This post contains major spoilers for the sixth episode of The Nevers, “True.”
I know, right?
I tune into my nice little HBO show about Victorian women with superpowers and suddenly I’m in the middle of a Terminator reboot.
Tell me what’s going on here, please.
Well, two things. One is that everything we’ve seen thus far, about a group of London women who’ve been turned into superheroes by spores dropped from a luminous blue alien craft, is only part of the story. Another part takes place some time in the (hopefully fairly distant) future, when Earth is a depleted, nearly unlivable wasteland, and nearly 5 billion people have already died. The person we’ve known thus far as Amalia True is actually a traveler from somewhere in the future, identified as Stripe and played by the Australian actress Claudia Black, who you might recognize from Farscape. (She also kind of looks like a jacked Julie White.) She didn’t come of her own free will, though, and she isn’t quite sure why the Galanthi—the squid-like aliens who dropped the spores and hurtled her consciousness backward through time—sent her back.
The second thing is that is that “True,” the sixth episode of The Nevers, wasn’t meant to be the end of the season, or even the half-season Production was shut down midstream by the pandemic. The show resumed production in the fall, but shortly after that, Joss Whedon, who created the series and had hyped it as his most ambitious narrative to date, announced he was departing the series because he could not meet the required “level of commitment going forward.” It’s not clear how Whedon, a TV industry veteran and director of two Marvel movies, could have underestimated the commitment necessary for a 10-episode TV series, and his announcement followed allegations by the actor Ray Fisher that Whedon had mistreated him and others on the set of Justice League, so the whole thing seemed a bit odd. (HBO has said there were no reports of mistreatment on the set of The Nevers, while Whedon has stayed silent, even as Charisma Carpenter and several other members of the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer came forward this year to accuse him of abusing his power on their set.) The upshot is an unplanned break and an unplanned departure of the show’s creator and primary creative force, at a time when the story seems to just be getting going. (Philippa Goslett has taken over as showrunner, although there is no date yet set for the series’ return.) So an episode that was already supposed to throw viewers for a loop is now leaving them hanging in midair.
Indeed—I am very confused about where we’ve left off.
Okay. How can I help?
Let’s go back to the future.
Sure thing, Doc. In the future, time unknown, there are two forces on Earth: Freelife, who seem to more or less be the bad guys, and the Planetary Defense Coalition, which our Stripe—presumably a designation of her mid-level military rank, although we eventually found out her full name is Zephyr Alexis Navine—seems to be a part of. When we meet her, she’s “possuming,” playing dead thanks to the cooling pods she’s swallowed to eliminate traces of her body heat. (Those are the glowing blue orbs she pukes up in the first few minutes.) We’re presumably still in London—the high shots of bombed-out buildings seem to deliberately evoke the Blitz—but she’s just come from Edinburgh, after a battle in which she was the sole survivor. (As with everything else Stripe says, it’s hard to know how much of this is true—stay tuned, folks.) She meets up with a regiment of PDC troops who are attempting to secure a lab where there may be one of the few surviving Galanthi, if not the only one, because Freelife has nuked most of them into oblivion.
What is Freelife’s deal anyway?
We don’t really know, except that the main representative of their army we see talks with a Southern accent and that Joss Whedon has a bit of a thing for revisiting the Civil War in a sci-fi context. Their vision of freedom seems to involve a xenophobic hostility to the Galanthi, who seem to be sort of like space angels: creatures who can create portals in both space and time and have come to Earth to help save it from, well, us. They’re ruthless enough to torture and kill the lab’s scientists, simply because they’ve psychically bonded with the Galanthi and they know the humans’ death will cause it pain. And … that’s about it! They’re bad and hostile and they want to kill the aliens.
What about the PDC?
Well, they’re called the Planetary Defense Coalition, so presumably their goal is to defend the planet. They’re guided by a kind of nebulous, New Age-y faith in the Galanthi—they’d probably say they’re “not religious, but spiritual”—and they’ve got a thing about proper names, which they consider so sacred that Stripe didn’t even share hers with the people she was married to. (Oh, also, the future is poly.) They seem like a pretty loose-knit coalition, enough that Stripe and Knitter, the PDC soldier she forms the closest bond with, keep having to explain things to each other. Knitter, by the way, is also a “spore,” the future’s term for people who’ve been gifted by the Galanthi with empathic powers that are meant to help them understand the alien race’s language and technology. This is pretty different from what the Galanthi spores did in London in 1896, for reasons neither Stripe nor anyone else understands yet.
