Thursday 29 July 2021

The Nevers' phantasmagorical finale

Before cancelling my subscription to NOW (formerly NOW TV) last month, I managed to finish the first six episodes of HBO Max's The Nevers and was held spellbound by its timey-wimey twist.

Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, takes a deep dive into the fantastical finale chronicling the adventures of Joss Whedon's Victorian X-Men.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Okay, has everyone caught up with True, the latest episode of The Nevers? They have? Great. Now we can discuss and dissect it like a captive Galanthi.

Episode Six of The Nevers – the last before a COVID-conscious hiatus – is fascinating and the only TV instalment I’ve watched twice in the same year since Breaking Bad, you know, the one with the train. Second time around, this sci-fi Victorian superhero mashup does not disappoint. It reads like a role-playing game where just when you’re getting settled, the GM turns the tables - and the genre - on its head.

Sure, we’re introduced to the concept of aliens flying over London in the pilot episode of this new series. But now we’re transported to an apocalyptic scenario that feels very Doctor Who, complete with a smattering of British accents and allegories about not judging by appearances. The TARDIS wouldn't be out of place, standing discreetly in a corner of the bunker where we find ourselves holed up. The futuristic location is occupied by a bad batch of troops from the Planetary Defence Coalition.

As soon as the lead character, Zephyr (Claudia Black), taps her fingers against her thumb it’s inferred that she’s Mrs. Amalia True (Laura Donnelly). They talk the same and have the same attitude, if not the same accent. It’s a relief, since Amalia is an unappealing character and her battle-worn backstory gives us a chance to sympathize with her.

Zephyr’s tomorrow war ends with a dark and lonely moment. Hundreds of years earlier in Victorian London, Molly True lives a dank, hard knock life delivering pies and caring for her bedridden mother-in-law. Faced with doctor’s bills and a hopeless future, she attempts to drown herself; when she’s dragged out of the Thames, she’s possessed by Zephyr, bringing us full circle to when we met her in the first episode.

This mid-season finale feels like the conclusion to a whole year because it answers so many questions – how the Touched get their powers (from alien spores), how Amalia met Maladie the serial killer, and why Amalia can be such a jerk sometimes. However, other questions remained unanswered, most intriguingly who else has ‘hitched a ride’ in someone else’s body.

In the previous episode, Hanged, we’re schooled not to trust our senses. Maladie wears a disguise and has a double; even though she is due to be executed, she does not want the ‘good guys’ to mount a successful rescue. As Police Inspector Frank Mundi (Ben Chaplin) discovers, not all is what it first appears. But like a diligent viewer, he reviews the clues and figures out what’s going on. We are fellow detectives on this labyrinthine path, deciding what evidence to focus on and what to discard.

One theme that originator Joss Whedon and his successors do want us to latch onto is that of optimism. In the land of the Nevers, past or future, cynicism is bad and destructive. ‘Nitta died in… my despair,’ says Zephyr/Amalia. It’s hard to hope, though, in the face of our world’s ecological demise. ‘It’s time to tell them what’s coming,’ she tells her buddy Penance (Ann Skelly); when she says 'them,' she’s talking about the superhumans they’ve gathered but she’s also talking about us. We need to be forewarned so that we can be armed but also trust in the dogged determination of people like Zephyr.

This theme, emphasized with wit and grace in the first six episodes of this show, remind us that in the real world there’s hope to be found as well. Humans are blessed with a unique foresight, developed as a survival mechanism, and we can save the planet or destroy it.

Have you watched The Nevers and are you looking forward to the second half of season one in 2022? Let me know in the comments below.

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