Jekyll and Hyde
Episode 8 - "Moroii", Episode 9 - “The Incubus”, Episode 10 “The Heart of Lord Trash”
Tom Bateman, Wallis Day, Stephanie Hyam, Donald Sumpter, Richard E. Grant, Natalie Gumede, Michael Karim, Malachi Kirby, Enzo Cilenti, Natasha O’Keeffe, Mark Bonnar.
Regular airtime: Various
Before we get into the meat and bones of Jekyll and Hyde‘s final three cadaverous episodes, one thing should be addressed first: on the 5th of January, it was announced that plans for season two had been cancelled. For those of you that have been following my series of reviews, you’ll have probably picked up on my cautious attitude towards a show that I genuinely wanted to succeed, as for every fantastically gross creature, clever reference, and pulp adventure step forward, there were also the restraining shackles of slightly wonky execution, as well as having to adhere to the limitations of pre-watershed family entertainment. Urgh, will somebody please stop thinking of the children; they’re probably all watching downloaded copies of The Walking Dead on their iPads anyway!
Jekyll and Hyde received hundreds of complaints from irate parents thinking that another Doctor Who-esque treat was going to be put before them; and whilst the shows have many tonal parallels, the original source novella is still a gothic thriller in which people die violently and copious amounts of drugs are consumed. For myself, these are ticks in the box, yet the adaptation seems to have been roundly chased out of the village by an angry pitchfork mob for vaguely following that trend and updating it in areas, like making Hyde (Tom Bateman) into some kind of demographic-friendly lothario.
I was hoping that a second season might be shown at a later time, if not during the twilight hours, then certainly in the evening, when Penny Dreadful characters could merrily cavort with frenetic 1930’s adventure tropes with impunity; but no, aided by last-minute timetable changes, the viewing figures dropped from 4.8 million to 1.8 million viewers, so off to the stake we go for a good ol’ fashioned burning.
Nevertheless, before we roast our toasty marshmallows on the embers, let us exhume and unpack the last three episodes of the series to examine what worked within the show, and why ITV stopped backing a show that frequently teetered more towards headless horse than headless horseman.
The central conceit of episode eight: “Moroii”, is a prime example of how brilliant and frustrating the show could be. As viewers, we’re introduced to the idea that a young vampire woman—a femme fatale who would literally have your guts for garters—is stalking the streets and apartments of London. In the pre-titles scene, dogs bark, bells ring, someone squeals, and a man in top hat and white tie (Jeremy Neumark Jones) has a sexy champagne and bedchamber rendezvous with a beautiful woman (Wallis Day). After a conversational back and forth about being ravenous, and that “there’s a vampire running around. Seems to have a taste for boys like you”, the man who has “influence” winds up dead on the floor with parallel puncture marks on his neck.
What’s not to love? We have lots of classic horror tropes, evocative of an unsettling, gothic atmosphere. We have the lusty undertones, seen in numerous erotic iterations of the Vampire mythos. We have an obvious play on the idea of being hungry—famished for blood, of course. We have a pseudo-Victorian landscape to play around in, embellished with striking black and golden furniture. And, we have a dead member of the aristocracy, whose name, Lord George Watts, might be tantalizingly significant (it could be a reference to George Frederic Watts and his allegorical paintings, but the exact connection is lost to me) but also possesses character traits that make us kind of glad he’s been shuffled off the mortal coil. The sword-cane—faintly reminiscent of Abraham Setrakian’s (David Bradley) cane from The Strain—momentarily implies that he might pose a physical threat to the woman, but the self-righteous exhortations of “You know who I am?” dissipates any villainous associations for the fact that he’s just more defenseless grist for the macabre mill.
