The post-pilot backpedaling in the second episode of the Resident Evil series isn’t quite at the grand scale of the Resident Evil movies; it’s pretty typical for a show to step back and slow down after a grabber of a first episode. But both timelines of this dual-track story are certainly pulling back following some seemingly bolder narrative developments last time around.
In 2022, for example, Billie is decidedly not dead. It turns out Billie’s zombie-dog injury is more of a shoulder bite than a neck rip, and though it looks dire, Wexler makes the call to have Jade bring her sister home while he covers up their presence at the Umbrella labs to his boss
Meanwhile, in 2036, Jade’s swan dive into crimson-hued zombie hell isn’t quite as much of a mic drop either; she lands rough but not terribly hurt, and the Umbrella creeps endeavor to keep her alive as zombies swarm around her — until a deus ex machina pulls up and drives her to momentary safety. Yen, the driver of the vehicle that saves Jade, survives only long enough to inform Jade that Umbrella is after her and that helping her could screw him over. Then he gets devoured by zombies, and Jade drives off in his car. This gets her to Dover; so far, her hero’s journey through a zombie wasteland vaguely resembles a doleful British indie-rock band’s tour itinerary.
There are some cool tracking shots as Jade briskly skulks through the shantytown-like form of Dover, which is evidently under Umbrella control-slash-surveillance. The episode reveals a little more about the factions glimpsed on a digital map in the first episode: Umbrella controls certain territories, while there’s a reference to “brotherhood territory” controlled by another group. Jade sets out to find someone called Barry, who helped her with some past travels and can presumably offer some guidance on getting back to her family. At his address, she finds only his wife, Melinda.
The sequence at Melinda’s apartment shores up the show’s horror bona fides while affecting a somewhat cutesier writing voice than the first episode. In a classic zombie-world side story, Melinda has been keeping a zombified Barry (as well as, apparently, the bathroom from Saw) in their apartment, chained up and being fed a succession of cats. The ensuing conversation about finding information about Barry’s connections suddenly gives Jade a more snarky affect (“Fine, you do you”), culminating in a pointless button on the scene. After retrieving a notebook of information from zombie Barry and killing him in the process, she offers a parting shot to Melinda: “The cat thing? Super fucked up.” Whether this is aiming to underline horror or provide comic relief, the same principle applies — these things are more effective when not explained in dialogue. This cheaply sarcastic tone gets echoed when the Umbrella guy on Jade’s trail pays a visit to Melinda, where he takes the time to slough off oatmeal-raisin cookies to a woman he’s supposed to be quietly interrogating. These bits of dialogue are relatively minor in the scheme of things, but they still leave a sour aftertaste rather than a lingering sense of horror. A shame because the chained-up husband and the grimy bathtub full of cat bones explore satisfyingly grim corners of this semi-functioning apocalypse.
At least that aspect of the 2036 story line offers a more sociological angle on the Resident Evil world, with a reoriented society still standing in its own ruins, vainly and sadly attempting to mimic the old ways before Umbrella thugs tromp through and shoot at people. In the 2022 story line, the nefariousness of the Umbrella Corporation feels more than a little preordained. With her suspicions aroused by the incident at the lab, Jade seeks out her classmate, Simon, the only Umbrella teen who can circumvent the company’s firewall. She learns more about an incident where an animal bite caused disturbing changes (and eventually death) in an Umbrella employee. A recovering Billie seems to match the description of the effects and any given “came back wrong” specs from a horror movie: Her little dog no longer trusts her, and when a stranger notices the dog running from her and tries to protect the animal, Billie impulsively decks him.
This stuff moves along briskly enough, but it’s awfully familiar. Even Wesker, who initially seems like he will be taking advantage of Lance Reddick’s capacity for morally ambiguous menace, is dealt a pretty tedious “good man forced into bad things” hand when the show reveals that Umbrella honcho Evelyn Marcus (Paola Nuñez) is urging the fast-tracking of their Joy drug against his warnings. He acquiesces because he has some medical condition that can only be temporarily settled with regular blood infusions provided by the company.
Earlier in the episode, Wesker assures his daughters that whatever has infected Billie doesn’t require them to mask up around her: “It’s not like COVID,” he says, in the show’s first acknowledgment of the real and unavoidable pandemic it’s being released into. It was probably too late to retool any Resident Evil episodes to be about COVID-19, and it’s questionable whether that would be a welcome development. Do we really watch a Resident Evil series for trenchant contemporary commentary? Yet there is something blandly, boringly reassuring about this episode’s depiction of a festering evil; it creates an odd kind of impatience, at least in the 2022 scenes, for the T-virus to just get spreading already and do what we know it’s going to do. No, it’s not like COVID; right now, it’s far more familiar and predictable than that.
Resident Evil Afterlife
• Once again, director Bronwen Hughes does a nice job wringing drama out of images when the writing isn’t quite getting there. Billie’s self-examination of her wounds in a bathroom makes evocative use of blurry focus and mirrored images.
• Great detail: Jade poking around looking for more information about Umbrella includes a glimpse at a common bit of corporate boilerplate: Naturally, Umbrella has a much-vaunted “green policy.”
• The episodes are currently two-for-two on referring to porn, which is what Simon assumes Jade wants to bypass the firewall to access. Plot hole! Would Umbrella really have that many employees who would agree not to view pornography on the internet?! Doesn’t Umbrella seem more like they’d provide their own officially issued porn?