Mary’s dead. True, we hardly knew her, but sweet Mary’s was the one plotline moving consistently and sequentially forward on The Nevers, and for that alone, I will miss her. Discovery, kidnapping, recovery, musical number, murder — her arc was nasty, brutish, and short, and yet, an arc it was. In the most recent episode of The Nevers, Mary is laid to rest with mostly the touched for mourners, minus Amalia True. Lavinia Bidlow pays her respects. So does Mary’s ex, Inspector Frank Mundi, wearing a black armband. Victorians took mourning seriously; after Prince Albert died, royal servants wore black crêpe sleeves for nearly a decade. So it’s a scandal when a couple of purists, now an organized hate group, turn up in purple armbands of their own to heckle the funeral procession.
How did the purists come to assemble? Why purple? True to The Nevers’ form, questions come faster than answers. “Where’s the lady who can see the future?” Mundi asks for all of us, though at this point it’s pretty small of him to avoid her name. As it would turn out, Amalia’s at the pub, day-drinking — also a rite of mourning — while doing recon on the water-walking ogre that tried to kill her. (She’s also hitting and kissing people.) When she finally returns to St. Rom’s, Amalia convenes the inner circle, including the recent convert Bonfire Annie, to brainstorm on the most urgent question: Who killed Mary?
There’s little for the ragtag team to go on. They’re looking for a suspect with the motive to commit the crime and the power to get Maladie’s gunman out of jail. The list they compile is short: Maladie, whom the tabloids are already blaming; Lord Gilbert Massen, who may as well be dripping in purple; the Beggar King, because he sicced Odium on Mrs. True. Augie Bidlow makes the list for no apparent reason. So does Lavinia Bidlow, who knew where and when Mary’s concert was taking place. The Scooby Gang (Redux) elect to divide and conquer the suspects, but their respective interrogations turn up little. In place of murderous rage, Penance discovers Augie has a crush on her. Instead of the Beggar King, Annie meets another of his henchmen — a flirt called Nimble, who, when questioned, basically just says, “What? Who? Us? No way, couldn’t be,” but does it with a great deal of charm.
Mrs. True has a touch more luck, extracting what she takes to be a non-confession confession from Lord Massen. The Great White Hunter — Lucy’s pet name for him — muses that Mary was the victim here, but she wasn’t the target of the violence. Whoever killed Mary was really aiming at the heart of the touched, which Amalia should have been on guard against. Unless, he supposes, she wanted it to happen. It’s an intriguing insinuation. Amalia is always going on about her big mission, and identifying a common enemy is one way for a general to raise an army. But instead of taking swift, sweet, savage revenge on Massen, she opts for a surgical strike. The group agrees to answer Mary’s murder by burning a shipment of munitions at Lord Massen’s factory, an uninspiring retaliation suggested by Lucy, who’s usually more of a hellion.
Mundi, too, is interrogating suspects, or at least violently throwing them against things. Pressed onto the snooker table, Hugo Swann denies responsibility for the purists’ shenanigans, despite the fact they carried a calling card with a swan on it. Back at the precinct, Mundi has a ding-dong with Maladie that finally earns that reputation for police brutality. He doesn’t believe Mal killed Mary, but he does smash her head into a cement wall until she’s bloody and unconscious. Then he protects her from being murdered in custody, which I guess is supposed to be redemptive? Maladie eventually comes to in a cell, blabbering on about a scuppered big “plan,” which sounds suspiciously similar to a “mission.”
The suggestion that Maladie and Amalia are two sides to the same coin is made by Bonfire Annie — I’m just curious how far we can push it. They’re both pugnacious brunettes who insist they’re loners despite being drawn to cliques. Joss Whedon gives both a touch of something sexual — for Amalia, a self-proclaimed penchant for flings with nameless men; for Maladie, a perverse pleasure in seeing others squirm at how sexually forthright she can be. And they’re both imprudent in the same exact way — willing to sacrifice their bodies to satisfy some extrinsically determined “undertaking.”
