Syfy, Fridays, 9/10 PM
Written by Sam Ernst & Jim Dunn
Directed by Fred Gerber
“My name is Special Agent Audrey Parker.” —Audrey Parker
This phrase opens the ball in the Haven pilot, and tonight closes the first season. It’s nice to get a bookend like this, but in typical Haven fashion, there’s a twist—that line is spoken by two different women. In between, this show has gone from a clunky, self-conscious Small Town Full of Oddballs, with a mystery of the week, to an engaging and spooky universe where almost anything can happen. While it has occasionally felt strained, and didn’t really hit its stride until midway through the season, it has performed pretty well over the long haul. It now leaves us with more questions than we started with, which is par for the course these days. Fortunately, it does not leave us with mostly the same questions. If I get answers to initial questions, and then get new and more interesting questions over the course of a show, then I’m satisfied I’m not being strung along. I have come to trust these showrunners to deliver on their promises, and that’s more than I can say for some rather better known series.
A scary newcomer named Max Hansen (John Bourgeois, Unstable) arrives in Haven, newly released from Shawshank prison. Yes, I immediately recognized the reference to one of Stephen King’s most famous novellas, as well as the Tim Robbins movie. He meets Audrey on the beach, still wondering what it means that she carries the same scar on her foot as Lucy, the woman she thought was her mother. After dropping a few remarks about how one makes one’s mark on the world, he wanders off and finds the Chief finishing lunch at the Grey Gull. The Chief immediately orders him out of town. Max snarls at him, the Chief leaves, and over Max’s shoulder, we see the iconic lighthouse at the mouth of Haven’s cove crumble and fall.
“If a man has the right kind of friends, life gets a whole lot easier.” —Max
The cracks that we first saw in the series pilot are getting larger, more frequent, and more dangerous—could it be because Max Hansen is back? Max must like the Grey Gull, because after wandering around town scaring people a little more, he comes back for lunch. Audrey finds him there again, and during their conversation a waitress spills scalding coffee on him. Audrey sees the tattoo on his arm that Duke says belongs to the man who will kill him; at the same time, she realizes that Max didn’t feel the hot coffee. After twelve episodes, we now know that people who share the same Affliction in Haven are related, so she realizes that Max must be related to Nathan. Before she can find him to tell him this, Nathan has a menacing conversation of his own with Max, during which Max squeezes the hell out of Nathan’s shoulder, and gets no reaction. When Audrey catches up to Nathan and tells him he’s related to Max, they confront the Chief. Chief Wuornos confesses that he’s not really Nathan’s father and that Max is his biological father. One wonders if the Chief didn’t see The Empire Strikes Back once too often. Enraged, Nathan storms out. Max, walking up a street, sees a huge crack opening up in the pavement behind him. He runs but is caught when the ground sinks from under him, and kills him.
“I’m here to claim the life that was taken from me, the family that was stolen from me, and to watch the man who took it all from me die.” —Max Hansen
The strangest thing about Max was not his menacing presence or the fact that he turned out to be Nathan’s dad. What struck me was how almost every word he said was misinterpreted. In his conversation with Audrey, his cryptic remarks about finding himself where he was could be read as a subtle gloating as he sizes up a victim—but actually they are pretty innocuous. They are only menacing to us because we know something Audrey does not yet know—that he’s a convict. His one conversation with Nathan could be read as threatening, until we learn his true relationship to Nathan; then it could be read as a father trying to reconnect with his son. His snarling conversation with Vince Teagues, his angry words with the Chief, all come as a reaction to threats made to him. In short, we have very little evidence that Max Hansen actually is the threat that everyone seems to think he is. In fact, when Audrey in her very direct way asks him if he really did kill the Colorado Kid, Max responds with hurt pride: “Garland Wuornos thought so. But he was never able to prove it.” That may not be a denial, but it’s not a confession, either. None of this means that Max is a misunderstood saint, but it does have the effect of turning every conversation on its head the more we learn about this mysterious stranger. It’s a brilliant use of the literary convention of the unreliable narrator.
The writers carried this subtlety in every scene. Take the lines given Chief Wuornos. When both Max and the Chief casually mention going to church, it’s tossed off as a throwaway sarcasm. But when Reverend Driscoll (Stephen McHattie, Red: Werewolf Hunter) shows up in the last act, quoting Max almost word for word, we realize that there was more to those lines than met the ear. This is first class mystery writing—we the audience are given all the “clues”, but are cleverly misdirected into the wrong conclusion. I love this stuff.
