Vanessa's back! And boy, is she in an even worse mood than usual. Can you blame her, though? I mean, she's still running around barefoot and in her pajamas ... oh, and her daughter Dylan is now a damn vampire.
We're back with showrunner and executive producer Neil LaBute every week to get down to the nitty-gritty of each episode of Van Helsing. Let's get to it as we discuss Season 2, Episode 1: "Begin Again" (and here be spoilers, of course) ...
1. The red balloons floating into the world with their message of hope was a very haunting and poignant image. What inspired this opening?
It was an idea that was thrown onto the table by one of our writers (Jonathan Walker) when we were asked by our SYFY executive (Chris Regina) to give us an opening to Season 2 that was unexpected. We originally pitched picking up right where we left off in Season 1 — and we mostly do, after the teaser — but Chris and our other producers, Chad Oakes and Mike Frislev, really liked the idea of showing another part of the world we hadn't seen yet and that's when the idea of a place above the clouds and the balloons and all that came into being. I wasn't sure it was the right thing to do but I'm glad we did it — I think it really works and we found a way to add it into other episodes as well so that the balloons themselves become a kind of breadcrumb trail that leads different people toward this new safe haven (or at least what seems like a safe haven…).
2. After the opening, the episode picks up literally a second after the Season 1 finale. Was this always the plan, and if so, was this episode actually filmed in conjunction with Season 1, Episode 13?
As I mentioned above, yes, our first plan was to pick up directly from where we ended Season 1, in a stand-off between Vanessa and Rebecca. It made perfect dramatic sense and I liked the idea of handling the first episode in that way. In fact, this season we often use our teasers to give us new information or exposition about the past, and therefore the 'Crooked Falls' scene that opens Season 2 is now a great set-up for what became a favorite technique for us in the writers room: the surprise teaser. We didn't, however, shoot the main opening scene of Episode 201 at the same time as Episode 113 and we therefore had to recreate the look of the actors, the sets, the lighting, etc. A real hassle in some ways, but I'm glad we had to do that — it made us work harder to get it just right.
3. Wow! Seemingly within the first five minutes of the episode, Taka is dead, Sheema is dead, and Rebecca … Rebecca's not dead, is she? She looks too cool as Two-Face to be dead!
That's the beauty of this apocalyptic world of Van Helsing — people die and come back or turn into vampires and come back — it seems like anything is possible. I can't say whether all of the people you mentioned will be gone forever but I can say that even in a fantastical setting like ours, we still try to follow rules of science and biology and good old common sense rather than lapse into fantasy or magic. I think you're always at your best when you have to follow some rules or guidelines — it pushes you to be more creative and yet to dare to draw outside the lines on occasion.
4. Hannah Cheramy as Dylan in particular makes a strong impression in this episode. Was she cast in Season 1 knowing that she would eventually become a vampire, or was it just a lucky break that she's so good at playing one?
We did have a vague sense that this would be her fate — that Vanessa would search for Dylan all season and that when she found her it would be too late, she's a vampire — but we didn't necessarily know how we'd get there. I had no idea, however, that Hannah would be so good at burrowing into her character and creating the perfect out-of-control teenager for us, with the added difficulty of needing to be fed human blood all the time. It was fun to see her in make-up and transforming into a whole new creature right there on set.
5. Dr. Sholomenko got a chance to shine in this episode, going from something of a put-upon comic relief character in Season 1 to a scheming and ambitious mad scientist figure. He also seems to be setting up Dylan's journey in Season 2. Will we indeed be seeing the fruits of his sinister labor?
Dr. Sholomenko — played by the terrific actor Duncan Ollerenshaw — was so fun to work with; he was game for anything, including cutting his hair several times into a patchy pile of scruff, to make his character more interesting. I'd first seen him on Hell on Wheels and loved his work and so I was very happy to have him join our cast for Van Helsing last year. This year, however, we tried to give him a bit more to do and that included manipulating the future of Dylan's character. The good doctor has some really fun scenes with flesh and lucky (a new character in Season 2) and he has an exciting showdown with Vanessa and Mohamad as well.
6. What was your favorite scene to film in this episode, and why?
There are a lot of great things going on in this episode — the scene between Sheema and Mohamad comes to mind — but I think I feel just like any other Van Helsing fan when I say it's just great to see Vanessa get back to work killing vampires. She does this in a variety of ways throughout the season but in Episode 201 she claws one to death, shoots a few, bites someone, rips apart a steel door with her bare hands and performs a lot of just general mayhem that makes me smile.