So here’s the thing about my particular style of episode recaps: I’m not gonna sit here, hold your hand, and regurgitate what happened in the episode for you step-by-step. There are PLENTY of episode guides on the internet already which will do that for you.
I prefer to add my own flair and opinion to it. You can get a simplistic recap anywhere – but if you’re having thoughts and (more importantly) feelings about this show – like I am – and want to go deeper, you’re in the right place. Buckle up and get ready for an AP-Literature-level analysis of this episode. I’m going to start by highlighting specific themes that I want to explore more in-depth, and then I’ll wrap it up with “random thoughts” and speculations/predictions about what might happen next.
There are many characters in the show – especially “the touched” – who show signs of possessing a neurodivergent mind. Obviously, in the real world, you find neurodiversity in people with depression, ADHD, ASD, and other “afflictions” which people used to look down upon and lock people up in mental asylums just for being different. Even calling these people with their special powers “the touched” is a reflection of how the expression “touched in the head” was a euphemism for people who suffered from mental health afflictions and/or learning disabilities back when society’s best attempts at mental healthcare were barbaric and cruel (not that most methods of mental healthcare today aren’t also barbaric and cruel, but that’s a different discussion for a different day).
In addition to the touched having special powers, most of them also exhibit signs of neurodiversity that we find today in the real world*. Augie’s fascination with fun bird facts and his awkward social skills seem to put him on the autism spectrum. Penance can “see” electricity, which is oddly similar to how people in the real world with ADHD or ASD can “hear” electricity. And then there’s True and her “ripplings”. The fact that the ripplings spontaneously happen and that True has little nervous tics in order to try and calm herself down in order to control when and where they happen seems like it could be a form of Tourette’s. Either that, or the fact that the ripplings are triggered by loud noises could be related to Misophonia. Further speculation: the metaphor True uses to compare her ripplings to soldiers getting war flashbacks might be a sign that she’s suffering from PTSD – and the fact that she appears to have attempted suicide at the beginning of the episode is a strong sign that this might play a factor.
(*DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor or a qualified mental health professional, and I can’t diagnose anybody. My speculations about the characters should not be misconstrued as any sort of professional diagnosis or medical advice. But I’ve suffered from depression in some way/shape/form for most of my life, and I know a lot of people who have neurodivergent brains, so I’m speaking from my own experience.)
Frankly, I’m loving the way they’re weaving in modern-day neurodiversity with the powers of the touched in a way that I think subtly makes neurodiversity in the real world more visible and more easily acceptable for abled people to understand.
Also, holy shit, Penance’s speech near the end of the episode:
“Mary’s song…reachin’ right into me. Telling me that I’m here. I belong here. And you. And all of us that’s touched. We’re woven into the fabric of the world, and we’re meant to be as we are. We find Mary. We get her singing. They’ll all come to us and they’ll be safe”.
True interrupts her to say that “they won’t be safe”.
Penance leans her head on True’s shoulder and says “Less lonely then. And that’s a start.” True Echoes her words as the camera slowly pans out alongside some solemn string music. If you’ve struggled with a neurodivergent brain and that speech didn’t make you at least a little verklempt, if not bring you to tears (like it did me), I don’t have any words for you.
The episode has a ton of strong callbacks. A good, strong callback is one of my favorite writing tropes in popular media. Whether it’s a movie, a TV show, or a standup comedy routine, of you slap me in the face with a good callback, I will get down on my knees and beg for more, mistress.
As True and Penance get ready to interview a touched girl with a language talent, Penance asks True to be “civil this time”, and references a past experience where some hostile innkeepers with shotguns forced True’s hand. Not even a few minutes later, True is asking the girl’s would-be kidnappers to “be civil” before our protagonists are chased through the streets of London with said kidnappers firing shotgun blasts at them. It’s not only a couple of good callbacks back-to-back, but also excellent foreshadowing (which is yet another writing trope I absolutely adore).
But the most impressive callback has to do with the first and the last few minutes of the pilot episode. The whole opening sequence of the pilot is called back to at the very end of the episode when we finally see what happened exactly after the thunder cracked three years ago: the thing that caused all of the touched to exist.