If the Galanthi have come to help save humanity, they don’t seem to be doing a great job of it.
At least not yet—this isn’t meant to be a one-season show. Most of the Galanthi are dead, and we learn that the one remaining has created a portal for the purposes of leaving Earth, which kind of makes it seem like they’ve given up the fight. Stripe tells the dying Knitter, having lost faith in the creatures she’s devoted her life to protecting, that the Galanthi might be going for help, but it’s clear if she believes that, or if it’s true. But when Stripe dies, her spirit seems to be lifted out of her body by the same kind of ghostly blue tentacles we saw the Galanthi in the lab create. The last thing she, and we, see, is a shape in the sky made out of that same light, which looks at least a little bit like the tail of the Galanthi ship we saw all the way back in the first episode. What if the Galanthi isn’t going back for reinforcements, but traveling through time, taking Stripe’s consciousness along with it?
Okay, so: How does this “Stripe” person end up inside Amalia True’s body? And what happened to Molly?
Molly, from what we see in the episode’s second section, was a London shopgirl that lived a pretty miserable life, married to a brutal man she didn’t love and left to care for his invalid mother after her death. It’s she who we saw jumping into the Thames in the show’s first episode, at the end of her rope and attempting to end her own life. When she comes to, she’s Stripe, talking in an American accent and fighting with the skills that 28 years of hardened combat has given her. It seems as if Molly, or at least her mind, died in the river, and she’s Stripe for good now.
What happened to her accent?
In-show, Molly takes Eliza Doolittle-style elocution lessons so she can convince the nice people at the asylum that she’s not a nut who believes she’s been possessed by the spirit of an American soldier from the future. But also, Laura Donnelly has a lovely Irish lilt, and it would be a shame not to use it.
Does everyone in the world of The Nevers already know this?
Almost certainly not. By the end of the episode, we know that Amalia has told Penance, her partner in crime, and Horatio, her doctor boyfriend, the truth: that, as he puts it, “aliens from the future gave us magic powers.” And the flash-forwards we see at the end of the episode—which also, perhaps intentionally, serve as a teaser trailer for the season’s second half—include a man’s voice asking if Amalia thought she was the only one to “hitch a ride” with the Galanthi. So it’s a safe bet at least someone in 1896 London knows what’s really going on, certainly the villainous Lord Massen if no one else. There’s also a provocative but inscrutable shot of a woman in vaguely space-y garb against a field of stars telling Amalia she’ll “need to forget” … something. Who is she? No idea. (Update: It’s actually Myrtle, the Victorian waif with the power to speak every language but English.) But it’s been a bit of a mystery up till now why a show that is very clearly set in late 19th-century London was called The Nevers. So maybe she’s one of them? There’s some sort of wibbly wobbly timey wimey business going on here, and we’ll just have to wait to find out.
Okay, one more question. Is this all … real?
That is a very good question. The purpose of “True” is less to explain things than to sow seeds and drop hints, and one of the big ones has to do with the presence in the future of virtual-reality technology. As she’s poking around the lab, Stripe finds a cache of Victorian paraphernalia and, right next to it, a stack of “sim cards,” which presumably allow the user to enter lifelike scenarios. (Knitter’s quip about how the sims are mostly used for “fuck tech” could be a sly rationalization for why The Nevers seems so keen on showing topless women.) It’s certainly a strange coincidence—read, not a coincidence at all—that Stripe has been sent back to the same time period she spent three terms studying in school. It’s doubtful this is all a dream, but it does seem noteworthy that with its dystopian flash-forwards and body-changing consciousnesses, the Whedon show The Nevers most closely resembles now is Dollhouse. (Whedon even re-enlisted Olivia Williams.) On that show, characters we’d known for several episodes or even more than a season were suddenly revealed to be someone else; the story kept turning itself inside-out and expanding into places you never thought it would go. It seems as if he had something similar in mind for The Nevers, a show that let the audience believe it was one thing only to pull the rug out from under them. Continuing the story is now someone else’s job, but after five episodes of so-so steampunk retread, it finally seems like The Nevers has somewhere to go.