The Nevers Finale Delivered the Utter Sci-Fi Weirdness We’ve Been Waiting For

The Nevers Finale Delivered the Utter Sci-Fi Weirdness We’ve Been Waiting For
Amalia and Penance share a moment on The Nevers. (Photo: Keith Bernstein/HBO)

HBO’s The Nevers — the show about Victorian ladies with superpowers — hinted from the beginning that it was about much more than that. The show, perhaps, even undersold what was to come. With the six-episode first part of season one now complete, we finally have actual insight into some of the biggest mysteries… as well as a revived interest in what will happen next.

In last week’s episode, “Hanged,” we found out muckraking newspaper reporter Effie Bloom was actually Maladie (Amy Manson) in disguise, meaning there’s still a serial killer on the loose after that festive public execution went very, very awry. But there’s no time for episode six, “True,” to get into what that means for everybody because The Nevers is suddenly not just a fantasy show set in Victorian London; it’s also a sci-fi adventure set in a very dystopian future.

Joss Whedon may no longer be part of the series — the finale was directed by Zetna Fuentes, and written by Jane Espenson — but he left his Firefly fingerprints all over this one. It’s not a twist that comes completely out of the blue. We did see something resembling a spaceship floating over the city and releasing shimmering spores at the end of episode one — and we understand that’s the reason why The Nevers’ core characters became the gifted few known as “the Touched.” We’ve also known that there’s something odd about Amalia True (Laura Donnelly), fearless leader of the Touched whose street-fighting skills are as anachronistic as they are fierce.

Last week, she announced her intention to investigate that massive, glowing object buried deep underground that we’ve glimpsed periodically throughout the series; it’s mysterious, it’s otherworldly, and it clearly also has something to do with the Touched and their powers. Out of nowhere, Amalia had a name for it (if not a standardised spelling to share with us): the “Galanthee.” How did Amalia know what to call that thing? Well…

“True” opens not in steampunk-y Victorian times, but high above a futuristic city that was maybe London once, but has since been decimated by war. We see soldiers parachuting into a battle, being peppered by bullets amid fiery ruins. It’s dark and confusing and everyone (all of whom are completely new, totally unfamiliar characters) is wearing a mask. It’s very disorienting — but that’s presumably intentional, as The Nevers drops us into a wild situation and then propels the action forward rather than taking the time to explain every little thing. It does, however, break the episode down into chapters, and the first one is titled “Stripe.”

Scattered dialogue tells us we’ve been flung into the middle of a long-standing battle between the Planetary Defence Coalition and the Free Life Army, at odds on a future version of Earth that’s been visited by aliens called “Galanthee” (there’s that word again) that appeared via a portal in the sky. The squad of soldiers we’ve suddenly met are from the PDC; they’ve just captured a Free Life Army leader who has a pronounced Southern accent for some reason, and are now joined by another random PDC soldier (Farscape’s Claudia Black) who was already on-site and is clearly a badass. “What’s a Stripe doing here alone?” wonders one of the PDC soldiers (Midsommar and In the Earth’s Ellora Torchia), with no more context than that, though it seems to refer to the woman’s military rank or designation.

Photo: Keith Bernstein/HBO Photo: Keith Bernstein/HBO

Anyway, as previously mentioned, there’s no sense in stopping to question anything that happens in this mid-season finale — you just have to roll with it and keep your eyes peeled for little things. Like the Stripe, who’d really like to get ahold of some “feen” (again, spelling could be wrong, but it’s drugs), rapping her fingers together exactly like we’ve seen Amalia True do. Torchia’s character — who’s a “Spore,” though she prefers the term “empathically enhanced” — and the Stripe are both pretty beat up, so they go to the abandoned facility’s sickbay and do some cautious bonding, though exchanging names is absolutely out of the question for some reason.

What are Spores?

Well, they’re people chosen to act as “translators, they activate parts of the mind needed to comprehend Galanthee language and tech.” Her presence is necessary because the search for the “spatial anomaly” that’s fuelling this battle signals that a portal, and maybe an actual Galanthee, are nearby. In their conversation we learn that all Galanthee projects (which sound helpful and awesome: “pure water systems,” “tectonic stabilizers”) have been bombed out by the Free Life Army, which is staunchly anti-Galanthee; that same group is also responsible for murdering this facility’s science team.

Before long, the group discovers the hidden Galanthee, which looks an awful lot like the glowing blob that Amalia True was so eager to find in Victorian London — and they also uncover a video of a scientist interacting with the creature, which looks surprisingly friendly and playful. They come to realise that the Galanthee had bonded with the science team, and the Free Life Army later tortured it by dangling the blood-dripping bodies of its dead friends above its resting place. Grim times indeed.

The team is of a divided mind, whether they should kill the suffering Galanthee, thereby closing the portal to prevent any more from arriving… or protect it and hope that it can help save the Earth (a planet overrun with “floods, famine, terror storms”). “I am not gonna die waiting on a saviour,” the Stripe says, pessimistically noting that “change is too scary, even for the people who fight for it. That’s why Free Life always wins.” But suddenly everyone realises the portal is designed to go the other way — there aren’t more Galanthee coming. It’s trying to GTFO ASAP. And when it goes, its glowing blue aura wraps around the Stripe — who’s suicidal after desperately trying (and failing) to summon hope that there’s some way this ends well — and carries her soul along with it, as her earthly body dies.

While we’re still absorbing all that, The Nevers changes gear and brings us back to a pre-Touched Victorian England, where a baker’s assistant named Amalia — or “Molly,” as her chapter is named — is shyly flirting with a handsome customer. Though she’s still played by Laura Donnelly, this is not the Amalia we’ve come to know on the series; this girl is Bambi-eyed, meek, and certainly not in possession of a mean right hook.