We see an “alien” spaceship descend from the clouds, something that looks like it came straight out of Doctor Who. We then see the alien ship release a cloud of glittering spores which slowly waft down onto the streets of London. We see a glittering spec land on the voice box of our song bird, Mary Brighton (whom I will be referring to as “Ariel” because reasons, damn it!). We see several glittering specs land on Augie right before he passes out. We see a sparkle land on the hand of Penance, the same hand she uses to craft her gadgets. We even see a glitter and sparkle land on the cheek of the daughter of our favorite racist, sexist, classist, and general-piece-of-shit Lord Massen, as well as a few glittering sparkles landing on Amalia True, rescuing her from drowning after what looks like an attempted suicide. And, of course, we see a sparkle land on our resident schizophrenic sociopath, Maladie.
As Mrs. True lays down to sleep on the floor amongst the other orphans in the same position she passed out in after climbing out of the water in which she tried to kill herself, the final call back of the episode brings the entire narrative full circle. Bravo, show. Bra-freaking-vo.
As someone who has trained MMA on-and-off for half my life in a dozen different gyms across the country, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I love me some good fight choreography. And holy shit, does this show deliver! I don’t think I’ve seen fight scenes this good since Legend of the Seeker – and that’s saying something.
Within the first 10 minutes of the pilot episode, True gets into such an amazing fight scene with Myrtle’s would-be kidnappers that I think my jaw literally dropped. That neck crack right before she asked them “gentleman…might we be civil?” was a sign that something amazing was about to happen. And when she somersaulted into bad guy #1, knocked him to the floor, broke his leg, and punched him in the nuts, I was clapping and cheering so hard that I thought I was going to disturb my neighbors. The broken arm followed up by an immediate throat punch on bad guy #2 (or was she still fighting bad guy #1?) was also a nice touch. And when True used the bad guy’s body to escape through the window and land safely in a superhero pose in the alley outside, it was *chef’s kiss* inspiring.
Then there’s the fight in the alley immediately after. As a woman, I can certainly relate to purchasing certain types of umbrellas because in my head I looked at them and thought to myself “this would make a great improvised weapon against an attacker or a rapist”. This show takes that concept to a whole other level with True fighting using an umbrella with such a heavy metal tip that it makes a satisfying thud sound when it makes contact with her attacker’s skull. And the fact that the bottom handle can be ejected from the shaft and instantly turn into improvised brass knuckles? Where can I buy this umbrella?! SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!
Exploring Different Types of Sexuality
It’s hard to know for sure whether Penance and True are just friends, or whether they’re something more. They definitely exude a very strong lesbian-power-couple vibe in the pilot episode. And, of course, there’s Hugo Swann, who I’m guessing is pansexual (but I could be wrong, because I am a cishet white female and a lot of this subject matter is something I’m still learning about and making mistakes on but I’m trying).
I know I already said that True and Penance have a strong lesbian couple vibe going on, but I’m also getting some sexual tension between True and Horatio. We know from the first few minutes of the pilot that Horatio is a married man with a child, but maybe he has something going on with True on the side?
Lastly, there’s an ever-so-brief hinting of a shipping between Penance and Augie that is as touching and emotional as it is short and fleeting. I can’t wait to see what the show does with that.
Racism, Sexism, Classism, Xenophobia, and Neurotypical Supremacy
Let me start by saying fuck Lord Massen. Fuck him right in the ear with King Kong’s dick, if for no other reason then to help him see what a penis that is capable of sexually satisfied a woman actually looks like*.
By the way, contra hostes omnes is Latin for “against all enemies”. Massen gives a speech to his comrades that is as poignant and well-crafted as it is racist, sexist, classist, xenophobic, and disgusting in nature. Particularly the part at the end about how women, immigrants, and deviants will be demanding “more power” (i.e. human rights) before long and that this is an attack on the empire which they must stop at all costs. Seriously, fuck this guy (the character, not the actor).
(*DISCLAIMER: I’m just kidding fellas. All you really need to do is be good at oral. If you’re worried about sexually satisfying a woman, don’t be. The size of your penis doesn’t even matter to most of us! You’re all set!)
Mundi is a very interesting character so far. He’s not featured very much in this episode, but I have a feeling he’s going to play a much bigger and more important role as season 1 goes on. Based on his accent, you can tell that he’s a “lower class man working and existing in a higher class world”. He’s like a trailer park Sherlock Holmes and I can’t wait to see more of him. And can we talk about how wonderful that “angle of death” line was?
