Monday, January 7, 2019

Van Helsing: Season 3, Episode 11: Been Away

Mini storyline first - Sam is still hunting down the one he loves, Mohammed. He pauses along the way to kill Mike (I’m fairly certain he’s killed Mike before but hey, sacrificial gay men was apparently delayed. These characters exist entirely to die for Sam’s evilness) to tell him that love is the source of all suffering. That people hurt and suffer the most because people they love are taken from them which is such pain

Obviously Mike disagrees, but his refusal to defending himself, repeatedly, because Sam threatens the people he loves. He ends up dying horribly and Chad watching him die which Sam takes as further proof that love is the source of all pain

He insists he’s trying to remove love from himself but the woman vision following him says he hasn’t yet - and directs him to where Mohammed and Vanessa are.

Right, now to main plot…

Actually that’s a lie. I don’t think there was any real main plot here because I’m not sure anything that happened this episode was actually relevant to the main plot which is something I’ve been saying about Van Helsing all season. Did we really need an entire episode to give Axel a tragic past? Really?

So Axel continues his road trip and eventually ends up in his home town waiting for Scarlett. He even turns on the lights to draw attention from passing vampires though apparently it’s for Scarlett. I guess. He has a memory board and one of them is a newspaper clipping of his sister Polly who apparently went missing when he was a

While hanging around he meets a group of survivors who are using sirens to distract vampires while they loot stuff. It doesn’t go entirely well and someone gets eaten. Axel charges in to the rescue and they all run off together. We have Lorne, a man with obvious dementia and memory problems, Axel remembers from his childhood. And Axel is remembered as well - but briefly due to his dementia.

We also have Carter who is aggressive and harsh and scathing - especially to Lorne. Nelson who is, well, there. And Kelly.

Carter doesn’t welcome Axel because GRRRR ARGGGH I’M THE ANGRY ONE. Kelly does welcome him because she thinks he’s cute and I’d be kind of really happy with this except Carter is pretty scornful about it and Axel openly is a “Good Man” by saying she doesn’t need to trade herself for protection. Which is super condescending and don’t tell me Axel has body image issues and doesn’t realise how hot he is because he definitely knows he’s hot. Hey, a woman can want to have sex with a hot guy because she wants to have sex with a hot guy. This is a legitimate desire and can we not have everyone making an issue of it?

Anyway she dies later.

Axel decides to help them on a raiding run because their plan of using the siren distraction then stealing lots of stuff won’t keep working on the more intelligent, organised day walkers. So Axel makes a plan (Carter is both scathing of the old plan and scathing about Axel’s ability to make a new plan because she has a characterisation as the Angry One damn it) and they go in with lots and lots of power tools

This may actually have been the point of the episode - someone wanted to kill vampires with a chainsaw. Which is a legitimate wish I perfectly understand

During the attack Kelly is bitten and Axel shoots her to stop her turning so tragedy. Well if anyone cared. No-one really does. It’s also sort of Lorne’s fault because he charges on the scene firing his gun randomly before running to the cellar. Carter kind of freezes and needs to be snapped out of a fugue state to get her to move and they all retreat to the basement.

There Axel confronts Carter about freezing and she reveals she doesn’t like basements. But then shuts him down with a phrase his dad used

He speaks to her later and she asks him his real name - or rather tells him she knows he’s Axel. Because she’s Polly, his missing little sister who was kidnapped. They both have a major reveal-your-damage moment as he blames himself for not watching her properly and she blames herself for not staying where he said and it’s all tragic and comes with epic boatloads of shared pain which really needed more time

Her kidnapper is Lorne - who now has such advanced dementia he doesn’t remember kidnapping her, locking her in the basement or abusing her. She now feels obligated to look after him and has developed a family connection with him - feeling he’s the only person she has in life so she had to care for him and protect him. Naturally Axel denies this. She also says she has forgiven Lorne and she still freezes when faced with basements not because she’s remembering her suffering, but she’s remembering her hate - and her hate terrifies her. She has a big speech on how much hate is terrible and she begs Axel not to share that hate or succumb to it

Which is relevant because when Lorne charged into the scene firing his gun he hit Polly… who is now bleeding out. She dies for more Axel tragedy

And Axel hunts down Lorne and brutally kills him

So much of this episode leaves me conflicted, it’s delved into some pretty heavy issues and not really left a lot of time to explore them which, coupled with it being very near the end of the series, feels like it has been shallowly dropped in for extra Axel angst without overly thinking about what it has invoked. There could be a lot here but instead it feels like Polly/Carter was introduced just to be fridged for Axel’s character which is an issue

The question over whether someone is responsible for their actions when they have an issue like amnesia or dementia that makes them completely forget what they did and leave them unable to harm someone again. Is it right to punish them? What does punishing them achieve? Is it even vengeance? There’s a lot to unpack there

And then there’s the issue of following the wishes of the abused. Obviously the victim of a crime should be prioritised on how the perpetrator is treated and whether they should be forgiven or not. Especially if we’ve already ruled out that the perpetrator can hurt others. Certainly Polly’s opinions should definitely be prioritised above Axel and she has every right to say “my pain, my choice” and make him step back. We definitely should be prioritising her.

Except of course it’s more complex than that. While the psychiatric profession is definitely in doubt as to whether “Stockholm Syndrome” actually even exists, we can still acknowledge that “was kidnapped as a child and kept as a sex slave in a basement for a decade or more” is not going to leave someone with the most balanced viewpoint - while still not completely discounting her wishes and views entirely

I’m also conscious that the chances of one of the writers for this episode actually having been kidnapped and held in a basement for a decade is probably highly highly unlikely. So when we say things about respecting the victim’s wishes and opinions we also have to remember that these words have been put in the character’s mouth by someone who isn’t. And I have such an issue with the prevailing message of forgiveness we see in all forms of media, especially in the west and, specifically, Christian-founded culture. We have a really strong societal message of forgiveness, especially aimed at vulnerable marginalised people like women, POC, LGBTQ people etc. In fact, it’s telling that Axel is the one who gets to act in revenge. There’s an idea that someone who doesn’t forgive is morally failing or even victimising the person they refuse to forgive. The anger, the justified rage and even hatred of the victim is seen as toxic, a failing or otherwise wrong. And, yes, I hate it.

There’s just… a lot here. And it’s a lot that Van Helsing has invoked but I doubt will follow through with