally being allowed to witness the event that causes his hearing loss brings the opening scene more into focus.
While “Be True” primarily centers on Sam and Mohamad, the addition of Cara (Emily Haine/Fargo), the young woman held prisoner by Sam, provides the impetus for Mohamad to make the most difficult choice he’s had to face since leaving his sister behind. Cara presents an interesting dynamic in that she’s made herself useful to Sam by keeping his other prisoners alive long enough for him to continue feeding, while at the same time giving him a companion with whom he can converse. On the one hand, it’s a shame this is a one off because of Haine’s engaging performance, but on the other, the best case scenario finds her joining up with Scarlett and Axel’s group which at this point doesn’t do much for the overall narrative.
There’s never been any real doubt about Mohamad’s character or his courage, and his attempt to save Sam’s life when they first meet speaks favorably to both. What’s so compelling about this reunion is Mohamad’s belief or hope that the Sam he knew could still be alive in there and perhaps able to be saved. But, now, given everything he’s seen, even he knows it’s time for Sam to go. Of course, we know that’s apparently easier said than done, and when Cara cuts away the dead flesh from his wound, it gives the two a chance to connect and eventually concoct a plan to take out Sam.
It’s sometimes easy to forget Sam’s intelligence because much of the time he now relies on his heightened vampire senses, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that he foils Cara and Mohamad’s plan so easily. But truth be told, it’s not a very good plan. However, it does put into motion the episode’s most painful and tragic exchange as Sam calls Mohamad’s bluff and essentially forces him to kill Cara. Whether we view Sam’s stringing up victims to provide a source of nourishment for him as horrific or practical, when he adds Cara to the group, Mohamad is moved to action.
There’s never been any question about Trezzo Mahoro’s acting chops, and the visceral nature of the situation these three now find themselves in sees him at the top of his game. Whether it’s the physical pain from his chest wound or the emotional distress he now faces as Sam begins cutting Cara, Mohamad’s decision to end Cara’s life to preserve her humanity is emotionally crushing. “I see you, and I hate you,” he tells Sam. It’s difficult to find fault with his action, and then when he turns the blade violently on himself, this chapter of the story appears to be over, and the young man who’s become synonymous with the black Nirvana tee shirt can now rest in peace. But things are never that simple.
Though his two companions lie dead before him, the scene lacks any real punch because we don’t care about Sam, we don’t really know Cara, and Mohamad’s been in and out of the picture so often that the emotional connection has become tenuous. In spite of all that, it still hurts to see Mohamad dead by his own hand, but this is Van Helsing, so when Sam bites Mohamad and the young man doesn’t respond, there’s a flicker of hope that he stays dead. Nope. He’s now a growling, snarling vampire buddy for Sam.
Making his television directorial debut, Scarfe brings out powerful performances all around, and coupled with well placed flashbacks to Sam’s childhood and his first meeting with Mohamad, viewers now have a more complete picture of two characters who have unfortunately fallen out of the current story. It’s disappointing because both Mahoro and Christopher Heyerdahl have been such integral parts of the story, and it’s difficult to imagine any actor playing Sam with such control. There are a lot of plot points hanging out there, so we’ll just have to wait to see if these two have more to say about Vanessa’s journey.
Van Helsing now stands at a crossroads with only two episodes remaining in the season. With the troops spread across the landscape, it’s time to get the band back together and begin the reunion tour. Now that a third season has been assured, the past two episodes fit more neatly into the overall context, but we need Vanessa and Scarlett together.