Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Enemies strike a major blow as The Nevers questions Mrs. True’s mission

Image of Rochelle Neil and Laura Donnelly in HBO's The Nevers
Rochelle Neil and Laura Donnelly star in The Nevers
Photo: Keith Bernstein/HBO

Poor Mary. As we’ve gotten to learn more about the Touched, their turns fall into roughly two camps. As Mrs. True says to Bonfire Annie, there are the “formidable” turns, like her ability to control fire, or Mrs. True’s own ripplings (and I swear there is something else going on with her, there has to be), or Lucy’s destructive ability. Those threatening undercurrents have benefits, especially in this new world in which the Turned are being hunted. Then there are the beneficial turns, like Horatio’s healing ability, Désireé’s truth-telling, and Penance’s manipulation of electrical currents.

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There are outliers, of course—Primrose’s fantastic size plagues her, but if she wanted to, a 10-foot-tall person could probably wage a certain amount of damage. But the only person whose turn seemed truly pure was Mary. What harm can a song do? Theoretically, none. Magnifying it, though, and using it as some kind of clarion call to the other Touched, when there are so many villains out there trying to get to them? I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Mrs. True knowingly put Mary in danger, and then did nothing to protect her. No perimeter around the park where Mary was to perform, although Mrs. True had just fought off one of those human/cyborg hybrid things, and the Beggar King’s henchman Nicolas Perbal. No coordination with Mundi beforehand, so that he could have some other police officers there.

Of course, I’m not trying to blame Mrs. True for whatever enemy let Maladie’s machine-gun henchman out of jail, gave him his gun-arm back, and told him that Mary would be at the park. (Lavinia is our strongest guess, right? Mrs. True had just told her where Mary would be, and Lavinia clearly has influence and cash enough to pay off a jail guard or two and get the henchman released.) But I think it’s perhaps a sign of Mrs. True’s narrow thinking, or even compartmentalization, of whatever her mission is that she could have that earlier conversation with Mary in which Mary admitted hesitancy toward singing her song; go out and see proof that the Touched’s enemies are circling closer by fighting off two of them; and then not put the pieces together and realize that Mary could be a target. (Also: That murder was brutal, and I understand Mundi’s pained, furious reaction. But could the Touched have learned something from Maladie’s henchman that they now never will because Mundi killed him?)

Mrs. True seems so focused on the “bringing together” part of her mission that I’m not sure she’s paid enough attention to what comes after that, and under those circumstances, I worry that the final shot of Bonfire Annie and all those women and children waiting at the orphanage to be let in isn’t exactly the hopeful image we might immediately assume. (Strong “All the activated Slayers coming to Buffy,” vibe, though.) There’s no bringing Mary back, and I think that will weigh on Mrs. True for a long time.

Before the tragedy at the park, this third episode “Ignition” devotes an appreciable amount of time to understanding what makes Mrs. True tick. That confrontation with Maladie has left her self-reflective, and perhaps a little self-pitying; the hazy high of huffing in all that opium with Penance doesn’t linger. Instead, we see Mrs. True assessing her face in the mirror (cut to me pointing like Leo in response), arguing with Horatio about the affair they were having that he cut off (the little catch in her voice at the end of “I’m sorry I can’t be more generous about being your mistake” was good stuff from Laura Donnelly), and being received with what seems like a little friction and fear from the orphanage’s residents when she walks into the kitchen during Mary’s gleeful performance of “The Band Played On.” For the most part, we’ve seen Mrs. True with Penance, who adores her, or with Lucy, who respects her. But Mary seems to hit a nerve when she tells Mrs. True later that day that the other people living at St. Romaulda’s “all have different answers” regarding “what this place is, and what we’re meant to be doing.” What is the mission “beyond keeping people safe” that Mrs. True is tasked with—and what happens to it when she can’t even do the former?

