In The Nevers, Victorian London is rocked to its foundations by a supernatural event which gives certain people – mostly women – abnormal abilities, from the wondrous to the disturbing. But no matter their particular “turns,” all who belong to this new underclass are in grave danger. It falls to mysterious, quick-fisted widow Amalia True (Laura Donnelly) and brilliant young inventor Penance Adair (Ann Skelly) to protect and shelter these gifted “orphans.” To do so, they will have to face the brutal forces determined to annihilate their kind.
This review is based on the first four episodes of the series provided for consideration by HBO. (But don’t worry, no spoilers!)
The Nevers Review
There’s a lot to enjoy about The Nevers.
If you’re into grounded sci-fi/fantasy, Victorian-era clothes, the steampunk aesthetic, and/or ladies kicking ass, this series is right up your alley.
Perhaps unsurprising for an HBO series, the production value is high. The world of The Nevers is fully immersive, from the set design and costuming right down to the score. The effects when one of the Touched uses their powers are also good (although maybe used too sparingly).
And let’s talk about the powers, because come on, that’s what you’re here for, right?
So far, I like that The Nevers brings in a wide range of powers – aka “turns” – for the Touched. (In fact, the series makes a point of saying no two people have the same turn.) We see everything from premonitions, firepower, and levitation to increased healing and language abilities. Some turns are more suited for everyday life, while others are much more appropriate for combat. Some turns can be easily hidden from society, while others cannot. It opens the series up for a lot of possibilities in the future, to explore how different turns affect both the characters themselves and the overall plot.
Another element worth praising? The performances. Overall, the cast here is incredibly strong. Skelly plays Penance with a combination of sweetness, innocence, and mischievousness that makes you want to protect her at all costs. Donnelly manages to be both stoic and emotional as Amalia, the resourceful, unshakeable leader. Their chemistry easily sells the banter and dynamic between the two characters, giving The Nevers a solid foundation to work with.
An ensemble premise without an ensemble cast
But despite its strong performances, visually appealing production, and moderately interesting premise, The Nevers somehow stalls out.
Since the series revolves around a group of people with special powers, I expected it to have more of an ensemble feel. One where in these early episodes, we learn about the backgrounds and powers of core characters, and how being Touched has affected their lives.
Instead, it’s very much the Amalia True show, with Penance popping up in not-quite-equal capacity.
And look, I actually really like both Amalia and Penance. But it doesn’t feel right that The Nevers revolves around making a comment on societal “othering” and creating second-class citizens, only to quite literally use most of the Touched as convenient plot props instead of actual characters themselves.
Plus, it’s frustrating to have that amount of time spent away from the other Touched, when the first four episodes dive (often shallowly) into other seemingly unconnected plotlines. It’s hard to know what to focus on as the audience. There’s Maladie, the crazed Touched going on a murder spree, and the police’s clash with the orphanage when looking for her. There’s an evil doctor dude kidnapping Touched and experimenting on them. Plus, Amalia and Penance go up against the local mob boss. Then you have Swan’s sex club, the old white guys discussing the “feminine plague,” and everything happening with the aristocracy.
And because The Nevers spends time dealing with all of that, it doesn’t spend that much focusing on the rest of the Touched themselves. Which is, you know… the central premise of the show.
While I’m disappointed by the execution of the series so far, I’m still sort of clinging to The Nevers. I really want it to sort out its focus/plotting issues and turn into something great. I want to learn more about the Touched, and I’m hoping future episodes will give that to us.
(Plus, I have a theory about Amalia’s past, and I want to know if I’m right.)
So personally, I’m crossing my fingers and giving this one a little longer.