Message in a Bottle
Syfy, Fridays, 9/10 PM
“The Trial of Audrey Parker”
Story by Charles Ardai
Teleplay by Jose Molina & Sam Ernst
Directed by Lee Rose
“This is not about you, it’s about me, about who I am and where I come from, and those answers are here in Haven.” —Audrey Parker
This series likes game-changers. So do I. “Ain’t No Sunshine” changed the game between Nathan and Audrey, when Nathan learned that he could feel her touch. Now Audrey changes the game again, when she is forced to choose between her FBI career and her pursuit of the elusive woman in the Colorado Kid photograph, a pursuit that bids fair to change her whole understanding of herself. Not to mention, of course, the odd and interesting things that happen to people in Haven. It’s those odd and interesting events, which she has been carefully leaving out of her reports, which bring her boss, Agent Howard, back to Haven. The episode title notwithstanding, he does not really put her on trial, but he does grill her a bit about why she is still hanging around the town. This grilling takes place while they are both held prisoner on Duke’s boat, by a couple of Troubled individuals who have also taken Duke and Julia, the new ME, hostage. While Nathan frantically tries to locate his missing partner, Ezra and Tobias try to beat and threaten the location of a particular box out of Duke. Oh, and the boat springs a leak and starts to sink.
Audrey shows her usual resourcefulness—when she cannot get a cell phone signal, she programs in a text message, sticks her cell phone in a bottle, and throws it into the bay. Cute. As soon as it drifts close enough to shore to come into range of a cell tower, the text message is sent to Nathan. Knowing Duke, she knows there is always more to his boat than meets the eye; she uncovers a convenient escape hatch and frees Duke. Together, they overcome the bad guys by having Duke strip. Yes, I can see how threatening that prospect could be. The bad guys go down, the ship does not sink, Duke’s precious cargo is saved, and Nathan is reunited with Audrey. Agent Howard, pressing Audrey to return, does not seem surprised that she resigns from the Bureau. In fact, he’s so surprised he talks it over, in private, with Chief Wournos. Both men seem to be well acquainted, and part of a larger plan to manipulate Audrey. Anyone here surprised by that? Didn’t think so.
“At least I’m not like that one guy you trained, that was chasing aliens.” —Audrey
Two things stand out in this episode: the fact that some loose stories are finally starting to come together as a part of a whole, and the confrontation between Nathan and his father. Agent Howard’s interrogation of Audrey serves to remind us of previous episodes, and allows Audrey to draw parallels between them, to show her boss that they are not just random acts of weirdness but part of a pattern. The series up to now has relied on weird Powers of the Week, a formula quickly growing stale. While I am no fan of “mythology” arcs, and while the stories always surprised me, it still risks going stale extremely fast. We needed an episode reminding us that there is a forest behind all these strange leaves, a method or at least a pattern behind all this madness. Howard is, essentially, asking Audrey where her loyalty lies: to the outside world of the Bureau, with its rigid adherence to protocol and the explainable, or to her pursuit of truth even at the expense of credibility. Like Fox Mulder, she will work with the FBI only as long as it works with her, and when the FBI in the person of her boss indicates that it wants to rein her in, she walks away. This is a strong character statement, and I was delighted to see it. We already knew that Howard was not on the up-and-up; what FBI boss on TV ever is?
Nathan: You knew, and you never said anything!
Chief Wournos: ‘Cause you weren’t ready to hear it.
I can’t think of a lamer excuse not to tell someone something he desperately needs to know than “You weren’t ready.” This conversation takes place during a heavy showdown scene between Nathan and his father. While he restlessly paces, worrying about Audrey, Nathan’s father awkwardly tries to bond with his son. Once again we are teased with the question: what on Earth happened between these two, to make Nathan reject his father so coldly? Now we see a flash of deep-seated anger from Nathan, as he accuses his father of emotional abandonment. Apparently, after Nathan’s mother died, his father rejected his son, turning a cold shoulder to the boy. That would be devastating enough for any boy, but to have his father continue to reject him after his horrible condition came upon him would be worse. We can see, in his tense body language, the anger in his voice that wars with the unshed tears, that Nathan felt abandoned by both his parents. Nevertheless, he’s willing to open up, to risk being hurt again, as he waits for his father to respond, to reach out. For a moment, we can see the Chief struggling to cross that gap. In the end, however, he’s not strong enough, and he does exactly what Nathan feared—he turns away. It’s a moment to make us cringe in sympathy, a moment where Nathan has let himself be vulnerable, let himself take a risk, and has been savagely hurt again. Again, I am impressed with the quality of both the writing and acting in that scene. I like the idea that Nathan is experimenting with letting himself feel again—both literally and figuratively. I only hope this emotional train wreck with his father does not cut him off again from Audrey, or from taking more risks. This brave character grows ever more complex and interesting.
As always, sly references to similar genre stories are sprinkled throughout the story. Besides the obvious X-Files reference from Audrey, there is Agent Howard’s mention of the Stephen King story, Children of the Corn. Audrey also mentions Little Tall Island, which appeared in King’s Dolores Claiborne. And while The Karate Kid is hardly a genre movie, Duke’s kung fu dancing was a fabulous shout-out to it. I absolutely loved Audrey giggling as she ordered Duke not only to strip, but to threaten two guys while wearing only his underwear.
I have a theory about cracks. When Audrey first arrived in Haven, cracks appeared in the road. When Julia talked about leaving Haven, cracks appeared in the dock. Now, when Duke’s boat is headed out to sea, away from Haven, his boat springs a crack/leak. I am reminded of the giant white Balloons of Death from the old Prisoner series, which appeared any time someone tried to escape The Village. Could the cracks be some kind of security system, keeping people in Haven? Like the Hotel California, you can check in to Haven, but you can never leave.
Haven lost 33% of its audience from last week, down to a 0.4 rating on 1.56 million viewers. With only a handful of episodes left to go, and no word on renewal, I’m starting to fear we’re counting down to complete oblivion. I hope I’m wrong, but if I’m not, I’ll know why: too little, too late. The last few episodes have been outstanding. We should have seen them back in early August.