The new Resident Evil series on Netflix dropped earlier this week. The conceit of the show, based on Capcom’s long-running survival horror franchise, is the franchise’s long running baddies, the Umbrella Corporation, have established a utopia haven called New Raccoon City in the year 2022. But in 2036, where the show’s other timeline is set, everything in New Raccoon’s gone to hell, and it’s infested with zombies again. Linking the two timelines together are the Wesker family; daughters Jade (Ella Balinska in 2036, Tamara Smart in 2022) and Billie (Adeline Rudolph/Siena Agudong) and their father Albert Wesker, one of the big players in the RE franchise and here played by beloved character actor Lance Reddick.
Full disclosure, I haven’t seen the show yet, but I do have myself a soft spot for Reddick, who I do think is one of our best character actors around. Ever since I first saw him on Fringe as Agent Philip Broyles all those years ago, his voice and presence have stuck with me. I haven’t seen everything he’s in, but in the things that I have seen to feature him—such as the John Wick films, the Horizon games, and Destiny—he’s great. Every word out of his mouth has the gravitas of a Final Fantasy villain about to wreck your shit, and I can’t help but love him. And if there were any character he’d be fit to play, it would be Wesker, a man who feels like an anime villain did a fusion dance with a character from The Matrix.
Netflix’s Resident Evil seems to agree, as Reddick plays multiple Albert Weskers throughout the first season. As shown in the penultimate episode “Parasite,” the family man Wesker is a clone named Albert, who has a pair of fellow clones in the form of Bert and Alby. The show’s canon uses the games as a foundation for all its sci-fi nonsense, and in 2009's Resident Evil 5, Wesker died after Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar blew him up with rocket launchers inside a volcano. (Yes, for real.) But before he died, he managed to create the clones in an effort to ensure his villainous legacy would live on.
All of this would be a decent enough extension of the utterly nonsense mythology of Resident Evil, and allows for a brief bit of levity as the episode opens. When Alby and Bert are introduced, it’s primarily played for laughs, to show how even a normal human Wesker is so insufferable that he wouldn’t be able to get along with two other versions of himself. The sight of watching gravely serious Lance Reddick bicker with his fellow clones, with one of them having a very silly beard to help tell them apart, would be enough to pique my interest.
But then they had to go and show Reddick as the original, superhuman badass Wesker who terrorized many a Resident Evil game, and he just looks great. With those shades, and that ridiculous wig and trenchcoat, Reddick looks like he’s auditioning to steal Mahershala Ali’s spot as Blade for the MCU, and I’ll be damned if he doesn’t look great doing it. He manages to give the character a genuine sense of dread as he lumbers from clone to clone, staring them down and silently bullying them into complying with his demands.
Why is he black? According to showrunner Andrew Dabb when speaking to TheGamer, Wesker isn’t so devoted to the idea of a race of perfect humans that he would let himself be a single race. “We should probably not assume all eugenics equal Ubermensch,” he argued, “because I think that’s a very specific reading of history.” Were someone a “true eugenicist,” Dabb continued, they’d understand that it makes sense for perfect humans to be more diverse rather than a coalition of white people with Aryan blood. “I don’t think the character, the OG character Wesker in our show is eugenicist, but he wants to create the perfect human.”
Eugenics was a term coined in 1883 by Sir Francis Galton, and is a concept that argues human with “superior genes” would create a new and improved human race. Often backed with scientific language in order to legitimize it, it’s rooted in racism and classism, and has been used throughout history by the Nazis, Ancient Greece, and the United States. It’s been at the core of Resident Evil since the beginning, moreso than the zombies, and the white, blond Wesker is clearly made with the Ubermensch ideal in mind. The idea of him cloning himself to be more diverse very much feels like the desire to cast Reddick came first, then the justification came second. But it’s just weird and stupid enough to catch my attention.
So yes, I will watch you, Resident Evil. You’re probably not great, because the franchise is lovably inconsistent and the previous forays into live action have been hit or miss, but I will tune in for this. Everybody’s got at least one actor who they’ll mark out for, and Lance Reddick just happens to be mine. And if they get to do more seasons and actually play with the significance of a black Wesker, it’ll make the show even more interesting.
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