“Hanged” is at once the best episode of The Nevers and also proof that most of it still doesn’t work, which is quite an accomplishment.
This recap of The Nevers season 1, episode 5, “Hanged”, contains spoilers.
I was somewhat amused to realize that “Hanged” was the penultimate episode of The Nevers, since it’s a show that only just seems to have gotten going. In fact, somewhat ironically, I suppose, this episode is the first one that feels halfway coherent, with a sensible long-term goal and several logical conflicts getting in the way of it. It seems like too little too late, though. Joss Whedon’s needlessly ambiguous worldbuilding has done more harm than good at this point, and finally putting a name to the giant subterranean orb that Lavinia Bidlow is presently excavating hardly explains its significance. The fact it might explain the true nature of the touched seems a likely enough assumption, but the fact it might just ask even more questions the show can’t be bothered to answer seems likelier still.
And this is supposing that the St. Romaulda’s team can get on long enough to access it, which after The Nevers episode 5 isn’t guaranteed. A clear conflict emerges here in “Hanged” between Amalia and some of her loyalists – including Dr. Cousens, who she seems to have inexplicably resumed her affair with, and Bonfire Annie – and Penance’s more empathetic compatriots, made up of several orphans I haven’t bothered to learn the names of, and Nimble, though admittedly he’s only on-side because she offered to pay him. The matter causing all this friction is the public execution of Maladie, who has been convicted on several counts of murder and is being made an example of at least in part so that Lord Massen can further his cause against the touched, which hasn’t exactly gone to plan despite various draconian legislative efforts.
This whole matter felt remarkably contrived to me. Penance is insistent that Maladie shouldn’t be executed and should instead be harbored at St. Romaulda’s, which Amalia is understandably against since she’s a demented serial killer. That last point is important. The argument that Maladie is being more harshly punished to make an example of the touched might well be true, but the fact she’s unequivocally guilty of her crimes renders the altruistic counter-argument moot. Whether or not you agree with public execution, there’s no universe in which sheltering a wanted fugitive at an orphanage designed as a haven for people who are already ostracised and mistrusted makes any sense at all. I prefer Penance to Amalia on the level of sheer likability, but Amalia is right here, and it’s ridiculous to argue that she isn’t.
Because of all this, the “big moment” when Amalia and Penance face off and everyone chooses a side like Captain America: Civil War just plays as silly and inconsequential; when Penance and her allies get back and find Team Amalia just sat there waiting around, it’s only proof of how manufactured the conflict is. And it’s grating because the conflict does make sense on some level, or at least it would if the person Penance was attempting to save wasn’t Maladie. The fact that the entire execution was a ruse engineered to facilitate Maladie’s escape and the butchering of as many people who came to witness her death as possible is a just reward for the folly of trying to save her in the first place.
The Nevers season 1, episode 5 nonetheless outdoes itself during Maladie’s “execution”. It’s blatantly obvious things are going to go wrong, of course, but not quite in what way and the rapidly escalating events play out with enough urgency and delirium that the intended effect is achieved, and then the twists just keep piling on regardless. The first phase – which Frank Mundi realizes a little too late – is to have the Colonel, whose turn is just Jedi mind tricks, electrocute the bloodthirsty spectators clutching the metal railings. That has the knock-on effect of sending ripples through the entire crowd and encouraging a stampede as the onlookers, whom Frank has ironically locked inside in order to prevent chaos, trample over one another trying to get to safety. This gives way to the second twist, which is that Maladie, who willingly kills herself when she realizes that Penance is trying to rescue her, isn’t really Maladie but one of her bonkers toeless devotees. This, Frank also puts together too late to do anything about. But the real twist is that Maladie has been posing as intrepid pro-touched journalist Effie Boyle all this time, and we even get a really obvious riff on The Usual Suspects to make the point that she’s hoodwinked everyone as clear as possible. Frank stares at pictures on his office wall, Maladie throws off her disguise… it’s pretty much beat for beat.
The fact that “Hanged” is so eager to crib its big moment from elsewhere is pretty telling. This isn’t so much an original show as an unwieldy Frankenstein’s monster of borrowed influences and mismatched ideas, and the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing. And yet this was still somehow the best episode. Perhaps, with Whedon ousted from the second part of Season 1, whenever that might get filmed or released, then there’s potential here for a much better story that actually builds on the few things The Nevers has done well and does away with the many things that are currently hampering it. Now that’d be a twist, wouldn’t it?