Photo: Netflix/MARCOS CRUZ/NETFLIX
The weird thing about pop-culture properties leaping to series TV is that it instantly provides a boost of sheer (sigh) content. The original Resident Evil film adaptations run for six feature-length films, adding up to around ten hours; a single season of the Resident Evil live-action TV series is already close to eight hours. Yet sometimes, that volume still can’t create the same attachment as a cheesy series of occasional B-movies.
After ten hours with Alice, the Milla Jovovich action hero invented for the film series, even her cipher-like qualities could be invested with a kind of time-released affection. She was our much-cloned, slippery-identity cipher, and she’d been through a lot! Jade and Billie, the women at the center of the Resident Evil TV series, are better defined in the traditional sense: They have motivations, backstories, goals, and so on. But throughout this first season, they’ve sometimes been constrained by boundaries of television expectations even as the show has swerved into enough horror and sci-fi weirdness to keep it fun.
For example, Jade is an earnest and driven scientist, and one of her big projects is … a gigantic unconscious crocodile dragged around by a boat referred to as a University, ready to be unleashed upon her enemies exactly once. Jade apparently has a number of these weirdly elaborate, unpredictable, and wildly dangerous fail-safes; at the end of the last episode, she unleashed another one in the form of her zombie-attracting pheromones. This gives her the cover she needs to escape Umbrella (and her traitorous, drone-gunning sister) yet again, allowing her to wind up back on the University boat, where she advocates for the release of the big croc. Zombie magnets and the nuclear-croc option are mere hours apart! What a day! The scene where Jade and her colleagues discuss whether to unleash a gigantic mutant crocodile to smite their enemies with the seriousness of deciding whether to drop an A-bomb is not something I expected out of this Resident Evil series, but I certainly appreciate it.
Ah, but the best-laid crocodiles often go awry: Jade belatedly discovers that her daughter B heeded her warning to leave the University if it’s in danger, without her father if necessary, a clunky if effective parallel to the scavenger-hunt email Wesker left for his daughters. (Or Billie, anyway.) This puts the little girl in the crocodile’s path, but through some kind of genetic tinkering, the croc is unable or unwilling to harm B. Unfortunately, Billie very much is, and she’s even more willing to harm Jade, who catches up with her daughter just in time to get gut-shot by her sister, who escapes with B. This is all interlaced with a bunch of overfamiliar psychology; screaming about how “you think this is all about you!” has become so facile and worn out that it borders on nonsensical at times. Is Jade’s sense of self-preservation that galling if it includes her family and, additionally, the human race? Resident Evil does a lot of things well, but it has not, as yet, convinced me I should feel conflicted about Jade’s ultimate goals, no matter how many stupid decisions it contrives to make them look selfish.
So despite the giant croc — RIP, killed by Umbrella missiles, gone too soon — the edge for the final episode might go to the 2022 storyline. (As with siblings, we cannot help but pit dual-timeline storylines against one another, even if they’re supposed to be on the same side!) Maybe it’s just that the soap-opera stuff lucks into some unexpected poignancy: Evelyn trying to coax sweet, childlike, occasionally murderous Bert back into that Umbrella Life, making heartbreaking promises about how he’ll be afforded a real life, possibly as a guardian to his two nieces.
Meanwhile, those nieces are scrambling for an escape plan back at their house. (Why on earth would Umbrella allow them to go home and back a bag before whatever confinement or banishment awaits?) Billie’s super-strength and beastly anger flare up, leading to her capture as she lets Jade escape; subsequent Umbrella experiments make matters worse. When Jade and Simon break back into Umbrella to retrieve her, she bites Simon; she may not have gone full zombie yet, but she can still spread the T-virus as effectively as anyone. Evelyn, unwilling to surrender any leverage to Wesker (who could help Simon in exchange for his family’s safe passage), kills her son. An old-fashioned Resident Evil shootout ensues, and in the destruction, Jade, Billie, Original Albert Wesker (black sweater, twin dad), and clone Bert (light sweater, lifelong prisoner) make a run for it. When they find an empty lab and the Weskers prep bombs to destroy the Umbrella facility, both clones volunteer to stay behind and set it off, but Albert insists, sending Bert away with the girls. They escape again; just as in 2036, Jade struggles to her feet and keeps moving, despite a major bullet wound. A second season has been appropriately teed up.
