Sometimes lost in the six-to-ten-hour-movie streaming model, binge-friendly television is old-fashioned concepts like info dumps and bottle episodes. “Home Movies,” the fifth episode of resident Evil‘s first season, isn’t quite 100 percent either of those things; it has some character building in between its exposition and technically isn’t confined to a single location or even a single storyline: It’s bookended with scenes following up on the previous episode’s cliffhanger, where Jade is cornered again in 2036 by a mysterious figure who turns out to be, of course, her sister Billie (Adeline Rudolph). But those are just a few minutes of screen time, and most (though not all) of the rest follow Jade and Billie in 2022 as they embark upon a premature scavenger hunt. Due respect to this show’s many strengths, but family scavenger hunts are not exactly what resident Evil does best.
Chilling at home after speaking with the amateur journalist, Jade can’t stop thinking about what he said: That, among other things, the old Raccoon City was nuked by Umbrella in the aftermath of a horrible accident. Billie, relieved to be feeling healthier and decidedly non-un-undead, would rather eat cream. Jade nonetheless convinces her to help her search for their birth certificates because Old Man Wexler does n’t ever talk about anything family-related. (This involves an unbreakable-level leap, that twin sisters would go 14 years without ever really noticing that there is no one else in their family whatsoever, or even, seemingly, without ever rifling through their dad’s possessions. Unless … well, let’s save the theorizing for now.)
Apart from a few suspicious accessories, all they turn up is a tablet with a different password from Wesker’s usual, so Jade enlists Simon (who has been grounded by his mother, Wesker’s boss Evelyn Marcus) to help them break into it, where he finds a “dead-drop” email, set to go out to Billie if Wesker doesn’t enter a code every 24 hours. It instructs Billie to find a go-bag and leave with Jade because, if she has received this message, something has happened to Wesker and Umbrella is coming for them. In order for them to poke around without being seen by their dad’s cameras, Billie and Jade (with Simon participating virtually) must hunch and crawl around the house, finding clues in picture frames and missing piano keys, eventually leading them to a bag full of cash, passports under assumed names, and a big-ass gun.
The kids have time to get up to these shenanigans because Evelyn Marcus has summoned their dad to assist with the torture of Angel, the journalist attempting to expose Umbrella’s many misdeeds before his audience expands beyond “conspiracy freaks or 4chan virgins, or both” who Evelyn characterizes. She has one of those torture-tool blankets and everything! Wesker is reluctant to go along–until he finds out that the journalist has talked to his daughters.
Jade and Billie eventually find their way into their house’s secret basement, which contains, among other things: files, some childhood toys, copious samples of their blood, notes on Billie’s infection, and archival videos of Raccoon City from 1998 featuring a gruesome specimen called lisa. But much of this is destroyed when a stray error initiates a burn sequence, the kind of security system that screams, “my teenage children will never, ever find their way in here and accidentally burn to death, even though it’s not all that hard with the right teen hacker at their side,” as well as “I myself will never make a simple network error causing the entire room to be incinerated in a matter of seconds.” Wesker turns up just in time to stop the fire. He flies into a rage at Jade, and Billie knocks him out. They secure him to a chair meant to restrain Billie if her T-virus infection proceeds as expected — which it has not because, as Wesker explains, he “made her strong.” Both girls have been engineered to resist the T-virus, which means if Umbrella finds out Billie has been infected and survived, they will claim her as their experiment and want to study her. This means, Wesker says without quite saying, that Angel the journalist has to die with that secret.
Whew. Yes, that’s a lot of plot to burn through. This episode is pivotal on a story level, intimately focused on two of the series’ emotional anchor points, and appealingly limited in scope. So why isn’t it one of the strongest outings so far? Why does it feel more like a summary than an organically drawn-out drama?
Part of the problem is that some of the chilling revelations are explained rather than seen: “Dad hates guns,” Billie intones fearfully at one point when they come across a firearm accessory. Okay, but it’s not that chilling to the audience when we’ve already seen him neck-deep in Umbrella problems as his boss presents him with a suite of torture tools, and we’re on the fifth episode of Lance Reddick lurking menacingly without ever actually showing off his supposed (and, again, much-discussed) nerdiness. Another part of the problem is the daisy-chain structure: The girls look for their birth certificates and find a tablet lying around instead, which leads them to an email, which leads them to a series of additional clues, which leads them to a bag , which leads them to a basement … it’s pretty videogame-y, but in the way that makes for so many middling adaptations.
The episode does evoke some Breaking Bad vibes: family members trying and failing to keep terrible secrets, and then, when those secrets are (at least partially) on the table, they only lead to moral compromises. The girls free their dad, tacitly endorsing his plan to do whatever he must to protect them. Even then, denial — which seems to volley back and forth between Jade and Billie — rears its head: “You’re not gonna hurt him, right?” Jade asks her father as he heads to the office to take care of Angel. He can only respond with the cold comfort of avoidance disguised with fatherly advice: “Stay safe.” In a horror-light episode, it’ll have to do.
• Wesker doesn’t give many details about his or the girls’ past, and though he isn’t seen clearly in the 1998 video, not much is made of the fact that this would have been taken 24 years ago. If Wesker is supposed to be in his 50s, he’s a much younger man in the 1998 video. Almost suspiciously young to be in possession of that footage, don’t you think? the resident Evil movies are rife with clones; maybe this isn’t the Wesker, thigh a Wesker.
• There isn’t much time for Resident Evil’s low-key sex hang-ups to emerge in this episode, but the girls do speculate about Wesker keeping a sex dungeon in his secret basement. (It’s not a sex dungeon, despite the handcuff-laden chair.)
• By the third COVID reference of the series, it’s started to seem a little perfunctory; like a lot of productions, resident Evil is perched uncomfortably somewhere between a post-COVID world that doesn’t yet exist and the COVID-current reality, where “so it’s like COVID?” is the natural first question for anything related to a deadly virus.