This Van Helsing review contains spoilers.
Van Helsing Season 4 Episode 13
With news of its fifth and final season renewal firmly in place, Van Helsing sends viewers on a mind bending journey that promises to retool the familiar storyline and teases the notion that a new generation of vampire slayers may be ready to take up the family mantle. With Vanessa presumably still trapped in the Dark Realm, “The Beholder” puts the season finale’s focus squarely on the shoulders of Jack and Violet, and the genetically engineered sisters do not disappoint. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that without the guiding hand and hard earned wisdom of Sgt Axel Miller, it’s entirely possible that this fight might have been over long ago.
Approaching a season finale is always complicated, but showrunner Jonathan Lloyd Walker’s decision to go all-in and leave viewers with a terrifying, yet strangely comforting final scene, cleverly sets up a series conclusion that gives the writers plenty of time to explore what it means to be a Van Helsing amidst the chaotic world they hope to return to the human race. The Van Helsing narrative has always featured some manner of misdirection, and now with the shapeshifter component in full swing, it’s become even more challenging for the characters and audience to figure out just who’s who and what the hell is going on.
Before we go on, however, it’s time to acknowledge Keeya King (Violet) and Nicole Muñoz (Jack), whose additions to the Van Helsing family continue to generate a highly compelling narrative payoff playing sisters who’ve had their worlds turned upside down. From the moment they appear in the season’s second episode “Dark Ties,” these two combine rough exteriors with a sensitivity that often clashes against the circumstances in which they find themselves. In Vanessa’s absence, Violet and Jack more than hold their own, commanding our attention as the burden to kill the Dark One falls on their heads.
Now that we know a government in some form still exists, the introduction of President Archer into the mix adds a new layer and long awaited plot point. Is there somebody out there still in charge? Archer establishes herself early on when she observes Avery held prisoner in the containment chamber. Archer understands the dangers this creature represents and asks Axel whether there’s “a way to kill it.” This brief exchange prompts Julius to remember the Sunshine Unit and wonder whether Doc may be able to help. Good news on multiple fronts because Doc’s absence continues to be sorely felt, and more importantly, the answers still seem to lie in the science. To this point, only a beheading appears to successfully put down a vampire.
Since her return to human form, Ivory adds a fresh perspective with her intimate knowledge of the Sisterhood and its tactics and aspirations, and we’re treated to a gentle scene in which the president not only humanizes herself but acknowledges the pain and sacrifices Ivory’s endured. While it’s a moving exchange as Archer recounts her son’s serious illness, Jennifer Cheon Garcia plays Ivory with a subtle skepticism that acknowledges the president may have motives yet to become clear. Later, when Jack begins her recovery and Archer announces plans to take her to safety, Ivory’s request to accompany her friend signals that all may not be as it seems. Of course, everything’s not as it seems since Jack’s not Jack, Archer’s no longer Archer, and the distractions multiply at a dizzying pace.
One of the greatest challenges Vanessa faces along her journey has been learning who to trust, and between Violet’s memories of the Dark Realm and the realization that the Dark One has taken Jack’s form, the truth becomes increasingly difficult to ascertain. One thing we know for sure, however, is that Jack remains trapped in a coffin somewhere in the Dark Realm while Dracula enjoys free rein in the real world. There are subtle hints that Jack is not who she appears, but it’s the flashback to their time in the parallel world that lays the groundwork for what takes place in the present.
Bathed in sinister red light, Violet and Jack appear in a room full of crypts that eerily foreshadows the season’s final scene, and a strangely familiar voice tells them to “follow and all will become clear.” Tricia Helfer’s Dracula returns, and as she nonchalantly pours tea into a cup, the attempt to draw the sisters into her dark world begins. “Come, my children; it is time you knew everything.” Considering everything these two have recently learned about their origins, any talk about revealing their true destiny is understandably met with a reasonable amount of skepticism. Implying that the sisters have been lied to only reinforces the evil manipulation Dracula imposes on them, and Jack clearly lets the Dark One know she’s not buying this approach. Does Dracula fear Jack more than Violet? “If I wanted you dead, you already would be,” she tells the sisters, but in the end, it’s Jack that remains trapped.
It’s not difficult to understand what’s going on here, and though it seems unlikely Dracula underestimates the sisters, the dark romantic setting replete with long dining table and elegant candles doesn’t appear to produce its intended effect. The girls have no reason to doubt their father’s explanation regarding their origins, but when Dracula offers to reveal the true identity of their mother, the situation becomes a bit more complicated. The vision she shows Violet and Jack of Willem and two women having sex seems to imply the girls were naturally born rather than created in a lab, and while that might provide comfort on a certain emotional level, their connections to Hansen and Vanessa prevent them from automatically accepting this scenario as the truth.
