Identity. Ultimately, that’s what SYFY’s Killjoys was about. There was also family, loyalty, and redemption, but even then it could all be boiled down to: Who you are. Whose you are. Who you are willing to fight for. The reason why Killjoys‘ series finale, “Last Dance” served as a satisfying conclusion to the five-year story is because it understood the questions that the pilot asked and answered them.
Dutch is the hero that the viewer is asked to accompany on her journey. The show shifts from a taut political allegory in the first season to a broader alien invasion plot in later seasons, but we never lose our connection to Dutch’s search for identity. Dutch started off as a mystery and bloomed into a beautiful, complicated, yet consistent character. She is the nature vs. nurture struggle made flesh. We see her evolve from a chaotic neutral world-weary rogue to a chaotic good paladin, but it doesn’t come easy.
In the pilot, “Bangagrang” we not only meet Johnny Jaqobis and Dutch, we see their names written down on their IDs, visual confirmation that our lead goes by a mononym. This immediately let’s us know that her name is an alias. Intriguing. Who is this “Dutch?” We get a crash course in how she thinks and what she values throughout that first hour. She is unfailingly loyal and protective over Johnny. Within the first act he illegally forges her signature on a kill warrant to save D’avin. But despite his actions, Dutch absolutely refuses to turn him in despite Bellus urging her to do so. We watch her cleverly win this unwinnable situation.
The first part of the question is answered. Dutch is a smart, resourceful, loyal, and self-sacrificing leader who is running away from a traumatic and violent past. But as we continue to watch over the next 5 years, we learn that she is so much more.
Zeph, “The Kids Are Alright”
“If everything I want and everything I choose is just some vestige of trauma, what gets to be mine? When do I get to stop being a victim and get to be the authentic …me?”
At the beginning of Killjoys, Dutch prides herself on her chaotic neutrality. She dons the “no sides” motto of the RAC like a protective cloak. She keeps her head down, and cultivates a reputation for excellence at her job and loyalty to her team. She has empathy, however. She harbors no love for the Company, frequently responding to the brutality and dehumanizing neglect they inflict on Westerlins with distaste. But she studiously minds her business and directs the boys to do the same. She helps people when she can but only truly sticks her neck out for her coterie of chosen family. It’s not exactly a heroic trait but it’s understandable given her upbringing and the harrowing circumstances of their lives. But then things take a turn in the second season. Dutch is beset by enemies she doesn’t understand so she reverts back to the assassin that she has worked to distance herself from, the one that Khlyen trained since toddlerdom.
D’avin, as is his wont, calls her on it when she goes too far. In the explosive clip below–one of the best scenes in the whole show in my humble opinion–D’avin forcibly pulls Dutch back from the brink. He knows about her self loathing, so he will not let her go back to that identity without a fight. He’s trying to save Sabine’s life in this scene, but he’s also trying to save Dutch’s soul.
This isn’t her turning point however. Once she finds out about Aneela, she has a specific person to direct her determination, a single enemy to destroy. It becomes all-consuming. The war Dutch wages on Aneela in 2×10 is a personal vendetta even though it has galactic consequences. It’s not until she is faced with mutually assured annihilation with Aneela that she takes the first pivotal step in the direction that will lead her down her truest path.
Even now as I watch this scene the ASMR tinglies are trilling up and down my skull. It’s so pregnant with meaning and catharsis. Yala “Dutch” Yardeen declares herself to the vast universe forcefully, intending to sacrificing herself to destroy her sworn enemy. Then just as she is about to drive home her victory, they sit beside each other and talk. Incredible. What’s more is that Killjoys’ Executive Producer, Adam Barken says that in the table read for this scene, Hannah John-Kamen did both parts seamlessly switching back and forth between the two characters.
I said of this scene when I first reviewed the episode:
I cried for them. I cried for the girl whose father had irreparably altered her at such an early age, then locked her away when she became dangerous. I cried for the girl who was given shape and voice and life just to have it twisted and gnarled on a fundamental level by that same father’s idea of love and protection. They suffered because of the mistakes of their father, and united in purpose, I hope they can become whole again.
