[Warning: Includes spoilers for “Little Thing.”]
It’s been a little bit since we chatted with Van Helsing co-showrunner, Simon Barry, so I caught up with him this week to talk about the early renewal, embedding a murderer within the survivors, what’s up with Rebecca, and more.
Last week’s episode marked the exodus from the location that the characters had called home since the beginning of the season, and Barry says they had the luxury of banking enough scripts before they started shooting to weave in the buildup to actually blasting the crap out of it and releasing all of Axel’s booby traps.
“Because we had most of our scripts done well before we were shooting, we able to set decorate episodes 1-7 knowing that we were going to be use all that booby trap stuff that in episode 7. We knew these things were going to have to work at some point, so they were placed and planted [for that],” he explains.
“It was nice to know early on that this battle was going to go on in the hospital.Â [The booby traps and UV lights] were there for practical reasons. It was fun knowing that the things we were showing the audience were going to have a payoff. We were always building to that midseason climax. It drove a lot of decisions, creative and otherwise, knowing were we going to have the siege.”
Barry prefers to have a stash of scripts ready by the time his shows go to camera, whenever possible.Â “I’ve always argued for getting scripts in early. It doesn’t cost any more money to do that. The more you can reuse and amortize story points and resources and plan for that early on, the better your money is used, so you’re not reacting. You’re planning well in advance for things. We would break stories and assign scripts simultaneously so they were written at the same time in chunks. We were timing things so that scripts were being written by all the available writers simultaneously and then we’d deliver notes once the scripts came in.
“That’s what we did on Continuum. We tried to have 70% or 80% of our scripts in draft by the time we were shooting episode 1 and then you can [plan for] sets and locations. When we started shooting [Van Helsing], we had scripts on the first 10. The only scripts that were written once we began shooting were [11-13.] We purposely left 13 until later because we wanted to see how things were going to play in the early part of season. 13 was in play almost up to the time we shot it.”
Just before, and in the aftermath of the evacuation, we finally see that Axel isn’t exactly as chill and focused as he might seem, and it’s not helping that his affection for Doc is running up against her emotional upheaval at being re-humanized. Barry says Axel is facing a loss of purpose after holding ontoÂ the mission for such a long time, and Doc has several things going on. “For him, the hospital represented something that was tied to so many things he believed in. Once it’s fallen, it throws him into a new reality because he can’t use that as an anchor to justify his belief system,”Â Barry says.
“The hospital and Vanessa represented [a purpose] for him. Once those things change irrevocably, it’s taking [him] put of his comfort zone and we were quite happy to do that because it needed to happen. It’s an emotional upheaval. It’s a good character thing for Axel to deal with, and it will play out in the next few episodes.”
“I think we were always looking at Doc as someone wrestling with changing back She’s dealing with it differently than Flesh. On the one hand, she’s struggling with this experience she had, and she has the complex relationship with Axel that may not be what she wants. Ultimately, we will follow that through. You will get answers about where she is emotionally and her relationship with Axel.”
One surprise in the mix is that one of the inhabitants among the survivorsÂ wasÂ a serial killer, who now, certainly seems to have been John [David Cubitt], although Axel wonders whether he really was. “We looked at John early on as someone who we were going to play fast and loose with their morality and how the audience felt about them. Obviously, we needed to resolve some things about who was killing the members of the group, and John fit the bill,” says Barry.
“We wanted to remind people that just because there are vampires, that doesn’t mean that humans aren’t bad as well. A murderer is something we deal with in a world without vampires. To assume that suddenly people with evil intent wouldn’t exist [anymore] didn’t make sense. We loved the idea that there was a murderer in the group. Someone who can kill and not get caught and steal resources and supplies and can actually survive an apocalypse…would thrive in this world. It’s this weird contradiction but it makes sense. ”
John’s death was the second in two weeks among the core survivors, and Barry says Nicole actually survived as long as she did because of the actress. Alison Wandzura was initially only slated for a one-and-done appearance but they liked her so well at the table read that the role was extended to mid-season. “Everyone was blown away with [her] read and we all looked at each other afterward, and said ‘we should keep her around,'” he laughs. “So the goal was to do a quick adjustment and allow Nicole to survive longer. We got the benefits of great actor and tapped into a storyline that we felt fit with the rest of the show.”
Tonight’s episode also revealed Rebecca’s sadistic version of a maternity ward, and Barry says she’s trying to sustain her species, in a manner of speaking. “We [had] planted a seed that the vampires are concerned their future is tied to the skies being covered, and when that ends, which it inevitable will, they need to be prepared for a world where the sun is back. For Rebecca, and the vampires thinking existentially, [they’re asking], ‘can [we] use science and medicine to create what Vanessa had managed to do?’ in the sense that she weathers all the things that are bad for vampires. The big prize is [to] keep the species alive in a changing world.”
While Vanessa seemed super-human in the first few episodes, she was taken down a peg with the feral tooth bite, and Barry says that was the point. “We wanted to show that Vanessa does have vulnerability. She believed that she could walk into any situation and not be at risk [but] there are situations she hadn’t anticipated,” he says. “She couldn’t be invulnerable, She has to have many Kryptonites. It also reminds the audience that everyone is vulnerable”
Behind the scenes, the show has had the good fortune to land repeat directors, including Amanda Tapping, who helmed 6 and 7 and will do two more at the end of the season, and Jason Priestley, who directed tonight’s episode, and next week’s. Barry says the episodes were assigned according to their availability.
“I was keen on having Amanda direct because of the great experience I’d had with her on Continuum, so I had lobbied for her at the beginning of the process. Jason is a very close friend of our producer, Chad Oakes, and he’d been trying to get Jason in as a director. You always hope that the people you want to bring in are available and the schedule works out, so we really happy [to get them],” he says.
Van Helsing has already been renewed for a second season, and while Barry has multiple projects in various states of development, he hopes to be involved again. “I’ll be available as needed. I’ll always be connected to Van Helsing. It’s just a question of the process, timing, everything. If there’s an opportunity to be part of the process, I’m always going to be keen to do that. I’m trying to be open to all opportunities at this point.”
Van Helsing airs Fridays at 10/9c on Syfy.
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