Eaters and Eaten
Syfy, Fridays, 9/10 PM
“Who, What, Where Wendigo?”
Written by Jonathan Abrahams
Directed by Lee Rose
“Nothing else looks quite like people being eaten by people.” —Dwight
Haven is based on a Stephen King story, so it’s no surprise that this week’s episode ties into one of King’s most chilling works, Pet Sematary. In that novel, a burial ground deep in the woods is said to be the site where victims of cannibalism were buried, and is now the haunt of the Wendigo, a Micmac Indian figure of mythology who incites people to eat human flesh. Setting such a story in the deep woods of Nova Scotia (where the show is filmed), with a background out of one of King’s darkest novels, this should have been a spine-tingler. It wasn’t.
“From now on, Nathan, it’s just you and me.” —Audrey
We start with a trucker spotting a serial killer who is chasing a boy, Rory Campbell (Scott Beaudin, Life with Boys), into the woods. Trucker follows serial killer, gets thrown around by some unseen force. While Dwight the Cleaner convinces the man he saw a bear, Nathan and Audrey decide to track the killer, and his potential victim, all by themselves. Apparently, last week’s events (“Lockdown“) are supposed to have been so traumatic that Nathan and Audrey feel they cannot trust anyone but themselves. This siege mentality would probably play better if it weren’t discussed in full daylight, where it looks less like caution and more like paranoia. In any event, within five minutes the partners who have just asserted their lone-gun status are joined not only by Dwight but by the father of the missing boy (Alex Carter, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation), as well as the Teagues, Dave and Vince. As if that isn’t enough, the Reverend Driscoll shows up with a posse that includes Duke Crocker. So much for going it alone.
“We’re chasing down the Troubled.” —Reverend Driscoll
Audrey finds the ripped-open body of the serial killer, with signs that it was partially cannibalized, but where is the missing Rory? That question quickly gets lost in arguments with the Rev’s posse. Nathan orders them to disperse, but the Rev says it should be up to Mr. Campbell, the boy’s father, to decide whether the search party needs the extra men. Astonishingly, Nathan concedes this point. This is not just lousy police procedure, from a storytelling point of view it utterly cuts the ground from under Nathan Wuornos. No cop is going to let a civilian, no matter how powerful, tell him how to do his job. Nathan in particular is unlikely to allow the Rev to push him around like this. I kept waiting for the moment when this aberrant behavior on his part got explained, but it didn’t. So I have to conclude that, once again, Nathan is being made to act out of character because the plot was too weak to stand on its own.
“You lie to me, you threaten me, and now you want fire tips?” —Audrey
With night approaching, the ill-assorted posse bunks down next to a lake. Oh, the possibilities in this scene—a cannibal-monster, inter-group rivalry, sexual tension, terror of the deep woods, and Campbell’s near-manic anxiety over his son. The writer chose to focus on Duke Crocker’s seeming betrayal of Audrey and Nathan; when Duke tries to talk to Audrey, she rips him a long-overdue new one. This is the very hallmark of bad soap opera: when surrounded by horror, being hunted by cannibals, you stop to talk about trust issues. Duke tries to explain that he is only hangin’ with the Rev to do some undercover questioning. Duke is looking for shortcuts to answers he has not earned—typical of Duke, who is lazy and mostly amoral.
“Is it possible that Rory lured the serial killer into the woods for Amelia to eat?” —Nathan
Nathan stumbles, literally, across two young girls hiding in the woods, Frankie (Leah Ostry, Dead to the World) and Sophie (Julia Hines). They are wendigoes, their affliction being triggered after a plane crash killed their parents. They claim they have not been eating human flesh, but they’re not so sure about their sister Amelia (Alexandria Benoit, A Cry in the Dark), who is Rory Campbell’s girlfriend. The pieces start to fall into place for Nathan and Audrey, as they pursue the missing Amelia and conceal the girls’ presence from the others. One thing Haven does consistently, here as in other episodes, is twist the victim into a predator. We now realize that Rory, rather than being chased into the woods by the serial killer, was baiting him there so his girlfriend could eat him. Kids today.
