This week’s mid-season episode, “The Reaper”, is for the first time in the series a sequel episode, giving it the effect of being like an object at the apex of it’s trajectory: momentarily weightless and effortless, having done all the hard work of establishing character, setting and story, so by the time the credits roll it’ll be ready for the freefall towards the series climax.
On the side of Tenebrae, the MIO, or those caught in the crossfire, there are no new characters introduced in this episode, which may be another season first. This broadly means that the developing mythology of the show is also slowed down, but with the removal of Max (Christian McKay) and Captain Dance (Enzo Cilenti) in earlier episodes, we can also spend a little more time with figures such as Cyclops Silas (Tony Way), who has returned with his magical all-seeing, but hopefully not all-dancing, eye toad, and is used in a most dramatically and comically effective “now you see it, now you don’t” sequence; Fedora (Natasha O’Keeffe), who should be given her own spin-off show in which she does nothing but smoke in front of half-closed venetian blinds and offer withering putdowns to her nonplussed lackeys; and the severely underutilized MIO Agent Hannigan (Phil McKee) who, along with Sackler (Tom Rhys Harries), have been making the most of their time on screen, despite consistently being overshadowed by the overbearing personality of Bulstrode (Richard E. Grant).
Last week, I wasn’t too happy with Bella’s (Natalie Gumede) storyline being shoe-horned into the wider narrative; this week, she’s far more effectively deployed as a counterbalance to Jekyll/Hyde’s (Tom Bateman) fanatical desire to do the right thing, irrespective of who else it affects. Her last minute bait and switch with Bulstrode towards the climax of the episode not only epitomizes the duality of her existence on the fringes of society, but was also good fun, catching me out when I was too focused on other events.
Garson (Donald Sumpter) and Lily (Stephanie Hyam) also up their game this week. Garson delivers what may turn out to be the most insightful line of the series so far, when he ruminates “I can’t imagine what it would be like, having all that power, knowing you’re invulnverable. All the gods go mad”. He also gets in on the emotional angle, offering to sacrifice himself for the Greater Good; whilst Lily tries to take any angle she can with Jekyll (horizontal’s definitely still her ultimate goal).
With each passing week, Lily’s more and more beguiling. Whilst Hyde might possess physical strength and an according level of intimidation and coercion, Lily possesses the capacity to utterly enchant Jekyll — who behaves as though he’s in control, when in fact, as clearly shown through her parallel relationship with her other beau, Harry (Hubert Burton), she has more about her than Jekyll realizes. Lily is a scientific match for Jekyll, creating the inhaler and arranging the x-ray machine, but she’s also more effective than Bella, who constantly feels cheated by Hyde (in a reversal of her usual position in relationships), and in her own way, she’s also as effectively symbiotic as the Reaper bug is parasitic (or Kephri: god of creation and rebirth, to its friends) — ensuring that she receives favors in exchange for gifts of another nature. Yes, Lily helps Jekyll with his tests, but she turns it into tightly controlled foreplay primarily for the benefit of herself and, with Jekyll winding up shirtless quicker than the time it takes him to transform into Hyde, viewers that might enjoy a bit of live flesh in a show that has been consistently hampered by its pre-watershed shackles.
I still reckon that Lily has her own hidden agenda. She could be one of the “old gods”, she could be just like Jekyll, or she could just as easily be a new woman of the 1930s. This week’s clue was dropped when Jekyll offered “Thank you for helping me, and I hope that you saw that there’s nothing evil inside of me” — when we know that he has Hyde lurking about his biology somewhere — to which Lily neatly replies: “Nor me”. Well, that quip was a little out of place, or am I being paranoid?
The story continues from where it left off last week: a parasitic body-inhabiting bug is within the body of Spring-Heeled Jack and is foraging for body parts with the aim of resurrecting Captain Dance. I commented last week on how grotesque Dance’s corpse was; well, now it’s like some shimmery blancmange, with a side-order of ribcage and intestines and a thin moustache as garnish. Why am I using a food metaphor? Maybe because on seeing a fleshy bain-marie I nearly re-tasted my last meal. Truth be told, I’ve seen plenty worse things and I’ll happily sit through all of it to have the fantastically charismatic Dance return back to full health (or simply alive, for a start), but again, this might be something of an eye opener for the little ‘uns.
It’s also worth noting that this episode plays out a little like a less-graphic version of the Aliens franchise. The Reaper bug is hardly a lithe xenomorphic assassin, but it does share some similarities to the face-hugger: from it’s arachnid legs, an obsession with oral orifices, and an incubation period through which the victim still has some measure of control. There are key differences too, such as the bug’s predilection for liquefying internal organs until “there’s nothing left to chew on”, and the fact that it can use the host body to communicate, apparently via the medium of big-bad-wolf impersonations. The end point, however, is still the same: death of the host, and a rebirth of the monster, seeking a fresh new victim.