Dracula claims to have laid paths for the two girls long ago and to have also set a trap for Vanessa, but again, we don’t know how much, if any, of this is true. Did the Dark One really possess the power to send visions while trapped in the Dark Realm, and is there a reason she chooses to trap Jack rather than her sister? Dracula recovers the three pages from Violet and seems to view this coup as the means to her freedom. “Oh, Abraham, my savior after all.” Or is this some long con being played out over the course of a century? Nevertheless, no matter how extensive a plan to kill the Dark One Vanessa has in place, there doesn’t seem to be any good reason to allow Dracula into the real world. For the time being, it’s best to assume Dracula’s words are meant only to manipulate and further her own cause, and Vanessa won’t remain in the Dark Realm for long.
Well, long con or not, the Dark One is out and initially presents itself as Jack, but interestingly still has to get up to speed regarding the actual world into which she’s found herself. “This real world, you are in charge here?” she asks President Archer, and while, at first, it appears the president might turn out to be an unexpected ally for Vanessa’s team, that’s not how things play out. Transferring from Jack’s to the president’s form, we see where this is headed, and after Archer/Dracula (I’m not going with Arcula) orders Avery/Oracle released, the dark world’s two foremost progenitors walk freely out of the compound to board a helicopter. Where the president and her trusted advisor are going isn’t known, but it will be fascinating to watch the Dark One and the Oracle navigate what we assume will be either a military or political world once they reach their destination.
Now that Dracula and Bathory have gone, it’s time for the team to regroup, and after having her neck broken by the Dark One, Ivory’s motivation to save Jack and the others multiplies exponentially. Budding romance aside, if any loyalty questions about Ivory still exist, those dissipate rather quickly, and once she releases Violet from her hospital restraints, the two make a failed attempt to prevent the helicopter from taking off. Still, these two together should make for some charming scenes as Ivory will undoubtedly try to probe Violet for information about Jack.
At this point in the overall Van Helsing tale, we’ve grown accustomed to watching the characters operate from separate locales and cherish the all too few moments they spend together as Vanessa’s followers and family. And as much as the faux president may control the narrative in the foreseeable future, the discovery Axel and Julius make once they finally reach the Sunshine Unit drastically alters the vampire landscape. We get a quick camera shot of a Biohazard Testing Site sign lying in the weeds, and Julius fortuitously reminds us that this is the place that solacite is turned into some kind of vaccine which is precisely the moment we notice the orange tinted grass.
Arguably “The Beholder,” contains a number of turning points, and this latest vampire development must certainly be considered among them. Dead daywalkers litter a noticeably tinted orange field, and the natural assumption is that the powder killed them as part of the military’s Sunshine project. While this assumption turns out to be mostly true, the tactical use chemical doesn’t take out all the daywalkers, a fact that turns out to be painfully apparent when one rises from the tall grass and bites Nicholson. Before we even have a chance to process this turn of events, Nicholson makes a rash decision that on the surface may not turn out to be as consequential as immediately thought.
To be fair, Nicholson’s breadth of knowledge regarding vampires is rather limited, so it’s understandable that he chooses to put a bullet in his brain rather than live as one of these creatures. And while it remains to be seen whether a mere gunshot wound will signal Nicholson’s end, the daywalker that bites him seems immune to the orange agent dispensed on the field. Additionally, it possesses aerial abilities which adds another wrinkle to an already complex situation since this may be one of several enhancements the team will now have to face.
We’ve grown accustomed to the zombie-like characteristics inherent in many of the vampires in Van Helsing, and the ability to fly, even if somewhat limited in scope, brings another traditional piece of vampire mythology to the mix. And while a flying vampire gets our attention in this scene, it’s the wounded Julius and Axel that become instantly more problematic when neither heals after the attack. Though they make it to the Sunshine bunker, Julius collapses and despite previous evidence to the contrary, appears to be dead. Of course, the hope is that Doc is on the other side of the active security camera and will be able to treat whatever new ailment plagues Julius and Axel. More importantly, though, we’re forced to consider whether both men have lost their immunities and may have reverted to their original human states.
As we move into what will likely be a nine month hiatus before Van Helsing returns for its final season, it’s important to remember the woman behind the fight to end the vampire apocalypse. Though Vanessa has been absent for much of the season, her presence looms overhead, and as Jack finds herself trapped in a closed coffin in the dark realm, her mother’s comforting words speak volumes. “Don’t lose hope; I’m right here.” Will Vanessa free Jack and then return with her daughter to destroy Dracula, or could there be something else at play? We know the Dark One shape-shifts as needed, but is it possible that Vanessa now possesses this same attribute as well? Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but stranger things have happened on Van Helsing.
Lloyd Walker’s risk in presenting a season finale with such a huge cliffhanger could have been extraordinarily problematic, but the decision pays big dividends now that we know Van Helsing will return and the showrunner will likely have thirteen episodes to bring the tale to a satisfying conclusion. “The Beholder” steadily builds on the world in which Van Helsing and its characters find themselves, but it’s the growing emotional connections that continue to drive this enthralling tale of heroism, sacrifice, and self-awareness as Team Vanessa struggles to return the world to its rightful owners.