She enters into an unhappy marriage not with the handsome customer who clearly adores her, but the boorish Mr. True; it’s a match made purely out of practicality, though the situation is less than tolerable. Things get worse when she’s unable to conceive a child, and then her husband dies, leaving her to care for his ageing mother and deal with his mountain of debt. Oh, and that guy she liked, who seemingly had no prospects? Just got a fat promotion, and his new wife just had a baby. Grim times indeed.

Photo: Keith Bernstein/HBO Photo: Keith Bernstein/HBO

So now we know why Amalia/Molly was seen leaping into the river at the end of episode one as the Galanthee appeared in the sky overhead and how she survived that would-be fatal plunge. Or at least we do once she opens her mouth (after being carted to an asylum, where it takes less than a minute for her to punch someone) and speaks not with a British accent, but in the Stripe’s brash North American tones.

Thus, “The Madwoman in the Thames,” the third chapter of the finale, sets about explaining the enigma that is Amalia True — a sort of Kyle Reese figure, apparently — to us. Amalia is understandably freaked out to be in a new body, in a new time and place (at first, she suspects it’s a “sim”), but she soon takes notice of the other women who’re locked up with her, some of whom are starting to puzzle through their newfound talents.

Maladie (Amy Manson) — still going by Sarah, since she hasn’t yet transformed into a homicidal genius — is one of Amalia’s fellow inmates, and when she mentions seeing bright lights in the sky Amalia is the only one who believes her, at least until slippery, patronising Dr. Hague (Denis O’Hare), who we’ve seen performing cruel experiments on the Touched, shows up and starts asking questions. This episode doesn’t explain exactly how Sarah became Maladie (maybe something The Nevers will dig into during the second half of season one), but Amalia shoving her into the clutches of Dr. Hague probably didn’t help.

A far more sympathetic doctor, whom Amalia knows she can trust because she has a premonition of them being intimate, is Dr. Cousens (Zackary Momoh). She shares the truth with him, and he’s bewildered but able to believe that “aliens from the future gave us magic powers,” in no small part because he himself suddenly has the ability to heal with his touch.

He suggests that in the absence of a “Spore” to communicate with the Galanthee, it’s going to be up to Amalia to lead the Touched, especially since she knows what’s coming in the future. She’s aghast (“I did my time! I spent a lifetime fighting and it didn’t make any difference!”) but she knows he’s right, and she also knows she can’t help anyone while she’s being held prisoner. We get a montage of Amalia learning to act more British in her speech and mannerisms (a li’l nod to My Fair Lady there, except we also see her doing sweaty push-ups), as well as keeping the peace among the Touched inmates. That’s a valuable skill that makes the review board less inclined to release her — until Lavinia Bidlow (Olivia Williams) uses her powerful influence to spring her so she can run the “orphanage,” as we’ve already seen.

At last, in the finale’s final chapter, “True,” we learn what happened in last week’s episode when Amalia split off from Penance (Ann Skelly) — who was determined to save Maladie, a mission that obviously went rather sideways — to go find the Galanthee. It’s a one-sided confrontation at first, which means a big monologue for Donnelly: “What a team. You and me, except no you, no wisdom, no plan, just people to leave behind over and over … why are you hiding? Why did it go so wrong?” But then the Galanthee gives her a vision of sorts, a confusing mishmash of imagery from the past and present, showing both the Stripe and Amalia’s lives.

This includes Amalia telling Penance the truth at some unspecified point (and she takes it rather well: “It is upsetting, the future being so grim for everyone… but we’ll just change it all up!”) We also get a glimpse of Nick Frost’s Beggar King (a character who could use more development in future episodes); an unseen woman saying “Did you think you were the only one who hitched a ride?” (which is very intriguing — are there more future people running around in Victorian bodies?); and the Touched girl who can speak every language but English saying (in English) “This is a long time from that little cave… this, I will need you to forget.”

Dr. Cousens has every right to look sceptical, Amalia. (Image: Keith Bernstein/HBO) Dr. Cousens has every right to look sceptical, Amalia. (Image: Keith Bernstein/HBO)

After Amalia fights her way out of the Galanthee’s hole — those cloak-wearing mutant dudes are clearly Dr. Hague’s foot soldiers — she returns to the orphanage, as seen in last week’s episode, to reunite with a deflated-looking Penance. While Amalia didn’t find out who their enemy is, she realises it’s finally time to share everything with everybody: “the future, the Galanthee, the fight that’s coming.” Then she does the ultimate and tells Penance something not even her dystopian-future spouses ever knew about her: her real name. (It’s Zephyr Alexis Naveen.) The tender moment ends when one of Penance’s inventions sputters past them (“Fuckin’ prototype,” she sighs), and the season finale ends there, too.

So with that onslaught of new information, we’re left waiting for that as-yet-unspecified time when HBO releases the six episodes that’ll form part two of The Nevers’ first season. There’ll be a new showrunner (Philippa Goslett, taking over for the embattled Whedon) and plenty of threads left to untangle as the series plunges ahead — facing a future that’s going to involve lots more human conflict, presumably more alien-based magic, and hopefully, the ragtag Touched coming together to fix the world before Zephyr’s version of the future becomes reality. We need to know who else is a future warrior in a Victorian body. And maybe we’ll learn what Maladie’s long game is, and maybe Dr. Cousens’ wife will finally figure out he’s in love with Amalia/Zephyr, and maybe Penance and her bird boy (Tom Riley) will finally hook up, and maybe we’ll even learn what Lavinia’s real motivations are. Deep breath!

That’s a lot to work with, but with some excellent sci-fi element nows nudging The Nevers’ less-than-inspiring fantasy leanings to the side, we’re more than eager to see how this potentially apocalyptic situation shakes out.