Van Helsing Season 3 Episode 13 Review: Birth Ritual
Van Helsing's season finale pits Vanessa against Sam in the ultimate battle between good and evil.
This Van Helsing review contains spoilers.
Van Helsing Season 3 Episode 13
“In your heart you know the truth, but you wish not to see.”
Van Helsing pulls out all the stops with an emotionally charged season finale that finds Vanessa forming an unlikely alliance in her quest to stop the fourth Elder and put an end, once and for all, to the Dark One’s rule. And after a season built primarily around individual character episodes, “Birth Ritual” fittingly brings Vanessa face to face with the Oracle and an old friend for the ultimate showdown between good and evil. Unfortunately, in a struggle of this magnitude, sacrifices must be made, and tonight we bid farewell to two characters who truly represent the best of us.
As Vanessa and the Oracle (Jesse Stanley) spar in anticipation of the coming fight, Blak Tek continues to exist on the narrative’s periphery. And though it’s importance to the larger arc has become a bit fuzzy, the confrontation between the company’s representative, quintessential bad guy Neal McDonough (Arrow), and Denver’s mayor keeps alive the scientific component of the drive to bring the vampire apocalypse to an end. Of late, Doc always seems to be working an angle, and while she’s certainly motivated to find Jolene, it’s the development of her Hail Mary compound that sparks Blak Tek’s interest to the point that the company is willing to overlook the fact that she murdered Caitlin. We’re past believing that this evil corporation has mankind’s best interests at heart, so what is it up to? For that matter, Doc’s DNA results have clearly yielded results that astonish even her, and while we hear it said that she’s learned the truth, what that truth is remains unclear.
It’s been awhile, so it’s easy to forget that the Sisterhood has overrun the Denver compound, but Julius and what’s left of the military presence seem determined to make a last stand using Doc’s still untested magic bullets. From what we’ve seen, unless Doc’s added a newly discovered secret ingredient, Ivory’s troops will be difficult to stop. But for Julius, this is all about avenging Frankie. “I gotta make this right,” he tells Doc as the assault begins, and while it does seem a bit convenient that he just happens to find Frankie’s body, this is about the big guy confronting Scab, man against man. Well, man against vampire. Though it doesn’t hold the weight of Vanessa’s confrontation with the Oracle and Sam, this engagement does make a nice companion piece that acknowledges the importance of the Everyman and his role in this fight.
Nevertheless, Vanessa is clearly the star of this show, and having reached Renfield House with the intention of taking down the fourth Elder, everything appears to be in place for a satisfying season ending victory and a possible return to some form of normalcy. Make no mistake, “Birth Ritual” checks all the requisite boxes, and from the opening scene showing Vanessa resting comfortably along side a boat while Mohamad keeps his distance, there’s a sense that this is merely the calm before the storm. And as soon as it becomes apparent that Mohamad’s dream has become his reality, Sam’s hopes and dreams fall into place. Kill the one you love.
Her purpose not quite clear, we’ve watched as the Oracle floated effortlessly in and out of the story, but tonight she takes control and lays out an unforeseen scenario that catches all parties off guard. The pronouncement that the fourth Elder must be made gives Sam everything he’s hoped for and presents Vanessa her worst possible nightmare. With Vanessa now placed in a classic Catch-22 situation, the stakes rise exponentially. There will be a fourth Elder, the only question remains is whether it will be Sam or Vanessa. For the better part of three seasons Vanessa’s internal struggles have been well documented, and both the Oracle and Sam play on this weakness. “What have you done to become this,” Sam asks, implying that she traveled down a path that included more than drinking blood to gain her additional strength. He’s not wrong.
The Oracle’s attitude toward the two combatants couldn’t be more different as she essentially ignores Sam while taunting Vanessa with claims that while true, do not provide the entire picture. It doesn’t take long for Vanessa to accept the challenge, and even she must question whether it’s wise to take the Oracle’s bait by entering the shadowy figure’s version of Thunderdome. Sam eagerly enters the massive labyrinth with the Oracle, and it’s telling that Vanessa lags behind to lick Sam’s blood from the dagger she used only moments ago. It’s come down to Sam versus Vanessa to see who claims the role of fourth Elder, and though we don’t know yet exactly what that will mean in a broader context, Vanessa is right to enter this fray with more trepidation than usual.
Once they enter the elaborately constructed maze, replete with background thunder and lightning, the Oracle’s request for totems continues her assault on whatever light and goodness still resides inside Vanessa. That Sam crafted his own totem seems to garner favor from the Oracle who then points out that Vanessa did the same and presents Dylan’s ribbon as a “symbol of your pain.” In retrospect this entire charade appears to simply be a way of eliminating the last surviving Van Helsing even though the Oracle knows full well that Scarlett is still alive. For that matter, she probably knows that Scarlett and Axel have already arrived at Renfield House. But the clincher is that to win this contest, the Oracle tells Vanessa that she must “embrace your true nature,” again implying a darkness that resides deep within her.
