Thursday, September 6, 2012

Blood Ties Season 2, Episode 10: Deep Dark

Coreen wants to get some help for Vicki and her tumultuous love life – and has gone to speak to her spirit guide. But things are different from what she’s done before, and after a blood ritual and the intervention of a spooky voiced possession, Coreen ends up red eyed, bleeding from the eye and speaking with the demonic possession voice – and Vicki is sent sprawling as her marks glow and burn.

Vicki goes to check on the spirit guide after Coreen is 5 hours late returning. The spirit guide is being nicely cryptic – so Vicki threatens to punch her. Apparently “he” has come through. She gives precious little information so Vicki follows through and does punch her. Vicki puts 2 and 2 together and comes up with Astaroth (remember Astaroth? I nearly didn’t) as she tells Henry. Since the psychic warned her that she would hear about what’s doing she decides that the police are most likely to know – but Celluci is still miffed with her so she calls in, pretending to be Kate (Celluci’s occasional partner) to get the news. And hears that Coreen is at a strip bar.

Where she is, beating down the bouncers with her Astaroth strength. And forcing the dancers to kiss her, to the cheering of all the men in the club.

Celluci is part of a task force involved in a major case (with Kate and Dave – my gods, they can appear on the screen at the same time!), a kidnapping of a rich Hong Kong business man’s daughter. Vicki insists on his help, dragging him away to help intervene with Coreen so she doesn’t get arrested.

Coreen is just smacking the police aside as Vicki arrives. Coreen/Astaroth and Vicki fight, again to the cheering delight of the crowd, and Coreen easily knocks Vicki aside – but Henry, with his vampire speed, manages to knock Coreen out.

Back to the office and Celluci is still with the gang (hello, kidnapping task force?)  Astaroth claims he is there for Vicki, what she wants – needs. Henry and Vicki go to find a priest for an exorcism, leaving Celluci to babysit Coreen (despite his protests about the task force). The priest is reluctant, his lastb exorcism wasn’t a happy, fun time apparently.

And Astaroth/Coreen is taunting Celluci – with his relationship with Vicki, with Henry and with his father (sorry, you need some foreshadowing before I care about Celluci’s daddy issues) and finally hits on she knows crimes being committed – including the location of his kidnap victim, she’ll tell him so long as he adjusts her pillows. This is when Vicki, Henry and the priest arrives and tells him not to – apparently fluffing demonic pillows is an exorcism no-no.

Cue Exorcism scene. You all know this script, holy water, taunting, appeals, bargains etc. But Henry has a revelation – he can’t hear Coreen’s heartbeat. Upon opening her top, Vicki finds a wound through which you can see ribs – and the heart is missing.

Vicki and Celluci go back to the police station to follow leads and Kate makes it clear that Crowley has already noticed his absence and bringing Vicki was a bad idea. Celluci uses his tit-bit he gained from the demon to explain his absence. Crowley demands his gun and his badge –suspending him. He walked out of an investigation and didn’t explain where he went, a big no-no. Vicki and Celluci have a moment – not just a resentment moment but a relationship moment, asking what Vicki actually wants.

They get a lead on the taxi driver who dropped Coreen/Astaroth off and, while Vicki stays with Coreen to reassure her and have a touching moment, Celluci and Henry go investigate. They lern where Astaroth/Coreen put her heart, and at the same time Celluci gets Henry to use his vampire powers on him to pull back the image Astaroth gave him – getting an image of the crypt where his kidnap victim is being kept. He calls Kate and passes on the information, though he’s unsure whether she’ll follow it

 With Vicki, Coreen/Astaroth fills in some backstory of his goals, to come to Earth, to change it, to defy god who he resents mightily as a fallen angel. He will give Vicki anything for her co-operation since he can only bring a shard of himself through in Coreen’s body. To show his power he gives Vicki a freebie – and cures her vision. We even see through her eyes for a second to see what her condition does to her eyesight and it being cured. Until it wears off and her vision retreats again, darkening and narrowing.

We learn some of the priest’s doubt. He exorcised a demon out of a woman – but she had summoned that demon to protect her from her abusive husband, and once the demon was gone she had no protection. And Henry and Celluci arrive with the heart which Vicki puts back into Coreen’s chest – we assume the aorta et al reattached themselves when the wound magically closes. Astaroth makes one last offer to Vicki – who calls in the priest for the exorcism.

Super dramatic and colourful exorcism scene!

At the end of which… Coreen’s heart isn’t beating. And Astaroth has leaped bodies – into the priest. We have a quick fight scene in which Henry is stabbed with his own sword and Celluci is knocked unconscious. He grabs and holds Vicki and gives her two choices – send Astaroth back to Hell, or save Coreen. After a moment of conflict – she runs to Coreen and saves her. She tries to attack Astaroth but he casts her aside – and leaves.

Dramatic aftermath time – the artistic cameraman had a field day.

