September 10th, 2008

Vampires and souls

Ultraviolet? More Like Stringer Bell, Vampire Hunter!

I don't recall now when or where I first heard about Ultraviolet. I think it was at dinner, and some girl I didn't know was talking about it. All I really found out know what, was it meghatron? Maybe. Anyway, all I knew was that it was a six-episode British vampire series where they never used the word "vampire" and that the first half seems like it's a bunch of unrelated things until you find out how everything's connected in the second half. I was intrigued, so I put it in my mental queue.

Then, when I was looking for some short British series to mainline, I looked it up and discovered that it starred...Idris Elba. Better known as Stringer Bell from The Wire, which I had just watched. It also starred Jack Davenport, better known as Steve from Coupling, which I was about to watch. It seemed that Ultraviolet's time had come.

Ultraviolet is about a secret, Church-sanctioned, paramilitary organization that hunts vampires! Except they don't call them vampires. They refer to them as "Code 5" or leeches. Like the movie Near Dark, the intention is to give vampires a more realistic treatment. To that end, there's a whole lot of science. They've managed to weaponize the lore by shooting graphite bullets and hurling gas grenades with the active ingredient in garlic. The scientific approach to the mythology is one of the show's major strengths. They add a new dimension to the "Vampires have no reflections and don't show up on camera" idea that I thought was extremely clever. On the other hand, for no scientific reason at all, the vampires FUCKING EXPLODE when they die. Which is awesome.

Michael (Jack Davenport) is living an ordinary life as a detective until he gets drafted into this organization, which could use someone with detectiving skills. Because all they have right now is a priest, an ex-military man (Idris Elba, speaking in his natural accent), and a doctor (the lovely Susannah Harker...who had to have an edge in the casting process, right?). His friend Kirsty, however, doesn't take his disappearance lightly and, predictably, ends up in a whole mess of trouble.

The series progresses with our team investigating various strange occurrences, sort of like a version of The X-Files where the answer is always "It's a vampire, Scully." But those wily vampires are up to something. They appear to be experimenting. But to what end? Some of the leeches put forth the idea that they're trying to figure out ways to go all sparkly and quit drinking people. Many of them ask the question, "Why are we being hunted?" Is a vampire inherently bad? In the world of Ultraviolet, where vampires don't "vamp out" or bare their pointy teeth, it's easy to see them as simply dead people with drinking problems. Perhaps we could coexist after all. The series builds toward the eventual revelation of the vampires' endgame, which is pretty sweet.

The show is very seeeeeeeeeeeerious, however. It's cold and somber, with almost no humor. Again, it's keeping up realistic appearances, no self-aware vampire mocking here.

It's a good, solid series, but I'm not surprised that it's not more popular and well-known. While it's an interesting spin on vampires, it's not terribly fun. It's well acted, well written, and well directed, however. And I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to see Steve and Stringer hunt vampires together.