This Van Helsing review contains spoilers.
Van Helsing Season 3 Episode 12
Van Helsing fans received an early Christmas present when SyFy announced this week that it was renewing the series for a fourth season, and that Executive Producer/writer Jonathan Lloyd Walker would replace Neil LaBute as showrunner, freeing LaBute to focus on his newest project The I-Land. With that bit of good news out of the way, let’s begin.
“I don’t believe in miracles, and I’m out of options.”
Even though there’s seems little chance that Van Helsing will have time to address all of its hanging plot threads in next week’s season finale, “Christ Pose” takes us down a fascinating faith-based path that raises the possibility that there may be a higher power at work during the post-Rising cataclysm. Making deft use of both cultural and religious allusions, this penultimate episode does so much more than simply set up the likely reunion between the Van Helsing sisters at Renfield House, and after spending so much time in darkness, the knowledge that there may be another way to survive the apocalypse begins to resonate with Scarlett.
It’s easy to dismiss the opening scene as a mere sight gag meant to connect Scarlett’s twenty-three days alone on the island with Tom Hank’s 2000 film Cast Away. However, watching her talk to Wilson as she builds a raft in an attempt to leave the island, points out not only the loneliness she feels but the helplessness as well. But this helplessness extends far beyond her inability to get on with her journey. She’s been at this for more than four years, and though she and Vanessa have made significant progress, the reality that it may all be for naught can’t help but gnaw at her.
Writer Jonathan Lloyd Walker and director Leslie Hope wisely ignore the more mundane details and quickly throw Axel and Scarlett together in a delightful little near-miss reunion on the road to Renfield House. In an episode that focuses more on the light than the dark, it’s nice to hear him admit he loves her and even go as far as to suggest they just run away, drop out of sight, and have some “baby ninjas.” After the experience with his sister, Axel may be re-evaluating his willingness to continue Vanessa’s fight, but it is telling that Scarlett stays silent on the suggestion. It’s understandable that he has doubts, but the coordinated vampire attack makes those questions moot and puts into motion the core of the episode.
We’re treated to a solid action sequence replete with at least two decapitations, but it’s the serenity with which Scarlett fights the vampires that makes a notable impression. More importantly though, this skirmish leads Scarlett and Axel into an encounter with the enigmatic Simon the fisherman. Temporarily blinded by the shotgun misfire, Axel has his eyes rinsed with saline by the stranger who initiates a conversation about God, religion, and divinity, topics which clearly hold little value for Scarlett. The biblical allusions are unmistakable but nonetheless important. The story of Simon’s conversion is meant to spark similar questions of purpose and meaning in Scarlett, and it may be that despite everything she’s seen and experienced, she’s afraid to embrace something less tangible that requires her to accept some things on faith rather than fact. Jeff Kober’s understated charisma drives this aspect of the story, and he plays Simon with such a soft touch that at the end, we’re still not certain who or what we’ve just witnessed.
Though he has still not regained his sight, Axel sees clearly what Scarlett must do if he doesn’t pull through. “If she goes dark like that Elder you found on the island, you’ve prepared to do what you gotta do,” he tells Scarlett knowing full well the difficulty inherent in putting down one’s own sister. Scarlett has made difficult decisions many times along the road that’s led her to Simon, but when Axel reminds her that she might have to kill the sister that’s she’s just found, she becomes more open to other possibilities.
Even though we haven’t seen an organized Daywalker army of this size and scope before, Scarlett’s first inclination is to fight her way through the seemingly insurmountable odds. And despite the fact that Simon’s suggestion she just sit tight and have faith that God will deliver them from this hungry horde goes against everything she’s learned to this point, her willingness to submit shows she’s not closed herself off entirely. Is this divine intervention or mere luck? Regardless, this thought provoking examination of faith within the world of Van Helsing appears at the perfect juncture as the characters question either their worth or role in the new world order.
However, it’s the mysterious parting scene that leaves Scarlett with much to consider as she and Axel set out to join Vanessa. On the one hand, telling Simon that she, not God, saved his life during the vampire attack serves only to denigrate the man’s faith. “Where was your divine intervention?” she asks, but it’s his response that points out a reality he hopes she’ll consider moving forward. “I’m looking at her,” he tells her. Has he recognized a woman struggling with her life choices who’s now open to other alternatives? Perhaps. And in a wonderfully sublime final shot, Scarlett looks out to see Simon remove his shoes and then walk on the water while preparing to cast his hook. But Walker and Hope have one more treat for us as the camera reveals that he’s actually walking on a submerged bulkhead, a fact that takes nothing away from everything that’s transpired to this point.
As Scarlett and Simon debate the existence of God, Jolene and Phil find themselves in opposing predicaments as he looks forward to entering Loveland Prison while she dreads the experience. That said, their journey to Loveland turns out to be more fun than it should be as it contains all the best elements of the classic prison bus escape film. We’ve got the nervous prisoner with nothing to lose to initiate the action, and the ensuing firefight that leads to the requisite crash along the side of the road. Two buddies chained together fleeing through the woods to elude their captors may be one of the most iconic images from this genre, but the attention to even the small details is present. Of course, crossing the river or stream will prevent the search party from following the escapees. Classic stuff!
But this aspect of “Christ Pose” goes deeper than providing mere film references, enjoyable as they may be. Okay, Jolene does use the disabled guard’s gun to shoot the chain, finally separating the two, but come on. We had to have that. Despite the growing frustrations each feels, eventually they manage to have a quiet moment in which they talk about Sarah and his wife Jennifer. Strangely, Phil claims that there is “no such thing as pure love,” which leads into telling her the story of his relationship with his wife. Phil needs to forgive himself for his past actions, and while that might not be easy considering what he’s done, it does seem to be up to his wife if he eventually makes it into Loveland. The best part of this exchange? “It all worked out right until I murdered our kids.” Really?
Once Phil and Jolene decide to go their separate ways, the possibility that one or both won’t survive to see season four. But Phil’s immortality comes in handy as the two get into a shootout, and their decision to stay together likely means Phil’s reunion with his wife may never happen. It seems far more probable that we’ll see Sarah before Jennifer, and that’s as it should be.
Hopefully, this infusion of the power of prayer and faith into the mix won’t turn out to be a one off because “Christ Pose” opens the door, not to a divine explanation for the vampire apocalypse, but to an examination of how each individual reacts to it by evaluating his or her own moral compass in the face of the unspeakable. There’s no denying that the slow pace can be frustrating at times, but Van Helsing continues to make the journey worth the wait with strong character studies and top-notch guest stars. Intended or not, the episode fits perfectly into a holiday season that’s supposed to be about much more than finding that perfect gift.
Dave Vitagliano has been writing and podcasting about science fiction television since 2012. You can read more of his work here. He presently hosts Sci Fi Fidelity Podcast and The Den of Geek Podcast.