I also appreciate the part about “you might not have killed her, but I’m not going to let you bury her”. It’s an admirable philosophy which I’m really glad is being portrayed in popular media, especially since I recently learned that cops use special code words to describe sex workers when writing up reports about their murders which, essentially, classify them as non-human beings. Fuck any cop who has ever written up a report about the death of a sex worker and used that terminology to dehumanize them and make sex workers as a whole feel like less than human. There’s a special circle of hell just for you.
This man has amazing range as an actor and you can sit on it and spin if you disagree. Obviously, he started out in comedy with movies like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. I fondly remember him playing Bajie in one of my other favorite shows of all time, Into the Badlands. Bajie was a very mixed character, speckling in comedic levity amidst some very serious scenes. And now he’s playing the Beggar King, a villain that you can already tell from his first few minutes of screen time in the pilot is someone the audience will love to hate.
I also noticed on one of my recent re-watches: The Beggar King’s shtick is hurting people with a straight razor. He also has scars on his face which look like they were inflicted from a similar weapon. I can’t wait for the show to get into his backstory more to see if the two are connected.
Badass Lines from True
“Gentlemen *neck crack* might we be civil?”
“It would be better if you didn’t.”
Legit, she’s staring death in the face and these words come out of her mouth, cool as a cucumber, without skipping a beat. I was both terrified and mildly aroused by this.
“This isn’t my face”
Keep in mind that she says this line immediately after leaning her cheek into the razor blade that the Beggar King pulls on her. But what does that mean? The leaning in was badass as fuck, but what did she mean when she said that wasn’t her face? Valar morghulis? Does a girl not have a face?
“The singular. When they refer to a single employee, whereas the employed can only be used to describe a mass of people. It doesn’t allow for the idea that a single worker may be a whole and meaningful being.”
You go, girl! Call him out on his bullshit!
“More suffer from society’s perception than their own debilitation.”
100% #Truth. THANK YOU!
- Elevator pitch: I’ve started hyping up this show by telling all my friends “It’s Victorian steampunk that’s also X-Men, but mostly women” and many of them are 100% on board.
- Hypocrisy: I’m sorry, how is someone like Hugo not a fan of Faust? Seriously?!
- Clever cinematography: Primrose Chattoway, the giantess who quickly befriends Myrtle. I love the way they obfuscated her size with clever shooting techniques (potentially borrowed from The Lord of the Rings trilogy?).
- Subtitles, please: I, for one, would love to know exactly what Myrtle is saying, and which language she’s saying it in. Please, HBO, make those subtitles work better!
- Mary/Ariel: Mary the song bird, who I’m going to refer to as Ariel for obvious reasons, breaks out into a beautiful song and also has the power to tag the touched like your camera tags enemies in Far Cry 3. I was really sad when Maladie ended up kidnapping her successfully, even though the chase scene and the fight scenes that followed were fucking amazing. And was there a little foreshadowing about a potential romance between Penance and Augie during the Ariel song? Or am I imagining things?
- She stuck the landing: True lands in a superhero pose not just once, but twice in the same episode. I cannot get enough of this shit. And I hope I see it a lot more during season 1.
- Who’s kidnapping the girls: Wait a fucking minute, are Hugo and the detective the ones who are feeding information to the kidnappers who are snatching up touched women? It took me three fucking re-watches of the show to realize that that’s probably what’s going on. Holy shit I feel dumb.
- The mysterious doctor: After three or four re-watches, I still don’t understand the scene with the doctor drilling into the foiled kidnapper’s skull. Is it because he’s touched, also? Or is he torturing him because he failed to kidnap the girl and pissed off his bosses? Or is it a little bit of column A, and a little bit of column B?
- Amalia True, Interrupted: In the aftermath of True’s failed rescue attempt, she gets drunk and decides to blow off some steam by pretending to be a hooker and beating up the would-be Johns who tried to solicit her. It’s actually a very touching scene when Penance comes in to check on her and comfort her and talk about what happened earlier that night. In my opinion, this scene really humanizes Amalia True and highlights some of her flaws which make her seem more relatable to the average viewer. And then we learn Ariel’s full name: Mary Brighton. The show has already beat us over the head to let us know that her name is very important. It’ll be interesting to see how and why in future episodes.