This Van Helsing review contains spoilers.
Van Helsing Season 1 Episode 3
Sometimes it’s difficult to know just who to trust. The power of Van Helsing’s third episode “Stay Inside” resides in the burden each member of the core group carries as the outside world creeps closer, forcing them to make some difficult choices. Watching the pieces begin to fall into place, some painful truths must be accepted, while others are simply too horrific to face.
The main thrust of “Stay Inside” centers on the crumbling social contracts that enable civilization to function, and while it’s undoubtedly safer to remain inside the hospital building, the emotional and physical stress begins to take its toll. Vanessa worries about her standing in the group and with good reason, since the others now view her presence as a liability. Staying put no longer remains an option.
It doesn’t take long for the group members to recognize that there’s something about Vanessa that puts them in even more danger than they’re already in, and it comes as no surprise that they discuss whether or not to turn her over to the Feeders. However, though Axel tenuously remains in charge, the group’s power structure begins showing its cracks after the civilians question his decisions regarding their safety and Vanessa’s status. While we’ve seen this military vs civilians conflict before, most notably in Battlestar Galactica and Stargate Universe, Sam and Mohammed’s support of his authority, leaves Axel secure for the moment.
The relationship between Sam and Mohammed bears watching as they continue to play a vital role in preventing the group from devolving into anarchy as Sam’s physical presence and level head blend perfectly with the zeal of his young companion. It’s fascinating to watch Mohammed’s willingness to put himself in danger for the group’s benefit, which invariably forces Sam to rein in his impetuous protege when he goes too far. This is a pair to keep an eye on moving forward, as Axel’s cold, calculating demeanor begins wearing thin on the others.
John continues to be a problem and oversteps when he tries to surrender Vanessa to a group of Feeders (the Enclave?) in return for his wife who is being tortured by them. He snatches Axel’s gun, but the marine quickly recovers and promptly executes John’s wife before the ensuing struggle sends their power generating windmill toppling over. It appears that Axel’s intention is to put her out of her misery before things get really gruesome, but her husband understandably doesn’t see it that way. As painful as it may be to acknowledge, is it possible that her death turns out to be Axel’s retribution for John challenging his authority? Now, both Vanessa and Axel must sleep with one eye open.
For all of that, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this episode’s arc involves individuals forced to deal with the consequences of their actions moving forward in the vampire apocalypse. The introduction of Flesh to the group reminds us that much of the horror comes from within despite a fixation on the Feeders and other obstacles wrought by the holocaust. Is there anything more unspeakable than a man coming home and killing his family? Here, the writers make the decision to leave it to our imaginations and not show us a just-home-from-work Flesh feeding off his terrified daughter and her younger sibling. We don’t learn the reason he spares his wife, but her presence compels him to acknowledge the depth of depravity to which he’s fallen.
And it’s here that we accept Flesh into the group despite the harsh reality that he was one of them before encountering Vanessa. How can we overlook what he did to his children, and more to the point, can he ever forgive himself. Yet the terrible nightmares he experiences and the knowledge of what he was and what he did weigh heavily as we reassess how we feel about him. Will the others refrain from attempting to kill him out of fear for their own lives? And can they really be blamed if they try since no one really understands the intricacies of this syndrome? Still, is it really fair to blame someone like Flesh? He didn’t ask to be bitten, and the self-loathing he feels goes beyond what any reasonable person should expect a man in this position to endure.
While she’s been more adept at concealing her self-condemnation, Vanessa’s single-minded desire to search for her daughter far exceeds what we see on the surface. Axel takes a pragmatic approach with her and truly believes what he’s saying, however, she’s not ready to accept his logic that her daughter is no longer alive. “It’s not possible; not in this world,” he bluntly tells her.
While Vanessa’s vulnerability grows more evident, it’s Axel that recognizes her worth and refuses to allow her to wallow in a bout of self pity. “I haven’t been protecting you for three years because you’re not special,” he tells her even though she steadfastly refuses to acknowledge that she may have caused Flesh to revert to a human state. Reading the situation correctly, Vanessa accompanies Axel on his generator parts quest primarily because she knows she’s safer out there than alone with the rest of the group who now question the wisdom of having her on their side. Am I the only one that sees Vanessa’s carrying the red ax as a Shaun of the Dead homage?
As the episode winds down, fundamental questions mount. Why does Vanessa take the dead woman down from the pole and carry her inside, placing her on the table? To give her husband John closure? And what about Doc? Axel asks Vanessa to let Doc bite her but when she nervously enters the cage, Doc won’t go near her. It’s as if she senses what will happen, and quite frankly, at this point, there are no guarantees. Finally, Vanessa takes matters into her own hands and bites her. “What am I? Do you know?” she plaintively asks Doc who must now struggle with her return to humanity, though we assume, thanks to Axel’s efforts, she will remain relatively guilt free. It’s certainly true that Vanessa continues to battle identity issues, nevertheless, she’s in a better place than either Doc or Flesh.
Most viewers understand the trappings inherent in the reluctant messiah scenario, but Vanessa’s willingness to expose herself in the face of hostilities both internal and external reassures us that her lone wolf attitude may only be temporary. Of course, we want her to find her daughter alive, but at this stage it may be more important that she find herself. Now that she and Axel have abandoned the relative safety of the hospital, we can only speculate how the others will deal with their absence and more importantly their return. Van Helsing moves slowly at times, however, the visceral nature of each episode allows us to connect with the characters in ways we don’t in traditional settings. Another solid episode, but it’s time to go exploring.