“Exposure” continues the heavy-handed social commentary of The Nevers, while also delivering another dopey last-minute twist I think we all saw coming.
This recap of The Nevers season 1, episode 2, “Exposure”, contains spoilers.
The Nevers is lots of things – science-fiction, period piece, a very thinly-veiled metaphor for oppression and bigotry, and so on, and so forth – but one thing it isn’t is subtle. That was clear in last week’s premiere but it’s blindingly obvious in “Exposure”, which leans against one of the most played-out (albeit fitting, given the Victorian setting) gimmicks imaginable – the “freak show”. Yes, just like the mutants in X-Men, the so-called touched in The Nevers episode 2 are a stand-in for any maligned group whose differences subject them to mistrust and ridicule, so they’re to be paraded at a soiree for the benefit of, and I quote, “men of influence with wives of actual influence.” In Victorian England? If there was ever a line written for a contemporary audience, it’s that one.
A lot of what happens in “Exposure” is the same frustrating kind of obvious. Since Maladie is still on the loose with the kidnapped Mary, and Maladie is touched, Scotland Yard immediately begins profiling every other touched woman and gives Frank Mundi a warrant to toss St. Romaulda’s. The freak show itself is arranged by Lavinia Bidlow, the so-called champion of the disenfranchised, who dresses it up as a way for the touched to recoup some public favor but still has Primrose, the giant, pose for endless photos. The touched all wear blue ribbons to identify themselves. It’s ridiculous and exploitative and everybody knows it, and yet the idea that this kind of thing only encourages the division already prevalent in Victorian society is treated as revelatory, which veers quite close to being outright insulting.
Hugo Swan’s version of the “freak show”, the opening night of the Ferryman’s Club, is supposed to be a counterpoint, a way for the touched to embrace who they really are away from the proprieties of the daytime. But they’re obviously being fetishized and exploited again for the benefit of moneyed men who want to have sex with them; it’s the same thing, really, just exploitation of a different kind.
The Nevers season 1, episode 2 puts the touched to work plot-wise, too, so it’s hardly like the show itself is more open-minded. Amalia spends most of “Exposure” trying to track down Maladie using her own ambiguous future-ripple abilities, which is fine, but it renders any kind of investigative or psychological component moot. She forms a hasty partnership with Mundi here, and it’s difficult to overstate how useless Mundi feels when, despite all his hard work and expertise, the plot just eventually decides it’s time for Amalia to soothsay her way to a climactic confrontation anyway. The only way Amalia is even able to bond with Mundi in the first place is because she just happens to meet a prostitute whose presence acts as a kind of truth serum.
A lot of the storytelling woes of The Nevers are exposed when Amalia and Maladie come face to face. Honestly, it took me a minute to even make sense of their interactions; I couldn’t quite tell if Maladie was being literal about putting the blame on Amalia for abandoning her when they were younger and had different names, or if it was intended to be a metaphor, or if Maladie was just doing her usual demented psychotic shtick. From what I can tell they do indeed have a relationship from the past, and Amalia abandoned her, which has at least in part contributed to her downward spiral into outright insanity and Joker-style no-win dilemmas built to punish her arch-rival rather than kill her. Amalia is able to get around this with a speech and a noble bit of self-sacrifice, but it seems a bit contrived all the same.
As with the pilot, The Nevers episode 2 saves its weirdest twist for last. It’s not quite “extra-terrestrial fish-ship dosed all London’s women” bonkers, but it’s close. See, deep beneath London, there is a giant, glowing blue orb of nebulous function that is being excavated by the lobotomized patients of mad scientist villain Dr. Edmund Hague, whose operation is under the auspices of… dun, dun, dun… Lavinia Bidlow. The woman who parades her acts of charity around for the appeasement of the very people whose bigotry has driven them into hiding in the first place has an ulterior motive? Well, I never(s).