This Van Helsing review contains spoilers.
Van Helsing Season 3 Episode 4
What a difference a week makes. After a brief, educational junket to the Orient, Van Helsing returns to its roots in an episode in which bloodlust takes on new meaning. “Rusty Cage” marks the return of Sam and Mohamad and looks more deeply into the impact of Sam’s stay at the juvenile facility during his youth. But the multi-front struggle for power and control continues to simmer among the ever evolving vampire legion, leaving the human race’s survival once again squarely in the hands of the Van Helsing family.
Van Helsing continues to make the most of its decision to alternate storylines rather than present bits and pieces each week that take forever to make sense within the larger context. Last episode we watched as Vanessa learns practical techniques and obtains useful information for her eventual confrontation with The B’ah, and tonight the story shifts towards a new breed of vampire and Sam’s insistence that Mohamad learn self-control in anticipation of a subsequent task at the behest of the shadowy figure of his youth.
And what of Sam’s youth? We’ve watched his preacher father physically and emotionally abuse the young boy before, but tonight’s confrontation drives home the fact that Sam’s father may, in fact, be right about him. Berating his son, he tells him “you are not my son; you are evil.” As we’ve learned many times across many dramatic situations, taunting rarely evolves into anything positive for the perpetrator, and “Rusty Cage” makes perfectly clear what tone the episode will be taking. Sam bites off and spits out his father’s wagging index finger, perhaps indicating the genesis of Sam’s fixation for collecting these extremities as souvenirs. Knowing what we know of Sam’s past and present, is redemption even a consideration, or do we simply accept that he’s inherently evil.
Of course, Sam’s depraved nature is nothing we haven’t encountered many times before, but it’s the appearance of the woman’s voice that calls to him that adds a new dimension to his place in the larger picture. “It’s time to begin. It’s time to end” she advises him, however, the vague declaration doesn’t really tell us much. Additionally, are we to make a connection between the black robe and veil she wears and that of The B’ah? She tells Sam to find what he needs and implies that he will need help in this future endeavor. “The one who stands with you – he must be worthy.” As yet, there’s no definitive proof to connect Sam’s oracle and Vanessa’s quest to take out the Elders, but when we consider the importance of the Elders’ totems, it’s difficult to ignore Sam and his collections.
Sam’s finger necklace has long been an important facet of his personality, and in large measure holds spiritual significance for him. That adult Sam has chosen to return to the facility in which he was held as a youngster can be viewed on multiple levels. Of course, there’s a certain irony that he’s returned to the site at which his father abandoned him, but from a more pragmatic standpoint, Sam’s merely following the instructions of the voice he hears telling him to find what he needs. There’s no question Sam has been troubled for a long time, but the relationship he forms with Officer Matthew at the juvenile facility is difficult to comprehend and its end difficult to justify. The caring officer not only teaches him to defend himself against the taunts of the older and bigger boys, but introduces him to the practical benefits of welding. “You have to protect yourself in the world,” the officer tells Sam indicating that the deaf child learn to function and survive in an environment that will care little for his well being.
However, Sam’s early education takes a twisted turn, and after lying in wait, he bludgeons two of his tormentors, blood spattering against the camera lens. It’s a brutal but necessary scene that fills in some of the gaps pertaining to adult Sam’s approach to Mohamad who has now truly become his protege. We’ve witnessed the ups and downs of this peculiar relationship, and now that he’s been turned, the young man seems much more willing to stick with Sam despite that fact that he appears to retain a certain amount of intellectual awareness regarding his plight. Is Sam beginning the education Mohamad will require if the two are to stand together with the Dark Figure?
Critical to understanding this new narrative shift for Sam is the scene in which he symbolically discards his finger necklace and replaces it with the totem he made under the tutelage of Officer Matthew. “You have what you need, but the one you choose must be worthy.” We don’t know whether Sam has a specific vision for what this individual should be and how he should act, but he explains to Mohamad that “you are vampire. You must learn to be what you are.” There’s always been a diabolical cleverness to Sam, but here, in his conversation with Mohamad, he takes a more cerebral approach and points out that the juvenile facility is “where I found who I am.” But what is Sam teaching Mohamad, and what is he preparing him to do? It doesn’t take long for the young man’s lessons to begin, and the Johnson family furnishes a convenient classroom.
