So all the fan love for Idris Elba continues to amuse me. Late to the party, folks. I’ve been a fan of his since Ultraviolet, and I knew I had seen him in other things before then. In a trailer for one episode of this show, it looks like he is about to die. At the time, back in 1998, I remember thinking ‘poor bastard, he keeps getting killed off in shows’. I won’t pretend I knew his name back then, not until the Wire, but I knew the actor. He was cool, even in the 90s. That is a feat indeed!
I loved the show too. Ultraviolet is such a British tv show. While the US had Buffy – former cheerleader kicks vampires while struggling with the turmoil of High School – we in the UK had Ultraviolet. Our show was grim, sombre, macabre even. It feels more like a cold war thriller than a vampire show. In fact, it really isn’t a vampire show. It is more about those who hunt them. A priest, a scientist, an army sergeant, a police detective. Well, former ones. We see investigations, detection work, discussing what moves to make. Little action, restrained special effects. It is closer to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy than Buffy.
One of the main features of the show is the nature of vampires. This world isn’t good versus evil, although some characters insist it is. This world is grey. The fascinating thing about these vampires is that they care about the human race and the environment. Okay, so only in the same way we care about our livestock, but they do. The vampires are becoming more active, more aggressive because of humanity’s ability, and desire, to destroy itself has greatly arisen. They don’t want us dead. They want us controlled. This puts them at odds with us, of course, but not in the usual way. These aren’t demons. They’re not typical kill-all-things evil. Those individuals turned (this is said in a way that feels like turning a spy from one side to the other) talk about how they are still the same, just better. They don’t become monsters. They are who they are. They also claim no one gets turned who doesn’t want it. They accuse their enemies of bigotry. They have a point.
The main character, a cop who finds out his best friend has been turned, spends most of this series bitching at the people he now works for. He distrusts them, questioning their actions. I’m not sure if there was a bigger concept on how this character would be developed. Unfortunately, Ultraviolet only got the one series. I like to think they have him behave like this so he learns the hard way before becoming a dedicated hunter. Maybe not. But his incessant complaining does grate. Yes, he is new and brings fresh perspective. Yes, he doesn’t hate like they do, hasn’t lost to the same degree they have. But he really does get damn uppity. Wouldn’t have minded if Idris had slapped him at some point.
Oh yeah, so Idris Elba isn’t the main actor. He plays Vaughan Rice, former army sergeant who barely survived a vampire attack that slaughtered his squad. He hates them. Refers to them as leeches. He never questions, never hesitates. His relationship with Michael Colefield, the MC, is testy at best until later on. I’ll be honest, he was my favourite.
Another thing about this show is that the word vampire is never used. This was because they thought it would be tough to get a ‘vampire show’ made. The original title was Vampire Squad and this was dismissed. In their world, they call them Code 5s – 5 being V in Latin. That and Vaughan’s term leeches. They never have that moment so many tv shows suffer from when some character has to state the obvious. One character has the revelation made to her in a full frontal, no holds barred way. She sees one executed. In this show, vampires explode when killed. Up to then, she knows things are up, some weird things, but nothing more. She sees this. Person shot, person explodes. We get a reaction shot, then that was it. We know she knows. We don’t need her to gasp ‘vampire!’ or anything.
That is something I love about the show having watched it through on DVD. It is very subtle. A lot of character presentation is made via action, not dialogue. We see people process things rather than have them do it aloud. For example, the Code 5 is never explained, we just witness a character see V in a church and recall the term.
It is also quite fast paced, despite how slow it can feel while watching it. I get the feeling that everything in these six episodes would fit into a longer US season, just drawn out more. The priest developing a life threatening disease. The scientist dealing with the loss of her husband and daughter while being over protective of the one daughter she has left. The plots and schemes of both sides as Michael deals with his past trying to catch up to him. It surprises me how quickly we go from vampires being a new thing, to understanding the conflict, to getting to know these four central characters, with a few on the side, and then ramping matters up so we have a vampire prisoner trying to make peace. There is a lot left unsaid or merely brushed over to fit into the six episodes, so you often want more from it. I like that.
The female characters are notable too. The main one is the scientist, Angie Marsh, played by Susannah Harker (actual descendant of the Harker Bram Stoker knew to use the name) who has been in a number of shows. The best one I remember her from besides this is House of Cards. She is very good, and her character is one of the most ruthless, strong willed people in the organisation. But we find out her husband and daughter were turned, to be used against her, and she killed them. She isn’t cold, though. In an episode, she is confronted with a woman and her ‘late’ husband. She hesitates, a tear rolls down her face, but she shoots. She’s strong but not inhuman.
Oh yeah, quick mention. They have high-tech ways of dispatching the Code 5s. Carbon bullets and garlic gas grenades. Also they use small cameras on the side of their guns. Vampires cast no reflection, and in this world that means no machine can detect them. No voice recording, no image on camera. So if you point at someone and they’re not on the camera, they’re a leech.
Back to the women of this show, we have a strong central one, then two others. One is the fiancee of Michael’s best friend, who he himself has a crush on. This is the weakest part of the show by far. Not just his simpering manner with her, but the way she becomes relentless in finding out what he is now up to. When Michael leaves without a word and moves home, she hires a journalist to find him. Nevermind that, as a cop, he may have gone undercover or something. Needless to say, this does not end well, and she blames him. She is not to be liked.
The other female character isn’t in it much. We never get much explained (again) but she is an ex of Michael and has feelings for him still, and she works in intelligence or something. Essentially, she knows how to find things out. Michael goes to her when he needs serious help. She helps him due to past feelings, but more and more she questions him. In the final episode, he demands she just help him. He needs it, he can’t explain. “Help me!”
“No.” I nearly cheered. She straight up says no. Leave your key, go, don’t come back. This woman has her shit together and then some, and even her complicated relationship with Michael is never tiresome in the way Michael’s infatuation with the other woman is. She is smart, has her own life, asks questions but knows when to leave things alone. Even after this falling out, when she gets brought in by the other hunters because they suspect Michael is up to something, she won’t talk because he is her friend. I can only imagine she would have had a bigger role in a second series. Damnit.
So a major factor that creates the mood of this moody drama is the music. It is really, well, moody. Really effective. I remembered the dulcet tones of this show for some time after I first saw it.
I think it is only fair to mention the other major character. He is in charge, a priest or former one, I am never sure. He clearly has a religious background and links, but he doesn’t go around with a dog collar on or a Bible in hand. He even goes to confession later on. He is also adamant that the ‘other side’ are bad, that they want to control us as fodder, yet he isn’t as certain as he first seems. He develops a serious illness, then meets a vampire prisoner who clearly knows about him. He has doubts, hence the visit to the confessional. They want to turn him, for obvious reasons. He is even suspected by Vaughan. I won’t say more.
He sets the tone for this world, this war they’re in, with this great line in the first episode:
“Our free range days are over.”
He prophesies a future of battery farms. Slavery, essentially. Concentration camps. Like I said, this show asks a lot of questions about what is going on, challenging the characters morality and duty, yet it remains a struggle by humanity for its own survival. The real question, of course, is how we keep our humanity in this struggle.
Loved the show. Badly want a reboot. Especially with my man Idris involved.