Van Helsing Season 2 Episode 2 Review: In Redemption

Axel returns in the second episode of Van Helsing season 2.

This Van Helsing review contains spoilers.

Van Helsing Season 2 Episode 2

Aristotle said, “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light,” and there’s something about walking in the light of day that helps more clearly define a situation. Now that Vanessa has left The Citadel with her daughter, perhaps she’ll be able to begin the healing process that both so badly need. Unfortunately, Van Helsing never makes things easy for mankind’s savior.

From the beginning Van Helsing has left behind many of the expected trappings found in vampire tales, but from the opening scene of “In Redemption,” a subtle shift in tone takes place. As blood runs through The Citadel, we finally see the provocative sexuality inherent in the vampire mythos when Anastasia (Gia Crovatin) strides seductively toward Dmitri bathing in a blood filled tub. Dropping her flimsy robe, we’re reminded that there may be more to these beings than meets the eye as the two plot their next move. While Rebecca certainly exudes sensuality whenever she’s on screen, tonight this dark side appears much more overtly, and we’re reminded of the seductive and attractive pull vampire life can exert. While there’s no question as to the sexual implications here and the tub’s restorative power, the scene also signals the bloodbath that awaits vampire and human alike.

We know there are humans that don’t view vampires solely with fear and revulsion. Sheema can’t be alone in her attraction to the allure of what Dmitri, Rebecca, and Anastasia have to offer, and it may well be more than the perceived safety and comforts they provide. We don’t know how Rebecca manipulated Dylan after turning her, but it does appear she was grooming her in her own image at least visually. Now that vampires have emerged from the shadows will there be more like Sheema who seek to coexist and willingly join their ranks?

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However, make no mistake, this chapter predominantly focuses on the moral redemption several characters have been chasing, and without a doubt the most heart wrenching involves Mohamad. Though she doesn’t let his betrayal go completely unmentioned, it seems fairly evident that Vanessa is willing to give the young man another chance as the trio moves to get as far away from Dmitri’s compound as possible. When Anastasia and her group confront them in the woods, Mohamad unhesitatingly sacrifices himself so that Vanessa and Dylan can escape. Interestingly, Vanessa’s first inclination is to stand and fight, and it’s somewhat telling that she quickly opts to leave Mohamad behind. There’s been no question that saving her daughter remains her top priority, but she also recognizes that this is something Mohamad needs to do to ease his conscience. Vanessa doesn’t know the truth about Sheema, and her action could be interpreted as self-serving, but in the end, even that doesn’t really matter. We know the weight this young man feels pressing down on him.

Fittingly, after being left for dead, Flesh and Lucky find Mohamad gravely wounded, and even though Lucky’s assessment that they leave him to his inevitable death appears to be the reasonable decision, Flesh insists they carry him if necessary. Like Mohamad, this is something he simply has to do, and more importantly, reinforces that fact that he’s regained his moral center. Despite all the horrors he’s experienced, he now knows he deserves to be with others. To this point the rules have been laid out fairly clearly – once Vanessa returns a vampire to the human state, a human he stays. “In Redemption” begins to look at the inevitable and emotionally draining process whereby these innocents like Flesh and Doc must now look themselves in the mirror and come to terms with their actions while vampire. However, the troubles don’t end there.

We’ve witnessed the intolerance shown Flesh after he joined the group back at the hospital and observed how he’s systematically recovered his own humanity. And while it’s admirable he’s been able to make this much progress, watching Doc’s emotional turmoil strikes at the reality that most of these restored humans must endure. Rukiya Bernard’s exceptional portrayal of a shell-shocked woman who spends most of her time navigating the minefield that has become her existence has been nothing short of extraordinary. No matter which way she looks, her choices are bad, and now that Axel has returned, her situation only becomes more complicated. Forced to keep secret her vampire past, she can only hope that Axel will do the same.

Nevertheless, the return of the man who kept her alive by feeding her his own blood provides Doc with the opportunity to atone for her earlier mistake, and while Flesh’s hardened exterior allows him to more easily brush off his setbacks, Doc internalizes her emotions. To her credit though, she still manages to save lives after essentially learning her craft on the fly. However, while Flesh and Doc continue to rebuild their self-worth, Axel’s return introduces a heretofore unexplored issue. How much free will and control do feeders possess?

