Evil Dr. Doolittle
Syfy, Fridays, 9/10 PM
Written by Jim Dunn
Directed by Keith Samples
“Why does everything in this town have to be such a huge secret?” – Audrey
For once, Audrey is wrong. This episode reveals more of the secrets behind – or maybe below – the town of Haven than any previous episode. In fact, it took so much for granted that it almost felt as if we’d skipped an episode. Suddenly, everyone is open and nonchalant about the Troubles. Everyone remembers them, knows what they are, suspects they are back. The Troubles, from being a whisper in the background, are now an open secret nobody questions. While it’s good not to have to keep up with the guessing games, this open attitude reveals a problem with the dynamics of the show: there are no skeptics.
Tired as my readers may be of the Mulder/Scully citations, it’s appropriate to note that the key to that partnership was the fact that Mulder and Scully rarely agreed. I don’t mean they disagreed about the clues in a case, they disagreed on the most basic and fundamental questions, like the nature of the universe. Mulder the eternal optimist believed in things he could not see; Scully the cynical rationalist believed only in things she could see. Here in Haven, we have a cop and an FBI agent who appear to be as trusting as Mulder on crack. No one seems to blink an eye, or question his own perceptions, when outrageous things start happening—like the attack of the stuffed teddy bear.
Audrey:” The animals are coming alive and killing the people who killed them.”
Two members of the Haven Hunt club are killed by what appear to be wild animal attacks. Even as Audrey and Nathan suspect this was more than just a wolf attack, David the newspaperman is attacked by a stuffed teddy bear. Okay, it wasn’t a teddy bear. It was a fully grown brown bear. But itwas stuffed. It was dead. So was the wolf. And they both not only came to life, but apparently stalked and killed the hunters who had killed them, and then retreated back to the trophy room of the Haven Hunt Club and went back to being dead. Before the townspeople have figured out that they’re being targeted by wolves full of sawdust, they have themselves a lynch mob-style hunt, fanning out through the forest with rifles and rage to avenge the killings of two men. In the course of this hunt, Chief Wournos, Dave, Audrey and Nathan are attacked by a moose. A stuffed moose.
They shoot the charging moose (can they even be said to have killed it?) and discover that it is full of Styrofoam and rags. Their reaction can be summed up as, “Huh?” Which, come to think of it, was my reaction, but with a wholly different emphasis, more like “Are you kidding me? Zombie wolves? Stuffed zombie wolves?” This is the single most implausible premise for a sci-fi script I can imagine—but it gets worse. Naturally Audrey and Nathan visit the local taxidermist, Landon Taylor (Hal Tatlidil, The 4400). But during their conversation Landon’s mother, Piper (Fiona Reid,The Time Traveler’s Wife) suddenly attacks the cops. In the melee, she accidentally slashes her son’s arm—and sand pours out. Nobody seems to think this is something to wonder at. Piper admits that she stuffed Landon after Landon died in a fire, but no one asks how she brought him – or the other stuffed critters — back to life.
Piper: “I can feel them, they’re all waking up.”
Landon races off to “kill” the rest of the animals stored at the Haven Hunt Club, and Piper goes after him, with Audrey and Nathan scurrying behind. By the time things are sorted out, Piper has sacrificed herself to the wakened trophies. What Audrey and Nathan do not tell her surviving son is that Piper herself was stuffed. Audrey and the ME agree to sweep this sawdust under the rug and out of the official reports, but Audrey speculates that this stuffing business has been going on for generations. Apparently, Piper recognized the signs of her “power” (or as this show puts it, her Trouble) waking up when Landon “died” in the fire. Some latent power inside her turned her into an evil version of Dr. Doolittle.
