Sunday, May 27, 2012

Harper's Island: Snap

Snap (Episode 10)
Directed by Craig R. Baxley
Written by Nichelle D. Tramble
First aired 13 June 2009
Rating: 4/10

For the previous episode, please see "Seep."
For the proceeding episode, please wait...

[Spoilers afloat.]

I tried liking this series, really I did, but the ending of episode ten was infuriating.

A whopping four kills, one almost kill, and a gunshot that might lead to yet another death. A stronger episode than the previous in terms of suspense, it unfortunately reveals nonsense in character logic. This one has the survivors heading toward the docks in the hopes of escape, via Jimmy's boat, yet spend most of the episode in the local pub. Though Katherine dies in the previous episode we get this fine shot as Shane brings Henry in to see the body.

A new pair of characters appear as two Washington state troopers are flying in to retrieve the arrested J.D. Dunn. The pair, one female the other male, one rookie and one veteran, are shot down as soon as they step foot on the island. I found this quite comical, as another set of stereotypes are knocked off. I'd call it clever, only there's nothing tongue-in-cheek about the scene. It's all so serious.

For this episode the writers want us to think that Charlie is the killer, though he clearly isn't. I was holding out for Jimmy, even when the boat blew up with him inside I thought, "He's not dead. We didn't see the body. He'll be back to knock the rest of the castaways off. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!" But when his body is returned I started to have doubts, and that final scene was utterly confusing. I'll get to it in a bit.

Maggie finally gets killed. The arrogant woman leaves the pub thinking locals are safe, even though someone reminds her that dead Jimmy was a local. I guess she's forgotten that Reverend Fain and the deputy were also killed. Dumb lady walks away, while viewers await the reappearance of her body. Sensing something, perceptive Madison says, "There's someone on the roof," and a minute later Maggie's lynched body is swinging out the window. Quite effective and bloodless.

There's less bickering in this episode though more drinking, and bartender Nikki unexpectedly reappears. She heard the explosion, she said. Which of course makes me wonder where the rest of the good island townsfolk are. It's a little too convenient that ABSOLUTELY NO TOWNSFOLK WHATSOEVER congregate to figure out what the hell's going on. It's clear that Nikki reappeared only to become another corpse and increase the series body count as though the writers and creators are aiming for some kind of record. "Hey," they may have been thinking, "we'll create a serial killer who disposes of more people in one thirteen-part series than Dexter does in six seasons." Unfortunately Harper's Island lacks the good writing of Dexter.

Cal and Sully separate from the group in a bid to get to the sailing boat Cal had rented for an outing earlier. So I guess there was a point to that scene. And Abby also leaves to take care of some business, which leads us to the end. I'm assuming blog readers have watched the series so I won't give a detailed play-by-play, but this episode features a twisty ending. Twisty, and utterly contrived. It appears Wakefield is still alive, and we learn that though the sheriff shot Wakefield he never found the body and found another for the grave. Why didn't the sheriff tell Abby this earlier since he told her everything else, especially since people are dying all over the place? Utterly frustrating. If it was Wakefield all along and no one else is involved (the DVD reads "25 suspects // 1 killer"), then I'll be disappointed. But there must another since the show is supposed to have a "shocking ending." So far the only shocking thing is the ridiculous logic that's being tossed into the mix. It's come to a point where I don't wish to speculate anymore and want to get to the ending. The unbelievable character actions and information reveals aren't working, and if the show were a tongue-in-cheek homage to the genre it might get away with it, but as I mention above it's all soooooo serious..

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Harper's Island: Seep

Seep (Episode 9)
Directed by Craig R. Baxley
Written by Nichelle D. Tramble
First aired 13 June 2012
Rating: 6/10

For the previous episode, please "Gurgle."
For the following one, please wait.

[Spoilers and more spoilers.]

Not much unity in episode nine, as we're focusing on Abby's paternity and Shane's idiocy. Two deaths, yet neither are spectacular. Some tunnels and perfectly applied make-up.

Now that the writers are focusing on the possibility that Charlie Mills might not be Abby's father, and she might instead be Abby Wakefield, I don't buy it anymore despite my suspicions during episode eight. Wakefield, however, did have a child with Abby's mom, so Abby's half sibling, and I suspect Jimmy. First of all, his name is too nice, like Tommy or Billy, which could be a ruse to throw us off. His parentage is mysteriously kept out of the story, and he's mobile, knows the island well, knows boats and fish, how to use knives and harpoons. I'm also thinking also of the incestuous possibilities between he and Abby. They both have dark hair. The similarities are seemingly endless.

