In the first episode of Jekyll, Dr. Tom Jackman has devised a method to essentially cope with a growing problem that causes his body to physically change into another person. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Jekyll.
I had quite a few ideas for smaller shows to do in between Battlestar Galactica and Buffy. I won’t tell you what those are, since I still want to do them later, but this show had completely slipped off my radar. It wasn’t until I went back through the Suggestions page that I saw Jekyll only had six episodes, and I realized it fit perfectly into my schedule if I allowed for a day to review The Plan. Since that initial comment thread, quite a few people suggested I watch it and that I’d really love it; plus, others told me it had some of Moffat’s best writing, so it was enough to convince me to spend six days to watch the only series available for this show. (As far as I know, there’s no series two planned right now, yes?)
It’s also nice to return to a British television show because I’ve found that I really love a lot of what the BBC is doing these days: Torchwood, Doctor Who, Luther, and Sherlock, to name a few. This show isn’t necessarily new, but, like Sherlock, it’s clear that it’s an interesting and unique take on a story that’s been told so many times before. That’s what was striking to me from the get-go: this is not at all like any adaptations I’ve seen before. First of all, the main character is not Dr. Jekyll at all; the show acknowledges in-universe that Robert Louis Stevenson exists, as does his novella, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. And while there’s a lot to like about the story that Steven Moffat has written here, I’ll just come right out and say it: This would not work without James Nesbitt. A lot of the tension of the first twenty minutes brilliantly comes from the fact that we never see Dr. Jackman convert into his alter-ego of sorts. It’s always off-screen, and visual and audio cues are all we get. We see the fear in Katherine Reimer’s eyes when she hears “Hyde” whistling. We know others have seen this other manifestation, so when it finally is shown to us, it’s a shock. There’s virtually no make-up used, no prosthetics, and only a few minor cosmetic changes made. It all relies on James Nesbitt’s acting to give us to polar opposite characters.
When he first appears to us in that alleyway, striking a match on the wall and lighting a cigarette, my first instinct was to laugh. It wasn’t really funny, but I couldn’t help the feeling. It was such a drastic, visible change from Dr. Tom Jackman, and one man was responsible for portraying both. That laugh was stifled quickly when it was clear that “Hyde” was FUCKING TERRIFYING. His combination of wit, swagger, and confidence was unsettling, to say the least, and I simply feared his very presence on the screen.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The pilot of Jekyll feels longer than an hour, but that’s not a complaint. A whole lot of development and plot is packed into this singular episode, and the nonlinear way in which it opens creates a sense of mystery about what exactly is going on. I think some of the tensions relies on these unseen moments, and I can think of two in particular that are left hanging on purpose: Katherine’s introduction and the “attack” on Miranda. I love that the cold open is a double introduction in that sense: we know from the title of the show that this all must deal with Jekyll & Hyde in some sense, but we’re not exactly clear how Michelle Ryan’s character fits in to all of this. She’s a psychiatric nurse of some sort, and it’s clear that Jackman hired her, but he never quite told her what this was all for. We also see how modern technology plays heavily into this adaptation, and I can see how Moffat did a similar thing with Sherlock. In this case, cell phones, dictation devices, and miniature recorders are used as communication and locating objects in the plot.
Truthfully, I’m fascinated by the idea that one person uses this sort of thing to communicate with himself, and the slow dawn on Katherine’s face matched my own. Even further, as fantastical as this is, Moffat doesn’t ignore that this sort of behavior would alienate a husband from his wife. I really love the characterization of Claire Jackman as the wife who is fed-up and irritated by her husband’s constant disappearance. She’s not portrayed as being whiny just for the sake of it; her concerns are real and on an obvious level quite justified. She even confronts Jackman with photographs from a private investigator showing where he’s been since he started “disappearing” on the family. And who could blame her? Her husband just up and leaves, and even if he can’t really tell her the reason, doesn’t she have a right to know? I actually think the idea of the safety of the family is going to play into the narrative pretty heavily: is it fair for Jackman to be around his family if he has such a capacity for violence?
I was surprised by how quickly this show got more complicated and weirder. And y’all know how much I LOVE WEIRD. There’s a nice reference to the novella when Jackman goes to the Klein and Utterson Institute to continue his research into finding some sort of cure. It helps me understand just how bizarre this situation is: the two personalities (or whatever they are, as I’m not quite sure what to call them) are not aware of what the other is doing. They don’t share memories. That’s fucking weird. So Jackman can still do research without Hyde ever knowing, which is necessary since Hyde has threatened suicide if Jackman tries to cure himself.
