Martin Carr reviews the first episode of Helstrom…
Showrunner Paul Zbyszewski has created in Helstrom something of substance. A dysfunctional family dynamic with far reaching ramifications, barely veiled contempt and more depth than Marvel television were banking on. Much of the success here comes down to casting which provides audiences with pitch perfect protagonists in Daimon and Ana Helstrom. Portrayed with sly wit and boatloads of defence mechanisms, Tom Austen and Sydney Lemmon have you on side from minute one.
Both carry the scars of psychological and emotional abuse into an adult life defined by opposing ideologies. There is a moral conflict perpetually at work within Daimon who suppresses the power he has inherited, choosing lectures and learning over human contact. Ana deals in rare antiquities, tracks down the morally ambivalent and also considers relationships futile exercises. Their mother completes the circle holed up in a maximum security cell and ravaged by years of abuse both human and otherwise.
This sounds like the short lived Constantine yet feels expansive, less formulaic and more invested. A theological emissary provides essential scepticism, while medical opinions ground the whole endeavour with reasoned logic. Both Ariana Guerra and June Carryl work in unison to provide Helstrom with the legitimacy it needs to allow audience investment. Sister Gabriella Rosseti and Doctor Louise Hastings both come at possession from opposing angles, offering logic and reason in place of fire and brimstone.
What also comes through in the first fifteen minutes is a self-confidence coupled with structural boundaries. Humour in Helstrom is fleeting, effective and never plays to the crowd. It skilfully acknowledges the intelligence of its audience and therefore intentionally wrong foots them straight away. Antagonists are set up quickly, backstory carries an emotional punch and most importantly it makes us care.
There are unavoidable genre tropes mixed in with the central conflict between this brother and sister but they never undermine, but rather just do their job. Bouncing neatly between different locations and introducing Alain Yu’s Chris Yen and Robert Wisdom’s Caretaker, this leftfield comic book adaptation consistently hits pay dirt. Tonally it maintains the perfect balance between mainstream moments and thought provoking moral dilemmas. Helstrom makes sure that this is no one’s idea of a happy place, giving us characters with R rated issues wrapped inside a 12A package. At just under an hour it also feels full bodied, draws you in quickly and delivers the basis for a series which has every right to get a second season. This might not be Daredevil but given time it could be.
All episodes of Helstrom are available now on Hulu.