It’s been awhile since we’ve encountered Mike and Chad and their attempts to ride out the vampire apocalypse while retaining as much of their humanity as possible, but there’s a certain naivete and confidence regarding their ability to succeed that generally leaves us waiting for the proverbial “other shoe to drop.” The Johnsons have weathered a lot over the years, but in Sam and his cunning savagery, they may have met their match.
At first, it’s convenient to believe that Sam is merely teaching Mohamad the finer points of hunting human prey, and set against Mike trying to do the same with Felix, it’s impossible to ignore the similarities between the two young men. With good reason, we’re bothered when mice invade our homes, but as e.e. cummings points out in one of his poems, “a poisoned mouse . . . is asking What have i done that You wouldn’t have.” It’s difficult to condemn those like Mohamad who are simply trying to survive to the next day, however, the problem here is one of intellect. Mohamad is a human being who still possesses a measure of free will unlike that of the mouse, and we know from Axel’s experience that it is possible to hold on until help arrives.
So why does Sam lock Mohamad in the underground bunker? Clearly, he’s been trying to teach his protege restraint, but that seems to operate counterintuitively to the animalistic cravings vampires experience. Does Sam want Mohamad to learn to retain whatever’s left of his humanity? It does seem strange that Mohamad has been forbidden to kill Felix, so we have to wonder whether Sam plans to groom Felix instead. After Sam turns Felix, we’re presented a beautifully choreographed slow-motion chase scene featuring Sam and Felix hunting Mike through the woods to the haunting sounds of “Flower Duet” from Delibes’ Lakme.
Felix has now come full circle, learning to hunt from both sides of his human psyche, but in the end we’re left wondering which of the young men Sam plans to take with him now that the time has arrived. That Sam changes totems just after Felix feeds from Mike forces us to consider the possibility that Mohamad’s time locked in the underground bunker may be longer than expected. Has Felix proven himself to Sam and replaced Mohamad as a worthy companion? Time will tell, but that certainly seems to be the case.
While “Rusty Cage” clearly focuses on Sam’s role in the looming conflict, what we learn watching Ivory and Scab reveals a potentially game changing development. Because of the Day Walkers and their ability to operate in the sunlight, Vanessa’s challenge grows exponentially. Though they don’t occupy much screen time here, Ivory and Scab witness first hand another, much more powerful breed of vampire. “I am the new breed. I am invincible. I am your future,” one of them tells Ivory just after she plunges a steel rod through the eye socket of one and a rod through the temple of another. Seemingly unfazed, both just remove the rods and go on about their business. As Scab cowers nearby, Ivory puts up a fight, and though she eventually succumbs to the vampire übermensch, she does take on their powerful abilities which she plans to pass on to Scab and her sisters.
We’ve never viewed Scab as a vampire to be feared, but Ivory’s transformation and willingness to include him in her return to the Sisterhood seems to inject new life. She tells Scab that this is their time to rule, and more so than ever before, he now seems driven to be great, no longer the mouse we’ve seen to this point. And though the four sisters they encounter on the way to the Sisterhood base of operations inform them that everything’s been destroyed, Ivory remains unfazed and tells them that she plans to restore the order.
Things are getting complicated on Van Helsing. Vanessa’s group remains committed to eliminating the Elders, but we really have no indication of how that will impact the Day Walkers and this new breed of seemingly indestructible vampires. Are either or both of these vampire groups operating under the direction of a greater force? And what role will the Sisterhood play once Ivory and Scab take control? While the Johnsons earn big-time points for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference, their viability in this rapidly changing world remains in question. Will Sam play a significant role moving forward, or is the Dark Figure part of a delusion his mind created to cope with the challenges he faced throughout his life?
Last season it seemed impossible that Van Helsing could narratively survive the prolonged absence of its titular figure, yet Scarlett Harker steps into the void, and the series doesn’t skip a beat. Now with the walls closing in on humanity and its chief defenders, Team Vanessa has its work cut out for them. “Rusty Cage” points out that despite her preparation and loyal following, Vanessa has little idea what awaits her and though she is under the impression that she’s on the final leg of her journey, nothing could be further from the truth. There’s a lot to learn on all fronts, and fortunately our job is to sit back and enjoy watching the pieces fit together.