HEX a Bizarre Mixed Bag of Lost Potential
By Kristin Battestella
I don’t recall how I came to the 2005 British series HEX, but it is a conundrum of a little series, I’ll tell you that. Over the course of two brief seasons, HEX establishes a fine premise, intriguing characters, and some budding paranormal fun. Unfortunately, too many changes and growing pains prematurely damaged the show into merely what could have been. Cassandra ‘Cassie’ (Christina Cole) and her roommate Thelma Bates (Jemima Rooper) don’t exactly fit in with handsome Troy (Joseph Morgan) and popular Roxanne (Amber Sainsbury) at the posh country school Medenham Hall. Cassie explores the abandoned buildings on the grounds, discovering more and more about Rachel McBain (Jessica Oyelowo, Mayo) and the estate’s torrid history of witches, persecutions, torture, and ghosts. Soon, she sees the frightening and mysterious Azazeal (Michael Fassbender) stalking her. The leader of the fallen Nephilim angels, Azazeal proves his might to Cassie by sacrificing Thelma, thus making her a ghost only Cassie and others supernaturally inclined can see. Azazeal uses his fully regained powers to possess and seduce Cassie. Now that Cassie is carrying Azazeal’s child, 500-year-old anointed witch Ella Dee (Laura Pyper) enrolls at Medenham so she can kill their fast growing, half- demon child Malachi (Joseph Beattie). Unfortunately, Malachi’s charm and fallen angel arsenal make the task difficult for Ella. After centuries of fighting the forces of evil, she finally has a chance at a normal life with fellow student Leon (Jamie Davis). However, as Malachi matures, the fabric between worlds breaks down, allowing more Nephilim, demons, and ghosts to cross over, jeopardizing everyone at Medenham and beyond.
Wow, this was a tough show to summarize! The witchy premise and demonic storylines are intriguing at the start, but we get too much too soon and yet not enough by the series’ premature end. As a result of significant cast departures and changes, HEX never adheres to its potential. We open as linear story, creating longer and longer previouslies introducing each episode- we think we have something good in place. Sadly, the revolving cast door leaves HEX without firm footing; plots meanders too much, and the storylines grows obvious and repetitive. When foreshadowing gives away more than it should, it just isn’t foreshadowing anymore, is it? Though I applaud the frank teen pregnancy issues and abortion debates, these heavy subjects are dealt with a little too casually- and the end of the world is at stake, to boot! There are the usual questions of statutory affairs and pedophilic immortals and witches getting it on with teenagers as well, but all that is lost while HEX tries to find its path by exploring the histories, comings, and goings of its players. Perhaps all these issues, characters, and more could have become something coherent in time? By the final episodes, however, all the floundering leaves the audience wondering why we should even care.
HEX also errs a little too much on the lesbian angles. While it’s lovely to have a nice, realistic, and frank portrayal, frequent director Brian Grant (As If, She Wolf of London) and oft writer Lucy Watkins (Sugar Rush, Demons) quickly fall into the safe stereotypes. The unabashed lesbian dies and becomes a ghost for goodness sake; unable to have a real relationship with the living heterosexual roommate she loves. It’s a little hypocritical to have the occasional dreamy girl on girl make outs for the flair but then say its not true romance compared to the demonic possession shenanigans. A lesbian ghost always gawking at the uninterested also perpetuates the myth that every gay person has the hots for the nearest straight person. The same sex motifs should have been handled much better or left alone. Having someone say she’s a ‘lesbian ghost’ doesn’t make one gay, does it? When the wonderful Thelma finally does get other magically convenient lesbian ghosts to play with, it’s just too contrived for the audience to care. I’ve gone on this subject for a while, simply because the production team put the topic at the forefront of the show. That in itself is not erroneous television, but hinging the show on their faulty lesbian visions is a mistake. Mature, lesbian relationships can be done wonderfully, look at Buffy. I don’t want to be stereotypical myself, but perhaps producers Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps just can’t write for chicks, as in my main complaint with the handling of their female characters in Merlin.
Despite some of these faults, the players in HEX keep things fun and juicy for the most part. Their styles and dialogue may be too Brit to some, but Christina Cole (What a Girl Wants) and Jemima Rooper (Lost in Austen) are sassy and worthwhile. Thelma’s ghostly ways can be irritating at times, but Rooper’s charm keeps Thelma’s unique situation real. It’s so nice to see the second lead in a television show not be the traditional blonde, super thin, totally hip hottie. Thelma’s quirky view and tough choices are a breath of fresh air, and when the character is sometimes reduced to a ‘freaky, fat dyke’ for the humor; it’s a little unfair to Rooper’s hard work. It’s also a little amusing that Cassie can talk to ghost Thelma is public and no one notices! The writing inconsistencies and teeny bopper girlie logic is annoying, and HEX becomes more frustrating as it loses its aim. Laura Pyper (Emma) comes into an awkward situation of replacing the departing Cole, and again the fickle writing decisions- dumbing down a 500 year old witch into said annoying lusty teen-doesn’t do Pyper justice. Wasn’t this show about Cassie, anyway? It’s as if the first 10 episodes and the back 9 shows of the series are from two different television programs. The cast are all adults, but some of the sexual scenes, vices, and abuses also seem a bit much for the ladies, too. It’s tough to discern how old they are, exactly what type of school Medenham is, and let’s not forget the touch of pedophilish relationships. Amber Sainsbury’s (30 Days of Night) resident hooch Roxanne has a fine arc with all this juiciness, but she’s pushed to the backburner while the changing over leads battle for the spotlight.
