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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Translations and traitors keep the Touched on their toes on The Nevers

Illustration for article titled Translations and traitors keep the Touched on their toes on The Nevers
Photo: HBO
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When The Nevers first introduced Lord Massen, he seemed like your standard-issue, old-white-guy fearmonger. By using societal fear of the Touched to consolidate power around himself, and labeling the Touched and their turns as threats to national security, Lord Massen has been an enemy of Mrs. True, Penance, and the other inhabitants of St. Romaulda’s Orphanage from the start. He’s clearly working with other lords to plan some kind of consolidated action against the Touched; recall the paperwork they were reading through in last week’s episode “Ignition.” He has a decades-long friendship with Lavinia Bidlow, which perhaps suggests that he knows about her experiments with Dr. Hague and those human/cyborg things. I’m not saying he’s a good guy! But… does he have a point to be a little afraid of what the Touched can do? Especially now that whatever entity responsible for their powers is trying to make contact?

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The events of “Undertaking” almost make me sympathize with Lord Massen, who admittedly is terrible, and whose anti-union efforts are thoroughly gross, and who had Lucy working for him as a double agent, and who might be holding his Touched daughter in his mansion’s dungeon. Again: Not a good guy! Doesn’t the translation of Mary’s song, though, prove that some other kind of big change is coming, and it’s going to center on the Touched again—and might even be coming from them rather than happening to them? Was that message coded into Mary’s song by whoever was piloting the big fish spaceship in the sky, or was the message from the spaceship itself? I don’t think anything is out of the question here!

Okay, fine: Perhaps it’s a little silly to think that the message is coming from the vessel. But The Nevers has never really eased up on the endless intricacies of its plotting; the denseness of its premiere has only continued through “Exposure,” “Ignition,” and now “Undertaking.” The result is that there’s so much sprawl, and—I cannot say this enough—so many villains that I feel some pressure to buy whatever this story offers up through the remaining two episodes of this first half of the first season. Some of it is a little predictable, like the blackmail that Hugo Swann is holding over Mundi, and some of it is purposefully opaque, like Maladie’s whole deal. But is a sentient spaceship really that out of the question at this point? When the entirety of your series is questions, as The Nevers is, I think we’re being trained to roll with anything, for better or worse.

Whatever—or whoever—spoke through Mary (R.I.P.!) referred to Amalia True as a “lonely soldier,” warned of an upcoming “darkness,” and asked the Touched to find it “inside the city.” We know that this is what Dr. Hague is directing his lobotomized victims to dig up, with the backing of Lavinia. And we also know that they were using Mrs. True’s face—and her persona as champion of the Touched—to gather victims to themselves. But did Lavinia also know about the message being sent out to Mrs. True and the Touched before Mary sang it? And how much danger are the Touched now in because the song was broadcast throughout London—a decision that led to Mary’s murder, perhaps at the hands of Lavinia? Everything is twisted and turned so far in The Nevers, and the bonds that connect these people are all beginning to fray. Won’t be long now before they fully snap.

“Undertaking” begins with Mary’s funeral, which nearly everyone attends—the grieving Mundi, the shocked Touched, the duplicitous Lavinia. The only person not there is Mrs. True, who instead is getting drunk and causing a ruckus at a pub: fighting guys, downing pints, and cheekily saying to her next hookup partner, “Gonna need you in a minute.” As Mrs. True said to Mary in “Ignition,” these are all her weaknesses, and she finds no shame in them. Interestingly, it’s the seemingly cold Bonfire Annie, who so easily turned on Maladie, who doesn’t understand why Mrs. True was a no-show, while devoted BFF Penance comes to her aid. “I hate sentiment, and also people, and myself,” Penance jokes of Mrs. True’s motivations, but the two of them understand each other a great deal. And so it’s an agreed-upon, natural next step that the women mobilize into solving Mary’s murder, with Penance wondering if the strangely acting Augie is to blame, Bonfire Annie questioning the Beggar King’s crew, and Mrs. True paying a visit to Lord Massen, with whom she sees herself conversing in a rippling.

