The Nevers season 1, episode 4 recap – “Undertaking” message received

May 3, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 0
HBO, Weekly TV
2

Summary

“Undertaking” continues to spin its wheels, and The Nevers remains nowhere near as interesting as it thinks it is.

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2

Summary

“Undertaking” continues to spin its wheels, and The Nevers remains nowhere near as interesting as it thinks it is.

This recap of The Nevers season 1, episode 4, “Undertaking”, contains spoilers.


The death of Mary last week was a tragic thing, for a couple of reasons. The first is that it was perhaps the only genuinely affecting scene of the season thus far, and it managed to provoke some real emotion beyond the baseline level of amused bafflement that The Nevers usually encourages. The second is that Mary’s “turn” – her sweet recruitment song – and her connection to several other characters actually gave the plot some shape. She represented long- and short-term goals, conflicting perspectives; the underlying themes were bundled up in her. There was a chance that in her absence the show would flounder even more than it did before, and “Undertaking” proves that suspicion sadly correct.

The Nevers episode 4 opening with Mary’s funeral seemed like a slightly shameless way of dragging the effectiveness of her death out for another week. The sombre mood, though, is interrupted by some hecklers who turn up to say good riddance, which is a typically on-the-nose reminder of Victorian sentiment towards those perceived as “other”, which the touched certainly are. Frank Mundi, Mary’s ex, is one of the few regular citizens who’re present for the mourning, and the fact he seems more annoyed about it than anyone else is telling – those on the receiving end of prejudice learn to get used to it just so they can get by.

And then there’s Amalia. Is it just me, or is having her process her own grief and guilt by getting drunk, snogging strangers, and starting bar fights a bit gimmicky? She’s tough, we get it. She’s also preoccupied with two pretty essential questions that sprung out of the previous episode, namely why she was attacked by a hooligan who could walk on water like Jesus, and who killed Mary. Disappointingly, she seems mostly uninterested in all the questions the show has asked but not provided any answers to.

This is such a predictable show that when the St. Romaulda Irregulars come up with a list of suspects – Maladie, Lord Massen, the Beggar King, Augie and Lavinia Bidlow – you know none of them is going to lead anywhere because you know a twist is coming and it wouldn’t work if it was obvious. The irony is that in its efforts to be sneaky it becomes obvious anyway. Some of the connections don’t even make that much sense, and clearly exist just to set up little meetings or new characters. Augie is on the list just to have a nice scene with Penance. The Beggar King is there just to introduce Nimble (Vinnie Heaven), another of his associates. The sense of the storytelling being functional instead of organic never really goes away.

To be fair, Lord Massen is actually guilty, probably of more things than he lets on here, but he’s more of a backstage string-puller, and his sneaky associate, Lucy, is the one who has to step up as the short-term villain in The Nevers episode 4. Massen’s meeting with Amalia, though, is one of the best scenes of “Undertaking”, at least in part because he’s so excellently smug about his power and is able to genuinely challenge Amalia’s own noble crusading attitude. He makes her look a bit stupid, frankly, not because the character necessarily is, but because the script likes her to be sometimes so it can set up other things at her expense. When Lucy suggests torching a warehouse full of Massen’s munitions on the back of this, which are apparently unguarded and ripe for sabotage, that was the point when everyone should have realized what she was up to. But, of course, it’s more important to get both a) a loaded debate about who really has the best interests of the touched in mind, and b) a superpowered fight that can flex the FX budget.

In truth, though, The Nevers season 1, episode 4 proves that while the show is actually pretty good at the second of those things, it’s really awful at the first. Any time it tries to debate anything then the whole endeavour becomes a bit embarrassing. Mundi advocating for Maladie’s right to justice after smashing her head into a wall repeatedly and strangling her is ridiculous. Massen’s anti-union nationalist rhetoric – “I expect more courage from Englishmen” – when his workers go on strike over moving bombs is laughable. Even during the episode’s big fight, when Amalia confronts Lucy about spying for Massen and sending them down a dead end with the warehouse, neither of them seem particularly convinced about their own arguments. Lucy is ostensibly heel-turning because Massen has promised to cure her turn, which led to the tragic death of her own child, but it’s so obvious that he wouldn’t actually do that for her that it’s impossible to buy into her position. Amalia doesn’t have a compelling argument in favour of the orphanage, either. The fight itself is fine, fun even, but it’s really Penance who brings about a ceasefire, and she isn’t even personally present.

The simple fact of the matter here is that The Nevers expects its audience to find its deliberate ambiguity much more interesting than it really is. There’s definitely a compelling show here, with interesting worldbuilding and a macro plot involving aliens and subterranean hell mouths that clearly has something to offer were it not being developed so obliquely in the middle of a lot of time-killing nonsense. Developments in that regard do occur in “Undertaking”, and they’re significant enough that they should land with a lot more dramatic impact than they end up doing. Polylingual Myrtle manages to use her newfound facility for languages to decipher a hidden message in Mary’s song that is aimed explicitly at Amalia, who has apparently not been left alone by someone who has gone to heal “inside the city”. Their “mission” is, supposedly, incomplete. But at this point, who cares?

Even in death, then, Mary remains the most interesting and useful part of The Nevers season 1, episode 4. This episode suggests that the show might actually start to pay off the threads we’ve only seen glimpses of thus far, such as Lavinia’s lobotomized mining operation that hasn’t been brought up again since it was debuted in a cliffhanger. That’d be nice, but one has to wonder if it’ll also be too little too late.

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