Four episodes in, and now’s as good a time as any for things to slow down a bit. Actually, “slow down” isn’t the best way to describe it; “Viktor” is packed with subplots, from Eugene’s ongoing adventures in Hell, to Jesse and Cassidy tracking down the history of the actor who played God, to Tulip’s efforts to manage her past. There’s still a sense of momentum, especially as the hour ends with Jesse beating and Word-ing his way into Viktor’s lair to try and rescue his lady love (who may not actually need rescuing). But while none of the individual threads are bad, the split focus does make for a less impactful episode than the previous three of the season; and while I’m not worried the show is going to fall back into old habits, I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed what led into it.
The problem is that most of this is world-building about ideas that, at least so far, don’t have a huge impact on the central narrative. I’m being nitpicky; obviously Eugene is an important character, and Jesse himself suggests he’s missing some kind of obvious evidence in the audition tape/snuff film. I’m sure everything will come together eventually, but for right now at least, the bulk of our time is spent on what are essentially side quests, narrative cul-de-sacs that, while interesting and of themselves, don’t feel immediately relevant to the main concern. Tulip is in some of kind of trouble—that matters because Tulip is a leading character. But weirdly, her scenes are the least interesting of the episode, largely because they’re so predictable.
The twist, that Viktor is her husband, doesn’t arrive until the very end. It’s not a bad reveal, but it’s also not a particularly exciting one. While it gives some nuance to the cold-shoulder Tulip gets at Viktor’s house, it doesn’t recontextualize those scenes enough to make them more than just the same gag done over and over again, and the fact that this will almost certainly be an ongoing concern as the show moves forward fills me with, if not exactly dread, then not exactly joy either. It could work out well, Viktor could prove to be a lot more compelling than he appears to be, but as of right now, I’d much rather spend time watching Jesse square off against mysterious organizations and confused mystical forces.
Cassidy’s discovery that “God” made infomercials (co-starring Frankie Muniz!), which leads him and Jesse to a determined agent, and ultimately nets them a video of the actor’s final moments on Earth. It’s a goofy, fun sequence of events, and Cassidy’s handling of Teddy Gunth, talent manager, is hilarious (he claims he and Jesse are doing casting for Game Of Thrones). The actor’s tape is a good watch, and there’s something at once absurd and oddly pragmatic about angels needing to find someone on Earth to fill in for God. I suppose you could nitpick it (I mean, Heaven had to have some actors in it, right?), but the ridiculousness is part of what makes it entertaining. It fits the internal logic of the angels not being particularly great at their jobs, and also ends with just enough darkness to give the joke bite.
Speaking of incompetence in the hereafter, Hell is apparently underbudget, as the technology used to trap people in their worst memories keeps breaking down. This gives Eugene a chance to meet his fellow inmates, all of whom are horrible to him except for Adolph Hitler, which is not a sentence I ever thought I’d type. Hitler treats Eugene well, even inviting him into his cell to avoid punishment, which allows Eugene a glimpse of Hitler’s worst memory: Munich 1919, and a lunch date. The machinery glitches out before we can see the memory through, but there are enough hints to suggest why it might be Hitler’s worst; he’s overly apologetic when a Jewish man bumps into him, it’s possible that the lady he’s meeting is seeing someone else, and there’s some talk about another man looking over his art. I’m not sure if we’ll go back later to this memory or not, but if we don’t, it’s a surprisingly subtle moment in a show that doesn’t always do subtle.
After all, using Hitler in fiction is tricky business, even if you already show him in Hell. The episode never reminds us that he’s evil (apart from Eugene pointing it out), but instead dismantles him from a bogeyman into a nebbish ), instead relying on our cultural image of Adolph to serve as a sharp contrast to the twerp we see here. He’s friendly to Eugene, but in a place where friendliness can bring horrible things. There’s even a clever inversion by the end of Eugene’s storyline in “Viktor” that has Eugene turning on his new buddy in order to prove that he’s just as cruel as everyone else in Hell. Hitler tries to stand up for Eugene; the others turn on him; and Eugene joins in on the action, creating a unique opportunity to think “Aw, Hitler got a bum deal.” It at least gives Eugene something to do, and makes the Hell scenes more than just an excuse to remind us he exists, but his story right now is so disconnected from everyone else that it feels more like supplementary material than something central and important.
Really, that’s the main problem with the episode. It’s certainly not a bad entry, and things happen that will be important going forward. The secret organization that gaslit Jesse last week has put someone outside of Dennis’s house to keep an eye on Jesse, and the Saint is getting closer. (Presumably there’ll be some massive carnage involving Viktor’s men, the secret organization, and the Saint at some point.) But the whole thing is a bit loose, a bit shambling. One of the major challenges for a show like this is finding ways to keep the outre elements and pacing balanced—the quest at the center, driven by God’s absence, allows for digressions but only to a point. “Viktor” isn’t a slog, and the central trio remains appealing as ever, but it’s slight step down that shows the wrong way forward.
- Hey, Frankie Muniz.
- I really hope we find out what Dennis’ deal is at some point. It’s been so long since I read the comics that I can’t remember if he was in them or not, but I suspect it has something to do with Cassidy’s backstory.
- The tech guy who comes in to work on the equipment in Eugene’s room (I guess his projector is the source of the problem?) gives Eugene a look after he leaves that suggests something else is probably going on down there.
- I love that Fake God’s hair is supposed to be real.
- Can we get a moratorium on polite torturers who listen to peppy music while they slowly murder people?
- “This is Hell. Act accordingly.”