Johnny’s actions in the pilot set the whole series-long arc in motion as he unwittingly puts Dutch back on Khlyen’s radar by taking the kill warrant. This is important and highlights a maddening repeated motif in Dutch’s life: people puppeteering her and limiting or taking away her choices. It’s done by those who love her like Johnny and Khlyen and it’s done even more directly by the Lady in the final season.
“I’ve spent my whole life being manipulated by Khlyen, doing whatever he wanted. And just when I find a way out, a monster comes along and puts me in a cage.” Dutch says this in 5×05, “A Bout, A Girl” I felt that. It’s fitting then that at the end of the 5×10, “Last Dance” she puts the Lady into her own cage. What is beautiful about this is that she doesn’t do it as the vengeful assassin she was cultivated to be; she does it as the empathetic, brave, loving woman she is at her core.
“You always said I can be safe or I can be good. I choose good.”Dutch, “Dutch and the Real Girl”
In a parallel to the accord she struck in “Wargasm,” she is confronted in “Last Dance” with the destroyer of worlds, conquerer of whole systems, and reshaper of reality itself. Dutch overcomes her rancor, wrath, and a life typified by violence to choose to be good yet again. She shows mercy, and honors the uniqueness of this alien life by transforming one of Khlyen’s ubiquitous lethal red boxes into a container for the doll she never got as a child, a gesture so blindingly pure that it just might lead to the Lady’s redemption, but more importantly, it proves Dutch’s.
In “Last Dance,” Dutch is the woman who has pulled together a coalition including a ragtag group of “strange, messy impossible family full of enemies, and siblings, lovers and hope” to fight an ancient force preying on the vulnerable people of Westerley, a place whose suffering she once ignored.
In “Last Dance” she finally gets to tell Khlyen exactly what she always needed from him. “I want you to stop making me feel small so that you can feel big!”
In “Last Dance” the woman who once told Johnny that being friends with everyone he sleeps with is weird, tells D’avin that she loves him and means it.
The RAC that Dutch and Co. belonged to in the beginning of the series sought strength in indifference and expediency, but the RAC she helps lead in “Last Dance” seeks strength in fighting for those who cannot.
In the end, “Dutch” is no longer an alias to distance herself from an overwhelmingly painful past. When the final tableau is struck, “Dutch” is the new definition of who this woman has become after five seasons of growth, loss, and lessons learned. She has reclaimed all of her names and all of the parts of her. Girls are indeed filled with magic, especially Yalena Dutch Yardeen Kin Rit.
Dutch would not have worked if casting had dropped the ball. She lived a life so full and effective because she was played by one, Hannah John-Kamen.
Hannah John-Kamen is 10 years younger than Aaron Ashmore, yet she felt like his big sister throughout the run of the show. She is also 10 years younger than Luke MacFarlane but there isn’t an ingenue/older man dynamic. They read like complete contemporaries. Hannah is special as an actress. There isn’t a second you don’t believe her as Dutch, and even Aneela, who she played a bit more arch drew me in. The deftness of her craft is that even when they were on the same screen it never felt like I was watching the same actress. I was watching Dutch and Aneela.
I can’t imagine how tiring it must have been for Hannah to be the main protagonist and main villain for season 3. She was already in every episode and most of the scenes but then she had to pull double duty! Talent. Connection. Honesty. Those are three of the most potent tools in Hannah’s bag and she uses them with ease. I am just so grateful for Killjoys. Storytelling this resonant is rarely ever this fun and vice versa.
Thank you to the cast and creators of this singular little series. I look forward to whatever other amazing fantasy worlds Michelle Lovretta and Adam Barken create next while I enjoy seeing Hannah’s star rise.
It has been an incredible ride and I will miss these people immensely.
- 50 incredible episodes of science fiction television
- Incredible recurring characters akin to Star Trek: Deep Space 9’s company of recurring players
- Art direction that defied it’s budget
- Perfect casting
- Everybody lives because when you know and love your characters and themes you don’t have to drench the narrative in cheap tragedy to get a rise out of your audience
- It never seemed to be positioned or promoted well enough to reach its full audience earning potential
- Its streaming rights were garbage for most of its run. It could have gained a foothold if it went to Netflix at the end of each season
- They never capitalized on the merch opportunities
- Nor the con circuit
- It should have been 100 episodes
- I will miss it terribly