Yet for all of these shadowy promises—and more than one episode in the series follows this same bait and switch tactic—it turns out that the episode doesn’t contain any vampires in the way that we’ve been lead to believe. The woman is actually Robert Jekyll’s long lost sister, Olalla (from episode four), and she uses a double-pronged, pointy thing (“Tenebrae call it the sangrias maxilla. I just call it my blood spike”. I just call it disappointing) to extract blood from her victims as it fuels her diabetic need to remain in the Hyde state and avoid crashing into her weaker state. On the one hand, this update of the vampire myth jettisons our precepts of “too many cheap novels”, and replaces it with a family-friendly motivation for why vampires feed, but it also diminishes some of the pleasure to be had from a proper vampire tale. In fact, the episode kind of loses interest in Olalla’s potential once she has fought Robert in a rather amusing clash of the Hydes, because they are essentially the same character approached from slightly different angles (further reflecting the Jekyll/Hyde duality)—except she is eminently more interesting for not constantly wallowing in self-loathing tedium. She also tried to kill Ravi (Michael Karim), which I rather enjoyed.
Playing Olalla, Wallis Day’s all hopped up on blood-E-numbers with her flared nostrils and wild-eyed sense of fun. Whilst she often reminds me of Rik Mayall’s utterly spectacular turn as Lord Flashheart in Blackadder II, the whole pantomime is far more convincing than Tom Bateman’s Hyde, who’s been given the impossible task of being “gruff-sexy” without any apparent motivation beyond a hidden personality quirk that makes him occasionally act like a high school-aged douche.
Unlike Robert, who grew up with an adoring adoptive family that hid their secret knowledge of his potential for evil and frequently gets light-headed around women, Olalla was remolded by Captain Dance (Enzo Cilenti) to embrace her dark side and blacken her soul. Adding further depth to her character, Olalla also pines for her old love interest, Santiago (is this the same Santiago from Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles? Hopefully it’s not one of the Santiagos from Twilight: Breaking Dawn or The Mortal Instruments), who she also alleges to have killed in her service to Daddy Dance. However, once she joins Robert, Olalla becomes thoroughly neutered (nobody can kill her, and she can’t kill Dance) in favor of the presence of a monster that everyone can wail on with impunity. Olalla becomes more of a surreptitious specter in the corner of the room, stalking corridors with no real motivation, and reminding her brother of his inherited blood-line rather than enacting an interesting vampire sub-plot which, like the Jezequiel weredog members of the family tree, could have been stretched out for longer than the first few plot beats of one episode. If we see the show continue in any form, Olalla should be front and center, scowling through the bars of the fourth wall at the viewing public.
At this point, the “vampires” that we crave are revealed to be leech-like “moroii”, squirming about the tunnels and inlets of the Thames, harvesting bodily bits-and-bobs in an attempt to resurrect Captain Dance. The combination of practical effects and CGI make the moroii come to life in a way that mirrors how the Men In Black series of films updated the horror B-movies of yesteryear—we even have a heavy emphasis on large creatures that improbably detonate into large quantities of viscous fluid (the kind that gets into your mouth because you’re too slack-jawed at events to react fast enough), but aren’t they pretty much the same as the Reaper from the previous episode?
Like the reaper bug, the moroii have a mythical background. From Romanian folklore, the name refers to a type of vampire, which parallels Olalla, but a moroii can also be a soul that has come back from the dead to absorb the life-forces of the living—which is exactly the same M.O that we have from the incubus (Marco Nanetti) in episode nine. The incubus also has an interesting history, laden with details that imply a further textual depth that the show makers were aiming for. For example, in a flashback scene, the incubus presents itself in the guise of “Georgie Collins”; it just so happens that in the novel, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Holmes, there’s also a character taking on the pseudonym of “Georgie Collins”.
The incubus does a fine job of forcing Olalla to confront her own Stockholm syndrome in a complex encounter that trumps anything Robert has been forced to live with, but in the end the monster is brought down; first by mirrors (yes, that old hoary horror trope), one of Hyde’s humorous lines (“I wouldn’t want to catch my reflection If I looked like the devil’s backside”), and another of Hyde’s debilitating punches, which takes its head clean off. After an episode of introspection, zombified shuffling, and some of the most awkward embraces I’ve seen since John Travolta sashayed around Scarlett Johansson and Idina Menzel at last years Oscars, the old ultra-violence actually came as a sharp, welcome relief.