“It’s the Chief. It was always the Chief.” —Nathan
Despite his feelings of betrayal and anger at the man he thought was his father, Nathan doggedly pursues Max, the cracks, everything. He and Audrey finally realize that the one common element in all the “crack” incidents was the Chief’s anger, the Chief’s presence. They find the Chief on the beach, gun in hand, shaking, and talking about suicide. The ground shakes, cracks, and rumbles. Nathan tries to comfort his father, reaches past his anger to find some connection. In the end, the Chief tells Nathan he’s strong enough to take over and hold the town (literally) together, and explodes into shards of rock.
“Why did you let him die?” —Nathan
A stunned Nathan angrily asks Audrey why she didn’t offer to fix the Chief, as she has fixed so many others in Haven. The cracks in their relationship erupt into a complete break as he tells her to go away. It takes an encounter with the Reverend, who threatens to wrest control of the town police force from him, to bring Nathan back to Audrey. In a final scene on the beach, all the barriers between Audrey Parker and Nathan Wuornos come down. He reveals that he can feel her touch, and she confesses what she’s been struggling to tell him for a while—that she is Lucy.
“You’re the one person I can absolutely trust.” —Audrey Parker
Both Nathan and Audrey show more emotion in this final episode than either one has shown all season. Lucas Bryant has taken his Nathan from the wooden faced, monotone small town cop of the first episode to a passionate, if puzzled, hero. His anger at his father, his determined pursuit of a truth that can only hurt him, and finally his shy confession to his partner that he can feel her touch, and does not know how to react to it, opened this character up far more than I thought possible. It’s a lesson to me, not to judge a performance by the pilot. I should know better by now.
Similarly, Emily Rose brought us an Audrey who started out perky and self-confident, and ended up completely at a loss, a woman who literally does not know who she is any more. That makes her declaration to Nathan, that she can trust only him, another double meaning—she can trust Nathan absolutely because she can no longer trust herself. Her faith in Nathan, her troubled (with a small t) expression, and her honesty in refusing to comfort the doomed Chief with a lie, all render us an Audrey Rose who has genuinely grown and changed over the course of twelve episodes. This is excellent character development. I congratulate everyone involved on a well-executed development arc.
“Someone out there with a tattoo that’s in your family wants to kill me.” —Duke
Ever since it was predicted that a man with a maze tattoo would kill him, Duke has been wary of tattooed men. During his initial confrontation with Max, he notices Max’s maze tattoo. Even though Max (with his tattoo) is dead, Audrey has warned Duke that there might be more out there. Now Julia Carr (Michelle Monteith, Murdoch Mysteries) seeks out Duke and shows him a photo of her grandfather as a boy. Another boy in the photo has that tattoo. Julia takes Duke to a cemetery, and shows him headstone after headstone with that same tattoo. She claims not to know what it is, but a later shot shows us that same tattoo appearing on her shoulder for just a moment, before fading. Clearly there is more to Julia and the tattoos and the cemetery than we know—but I think it may have something to do with the fact that, as Duke points out to Nathan, Duke is not Troubled. Perhaps he is immune to the Troubles? Are Troubled people tattooed? I guess we have to wait until next summer.
“Who the hell are you?” —The Other Agent Audrey Parker
So Duke still searches for the meaning of the tattoo, Nathan confronts his future as police chief and holder-together of Haven, and Audrey is trying to figure out how she can be Lucy. And in waltzes a woman with dark hair and an FBI badge, claiming to be Audrey Parker of the FBI. Upon which point I remember that the first time we saw Audrey Parker, she was with Agent Howard, her boss. Who we now know was in cahoots with Chief Wuornos, and who knew a whole lot more about Audrey Parker and Haven than he let on. In fact, even after twelve episodes, we don’t know much more about Audrey than when we started. She is almost a blank slate before she arrives in Haven. Did she emerge from a coma, or a cocoon, or a clone tank? Or maybe, like Olivia/Altlivia on Fringe, she’s a visitor from an alternate universe? I guess we have to wait until next summer.
Thankfully, there will be a next summer. Haven has been renewed for another 13-episode season by the Syfy Channel. Claiming 2.6 million total viewers and a 1.9 household rating, Syfy’s press release promises a return in the summer of 2011. Personally, I let out a big sigh of relief at this news. This series crept up on me, but it is now one of my favorites. I’m glad to look forward to more of it. If I were Stephen King, I’d be proud of this show.