Siren Song


Syfy, Fridays, 9/10 PM


Written by Matt MacGuinness

Directed by Rachel Talalay

“Come for the food, stay for the drugs.” – Sign outside psychiatric facility

This is better. Much better. The third episode (counting the pilot) of Haven still has some of the problem s it has shown since Day One, but in other aspects it has improved. The dialogue improved, the plot had a satisfying twist, and an expression actually crossed Lucas Bryant’s face.

Audrey and Nathan are called to a chaotic scene in a psychiatric facility in Haven, where the doctor in charge has gone on a rampage, allowing three patients to escape. Audrey and Nathan cleverly use ether bottles as substitutes for tear gas to subdue the doctor, then go after the escapees. Two of them are quickly recovered—happy, sane and peaceful men who play with children and discuss flowers. As soon as they are escorted back to the facility, however, they revert to their previous state of catatonia. At the same time, the doctor comes to himself and is perfectly rational, if a little apologetic. He explains that he has been testing a new drug to treat L-dopamine deficiencies; when he spilled the drug, it apparently affected everyone nearby. Anyone who saw the Robin Williams movie "Awakenings" will be familiar with the idea of L-dopa affecting mental states, as well as the heartbreaking reversions that can accompany failure. So it is no surprise that Audrey and Nathan discover, when they catch up to third escapee Lily, that she too has reverted to her frenzied mental state. Her husband Ray explains that she has been this way ever since they crashed their car on the way to a meeting with a music producer, years ago. It's this mention of music that provides us with the first hint that matters may not be as simple as they seem. Audrey and Nathan eliminate the doctor's medication as the culprit, and she quickly concludes that Lily herself may be the source of the "instant cure". As usual, the truth lies in a third possibility finally uncovered in the third act—Ray himself, by playing "their song", not only cures mental illness temporarily but induces it in the sane. No explanation is given for why the song does not induce madness in Ray himself.

I liked the idea that music "hath charms to soothe the savage breast"—or to madden it. Certainly the idea that music can drive men made goes back all the way to Homer, who wrote that Odysseus made his men wear earplugs as they sailed past the Sirens, whose songs lured sailors to their deaths on hidden rocks. On the other side of the coin, music therapy is an established psychiatric practice to relieve stress and anxiety. Music can bypass consciousness to induce trance states. The handling of the idea itself was well done, and the twists and turns of the plot, even the doctor's on-again, off-again madness, worked pretty well. I did not, however, buy the 'ending' to this story. Having deduced Ray's 'talent' and recognizing that it is dangerous to let him create madmen at random (albeit inadvertently), Audrey and Nathan let him sail away with the now-cured inmates of the asylum. The idea is that he can play music to keep them sane, and at the same time avoid affecting the sane. But this is an inherently unworkable idea. How are these people supposed to eat? Are they supposed to stay afloat forever? Would it not have made better sense to build a soundproof "treatment room"
at the psychiatric facility, and pipe in Ray's music to the inmates? That would allow them to be cured, at least temporarily, without endangering the staff. Of course, the reason the writers don't allow such a conventional ending is that in real life, such miracle cures would draw mobs of researchers and world wide attention. For the sake of maintaining the feel of isolation in Haven, they sacrifice plausibility.

As much as I enjoyed it, the plot is still pretty much the same as last week—someone experiences a trauma, and years later develops a supernatural/paranormal power as a result. In the pilot, a woman who had survived tornadoes in Georgia turned out to be generating windy weather in Maine. The next episode showed us a young boy who survived a car wreck, only to develop the ability to kill in dreams. So when we learn that one of the “victims” of this week’s odd occurrences suffered a car wreck years ago, we can draw a pretty accurate conclusion. The answer to this week’s “mystery” was telegraphed three weeks ago. Why don't they just ship these folks to Eureka?

On one level, I can appreciate the simplicity of this plot structure. There’s nothing wrong with simplicity, and when establishing a new show perhaps overcomplication is not to be desired. But the result is a rather slow-moving tempo, one which feels drawn-out rather than leisurely. Some attempt is made to fill in the gaps by focusing on Audrey’s search for a woman who may be her mother, but these scenes feel like the filler they are. We don’t know Audrey well enough at this point to really care about her mother or her past. The hook for this show is the weird events, and that’s where the focus of every story needs to be. We don’t need melodrama about Audrey, Nathan, or even (God forbid) Duke to keep us interested. I would rather see the paranormal/supernatural stories beefed up. There’s nothing wrong with standalone episodes.

If a show is going to commit to such a simple plot structure, however, it has to connect the leads to the action. While Bryant gets the lion's share of the screen time in this one, with his histrionic descents into semi-hysteria and madness, he still cannot induce much more than a lukewarm reaction in me. He has two notes—fully asleep or chewing the scenery. This character has so much potential for subtlety, but I'm not seeing subtlety. I'm being hit over the head every week with the fact that Nathan literally cannot feel anything. Sadly, he induces the same effect in me. Emily Rose imbues a little more sardonic subtlety in Audrey, but this week did not have very much to do. Worse, she gets to be both smart and stupid in the same episode. Audrey figures out how to use ether as tear gas—smart. Then she tries to sidle up to a mad doctor holding a scalpel—stupid. I'm still trying to figure out Eric Balfour's role in this series—beefcake? Comic relief? Sidekick? Romantic stumbling block? 

So there are problems. They are serious problems, but they are fixable problems. I'm encouraged by this third episode, with its combination of an intriguing premise and a sweet love story, a "bad guy" who is not actually a villain and an appealing victim (Lily) who has a better future ahead of her. If it turns out that the whole series will be the introduction of a new paranormal person every week, I can live with that. For awhile. But in the long run, I will need to see Audrey and Nathan more engaged with the story, not just functioning as spectators.

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Copyright 2010 by Sarah Stegall. All rights reserved.