Alright, I confess it, so you must forgive me the pun. I’ve been on a bit of a bender recently over Michael Fassbender. His somehow sweet, sexy, and alluring but no less evil and ruthless turn here has Azazeal has converted my indifference to his Stelios in 300. I had to reread my commentaries on 300 to compare- but I didn’t even mention him! That’s an ouch and a whoops on my part. While I’m kicking myself for not fully realizing this talented actor sooner, this chameleon style also creates more applause. How deceptive the devil is, isn’t he? Azazeal is supposed to be the bad of the bads, yet there is an air of ambiguity, a sense of tragic love lost over the millennia. He’s slick, intelligent, predatory, ancient and evil- yet almost sympathetic in his own way. By far Azazeal is the best thing about HEX. Not because of the latent swoonability of Mr. Fassbender, but because his role is the best written and delivered part of the show. He took his time with the part and is somehow completely subtle while giving a nothing to lose kinetic energy and over the top style in Azazeal’s every move. The period piece ruthlessness blended with the modern edginess seals the deal on his ensnarement. I don’t know if it was a planned departure or Fassbender chose to leave the series, but it is tough watching HEX’s final episodes without him- particularly after the fine episode 10 “Ella’s Burning.”
Sadly, I am not as fond of the other gentleman on HEX. Joseph Morgan‘s (Ben-Hur, Doc Martin) Troy is nothing but a plot element, to be manipulated by Cassie or Azazeal as needed. Jamie Davis (Footballer’s Wives) matures and adds depth to Leon for Series 2, but he also ends up as romantic fodder for Ella. Joseph Beattie (Mansfield Park) also comes in secondary- simply because he comes across as a poor girl’s Fassbender. Didn’t we just see the storyline involving a demon trying to seduce a witch? Why are we wasting time on this again? More coming and going cast members also aren’t treated to full potential, like the very cool Headmaster Colin Salmon (Die Another Day, Dinotopia) and Anna Wilson-Jones (Afterlife) as the kind but eventually seriously misguided teacher Jo Watkins. So many fine supporting players come and go in HEX, its tough to discern who’s important, who isn’t, or who will even be around for more than two episodes. Again, it seems like someone was playing eenie meenie miney mo with the cast and characters without regard to the goldmine of talent to be had. Some of that was no one’s fault- actors come and go, storylines start and finish as needed, but as this rotating company increases, it makes HEX very frustrating to watch.
I’m not a British teenager, obviously, but my goodness the fashion sense here is horrible! These girls look like 30-year-old streetwalkers! If that was the Brit style then, or if that’s how teens really dress nowadays, oiy. What is with all the odd hair lengths and one off earrings? It’s not cool, just distracting- and everyone seems to wear the same few things all the time. Don’t these rich kids have enough money to buy a decent wardrobe? Maybe the Nuevo grunge but steampunk trash all at the same time is just some European thing, but hinging HEX on such an eclectic looks and music makes the show very dated only five years later. While the Colonial and Puritan-esque period piece looks are wonderful and the Englefield filming location is dynamite, these aren’t used to their full potential. The aforementioned casting changes and meandering on who the true lead of the series was also gives an uneven, incomplete, or rushed and poor production feeling. What little special effects there are aren’t that good, either. Usually I’m all for a relatively no-effects show winning on its cast and writing laurels, but there should be more spooky things in HEX than there are. We’re just kind of in between- a teen drama that has haunting elements or an all- gothic show that has serious drama. In a first season, shows are entitled to these growing pains, but as this is all the HEX we have, it doesn’t work in the brief series’ favor. Too many inconsistencies hamper our disbelief. Where are all the damn cell phones and laptops? Aren’t there any real school schedules, security, or rules? Some of the basics are treated too willy-nilly, putting another nail in HEX’s coffin.
Naturally, the DVD presentation of HEX is totally screwy. The first 6 episodes of Season 1 and the first 4 episodes of Season 2 comprise the ‘Season 1’ Region 1 release, and the final 9 episodes of Season 2 have not been released in North America. Well that’s a big “Huh?” isn’t it? The features for both seasons are mingled across the Season 1 discs, revealing spoilers for the entire series, too. And, to top it off, there are no effing subtitles! American audiences, it seems, have been screwed (or should I say hexed?) all around. Fans of the cast or paranormal television can try rental or online options or fully invest in the complete Region 2 releases, but the naughty language, British lingo, nudity, and other raunchy goodness are not for prudes or the super young set.
HEX simply is what it is. Would it have been better if the series continued for a third season, magically finding its path amid such complete cast turnaround? Perhaps. Was the damage of such a shaky start and constant upheavals already done? Probably. All these character movements and nice progression developments would have been fine had they happened naturally through the course of a longstanding show, but too many changes and inconsistencies happen over HEX’s measly 19 episodes. The show seems to have been flying blind- I mean, outside of its literal definition, what the heck does the title have to do with anything, anyway? Take the good of HEX, but be prepared to let the potential go. Don’t dwell, just drool, indulge, and yell at the TV.