“Ignition” has a couple of great sequences, but they’re not quite enough to distract completely from the show’s enduring problems.
This recap of The Nevers season 1, episode 3, “Ignition”, contains spoilers.
It feels a bit like there’s a war coming. Exactly what kind of war is difficult to say at this point, and The Nevers isn’t exactly forthright with information about the world it’s building, but “Ignition” certainly feels like an army is being built. The most obvious recruitment tool is Mary, whose siren song can be amplified by a… well, amplifier that Penance has invented. But one of the first scenes of The Nevers episode 3 is Amalia trying to recruit Bonfire Annie to Team Orphanage after she parted ways with Maladie, and this eventually builds to a sweet payoff.
“Ignition” takes a while to get there, though. That opening scene, during which Annie is trying to steal territory from the Beggar King, speaks to a wide-scale underground turf war that we really know next to nothing about, and it’s difficult to say one way or the other if we’re supposed to be invested in it or not. It also plays for laughs when Penance manages to inhale several lung-fulls of burning opium, which only speaks to the show’s bizarre this-and-that tone. When Amalia takes a gulp herself it’s hard to say whether it’s a joke or a cry for help.
If The Nevers isn’t totally sure about what kind of show it wants to be, nobody in it seems all that certain about what’s going on either. Mary’s song has been silenced by her lack of surety about what St. Romaulda’s actually is, for what purpose Amalia wants to lure as many of the touched there as possible. I think this is the first time anyone other than a sexist man in a smoky boardroom has expressed reservations about the place, so it was long overdue, but the fact Amalia doesn’t have an answer for her, not even a pre-prepared fake one, makes me wonder if perhaps the writers haven’t decided yet either.
Everyone’s cagey in The Nevers season 1, episode 3; they only seem willing to deepen their archetypes by making veiled remarks rather than being up-front about anything. Nobody likes a deluge of artless exposition, but there’s also the small matter that nobody speaks with this much deliberate ambiguity. Amalia, on her background: “I woke up knowing things that I shouldn’t.” Is she referring to her “turn”, those ripples of the future, or something else? Totally unclear. It’s the same thing when she has a loaded back-and-forth with Dr. Cousens, a married man who it becomes obvious she had an affair with. Amalia seems rather smug about this, which I suppose is a fitting personality trait, but these things don’t make her more interesting – they just make her a bit annoying.
This isn’t the only illicit affair that comes up in “Ignition”. At the Ferryman’s Club, where Hugo is “auditioning” new “acts” and driving Augie bonkers by risking his good-boys-club reputation with the place, we learn that Hugo has also been to bed with Frank Mundi, who we’re to understand is closeted and doesn’t exactly love that aspect of himself. It’s almost some character depth, except for now it’s mostly just inferences and leading remarks, so I’m not sure it counts.
Character depth is pretty thin on the ground all over the place, really, and it’s getting to the point where it’s a bit aggravating. Since the audience knows that Lavinia isn’t as altruistic as she’s leading others to believe, seeing Amalia run to her with crucial information about her own operation – Penance finds one of Dr. Hague’s flyers, and Amalia follows it straight to the address – makes her look a bit stupid. There’s a fine line between building tension for the audience – Amalia also let’s slip about a test of Penance’s amplifier, teeing up a tragic finale – and undermining the hero’s intelligence. If I could spot that Lavinia was up to no good before the show confirmed it, then more people should be thinking the same.
They’re not, though, which leads to one of two great scenes in The Nevers episode 3. The first is a fight between Amalia and one of the Beggar King’s hulking goons, which is great, even if it feels a bit contrived given it’s ostensibly vengeance for whatever role she played in Bonfire Annie assaulting the Limehouse docks, which was basically no role at all, but whatever. It was a nice bit of action with just the right about of supernaturalism to be interesting and unconventional. Following that fight, and now stripped down to a petticoat for what Joss Whedon presumably thinks are very good reasons, she attends the amplification of Mary’s lovely song and gets front-row seats when she’s bloodily assassinated by one of Maladie’s henchmen, who Frank Mundi subsequently shoots dead.
Now, then. As ever we have some questions. Earlier in the episode, while Penance was speculating about the amplifier’s design, she figured it might reach a mile, which doesn’t seem far enough to attract the sheer volume of touched that Bonfire Annie subsequently brings to St. Romaulda’s – this, though, is a nitpick, since the moment really works, perhaps better than any other single scene in the season thus far. There’s also the matter of how the assassination was orchestrated. Lavinia presumably set it up to try and keep the touched on the streets where they can be lured to Dr. Hague’s creepy lobotomy lair, but one of Maladie’s goons being the triggerman raises some other questions. Fitting, really, since The Nevers seems much more interested in questions than answers.