Exploring the body-snatching story takes almost all of this week’s energies, so we get a nice tight narrative compared to some of the spiraling multi-thread plots we’ve been given in the past. Across four parts, we have: 1) the surprisingly quick death of Spring-Heeled Jack, causing the bug to seek out Ravi (Michael Karim), the idiotic new host; 2) an attempt by Jekyll to protect a transforming Ravi from his new lodger and the MIO; 3) Jekyll’s planning for a monocane-based solution as Bella engages with Bulstrode on MIO territory; and 4) Hyde successfully executing Jekyll’s strategy, also using Bella to entrap Bulstrode on her turf.
The four components are satisfying in their clean simplicity, but there are a few points that are worth exploring further. For example, why did last week’s show go to the effort of establishing the character of Spring-Heeled Jack, only to then have him die almost instantly this time around? We are presented with a wonderful set-up at an outdoor food market, as Colander, the homeless fellow played by show creator Charlie Higson, tells us that Jack “comes down out of the sky like a great big bat [and] he lives up there on the roof, but he feeds down here. Takes his harvest to Tenebrae”. The comparison between cabbages for sale and people for food are marked, and the language is equally dramatic; yet whilst a policeman queries if he has “been watching them Boris Karloff films again”, the show pulls itself away from a novel character it has created with potential, to focus on the creature feature of the week.
Which leads me to Ravi: the man for whom epithets of stupidity have not only been worn out, but are also sadly not doing him justice. Remember how last week he said that he was doing alright looking after himself? Remember how we laughed about that? Remember how useless actually Ravi is? Well, this week he’s not only taken the biscuit, but he’s crumbled the entire packet and made a cheesecake monument to his stupidity, and it tastes like continued disappointment.
That Ravi manages to get himself immediately occupied by Spring-Heeled Jack’s parasite is astonishing, and how he manages to turn something that was quite horrific and compelling into a pitiful version of The Exorcist, replete with Ravi spitting green gunk all over Jekyll, is spectacular. I don’t wish to blame Michael Karim for how he plays Ravi, but he’s clearly out of luck playing the token comical cannon fodder in a show that’s already dangling over the dangerous precipice of family entertainment. The fact that Ravi perpetually survives is only down to the pulp genre’s rule about bulletproof sidekicks, even whilst better figures have passed away under far less incredulous circumstances. On the bright side, as the possessed body spouts out fun horror clichés such as “the beast is strong, the flesh is weak”, or “I only want your insides; cut you open nicely”, at least he’s not talking about “metamorphic development cycles” or eating lots of green chilies. We should take those precious few moments and treasure them.
It was also interesting to find a few barbed comments about the media tucked within the show. Jekyll and Hyde’s fictional newspaper, the inappropriately named The Daily Truth, opens the episode with the headlines “Rumanians Charged in ‘Spring Heeled Jack’ Plot” whilst a paperboy announces that “it was all the work of foreigners” moments before he’s pulled into an alleyway for evisceration, presumably to then have his job stolen by those very same “foreigners”. It’s also entirely fitting that the episode closes with a reference to vampires, given that Bram Stoker’s Dracula hails from Transylvania, a region of central Romania. Later on, the editor of the paper, Lord Protheroe (Mark Bonnar) also takes a swipe at the underclasses, informing Silas that he engenders “everything that’s wrong with the British working classes” as he is “a lazy, work-shy drunk”. The paper’s a front for Tenebrae, so it seems especially appropriate that the type of unsubstantiated xenophobic and class-based journalism we often see in reality are perpetuated by the forces of evil.
The themes for each weekly episode also seem to be getting more on the nose; as with last week, the motif is made more by the frequency of a word than by a deep thematic examination. This week, the theme is “inside”; well, it must be, as the word is used at least a dozen times in situations ranging from Ravi’s threats; being put within Bella’s rooms; Jekyll’s awkward encounter with Lily, who also takes a photo of his inner organs; and the many variations on the bug being within Spring-Heeled Jack or Ravi (“fight the thing inside you”, “find a way to kill the thing inside”, “I turned my back on it, and it’s inside me”, “I need to see what that thing’s doing inside him”, etc.). Furthermore, alongside the already discussed elements, such as Bella and Bulstrode entering inside each other’s territory, the x-ray machine for Jekyll; the magic toad being able to look inside another space; and peering inside Captain Dance’s rotting corpse. We also have talk of “shriveled husks”, purged systems, making Jekyll “transparent”, and Sackler dropping in a well-chosen quote from the nursery rhyme, “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly”; all of which reminds us all that ingestion, through the risky act of incorporating an exterior object within the interior of another body, isn’t only a phenomenon that transcends all cultures and age boundaries, but is also ever present and perpetual. For example, Sackler’s other quote, taken from the Bible (Matthew 9:37), demonstrates that recruiting Jekyll within the MIO is another type of incorporation: “This harvest is plentiful, but our workers are few”.
As we approach the last few episodes of the series, hopefully we’ll continue to see more pulp- and horror-inspired stories incorporated into the narrative, and I like the sleeker direction that adds to the pace. But, if this episode has taught us anything, it’s that not all elements should be let “inside”, and I sincerely hope that we will also start to see a greater focus on developing the strands that are already in place. There are questions that I want answering, and this season needs to end strongly if it expects me to come back for another round of Ravi.