Jekyll and Hyde
Series 1, Episode 6 - "Spring-Heeled Jack"
Tom Bateman, Stephanie Hyam, Donald Sumpter, Richard E. Grant, Natalie Gumede, Michael Karim, Malachi Kirby
Regular airtime: Sundays, 7pm
US: 6 Dec 2015
The clever twist in this week’s episode is that while everyone, including Hyde (Tom Bateman), is out on the hunt for Victorian folklore figure, Spring-Heeled Jack (Malachi Kirby), the real villain, Kephri: a god of creation and rebirth, is able to literally get away with murder. When Jekyll takes his turn and uses his level head, the body-snatching, insectoid deity is finally ousted, but then it possesses Spring-Heeled Jack anyway; who goes off to steal body parts for the resurrection of a fallen enemy.
On the face of it, that sounds rather exciting, doesn’t it? Like one of Jekyll’s chemical brews, we have the mixture of cultural mythotypes with the combination creating something familiar but exotically original; but the execution left me feeling rather deflated this week after so much promise in the narrative and the atmospheric build-up of the last two episodes.
Last week, the legend of the Black Shuck was set off against a host of gothic tropes; drawing on specific images and references to previous dog/wolf stories. This week, Spring-Heeled Jack’s given a comparatively evocative opening scene: stalking the foggy London roof-tops at night, bats flying overhead as Jack offers close up glimpses of leather gloves and an otherworldly crow-like mask, his heavy breathing intermingling with the hissing of machinery. Jack drops off the ledge, then flies into the distance as the camera remains frozen in place, and a woman’s screams are heard. Here we have a steam-punk Batman-esque villain, it’s insinuated, but the character fails to sustain the same momentum throughout the show.
Yes, newspapers claim “Bodies found with missing organs”, and an angry mob wants to “flush out this animal”, but it’s all misdirection; Spring-Heeled Jack is actually Burton, an engineer’s apprentice who wants to fight crime, like his grandfather. This draws comparisons with Jekyll, who’s trying to turn his own family image into something more positive—but what we end up with is a variation on The Rocketeer (which is also based in the 1930s), which again sounds absolutely fantastic at first, but amounts to a winged youngster in a gimp costume, ready to fly into danger but entirely limited by his amateur capabilities and the budget constraints of the show. Riddle me this: When you know that flying in open spaces is your only tactical advantage, why would you chase the villain into the sewers or into an old music hall?
Within the first 10 minutes of the episode, Max Utterson’s (Christian McKay) funeral served to remind Jekyll that “he died because of me”; what Jekyll then fails to do is learn anything from that experience, as Burton’s over-exuberance makes him Super Max Mark II, with a similar fate awaiting him. What we don’t have in this episode is the kind of super-hero team up that was being ably carried out by the Green Arrow and The Flash over on CW, only last week, as there’s no interconnection between Hyde and Burton; their personalities don’t match up, and neither do their abilities, interests, or attitudes, making their conversations seem especially forced.
One of the most particular attributes of Sprin- Heeled Jack, as he was reported in the Victorian papers and developed in that penny dreadful literature of the time, was that he had a peculiar sense of humor; thinking nothing of attacking vulnerable women and teenage girls, scaring children through their windows, or slapping soldiers in the face; with all events ending with him bounding off into the night laughing like a mad-man. In Jekyll and Hyde, women and police officers are attacked, but in order to withhold the identity of the actual culprit, the distinctive qualities of the characters are all removed, ironically (for the episode) leaving only a husk behind, and thus defeating the purpose in bringing a distinctive Victorian character into the 1930s.
After being MIA. last week, the MIO are now back and, picking up from where they left off, having decided to recruit Jekyll, because, as Sackler (Tom Rhys Harries) illustrates: you “set a thief to catch a thief. Set a monster to catch a monster”. Blunt, and now getting to be a repetitive sentiment; but it also true to only a limited extent. Whilst the MIO (and Bella [Natalie Gumede] in her time of crisis) are really only interested in the strong Hyde figure and his strength, it’s equally Hyde that catches the wrong “monster”, allowing another murder to take place. As Hyde encounters the gunk from Kephri, rather than making a scientific chemical analysis that could have lead to a rational biological conclusion and saved lives sooner, Hyde licks the glop and merely spits it out. The scene felt like an episode from Due South, in which Fraser (Paul Gross) was having a psychotic break.
The MIO also have an ace up their sleeve in controlling Jekyll: they have Ravi (Michael Karim) locked up in their cells. Well, they did do, until Jekyll asked for him to be immediately released, which he was. I would have thought that with all of Bulstrode’s (Richard E. Grant) talk of having to blur the line between good and bad, the leverage angle would have worked much better than the “fake crisis instantly resolved” that we’re presented with here. But then, the MIO have a very Die Hard way of analogizing their relationship with evil; offering that there are films “Where the men in white hats fight the villains in the black hats” and that they’re “the men in the white hats”. Yippee ki-yay and all that, but in Jekyll and Hyde the problem is that they all wear black hats—especially “good-guy” Burton, who wears a black mask.
Put away the moonshine and break out the best stuff because Ravi is back. He immediately manages to alert Jekyll to the fact that his foster parents are dead, and then blurts out the Biggest Lie in London: “I’ve done rather well myself thanks”. No Ravi, no you haven’t, but points for optimism. Accessorized with this season’s Ravi are medical files, family documents, and an envelope marked for Jekyll’s eyes only; all of which have been confiscated by the MIO, probably so that a big reveal can take place later on in the season.
