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Coming Across?  Let Me Count the Ways

by Amy R.
July 5, 1997

Last Modified July 9, 2000  /  Comment on LiveJournal

        How does a human become a vampire within the story of the fantasy television program Forever Knight?  A simple question, simply asked.  And yet no simple, conclusive answer exists.  Early on, the producers of Forever Knight (FK), explicitly rejected establishing an official continuity of the mechanics of FK vampirism and, whether motivated to preserve the creative possibilities or serve the syndicating stations, this prohibition cumulatively generated a fascinating landscape of overlapping suppositions.  Spared the burden of an institutionalized myth, every author coming to FK remains free to adapt the mechanisms of vampirism to her or his own thematic needs.

        Nevertheless, once each episode reached the screen, its adaptation joined the canon, and a continuity emerged.  Story by story, FK defined two primary possibilities for humans bitten by vampires: to die, or to become a vampire.  Death might be immediate, as with most victims, or it might come slowly, a lethal, will-sapping opiate (for example, Amalia in "Crazy Love," Nick's "zombie" assertion in "If Looks Could Kill," the comatose women in "Fallen Idol"), but death at a vampire's fangs or vampirism itself inevitably caught up with almost every human bitten in FK.

        The character Liam O'Neill appears in "Bad Blood" as the exception proving the rule.  Rescued as a boy from a vampire in the act of biting him, Liam survived to grow up human, but suffers a vampire-like allergy to the sun, arguably manifests other minor vampiric traits, and devotes his life to hunting and exterminating vampires.  The episode implies that his survival as a mortal results from the immediate intervention of a priest after the rescue.  O'Neill's existence as a "Hunter" raises a third possibility for the victim of a vampire's bite in FK, but an exceedingly remote one.

        The vast majority of humans bitten just die, of course.  Recall the seemingly infinite graveyard the Guide shows Nick in "Near Death."  Other humans die and return as ghosts -- for example, Erica in "Last Act," Alyssa in "Dead of Night," arguably Francesca in "Francesca" -- but a ghost is still truly and simply dead.

        The undead complicate things.

        Some FK vampires lose their humanity to a bite, a partial draining, and ingesting some of the blood of the vampire who bites them.  Nick falls into this category, bitten by Lacroix and drinking his blood ("Near Death").  In 1528, Nick unsuccessfully attempts to convert his wife Alyssa by this method ("Dead of Night").

        Others lose their humanity to a bite, a partial draining, and ingesting some of the blood of a vampire other than the one who bites them.  Alexandra falls into this category, bitten by Nick but fed by Lacroix ("Fatal Mistake").

        Yet others lose their humanity to a bite and partial draining alone, consuming no vampire blood before their conversion.  Mad Jack, Lacroix's disgusting mistake, personifies this possibility ("Bad Blood").  Similarly, the vampires who bite Alyce Hunter and Bridget Hellman are certainly in no condition to share any blood as they burn and fall to ashes ("Dark Knight, The Second Chapter," "Bad Blood").  Perry, Jody, Richard, Serena and Urs probably ingest no vampire blood ("Blind Faith," "I Will Repay," "Baby, Baby," "Hearts of Darkness").

        On-screen canon displays only the three mechanisms outlined above.  For a human to become a vampire in FK under any one of those alternatives, he or she must be 1) bitten and 2) only partially drained.  The elder vampire need not will the conversion; Jack comes across despite Lacroix's wishes.  Similarly, will alone proves insufficient: drained dry, Alyssa dies, despite Nick's efforts.  The convert frequently receives vampire blood, but this is not absolutely necessary.  These few conclusions distill the evidence witnessed on screen.

        The majority of FK vampires, however, experience their first waking moments as vampires off-screen.  Who can say what happens in those moments?  In which of the three categories do they belong?  What more categories may exist?  We see Lacroix ("A More Permanent Hell"), Janette ("A Fate Worse Than Death"), Elizabeth ("I Will Repay"), Gerald ("Fever"), Sofia ("If Looks Could Kill"), Tran ("Can't Run, Can't Hide") and more all come across in circumstances under which they might or might not have received vampire blood, either from their drainer or another.

        Given, however, that some humans convert to vampirism without consuming vampire blood, what purpose does ingesting the blood serve?  On-screen evidence remains inconclusive.  Some speculate that the exchange strengthens the metaphysical bond between the master and the convert.  Others suppose that it strengthens the convert's vampiric abilities, either just at that vulnerable time of vampiric "infancy," or throughout the undead existence.  Others look to "Near Death," where Lacroix resorts to feeding Nick only when he reaches the verge of losing Nick to the light, and posit that the blood exchange pulls back those on the brink; Alexandra in "Fatal Mistake" may support this interpretation.  Finally, some speculate that ingesting vampire blood has no practical purpose at all, representing either a cultural tradition or the pleasures of the individual vampire character.

