tek's rating:

Jekyll, BBC One (UK) / BBC America
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Caution: potential spoilers!

When I first watched this, I had never read the novella "Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde," by Robert Louis Stevenson, and I don't think I've really seen any movies, but of course I was more or less familiar with the basic plot of the story of a scientist who drinks a potion and begins having episodes where he becomes someone else, someone very dangerous. This show... isn't quite like that. Well, it's similar, but it seems to be far more complicated. Anyway, eventually I read the original, and... actually already I don't remember it that well, but I was a bit surprised, it wasn't quite what I was expecting. What I had expected to be the basic plot throughout the story was in fact a twist ending, which is kind of spoiled by having known all along what was actually going on. In any event, while I wish I could remember it more clearly, I must say that there were probably some things that didn't seem to me to work with the TV series very well, and some that might be construed as working....

Anyway, the show begins with Dr. Tom Jackman offering a job as his personal assistant to a psychiatric nurse named Katherine Reimer (Michelle Ryan). However, before she accepts, she'll have to meet the other person for whom she'd be working... though he doesn't have a name, as yet. He is... Jackman's other personality, whom he keeps under constant surveillance and with whom he communicates via messages on a digital voice recorder. Yes, there are some interesting modern twists on the concept, and the two personalities have, at some point prior to the start of the series, worked out an arrangement. There are scheduled "changes" (though I think this means times they know the change will happen, not times they've decided it will happen), and there are unscheduled changes, which may come unexpectedly at any time. And while Jackman's other side may be seemingly evil, with violent tendencies and no real inhibitions, he does have a sense of self preservation. If he crosses a line and Jackman finds out about it, the doctor will turn himself in. And if Jackman tries to find a cure for his "condition," his other side will kill himself. So they maintain a tenuous truce... for the time being. Meanwhile, Katherine is supposed to work for both of them without taking sides. Of course, she's only safe from her other employer as long as there are cameras on for Jackman to review his counterpart's actions later.

There is, however, something Jackman is keeping from his alter ego: the fact that he has a wife, Claire, and two kids, Harry and Eddie. (Their names are interesting, since in the novella, Henry Jekyll was sometimes called Harry, and Mr Hyde's first name was Edward.) When Jackman realized what was happening to him, he left his family, without a word of explanation, and he makes sure never to wear his wedding ring when a change takes over. But it isn't long before his alter ego learns of their existence, and visits them. He tells them he's Tom's cousin, Billy. It should be noted that while both versions of Jackman are played by the same actor (James Nesbitt), and he looks virtually identical in both roles, there are a few minor physical changes (darker hair, darker eyes, different hairline, and everyone says his alter ego is a couple inches taller, though I can't tell the difference... since I never see them side by side, obviously). In any event, after the first time he meets Jackman's family, even though (spoiler!) he didn't actually hurt them, Tom warns him that if he ever goes near them again, their truce will be over and they'll be at war.

Of course, it's not just Jackman's appearance that changes. He gets much stronger, though he's not some kind of obvious monster like you might expect in a Jekyll & Hyde story. He can be charming when he wants to be. Or he can be quite menacing. One of the great pleasures of the series, actually, is seeing Nesbitt portray two such radically different personalities... and sometimes even make them seem not so far apart, after all. Still, there are times Jackman's alter ego reminds me of Li'l Alex from "A Clockwork Orange." Or of Jack Nicholson (say, in "The Shining"). It's also an interesting relationship between Jackman and his alter ego. While I say the latter is evil, it's not just that; as is often pointed out in the series, he's a child, basically, with a child's sensibilities and understanding of the world. This is because he only recently "awoke" inside Tom. I suppose this means he hasn't had time to develop a conscience or restraint or anything like that, but on the other hand, he's not a normal child, either. He does mature somewhat over the course of the series, but he'll always have less restraint than normal human beings. Anyway, for the most part, he is basically only interested in self-gratification, doing fun things. Sex is fun. Movies are fun. Violence is fun. Eating is fun... and I wouldn't put a bit of cannibalism past him. But it's interesting to note that he frequently refers to Tom as "Daddy." This could be meant ironically, or sarcastically, or just plain menacingly (think Nicholson saying 'Here's Johnny!'), but on some level, I think there's a bit of sincerity in it. Tom is the adult, he tries to make rules for Hyde and punish him if the rules are broken. Kind of like a parent....

Anyway, back to the story. You might think the plot is complicated enough already, but no... not even close. There's a man named Benjamin who approaches Jackman's alter ego and claims he "owns" him. And he's the first to call him "Mr. Hyde." While Hyde may take the name, he doesn't seem interested in listening to what Benjamin has to say. Meanwhile, Jackman finds out Claire had hired a private detective, Miranda Callendar (and her associate, Min), to find out what he was up to after he left. But she doesn't tell Claire all that she uncovered. Jackman goes to see her, and eventually comes to trust her. Though she does have this weird theory that Jackman, who was found abandoned as a baby, is actually related to Dr. Henry Jekyll, upon whom Stevenson's story was based, and his condition has been inherited. It will soon enough turn out this is true, though one of the most confusing aspects of the show is that they say Jackman is a direct descendant of Jekyll, and that Jekyll had no family. This seemingly contradictory assertion is explained in the final episode of the first season...

Anyway, Jackman had recently been noticing a black van following him, which he assumed belonged to Miranda, but it didn't. It belongs to Benjamin, who works for a rich and powerful organization called Klein & Utterson, which Tom also worked for, though heretofore he didn't know the organization's true purpose. Another employee is Tom's friend, Peter Syme, whose entire relationship with Tom has been a lie. Still, this isn't complicated enough yet, so it will turn out that Katherine is actually working for another party, a woman calling herself Tom's (and Hyde's) mother.... And she will warn Jackman that Hyde will continue to get stronger, and himself weaker. (Btw, I should also mention that strength isn't Hyde's only ability; he also has some neat mental abilities, which are revealed after Katherine gives him a drug with the unexpected side effect of allowing Hyde to remain awake inside Jackman while Jackman is dominant.) In any event, by the end of the second episode, Jackman will leave his whole life behind, pledging to get stronger and keep fighting Hyde. And Katherine will start working with Miranda, I guess.

Well, what else to say? A hell of a lot happens in just six episodes, but I don't want to spoil too much. Klein & Utterson want to possess Mr. Hyde for their own purposes, and have been working towards this for over 100 years. We will see flashbacks to earlier in Tom's life, before Hyde fully awoke, and to the distant past, with Henry Jekyll. We will meet a mysterious woman who seems to be in charge of Klein & Utterson, and who at the end of the season will be revealed to be even more mysterious than she seemed, even as we learn the truth about her. We'll also learn a shocking truth about Claire Jackman, that even she didn't know. And we'll find that there may be more to Harry and Eddie than meets the eye.

I must also say that for awhile there in the last episode, I wasn't sure if it would be possible for there to be another season, but the way it ends, it seems like there should be. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like there will. (So we might as well call this a limited series, though I won't put the review in that section, because I'm not sure it was necessarily intended as a limited series.) The the story is brilliantly written and acted, with lots of intriguing concepts and twists, which only get deeper and more interesting as the series continues. Oh, and I should also mention another nice touch: we don't always see things chronologically, so Jackman may wake up not knowing what he's done, and we don't know either. This lets the writers maintain a sense of suspense, keep us guessing, and worrying. Sometimes not knowing if anyone has been killed, or if so, who was killed... until they finally show us what actually happened, from Hyde's perspective. Anyway... I hope I'm not forgetting to mention anything dreadfully important (other than things I'm intentionally not spoiling)....


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