This episode's first death (Beth) differs from others in that we don't see her die, and the group realizes she's missing before we do. (This doesn't mean much since she's nearly a non-character.) Her death leads our people to discover an underground series of tunnels built during prohibition that our killer obviously uses getting from area to area. Like our motley crew of expendables, these tunnels also appear a little too neat and clean. Evidently Wakefield has already disposed of all the island rats. It's also sociologically fascinating that these women, under the stress of being hunted down, continue to ensure that their lipstick is freshly applied.

Aside from the death the episode's central tension is our heroic gang growing a little stir crazy, especially as Shane eggs them on. He'll likely be around for a couple more episodes just to generate anger and mischief. If we're following expected convention he'll make one heroic leap just before his demise.

There's more silliness abounding in Harper's Island. When Abby is leading Madison up from the tunnels, Madison looks up from the sewer grate and says she sees lights, must be a car. The camera is then above ground, panning from the sewer up the road where eventually Shane's truck appears. There's no way Madison could've seen the light from there, or recognize it. Sticking her little hand up through grate, Shea sees it in the rear view mirror, another unlikely event. The convenience here is jut too much, and the truck's appearance at the nick of time is also too much, since I'm using the phrase "nick of time" too frequently when describing series events.

The second death is that of Katherine Wellington (Claudette Mink). Not spectacular but a little surprising. I do like the fact that the show will eliminate key players such as J.D. while keeping seemingly expendable ones for a while, such as Danny. We're also down to an even number of bridesmaids and groomsmen, with two apiece. As for Katherine, I had predicted she was Trish's betrayer/saviour as per the medium, but while she did some naughty betraying she hasn't come around to any saving.

The title of this weaker entry seems to be missing an "L." The ending is good though, with Madison telling Abby it was her dad who kidnapped her, yet it had better pay off.

Harper's Island: Gurgle

Gurgle (Episode 8)
Directed by Rick Bota
Written by Tyler Bensinger
First aired 6 June 2009
Rating: 7/10

For the previous episode please read "Thrack, Splat, Sizzle."
For the following episode, please wait.

[Lots of spoilers.]

A fun-filled ride, this one. Three deaths, one major. Two more discovered bodies. The return of Shane. More secrets, and secrets kept from the viewer. All I can say for certain is that Harper's Island is best when it isn't trying to be funny or sentimental, and when there are no silly flashbacks.

This part of the series is that part of the conventional slasher scenario when, after a few deaths, the remaining characters need to separate to search for something/someone. Abby receives a call from Madison: "If anyone leaves the island... I'll die." I buy the entire Madison dilemma, since of course people will remain to keep her safe. There is some tension when a couple of guests do try to leave nonetheless, namely Sully and Beth.

J.D. is locked up in prison with the sheriff convinced of his guilt. Locking up a character half-way through a series is a definite sign that he's innocent. The writers have tried too hard to make J.D. appear guilty, so hard that I didn't buy it for a sec. I still want to know what all the blood washing was about, though. Did he really plant that deer head?

While in prison J.D. admits he's been hiding out with burn victim Cole Harkin (Dean Wray), so the good sheriff heads out there. Out there he meets up with Lucy's little dog, scraggly and wet, as well as a home-made javelin of sorts that punctures his leg. Well, it turns out that both Cole and J.D. have been searching for Wakefield or the Wakefield copycat. This is odd since who could've known that the murderer would resurface on the island. Even Sheriff Mills told Abby he'd never suspect such a thing. Yet Cole says he's returned several weeks ago. "It seems Abby coming home has set this thing off." Did he return because he knew Abby was coming (though Abby herself in the pilot said she didn't know if she'd make it), so came out early suspecting the killer would also arrive? None of this is made clear.

Turns out Cole has the journal that Wakefield kept while in prison and gives it to the sheriff. Charlie reads it with utter surprise, and keeps the information to himself. I never care for the tactic of withholding information from the viewer. For one thing the characters are a step ahead, which kind of breaks the illusion that we're out there with them. Breaking that illusion lessens the tension.

