This article contains spoilers for The Nevers episode 2.
Say what you will about HBO’s latest fantasy series The Nevers, but one thing cannot be denied: it’s got some great names. While original creator Joss Whedon and his questionable legacy have departed the project, he left behind some truly fascinating characters and character names for the show to work with.
The series lead is a tough, competent, and confident leader of misfits. What better name for such a person than the sturdy “Amalia True?” Amalia’s best friend is a sweet, sincere, and pious young woman whose name is the equal parts melodious and methodical “Penance Adair.” And what would you call a no-nonsense detective with the weight of the world on his shoulders? Frank Mundi, of course. It may as well translate to “blunt world” (though actor Ben Chaplin says he originally pronounced the name as “munn-dee” rather than the more worldly “moon-dee” and it’s his pronunciation that stuck).
The Nevers best combination of name and character, however, belongs to the series villainess: Maladie (Amy Manson). Maladie is the Jack the Ripper of The Nevers’ world – a dangerous, bloody threat to the Touched and Untouched alike with a flair for the dramatic. In fact, our first introduction to her as a character occurs literally onstage as she slits the throat of an actor playing the devil (“I kilt da devull! Is no one going tuh say fank you???”). Maladie is therefore a blight on polite Victorian London society…or a “malady.” It’s also probably not a coincidence that “maladie” means “disease” in French.
“If somebody said (her name) in a French way, it might get me into character quicker,” Maladie actress Amy Manson says.
Maladie’s name is made even more apt by the fact that she may actually be suffering from some sort of mental illness or malady. Her thinking seems disorganized and she was carted off to an asylum sometime prior to the events of the series. Though, to be fair, just about any mildly odd behavior was usually enough to get a Victorian woman a one-way ticket to the sanitarium.
Ultimately, Maladie’s moniker is so aggressively on-point that it’s hard to fathom that it would be her actual given name, even in the stylized world of The Nevers. Well, as fate would have it…Maladie’s name probably isn’t Maladie. Or at least, that’s what the climactic events of episode 2 “Exposure” suggest.
When Amalia confronts Maladie in the sewers of London at episode’s end, Maladie presents her with her villainous handiwork. Both Penance Adair and Mary Brighton (who has a bright personality, believe it or not) are positioned high up on a balcony, each with a noose around their respective necks. Amalia must choose one of them to live and the other to die.
Why does Maladie insist that Amalia make this impossible choice? The kneejerk answer would be that she’s an addled psychopath, given her name and all. But the conversation that she and Amalia share after this reveal suggests that she actually has her reasons for all the madness. Maladie knows that Amalia has a history of leaving friends behind…because she once left her behind.
“She can drop and you can shed. You’re the woman who sheds her skin. I mean your friends. You know, the ones you trust to trust you back,” Maladie says before stepping closer and adding “Molly.”
A flash of recognition darts across Amalia’s face and she responds with “Sarah?”
Maladie, or Sarah goes on to reveal to the audience that she and Amalia were both patients at the same asylum. This information is consistent with the fact that the same flashback at the conclusion of episode 1 that saw Maladie being carted off, also featured Amalia surviving a suicide attempt. Maladie/Sarah admonishes Amalia for pretending to be her friend all the while living comfortably and letting the institution chew her up and spit her out.
You said you were my friend!” Maladie cries.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t have a choice,” says.
“Because you had a mission? Well, God gave me a mission too.”
Like many Whedon-created shows before it, The Nevers didn’t offer much exposition up front for its complicated universe. Episode 1 largely threw viewers into a thorny plot with only the faintest promise that important questions like “what…who is that person and what are they all about” would be answered eventually. Now, episode 2 provides the beginnings of one such answer.
Maladie wasn’t always Maladie. At one point, she was Sarah…until something changed her. It’s still unclear as to what that inciting event was, but it almost certainly has something to do with her past with Amalia and her time spent institutionalized. Much like Jack the Ripper wasn’t the real name of the prolific serial killer, Maladie wasn’t the real name of The Nevers’ boogeywoman. And similar to Jack the Ripper, “Maladie” was likely a name of the killer’s own choosing.
“She would’ve picked that name, wouldn’t she,” Manson says. “Maybe there’s the curiosity of the world knowing that name too – something being associated with the instability of illness.”
Plenty of questions remain about Sarah’s identity and her relationship with Amalia. For starters, what was Amalia’s “mission” at the sanitarium? For now, however, The Nevers has at least begun to fill in the details of its vast world and the characters within it. Maybe soon we’ll discover that Hugo Swan is really Tiny Duck or that the Bidlows are really the Wagerhighs.
The Nevers airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.