SyFy’s Sanctuary

This afternoon I sat on the floor at Barnes & Noble and paged through Sci-Fi Magazine. I ignored the full several page spread on TRON since I have never seen the original and have no interest in the sequel, but paused to read updates on Fringe (hey, more angst is coming our way!), sigh a little over the interview with the “creators” of the reboot of Being Human (… come on, guys! Why does it need to “trend adult”? I am so over nudity and sexual content on that channel…), almost totally freaked out with excitement over the two pages dedicated to the Christmas episode of Doctor Who and what to expect from the new season this spring (ahhh!! They are filming in America!!), and then came to a tidbit about my favorite sci-fi show at the moment, Sanctuary.

I attempt at every turn to recruit new viewers to this show, perhaps because it feels like my own brainchild. It really is like someone gave me a sleeping draught, slipped inside my head, removed everything I love most, and threw it together into a sci-fi show. It’s a blend of Victorian nostalgia paired with abnormal creatures (werewolves, vampires, mermaids, and monsters of all sorts) with clever writing – for the most part. Will seems rather pointless and annoying at the moment, but hey, no series is perfect. But where I think the series shines most is its characterization and, dare I say it, the angst. Of course, we have humor and clever barbs and all number of pop culture references that have me howling with laughter, but it’s really the angst that keeps me watching.

Unfortunately, I am no stranger to angst – either in my personal life or on television. I sat through fifteen seasons of Joss Whedon’s vampire slayer series’; I am now on a first name basis with angst. I know it when I see it, and an hour into the two-hour pilot for Sanctuary, I saw it. Up until then it was a somewhat campy and overall fun experience but then Jack the Ripper turned up, and I discovered not only was he Helen Magnus’ former beau, he was the father of her child. So here is this gorgeous, amazing, powerful, dangerous, butt-kicking 157 year old woman … and her ex is the most notorious murderer in English history. The horrible inner cynic in me, the one who loves this kind of demented writing, exploded with an audible, “Oh, hell yes!” (Excuse the profanity, it happens.)

Don’t get me wrong, there is much to love about the show. I’m pretty much game for any series that has a strong female leading character, particularly one like Helen, who sports a gun right along with her fabulous Prada heels. Blessed with the gift of longevity thanks to her experimentation with ancient vampire blood in the Victorian era, she is surrounded by or has known some of the most remarkable individuals in history. You have to love a show in which the leading lady cracks that most presidents have been abnormals because “what human would want that job?” confesses to having been pulled out of the icy Northern Atlantic after the Titanic sank by Molly Brown, and objects to her friend Nikola Tesla drinking the bottle of champagne Winston Churchill gave her at the end of WWII.

Tesla is, in fact, one of the main reasons I love the show so much—he’s just… well, he’s the best character on television when it comes to hilarity. Three episodes ago, he made a crack about not being a house elf, in deference to Dobby on Harry Potter. Two episodes ago, he referenced our Congress’ habitual over-spending, by way of insulting Will. And one episode ago, he swore in such an entertaining way that I actually rewound my DVR just to relive the gloriousness of it. And he’s not the only character the show has going for it. Even “the big guy,” Helen’s resident Bigfoot, her butler and one of her closest friends, has an interesting history with ties to the Catholic Church, implying that the Church has been striving to protect abnormal for many years. Given the usual trend in fiction of insulting religion, I found that quite … marvelous.

But at the heart of the show, much like Angel was for Buffy, the series is about much more than weekly adventures or in this season’s case, about finding an ancient civilization in “Hollow Earth.” It’s ultimately about John Druitt and Helen Magnus. The resemblance, probably unintentional, to Angel and Buffy is in fact startling – and perhaps why I love them so much. Much of the time, John is calm and good and trustworthy, but now and again he becomes a heartless murderer, rather like Angel’s infrequent but always terrifying transformations into his alter-ego, Angelus. Helen does not trust him, but in her heart she still loves him. He is her one weakness, her single vulnerability. She hides it well, but now and again it becomes evident—like a couple of weeks ago when John was unconscious and they were alone. Helen lifted his arm and curled up beside him. It is the one time he is “safe,” when no one will know her true feelings. It almost brought me to tears.

Sometimes I am asked why this series means so much to me. It can be contrived and sometimes absurd and at times the special effects leave much to be desired. But it also serves to remind me that we should never give up on another human being. No one is perfect or without having made mistakes but it is never too late for redemption.

Nor, I must admit with a hint of a smile, for angst.

6 thoughts on “SyFy’s Sanctuary

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  1. Aw, really? And just when I'd got used to him as well. I'm in the UK so I'm stuck at the end of 'Kali' until season 3 makes it over here on one of the minor channels.

    I feel like I need to go back rewatch some Tesla now. He's just so much …fun, which for someone with a moral code as wobbly as his is great.

  2. Michelle: I liked Will in earlier seasons but in season three he has been annoying me — he has way too much of an attitude problem. But yes, I LOVE the submarine episode. =D

    Tesla is BRILLIANT. He's one of the finest characters on television.

  3. Indeed indeed! And Will improves, I promise. At the moment he is just our entry point,the rather naive newbie so that we can be introduced to everything through his eyes, but eventually he does develope some (some) wiles of his own, the episode involving him and Magnus trapped in a submarine as Magnus slowly goes mad is particularly rivetting and finally got me on his side.

    And I don't know what it is, but I too find Tesla's character completely fantastic.

  4. Ruth: don't go in expecting a masterpiece and you will find it quite remarkable — time travel, Victorian steampunk aspects, and some truly terrific characters.

    Madison: I'm so glad to hear it has another fan! I'm trying not to go mad waiting for the second half of this season — April is so far away! Booo! Tesla is FABULOUS. He is so FUNNY! Every time he opens his mouth, I crack up. He gets some of the best lines and delivers them with such finesse. “Put your arms around me, and either way… I'll die a happy man.”

    I am surprisingly a multi-shipper when it comes to this show (which is so not like me… I don't multi-ship, I pick one ship and stick to it): I love Helen with John. I love Helen with James. I love Helen with Tesla. So either way it goes, I am a happy girl. Helen is indeed awesome on her own, but with the original Other Four, she's particularly incredible. (I also find it hilarious how all of them seem to have been in love with her at some point.)

    Leaving Tesla behind is… very like John. I admit it — I laughed. But here's the thing — since Tesla didn't go, he wasn't caught. Maybe in the end, he will save the day. (That's my theory, and my hope — he's too awesome just to leave him at home.)

  5. Yeah, I can't really express with words how much I LOVE this show. Everything about it is brilliant!

    Tesla is by far my favorite character, because he is so amazing, not because the others aren't great. I know exactly what you mean about the swearing scene. I don't swear, and I don't like it when TV characters swear, but that scene was so amazing I rewatched it several times!

    I guess the only place we differ is that I'm not a big fan of John/Helen. John in general, is kinda annoying to me (HE LEFT TESLA BEHIND! HOW COULD HE!). To be honest, I'm a bit of a Tesla/Helen fan. Though, Helen is so awesome, she really doesn't need anyone else. 🙂

    Anyway, this is seeming like the longest hiatus EVER! I don't know how I'll survive till April… 🙂

  6. I've been curious about this show, and it seems like another friend of mine recommended it a while back – but your review has tipped me over the edge of curiousity to MUST WATCH.

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