It's Vanessa vs. Sam as Flesh gets a girlfriend (huzzah!) and Axel continues his cranky descent into vampirism. Also, Dmitri shows Julius' former gang who's in charge and the Johnsons look on in terror as the story of Beowulf comes to life!
We spoke with Neil LaBute about Van Helsing Season 2, Episode 5: "Save Yourself."
1. Sam's necklace of severed fingers -- any particular inspiration behind that? It definitely has a Predator sort of feel to it.
I think the idea of human trophies has been a long one in the history of warfare throughout the world, whether it be scalps or severed ears or heads cut off and placed on pikes. We usually call what's happening in Van Helsing a "vampire apocalypse," but it's really come down to simple warfare: Which side — human or vampire — will outlast the other? In that sense, I think Sam is only doing what we've seen other people do (in films and television and reality), and it probably represents something special to him but also works as an additional scare tactic against others. We actually discussed a very interesting backstory for Sam in the writers' room that we haven't shot yet, but maybe we'll get to it if the show is renewed for a third season. It gave an explanation of where his finger obsession comes from. In terms of the necklace, it just represents his ability to be a full-blown serial killer now and be very "out" about it; previously he had to hide his trophies away inside his pack, but now he can wear them around his neck.
2. "I'm a goddamn vampire! That's what my problem is!" is my favorite line of the episode. Poor Axel -- I hate to admit it, but his constant crankiness often inspires a chuckle or two. Is there definitely some dark humor to his situation?
I don't remember whose line that was — I'd like to take credit for it, because I agree that it's a good line — but I'm not sure at all where it came from. Jonathan Scarfe made a meal of it, that much I know, and any little bit of humor helps a show like Van Helsing. It's not a very funny world they live in, so any time they can laugh (the characters) or we can (the audience), it's a good thing. I really love watching Axel fight against becoming a vampire — that's why we added Doc tying him up in Episode 204 when he is hit by an "attack" (violent shakes and an uncontrollable hunger). We needed to have something that not even he could fight against, and therefore he knew to plan ahead with the rope and railroad spikes and the hammer. This also helped continue our theme of vampirism being a kind of horrible addiction and something a person could fight if they had the strength and willpower to do it.
3. The episode could be seen as one long extended chase/fight scene between Vanessa and Sam, with a few dramatic breaks here and there. How did you go about structuring this unique episode?
Thanks for noticing that! The writers and I liked the idea of the entire episode really being Vanessa's quest to stop Sam and how that mushrooms into other characters' stories, but also quickly dipping out and seeing where Axel and Doc were and what was up with Lucky, Flesh, and Mohamad (and Dmitri as well). As you may recall, Vanessa (and Mohamad, for that matter) haven't seen Sam since Episode 12 of the first season, so it felt like about time for those characters to collide into something worthwhile, and so we concocted a couple of confrontations for the two characters in this episode.
What Sam ultimately finds is a changed Vanessa, a woman who now knows how to utilize blood as a kind of super-charge for her senses and her physical prowess, and that's something that tied into our idea of vampirism as an addiction as well — the person who thinks they can control a substance rather than becoming controlled by it. Sam — at one moment speaking as the voice of the audience — wisely asks the question of what now is the real difference between Vanessa and vampires. I'm in the camp that says there are still a few differences (and big ones at that), but it's an interesting question. I think the writers also just wanted to see more of Chris Heyerdahl, because he's an amazing actor and Sam is one of the best characters that we've created so far.
4. I was about to ask if Flesh was ever going to catch a break on this show, but lo and behold he gets to make out with Lucky! Was she always intended to be a love interest for him?
I think the relationship between Flesh and Lucky continued to grow in the writers' room as we wrote what was happening and then saw what the wonderful Vincent Gale and new cast member Andrea Ware were capable of. I really love how physically different they are from each other and how the two actors bounce dialogue playfully off their scene partners, and so script by script and scene by scene a romantic entanglement blossomed. It makes sense, in the situation that the characters find themselves in, to try to hold close to someone else in the midst of such bleakness. It didn't have to be that way, but I'm glad that this is what's grown out of their work together and our mutual (actors and writers) feelings about this star-crossed couple.
5. Dmitri showing Julius' soldiers who's boss was chilling. How does the vampire community see one of its own being turned back into a human -- is it considered some sort of deep betrayal?
Ha! I'm not sure, we're making this up as we go along (a lot of it, at least, and by "it" I mean the lore of the vampires), but I think for many of them it's much more animalistic; what was once a friend or ally is now a foe or enemy. Simple as that. Someone like Dmitri can probably think larger thoughts like that — about "betrayal" and other moral quandaries — but most vampires simply have an unquenchable, insatiable thirst for blood, and that's what drives them from moment to moment. I don't know how well we're getting that across, but as we move along I think we're starting to separate out the "feeders" from the "ferals" and the general class system that drives even the vampire colonies. We've certainly got some great performers helping us with it this season and last, two of which — Paul Johannson and Rowland Pidlubny — have really stepped up and created some amazing moments for Van Helsing, both together and on their own. Watching Paul's emotional reaction to the news of his sister's death really attests to the emotional feelings that have remained in some levels of vampires; it was one of Paul's best moments on the show.
6. What was your favorite scene to film in this episode, and why?
I loved a lot of stuff that happened in this episode — I know I say that almost every time, but it's true — but I loved the final fight between Vanessa and Sam and, later, Julius for the fact that we got great results but the whole thing kind of had to be staged in the moment by our terrific director, Jason Stone, and the fight choreographer, Kimani Ray Smith. Once they got into the old church that we used (an actual church and not a set), they had to rethink much of what they'd originally blocked, because the first half of the fight was meant to take place in the graveyard outside and not in the church. Weather and other difficulties made that impossible, and so the entire crew bounced back and reworked the sequence to take place entirely inside the church — the actors had to quickly relearn or create new fights to work within the confines of the new space, and the clock was ticking throughout. Kelly [Overton] and Chris and Aleks [Paunovic] were real troupers that night, along with their stunt doubles, and we trudged through it like a gladiatorial battle, but it was not easy. I think the results are great, and I especially love Sam's free fall from the tower — a tower that we created to look like the one in Hitchcock's Vertigo -- which was a mix of real stunts and terrific special and visual effects. Van Helsing is blessed with great department heads, and they all really outdid themselves on that sequence.