This Van Helsing review contains spoilers.
Van Helsing Season 3 Episode 5
“Holy shit. You’re her.”
With Sam tucked safely away in the rear view mirror, Van Helsing turns its attention to Denver and San Francisco for two radically different perspectives of life during the later stages of the vampire apocalypse. While one group struggles to leave the past behind them and successfully integrate into what passes for a new normal, “Pretty Noose” reminds us that despite the clean beds and three square meals a day, Vanessa’s showdown with The B’ah still controls the narrative. And whether in the relative comfort of the Mile High city or the newly dangerous Bay Area, the specter of everything that’s happened over the past four years still hangs heavily overhead.
This week we return to a more traditional, multi-arc storytelling approach, and director Jason Priestley wisely avoids the quick cut editing style favored by so many contemporary genre shows. Instead, he allows each narrative group time to develop its story, and even though we’re presented several action sequences and the requisite amount of carnage, there’s a certain peacefulness and composure that resonates from the characters.
Make no mistake, there’s still a war going on, and even though Doc, Julius, Flesh, and Jolene have been released from quarantine to begin a new life in Denver, the sense that individuals might be able to return to their former lives seems almost too good to be true. Flesh, who rightly informs Julius that his name is Phil, seems to have the most difficult time of the four adjusting to these new surroundings. “I’m not your boy anymore,” he tells the man who turned him, but Julius has atoned for his past and deserves the opportunity to move on with his life. While it might seem a blessing to be provided these relative comforts, Phil can’t let go of the guilt he’s internalized all these years, and while intellectually he might be able to eventually absolve Julius of blame, whether he can forgive himself for his family’s demise looks to be a taller order.
You have to love gentle giant Julius. He’s grateful for the opportunities he’s been given and seems genuinely pleased to bunk with Phil even though he knows his roommate feels differently about the arrangement. We know Julius’ background, and while it seems doubtful he goes to the bar with the intention of selling his imposing size and strength, he needs to feel useful. And after everything he’s been through, the appeal of “bussin’ and bouncin” rather than weilding a gun seems the ideal situation. Is it too early to ship Julius and Frankie?
Though she’s often been present on the periphery, Jolene (Caroline Cave) still feels like a bit of an outsider, but it’s her pairing with Doc that offers a wealth of potential during this Denver experience. They desperately need each other if they’re to make a go of this chance at a new life, and the touching scene in which Doc reveals her sexual inexperience communicates her willingness to take another risk despite everything she’s already been through. The reveal that her given name is Sarah returns part of her former life, and though the monniker “Doc” carries with it a measure of respect for her talents, its generic nature adds to the dehumanization that all of these characters must overcome. Nevertheless, while Doc seems willing to place her emotional well being in Jolene’s hands, she’s come too far to abandon Vanessa’s journey.
Jolene mentions that of the four, only she was never a vampire. She doesn’t say this to boast because she has to know that in many ways this must be attributed to luck, but it seems too important a piece of dialogue to dismiss out of hand. Doc begins covertly examining the blood sample Scarlett gave her before they went their separate ways, and while keeping the truth about this sample to herself is clearly the wise approach, how long will it be before Jolene learns of its existence. It’s difficult to fault Doc’s curiosity because we know she means well, but are the writers setting up a scenario in which she’s tinkering with something about which she knows far too little? Jolene seems to genuinely like Doc, but as the later says, “I’ve never connected with anyone. I’m scared shitless.” If it seems too good to be true, it generally is.
However, the greatest impact of “Pretty Noose” revolves around the manner in which relationships begin to take on new meaning as the characters find themselves in situations in which failure appears to be the most logical outcome. It’s great to see Axel back in uniform leading a squad of men desperate for someone to take charge and make some sense of the world in which they find themselves, but once he severs his connection with Vanessa and Scarlett, we sense that this is the last time they’ll be together. That Scarlett and Axel seem afraid to acknowledge their budding relationship during their good-bye exchange speaks volumes about where they think things are headed. And while Scarlett’s confidence level ranks right up there with her sister’s, her suggestion that Axel find his men’s friends and then meet her for drinks later, rings hollow. We don’t have to wait long to watch things unfold for the pair, and yes, they both look great in uniform.
The Chinese connection materializes as Vanessa discovers the East Asia Trading Company crates at the dock, but once Axel and his men find themselves surrounded by these new vampires, “the flippy ones,” it appears certain we’re watching Axel’s last stand. Have these creatures been waiting in storage since 1896? No wonder they’re so pissed off. Their power was on full display during Vanessa’s trip to Hong Kong, so to think Axel and his men can defeat them seems unlikely.
Likewise, Vanessa and Scarlett find themselves lured into a trap, and though they manage to fight their way back to safety, their escape comes with a price. Scarlett has been gravely wounded as a result of the vampire’s poison, and now the only cure appears to be the attacking vampire’s blood. Have these two, who have so much to live for, gone down simultaneously?
But what really strikes me is the effect each sister has on the other. Vanessa absolutely beams as she talks about Dylan, and Scarlett’s interest in the niece she never got to meet brings out emotions we never see from either woman. They want to make up for lost time, and now that a trust has developed between them, the desire to know everything there is to know about the other rises to the surface. And while I’m a bit disappointed that this touching moment gets interrupted by The B’ah’s warriors, it still provides a more detailed view of the sisters’ development. Scarlett has become the more aggressive of the two, which is saying a lot considering everything we’ve seen of Vanessa, but Vanessa’s style and talent prove more effective. In fact, Scarlett’s pride initially seems more wounded than her shoulder. And, of course, it gives the women a chance to meet The Barrier.
Now that Vanessa seems more open to accepting help as she pursues The B’ah and the other Elders, the unexpected appearance of The Burier, (“You can call me Barry”) couldn’t come at a more opportune time. That there’s another pocket of semi-organized survivors out there doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but in addition to taking Vanessa to the docks in her search for the vampire that wounded Scarlett, Barry (Michael Jonsson) takes the opportunity to perform tonight’s “not for the squeamish” act of violence. Putting the finishing touches on Vanessa’s take down of one of the vampires, he smashes its face to a sickening, bloody pulp. It’s so over the top, even for Van Helsing, that it’s difficult to watch. I still watched.
We’ve arrived at a crossroads. The word is out that a savior walks among us, and at some point, doctors have apparently produced a vampire repellent. Given that quarantine facilities have been set up, it seems reasonable to assume that adequate testing has been performed, but it’s also unlikely that any of these doctors possess Vanessa and Scarlett’s depth of knowledge regarding the breadth and scope of what lies in wait at the behest of The B’ah.
So while “Pretty Noose” offers a glimmer of hope for a better future, Scarlett and Axel nonetheless stand on the precipice between life and death, a situation that could leave Vanessa alone to face The B’ah. In the meantime, Vanessa’s efforts turn to saving her sister’s life, and vampire killing gets placed on the back burner. Can she save the day? Word on the street says that Vanessa’s the savior. I guess we’ll find out.