Cole is soon killed with a few well-aimed arrows and the cabin is set aflame. Lucy's little dog is once again facing fire, and once again there's no indication if he's survived or not. The sheriff's okay since Abby and Jimmy come by in the nick of time. I guess we'll never learn why Cole set that dog on Trish and her dad.

So who could've fired those arrows? I still think Jimmy's the killer but he couldn't have fired them as he was with Abby, or so we think. It's odd too that Shane disappeared here, since he was only going to tell Abby and Jimmy where the sheriff was if they'd set him free and take him along. I guess they must've opted for the first, and Shane will pop up later to annoy us some more.

While Sheriff Mills is with Cole the lights go off in the prison, a shot is fired and the guard is killed. J.D. reaches the keys and frees himself. I admit this scene was surprising, and I suppose the killer kills the guard so J.D. can escape and he can then kill J.D. (However, since he's got a gun he can also just wander in and execute all three. Now that would've been doubly surprising.) The killer does get to J.D. and now the writers want us to think Henry is the killer, or maybe even Abby, and of course neither are. Jimmy left Abby and easily could've killed J.D., and of course the dying man decides to spout some gibberish, "It's about you," rather than utter the brief name, "Jimmy."

Aside from these three deaths there are some grizzly discoveries. Malcolm's skull is found in the incinerator, though of they don't know it's him. Richard is discovered harpooned to a tree in a beautifully visual scene. Others are still missing, such as Lucy and Cousin Ben.

I count fifteen remaining potential victims. Sure Abby is involved somehow, and I predict she might be Wakefield's child rather than Charlie's since the dead man had some kind of relationship with her mom. I continue suspecting Jimmy, and his motive is certainly linked to Abby. Could Jimmy also be a Wakefield relation? If the killer ends up being someone like Maggie, that bartender Nikki or the island doctor , I'll be utterly disappointed. In fact, I'm surprised Maggie isn't dead yet. My back-up suspect is Sully, but I have no reason for that.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Harper's Island: Thrack, Splat, Sizzle

Thrack, Splat, Sizzle (Episode 7)
Directed by Scott Peters
Written by Jeffrey Bell
First aired 30 May 2009
Rating 5/10

For the preceding episode, please "Sploosh."
For the proceeding episode, please wait...

[Spoilers abound.]

You'd think with a triple-word title that "Thrack, Splat, Sizzle" there'd be at least three bodies, but it turns out the title is the most exciting portion of this somewhat lackluster episode.

The wedding party is getting ready to return to the mainland, the sheriff interviews suspects, J.D. runs and runs, and Malcolm can't figure out what to do about the money. The lack of energy is partly a result of some poor writing, particularly during the sheriff's interrogations and the laughable flashback scenes of Abby, Jimmy and the seven year-old Wakefield murders. The Abby and Trish bonding is sappy and also devoid of oomph. J.D.'s running has become such a trademark for the show that it's almost comical, which leaves us with Malcolm's money troubles the only entertaining subplot of episode seven.

I will begin with the flashback scenes. We learn a few things: Abby saw the killer hacking somebody and was nearly caught when Jimmy showed up, saving her life. Jimmy should know who the killer was but, as expected the face was hidden from us viewers. Seems like Jimmy may have falsely accused Wakefield since he should have been able to recognize them later. Maybe Abby repressed some memory and it was Jimmy she saw doing the killings. (Yes, I still think Jimmy's our killer.) We learn also that Charlie turned to the bottle and some nastily crafted phrases, along with exiling Abby, which is the cause of her resentment. We also discover that a thirty year-old shouldn't be playing a seventeen year-old, despite her youthful looks. Abby is certainly nice to look at, and Elaine Cassidy is the best thing about Harper's Island, but she isn't seventeen. Moreover, the glaringly over-exposed filming for the flashbacks (because the past is so much brighter?) is painful to watch. The combination of a thirty year-old high schooler and this awful lighting made me wonder if the sequences were supposed to be spoofs.

We also learn that the man with the burned face, the guy who unleashed those dogs and set up at least some of the island traps, is a victim of a Wakefield fire on the docks. He is also not a friend of Charlie Mills, telling Abby he is a liar. Moreover we discover that Wakefiled used to stalk Abby's mom, and that Charlie sent him away for seventeen years on some trumped up charges, so daddy is feeling a wee bit guilty.

