“Creepy vampire dreams? Thanks for that.”
Every good television series creates and develops characters with whom the audience forms emotional connections, and Van Helsing is no exception. While tonight’s episode title “Everything Changes” may be somewhat of a misnomer, the show’s direction continues to evolve, venturing now into the presumed civilized world of the military and the government. How fitting that the episode ends with that familiar, yet often ominous statement, “Don’t worry. We’re here to help.”
One of the things I love about Van Helsing is how complicated Vanessa has become, and even though she’s the show’s hero, it’s sometimes difficult to like her. Of course it’s convenient to forget the perilous road she’s traveled, and that her followers look to her for guidance and answers even though she’s just as lost as they are. She finally articulates her reluctance to turn Axel a bit more clearly here, and as hardened has she’s become, even she can see the desperation in his eyes as he holds a gun to his head. It’s a moving scene as we wait to see if history will repeat itself, and when it doesn’t, and Axel is restored, it’s satisfying to see Vanessa smile again. We needed to see this side of her to remember that whatever she is, whatever she’s become, at her core, she’s still a human being. To ignore the inner struggle she’s experiencing over her set of circumstances and rebuke her for every questionable decision she makes seems patently unfair.
That said, after Sam’s difficult to justify getaway in “Save Yourself,” no matter how much Axel means to the show, his resurrection after the heartbreaking burial scene borders on disingenuous. Watching the four pallbearers carry his body to the freshly dug grave and Julius’ insistence that someone say something meaningful is crushing. “Mankind lost a great soldier today.” And herein lies Van Helsing’s greatest obstacle. If there are no real stakes for the characters, then any emotional investment in them seems pointless. We hate Sam now and want him dead in the same way that we love and admire Axel Miller and mourn his death.
Even so, the entertainment landscape has changed, and though Van Helsing chronicles the hero’s journey of Vanessa, it is, at its heart, a horror story. Nobody cares if Jason or Freddy keeps coming long after they should be dead, or if innocent characters keep making bad choices, because within the context of the horror genre, these actions are perfectly acceptable. So when Axel turns out to be only “mostly dead,” perhaps we should try to imagine the terror one faces when buried alive and then be happy that such a formidable and likable character will still be around to fight the looming evil.
Nevertheless, he is alive, and despite any reticence to accept this as believable, even within the context of a vampire tale, some good does come out of it. As soon as the pounding heartbeat becomes audible while the four drive away in the reacquired Wanda, it’s clear we’re listening through Vanessa’s ears, and she believes Axel is still alive. While her heightened sense is not surprising, that Scarlett hears it also erases some of the annoyance from having our emotions toyed with and furthers the possibility that she too has had her DNA tinkered with. And come on, as soon as he asks Vanessa, “What’s up with Samurai Jane?” it’s clear, Axel’s back. Make no mistake, Scarlett’s appearance should certainly help Vanessa, but the history she already has with Axel and the level of trust the two have built, cannot be discounted as they move forward. With him by her side, I think we’ll see an invigorated heroine. Once they get her back from the military that is.
It’s also important that we see Axel and Doc put the past behind them after Vanessa turns him, and it’s obvious he recognizes she’s been out of her depth and is willing to forgive her. The scene is handled with care, and Axel’s seeming nonchalant approach to the reunion gives Doc the peace of mind she’s craved since she left him behind. Axel Miller remains the noble soldier and friend he’s been throughout this campaign, however, having watched a distraught Doc lament his death means her sorrow has essentially been wasted. Despite those feelings, their hug sets the tone for the group to rewire itself before taking the next step. In fact, the manner in which this confrontation is presented, allows us to forgive some of our feelings of manipulation.
The writers take us back to 1976 in the opening scene, and we’re presented a frightening view of Dmitri looking very Tony Montana-ish in his three-piece suit. As the battle for control ramps up, backstory becomes ever more imperative, and to learn Dmitri, like Vanessa, was studied by the military at The Farm, adds credence to many of his proclamations aimed at drawing Vanessa to his side. Unlike Julius’ flashback earlier, this reveal doesn’t tell us how Dmitri became a vampire or how he rose to power, but the acknowledgement that he was held by the military sheds new light on his perspective.
The nature of the military experiment on both vampires and Van Helsings remains a mystery at this point, but if the doctor who draws Dmitri’s spinal fluid is the same person who slides him the key to facilitate his escape, then hopefully there’s a good explanation. And how is it that Dmitri’s out in the open in the first place? Though the vicious acts he’s committed cannot be ignored, there may be worse demons with which to contend.