The problem we are faced with in Jekyll and Hyde though, is that once all of the clever metaphors, ancient names, plot-twists, and reversals are dealt with, all of these monsters are merged into one amorphous blob to be collectively prodded at with sharp sticks or punched in the face until they go away or explode.
The constraints of being early-evening family entertainment limit the format to a villain-of-the-week rota on which more complicated events can be hung. Whilst the show tries to develop its characters—some of which are even killed off mid-season—they’re all still brought back to a binary framework, which is significantly less interesting than the show desperately deserves to be, and less subtle than it clearly wants to be.
Again, both Tenebrae and the MIO try to play both sides of the board, but once the pieces are in place, everything unravels without much in the way of satisfying surprises. Olalla isn’t allowed to develop in any meaningful way because she’s primarily a plot point for Robert to riff off. The same goes for Lily (Stephanie Hyam) and Bella (Natalie Gumede). In fact, the moment in episode nine, where Lily and Bella interchange when the incubus is showing Jekyll/Hyde their true love, demonstrates just how much the two women have snuggly fitted into stereotypical binary roles.
Even more disappointingly, Lily, who has been tempting viewers with her withheld Mother storyline and advances on Robert, is revealed in episode eight to be a spy recruited by the MIO. For me, this twist was bittersweet, as her character change feels more like a perfunctory switch being flipped rather than some complex inner-struggle, reflecting Robert’s own battles and commenting on the necessity of bad deeds done by good people—which was a theme floated for approximately half an episode earlier on in the season. I’d rather there was a supernatural element to Lily’s Mother, but at least she’s given some historical motivation that fits in with the Hyde mythos: “My real name is Lily Carew. Have you met my father, Sir Marian Carew? And my grandfather was Sir Danvers Carew. Why Robert, we’re almost family”. But it’s all too little, too late. For a brief moment, Hyde offers that he “quite fancies” the new Lily, which would disrupt Bella’s place as the token bad girl, but quite quickly the dust-clouds are settled and the lines are redrawn as Bella and Lily return back to their respective corners, mutually enacting a truce as Bella remarks: “We weren’t about to fight over him, were we?”
It must be noted, however, that Lily’s constant toying and thinly veiled sexual teasing with Robert, in which he can only ever respond with Hugh Grant stutters and blushes, has been one of the highlights of the show, and it reaches its apotheosis in an episode 8 encounter when Lily offers: “Do you like oysters, Robert? I love them. I love the look of them. I love the smell of them. I love the taste of them. And when I swallow one… it has a physical effect on me. I come alive, but only for a moment, because I’m violently allergic to them. [....] I think you’re allergic to me”. This double entendre, which would make any Carry On film proud, parallels the implied eroticism of the Hyde transformation, but I’m even more impressed that they got this speech into a family show! Is this a glimpse of the more adult-themed program that we could’ve had? I can’t imagine one of The Doctor’s companions purring such innocent filth into his Gallifreyan ear.
At least Ravi finally becomes significant, with his new-found ability to see through the eyes of other people. This hangover from having an ancient Egyptian deity momentarily possess his body in episode seven matches Silas’ (Tony Way) super-toad vision, and there are a few interesting moments in episode nine, when the usually useless sidekicks psychically duke it out like arm-wrestling X-Men rejects, but again, like Garson (Donald Sumpter), Hils (Ruby Bentall), Maggie (Sinead Cusack), and Bella, all of these character traits and secret histories aren’t really given space to stretch their legs; they’re all too tightly packed into the plot. It could be that in the second series these narrative strands, such as Maggie’s resurrection; the significance of briefly glimpsed Keres (Kirsten Foster) and her secret base; and the last-minute revelation that the Jezequiel family crypt is also “A sealed entrance to the City of Dis”, (borrowed, no less, from Dante’s Divine Comedy) would’ve been explored in more detail, but I also kind of doubt it—unless it would have also served in the fight against the weekly monster rampaging in the streets of London.
