This Van Helsing review contains spoilers.
Van Helsing Season 3 Episode 10
“As if I’d leave you on your own.”
It’s difficult to watch “Outside World” and not draw comparisons to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ as Vanessa confronts ghosts from her past and questions the path she’s chosen. Tonight, Van Helsing gives viewers priority seating for a haunting psychological examination of the choices Vanessa’s made to this point, and with her mind and conscience now reasonably clear, she sets off alone to bring the darkness inside of her and in the world to a close. Well, not quite alone.
Writer/director Jackie May frames the episode with images of Vanessa walking alone down a brightly lit wooded path when an emotionally taxing speed bump briefly derails her. It doesn’t take long to figure out the source of Vanessa’s uneasiness, but it’s the Dark Figure’s appearance that initiates and helps focus this painful self-examination. As this seer points out, Vanessa has reached a crossroads, and her decision to kill for blood leaves her dangerously close to a place so dark there may be no coming back. Unable to control the flashing images of the man she killed, Vanessa must also contend with the seer’s suggestion that she “be who you really are, spawn of the darkness, holder of the blood.”
The Dark Figure plants the seed, but it’s the long awaited return of Mohamad that sets into motion this agonizing introspective event. Van Helsing continues to hint at the possibility that some supernatural forces may be at play, and when Vanessa stumbles upon Mohamad feeding from a wolf, the payoff we’ve longed for is within reach. When he runs from her offer to return him to a human state, like Vanessa, our frustration level instantly rises. “Okay, you want to do this the hard way.” And though the thought that he’s leading her into a trap can’t be discounted, once she crashes through a skylight, it’s clear this is merely a coincidence. Or is it?
From a narrative perspective, it seemed only a matter of time until Vanessa and Mohamad crossed paths, ultimately leading to her turning him back, but we should question how this meeting even occurs. Do they meet merely by chance, or are there other forces at work employing the young man as the catalyst to bring Vanessa to this pivotal point in her journey? Regardless, it’s entirely fitting that they help each other regain their bearings, and when we get that shot of Mohamad peering down through the skylight at Vanessa hanging helplessly on the steel hook, we realize things might turn out after all.
Nevertheless, it’s Vanessa’s injury and inability to extricate herself from the hook that sends her on this journey of temptation, guilt, and ultimately acceptance. Tonight, though, in addition to the unusually limited scope of the setting, director May opts to put the visual portrayal of requisite horrific acts on the shelf for the most part, instead attacking our auditory senses as Vanessa writhes in agony on the hook. Despite the fact that we know she’ll eventually heal, listening to the metal rip the flesh from her bones and her plaintive cries makes even more of an impact than if we’d been able to watch it happening.
Vanessa’s first ghost of vampire’s past appears and takes her back to the first season when the team was still holed up in the hospital with a murderer on the loose. John (David Cubitt) reminds her of her role in the death of his wife and points out the fact that she’s bleeding out while hanging from the chain. “I wonder if something like this could actually kill you. Even vampires die, right?” Amidst this crisis of conscience, Vanessa’s initial reaction to this memory is one of defiance and refusal to acknowledge the fundamental question she’s asking through John’s manifestation. Is she still more human than vampire? Whether she truly believes this to be true or sees it as her greatest fear, she defiantly tells John that she enjoyed her role in his death and sees herself as “black at the core.” As so her temptations begin.
After this first apparition, it’s a bit worrisome where Vanessa’s headed, so the appearance of Julius couldn’t come at a better time. She knows his history and hopes that maybe she too can make a change. “I know you, Julius, and you’re good to the core.” Their exchange highlights the complexities of not only what Vanessa’s been asked to do, but what she’s had to do to survive in her long battle to bring down the Elders. Julius points out the good she’s done and the people she’s helped and lets us know that deep down, she understands there is a light, even if it’s buried far below her psychological surface. His final words, “Believe in your heart, Vanessa,” spotlight the direction she needs to travel if she’s to save her soul. That she makes this connection with Julius offers hope that she’ll be able to accept her past acts and move on with her life.
