Previously on Van Helsing, “Everything Changes”
Van Helsing takes a surprising turn of events by presenting us with an episode that’s entirely Vanessa-free. This could work in one of two ways. Removing the central character from the action could very well take away viewers’ focus and leave them with a sense of unfinished business. Last week’s cliffhanger is unresolved by the end of “Big Mama”, and some fans might feel cheated when another one is put in place by episode’s end. But it could also give other characters their moment to shine, allowing the likes of Axel, Doc, Scarlett, and Julius (three of them ex-vampires) to step up and “enjoy” a storyline all to themselves.
Written by series creator, Neil LaBute, “Big Mama” took time to settle in with me. I found myself jarred by the tonal change from pretty much all of the previous episodes. It is, by and large, the most quirky installment since the series began. But I found afterwards, when I had a chance to take it in, that it succeeded in what it set out to do. It is incredibly entertaining, as well as gruesome, horrific, and it shows our favourite characters in a new light. Doc and Axel, especially, now both free of past burdens, seem to relish being in a new kind of fight, albeit one that could cost them their lives. Julius is still on the path to redemption, eager to make up for the sins of his past. Scarlett, for her own part, takes up Vanessa’s role due to her absence. By the end of this season, “Big Mama” might even be one of my favourite episodes.
In a nutshell: After Scarlett decides for the group which way Vanessa’s abductors flew off, the group travels south, only to trailed by a posse of police cars. Doc quips that even in a vampire apocalypse, a sister will still get pulled over by 5-0. These Good Ole Boys (GOBs for short) immediately come over as non-threatening and simply want to know who Axel and the others are. At this early point in procedures, their lack of menacing ways is kind of menacing. But the quartet takes them at their word and follows them back to their town, a place called Wanda. They’re asked to surrender their weapons, and they do, but Scarlett holds back at least one item. Soon after that, they’re made welcome and invited to a barbecue later that evening. Apparently Big Mama’s jerky is legendary in these parts. (Note to self: Check Yelp for reviews.) Axel and Scarlett spy a huge cache of weapons and ammunition, and offer a trade. But Walt, Wanda’s chief of police and headman, shuts that shit down. He’s willing to feed them, fill their truck with gas, and then send them on their way the following morning.
Things turn ghoulish when Axel and Scarlett offer to help with dinner preparations. Wanda’s residents are using captured vampires as their primary source of protein, one that probably doesn’t taste like any chicken you’ve ever had. The secret is to barbecue the vampire while it’s still alive. Big Mama, Wanda’s resident Gordon Ramsey, is very particular about her recipe. When Julius gets a wind of what’s going down, his sense of morality kicks in, and he puts a quick end to that evening’s feast. Big Mama takes umbrage and attacks Julius with a frying pan. A fight ensues, but the end result is a foregone conclusion. Big Mama is dead, and dinner is literally toast. Meanwhile, Scarlett and Axel sequester some guns and supplies and are ready to make their escape with Doc and Julius when Chief Walt pulls a gun on them, stopping their escape. Once he finds out that three of them used to be vampires, he has a different idea on how dinner is going to go down.
Despite protestations, our four heroes find themselves strung up with nooses over their heads. In a scene that recalls the Salem Witch Trials, Walt decides that if they survive death by hanging, then they’re vampires and dinner is back on. If they don’t, then – well – they’re ex-vampires and thus a delicacy. They’ll still get eaten. Matters are brought to an abrupt halt, however, when the Sisterhood turn up at the town. Scarlett knows all about them and warns Walt and his men to not engage with this sinister group. Yeah, like Walt is going to listen to his dinner talking back to him, despite one of his men meeting a grisly end.
The only other subplot examined in this episode involves Phil and Lucky. Still searching for Mohamad, they come across a group of old friends who are now in the clutches of Dimitri and Scab. Phil decides it’s time to let Mohamad go for now and focus on freeing these prisoners. And they do so, with relative ease. Dimitri, while happy with his arrangement with the Sisterhood, has eyes on a bigger prize: Vanessa and Scarlett. I wonder if he knows where Vanessa is.