I suppose she’s called the Oracle for a reason, and now that Mohamad and Scarlett have arrived, her past directive to Sam to “kill the one you love” and to the sisters that only one will survive the coming conflict, the outcome of this battle comes into sharper focus. To say the rules of the game appear to be fluid is an understatement, but it’s still not clear whether or not the Oracle wants Vanessa to win or lose. “You need me to help you fight the dark,” Scarlett tells her sister, instinctively knowing how close she is to losing her forever.
Sam, however, presents a much more complicated picture as the Oracle gives him his chance to move closer to the prize. The heartbreaking image of Sam cradling Mohamad in his arms and the brief conversation that transpires brings an end to one of the more confounding relationships in Van Helsing. Tears streaming down his cheek, Sam tells him that I hate you for “making me human” by feeling love, just before symbolically plunging a knife into Mohamad’s heart making the monster’s earlier confession even more poignant. Trezzo Mahoro will be sorely missed having played Mohamad with such delicacy, charm, and innocence in spite of the chaos surrounding him. HIs exchanges with Sam (Christopher Heyerdahl) have been among the most fascinating and confounding of the series.
And now with Sam having completed his task, it’s up to Vanessa to either “embrace who she really is” according to the Oracle, or find another way to win this contest without slipping into darkness as Scarlett suggests. Though Axel means well and his loyalty to the cause can’t be easily dismissed, this is Scarlett’s fight, and only she can save her sister. Scarlett has sensed this all along, and it’s not surprising she waits until now to tell Axel that she finally understands her true purpose. “Killing me will fuel the light in her” she cryptically tells Axel in a gut wrenching goodbye scene.
Having come all this way and endured more than any man should have to endure, to have the love of his life snatched from his grasp will have far reaching effects as we soon learn after Scarlett guides the dagger her sister’s hands hold into her own chest. Perhaps with time Axel will come to understand these events and the choices that were made, but for now, his threat to kill Vanessa must be taken at face value. Nevertheless, Vanessa is left with the Oracle’s implication that she killed both Dylan and Scarlett when only one truly needed to die. Of course, this is rhetoric designed to confuse Vanessa and lead her further down a path of eventual self-destruction.
With Scarlett and Mohamad now lying dead on the labyrinth’s floor, the Oracle’s pronouncement that Vanessa’s been a disappointment can lead us to only one conclusion. Sam was meant to take his place as the fourth Elder all along, and in one of the series’ most mesmerizing visual displays, the Oracle takes Sam to the altar and places his hands on its surface which immediately activates a red beam of light shooting far into the sky. Having Sam fulfill his destiny is one thing, having him morph spectacularly into the Christian likeness of the devil is quite another. That said, Sam’s massive horns and pointed ears present a spectacularly frightening image of the man who for the longest time has been the embodiment of pure evil within the Van Helsing universe. And let’s not overlook the magnificent job the hair and makeup department does with its array of Daywalkers, shadowy figures, members of the Sisterhood, and now Sam, in whatever form he takes. Scary stuff!
Though it’s fair to say that round one goes to the Oracle, Sam, and the Dark One, the loss of Axel and Scarlett clearly alters the landscape moving forward. However, the Oracle’s pointed recognition of Sam’s new power sets the stage for next season’s war. “Anointed by the Dark One, destroy that which seeks to destroy us,” and the pursuit begins. And while it at first appears Vanessa may be in this alone, the twist that has been lying in wait for over a century now comes to life. And what a twist it is. Vanessa’s spattered blood awakens Lillian Van Helsing (Julie Lynn Mortensen) who upon awakening throws a dagger into Sam’s chest, and Team Vanessa gives way to Team Van Helsing. Of course, it would be premature and quite foolish to assume Lillian’s dagger does anything more than enrage the born anew Sam, but this delicious new narrative spin holds a wealth of promise as we head into next season.
Given the fragile life expectancy of most genre shows these days, fans are wise to exhibit some restraint before throwing their hearts and souls into a new group of characters and the associated stories, but now with its fourth season renewal in hand, Van Helsing has the opportunity to not only continue its tale, but possibly even reinvent itself on some levels. Hopefully, we’ll get to see Vanessa work with the Victorian era woman who blazed the trail for her, but whichever way the writers choose to take the series, “Birth Ritual” creates an enviable narrative landscape with enough forward momentum to keep viewers satisfied until the next installment. And while we wait, the larger question remains: vampire trappings aside, will Axel be able to come to terms with Scarlett’s demise and forgive Vanessa?
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.