This was supposed to be a big day for fans of Joss Whedon.
He’s returned to TV in a new HBO show about women with special powers that terrify the elite (pompous old men, mostly).
However, criticism about how he’s allegedly treated actors over the years, have overshadowed the anticipation of his new show.
Here, we’ll just look at the show and whether it can match up to stories about a Slayer, a vampire with a soul and Browncoats.
So far, it looks like it’s a bit too heavy on introducing “powered” people, but it’s clear one man thinks he’s saving the world from “the Touched”. Two unusual woman try to stop him, but the evil runs deeper.
It begins in August 1896, where life goes on in London. A woman is about to be place in an asylum, people do their jobs, and a woman jumps in the river, apparently to die…and there’s strange rumblings.
Three years later, much has changed. Some elite people, led by Lord Massen (Pip Torrens), are terrified of “the Touched”, people with unusual powers. Massen is the Big Bad here, claiming the Touched are a threat to the British Empire as he prefers it. He thinks it gives powers to those he thinks don’t deserve it, and demands this should be stopped. As the first six episodes hint, he’ll try everything to do that. Sure, it seemed whatever created the Touched affected his family, too, but in a bad way. That might be an excuse, unless there’s more to that story.
The Touched includes the show’s heroines, Amalia True (Laura Donnelly) and inventor Penance Adair (Ann Skelley). They hope to help others like them, despite fears from the outside world. They include a girl whose touch makes plants grow, a doctor who heals wounds also via touch, and a kind girl who’s 20 feet tall.
Yes, Joss Whedon did write Astonishing X-Men in 2006, and it looks like a variation on that. True is Professor X and so forth. However, there are bad “Touched” like Maladie (Amy Madson) and a friend who tosses fireballs around. It’s not clear who’ll be the Magneto here. Might be Maladie, who claims she has a mission, too.
Amalia looks like the most interesting, with fighting skills Slayers ought to copy and the ability to briefly get flash forwards (called “ripples”). She gets some reluctant help from the Beggar King (Nick Frost), who may be a variation of Badger from Firefly. Let’s just say his loyalty may waver.
The episode starts with True and Adair finding a woman named Myrtle who understands English but can’t speak it (she does speak several languages in combination, though). Her parents think Satan speaks through her, which says it all. Some masked men try to kill the girls, but Adair’s inventiveness saves them.
Adair eventually heads to the opera, where she meets Maladie, who just killed a guy dressed as the Devil. She’s looking for an “angel”, and it’s a girl named Mary (Eleanor Tomlinson) whose singing really overcomes the crowd. Maladie is able to grab Mary and run away.
Amalia and Penance talk about the song, and how it inspires them to believe their powers exist for a reason.
There’s also other plot lines, like Lavinia Bidlow (Olivia Williams) trying to help Adair and the Touched. It’s not certain why, but it looks like her brother Augustus is affected somehow. A police detective named Mundi (Ben Chaplin) is looking into what Maladie is doing, and how some people use her chaos to attack some of the Touched. Too bad he’s not so honest. He’s connected to Hugo Swann (James Norton), who runs a sex club that somehow also affects legislation. He plans to use the Touched to make unforgettable orgies.
There’s also a creepy doctor (Denis O’Haire) who is doing terrible experiments on the Touched to determine how to “understand” their powers. It’s not too hard to suspect maybe Messen will use him to get powers himself.
The strangest twist is towards the end. It turns out the “attacker” Messen’s looking for is from above. A steampunk version of an alien ship “sprayed” out something, and gave hundreds of people new powers. This convinces Amalia to live, and may have changed her even more than we suspect.
The pilot was written and directed by Whedon (as many of his TV episodes and The Avengers), and it provides and interesting introduction to an unusual version of London. It may be several battles at once: rich vs. poor, status quo vs different (political and sexual), old guard vs. new. People are afraid of the different, and the Nevers are the worst example…but are they? It depends on where one is in this society.
Yes, some Touched are bad, but it’s up to Amalia and Penance to make the world embrace the different…especially when it turns out they exist for a special reason.
Remember, this takes place two years before Queen Victoria dies, 13 years before the Titanic, 15 years before the Great War. That’s major change. Maybe the Nevers are here to make it easier, but hardly anyone, Messen especially, can see that. It’s not so different to our modern world, and may make this show quite relatable.
Still, it was an overstuffed pilot, and a lot of people will think it’s a Steampunk X-Men. How the story unfolds through the end of May will determine if this will be HBO’s next big hit. Also, since Whedon left the show after episode six, it’ll be interesting how the show changes when the final six shows are presented.
New episodes of The Nevers air every Sunday on HBO, then stream on HBO Max.