Zooming out a little, the Resident Evil movies used to repeatedly tease an apocalyptic showdown between Alice (and/or an army of Alices) and the full might of the Umbrella Corporation. The first season of Resident Evil keeps teasing a schism between Billie and Jade. There’s nothing wrong with trying to ground this material emotionally, but it does sometimes feel as if the show is turning its back on the biggest (or sillier) questions that great sci-fi and horror can ask about identity, systems of control, and our greatest fears, instead focusing on when two sisters just couldn’t even with each other anymore. There’s a chilling moment towards the end of this episode where Jade can only offer a chilly, nominal affirmation of Billie’s pleading for her dedication to “you and me.” It’s touchingly acted by Siena Agudong and Tamara Smart while somehow failing to feel like material for a decades-long mutual grudge or something that needs to be further stretched out into more seasons. That might seem weird to say about Billie dooming Jade’s friend/love interest to a horrific fate, but in this heightened universe, on the day their actual dad died, the demise of Simon does not seem like the worst thing that has happened to Jade recently.
Maybe decades-long mutual grudges are not, in fact, as interesting as mutant/zombie battle strategies, the loopiness of infinite clones played by Lance Reddick, or different ways human and animal bodies can be swollen, twisted, or otherwise perverted into hellish new shapes. The clawed zombie hand that bursts from the rubble, heralding the freedom of the mutated zombie glimpsed earlier in the Umbrella lab: That (whispers to date) is some Resident Evil.
• But also, hold on: In 2036, Billie reports their father died, asking for Jade. This isn’t just “from a certain point of view” spin; Jade repeats the information to Arjun later, suggesting that her father was alive as far as she knew. At the end of this episode, he is pretty clearly engulfed in flames, dark sweater and all. So does Bert become their replacement father? Would they really call him, or any other possible Wesker clone that may be lurking about, their father, if the guy who raised them died when they were 14? I’m sure someone has an answer in mind for this; I’m less sure it would make much emotional sense.
• Billie is really an object lesson in maintaining some basic facets of her high school look and really making it work for her as an adult. She is undoubtedly the more stylish of the Wesker sisters, especially in 2036.
• So apparently, a lot of Easter egg-y stuff in this series indicates that the show is a follow-up to the events of the original games, which is why so much Old Raccoon City stuff is keyed to the late ’90s. (This seemed like the case early on, but as mentioned, I have never played the games.)
• Albert Wesker left a name and address for his daughters, sending them to seek out Ada Wong, who is a character from both the games and the movies. Resident Evil adaptations love teasing Ada Wong, a side-switching spy-type badass: She was part of Resident Evil: Retribution, the fifth film, in a part that probably felt a little paltry to longtime fans, and she was the mid-credits tease for the recent reboot Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. That movie didn’t make much money, so odds are the series is ahead of the race to next depict Ada Wong onscreen in a way that will disappoint or confound a bunch of fans!
• Please enjoy this unsolicited ranking of Resident Evil films, reboot-inclusive:
- Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
- Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2017)
- Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
- Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)
- Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)
- Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
- Resident Evil (2002)
• Ranking a seven-hours-and-change TV show against compact 90-minute movies is a fool’s errand, but on average, I’d put season one of this series right in the middle, around Retribution. Though part of me resists the idea that a second season would mean the TV show dominating the movies purely on the basis of hours logged, I will definitely watch the second season of this series, should it continue. There’s no escaping Umbrella, is there?
Resident Evil Season-Finale Recap