On the side of evil, whilst Captain Dance languishes in a copper bath tub, Lord Protheroe (Mark Bonnar) and Fedora (Natasha O’Keeffe) take the center stage with an awkward mating ritual in which Protheroe tries to cajole Fedora into abandoning Dance, whilst Fedora pines for her recumbent soggy sack of body fluids. Ah, love!
Protheroe seems to have lost the political aspect of his characterization, but his slimy exchanges with Fedora in episode 10 are great fun to watch. Despairing at the potential loss of her lover, Fedora channels every ounce of angst from Victorian Sardou’s Princess Fédora Romanoff (even threatening suicide), exclaiming “Why does it feel like I have a mouth full of dust and ashes? What is the point of power if I can’t share it with (Dance)?” To this grandiose melodrama, Protheroe replies “You’re a strong woman, Fedora, and I like strong women. Don’t spoil it with a load of European angst. Huh?” Protheroe is an unctuous toad that we can love to hate, whilst Fedora actually garners some small measure of sympathy in staying by Dance’s side, only to be chastised by him once he is resurrected. In succumbing to the charismatic leadership of Dance, how’s Fedora that different from Olalla? This question isn’t explored within the space of the show, but a flashback to when all three were under the same roof at Tenebrae HQ might have offered an interesting insight into how their obedience to authority could have played out in juxtaposed competition, further paralleling the Lily/Bella dynamic.
As the series draws towards its termination point, Jekyll also finds it increasingly difficult to orientate himself within his world. When told that his newly resurrected nemesis, Captain Dance, “isn’t human”, Jekyll responds “I’m not sure what that means anymore. Am I human? Was my father?” And when Jekyll’s told to confront Lily with the truth of who he is, he meekly utters: “I don’t know what the truth is anymore!” At around the mid-point of the final episode, Jekyll finally starts to reconcile the two parts of himself; this enables him to move forward with a confidence that has been hitherto lacking. In his confession to Lily, Jekyll finally stops himself from blaming Hyde for his indiscretions, and offers that what he did was “unforgivable”. More significantly, this ability to accept responsibility for both parts of his identity leads to the final realization that Hyde can do what Jekyll can’t, “and not just physically; his mind isn’t tangled and confused like [Jekyll’s]”. After a brief analogy of Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian Knot, we should probably skip Jekyll’s rather modest comparison with one of the most significant rulers in human history, and focus on the rather phallic conclusion: “Hyde is my sword”.
In the last breathless moments of the final episode, a dying Renata (Amelia Bullmore) passes the onus of being the Gatekeeper of Hell onto a redemptive Olalla; the MIO base is attacked by Tenebrae, with a military secondment joining the fight against the reemerging Vetala; in Jekyll’s lab, Hyde attempts to crush the heart of Lord Trash before Captain Dance can release the contents of the Calyx upon the world; and everything is in super-slow Matrix-motion. Red shockwaves are emitted, barriers ominously glow blue, bullets are fired, and Hyde supernaturally races across the room. Next thing we know, everybody’s unconscious and the season has ended. Humph, is that it?
Without a second series on the horizon, the resolution to the narrative is incredibly frustrating, but perhaps it also best symbolizes my experiences with the show: when it threatens to let loose and revel in its own delicious set-ups, Jekyll and Hyde always pulls back and prefers to not follow up on its promises. It’s as though it’s constantly mindful of upsetting viewers who’ve been drawn to a horror show, but don’t want to be confronted with what they see. It’d be like chastising Doctor Who for featuring science-fiction, or watering down the fantasy elements of Game of Thrones, entirely undercutting the complexity and depths that the genre itself can bring to the table.
Jekyll and Hyde also experimented in merging horror themes with the pulp adventure format that has, for example, been toyed with for decades in the Universal, Hammer Horror, and Stephen Sommers incarnations of The Mummy series of films. Had the right budget been brought to the table, I’m sure we would have seen the two elements merge more coherently (like Robert sought to do all season), but don’t worry, nobody can be offended by Jekyll and Hyde now that it’s six feet under. Only a supernatural feat can resurrect it now, and it does deserve to live again.