This Van Helsing review contains spoilers.
Van Helsing Season 3 Episode 7
“Start fighting, assholes, or you’re all going to die.”
Lest we forget for a moment the brutality inherent in any apocalyptic event, writer/showrunner Neil LaBute makes absolutely certain we remember the terrifying reality our heroes face on a daily basis. From the opening sequence at a gathering of the Sisterhood, “Hunted Down” takes violent behavior and gruesome imagery to levels Van Helsing has only hinted at previously, but it does so with a purpose. It’s easy to become complacent at the often surgical precision with which Vanessa and Scarlett dispense of the current crop of vampires, but tonight we’re reminded that vampire killing is an ugly business and not everyone faced with that prospect bears the Van Helsing name. With that in mind, it’s become painfully evident that Vanessa has miles to go before she sleeps.
Director Leslie Hope’s initial scene puts the camera high above Scab who lies spread eagle on a circular altar as the sisters debate his fate and whether he should be accepted into The Sisterhood. It takes only seconds to figure out where this scene is headed when Scab cries out, “Make me a sister; make me like you.” Even though we get the sense that he understands what it is he’s asking Ivory and the others to do, the horrific implications are nonetheless borne out by Scab’s blood curdling screams as they remove his manhood with a pair of less than sterile shears. Scab desperately feels a need to belong to something, and the Sisterhood gives him an opportunity to find meaning in an otherwise senseless world. That he’s willing to make the ultimate sacrifice tells us everything we need to know about Scab.
With the appearance of another group of semi-organized feeders, it may be time to consider whether Vanessa and Scarlett’s quest is simply evolving into an exercise in futility. Will taking out the Elders and the Dark One suddenly sever some sort of psychic connection to all of those infected around the world, or will these pockets survive and require systematic eradication? While we wait for an answer, we’re treated to several savage encounters, the first of which involves Axel’s group. You’d think Marybeth would exert better judgement while Axel is off searching for fuel, and that being exposed in the open would lead to more conservative behavior. Nope.
There’s no denying that “Hunted Down” demands more of its viewers than ever before, and with Scab’s screams still echoing in the distance, Axel’s group must resort to the same barbaric approach their attackers employ if they’re to survive another day. Director Hope continues the Van Helsing trend of keeping combat sequences focused through tightly choreographed movements, a judicious use of slow motion effects, and kick ass music that drives the scene and engages the viewer. But let’s not forget that this is a horror series, and sometimes it’s just fun to blow stuff up and watch as the characters perform unspeakable acts of violence on each other. Whether it’s Axel executing a precise head shot that results in a head exploding like a ripe watermelon or Marybeth and Barry decapitating a vampire with a garden spade, this gruesome scene sends a clear message to the group that orders must be followed if they are to reach Denver safely. All things considered, we understand they had no choice. It was kill or be killed.
No one can accuse Van Helsing of being predictable, and when Axel’s group encounters a disabled vehicle on the side of the road, he must decide whether to stop and help even though it might endanger his group. This would not be the first time he’s walked into a trap, and despite the urgings of the others to stay put, he wades in anyway. Perhaps it’s with their recent encounter in mind that Dre (Danny Wattley) suggests they drive by since the threat of an ambush is simply too great, and it’s difficult to argue against that approach. It’s easy to criticize Axel for jeopardizing the group’s safety, but when he invokes one of humanity’s greatest axioms, we understand he has no other choice. Wouldn’t we want them to stop if we were in trouble?
It’s reasonable to expect that vampires will emerge from the disabled vehicle or hidden gunmen strike with the intent of commandeering Axel’s wheels, and though neither of these occur, it be can argued that it’s Axel’s somewhat officious manner that escalates the situation to the point that he feels obliged to kill the leader. Axel knows better than anyone that without strong leadership, survival becomes an imperfect prospect at best. He means well but has no true insight into this group’s history, and though he seems to quickly connect with the pregnant girl as they speed down the road, the nagging feeling that he should have just let this group go on its way persists. Regardless, once Axel senses he has no option other than to take down the leader, using Scarlett’s dagger to execute the kill shot seems entirely appropriate. And if that’s not the weapon she gave him when they parted, well, it should be.
Despite the questionable tactics employed here, the mention of Hawaii as a safe haven bears watching. Obviously, it makes sense that the isolated island group could have avoided the vampire uprising, and the mention of booking passage on a boat to sail there adds another option to the mix. But common sense tells us that successfully making it to Hawaii appears unlikely given that demand for a slot on one of these vessels must naturally be extremely high. Still, with Denver’s idyllic atmosphere in jeopardy, and the fact that the scope of The Rising remains vague, the survivors must continue to have targets to aim for. Hawaii could simply stand as an urban myth, but as long as it provides hope for survivors, whether it’s really possible to reach becomes less important.