We’ve witnessed varying degrees of sub-human behaviors from both feeders and ferals, but Axel’s demeanor appears to present a third option. We don’t know how he’s survived to make it this far, but his assertion that he refuses to kill to survive makes his appreciation of the situation somewhat problematic. It appears he’s able to rise above the base instincts we’ve seen from other levels of vampires and retain some semblance of his humanity. Is this ability tied to his military training, or is it something else entirely? One of the qualities that separates humans from animals is the ability to reason and make decisions and choices based on intellect rather than instinct. Jonathan Scarfe (Axel) is barely recognizable as the diligent marine who once protected Vanessa at all costs, a testament to the actor’s ability to draw on a side we all keep hidden. It seems a foregone conclusion that Vanessa will turn Axel back, but that leaves open the possibility that there are others like him, able to control their urges yet wishing to remain vampire. There’s no indication that that’s what he wants, but the option exists.

Perhaps it’s understandable that children have not played much of a role in the series to date, but the juxtaposition of Dylan and Callie provides a poignant view of innocence gone awry. Cliched or not, even in this apocalyptic world, the children do represent the future, and these two could not be more different. We have some inkling of what Callie’s been through from her stay at the hospital, yet despite every savage act she’s witnessed, this child instinctively knows that helping Axel is the right thing to do. That she exposes Doc and Axel should be viewed as a learning experience for her, but the harsh reality remains that she’s not wrong in telling what she knows.  Dylan, on the other hand, slits her mother’s throat the first chance she gets, and while we want to explain this behavior as a byproduct of Rebecca’s indoctrination, at some point Vanessa’s daughter must make a choice as to what she wants to be. Is the call of the wild too strong for her at this point to even consider her options? Perhaps, but like Callie, her childhood is now only a distant memory. Vanessa singing “You are my sunshine” to her daughter evokes the fleeting message of hope that just won’t disappear no matter how bad things get.

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At times it’s easy to get lost in the schemes and plots, but Van Helsing never loses sight of the fact that forging relationships as the skies begin to clear and establishing a new order out of the present chao remain the most important aspects of the show. But what of that order? Dmitri has lost both Rebecca and Anastasia and must now revisit the multi-front campaign that awaits his army. Raoul and his resistance group wait for orders which raises questions about a human central command, its location and its leaders. Is the military still out there, and if so, how does it plan to combat the expanding vampire nation? And does it have Vanessa on its radar?

Nevertheless, the episode’s “I didn’t see that coming” moment brings about what could be a monumental power shift. Whether or not Vanessa considers the ramifications of biting Julius after he threatens Dylan really doesn’t matter because it seems unlikely that even she could anticipate his ultimate reaction. Now, it’s certainly possible that his “Thank you for saving me” response to her attack could be a ruse, but that seems unlikely. Assuming he is truly thankful for being turned, can he intellectually transform from leader to soldier. However, his bigger problem will be gaining acceptance from the others. It’s one thing for Axel and Doc to make amends for things they did while vampire, but Julius possesses a much deeper and darker resumé of evil.

So as Dmitri regroups after the loss of Anastasia and Rebecca and the ferals scramble about without a leader, Vanessa must decide on a plan of action now that she has her daughter. How will Dylan react to Julius having been turned, but more importantly, how will Julius assimilate back into the human population? It’s too early to consider redemption for him, but he does now have the opportunity to play a pivotal role moving forward since it’s only a matter of time until Vanessa, Doc, Axel, Flesh, and Mohamad reunite.

Despite everything going on around them, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Vanessa holds the key to keeping the vampires at bay, but the added challenge of coping with Dylan and her status confuses the situation. What of Sholomenko’s work? Does any of it survive, and did he really learn anything of value? Who is out there calling the shots for the resistance, and should it get its hands on Vanessa, then what? If anything comes out of this episode, it’s that outside of her inner circle, no safe haven for Vanessa exists. Will she reluctantly lead her band to higher ground above the clouds, safe from the vampires and the military? But therein lies the rub. Who poses more of a threat to Vanessa and those she’s returned to the human state? And, oh yeah, who the hell is the ninja that took out Anastasia?

Once again, we’re asked to absorb significant upheaval and altered alliances, but fans of Van Helsing relish the challenge. “In Redemption” reminds us that in addition to grappling with physical trials, it’s the complexity of the evolving moral code that individuals must now confront that constitutes the show’s core. And through it all, a storm front is brewing.

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4.5 out of 5