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Customer Review

55 of 66 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed, May 12, 2012
This review is from: Sanctuary: Season 4 (DVD)
"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.
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Showing 1-10 of 21 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 15, 2012 5:15:17 AM PDT
John Graham says:
Yeah, I agree 100% with you and noticed the show starting to go downhill in season 3. Not sure if the writers just ran out of interesting story arcs or the show is just getting stale for me. At least it hasn't been butchered like they did with the "new" version of Torchwood.

In reply to an earlier post on May 15, 2012 5:22:24 AM PDT
I don't know what happened. The first dozen episodes or so in season three were terrific, and then it all kind of just... went flat for me. It's really kind of sad.

Posted on May 15, 2012 1:32:07 PM PDT
gagm says:
I totally agree, this show always frustrates me with great ideas and very poor execution, I get it sometimes it might be a budgetary contraint but sometimes it just seems they had and idea but then they forgot why it was a good idea. This season in particular was underwhelming and I do not dislike Will but I have to admit many of the weaker episodes feature him. Aalso with such grand stories to tell why waste episodes on things like the musical episode, I mean you can tell only Abby and Helen can kinda sing so why even bother it is not like you are doing it to let your actors show some more talent. I wish they would release 10 less uber crappy movies and devote that budget to making good on some of the promise from this show. I never understood why this channel does not pick up Sarah Connor Chronicles, or other series like that and then cancels Caprica as if they had something better to put on. Anyway hope they get it together because they certainly have some cool ideas.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 3, 2012 11:08:21 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 3, 2012 11:09:27 AM PDT
Flash says:
I see there is a consensus that the quality of this show went downhill somewhere in season 3. I thought that the Praxis set up (in S3) was so so good, but the execution and conclusion were botched up big time. Then the show continued to falter for a variety of reasons. Just imagine if the Will Zimmerman character had been played by someone who could act and give the character some true depth. Same with the Kate Freelander and Ashley Magnus characters, but in their case I think the issue was more with how the characters were written than the actual acting ability. Agam Darshi (Kate) actually had a presence about her that could have been developed into a good character, but they tried to make her this tough girl, which I think came across as too forced and therefore unrealistic and hard to buy into.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 3, 2012 12:26:52 PM PDT
Sanctuary was really good at setting up amazing stuff (taking down the Cabal, for example, or the Praxis plotline) and then sacrificing it on the altar of stupidity. It's a shame, really, because I think the show had great potential that was never lived up to. Do I blame the writers, SyFy's demands, or Amanda Tapping making poor executive decisions?

If Will were played by someone who did not make every remark sound like an accusation, it would be better. I really liked Kate, and thought she had potential, but... she was gone for most of season three. SIGH.

Posted on Jul 3, 2012 11:26:38 PM PDT
Saxette says:
thank you for a very fulsome review without spoilers. I love this show and do hope I enjoy it despite your discernment. There are times when I am grateful for being easy to please. I hope this is one of them. You are an excellent critic and I wish the producers could read what you wrote....btw: this episode sounds rather complex so I also applaud your making sense of it.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 3, 2012 11:28:42 PM PDT
Saxette says:
Ah yes, Caprica! Loved it - and hated for it to end. Watched it twice or more times. Then all of Battlestar Galactica....I agree with you.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 3, 2012 11:31:02 PM PDT
Saxette says:
Now the character that REALLY got under my skin was the loopy girlfriend of Will's who was supposed to be another one of his profession (whatever that is). She was unbearable and I was relieved she didn't become a regular.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 4, 2012 4:55:38 AM PDT
I think her name was Abby -- and yes, she was terribly annoying. =P

Posted on Jul 6, 2012 11:07:57 PM PDT
Vanessa M says:
I have very mixed feelings about the use of time travel in series because it inevitably mucks everything up irreversibly. I was disappointed with a variety of little things this season, but overall, it was one of the best. There were missed opportunities, but they only had 13 episodes to work with and obviously wanted to go a lot of places with those episodes.

The problem I run into when reading reviews is that people often times expect too much realism visually out of green screen shows with low budgets or all action orientated episodes centered around science. First and foremost, before any of the spectacle, Sanctuary is a drama that just happens to take place in a world where abnormal creatures exist and we don't know what we think we do about our own history. The focus is on the characters and storytelling, where it should be in my opinion.

I felt seasons 3 and 4 had a little too much technology focus and not enough of that dark creature feature vibe they first started out with in season 1. Although, season 4 was decidedly better on that front than 3.

The problem I have with criticisms of acting is that most people don't understand anything about acting. As a person who's studied it for years and has been forced to give and receive criticism, I will tell you that Robin Dunne is not a bad actor. He's not perfect and sometimes, I do question the director for the takes they decided to use in certain episodes. He has a lot of potential, though. There have been scenes between Magnus and Will throughout the seasons that have completely taken my breath away. Then again, there are also scenes that make me face palm. The problem is, to most viewers it is very much about personal preference and character personalities they enjoy.

The point is, especially with lower budget shows, you can't expect perfection. You can't compare them to shows with twice to three times the budget, because bigger budget means more time to perfect scenes, better effects, and higher paid actors all around. Besides, it's not as if all sci-fi shows aren't cheesy in one way or another, because let's face it, they are. As are most shows outside the mainstream of straight drama and comedy. I rate this show five stars because it has heart...and moxie...and knows that good, original storytelling overshadows recycled themes. The revisionist history is always a welcome treat as well.

Something interesting I've noticed is that fans of cult shows seem to like this series more than Sci-fi genre purists. Not to seem harsh, but some people can't seem to let go of the fact that Sanctuary is a very different type of show than Stargate SG-1 and is really more of a hybrid when it comes to genre. Those expectations breed either elation or disappointment. I for one, feel that Sanctuary is truly unique and really belongs in it's own category. I like the mix of cult and sci-fi.
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