While Mary struggles with whether she even wants to sing into Penance’s amplifier, Mrs. True handles attacks from two fronts. The first is from whoever is putting up the fliers all around London with that sketch of her face on them. We know the perpetrators to be Lavinia and Dr. Hague once we see that portrait of Ms. Cossini in the albums Mrs. True takes from the warehouse, but Mrs. True isn’t aware of that. Instead, her trust in Lavinia ends up being a major mistake, possibly resulting in Mary’s death. (And the woman who was helping them in their scheme and assisting those human/cyborg kidnappers after drowning her own pregnant Touched daughter? Monster.) And the second comes from the Beggar King, whose men are seen fleeing the episode’s opening-scene altercation between Mrs. True and Penance on one side and Bonfire Annie on the other. The Beggar King has a certain burly reputation to maintain, and Mrs. True is making it increasingly difficult. He isn’t a real ally to the Turned, but transforming from whatever hired help he is now to an outright enemy isn’t exactly great, either.

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Speaking of men who can’t handle threats from women, let’s discuss what Hugo Swann is up to! Strange to me that an aristocrat’s greatest desire would be to run a sex club, but money issues are no joke, and clearly there’s a cash-flow problem somewhere given how much trickery Hugo is using to get Augie to sign onto the club as an investor. And, maybe I’m getting too paranoid here, but is Hugo using the sex club as a front for something? He’s paying Mundi (a former lover!) for information about Mrs. True, and I don’t think his suspicions of her are just focused on whether her discreditation or disappearance could turn more members of the Turned to sex work. Lord Massen and Hugo hate each other, but I wonder if they’re not more aligned than they realize in their desires to use the Touched for their own ends. Because Lord Massen is also working on a nefarious plan of his own, which we see him discuss with those other ruling men. (Are the “new players in motion” perhaps people these men have enlisted to fight the Turned for them?) And, do those other white ruling guys know what Massen is hiding in the basement of his manor? I’m guessing it’s not just dogs!

“Can I not be made the villain of this piece?” Mrs. True had asked her wards at the orphanage, but she should have remembered what she told Bonfire Annie in that initial failed enlistment attempt: The Turned have enemies they don’t know about yet, and they’re everywhere. Lavinia and Dr. Hague, Maladie, Massen, Hugo Swann, the Beggar King. Every one of them is putting a target on Mrs. True’s back, and Mary’s murder seems like just the beginning.

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Stray observations

  • I thought Maladie and Mrs. True knew each other as children, but Mrs. True mentions in that conversation with Mary that she was declared insane three years ago, after developing her turn and beginning to experience ripplings. Was she at the same asylum that housed Maladie, and where it seems that they both met Horatio? And if so, how did Mrs. True get out—was that bankrolled by Lavinia, too?
  • This show is still swimming in exposition dumps, but at least this one was delivered thoughtfully by Donnelly, who manages to elevate every potentially corny element of Mrs. True’s character: “I also drink when I shouldn’t, fight when I needn’t, and fuck men whose names I do not learn. I get nervous in crowds. I see things that aren’t there. When I meet someone, the first thing I think of is how to kill them.”
  • All the sex-club nudity in this episode felt very early-season Game of Thrones: not strictly necessary, but a real, “Hey, you’re watching HBO!” reminder.
  • Bonfire Annie is delightful, and I sympathize with this very much: “You can speak your peace, but I will burn us all to death if I have to hear you bicker!”
  • The fire extinguisher prototype works! Good job, Penance!
  • Mrs. Adair’s green-and-black striped skirt was very Beetlejuice, and I covet it.
  • “Every woman keeps secrets. Every touched woman keeps a great deal more.” Again, I wish this show had dared to make women the exclusive recipients of turns!
  • Amy Mandon’s Maladie is still coming off like Drusilla by way of evil Emma Stone, and that carriage scene with Horatio only deepened my impression. The flirty twist she put on “Promise?” in response to his “This is going to hurt” felt like I was watching the Cruella trailer all over again.
  • Lucy’s backstory is harrowing—crushing her 6-month-old son to death when her turn activated. Not trying to rank trauma here, but that one is pretty awful.
  • Do we understand what “The Nevers” means this episode? Midway through this first half of the first season … we do not.
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