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A volcano went ka-boom and the world went to sh**. Ain't that always the way?
We spoke with showrunner Neil LaBute about the harrowing events of Van Helsing Season 1, Episode 2: "Seen You," which takes us back to 2016 and the first days of the vampire apocalypse.
What made you decide to have the series 'origin story' in Episode 2 rather than Episode 1?
As a group of writers, we wanted to start the series with a bang and throw the audience straight into the conflict. Even though our approach can sometimes be slow and steady and moody rather than 'in your face,' we still hoped that people would drop in on the characters without too much knowledge of the story or where we were headed. We tried to make the show disorienting rather than confusing in the first hour. After that, we always imagined going back in Episode Two and giving people more information, a sort of guide to how we got where we were in Episode One. By the end of Episode Two we have run viewers through the history of The Rising and how Vanessa, Axel and Doc ended up where they are now, and the rest of the season — with a few minor exceptions — will remain on a more traditional timeline.
Why did Vanessa and Gary get divorced? (Or will we find this out in a later episode?)
That's a great question and one perhaps worth exploring down the road. We don't say much about it in the first season; it was more of a catalyst to hand us a woman who is a single working mother and trying her best to make ends meet. I'm sure if you looked at their divorce decree it would state 'irreconcilable differences' and I don't want to blame one of the characters more than the other. It would be fun to see more of Gary down the road — I wonder if he'd make a better vampire than he did a father?
The fight between Vanessa and Balthazar is especially brutal. Were there any specific elements to that battle that you felt were essential to the story and/or their characters?
What we wanted to have happen in that first attack on Vanessa was a sense of swiftness and brutality and surprise — Vanessa had no history with this kind of thing for it to make any sense. Just before she's attacked she gets a look at this character and then it's all smashing wood and broken lamps and plunging scissors. We wanted it to feel rough and not too choreographed and our director, Michael Nankin, did a wonderful job of having limited time, space and funds and making it work in our favor. He put together long sequences of stunts over editing tricks and kept Kelly [Overton, who plays Vanessa] in the center of the action. Kelly did so many of her own stunts throughout the series, it really made it a lot easier to make things feel real by having an actress who wanted to be so hands-on in the physical sequences.
Is there a story behind the relationship between Vanessa and her neighbor, Susan? What led them to become friends?
I think the history that Kelly and Hilary [Jardine, who plays Susan] created for themselves was of two single women who live in the same hall in the same building and who have become friends and have also been able to depend on each other. Over the course of the season this friendship has some wild ups and downs and almost becomes a romantic one as well, but throughout the actors (and writers) worked very hard to make it a real and believable friendship between two tough-minded women.
Doc's extreme fear and despair as she realizes she's going to become a vampire is especially unsettling. What does this moment reveal about her character?
Doc is a really interesting character to me—one that I've tried to explore in my own writing — and that is someone who is essentially a coward at heart. Doc is forced into some situations that press her into action and she finds out, more than once, that she is unreliable and very self-serving when she finds herself in the midst of an emergency. It's not a great trait to have and she can feel it, it weighs heavy on her heart and mind throughout the episodes. She is also resourceful, helpful, strong, funny, and many other things, but that one trait — cowardice — will hang over her head like a dark cloud throughout.
What is your favorite scene in this episode, and why?
I think Episode Two has so many fun scenes and it really comes together in a nice way by its conclusion. I could cite a number of scenes that I like (the marines trying to leave the hospital after three years, Vanessa's fight with Balthazar or the introduction of vampires Rebecca and Dmitri) but I really love the transformation of Doc at the end of the episode and how Axel deals with it in the moment — there is a sadness and a tenderness in the work of Jonathan [Scarfe, who plays Axel] and Rukiya [Bernard, who plays Doc] that I really love and my favorite is that final beat of Axel standing there, looking at Vanessa frozen on her slab and Doc now transformed into a vampire and Axel left scratching his head with an expression that says "How the hell did I get into this mess?"