"The Cutter" is a drug-driven adventure in a series that's nearly found its feet, but still has too many downers.
Jekyll and HydeAirtime: Sundays, 7pm
Cast: Tom Bateman, Oliver Gilbert, Tom Rhys Harries, Stephanie Hyam, Tony Way
Subtitle: Series 1, Episode 3 - "The Cutter"
Air date: 2015-11-08
Three episodes in, and Jekyll and Hyde finally found its groove … for five minutes. Like when Jekyll tries to restrain his Hyde, the rest of the episode is promising fun in patches, but still too often more of an awkward splutter followed by noncommittal apologies and a vague promise to do better in the future.
The pre-title sequence opens with nocturnal, fog-enshrouded dock activity; the kind that only ever imports trouble. This is followed by a dynamic three quarter-angled close up of a one-eyed chauffeur (Tony Way), with the camera moving to show Captain Dance (Enzo Cilenti) and Fedora (Natasha O’Keeffe) -- both looking as implacably confident and seductive as people with unshared mastermind schemes often do. Pulse-raising music fills the aural gaps, all overlaid with a map that tracks their journey with an animated red line from Gravesend to London. So far, so pulp adventure romp. As the car settles next to a disused, lamp-lit warehouse, the canted camera sits behind a barred gate of some sort, voyeuristically managing to search, and pick up on, black shadows of activity, drenched in ominous red flood lighting. The tension ratchets up a couple more notches.
Inside the warehouse, the camera moves around, eventually settling on the crate container from last week. Just as our minds confirm the contents of the case (you did watch it last week didn’t you?), out pour the monstrous Vetala; predatorily searching the environment with their senses and screaming directly at the camera. All the villains are petrified, and maybe the viewer is a little bit too, except for Captain Dance who, with the monsters encircling his feet, calmly announces: "Right. Let’s get to work shall we?" Roll titles. You may now punch the air, hug a loved one, or run outside and high-five someone in the street.
That is how you set up a monster show that leans heavily on genre staples. Unfortunately, it’s also a bar set too high for the rest of the episode to compete with. You only have to compare this sequence with the limp lobster-man (Jason La Shard) fight at the end of this week’s narrative to see how Jekyll and Hyde fails to sustain the same level of drama, excitement, and quality.
Despite the classic Assault on Precinct 13/Dog Soldiers set-up of the climax, partnered with exploratory concepts such as "monsters can be people that have been manipulated into situations beyond their choosing" or Hyde (Tom Bateman) is needed as "evil is needed to fight evil", we have instead: a static bullet-sponge of a villain, armed with a wobbly foam/CGI monster-arm and what should be a general look of embarrassment. Appropriately, the sound of The Cutter applauding this moment with only one post-fight hand would be the same response I had to the play out of this set-piece clash of the titans: silence.
Frustratingly, higher ambitions might have been in the mind of screenwriter Charlie Higson when writing this scene, as it would have perfectly played against Ravi’s (Michael Karim) unexpected, and absolutely critical, assistance from Herath Banda (Nadika Aluwihare); i.e., "The greatest bandit chief of all Ceylon." Apart from an amusing, Blackadder-styled, "cunning-disguise", Ravi has now done practically nothing in three episodes, but at least the fight scene in Ceylon was thoroughly enjoyable to watch; feeling like a silly, made-for-TV, wild rumpus from the Indiana Jones franchise. I felt a little sad that Ravi was finally able to outrun the disinterested, casually sitting down old man (Lionel Sampath) from last week though.
This week the MIO are largely absent from the episode. Bulstrode (Richard E. Grant), reassures us that "The day of blood and thunder is indeed coming", but what this constitutes is barely hinted at, let alone worth marking on a calendar. Instead, the MIO -- who introduced us to their fancy underground base last week, are now limited to primarily talking about the fictional drug, monocane, which quite confusingly, they have only just revealed to be a "secret ingredient" in Jekyll’s pills, but have also known about its properties for a long time. Long enough, at least, for their mortal enemy, the Tenebrae, to conveniently "corner the market".
If it sounds familiar, monocane is the drug which Claude Rains’ titular chemist takes in the 1933 classic The Invisible Man -- and it drives him proper crazy-naked insane. In Jekyll and Hyde, an MIO scientist (Amit Shah) explains that monocane is derived from the Asura lily, which only grows in the Himalayas. Building again on the Ceylon thread, Asuras can be found in Buddhist and Hindu mythology. Comparable to the Yaksha nature spirits mentioned in the first two episodes, the Asuras are superhuman demigods aligned with malevolent or benevolent personalities. If this connection wasn’t pointed enough, in the Ravi storyline, we see him buying a statue of one such figure for no other good reason whatsoever.