However—and I don’t say this very often—well done Ravi; well done for hiding pills for Jekyll in the statue of Kali, goddess of change. We are told that “her name comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Kala’, meaning ‘time’ or ‘death’”, so whilst it may have seemed droll at the time, picking a figure who’s known for overzealously severing the heads of her victims and dancing on their corpses in the name of good; getting the equivalent of a Death tarot card in the post seems to be a little bit insensitive looking back, but at least you’ve glorified drug smuggling.
Kali is drawn from Hinduism, whereas the big-bad of the episode, Kephri—god of creation and rebirth—belongs within the ancient Egyptian pantheon. Kephri was depicted as either a scarab beetle, or as a human male with a scarab for a head, so I guess that’s only one small leap to becoming a body-snatching super-bug. This link with the old gods picks up on a theme that was expanded upon in episode 4, before the diversionary tactics of “Black Dog”, and it’s genuinely frustrating to find the theme reiterated but sadly not expanded upon. There are clearly historical connections between all of the monsters, as they exist within the same universe; Kali and Kephri share some similar functions within their own religions, but knowing the precise nature of their relationship might be held off so long as it’s dramatically convenient for Jekyll to be floundering in ignorance.
Jekyll might find out more if he properly read the family book he was given last week. For an educated man who’s on a mission, it rings a little false that he seems merely content to flick through its pages, looking at the pictures in desperate times. At least with the necronomicon over on Ash vs Evil Dead, Ash (Bruce Campbell) has the decency to read some of his fantastical grimoire—although in doing so he also invites the end of the world, which might not be that helpful for Jekyll. When Hyde points out that “modern science [is] no match for good, old magic”, he’s making a dramatic attempt to smooth over the fantastic element of the narrative. Consequently, the reason that I find Jekyll’s literacy skills annoying, is that the other characters then have to pick up the slack in preposterously unbalanced ways, either talking about supernatural occurrences like the “drunk angry mob”, or Ravi’s CSI-like observation that the police man could’ve been killed by something “like trichogramma minutum […] it’s a parasitic wasp. It lays eggs inside of a live body. When they hatch, the larvae eat their way out”. A happy medium from an expert whose been through it before would’ve been preferable.
Organ harvesting, distended broken jaws, spindly insect legs pouring out of the chattering mouths of innocent victims moving like a stop-motioned Judderman (seriously—look up his advert if you don’t know/remember him), and desiccated corpses comparable to those from the 1990 film Arachnophobia; when this episode is not being distracted by Burton (whose function appears to be a counterbalanced “not all monsters are actually monsters” type vibe to the proceedings), it also has no problem bringing true horror to the fore and holding it up to our faces.
The reason for all of this body-snatching is the resurrection of Captain Dance (Enzio Cilenti)—who, bathed in light and reclining in a bronze tub of some sort—appears gross and slimy and maybe a little like his internal organs are on the outside of his body. Dance represents a contrast with the funeral of Max at the outset of the story, and also the end point for a narrative that has featured a death/rebirth god. I won’t linger too much on the visual element (it looks spectacularly bloody for an early evening show), but I do want to take a moment to acknowledge that this constant resurrecting of characters in fantasy television is beginning to get tiring.
This year alone, we’ve had Black Canary in Arrow, Cisco Ramon in The Flash, Lily Frankenstein in Penny Dreadful, Clara Oswald in Doctor Who, Glenn Rhee in The Walking Dead (although he didn’t die, the cliffhanger was designed to indicate that he was mortally attacked by walkers), quite very possibly Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, and now Captain Dance in Jekyll and Hyde all brought back from the narrative closure that used to come with death. There’ll be more, I’m sure, but just thinking about it all is pretty fatiguing (yet probably worth exploring further). It could well be that in this new Golden Age of Television, viewing figures are the ultimate elixir of life.
For an episode that features a funeral, has conversations about deceased family members, shows a murder in “Dead End Dairy”, has Jekyll shot with enough monocane to “have killed ten normal men”, contains the cheery comment that “the only way to kill a Hyde is to kill a Jekyll”, the off-hand observation that “Bella’s going to kill you”, and the phrase “They say that dead men tell no tales”, as well as the death of several people through the actions of a serial-killing god whose entire existence is permanently tied in with associations of death, the theme, unsurprisingly enough, is death and murder. I counted at least 19 uses of the word “kill” (including “killer”, “killed”, and “killing”), and around half as many uses of the words “dead” and “death”. Whilst I know that this frequency of words may increase in episodes with murdered people, it’s extraordinary how there are almost no attempts to use synonyms, and this frequency certainly does not occur in any of the episodes thus far. I’m amazed that the episode wasn’t called “Death Kill”.
Given that I was ready to see Tenebrae developed further, with a greater exploration of the mythical gods and the horror elements from the last episode, “Spring-Heeled Jack” was an uneven viewing experience. I enjoyed the parts that furthered my insight into their world, but I was frustrated by the diversionary eponymous characte, who, besides offering a visually interesting steam-punk element, spent the whole episode being set-up to be a victim (and possible future “bad guy”). The incorporated horror was fun (if potentially deeply unsettling to younger viewers), but the return of Captain Dance and the expanded Bella (Natalie Gumede) storyline and backstory left me largely un-moved. Hopefully, Dance and Bulstrode will get the story back on track next week; even if somebody has to capture and/or sacrifice Ravi again to make it happen.