Vanessa’s murky past has been a huge motivator as she navigates the obstacles placed in her way, so any doubts she may have had about the veracity of Scarlett’s story melt away when Dmitri recognizes her as Vanessa’s twin. Two girls, “one more vampire than the other, but both born of Van Helsing blood.” That sounds rather foreboding especially since the notion of a human/vampire hybrid has already been raised. But what exactly does it mean? Was one of her parents vampire? Is there vampire DNA in the Van Helsing family tree? Was Vanessa born this way or created to be what it is she’s become?
Regardless, along with Axel’s reappearance, finding her sister takes some of the burden off Vanessa’s shoulders. She hasn’t always made the best decisions taking on an adversary when the odds are stacked against her, but fighting side by side with Scarlett seems to have given her a sharpness she lacked. Yes, she feeds on her sister to gain added strength since they are vastly outnumbered, but the decision to retreat and live to fight another day is one she might not have made in the past. And despite all her training and preparation, even Scarlett isn’t prepared for her twin sister to drink her blood.
Lest we forget Van Helsing’s roots, there are some well placed nuggets, including Vanessa’s savage slaughter of Dmitri’s minions, Scab driving the cross through the jaw and skull of Maya, and the quick thinking surgical strike Scarlett makes to free herself from Dmitri’s clutches and recover the key he momentarily possesses. Each one gruesome in its own right, and all appropriately horrifying. When Dmitri presciently suggests, “Realize your true power and join me,” is he speaking to Vanessa or his severed hand? Just kidding, but the hand immediately reattaching itself may be a bit over the top. Still, I like it.
In some ways this is Dmitri’s episode, but the revelation of the Sisterhood and its erstwhile leader Maya adds a new twist in the form of a sect that also employs the pentagram in its worship. The symbol has had many associations through the years, but as of late it’s been most often aligned with practitioners of Black Magic. I’m not sure we need the introduction of the Sisterhood or even how long it will be around, but for now, they augment Dmitri’s army in the fight that we thought was solely against Vanessa. That, however, may not be completely true. Not only does the military stand in his way, but the Van Helsing sisterhood does as well.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved the confrontations Vanessa’s had with Julius, Dmitri, Rebecca, and even those she thought were on her side, but with the threat of the military now a reality, this may be her most insidious adversary yet. It appears the military has been aware of vampires since at least 1976, and whether Dmitri merely got caught in their net by chance or was targeted, we don’t know. Has Vanessa become a weapon the military plans to use against the vampires? The approaching Black Hawk helicopters and the assault team soldiers are nice touches, but where have these guys been the past few years? Did it really take them this long to track down arguably their most valuable asset? And perhaps most importantly, why did they leave Scarlett behind?
In light of the fact that this military mission appears focused solely on Vanessa, it seems Abby Van Helsing’s decision to separate the twins for their own safety was the right call after all. But the two girls were subjects at The Farm, and since there must be records of the project, the failure to grab both women will undoubtedly become a regretful mistake. Give Abby credit; whatever she did to convince the military that Scarlett was dead worked. With her intensive lifetime training, Scarlett is certainly up to the task of finding and liberating her sister, and with Axel’s help, they will no doubt head straight for “the mountain with the red sky.”
Perhaps the most disturbing and, at the same time, illuminating aspect has been the shared visions of the mountain and the Elder. As the pieces of the puzzle begin to come together, it seems clear that the mountain holds the answers. Scarlett says that Dmitri told her the key will set him free, but free him from what or from whom. Unlike Axel and Julius, Dmitri has never given the impression he desires to be turned. Not only does he love the power he wields, but seems intent on keeping and extending it. Is the military after Dmitri as well as Vanessa, or was he simply a pawn in their larger plan?
In light of the direction the narrative is taking and the fact that Sam and Mohamad have for all intents and purposes become disengaged from the main arc, their reunion has lost much of its impact. At this point, what role will Sam play other than to distract the others from going after Vanessa by dangling Mohamad as bait? Lucky and Phil will probably search for their companion, and that’s fine. But if the main group gets bogged down in this minor mission, then that too will be difficult to justify.
I said at the beginning that “Everything Changes” is somewhat of a misnomer but only because the most important narrative detail remains unchanged–the search for the truth about Vanessa’s past. Nonetheless, Van Helsing moves closer to that point while performing a delicate balancing act with an ever increasing number of factions, all of whom hold the key to some truth. However, knowing the truth is one thing; knowing who to trust is quite another.