Pariah Nexus on the Warhammer TV streaming service has reached its third and final episode. I hadn't expected such a short series, so this episode came as a surprise to me, but it didn't disappoint. And if the series wasn't dark enough for you so far, this episode 100% remedies that.
In this episode, Sister Danica and Brother Sa'kan continue their trek through a broken, war-torn world toward the evacuation site they can only hope still exists. The world fades into the background for the first time in the series, though, and the story happens mostly within the thoughts of our main characters. And that's a tricky thing to pull off, because this story takes place in a hellscape most of us don't dare imagine. But amazingly, the writers manage to both craft characters with thoughts completely alien (but not actually alien, as I'm obligated to point out when discussing Warhammer) but also who we can connect to.
The inner world of characters in Warhammer 40,000 is lightyears away from how we see things. It should be, after all it's meant to happen tens of thousands of years in the future. The internal logic, the social conditioning, the concerns and fears ought to be foreign to us. And actually most of it is. You have to extrapolate a lot to identify with these characters, but that's what's great about this episode. The entire series has leaned heavily on the Warhammer 40,000 setting, but this episode most of all. Danica isn't clinging to her faith because she needs to believe in the Emperor, she's clinging because she believes the destruction of her planet was a personal failing. Sa'kan finds new meaning by vowing to hunt down the Deathmark plaguing the planet. And killing civilians, even children, makes sense to the Astra Militarum because hatred is the greatest gift the Emperor has ever given humanity.
The scariest thing about 40k is that its grim dark logic feels like it makes sense, given the circumstances. Who cares about the Necrons. What's most terrifying of all is finding yourself nodding as an enraged zealot derides somebody for taking shelter during a war. I don't know how the writers accomplish that level of complexity, but it's impressive when it works.
And in Pariah Nexus it works. Possibly it works too well. The series has been dark, but this episode takes it farther than anything else I've seen on WarhammerTV.
It's interesting that the glimmer of hope in this series comes not from the civilians, not from the Sister of Battle, but from the Space Marine. Sa'kan has single-handedly made me a serious fan of the Salamanders. In your desparation to find a Good Guy in the 40k universe, the Salamanders, as it turns out, seem like a pretty close match. Protectors, shields of the innocent, literal dragon slayers. They're not really the good guys. They're cogs in the same machine as everything else. But even when Sa'kan threatens the Necron Deathmark, he doesn't cite the Necron's alien-ness but the fact that the Necron empire has run its natural course and needs to die its natural death (I'm paraphrasing and possibly reading too much into it). Maybe the Salamanders aren't beyond reproach, but in this series, this Salamander is a beacon of hope and optimism and resolve. The tragedy for Sa'kan isn't that 40k is a grim dark setting, it's that he's a beacon of hope on a planet that truly is hopeless. If you doubt that by the end of the episode, then there's that sobering final shot to drive the point home.
This was really good Warhammer, by which I mean it's a good implementation of the fiction, but it also serves the game.
I'm reflecting on the Pariah Nexus series now as if it were meant to tell a specific story. I guess it was, because that's what series usually do, but an abstract way to look at it is as a portrait of Necrons. A lot of movies and settings have to rely on narrative shorthand to establish villains. You see Darth Vader strangle a rebel crewmember and toss his body aside, and later when somebody says the Empire is bad, you believe it. Obviously the Empire is evil. You just saw an Empire guy strangle somebody.
It's quick and efficient, and it's a common trick we're all comfortable with because the story isn't about the villain. We don't need to spend time on the villain, we just need to know they're the villain. Some genres don't even bother with that. Back in the days of cowboy movies, audiences just needed the bad cowboy to wear a black hat and the good cowboy to wear a white hat. Everybody know what that meant, and accepted it.
Warhammer 40,000 is a little more complex than a lot of the old westerns, but it still uses a lot of the same tricks. Those tricks are part of our collective fiction language. We understand that the hulking cyborgs that glow green are bad, especially when pitted against the big hulking cyborg-looking guy with a majestic eagle on his chest. Pariah Nexus uses this sharthand because the show isn't really about Necrons, except it's all about Necrons. The physical setting of the story wouldn't exist but for the Necrons.
Whomever or whatever is responsible for the suffering we see on screen is obviously bad. That's not shorthand any more, that's three episodes of constant reinforcement. The Necrons did this. They destroyed and infested the entire planet to such an extent that the "good guys" have resorted to killing survivors for fear of Necron zombies.
There doesn't have to be a comparison for it to be true that Necrons are bad. This series skillfully establishes the Necrons as baddies. If you need a reason to choose them as the next army you send your troops to fight, this series will absolutely ensure that you can see them as worthy opponents.
All images in this post copyright Games Workshop.