“My sister’s dead. She died when I was 14.”
That’s what Jade tells her Umbrella pursuer-turned-cellmate (Turlough Convery) around the midpoint of the ominous titled fourth episode, “The Turn.” But by the episode’s end, Jade’s statement seems to beg for an Obi-Wan Kenobi style “… from a certain point of view.” This episode foregrounds a question lingering in the background of earlier episodes: Is the state of Billie’s T-virus infection in 2022 supposed to be ambiguous?
The smart bet would be “hell no,” even given the show’s earlier reference to some form of Billie being alive in 2036. The 2022 version of Billie has had violent outbursts, hallucinations, and sensitivity to both light and sound in the days since being bitten by an undead-looking and infected dog. From everything we know about the T-virus, she has a textbook case. Yet, at the beginning of “The Turn,” she insists on being taken to a high school party, even as she anxiously watches the clock approach the three-day mark that’s supposed to mark her transformation. Her sister Jade insists that she’ll be fine and is just recovering from an illness that will soon pass, while clearly thinking that the party is a bad idea. (Sharp characterization here: Jade is the type of girl who will openly disdain a social gathering and have a much better time at said gathering than her sister.) But Billie insists, noting that their dad claimed that they did not need to quarantine. It may also be a way of testing Jade, who can’t very well claim to believe her sister will be putting others in danger if she’s also insisting that nothing crazy will happen to her at the fateful three-day mark.
It’s reminiscent, perhaps unintentionally, of the kind of COVID-era tightrope walking that might lead someone with a cough not to stay home and quarantine, saying, “Well, I just tested negative. What other information do I have?” Billie’s dad is saying she should be fine. Billie’s sister is saying she should be fine. No one tells her she has to isolate or worry about turning into a vicious, subhuman zombie. So she goes to the party, gets bummed when Jade’s attention diverts to Simon, and winds up isolating herself anyway (after a sweet skateboard trick her sister fails to notice). Then the amateur reporter Jade previously contacted shows up looking for the Wesker sisters and gives them some surprising information: According to his research, Albert Wesker has been dead since 2009. And Jade and Billie Wesker, at least on paper, do not exist.
This is probably the biggest twist, or at least one less telegraphed than the one unveiled in the episode’s final minutes: The clock strikes, and Billie doesn’t transform. She doesn’t die. She embraces her sister, alive, regardless of what the data says. The show has flipped from showing Billie marked for death in 2022 while mentioning that she’s alive in 2036 to showing her surviving in 2022 and mentioning that she’s dead in 2036. The bigger, as-yet-unrevealed twist: If Albert Wesker has been dead since 2009, what’s kept him alive for the past 13 years?
For now, we have an especially tight and suspenseful episode of Resident Evil, even though it’s one of the longest so far. While Billie escapes death in the past, Jade eludes it in the future. Jade has been captured by the Brotherhood, who seem to control certain territories, and chats with their leader, who is … French, maybe? (The signage at their base is all German.) What nationality is “vaguely reminiscent of Gary Oldman in True Romance from a fashion perspective”? He’s that. While the specifics of this death cult are vague and what we do learn is pretty boilerplate horror-narrative stuff (a group of people who believes that a horrific/fantastical phenomenon was an act of God? You don’t say!), this does provide a nice opportunity to get Jade and her flip Umbrella frenemy into some dark tunnels, firing guns. In other words, this is a bit of Resident Evil Classic, adding in the concept of a T-virus that has evolved enough to create a zombie queen, which Jade decapitates with a chainsaw.
Turlough Convery’s character has felt like a bit of an atonal attempt at dark-comic relief in the past few episodes, but separating him from Umbrella’s pursuit of Jade and turning him into a kind of de facto ally makes his quippiness go down easy. It also demonstrates the ruthlessness of this enterprise, which makes it feel worthy of its predecessors: In less than an hour, this Irish fellow goes from mildly annoying side-character antagonist to genuine comic relief to gun-toting badass mowing down zombies in a particularly shamelessly fan-pleasing sequence. (Because I have no shame, I was, in fact, pleased by this.) That’s not even his final form; by the episode’s end, he’s been devoured by zombies almost as quickly as the writers have devoured character ideas for him. Here’s something oddly comforting about a zombie show: While there are still some of the aforementioned fatal-injury-just-kidding-it’s-a-flesh-wound shenanigans (Convery’s character getting shot and being more or less fine, for example) that have become endemic in genre movies and TV, you can be absolutely certain that when a guy gets dogpiled by a bunch of ravenous zombies, he is dead for real.
Billie, though, may occupy a more liminal space. With its dead-on-paper family, zombie-not-zombie sister, and evolving zombies, the series seems to be shaping up to ask a more Romero-ish question than the more action-oriented movies bothered with: What’s the line between alive and dead (and undead)? And what is humanity doing to move that line themselves?
Resident Evil Afterlife
• It’s a testament to the strength of what comes before it that the episode’s actual ending, which involves another group (Umbrella, probably?) capturing Jade in 2036, barely registers.
• Oh, also, the reporter, who has roots in Tijuana, is captured by Umbrella–and seems ready to make a deal with Evelyn Marcus.
• Jade and Bille’s age is mentioned in an earlier episode, but they do not especially read as 14-year-olds, probably because they both would have been around 16 years old during production. Aging them down is probably an attempt to better square them with Ella Balinska, who is already 25 and playing 28. I’m not trying to pick on anyone’s ages here; I’m just endlessly fascinated by the weird young-adult nexus where actors and characters can differ by a decade or more.
• The teens of New Raccoon City attend a party on a construction site that looks suspiciously like a Williamsburg Pool Party from the 2000s.
• This episode also really shores up the show’s horror bona fides. In particular, having Jade wield a chainsaw the same year as the latest (and sort of underrated) Texas Chainsaw sequel/reboot, shores up Netflix’s reputation as the go-to streamer for gory chainsaw action.
• So in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, one of the best of the Resident Evil movies, the endlessly cloned character Dr. Alexander Isaacs has one incarnation that has become convinced that the T-virus is the will of God and uses the resultant zombies to further his newfound religious fanaticism. I don’t think that’s what anyone had in mind with the Brotherhood here (I wouldn’t be surprised if the creators of this show were as attentive to the older movies as writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson was to the old video games, which is to say: not especially), but it’s a cool parallel.