That’s touched on later, but the weirdness (and the relentless intensity) continues when Jackman escapes his boss during a change AND DECIDES TO GO VISIT THE DETECTIVE AGENCY. Oh, THIS IS GOING TO END WELL. I mean, it sort of does? Well, he doesn’t convert into Hyde while there. (Yet.) And he discovers that the black van that’s been following them has nothing to do with the agency. There’s a third party involved. But before we talk about them and the glorious Benjamin Lennox, can I just gush about Miranda and Min? Like OMG QUEER WOMEN ALL OVER MY TV SHOW. Oh my god, their relationship is SO WONDERFUL. What I love is that while we are watching what I think is the dissolution of the relationship between Claire and Tom, this couple actually seems to be getting along rather well. They’re funny, they love each other, and their bickering is never to the point of genuine fury. Hell, they’re even expecting a child and, so far, this isn’t being played as a shitty plot device!
It’s why I was initially upset at the confrontation that Jackman has with Miranda at her and Min’s home, but it was only because it was another unseen misdirect like the cold open. When Jackman finally does change right after meeting with Miranda the first time, I felt the same uncomfortable feeling then, too. Nesbitt’s Hyde character is riveting, but the odd combination of sexual tension and violence seemed like it was leading towards him murdering Billy and the girl in the alley, or at least sexually assaulting her. And can we just not go here? I just don’t want to see another show stick more women in the role of being assaulted. The hint of it was bad enough and I get how revolting and frightening Hyde is. I don’t want to see things move in that direction.
We also meet Benjamin Lennox in the pilot and what a pleasure it is to watch him troll his way across the screen. How he owns Jackman is fucking beyond me, but he’s the first character who acknowledges the existence of Hyde and then continues to goad him on. Man, dude’s got guts, that’s for sure. But how is this possible? Is Jackman the result of some sort of experiment concerning things brought up in Stevenson’s novella? Miranda later insists that the novella is actually based on truth. OKAY SORRY WHAT?!?!?! Yeah, soâ€¦.what? I anticipated that she’d reveal that somehow, Jackman was a descendent of this “Jekyll” character, since he looked so much like him, but nope! Moffat’s already got that covered, having Miranda debunk the theory from the start. (No, seriously, I love how sharp, intuitive, and witty Miranda is. UGH SHE BETTER BE IN ALL THESE EPISODES. MIN, TOO.)
Yeah, I have no idea what’s going on.
I do love the way that the camera angles and the situations create for a natural sense of terror, especially when Miranda realizes that not only has Jackman “changed” at one point, but that she’s given up where Jackman’s family lives. God, that scene where Nesbitt is shrouded in darkness due to the brightness of the projector is just astounded, a wonderfully clever way of conveying suspense and darkness. I was immediately upset when it looked like he attacked her because it’s not often that we get lesbian couples on television, and one of those women would already be killed off? BOOO MOFFAT BOOOO.
But, like I said, it was misdirection, as we learn later that Miranda and Min were merely locked in the cellar. It’s really the last two scenes of the pilot that cemented my interest in this show for me because they demonstrate how creepy and fascinating the dynamic of this unique take on Jekyll & Hyde can be. Having Hyde go visit Jackman’s family and pretend to be a cousin is just so unbearably unnerving, setting up the inevitable realization from Clare that this is actually the same man. Again, we’re tricked into believe Hyde may have murdered his own family, and I hope we don’t get too many more of these fake hints in the future. They’d get tiring. (Though jesus, could you imagine how fucked up this would be if he had killed his family in the first episode?)
Not only do I have the feeling that Miranda and Min are here to stay, to provide help like Katherine does (OMG AND POSSIBLY JOIN FORCES?!?!?!), but the “war” that Jackman warns about on his recording device is going to play out over the course of the next five episodes. Obviously, it can only get worse from here, but how is a war fought between two different versions of the same man?
Nesbitt’s a fantastic actor to be the focus of this all, and I love that there are three sets of women who provide the vast majority of screen time instead of the dude party that I expected from this all. I’m intrigued so far, and I can’t wait to see how this develops.