Each interrogation reveals a useful piece of information for the Touched. While the Penance/Augie visit plays out like another meet-cute for the pair, Penance doesn’t hold back in asking Augie, point-blank, if he thinks “your sister did the murder then?” (Augie, for his part, couldn’t be more awkwardly fumbling in telling Penance about his feelings for her, and admitting Lavinia’s warning that he stay away.) While Augie confirms that yeah, sure, his sister could be both wealthy and evil, Bonfire Annie meets thief Nimble Jack (Vinnie Heaven), who sometimes works with the Beggar King. “Someone’s putting on a show,” Nimble Jack observes of the attacks on the Touched, and this meeting also plays out with a bit of flirtatiousness! And I guess, maybe, if you squinted very, very hard, you could say that the Lord Massen/Mrs. True meeting has some kind of, I don’t know, sexual tension? Or am I just misreading Massen’s dry British smugness?

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To be true, there was a slight hint earlier in the season that Massen is impressed with Mrs. True in a way that he isn’t with the rest of the Touched. But whatever slight bit of fondness Massen might hold is complicated by how he draws Mrs. True into a trap, and the reveal that Lucy has been a double agent working for him the whole time she’s been at the orphanage—all three years. Could Massen and Lavinia be working together to, say, frame Maladie for the murder of Mary, and then try and frame Mrs. True for that explosion at Massen’s ammunitions warehouse, so that it seems like the Touched are at war with each other? Would that justify the need for increased government surveillance, containment, or violence, which would give Massen more authority? Maybe!

Lavinia’s agenda is more nebulous to me, but remember how she said in a previous episode that although she and Massen are on oppositional ends ideologically, they retain a friendship—based on, I’m assuming, social status. If the Touched gained more power, who knows what they could upend? What social barriers they could shake up, or outright destroy? I think that’s what Hugo Swann is trying to head off at the pass with his sex club: get enough members of the Touched on his side so they can ensconce him from the rejection of other wealthier men like Massen, and protect him if the Touched end up wrestling some kind of dominance. But Swann has lost an ally in Mundi, who burns their bridge despite Swann’s threat of outing his sexuality. Perhaps this will come back to bite Mundi, but if he brings in Maladie, will anyone really care with whom he spends his nights?

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Speaking of Maladie: She keeps talking about receiving orders from a higher power, a God who she is trying to please. Is the same voice that came through in Mary’s song speaking to Maladie, too? “You’re not alone, Mrs. True,” the orphanage inhabitants translate as the song’s message. But what if who they mean isn’t themselves, but the woman Molly left behind years ago? What if the song means … Sarah? Mrs. True admits after her falling out with Lucy that she has “no idea what anyone is going through” at the orphanage. I wonder if the orphanage is really where these characters are going to stay, though, once they realize the depth of Lavinia’s deception—and once they go in search of the voice that is asking to be found.


Stray observations

  • A little more character development for the younger orphanage inhabitants this week: Myrtle and Primrose are becoming close friends, while the justice-hungry Harriet is frustrated that her boyfriend can attend law school and she can’t. She wants to reform the system from the inside to gain more equality for the Touched, but I’m not quite sure The Nevers has shown how they’re systematically prejudiced against? Disliked and mistrusted, sure. But I assumed widespread, legalized oppression was what Lord Massen was working on—not something already in place.
  • Do we learn what “The Nevers” means this episode? No, we do not!
  • “Motley coven” would be a sick band name.
  • Lord Massen drinking a “morning sherry”—my dude definitely seems like the type.
  • Also food-related: that chess game with giant blocks of cheese as the chess pieces? I would like that very much.
  • Good writing in that tête-à-tête between Massen and Mrs. True, in particular his statement that Mary ended up being a “casualty of war,” and her wry “So we’re at war?” response. Laura Donnelly can really hold her own against anyone in this cast.
  • “To band together when you can stand alone, I expect more courage from Englishmen,” Massen says while shaming and threatening his striking workers into standing down, and if a man ever deserved to be punched in the face, it’s this guy!
  • Meanwhile, Dr. Cousens has the right idea: just because someone is a benefactor, doesn’t mean they’re a friend. How much more obvious will Lavinia’s villainy get?
  • “I hope he told you what happens to spies during wartime” was a great line, but: Keeping Lucy alive means she’s definitely coming back, probably to beg the forgiveness of Mrs. True and the Touched. The only question is when.
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