'Van Helsing' Season 4 Episode 9 review: 'No I in Team' showcases the best of the series' storytelling strengths
Spoiler alert for Season 4 Episode 9 of ‘Van Helsing’
There are a lot of badasses on ‘Van Helsing’ on all sides of the conflict. The apocalypse has come and gone, and anyone left standing at this point are amongst the toughest of the tough. Given this surplus of strong-willed characters, it’s a challenge for any one character to stand out when they don’t have seasons worth of backstory to depend on. Vanessa (Kelly Overton), the show’s lead character right up until recently, has sacrificed herself to hold back the Dark One. In doing show she’s passed the Van Helsing torch onto Jack (Nicole Munoz) and Violet (Keeya King). Last episode shone a spotlight on Violet, and in this one, we look back on the day the vampires rose, and find out a little about what makes Jack tick.
The entire episode is dedicated to the flashback, pulling away from the many plotlines of ‘Van Helsing’ and instead present what, if it was an hour longer, would essentially be a standalone thriller-survival movie about living through a vampire apocalypse. It starts slow. It continues being slow for a while. You start to ask yourself why, in the midst of everything happening with ‘Van Helsing’, why an entire episode is being dedicated to this flashback. Then, somewhere along the way, you forget you were asking the question as you’re drawn into the story being told.
‘Van Helsing’ has taken a lot of strange turns over its many-season run. Genetic experiments, raising the dark one, instant-heal humans, prophecies, magic spell books, and Dracula herself. This episode brings the focus back to what the show is at its heart - stories about surviving the end of the world, and the ways people make split-second decisions for situations they never could have been prepared for.
There is no background score. The camera follows the characters around in long shots and evokes the feel of being there, following the characters around the room. Background sounds are a large part of the storytelling - screams, and shots from far away. Vampiric growls from an enemy unseen. Indeed, most of the threat is unseen this episode that focuses less on the fight, and more on the rapid pace of growth Jack and her friends need to do to be the kind of people who survive. It’s a lot of hard, ruthless decisions that need to be made, and Jack cuts right to the heart of her worries about the kinds of decisions we see her being forced to make, as she asks, “You call this strong?”
It’s a strength, of a sort, that she’s displaying, but the episode shows how much that it can be looked at as a sort of hopeless ruthlessness as well. A darkness, likely a kind of darkness that’s been running through Jack’s veins all her life, one that people no longer have the luxury of ignoring. The shifting dynamics of Jack’s friends, Shelly (Jessica McLeod) in particular, as things get progressively worse, is a credit to the show’s writing.
We also see the type of survivor Jack is. She is very evidently traumatized by everything happening around her, but she pushes that done when necessity forces her to. She never panics, and makes practical decisions without hesitation - but not the ruthless ones we see of many post-apocalyptic survivors who let the need to stay alive turn them heartless. Jack keeps her compassion throughout, no matter how tense the moment. She tries to keep everyone from being hurt. It’s shown subtly, but masterfully, in quick moments of talking a cop down, or keeping a panicked woman quiet. It’s in the way she will multitask saving her friends from vampires. One of her friends is being attacked at the top of some stairs, the other at the bottom. Jack doesn’t have enough time to save both. Instead of completely saving one, she gives one of her friends a fighting chance before moving to save the other. It’s a hard, practical choice that ultimately leads to the death of both her friends, but in hindsight, it’s the plan that gives her the highest chance of both of her friends coming out alive.
The show is filled with moments like that and is worth a rewatch to catch moments like that that might have been missed the first time around. The episode is a strong showcase of ‘Van Helsing’ at its best. It doesn’t advance the plot of the show at all, aside from a mystery vampire rescuer who may become important later. What it was was a story very much worth telling, and told well.
The next episode of ‘Van Helsing’ airs November 29 on Syfy.