As a side note, the Vetala are also from Hindu mythology (but also pop up in TV’s Supernatural, The Witcher videogames, and Disney Channel India, amongst other places). They are corpse-inhabiting spirits with an ability to move from one flesh-shell to another -- a feature that we haven’t yet had the pleasure of witnessing in Jekyll and Hyde -- although it might explain the implied longevity of Captain Dance.
Parallel to developments within the MIO, Jekyll and Dance are also now talking about the same drug, and it makes a pleasant change that all of the storyline threads are finally converging to some degree. When the narrative is pulling in the same direction, it makes the show feel more streamlined, confident, and coherent as a result.
Jekyll simplistically learns which coloured liquids will turn him into Hyde and back; constantly nipping at the green liquid like a drunk uncle when, as with Superman and The Matrix, all the fun really comes from the red (means danger!) substance. Captain Dance adds a further layer of complexity to the simple equation when he introduces black monocane -- capable of separating atoms, and already weaponized -- which Dance capably demonstrates to the viewer (despite its supposed value). Think Buffy or Blade levels of human-shaped body powder strewn across the floor.
Whilst an effect of The Cutter, the Vetala, and Dance’s golden-gun are to visually convey the type of horrors that lie stirring within Jekyll, Dance’s partner Fedora (Natasha O’Keeffe) has another entirely memorable and all-too-brief scene, this time in a cinema. Part hardboiled noir and part Frankenstein, the screening room is filled with off-camera screams from what is most likely a stereotypical heroine, to which Fedora laments: "I do love horror films, don’t you? About poor misunderstood creatures persecuted by small-minded people. So sad. They always make me cry". As a flip-flopping dynamic that may be exploited in the future, one wonders if Tenebrae and Hyde have far more in common as "monsters" than Jekyll and the MIO have with each other.
In this episode, Hils (Ruby Bentall) -- the previously neglected assistant to Max Utterson (Christian McKay) -- also has far more room to stretch her sleuthing legs, at one point reflexively exclaiming: "The game is afoot, as they say. I’ll get my pipe and deerstalker". Verbally taking on Bella (Natalie Gumede), who seems more and more redundant in the show, and physically taking on The Cutter; Hils is like Miss Marple as written by Quentin Tarantino; which makes her B-movie antics great fun to watch, but put her effervescent and slightly slapstick energies at odds with the restrained natures of those surrounding her.
Jekyll has also made new surprise allegiances with Lily (Stephanie Hyam) who also happens to have a dark secret: she studied biochemistry at Cambridge and has set-up a science lab in one of her spare rooms. How convenient. This might be one of the most forced coincidences I have seen in a while, now that she has a new "project" in Jekyll, whom she also kisses within the same breath; but personally, I’m still wondering how this all ties in with Lily’s mother -- who we have still not seen. Might Lily be Lilith, the female demon from Jewish mythology and occasional Succubus, vampire, or wife of Herman Munster? Okay, the last point is reaching, but there is something not quite right with the woman, whose name might be derived from the flower of death and a source of monocane. Is she from the Himalayas perchance?
Jekyll’s story this week also benefits from the show now having settled on a location. Last week he had the secret lab pointed out to him and it felt rushed; this week the space is explored, the character develops (angrily), and he finds a further story-progressing secret area.
Within his grandfather’s lab, Robert Jekyll can now turn to the obvious outstanding questions such as: how did Henry Jekyll’s potions work? What happens if he goes full “Hyde”? Who were his family? These three lines of enquiry are partially addressed (drink the right colours/fight The Cutter/meets his grandmother: Maggie Kendall [Sinead Cusack/Niamh Walsh], and hears her story), but aren’t fully resolved within the episode, giving Jekyll room for self-discovery as the series develops, whilst allowing for the type of genre-crossover cliffhanger one might expect from an action/adventure film.
Before I fully turn into Cuber from Adventure Time, challenging the viewer to spot the theme from this week’s graybles/episode, I’ll briefly mention here that the running motif throughout episode 3 appeared to be "containers and their secrets". The dock contained the crate; the numerous vials and bottles contain various potions; a safe is blown up; oil of monocane is kept in a syringe; the lab has a special room, and Lily has a secret lab of her own; baby Louis’ mother was sought out -- both herself and her house contained mysteries; Hils claims to be writing a book about Victorian music halls, but isn’t; Ravi only encounters trouble whilst standing in front of a stall selling clay pots, and then places a mysterious yellow powder within a Chinese puzzle-box type book -- which might be the package he sends to London; The Cutter is only liberated once he has been moved from one secret place to another container; a mysterious bribe is handed over in an envelope; and quotes of "rattling around the house", "what’s in the satchel?", and "we’d have to keep your remains in a fishbowl".
After watching the opening scene from this week’s episode, I’m not willing to concede that the themes of the week are fabricated entirely within my own head. They are as much a fabric of the pulp genres as anything else. But, if the episodes don’t build on the promise that Jekyll has shown this week, then my mind is where I might end up hiding. Ha! #onehandedclap.