Haven: “Sparks and Recreation”



Syfy, Fridays, 9/10 PM

“Sparks and Recreation”

Written by Jonathan Abrahams

Directed by Lynn Stopkewich

“I’m an idiot, studying marine biology in a town where the laws of science are meaningless.” – Chris Brody

Having established a character, TV writers find themselves in a dilemma. They don’t know how long a show will continue, so should they continue to write the character as established, thereby running the risk of making him boring, or do they play with it a little, running the risk of confusing an audience which has come to rely on a certain understanding of the character? In the case of Nathan Wournos, the writers for Haven are coming dangerously close to the latter. Nathan was clearly established in the first season as morose and brooding, a dark and sullen Heathcliff to Audrey Parker’s sunny, breezy personality. They made a fine contrast, and Lucas Bryant’s laconic delivery made Nathan’s few utterances even more notable for their brevity and pithy humor.

“That is a great man.” – Nathan

But that’s last year. This year, Nathan has become more expressive, to the point of near manic behavior in some episodes. Worse, he’s becoming all talk and no action. In the last episode, he lost his Affliction long enough to feel – and did nothing but talk about it. This episode, we find him in a state of rapt hero-worship, acting so much the crazed celeb-stalker that I began to cringe when he appeared. This is not the character I tuned in to see. While I am happy that he is opening up a bit, and greeted that first episode as a welcome growth in the character, this season the writers just don’t seem to know what to do with Nathan Wournos. He no longer has his father to act against, and (thankfully) none of the writers has made Reverend Driscoll into a substitute father for him to rebel against. But now the character is careening wildly between one mood and another, and it’s disconcerting. I like to know who Nathan is from week to week.

“So, a Troubled person turns the outfield lights into lightning guns.” — Nathan

This episode begins with the quintessential American pastime, baseball. A pee-wee league rivalry of ancient standing is so strong it even puts Driscoll and Nathan in the same bleachers, rooting for the same team. When a call is disputed by the preternaturally popular mayor Brody (Peter McNeill, XIII: The Series), both sides agree with him. Audrey is amused to find that the only people in Haven who don’t appear to worship the Mayor are herself and the man’s son, Chris Brody (Jason Priestley, The Day of the Triffids). Her amusement is cut short when every light on the playing field is shorted out, and the umpire is nearly killed. Audrey’s investigation is hampered by Nathan himself, who plays to the Mayor and tries to shut out her entirely reasonable objections. Even as the Mayor prepares to boost his own popularity once again with a speech, he is electrocuted by his microphone. Instantly the  mantle of popularity passes from him to his son, and Chris is surrounded by adoring Havenites. Including, alas, Nathan Wournos. I hope I never again see that sappy an expression on Lucas Bryant’s face.

“You think I electrocuted my father to get these barnacle yahoos to love me?” — Chris

Apart from the transmogrification of Nathan Wournos, this was an unexpectedly funny episode. The humor derived not from Nathan, but from Chris. Jason Priestley plays the great man’s son as prickly misanthrope, a man who prefers phytoplankton to humans, whose biting sarcasm meshes well with Audrey’s. Even Nathan teases her that Chris is “getting under her skin”, which is an exceptionally inept remark from him. Audrey speculates that Chris may have murdered his father, knowing that Mayor Brody’s gift would then fall on him. It takes Audrey a little longer than the audience to figure out that popularity is the very last thing Chris Brody wants. When Audrey interrogates him, Chris responds with snarling wit and keen insight.

“Why don’t you like me?” – Chris

Ironically, the fact that Audrey is the only person in town who does not find him attractive intrigues Chris. He asks her on a sort-of date: wanna go look at algae blooms? She demurs, but we can see the speculation in her eyes. We can understand why Chris would be attracted – who wants to be the object of enchanted love, which is a lie? He is honest enough – and contrary enough – to want to be liked (or not) for himself rather than because of some magic spell. He opens up to Audrey enough to let her know that Mayor Brody’s widow is his stepmother, whose intrusion into the Mayor’s first marriage to Chris’ mother caused a rift between father and son. This information is enough to turn Audrey’s investigation on the widow. At the Mayor’s wake, several people are electrocuted, including Chris, who winds up in the hospital. And there, completely out of the blue, Audrey solves the case.

“You were manipulating her, so that you could get her to admit to a crime she didn’t commit.” – Audrey

Apparently, Nurse Lori (Kate Greenhouse, The Murdoch Mysteries) is Troubled, and throws random electrical arcs about when agitated. Audrey suspects her when she says her watch is broken; when she asks Nurse Lori to take Chris’s blood pressure, Nurse Lori overloads the machine and flees. A security tape shows her being driven away in the Reverend’s van by none other than the Mayor’s widow (Janet-Laine Green, She’s the Mayor). A confrontation in the church basement reveals that Nurse Lori was one of the Mayor’s several mistresses, and that the widow revenged herself on her cheating husband by monkeying with the microphone. My trouble (ahem) with this plot resolution is that it came out of nowhere. I re-watched the episode carefully, thinking I must have missed a major scene. If you look closely, Nurse Lori is in the stands at the baseball game, but there is nothing to distinguish her in any way. She is not present at the wake, where presumably she set off the electrical charges that put Chris in the hospital. She is present in the background in early hospital scenes, where there is no hint that she is anything other than window dressing. It’s a little unfair (albeit more realistic) to spring a character on us like this three-quarters of the way through the episode, and have us scramble to piece together the “clues” that aren’t there. When Audrey “solves” a case by jumping to intuitive conclusions like this, it leaves us far behind and grasping.

“Let the digging begin.” – Duke

Our B-story continues the subplot with Duke and his (ex?) wife, Evi. She is still convinced he’s searching for treasure, not protection from the mysterious tattooed man who will kill him. She stole a map from Fauxdrey last week, and this week helps him dig up (literally) the clue that leads him to another clue. Their clue-hunt lands them with an empty box and a lip lock on the deck of Duke’s ship. About all I can say about this yawner of a story is that the awful Nathan-Audrey-Duke triangle of last year is broken up, and that’s a good thing. I’m only afraid that the writers are constructing a new triangle: Nathan-Audrey-Chris. At least Chris is more interesting than Duke.

“I’m Dwight. I clean things up.” – Dwight Hendrickson

The other interesting new character this week is Dwight, played by WWE superstar “Edge” (Adam Copeland). Now retired from wrestling, he brings a surprisingly natural performance as Dwight the cleaner. He assesses the damage at the ballpark, cleans up the electrical problems, diagnoses the microphone tampering, and provides some background to Chief Wournos we didn’t have before. It’s a good idea to bring in the idea of a Cleaner, since so much of what physically happens to Haven during these Troubled times would make world headlines if not immediately covered up. It would be easy, and trite, to make the Cleaner a creature of shadows, but Dwight’s burly sincerity is as honest and obvious as sunshine, a welcome contrast to the shadows that haunt Haven. I hope to see more of him, and of Chris Brody, in coming weeks.