Jekyll and Hyde: Series 1, Episode 2 – “Mr Hyde”

"Mr Hyde" adds more violence and a dash of cultural insensitivity to this strange brew of a series.

Between Ofcom and ITV, last week’s episode amassed more than 800 complaints, and despite starting half-an-hour later this week as originally scheduled, I foresee a few more angry pitchfork and torch mobs on the way.

For those that were in doubt about whether this series would be suitable for young children, look no further than the opening moments of the second episode, where entrusted with a key from his father, the previously pointless Ravi Najaran (Michael Karim) staggers out of his family home and encounters a Vetala: a zombified soldier of the Tenebrae (the villainous organisation of the series). This hooded skeleton warrior dislodges his bottom jaw, screeches, and goes to attack. The nonplussed hero returns the greeting through stabbing the decaying mobile-ossuary, upon which it promptly explodes in powdery pain all over the collective faces of what must be a slightly surprised viewing audience.

Apparently, one of the reasons why we didn’t see all of the Najaran family die last week, was because, well, they didn’t all die. Same with the Harbinger (Man-Beast, how we’ve missed you!) This week, Ravi becomes the narrative counterpoint to Jekyll (Tom Bateman) as he goes on his own journey, spurred on by a terribly drawn Goonies map and what must be some mentally scarring advice from his father: “Trust no one.”

Not quite the Ceylonese Mulder to Jekyll’s Scully though, Ravi finds himself arrested and jailed by lazily drawn racist British officers, then introduced to the character of Herath Banda (Nadika Aluwihare): “The greatest bandit chief of all Ceylon”, who for all intents and purposes may as well have tumbled out the same My First Book of Caricatures that Disney’s Aladdin used. (I’m holding out for a musical number about a Lost City of Thieves next week…)

Ravi’s culturally insensitive Odyssey then takes him through a jail break via the medium of elephant (in an age of motor vehicles), where he then goes to a temple for no discernible reason, whilst being pursued from an old, shuffling, bearded man. At the end of the thankless rainbow, Ravi finally finds something of interest for next week: a Lost-lite secret trapdoor in the forest, which contains many cabinets of yellowing papers; one of which is marked ‘Robert’.

By contrast, Robert Jekyll has a comparatively quiet week. Even the eponymous Mr Hyde only appears in the later throes of the story, where despite some more one-punch-knockout fighting, an awful CGI descent from a roof top balcony, and the most hilariously teenage passive/aggressive alternating behaviour around women (girls make him feel funny!), their sojourn is generally limited to ancestor Jekyll’s creaky old Victorian gothic house. After the briefest flirtations with oil-lamp detective work, including a stint of looking up at an old portrait over the fireplace and scowling, Garson (Donald Sumpter) the former assistant to Henry Jekyll (David Bark-Jones) decides he’s had enough and just points at the secret doorway to an old underground laboratory — nicely paralleling Ravi’s own discoveries –within which lies a flashback to coloured bubbling liquids and scientific self-experimentation, the likes of which are sorely missing from the contemporary 1930s narrative.

For someone who until only recently was very much completely surprised by his mood swings, in this episode Jekyll now calmly reconciles the scientific and supernatural threads that his metamorphosis engenders: “I was born with a hormonal imbalance. Rogue chemicals bouncing around my body. All my life I’ve been prone to outbursts”; versus in the next breath: “The Ceylonese believe that demons get inside of us: a Yakshaya, and it is these Yakshaya that cause us to fall ill or go mad. Even now, I can feel something fighting to get free.” Lifted straight from the original novella, the phrase “man is not truly one, but truly two”, is mentioned enough times that it becomes an excuse, or at least fact of their reality, implying that Hyde won’t be separated from Jekyll anytime soon. As for myself, I was both excited at the possibilities and slightly bored by the realities of the episode.

Clearly, the laboratory represents one avenue that Jekyll could follow in trying to explore Hyde, and the Ceylon/Yakshaya could become a parallel investigation into the mystical side of the debate, a possibility hinted at last week by a ranting old lady, but not made especially clear (possibly due to the ranting old lady).

As with the last episode, the Najaran and Jekyll storylines are still far less interesting than the Tenebrae and MIO plot beats. Captain Dance’s (Enzo Cilente) journey aboard the SS Pollock to England, is enlivened by Fedora (played by Natasha O’Keeffe of Peaky Blinders), a femme fatale companion who has appeared from nowhere to seductively stroke necklaces and purr on Dance’s shoulder. They also possess a crate full of murderous assassin monsters that apparently need to be fed the bodies of MIO agents as though they were baby birds. To quote the subtitles’ sound-effect labels: “Squelching. Snarling. Munching”.

