The Vetala presents itself as a lot of things – a crime drama, a thriller, a hard-boiled mystery, and above all else as a nod to vampire-themed Hindu mythology. The first episode starts off as something out of 24 with looming sound cues and shots of a busy shipyard on an overcast day, but what begins resembling a straightly played thriller winds up looking more like a storyline on Fringe.
A college reporter named Lily has developed a source inside of a crime syndicate called – get this – “The Syndicate,” because bad guys hate euphemisms. But when Lily meets her source at a lonely parking garage she gets ambushed by a hit man who shoots her dead. The end. Wow, that wrapped up neatly…or did it? As it turns out Lily wakes up alive and well from the attack, and the mystery behind how she survived the fatal shooting becomes Vetala’s MacGuffin.
Lily starts to have premonitions and the circumstances behind her condition, although foreshadowed, do not come into focus until much later in the storyline. The unfortunate consequence is that the action in the series, while off to a full-throttle start, slows down considerably. The painful care that The Vetala takes not to overstate things becomes its burden. The middle episodes are not so much parts of the story as cryptic warnings of future events. Consequently, the show loses forward momentum. As with all mysteries there is a fine line between intriguing the audience and turning it impatient. Just ask Carnivale.
The actress who plays Lily, Candace Chase, carries the weight of the the story mostly on her own. Vetala does more showing than telling, so dialogue is sparse. Where there are conversations the information is offered up only obliquely. Chase bears a passing resemblance to Laura San Giacomo, and plays Lily as guarded because of recent developments, but that makes it more difficult to identify with the character. Even Lily’s closest two friends, her roommate and a badgering journalism student named Alex who works with her, illicit little more than cryptic asides and rebuffs.
What we have in the end with The Vetala is a good premise with good-looking execution, but a story that needs more time to be fleshed out. Creator and writer Damon Vignale marginalized basic exposition in favor of delving into the greater mythos that is the show’s premise. Meanwhile, the B-plots concerning the shadowy local crime syndicate, gun smuggling, and a blog cloaked in anonymity only come off as window dressing in comparison. As they say though, patience is a virtue, and The Vetala gives us enough hope that in a second season our patience will be rewarded.