This review covers episodes 1-4 of The Nevers. New episodes premiere Mondays at 9am on HBO GO and HBO.
SINGAPORE — What do you get when you mix a superhero series, steampunk elements, Victorian England, politics, and female empowerment? The Nevers. There's much to like about this fantasy (or is it science fiction?) series which is ambitious in scope. However, the sheer number of moving parts and a sprawling plot means that it's difficult to get a handle on it at times.
The Nevers is a science fiction series that has superhero, steampunk, and fantasy elements. It revolves around a group of super powered people in Victorian London, who find themselves struggling to make sense of the world and who they are. Unfortunately, a mysterious threat seems to be after them, for its own nefarious purposes.
The most delightful thing about The Nevers is not the superpowers, but the setting. It takes place in a romanticised version of Victorian London, one which is a little different from our own ever since an incident caused several of the city's citizens to develop super powers. There are some steampunk elements — cars and gatling guns with a distinctively retrofuturistic aesthetic — which, coupled with the metahuman clashes, make this a very strange but charming London. It feels like an interesting place to explore, even if this story wasn't taking place, as you'd want to see just how different this London is.
The story also starts strong, establishing the heroines as forces to be reckoned with, while introducing all the major (and minor) players on the board. This results in many, many plot lines that are set up in the first episode itself, with what seems to be an overarching mystery (the reason for their powers) for the series. It's an engaging start to the series, and promises to set the tone for the rest of the series.
However, later episodes are a little more inconsistent in flavour. The plot soon spirals wildly out of control, as more and more mysteries are added before earlier ones are resolved. What sees to be important in one episode usually peters out by the next, which can wear on your curiosity a little. It's not that the story is bad, it's that you don't know where it's going. You want to find out what's going to happen next, but it's difficult when the focus of the series seems to change every so often. It keeps up the super fights though, but it does leave you wondering about the stakes at times.
Characterisation can also differ from episode to episode, notably with main character Amalia (Laura Donnelly). She alternates between being a strong female character to being a lady who gets overcome with emotion at times, and you can't quite figure out who she is. Perhaps it's because there are numerous things happening (and also bits of her backstory that are hinted, but not quite told) which account for this, but by the fourth episode, her character is rather confusing.
The themes of the story are clear though, with the subtle notes of discrimination as our protagonists fight battles on the societal and physical front. Like the X-Men, the ladies of the story are metaphors for those who face prejudice for who they are. In that sense, the characters are physically powerful but socially weak, an issue that comes up a fair bit in the series. It adds a layer of depth to the series, but with so much going on, it can sometimes be overlooked.
The Nevers is charming in its own way, with individual elements being quite quaint. However, it lacks focus, and doesn't come together as well as it should. The sum of its parts is not greater than the whole for this series, and it's better watched piecemeal, rather than all at one shot.