Once again we get the same theme playing out—a trauma in the past is somehow the trigger for the development or emergence of a Power with destructive, not to say murderous, tendencies. Apparently this is the foundation for the whole series, so I’m glad to see hints of it emerging into the foreground. I need more to sustain my interest on a weekly basis than an infinite parade of Troubled People With Weird Powers. I am glad to see the Troubles (you can hear the capital letter when Audrey says the word) being addressed seriously. I only wish someone would step back a moment and say, “Does this look as crazy to you as it does to me?” Because it is just not plausible that sane people, even as they adapt to the highly unusual, would not at some point question their own sanity, perceptions or observations. It makes Audrey, Nathan and the rest of the town look naïve and over-credulous.
Audrey: I don’t believe she’s a witch.
Nathan: Whatever she is, she’s interesting.
During their investigation, Audrey and Nathan meet one of the more interesting characters introduced into this series. Jess Minion (Anne Caillon,UV) is a charming Quebecoise of Micmac descent who lives on her grandmother’s 90 acres of forest. An animal rights activist, the locals consider her a witch. When Nathan confronts her with this accusation, she comes across with the most intelligent description of what’s going on in Haven to date. Seeing right through Nathan to his core, she tells him:
Jess: “What do you think the Troubles are? Magic is everywhere here – in the soil, in the water, in us. You suffer so much because you can’t understand what has happened to you. You know it’s not a medical condition, but you don’t want to face the real truth. You’ve been transformed by magic. You’re not less, Nathan, you’re more. The only thing wrong with you is your perspective.”
Even when she later admits to having helped along the public perception of herself as a witch, she sticks fast to what she told Nathan. And it gets through to him. In the best acting we’ve seen from Lucas Bryant to date, he shows us Nathan at first intrigued, then fascinated, then shyly attracted by this earth mother. And she gives him enough confidence in himself to allow him to open up to Landon after Landon discovers he’s not a real boy. Nathan’s condition, which sets him apart from others, lets him sympathize with Landon, who is only now coming to terms with his condition. The condition, or Trouble, might be absurd, but the emotional connection felt real. Bryant kept the melancholy aspect that defines Nathan, but gave us glimpses of a warmer, if wounded, man below that. It was well balanced by Caillon’s presentation of a very appealing, equally warm and healing personality who completely gets where he comes from. I hope to see more of Jess Minion.
Not to short Ms. Rose, I have to say that I like Audrey more every episode. I especially loved her cool handling of the bear attack. Having emptied a hand gun into an enraged, stuffed bear (excuse me while I just sit and contemplate that phrase for a second…), she then assesses the situation, comes up with a solution, and executes it with perfect aplomb. One would never guess she had never shot a stuffed animal before. I was especially happy to see no attempt at entangling Audrey in a romance in this episode. Duke was mercifully absent, and the only romance I saw cooking was Nathan eyeing Jess and asking her out for pancakes (is that what the kids are calling it these days?).I guess once you’ve seen half the stuff Audrey has in Haven, the idea of a vicious attacking stuffed bear doesn’t raise an eyebrow.
I’ll venture to call this the best episode of this series to date, despite its absolutely idiotic premise. This could have been the episode that got the series laughed off the air on the basis of the tag line. I know many viewers were probably turned off by the absurd situation. But good acting, insightful writing, and the willingness of the producers to finally open up a few mysteries, put it on the top of my list. I especially appreciate the fact that, for the fifth week in a row, I didn’t figure out who the Troubled person was until the reveal. I’m hard to fool on these matters, so being outwitted every week is fun for me. Haven still needs some balance—we need a skeptic to at least articulate doubts from time to time, if only to be shot down. I don’t need the “magic” explained; in fact, it would destroy the show if the writers tried that. But I do need someone to be on screen scratching their metaphorical head and going, “Why didn’t Landon notice he was full of sawdust?”
Haven came in at 1.999 million viewers on Friday night, about 100,000 viewers higher than last week. This produced a 0.5 rating for the 18-49 demo, also an improvement over last week. These may sound like tiny numbers, but for a Friday night offering on a cable channel, they’re respectable. Haven is still well below Eureka’s 2.5 million viewers, so people are still tuning out after the lead-in show; at this point I am beginning to hope that some of them may decide to stay. Slowly but surely, Haven is growing on me. I must be Troubled.