Amalia’s inquisition is only one part of Lord Massen’s bad day. His warehouse laborers strike when they learn they’ve been moving bombs — cargo more dangerous than they bargained for — headed to the front in South Africa. Massen threatens to bring in scabs, and the men immediately disperse back to work. But it’s his anti-union drivel that’s interesting here. “Next time, come and talk to me as individuals,” he tells his employees (himself a member of the world’s foremost legislative body). “To band together when you could stand alone? I expect more courage from Englishmen.” It’s nationalism and it’s an analogy. To Massen, the social order is as natural as God. The dockworkers and the touched are free to exist, so long as they know their place.
Class is a preoccupation this week on The Nevers. At St. Rom’s, Lucy rails against Massen, who underpays employees for the hazardous work he demands. When Mundi confronts Swann at the gentleman’s club, he grumbles about the rich grinding up the wretches to get what they need in this city. And while some among the aristocracy are self-aware — “Nobody is quite as barbaric as the well-to-do,” Augie tells Penance — men like Massen see harmony in the social immobility. Maybe the purpose of the touched, assuming they have one, is to disrupt this thinking. It can’t be an accident that so many of the St. Rom’s orphans are young women. Dr. Cousens is a man, but he’s also Black Caribbean. Even Augie, the most highborn of the touched we know about, is uncommonly diffident and continually exploited and controlled by his sister. Could it be that the touched were chosen from among the ranks of Victorian London’s most vulnerable and underestimated?
If so, not everyone is grateful for the reversal of fate. Lucy’s turn — the grip strength to crush rocks — ruined her life. This week we get a second awful retelling of how she accidentally killed her infant son just by picking him up. The tale comes spilling out when Amalia correctly accuses Lucy of crossing the touched, spying for Massen who, in turn, promised to cure her Hulk hands. In this light, Lucy’s pronounced grief over Mary’s death looks more like a guilty conscience. Amalia and Lucy have a bit of dustup, but after listening to Penance’s insistent calls for pacifism, neither are up for a “to the death” grudge match. Amalia banishes Lucy from London, but not before extracting the real location of Massen’s munitions. Double cross.
While Amalia and the adults were busy hunting Mary’s killer, the orphans have been busy, too. Myrtle, still spitting every known language other than English, manages to tell Primrose a secret via Pictionary: Mary’s song was full of hidden lyrics that Myrtle could understand. Harriet assembles a team of translators to rival the U.N. General Assembly and what they uncover is a message with one clear recipient: Mrs. Amalia True.
But before we get to that, readers, an observation. The mystery of Amalia’s origins has been kicked around a lot this season, but in this episode it becomes clear she knows way more than we’ve been told. First, she knows she’s not from here, by which I mean the planet Earth. She was left here by whoever made the touched, perhaps by accident. Often in a series, the protagonist keeps secrets for reasons we’ll one day understand, but that’s not what’s happened here. Penance and Horatio, for example, seem to have long known this info, which is being rehashed in a brutally expository “like I already told you” fashion when it should feel revelatory. As we were …
The translated song holds a message just for Amalia, who hasn’t lost the muscle memory for hand-to-hand combat but has lost the mother tongue. The gist is that she’s not alone: “I didn’t leave you.” While the mission is “incomplete,” the speaker had to go “inside” the city to heal. She tells Amalia to be ready. “Come below and find me,” she beckons. Who is she? Beats me. But! I do think it all comes back to the underground mining operation being run by Lavinia, who, despite being on the suspect list, all but meanders from the plot this episode. What if the glowing orb she and Hague are unburying is the belly of the glowing blimp that made the touched?
The translated song is, in theory, a moment of emotional catharsis, something worth Mary dying for. It should also be an aha moment for viewers, provided they can remember that two weeks ago for about 15 seconds they saw a glimpse of a glowing hellmouth. Instead, it hits like another underwhelming answer to another round of whodunnit. Amalia isn’t alone, okay. Great! But who is she with? This mission is incomplete, noted. But what’s the complete mission look like? Every answer begets more questions, not because the world is getting more complicated, but because the answers are incomplete.
Anyway, I do like how Penance and Amalia frequently eat French fries.