Henry believes she made a mistake and asks her to come with him out of the city, he has the resources to keep out of the demon’s hands. Celluci also reveals that Kate followed his lead and they found the hostage where the demon said they would. Celluci kisses Vicki – but says Henry and the demon are her problem – and leaves. Henry asks her to let him go – but she says Henry has 40 lifetimes and Celluci only has one – and Vicki screwed it up. And Henry leaves. The show closes on her tears.

That was an extremely dramatic last episode – the camera work, the acting, the pacing – it all hit a perfect sweet spot, even with the several things going at once. It was dramatic, it was heavy and it was powerful. It was an exciting watch though not quite riveting, mainly because of the rest of the season I’ve seen and knowing that this was the very last episode of Blood Ties

Speaking of season – even show finale – time for a summation. It had a lot of exciting scenes, it has a lot of powerful scenes. It was excellently dramatic and had a good sense of theme and setting. It was rarely boring or unenjoyable to watch.

It also has an excellent main character. Vicki is strong, she makes her own decisions, she will not be dictated to or condescended to. She refuses to be protected and she refuses to be babied and she decides what risks she will take and why. She doesn’t apologise when people disagree with her decisions. Her decisions are good ones and she lacks spunky agency and she nicely balances cynicism with a willingness to believe. She is funny and touch and I really like her, she’s one of the best protagonists in the genre.

But, in some ways, her always being the decision maker has a down side. Vicki makes the decisions – and she expects Henry and Celluci to follow them. She takes some input but, ultimately, demands they follow her lead. There’s not a lot of reciprocation from her and she often demands their help even when they have major issues of their own to deal with and when they don’t agree with what she’s demanding. They’re not employees and there have been times, especially this episode with how much Celluci risked, when her disregard has seemed, perhaps, a little self-absorbed. Of more concern is that she often asks for help without any attempt to address a problem on her own. Even her mundane cases seem to involve Henry. It makes her look incapable and is a big switch from the books where Henry came to her for help not the other way round. She could solve cases without his vampire wiles.

Vicki is one of the few protagonists in the genre who is disabled – and it was perfectly shown in this episode what that disability involves. Her degenerative eye condition means her periphery vision is decreasing and she has next to no night vision. Yet, if you hadn’t read the books, it’d be reasonable to be confused when we saw through her eyes this episode. We hardly ever have any reference to this. Vicki acts in extremely dark conditions (in fact, it’s rare for her to act in full daylight) without any noticeable impairment. The only real consistent hint we have to her condition is that she wears glasses. I want to praise having a disabled character but I’m not sure I can.

On other inclusive issues, the show fails pretty grimly, especially for a show set in a cosmopolitan city like Toronto. We have the odd bit part POC, but the only consistent POC we have are Dave, Kate and Mohadevan. Now I love Mohadevan, I want a show that just follows her, to be honest (c’mon, supernatural pathologist? That’s a show right there! Silent Witness meets Being Human, you know you’d watch it) but she is a classic POC assistant who appears sporadically for inclusion cookies along with Kate and Dave who are text book tokens.

There are also zero GBLT characters. The closest we got was Coreen kissing the dancer this episode while possessed by a demon and being hooted at by a room full of men (ugh). What makes this worse is the book has Tony, a gay man and Henry is bisexual. It’s not a great portrayal, but to remove Tony and make Henry apparently straight just adds an extra level of offence to the erasure.

And Vicki is almost a text book example of how a strong female character cannot abide the presence of other strong female characters. The only woman Vicki tolerates is Coreen, any woman who is her equal or assertive and she instantly strikes sparks with Vicki.

Ultimately, these flaws are not new or novel, nor would they be enough to destroy the show – though they do frustrate us immensely. But I was not surprised to learn this series was not renewed for a 3rd season. Despite some great characters, interesting plots and a great world, this show devolved entirely into a monster of the week. Everything was on hold. Astaroth makes an appearance at the beginning and the end of the season, with nothing in between. You can actually forget him and Vicki’s tattoos if you’re not careful. Brief attempt sat overarching plot – like Henry’s sire or the vampire hunter or even the rift between Vicki and Henry – are shelved after 2 episodes at most. And the whole romance meta plot love triangle between Vicki, Celluci and Henry has been on pause since the beginning of the first season and despite endless flirting and jealousy has never gone one step further. The foreplay is tiresome now.

While crime dramas can, sometimes, get away with a “crime of the week” setting, supernatural crime dramas have trouble since the woo-woo can solve so much. And even then, to make it work the crimes have to be interesting and the process solving them needs to be riveting. Blood Ties, with its lamp-shaded clues and massive leaps of logic, didn’t pull it off.

It’s a shame, they had something good here. There was a lot going for the show and a lot I enjoyed. But its potential wasn’t realised, it was erased and it never developed a meta plot to keep it going.