Thursday, September 20, 2012

Haven Series 1 Recap

The quite little town of Haven, in Maine looks peaceful, but it has troubles or, more accurately, Troubles. The Troubles happened a long time ago, people with special abilities, abilities they couldn’t always control that could cause considerable havoc. Audrey Parker, an FBI agent, arrives in town to track down a fugitive working with the Haven PD and quickly gets embroiled in investigating the Troubles – which have returned. Her job as an FBI agent falls away as she becomes more and more intrigued by the town and helping the Troubled people deal with their Afflictions. And she finds a picture of a woman who looks just like her – Lucy Ripley, quite possibly the orphan Audrey’s mother.

When setting up a new show, like Haven, you need to establish the premise and the world. This means many of the earlier episodes will be used to introduce exactly what is going on and who is who. We introduce the primary cast: Audrey. Nathan, the son of the police chief, he’s Troubled and cannot feel anything, though he still suffers the injuries. He broods around and is Audrey’s main police partner. Duke, the casual, rogue – a smuggler and nefarious ne’er do well who takes a shine to Audrey and is always there to lend a (grudging) hand. The police chief, who holds the town together through the Troubles and tries to shape Nathan to replace him, leading to their very rocky relation. And Vince and Dave Teague, 2 old men who run the paper – and keep the town’s secrets, perhaps all too well. On the less friendly side we have the Reverend Driskall, a religious fanatic who considers all the Troubled to be cursed.

And the rest is used to show is used to display the powers people have and Audrey and Nathan, (occasionally helped by Duke) solve the many problems – from a woman who can control the weather, to a kid who can manifest his dreams, animate taxidermy animals, a woman who drains life force and has babies, dangerous art, murderous shadows and many more. There are a lot of very unique ideas and concepts. And many of the episodes serve to develop the characters and integrate Audrey further into Haven… but most of them don’t really advance anything. They’re Trouble of the Week, each is introduced, investigated and solved in the same episode, with very little else covered. You can probably skip from episode 5 to episode 9 or even  10 and not appreciably miss much.

And then we get to the last few episodes and wow does it open up.  Really open up. Duke is informed by a psychic that a man with a special tattoo will kill him and discovers that the tattoo is very commonplace around Haven – which remains his driving motivation well into next season. The police chief reveals he is Troubled and some of the town’s secrets, though dies before he can pass on any more knowledge. Nathan finds out he is adopted and briefly meets his father, Audrey discovers she is immune to the various Troubles – including Nathan being able to feel her touch. But, above all, Audrey learns that she isn’t Lucy Ripley’s daughter – she is Lucy Ripley, somehow unaging and with a completely false set of memories – which also means her boss is also fake – and plotting with the police chief. And those memories belong to Real!Audrey, FBI agent, who shows up in Haven wanting answers. And we see a whole new side to the Teagues

It was a massive acceleration of the plot. I was ready to almost give up on the show, I wasn’t bored but I wasn’t intrigued. It was a mild amusement but nothing was being developed – but then at the end of the season we have these major meta milestones that suddenly whet my appetite for the next season. It was so very slow – and then we have a massive dump of plot hooks, character development and secret reveals that drag me fully and eagerly back into the show.

One thing that felt flat to me (until the very end of the season) was Audrey’s motivation. While we learn she doesn’t have much of a social or family life, we do know she is a successful FBI agent. She has a career. She’s also based out of big cities and, we can assume, she is more used to an urban setting. For her to suddenly drop everything to hang around Haven based on, what, personal curiosity and a photograph of a woman who could possibly be her mother? It seems pretty thin. Especially considering how easily she integrates with the local police force even before she’s been in town long enough to have enough ties to be that invested. She’s also shockingly believing, from the very beginning she’s willing to look for supernatural explanations and rarely, if ever, even begins to consider natural ones. Apart from that she’s a good character, she bounces off Nathan and Duke well, she has some layers and is generally a fun watch.

This show does have some excellent characters. Not just Audrey, but Nathan and Duke both fit their roles ideally, both being appealing characters in their own right while being so very different from each other. The characters I’ve most got my eyes on are Vince and Dave Teague, so many secrets and in the end Vince, bumbling, gentle Vince, pulled out a shocking amount of menace. I think I want to know his secrets more than I want to know Audrey’s!

Inclusion wise this show is absolutely appalling. POC appear as odd tokens at best (including a Black female nanny, uh-huh) and none of the regular cast are POC. Single episode bit parts are the norm. There are no GBLT characters. We have disabled characters – but that includes mentally ill characters who are magically cured by music which infects other people with insanity (and then go on a sailing tour, isolating them from the town) and a blind man who is locked away to control his murderous shadow.  There are also very few women in the cast beyond Audrey. The few recurring female characters either die (the pathologist), disappear (Julia, the pathologist’s daughter) or leave (Jess, Nathan’s love interest with the oddest accent I’ve ever heard – do Quebecois actually sound like that?). The other women are primarily bit parts – and include the woman who drains men’s lives by sleeping with them and then producing babies with the life force. The main cast is nearly entirely male.

Based on most of the series I’m inclined to mark the series low – too much Trouble of the Week, too many secrets, too little reveal, too much build up, not enough conclusion, not enough development. But the last few episodes in the season really pick it up and do a lot towards redeeming the show and making it something I was happy to watch for a second season.