Most helpful critical review
52 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2012
"Sanctuary" is one of the coolest concepts currently on television, but sadly its fourth season for me was a complete mess.
It has been a hundred and some years since Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping) has set foot in the Victorian era, but her pursuit of the diabolical Adam Worth has sent her cascading through time into the streets of London in the 1890's. Drawing no end of attention due to her modern attire and strange weapons, Helen is held temporarily by the police and released into the custody of her best friend of the era, James Watson (Peter Wingfield). Known in later years as the inspiration for the literary figure of Sherlock Holmes, it does not take Watson long to deduce that this dark-haired incarnation of Helen is a "future" Helen... and that her presence in the past may disrupt the initial timeline. That is the intention of Adam, who has returned to the past in order to save his daughter from death. But any misstep will change future events... a fact Helen is very much aware of as she attempts to avoid crossing paths with her former self.
But her mere presence in the house disrupts the normal flow of activity, an ongoing investigation of Helen and James over a new series of murders in the East End. The mangled bodies lead them to suspect the return of John Druitt (Christopher Heyerdahl), Helen's former fiancée and the man responsible for the Ripper murders a decade earlier. The modern Helen must discern the best possible way to prevent Adam from fulfilling his plan and altering the future, while attempting not to give James too much information... and when she returns to the modern world, she is faced with an entirely new set of circumstances that include the threat of an abnormal war, losing her contacts within the government, and Nikola Tesla (Jonathan Young) appearing to work with her enemies against her. Or is he?
The best move this show ever made was to send Helen Magnus back in time. "Tempus" is one of the series' finest episodes, a blend of modern and Victorian, a contrast between the woman Helen has become and the woman she was when Queen Victoria was still on the throne. It is a chilling glimpse into the reality of John Druitt and his sadistic attraction to her, a heartwarming glimpse at her relationship with James, and at times even an amusing romp into a collision between modern and present-day inventions. Whether it is Helen restraining herself from going to her previous self's assistance during a chilling bullying session from Druitt or teaching him a lesson in a dark alley, it is an unforgettable romp into the past -- and it left me disappointed that the next week we had to return to life as we know it.
Unfortunately, episode two was merely a foreshadowing of a season full of disappointment for me. I have never liked some of the writers' choices, but this season it's like they went out of their way to antagonize me. In their hands was an incredible opportunity to rewrite history, reset the series, and explore the past with Helen, but instead they skip enormous amounts of time and throw her once more into the future, without much follow-up or exploration of her life after that point. Tesla is arguably the greatest character (other than Helen) on the show, but his guest appearances were too few and far between. Druitt was summarily dismissed and no one bothered to deal with the consequences or the grief. There's no closure. There's no particular plan behind many of the episodes. For some reason, the writers seem to be in love with Will, but he spends most of his time doing a job he is not qualified for (how is he worthy of running the Sanctuary? he's not particularly brilliant and has been there a lot less time than Henry)... when he's not on some sanctimonious, holier-than-thou rant against his boss.
There are a couple of excellent episodes, including several in which Tesla makes Helen's life complicated. But the refusal to deal with her emotions, to talk about what happened to Druitt, and to put the emphasis where it should be -- on Helen, and the Sanctuary -- left me feeling a bit cold. It's a shame, because this used to be my favorite series and this season I found myself waiting a couple of days to watch episodes. Maybe my hopes were too big, or maybe the same boredom that set into the last handful of episodes in the previous season carried over into much of season four. I'm just frustrated that for all its potential, "Sanctuary" isn't better. It is sometimes fair, sometimes truly horrible (musical episode, anyone?), and sometimes wonderful. But to reach those truly terrific moments, we have to wander through a lot of predictability. I will own it, for "Tempest." I'm just sorry it ended with so many lost chances to shine.