Syfy, Fridays, 9/10 PM
“Ball and Chain”
Written by Nikki Toscano
Directed by Tim Southam
“I can’t explain it.” – Duke
Yeah, and that’s the problem with this show. It’s not actually that they “can’t explain” what’s going on in Haven, it’s that they are not even asking. In five weeks, we’ve seen five different incidents where odd, paranormal goings-on have wrought havoc in Haven, yet none of the investigators seem to think this is amiss. No one seems to think it weird that so far Haven has produced weather witches, people who turn food to garbage in the wink of an eye or, this week, succubi who suck the youth and eventually the life out of men. No one thinks it’s weird that only in this small town in Maine do we get teenagers who kill/injure other people with their dreams, or musicians whose music can cure profound psychiatric disorders. At least in Eureka, Syfy Channel’s other Weird Town, the people know that strange things can happen due to the presence of extreme physics experiments. Even in Eastwick, the witches may have been oblivious to their own powers but they did notice when odd things were going on. In Haven, FBI Agent and outsider Audrey Parker sees all manner of strange phenomena, and her sole reaction seems to be, “Gosh, that’s weird. Let’s go interview some witnesses.”
This week, Audrey and Nathan are looking into the deaths of men who seem to have aged a lifetime overnight. This meme is so old it goes clear back to Homeric Greece, where the nymph Aurora kidnaps Tithonus (a Trojan) to be her lover. She begs Zeus to grant him immortality, but forgets to couple that gift with eternal youth. As a result, he rapidly ages into an old, old man, but cannot die. Before he completely wastes away, however, she bears him two children. This week another nymph, this time known only as “Helena” (Carrie Neville), seems to be seducing the men of Haven, who then die of extreme old age a few days later. Meanwhile, Beatrice the harbormaster (Jennie Raymond, Earth: Final Conflict) seems to have quickly adopted first one and then a second infant. Hmm. Even Audrey can connect these dots, figuring out finally that Beatrice and Helena are the same woman. Audrey puts together a few random clues and discovers that the harbormaster sometimes morphs into a succubus, who then produces a child, whose father dies as soon as the mother holds the baby. But she doesn’t figure this out soon enough to warn Duke against the charms of this two-natured being. He sleeps with “Helena” and wakes up much older; the potential for bad jokes in that situation alone is enormous. Duke ages into senility even as Audrey and Nathan chase down Beatrice/Helena, who is in the throes of childbirth. To save Duke, Audrey persuades Beatrice/Helena to send the child away before she holds it, far from Duke who will sicken in the presence of his daughter. All returns to normal, and Beatrice/Helena chains herself to a tower (a Dark Tower, perhaps?) until her morphing moment passes.
Yeah, I know. A more ridiculous and contrived plot is difficult to, er, conceive. What holds it together are the performances by Rose, Bryant and Balfour. Emily Rose allows Audrey to be no-nonsense without being cynical, Balfour shows us the vulnerability lying under Duke’s devil-may-care cockiness. Lucas Bryant blows us entirely out of the water when his Nathan goes all gooey over infants—he coos, he giggles, he tickles, he makes baby talk. A more complete transformation of the character is difficult to imagine. Yet he manages to become a complete sap without losing his masculinity or gravitas. He’s amusing and adorable, but not ludicrous. He can be as deadpan as he needs to be with Audrey, show compassion laced with irritation when Duke is dying, make googly eyes at a baby, and still retain the respect of the audience. That’s a tough job to pull off, and I applaud Bryant for it. This was his breakthrough episode, in my opinion. Balfour, who has always shown more depth than Bryant in these roles, excels in the scenes where he has to hide his reaction to the news that he has a daughter, whom he will never see again. For all three, the final few minutes of the episode were more somber, more contemplative, and more interesting than most of the final moments this season. There is a new mood of maturity creeping over this sometimes too-light story. I like it.
This episode seems to be gelling the hallmarks of this series. As a police procedural, it is rather dry and stuttery—the investigative team still seems to be asking all the wrong questions and ignoring all the really big answers. But as a character drama, it is improving. Emily Rose in particular is holding her own as the feisty girl detective with the sardonic wit and raised eyebrow. The zingers flying back and forth between her and her partner allow us to see amusement, annoyance, resignation and curiosity in their relationship. What I’m not seeing is any hint of sexual chemistry between her character and Lucas Bryant’s. Maybe this is a good thing—I am tired of the nearly obligatory will-they/won’t-they subplot—but I suspect it’s just mismatched casting. Rose has plenty of chemistry with Balfour; in fact,Bryant has good chemistry with Balfour. I just don’t think these are the directions the writers are trying to steer us. What we wind up with is a town full of interestingly dangerous and quirky characters in which everyone is oblivious to the undercurrents of both paranormal and romantic causality, but the investigators seem to keep missing the bigger picture.
The really big void in all of this, however, is the missing Stephen King. There are hints of him here and there—a King Street, a passing reference to a Reverend Flagg, maybe even the lighthouse/tower where Helena imprisons herself. But there is nothing of the spookiness, the tease of terror at the edge of vision in which King excels. King rarely translates well to television, and this looks like a failed interpretation. But if we forget that Stephen King has anything to do with this production, it’s kind of appealing. It can be a cozy little mystery town—after all, Jessica Fletcher’s home town in Murder, She Wrote had a higher per capita murder rate than Oakland or New York. So if every other citizen of Haven turns out to have supernatural powers, maybe what we’ll wind up with is the paranormal version of a circus retirement town. King specializes in evoking terror in banal, ordinary suburbia (The Mist is a prime example), but Haven is fast becoming as far from ordinary as it is possible to be.