One of the biggest challenges for any first-time series is hitting the right tone with the maiden voyage that is the first episode. Not far behind that is, when a premiere falters, regaining momentum in the second installment by improving upon the plot elements that initially missed the mark. “Blood Brothers” is an admirable attempt to rectify some of the missteps in the V-Wars premiere while still maintaining the positive steps and building along those a solid foundation.
Forced to kill his wife Jess (Jessica Harmon, iZombie, The 100) after her shocking transformation and attack on Dez, Luther finds himself in a precarious spot with the authorities. With no physical evidence of Jess’s transformation and compounded by the obstruction charge already hanging over his head, all signs point to Luther being guilty as sin. Things get even more complicated when the Department of National Security gets involved.
Led by Director Claire O’Hagan (Kandyse McClure, Battlestar Galactica, Hemlock Grove) with an assist from Dr. Niklos (Peter Outerbridge, The Umbrella Academy, The Expanse, Zoo), they know that something’s going down beyond the story sold to the public of Mike Fayne being nothing more than a deranged serial killer. Luther offers to help them so long as they get him custody of Dez and sweep his legal troubles under the rug. Niklos agrees and Luther gets to work researching the mysterious illness. Unbeknownst to him, Niklos has his own agenda, reporting to an unknown character off-screen about the efficacy of this new mutation as well as the positives Luther can bring to the equation… that is until they squeeze all viable information from Luther.
Again, this shady-conspiracy thing is nothing that should be a surprise; for such an epidemic, even one with airborne properties to take root and threaten the world, it requires assistance from the vile, greedy, and evil people who would look to exploit it. The thirst for such a powerful weapon and the need to possess it is a staple for these types of entertainment vehicles and, scarier still, mankind in general. Think of it as an inexorable aspect of the human condition.
Narrative aside, “Blood Brothers” does a much better job exploring Luther and Mike’s various mental states than the premiere. My initial impression of Ian Somerhalder was that his charisma made up for a middling acting range. While I still don’t quite buy him as a genius scientist, the near emotional break he has when having to explain killing his wife was eye-opening. His grief was a tangible thing, and him being torn between those emotions and the need to focus on the impending epidemic is a nice detail these stories often throw by the wayside for the expediency of plot.
Mike is gifted with a bit of downtime from his murdering rampage. Surprisingly enough, he curbs his bloodlust when he runs into a blind woman waiting for a ride. The two bond over the loss of loved ones — though Mike’s loss is his perception of Luther’s actions as a betrayal to their brotherhood, unable to impartially include his own personal murder spree as a viable reason for Luther’s actions. This quiet scene is vital to his character, not only in giving voice to the internal battle of isolation and bloodlust but also posing the idea that he may eventually be able to control his hunger. Story beats like this add depth to what were originally two-dimensional characters and give me hope as to the effectiveness of V-Wars’ slowly expanding narrative.
Despite taking greater steps towards building up a solid story, “Blood Brothers” still depends a bit too much on the oft-used tropes of this genre. From the death of a would-be romantic couple making out in the car, a special agent who doesn’t at all fit with her position (though she’s much better than the one-note police chief), and a doctor that is working with a figure in the background to exploit the prion’s mutational properties, much of the episode is an almost paint-by-numbers instruction manual of horror clichés.
So why does this work better than episode one?
Simply put, the characters. Luther and Mike are the pillars V-Wars is built on and, regardless of my thoughts on the Kaylee/Revelinks arc, or McClure’s efficacy (or lack thereof) as Director O’Hagan, Somerhalder and Holmes are the fuel that makes everything go. The narrative here is more effective because it builds around them, laying the groundwork for what’s to come. Add to that an effective use of tension during the vampire attack scenes and “Blood Brothers” is a more polished and compact installment into the V-Wars series.