And then there’s Kit (Maddie Phillips/Ghost Wars), the young pregnant woman. She and Axel hit it off immediately, and while I’m sure there are fans that would like to see these two build on this immediate connection, that’s out of the question. Let’s face it; he and Scarlett are a perfect match. However, that doesn’t preclude his taking an active role in Kit’s safety. Though the age difference isn’t that great, this has all the markings of a father figure ensuring his daughter’s safety as she waits to give birth to a child without the father present. Once the baby’s born, will Axel’s participation in Kit and her child’s lives expand? Probably not, since experience tells us that this group will remove itself one way or another, and Axel and Marybeth (Vanessa Walsh) will take their people and proceed alone.
While there’s no question that Sam figures to ultimately increase his importance to Vanessa’s quest to bring down the Dark One, for now, it’s his decision to abandon Mohamad in favor of Felix that comes back to haunt him. Interestingly, we now must question the visions both Sam and Mohamad experience. Still trapped underground, Mohamad alternates between seeking human comfort in the warmth of a bed and reverting to more pronounced animal like behaviors as he struggles find a way back above ground. However, it’s the appearance of Cara, the young woman he killed when the two were imprisoned by Sam, that offers him a physical way out of this predicament and suggests an emotional release from the guilt with which he will ultimately be forced to cope. We know that Mohamad will be turned back at some point, and once that occurs, like Phil, he’ll need to come to terms with things that he’s done while vampire.
Having gained his freedom, Mohamad appears intent on following Cara’s pronouncement that he kill Sam, and set against the Dark Figure’s order to Sam that he kill the one he loves, both men now face challenges presented by figures the audience recognizes as hallucinations. Nevertheless, it’s Sam’s confrontation with his demon that raises the most questions and certainly the most narrative possibilities. “It’s your time now,” she tells Sam, who first began seeing her when he was confined at the juvenile facility. From a psychological standpoint, it appears this Dark Figure (Amanda May) allows Sam to justify his vicious behavior and provides renewed purpose just as he’s losing his own direction. Are these figures real in a paranormal sense or merely manifestations of diseased minds? Good stuff.
Arguably the most frightening character to grace the Van Helsing landscape has been Sam, and now that the Dark Figure has reduced him to a being suddenly floundering aimlessly amidst the mayhem, we see a much less confident monster. She provides some cryptic messages that imply Sam’s destiny awaits, but what that actually means remains unknown. “Perhaps to be the next, if you do all you need to do; all you must do.” It’s impossible to feel any semblance of sympathy for Sam, and when he follows the “kill the one you love” directive by strangling Felix to death, we sense that he’s made a mistake. Or has he?
Does Sam take a shot that the Dark Figure will accept that Felix is the one he loves and allow him to move on to the next stage? Conventional wisdom tells us that the Dark Figure refers to Mohamad, and she immediately tells Sam he’s made a terrible mistake. “That is not the one you love.” It was never entirely clear why Sam chose to take Felix with him and leave Mohamad behind. A now distraught Sam faces not only the prospect of being alone, but also lacks a clear cut direction relative to the robed figure’s twisted prophecy of his destiny.
Though nothing has changed about Vanessa and Scarlett’s role in ending the vampire apocalypse, The Sisterhood’s reentry into the greater narrative offers some intriguing possibilities. We know they’re vampires, but there’s always been a sense that their goals don’t coincide with those of leaders like Dmitri, Scarhead, and the Elders. What are its goals? Tonight, they appear ready to merge with Scarhead’s group, but it doesn’t take long to see that Ivory has a much different plan in mind. However, it’s her declaration that they must “show them that there is nowhere left to hide” that complicates matters further. In an episode that throws one gruesome image after another at us, her disembowelment of the leader definitely makes the short list. Is disgustingly fun “a thing?”
As viewers, we’re not let off the hook quite yet as LaBute and Hope have been holding the best (or worst) for last. Lone wolf Sam aside, the sisters have been looming in the background for some time and now present another force with which to be reckoned. When Ivory (Jennifer Cheon) tells the newcomers that “first we’ve got some work to do,” we’re transported back to the opening and Scab’s initiation. Sometimes it’s what we don’t see that ends up being the most horrifying, and though we’re spared the mass genital surgery, Ivory makes certain we know with whom we’re dealing. Whether to gain her enemy’s courage or nourishment from its blood, Ivory symbolically feasts on the leader’s heart sending us into the night with an image not easily forgotten.
There is one final detail to address, however. Before Axel kills him, the leader of Kit’s group shows him the box of ore they stole before escaping their captivity. Since it’s unlikely that vampires are running a mining operation, we must then consider Blak Tek, the military, or both as the faces behind this process. And what value does this ore possess? We’re shown it for a reason; we just don’t know what it is yet.
It seems likely that The Sisterhood and Axel’s group are fated to cross paths on the journey to Denver while Sam struggles to find meaning in the Dark Figure’s prophecies, and given current troop strength levels, this meeting could turn into a bloodbath. Despite its preponderance of gore, “Hunted Down,” still manages to examine some basic human values that get easily misplaced during times as challenging as the post-Rising setting. Still, Van Helsing compels viewers to remember the core of what it is they signed up for in the beginning: Kicking ass and killing vampires. And it can get messy.
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.