Previously on Van Helsing, “Crooked Falls”
Well, what to make of this episode, one full of some really strange creative decisions. I’m sure Neil LaBute thought he was doing something innovative and unsettling, but I fear he may have alienated many of his fans. Vanessa herself, sidelined for the last two episodes, doesn’t appear until the dying moments of this one. Perhaps almost as unforgivable, none of the series regulars – Axel, Doc, Mohamad, Julius – feature in Black Days at all. If this were a penultimate episode of a season, you could perhaps understand the writer’s motivations. But even allowing the fact that LaBute is setting up season three, there’s very little here to entice viewers to return. Having said all this, there are a couple of good moments in Black Days to make it kind of worth watching.
The episode is essentially a three-hander, with Boss now confirmed as the real Abigail Van Helsing, as she and Scarlett make their way to where the Elder’s crypt is located. Ahead of them is Dimitri, flanked by Scab and a Sister. Having received a map tattooed on his arm (care of the Oracle), Dimitri reaches the cave first. Anyone who attempts to gain entry to the Elder’s crypt is subject to a barrage of psychological testing. Scab is brought back to when he was human and bullied by co-workers for passing a picket line. We find out he’s claustrophobic after he’s locked in a closet. The accompanying Sister recalls being burnt at the stake for being a heretic. I mean, it’s good to get some backstory, but we don’t know these characters well enough to even care. Dimitri’s story is juicier; he’s a contemporary of the notorious Marquis de Sade, and takes part in pain for pleasure games. It’s at this point in his life that he’s introduced to the Elder, who turns him. Come end of episode, it is the Elder who takes back this gift in violent fashion.
Abigail and Scarlett trade expositional dialogue for much of their hike to the Elder’s cave. Abigail, it turns out, wears a vial of the blood of the “Dark One” around her neck. It was given to her by her grandmother, Scarlett and Vanessa’s great-grandmother. The Dark One’s name cannot be said because he can hear it from wherever or whenever he is. All so very Voldemort-ish, but I think we can presume it’s Dracula they’re talking about. Once inside the cave, their visions are less traumatic than those of Dimitri and his cronies. They’re both brought back to the past, when Dr Harrison wanted to experiment further on the VH sisters. But Abigail thought this was the right time to put them both into hiding. More revelations ensue when it’s revealed that there is more than one Elder, whose very existence is meant to bring about “the final darkness” upon the release of the Dark One.
All this talking and vision-questing leads to a rather jumbled confrontation. Basically we have five individuals who are very hard to kill, trying to kill each other. It’s all a bit of a mess, frankly. But by the end, Abigail sacrifices herself to open the crypt door, with Scab and Sister having done a runner. It takes Van Helsing blood to gain access. The Elder awakens from his nap and cries freedom, but something isn’t right. The Elder can sense the blood of the First One running through Abigail and Scarlett’s veins. He can’t kill them, but is in fact under their control, due to an agreement made a long time ago. (Note to self: always read the small print.) Scarlett orders the Elder to kill Dimitri, which he does in grisly fashion, but he hates being forced to murder one of his favourites. Scarlett then sends him away to find Vanessa. Abigail dies from her injuries, but not before gifting the necklace to her daughter.
The last scene of the season is at the mountain laboratory, where the Elder has laid waste to everyone he could find. He sees Vanessa asleep on a surgical table, He bites her, and she comes awake with a serious case of red-eye. And that’s it until next season. As I said, if this episode was a set-up for next week, I would have been content enough. But as a set-up for next season, I found it stilted, lacking narrative pace, and disenchanting. Sidelining the titular lead for a full three episodes is a bitter pill to swallow. I hope LaBute and his team of writers have something explosive in which to kick off season three, otherwise I could be out.