As the old saying puts it best – IT’S ON, NOW!
If last week’s episode was a bridge into the finale, this week is the setup. Given that function, it does a good job of shaking up the board and getting everyone to their appointed spots for the show’s freshman season climax.
First off, let me just extend a ‘welcome back’ to series antagonists Thomas Eichorst and Eldritch Palmer, both of whom have been somewhat absent the last few episodes. Though of the two, I can really only say I missed Eichorst. Nothing against Jonathan Hyde as Palmer, but he’s only gotten to do just so much as an old, infirmed man, albeit one who bookends this week by reminding us what he’s getting for selling the world. Compared to his speech in prior episodes, I think this better sold the point than before. By comparison, Richard Sammel has made Eichorst into the show’s best antagonist – equal parts smug and intimidating, he’s made the role into a great representation of a ‘love to hate’ character, and one you get the sense he’s having fun playing in all his cackling glory. This week he gets to shine in both the present and some more of Abe’s flashbacks as well. The latter culminating in arguably the creepiest moment of the episode, a surprisingly creature-free moment as Abe finds himself trapped in a well, only to have Eichorst appear at the top to taunt him. His arrival into the scene is a simple, but eerie piece of direction, and probably the character’s best moment since his transformation back in the third episode.
As for our ragtag team of heroes, the developments are hit and miss across the board. Much as I’d like to bust Eph’s chops again, he doesn’t really have a lot to do this week outside of setting up one plot point that hopefully will factor into the finale instead of dying on the table like every other storyline involving the downed communications has. With that as a lead-in, suffice it to say, the show’s still trying to find a way to make Dutch relevant. I do feel kind of bad for coming down on Dutch as much as I do – the show is definitely wanting for better written women in its cast, and Ruta Gedmintas does seem like she’s trying to work through it. At the same time, her character is just so badly written it crushes all that good faith in an instant. It’s not even because of gender, either. Dutch is just a poorly written concept that initially existed as a means to an end – explaining how New York turns into a hot zone without the rest of the world getting wind of it – and is now flailing for a purpose in a setting where technology is largely rendered useless.
Her scenes with Fet are particularly frustrating in this regard because – I will admit it – Gedmintas and Durand actually have some good chemistry together. Not great, but it’s something you could tell could go places if the show lets it. The problem is, almost every one of their scenes together is written in such a way as to smack of arbitrary exposition, and this week is particularly painful on that front. There are moments where the look on Durand’s face even seems to say he’s aware of it and fighting back any number of sarcastic comments about the forced nature of it. However, to Dutch’s credit, the idea of hacking into an emergency broadcast signal is actually pretty good and gives her something to do, which will hopefully pay off next week.
The character who probably emerges best this week is actually Nora, and not a moment too soon. Like I said before, this show’s track record with women hasn’t exactly been optimal at this point. Nora has been in the best position to really help break that streak, but often she’s been stuck in the backseat, barring that one really awkward scene of consolation sex with Eph. This week, she gets the chance to step up to the plate, albeit in a harsh fashion. The decision to kill Nora’s mother off this early was something of a surprise – the books still kill her off, but not until much later (wondering if her original death was deemed too much for television). Here, it gives a great chance to really underscore the moral conflict she and Eph have been wrestling with since this all started and how each of them has grown from it. Everyone can see this is hitting Nora hard – partially thanks to an earlier scene which, admittedly, planted a death flag for mother dearest, and the reactions all show that; even Abe, despite his usual ‘harden yourself and do what must be done’ approach has a look of genuine pity on his face as he sees Nora go to finish the job. Compared to the earlier death of Jim Kent where both Eph and Nora kept arguing against killing him, her telling Eph to leave her with the blade is a huge, aleit painful, step forward. To that end, Mía Maestro finally gets a chance to shine in this scene, her agonized response really selling just how hard, but also necessary what she’s about to do is.
This development dovetails with Abe’s flashbacks this week, which makes the main story for him in this episode. After the allusions to it last week, this week finally confirms just how much the Master has stolen from him – everything. Once again, we’re reminded just how ruthless an opponent the human cast is dealing with. After being stranded in well whilst hunting for a vampire nest, Abe eventually escapes to find his family have been turned, forcing him to do that same harsh deed as Nora.
This also gives us the origin of Abe’s heart in a jar, taking a cool del Toro touch and infusing it with a tragic edge, realizing it’s last piece of his wife he has left, and even then he will have to abandon it this week. Besides its narrative value, the flashbacks are also some of the best parts of this episode in terms of direction (see the above mentioned well scene, as well as the tunnels leading up to it). Additionally, I’m continuing to like how Jim Watson is handling the scenes as young Abe. With this week’s story in the late 1960s, he handles the aging into David Bradley in the present well. With this turn revealed, I don’t know just how much we have left to see of young Abe, but if this is it, I’m going to miss these parts of the story. They’ve consistently delivered on the creepy front, as well as finding a good balance of historical flashback and -particularly this week- the more ‘traditional’ vampire narrative.
Finally, after weeks of being just left to float along, Gus’s story is starting to line up with everything else going on. Despite his axe-toting vampire hunter stance from before, this week sees him (somewhat understandably) focusing on getting the Hell out of Dodge (as it were). Initially, this means the vampire element is frustratingly downplayed, and his story goes back to feeling like someone changed the channel into a lackluster crime drama. This changes in the second half care of a cargo crate full of infected. After some decent moments of vampire killing, the main plot arrives to drag him in, almost literally kicking and screaming, care of the return of the vampire hit squad last seen several weeks earlier dispatching of the Luss parents. They still remain a mystery here, but with the penultimate episode and looks at next week in the previews, those questions will be answered soon enough.
This week marks the third time this season Peter Weller’s come back to direct, and I’m hoping he’s back in the future. While I won’t say he’s given the show its best work, his episodes have been consistently solid offerings all the same. With this week, we’ve seen the show arrange all the players for a big send-off, as well as give some of its cast much-needed developments. Again, this won’t be a show remembered for its rich characterization, but damned if efforts like these, when they work, aren’t appreciated.
It’s been a pretty wild ride so far, and we bring the show in for the end of its first season next week with The Master.
-Some much-needed development for Nora and good performance by Mía Maestro as a result
-Good atmosphere and direction in Abe’s flashbacks
-The quest to make Dutch relevant continues with no end in sight
-Though there is improvement in the second half, Gus still starts this week seeming trapped in another series