With the MIO spy taken out by a supreme James Bond maneuver — the kind of which makes you root for the bad guy because he seems to be the only one making the effort — the viewer remains the sole witness to Dance’s skin condition: permanently peeled back flesh that reveals an audibly pulsating heart set within a generous, glowing internal-organs mount. Delightful; but more importantly: interesting! Could he be an updated version of the classic Universal Mummy (1932-1955)? His minions certainly look and act like they’ve been lifted from the The Mummy (1999 – 2008) films.

Sir Roger Bulstrode (Richard E. Grant) and the MIO aren’t quite as active as last week, although there’s still an awful lot of sitting around, smirking, and talking about problems by way of exposition. Bulstrode appears to be tasked with being the quotable character in the show; this week we have: “We’re the nightmare police, Sackler. We make sure that when the people of Britain wake up, the bogeymen are gone”, and: “If we cease to believe in gods and monsters, Mr Sackler, they grow weak. They wilt away. That’s why we catch them and destroy them”. Bulstrode’s lines, whilst delivered as always in a pleasing way by Richard E. Grant, are beginning to come off more like calculatedly deployed sound bites by an automaton for textual density rather than anything else.

However, given that this episode is clearly about hidden secrets (trapdoor/lab/body), Bulstrode pulls back the curtain to reveal the real MIO: a fascinating subterranean base of blackboards, British vim, and prison cells containing things that I wish I hadn’t seen. We have the Cutter (Jason La Shard): a man with a grotesque claw for an arm; the Harbinger (Dee Tails): enjoying a well-earned break from his prophesizing; and one young enterprising woman who has her face upside down and reminds us that “your mother never loved you”.

This cabinet of curiosities might indicate which dark corners the show intends to gravitate towards, and I sincerely hope it does — a Monster of the Week scenario would play out better with the Tenebrae plotline threaded through it, than Jekyll and Ravi’s Abbott and Costello misadventures — but that would be a different show to the one that we have before us.

Like an ice-cube dropped into a volcano, after seeing first-hand the secrets of the MIO, Sackler’s (Tom Rhys Harries) skepticism melts away pretty abruptly; quoting from the early Christian philosopher Tertullian: “Credo quia impossibilie. I believe because it is possible”. As a religious variation on Aristotle’s seeing is believing (which neatly ties in with the Jekyll family’s scientific method of perception), the idea that what can be seen to be true has a greater impact than what was previously held to have been real, is an appropriately powerful driving force in the second episode of Jekyll and Hyde.

Last week, I explored how the theme of “recorded written media” was comprehensively used to show how the story unravels from multiple intersecting viewpoints and, as such, “cannot possibly contain and fully explain the ‘true’ story as it unfolds”. This week, the theme is: visual perception. Bulstrode asserts “Information, that is our sharpest weapon”, but this comes immediately after his team receives a message in gibberish, which to Bulstrode appears to be a code in need of deciphering, but is in fact directly quoted from the real-life death bed ranting of notorious mobster, Dutch Schultz, who died in 1935, the same year in which the show is set. As with the clues from last week, it may mean everything, or it may mean nothing.

To save on space and your patience, I will list the other elements that constitute this week’s theme, but if you think of any more then please add them to the comments section below: “Dream of reason produces monsters” quoted by Sackler is also the title of a 1799 etching by Goya; Jekyll’s scar is becoming less visible, so Utterson (Christian McKay) doubts whether he was actually stabbed; Jekyll is warned “Beware the one-eyed man”; Bulstrode presents a forced reference to “the emblem of our enemy” (nicely framed as well); the coded tattoo of the Tenebrae; a spy who observes with a camera but dies because he has seen too much, whilst Bulstrode mentions “we watch and we wait”; Dance standing before a mirror and removing his shirt to reveal his bodily secrets; Jekyll being told “you look awful”; Ravi being chastised for having “witnessed the events” of the “bad man”, but purposefully withholding the truth of what he has seen; Bulstrode telling Sackler “it’s time I showed you something” (the secret base), and then warning him: “Don’t look too long” at the creepy woman; Jekyll explaining “I feel like somebody’s watching me all the time”, as he’s being watched all the time; and, of course, the hidden trapdoor and the lab.

After all of this, and now aware of the former presence of Hyde in Henry Jekyll, Robert Jekyll tells his colleague: “Can’t you see it, Max, it explains everything!” Jekyll’s latest revelation, only two episodes into the series, clearly won’t explain everything, as he can’t yet perceive the enormity of his situation. Unfortunately, another line from the episode is more succinctly encapsulating of the audience’s relation to an uneven show in which the subplots are the most compelling features of the story, the level of monstrous and culturally questionable imagery is widely varied for a piece of family entertainment, and the arching narrative and character developments are still only slowly coming together: “It would help if we had some idea what we were looking for!”

RATING 4 / 10