Van Helsing Season 4 Episode 5 Review: Liberty or Death

Van Helsing places more obstacles in Vanessa's path, but it appears she may have help from unexpected sources.

This Van Helsing review contains spoilers.

Van Helsing Season 4 Episode 5

“I don’t kill hope before it’s dead.”

There have been numerous twists and turns in the Van Helsing, post-Rising apocalyptic saga, and while some clearly foreshadow later events, others appear quite unexpectedly. “Liberty or Death” takes us deep into Blak Tek’s sordid past revealing an even more sinister underbelly than previously depicted through its apparent military-industrial complex cover story. And as the army of darkness marshals its forces for the inevitable clash with Vanessa, we have to wonder whether Hansen has any idea what he and the others are up against. Of course, the same could be said of Vanessa.

Coming on the heels of last week’s transformational communion scene between Vanessa and her followers, Hansen’s gang of four reassert themselves as followers of the dark when they feast upon the blood of an innocent as they move closer to an audience with the Dark One. But it’s what we learn in the flashback scene that changes personal and narrative dynamics moving forward. Learning that Hansen was part of the Blak Tek project in its early days comes as no surprise, but the revelation that eggs were harvested from both Vanessa and Scarlett when they were mere children shocks even the most stoic observer. Is this too much of a narrative stretch? Maybe, but it does provide more details regarding Vanessa’s genetic makeup, and it will be interesting to watch Vanessa’s reaction should she learn this news.

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We’ve talked at some length about Vanessa’s transformation, but the change in Sam, particularly after his ascendence as the fourth Elder, may be the most striking of all. His current calm demeanor and natty attire belie the fact that this is still the same cold hearted psychopath we meet in the series pilot. Whether it’s his heightened sense of smell that detects eavesdropping Violet or something else, Sam’s at his best when playing a game of cat and mouse. Does it get any creepier than when he stalks Violet while humming “the itsy bitsy spider?” Will finding her sketch of Vanessa aid their cause or send Sam off on a tangent of personal vengeance?

Read more: Van Helsing Season 4 Episode 4 Review: Broken Promises

There are several notable reveals in the episode, but perhaps none bigger than the news that Blak Tek has been the force by which followers of the Dark One meddle with science as a means to reconnect with their long dormant leader. Watching the Oracle, the recently risen Michaela, Sam, and Hansen sitting around an elegant table sipping wine and discussing their plans for world domination, raises several issues. Each has been working in isolation and likely in no hurry to surrender control despite the fact that it appears Hansen’s in charge at this point. Nonetheless, we learn that both Violet and Jack are the products of the harvested eggs of the Van Helsing sisters and two unidentified military sperm donors. Down the road I think it’s safe to say were going to have three very angry women.

Having read the files Avery takes from the lab, Violet suddenly learns the truth of her origin story and adoption. When she goes to confront her father and stumbles upon his true objective, director Jacquie Gold presents us with a stunning, yet revolting visual display as the four drink the blood of a physically restrained, white gowned Avery lying supine in the center of the dining table. With Verdi’s grim operatic masterpiece Rigoletto playing over the feeding frenzy, it’s difficult to ignore the stark contrast between this and the scene in which Vanessa gives of herself to save the band of feeders. Here the bloodlust of these four highlights their self-centered vision for the new world order they hope to create. 

The episode’s other big reveal becomes a bit more problematic as we now have to question what the hell is going on with Loveland’s warden Max Borman. From his introduction Max takes psychotic behavior to new levels as he oversees the mining operation and drug distribution ring, but the prison story becomes even more complicated once Phil tries to reconcile with his wife and her son Owen. Sensing an opportunity to extract information from the Phil, Jolene, and Jennifer triangle, Max takes great joy in being able to bludgeon Phil knowing the ex-vampire will keep coming back for more. 

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And therein lies the problem. After watching Max execute an incompetent radio repairman, the escape timetable for Axel’s little group necessarily moves up, eventually giving Jolene a chance to shoot Max in the side of the head. Okay, great; the nightmare is over, and Jeremy tells the other guards they’re free to leave. Not so fast, Sparky. Miracle Max is only mostly dead. Seriously though, we now have to first consider whether this is simply too much of a narrative stretch even within the context of a vampire apocalypse, and if we accept this new plot twist, then even more importantly, explain how Max survives a shot that clearly kills him.

Ironically, it turns out that Max exhibits the same physiological trait as the man from whom he derived so much pleasure in torturing. We know Phil is initially turned vampire by Julius, human by Vanessa, and is later bitten by a genetically enhanced daywalker, an amalgam we use to explain his ability to rapidly regenerate and ultimately resurrect. Yes, we’re concerned that Max has taken Jennifer’s son Owen hostage, but his connection to Blak Tek begins to make more sense and potentially cause more problems for Vanessa. Is Max a product of the Blak Tek scientists, or like Phil, did he acquire his powers organically along the apocalyptic landscape? It seems likely he’s been shot before, and therefore fully aware of his superhuman potential.

Despite Vanessa’s best efforts to bring civilization’s collapse to an end, “Liberty or Death” opens the Van Helsing narrative to new challenges for her as she traverses the new path she’s chosen. It shouldn’t be long now, but we have to wonder whether she’ll recognize the new Sam, cravat and all.

Dave Vitagliano has been writing and podcasting about science fiction television since 2012. You can read more of his work here. He presently hosts the Sci Fi Fidelity podcast.

Rating:

4 out of 5