“The Nevers” begins in London in 1896, when a strange event (ahem, the aforementioned alien fish ship sparkling magic dust on people) transforms people all around the country. (Question: Did this event also occur outside of London? How did that affect the world at large?) People—mostly women—who absorbed that strange substance have begun to develop inexplicable powers, and three years later, society is divided on what to do about the Turned. Government agents, like former soldier turned union-busting and equality-hating Lord Gilbert Massen (Pip Torrens), are obsessed with stamping them out, and see their existence as an act of war upon the monarchy. Police detectives, like Inspector Frank Mundi (Ben Chaplin), are intent on bringing law and order back to the streets; he’s been chasing serial killer Maladie, whose Turn is deriving power from pain, over five murders. Spoiled rich guys, like Hugo Swann (James Norton), want to use the Turned to line their own pockets; his dream is to expand his sex club in which these women and men work, drawing in clients aroused by their powers. And countless other people are anti-Turned, too: parents who believe their changed daughters have been possessed the Devil; working men who think the Turned will steal their jobs; and storeowners who think the Turned will infect their other employees.
Trying to navigate all the haters are Mrs. True and Penance, who together run the St. Romaulda’s Orphanage with the help of benefactor Lavinia Bidlow (Olivia Williams). Their orphanage is a bustling place that accepts the Turned of all ages, and the pair of women pay for protection and information from local gangster the Beggar King (Nick Frost), who every so often passes along details of another Turned child or adult he hears about. The pilot episode follows Mrs. True and Penance as they foil a kidnapping attempt on young Matilda (Viola Prettejohn), who is able to speak in every language but English, by cloaked, gun-carrying villains whose faces looks like they’re encased in wax. Over the next three episodes, the motivations of this crew, what they’re trying to discover about the Turned, and what they’re trying to unearth in London are very sparingly revealed. But “The Nevers” struggles to build a rhythm when it overloads each episode with so many other details and churns through story so quick.
In the first four episodes alone, we get: a forbidden romance for Mrs. True, a connection between her and Maladie, a disagreement between her and Penance about how the Turned should treat humans (clearly another “X-Men”-like story point that will come up throughout the season), and a strange communication intended only for Mrs. True that is transmitted through an unaware Turned woman who comes to Mrs. True for protection. There’s shadiness around Mundi and blackmail attempts; the seemingly insane Maladie spilling details of her plan that don’t make any sense, but that somehow result in numerous deaths; and Maladie’s associates turning on her and on each other. There are operas and parties and secret meetings, chess matches and orgies and duels, bar brawls and experimental procedures and double crosses. “The Nevers” doesn’t want for narrative, but it feels like Whedon throwing all the “Buffy”-lite ideas he had together—women mistaking pain for pleasure, female friendships built on quippy asides and oppositional personalities, condescending men looking down on women in every way they can—and hoping some of it would gel. “If you can look a man in the eye, you can stab him in it,” one of Mrs. True’s comrades says. “The Nevers” should have devoted itself to that misandrist idea rather than this hybrid of “X-Men,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” which four hours in feels like a copy of a copy of a copy.
Four episodes screened for review.
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