        The story's logic dictates that converting a human to vampirism must involve more than simply biting and not "taking too much."  After all, something distinguishes between all those uncounted dead humans bitten by FK vampires, and those who converted to vampirism themselves.  Ingesting blood proves insufficient as a key factor.  Drawing on other stories of vampires in many media, some suppose that breaking a human's neck prevents him or her from becoming a vampire.  While FK never directly rejects this tactic, neither do any of its characters ever employ it.  In "Bad Blood," Lacroix begs Nick to confirm that "the Barber" is dead and will not come across; he fails to specify any means.  And, of course, numerous injured, impaired or disabled individuals convert to or are offered vampirism (for example, "Blind Faith," "Fallen Idol," "Last Knight"), minimizing the probability of a physical threshold for vampirism -- though the possibility of a genetic predisposition to successful vampiric conversion lingers on in the concept of "Resistors."

        But as Nick insists in "Only the Lonely," FK vampirism is as much a metaphysical as physical condition.  In "Near Death" (ND), FK offers metaphysical criteria for vampiric conversion, placing the transformation's catalyst in the hands of the human who has been bitten.  Nick and Janette both recall their "coming across" experiences as near-death experiences, encountering a spiritual being who offers them a choice: step into the light, or return to Lacroix (ND).  Put another way, bitten, drained and at the door of death, souls receive the choice to die as a human or survive as a vampire.  Accepting the ND structure stabilizes the otherwise chaotic whirl of conversion mechanisms and provides an overarching framework on which to suspend the metaphors of FK.

        Several vampires, however, awaken to their new condition in shock and dismay.  Serena wanted pregnancy, not vampirism ("Baby, Baby").  Perhaps she, like Janette, considered death no "choice" worthy of the name ("Near Death").  Urs requested death, not vampirism ("Hearts of Darkness").  Perhaps Urs's life-long habit of obeying men turned her back to Vachon's call over her own preference; perhaps she misunderstood the choice; most likely, as she survived a century of periodic suicidal depressions, Urs's survival instinct exceeds her understanding.  Judging from ND, memories of this experience may prove vague, difficult to access or shaped by the individual character's psychology and culture.

        The ND structure also provides a foundation for the place of ghosts among the inhabitants of FK's universe.  Like Nick after the machine fails in ND, a human who chooses not to step into the light but who has no living body to which to return may remain suspended between life and death, disembodied but perceiving and thinking.  Natalie revived Nick's body, pulling him back entirely to this side of death.  But Erica's body burned to ashes and Nick was unable to revive Alyssa ("Last Act," "Dead of Night"); had they chosen to not step into the light, with no bodies to which to return, they would necessarily have become ghosts.  While this represents only one possible interpretation of ghosts in FK, the integration of the ND structure even rationalizes Erica and Susan Feldman's desire for Nick and Tracy, respectively, to join them in death ("Last Act," "Dead of Night").  Each time Nick chooses to reject the door to the light, it disappears, returning each time he dies.  Ghosts, with no body to die again, could never open the door on their own, but might hope another's death would provide them egress.

        Many viewers consider the topic of vampiric conversion most urgent when applied to Natalie at the end of "Last Knight."  Earlier drafts of the finale's script more conclusively killed Natalie.  The version appearing on screen blocks only one outcome: that Natalie could escape entirely unscathed, dream sequences and alternative realities excepted.  Though Nick leaps to the conclusion that he "took too much" when he bit her, Lacroix counters with the possibility that she might yet come across.  Therefore, Natalie, at that moment, is not doomed.  Left alone, bleeding, she may die.  On the other hand, like Jack, Alyce and the rest, she may come across to vampirism on her own, or someone may give her blood and she may come across.  Alternatively, she may recover only to find herself in thrall, like Amalia ("Crazy Love") and Nick's victims in 1247 ("Fallen Idol").  Or like O'Neill, someone may rescue Natalie in time to allow her to survive as a Hunter ("Bad Blood").  Possibilities abound.

        A human being converts to vampirism in FK if, when and how the individual story requires.  No other rule can ever supersede that, not even "bitten" or "only partially drained."  The eclectic array of possibilities sometimes baffles, but more frequently thrills with its urgent invitation to analysis, debate and, most of all, more Forever Knight stories to explore every alternative from every angle.


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