“I can’t eat you. You’re going to save me.” —Sophie
This was almost Dwight’s story. We learn early on that he lost a young daughter, although it’s not certain that she’s dead. In Haven, lots of things can account for a missing child. It’s clear, however, that the big lug has a soft spot for kids. Yeah, it’s a cliché, but it’s a darned attractive one. The hunger for human flesh is (ahem) consuming the children, and Sophie in particular is in need of help. Dwight volunteers to get her to a hospital, but gets caught in a bear trap. Rather than let Sophie die of hunger, he offers to let her eat him. She refuses, preferring death to eating a friend. This should have been a tense, touching scene, full of drama and horror and selflessness. Both Copeland and Hines do their level best, but the script and setting work against them. It’s extremely difficult to pull off an offer of oneself as a snack without rendering the scene into farce, and having to do so in broad daylight, in a sunny, park-like setting, doesn’t help. It also doesn’t help if the script allows you to free yourself with a little more effort a few moments later. If this wasn’t going to be a really dark scene of (literal) self-sacrifice, why bother with it? It was as flat a scene as I’ve watched so far in this show, completely useless. Let me reiterate, however, that Adam Copeland (Edge) continues to be a big asset in this show. I hope he sticks around.
“We are defined by our moral boundaries.” —Reverend
One of the other wendigo sisters is rejecting a meal of human flesh. Rory, desperate to save his girlfriend from starvation, ambushes the Reverend and ties him up for easy consumption. He then leads the search party away, leaving Amelia with a knife and a moral dilemma. Amelia finally decides against cannibalism and frees Driscoll, but he turns on her, overpowers her, and takes the knife. With the light of fanaticism in his eyes, he prepares to kill her to save all her future victims. Driscoll’s moral boundaries clearly are flexible enough to encompass cold-blooded murder. At the last moment, Audrey appears and shoots him dead. While I acknowledge Stephen McHattie’s wonderful performance as the menacing man of God, I must say that I will not miss Driscoll. He was too easy a target for fear and anger; it is far more horrifying, in story terms, for the sinister powers behind the Troubles to wear no human face at all.
“Because of you, I got nothing.” —Duke
Rather than rejoice in the death of the man he knows was behind the murder of his father and his wife, Duke whines to Audrey that in killing Driscoll, she has prevented Duke from getting the answers he wants. We’re even supposed to believe that, had their roles been reversed, Duke might not have shot the preacher to save a young girl’s life. Yeah, right. Two weeks ago, Duke was taking in strays; now we’re supposed to believe he’s that cold-blooded? Selfish, yes. Self-centered, absolutely. But callous? No. This is bad continuity, bad character delineation, and lazy writing. I don’t know why the writers of this show seem determined to drag Duke into the middle of everything. This week, the Rev tells him it’s his destiny to save Haven, even as his father died failing to do so. Talk about your cryptic warnings. Is that even useful? As a tease, it fails utterly, because the series is clearly set up so that Audrey will eventually save the town. Why even bother turning Duke into a red herring no one is going to believe?
“After last week, who can we really trust?” —Audrey
The genius of Stephen King is that he can take the most ordinary and banal settings of modern life and concoct nightmares out of them. Haven should have a head start on all of this—a bright, sunny village surrounded by dark woods and stormy ocean, populated by people who smile on the outside and hide secrets inside. In taciturn Nathan and snappy Audrey, the show has a pair that might dance along the edge of sexual tension like Mulder and Scully for years. Instead, we are getting wild swings in characterization, anemic plots badly executed, and no scares at all. Killing off characters like Evi and the Reverend is not advancing a story arc, it’s an act of desperation. I won’t miss either of them, because they never really added anything to the central story: what is causing the Troubles? I still like Haven and will continue to watch it, but this season is very disappointing. I hope it gets much scarier very soon.