But this is a complex network of emotional distress, and for every Julius lurking within her psyche, there’s a flash from Vanessa’ past that clearly haunts her and forces her to question her worth as a human being. Dark Julius now taunts her as he carries a severed head from which he drinks its blood and brings up the idea that this most recent killing “put you on the right track.” Vanessa’s subconscious, however, rallies to her side through long time friend Susan (Hilary Jardine) and her daughter Dylan, and not surprisingly, the theme of love presents itself once again. Susan tells her that “love always wins,” and while it’s likely this suggests Vanessa learn to accept herself and who she’s been, this idea extends further. Vanessa questions whether she’s even capable of love at this point in her life, but the fact that she sees Susan and Dylan in her corner keeps her going.
Most interesting of all the apparitions Vanessa’s mind conjures up is that of her arch nemesis Sam. Of all the evil encountered in this post-Rising world, Sam stands head and shoulders above the fray, and confronting Vanessa about her decision to maim rather than kill him when she had the opportunity, once again points out her dark side. He suggests she did it because she enjoys inflicting pain, and at this point in the story, that Vanessa struggles with this realization is not surprising. The fear here is that Vanessa wonders whether she’s just as bad as Sam, and if that’s the case, redemption seems far removed. But just when Vanessa appears to weaken during this experience, Susan’s spirit returns to buoy her soul. It’s well played, and not at all forced.
It’s not unreasonable to think that much of this emotional distress Vanessa faces is connected to Dylan’s death and Vanessa’s inability to prevent it. When her daughter appears looking healthy and beautifully dressed, it seems to strike a nerve. “Use what you have left. The light inside,” Dylan reminds her mother. Fittingly, it’s this final image of Dylan and the acceptance that she did all she could that seems to set Vanessa on a path to forgiveness. And once Mohamad climbs down the chain to feed from Vanessa, both their lives are irrevocably changed.
While Dylan and Susan play critical roles in saving Vanessa’s soul, it’s only fair that Mohamad frees her from her physical bondage so that she can then begin healing on both fronts. However, the pivotal moment takes place when Mohamad notices the blood Vanessa has lost and how weak she’s become from hanging on the chain all that time. Ever selfless, he offers himself up for her to feed. And while it’s too early to make a blanket assessment, her refusal indicates that she’s learned there are other ways for her to win the war with the vampires and the war within her mind. Is she afraid she’ll be unable to control herself if she feeds from Mohamad? Perhaps, but it’s one step at a time.
And as we visually return to the episode’s opening, we’re treated to a wonderful scene in which Vanessa and Mohamad sit quietly before continuing the journey to locate the fourth Elder. Just as this experience is all about Vanessa forgiving herself, she also understands that Mohamad faces the same challenge. “I know that everything you did, you did out of love for your sister,” she tells him, though the best is still to come.
The closed gate that faces them presents a wonderful image, but this is her quest, and she suggests he join a nearby group and help take care of them. “Don’t follow me.” And after the psychological hell Vanessa has just put herself through, to see Mohamad pretend to go off on his own before abruptly changing direction says it all. Though neither will admit it, she’s the mother he needs, and he the child that will help her recover her humanity.
“Outside World” compassionately examines the complicated web of feelings with which Vanessa now wrestles as the temptation to simply give into her dark side offers a certain level of appeal. However, she understands the critical role she plays as mankind’s savior, and has never been one to move her own needs to the forefront. At this stage of the Van Helsing saga, Vanessa’s accumulated a significant amount of emotional baggage, and though she may be loathe to admit it, she’s going to need her disciples if the evil is to be extinguished. Tonight’s stirring tale reminds us not only of the burden of leadership, but the constant moral struggle humans face on a daily basis. Go get her, Mohamad.