This Van Helsing review contains spoilers.
Van Helsing Season 4 Episode 3
Axel’s back, and he’s made a new friend. And though Kelly Overton’s Vanessa is noticeably absent from the episode, Van Helsing continues to artfully employ its recurring characters and guest stars to great advantage. Everybody’s got an agenda, and “Love Less” draws the triangle of Vanessa, Blak Tek, and the Dark One just a little bit tighter.
Does any actor play moral ambiguity better than Richard Harmon (The 100; Continuum)? While it’s still too early to tell whether Max turns out to be the borderline sociopath we observe in his first few scenes, all indications point toward a man entirely comfortable profiting from the suffering of others. “I love this God damned apocalypse,” he tells Axel as he shows him around the semi-palatial digs he’s commandeered for himself. Possessor of good whiskey and fine cigars, Max explains “I’ve been everything you can think of, and maybe some things you can’t.” Yet at this point, we’re more concerned with Axel’s pronouncement that he needs to set things right, and that “someone has to pay” than what Max currently does to support his lifestyle.
Of course, we know that Axel’s “someone” is Vanessa, and this newly bearded version doesn’t appear to be a man willing to listen to a rational explanation of the details surrounding Scarlett’s death. Axel’s suffered a lot post-Rising, but he’s not alone in that experience and should have more of an open mind when it comes to Vanessa’s role in the death of her sister. He also understands the evil that threatens the human race and the fact that Vanessa may be the only one capable of stopping its spread. We get that he’s hurting, but everyone’s lost someone.
Read more: Van Helsing Season 4 Episode 2: Dark Ties
While the revelation that Max moonlights as the warden of a prison that mines a mineral he claims wards off vampires and apparently doubles as a recreational stimulant may be a bit of a stretch, it puts Axel in a position to reconnect with Phil (Vincent Gale) and Jolene (Caroline Cave). As if skeet shooting the severed heads of dead vampires isn’t enough to alert his spidey sense, Axel’s response to the chained and obviously beaten pair leaves us to question whether he knows when to cut his losses or when to simply regroup and live to fight another day. We have to believe he won’t abandon them, but this looks to be a daunting task even for Axel.
Because of his indestructible nature, Phil’s importance to the Blak Tek storyline makes its presence felt, and when he’s reunited with the Loveland prison guard he shot in a desperate attempt to find his wife, the coincidences begin to pile up. Phil’s reunion with his wife Jennifer doesn’t go as hoped, and Jolene’s impetuous act not only gets them captured but subjects him to Max’s brutal interrogation as well. Interestingly, though, their lack of a real plan morphs into a rapidly formulated backstory that the two have actually been sent by Blak Tek to observe Max’s productivity at the prison. “Denver sent us,” she tells him, aware that she knows enough names to make her story seem believable. It’s a risk, but she has little choice at this point.
Unless I’m forgetting something, the only thing we’ve really heard about Phil’s family relates to him feeding on and killing his wife and daughter after Julius initially turns him in the early days of The Rising. However, Jennifer’s now human and working in the Loveland mine, presumably for Blak Tek. She’s clearly frightened when Phil and Jolene approach her, but it appears to be a fear centered more on potential punishment she’ll receive at the hands of Max than learning her husband is no longer a vampire. There’s more going on here than meets the eye, and how much Max knows about the corporate/military science experiment remains to be seen.
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While it’s certainly true throughout the course of her journey Vanessa has been surrounded by a number of strong female characters, there’s something about Jack that demands attention. She has little idea of the baggage she’s taken on by accepting Chad and Tabby into her clan, and when the child worries Chad plans to ditch her during the course of an ordinary supply run, the team is placed in unnecessary danger. It’s convenient to criticize Tabby for ignoring Chad’s instructions, but even though, like Phil, the child truly does have nine lives, she’s still a child doing her best to navigate this horrific apocalypse. That said, the skirmish Tabby causes does give Jack and Monica a chance to execute a nifty decapitation and explode a feeder’s head like an overly ripe melon.
Of course, Jack’s prowess with a blade takes a back seat in this scene. Guest stars come and go at an alarming rate on Van Helsing, so when one of the daywalkers bites Jack, it’s reasonable to assume this might be it for Nicole Munoz. Not unlike Scarlett, she makes the decision that her death will benefit the others she’s sworn to protect, and when none in the group agree to put her out of her misery, she thrusts a blade into her heart. Chad’s pleas that there might be another way go unheeded, and we understand he’s referring to Vanessa’s ability to return vampires to the human state. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Jack would be the first to understand the necessary indignity of Monica and Chad throwing her body into a dumpster to be set afire.
Still, it’s what occurs next that arguably stands as one of the most significant developments of the season. We know that Phil was initially turned by Julius, turned back by Vanessa, and finally bitten by a daywalker, a combination that appears to have bestowed on him his regenerative powers. It’s when we hear the faint “Help me” emanate from the dumpster that we realize there’s something special about Jack that goes beyond anything we’ve seen save for Vanessa. Jack recovers quickly, and though disoriented, she listens as Chad explains that the vampire who bit her turned human.
We know little of Jack’s story, but her connection to Vanessa now goes far beyond two women sharing a beer and swapping stories. Of course, we must question whether Jack is simply a genetic anomaly or if a more sinister explanation exists. Regardless, she feels inexplicably drawn toward Vanessa and tells Chad, “I gotta go find her now.” Even though Chad has certainly experienced a great deal during civilization’s collapse, and the circumstances seem to point in this direction, his statement about Jack’s importance come across a bit presumptive. “I think you might be part of the answer to all this. You’re part of the way out.” He knows a lot, but his reaction lacks the requisite sphere of knowledge required to make such a declaration.
As Jack strides alone into the life affirming rising sun, “Love Less” ends with a new beginning. Vanessa lost her sister in this fight, yet Jack represents a new hope not only against the vampires, Blak Tek, and the military, but against a darkness that Vanessa finally seems to have put behind her. Now we watch and wait as the players make their exits and entrances, and one woman waits to play her part. Okay, maybe two women.
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.