Guilty enough to be pursuing J.D.? See J.D. persecuted. See J.D. run. See the ignorant characters perpetuating stereotypes. There's been so much focus on J.D.'s tattoos, obsession with death and other goth-like elements that the characters, from Sheriff Charlie Mills to J.D.'s own brother Henry, are holding these against them. I never care when television, such an impressionable medium, perpetuates such opinions. I'm hoping J.D. gets some redemption, though I'm pretty sure he'll be on the chopping block.

Finally we have the only entertaining portion of the episode: Malcolm and the Money. It's almost amusing though not very suspenseful to watch Malcolm trying to hide the loot. The police are searching rooms so he's rushing up to pack the money away and, with a knock at the door he drops it out of the window. Turns out it's only expendable bridesmaid Beth Barrington (Amber Borycki) who's just dropping in to thank Malcolm for his kindness the previous day. Seems she might have a crush on him, whereas Malcolm is thinking only of the dough. The subplot ends with Malcolm, having been found out by best man Sully and expendable groomsman token black dude Danny Brooks (Brandon Jay McLaren), burning up the money in the hotel incinerator. Why burn the cash? I have no idea since he's fessed up and evidently no need to destroy evidence. I suppose since the writers figured an incinerator was still lacking in the script. Malcolm gets pulled off-screen and chopped up. (In the DVD extras the scene is expanded to show body parts being tossed into the incinerator. Good thing these scenes were excluded since the cgi is pretty poor.) I suppose this was the "Sizzle" from the title, which just leaves me wondering about the "Thrack" and the "Splat."

The episode ending and twist is also good, with little girl Madison receiving a mysterious note and disappearing into a room where, evidently, someone is waiting for her. Final shot is of the door closing with a ghostly hand. (Ok, there's no ghostly hand, but it does close on its own.)

This episode also gets an additional screen shot, this time of Abby on her way to see Trish and doing her best to put on a smile. No particular reason, only that Elaine Cassidy is nice to look at.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Harper's Island: Sploosh

Sploosh (Episode 6)
Directed by James Whitmore Jr
Written by Robert Levine
First aired 23 May 2009
Rating: 7/10

For the previous episode, please see "Thwack."
For the following episode, please see "Thrack, Splat, Sizzle."


As expected, following the public execution of Thomas Wellington at the end of episode five, the remaining guests are now aware that a killer is on the loose. Or if not fully aware, at least suspecting. Sheriff Charlie Mills shows why he's a good cop by essentially challenging horror movie conventions: "I recommend you all stay together." Yet daughter Abby doesn't listen, being a rebel I suppose, doing traditional rebel daughter things like wandering around the island, sneaking into daddy's house, following suspicious boys and exhuming long-buried corpses.

The more the finger is being pointed at J.D. the less likely he's the killer, and the more I am beginning to sympathize with him. He actually managed to show some feeling toward Kelly: "I liked her." What a romantic. He's perpetually being persecuted, and even his brother good boy Henry is no help, accusing him of every possible misdemeanor. Again I'm hoping Henry is the killer, but for now my prime suspect is still Jimmy, who doesn't even  have the decency tp appear in this episode. Is he left out so we don't actively suspect him? There's also something quietly suspicious about best man Sully Sullivan, but that might just be because he doesn't quite fall into either of the show's character categories: overly suspicious or expendable wedding guest.

A few things are tied up along the way. Marty's body is discovered and we learn that someone is indeed buried in Wakefield's grave. Meantime another complication is built upon as Abby shows Henry and J.D. her dad's shrine to Wakefield and the files that reveal Wakefield might still be alive, or that there is a copycat on the loose. I liked seeing Abby, Henry and J.D. as an investigating trio, but the grouping doesn't last long as perpetual victim J.D. continues to face prejudices and is temporarily locked inside a kitchen pantry. I was half expecting someone to kill him through that skylight.

Episode six features a single victim in Wellington's son-in-law Richard Allen (Vancouver native David Lewis), who is bloodily harpooned in a great sequence, while his daughter Madison looks on from a window. Or does she? One of the better deaths so far. Richard is a good choice for victim for a few reasons. First of all his disappearance after having been outed as an unfaithful husband makes sense and others won't immediately suspect he's dead. Secondly, the audience won't be exposed to more melodrama concerning his sinful actions. Here the show would risk being less thriller and more soap opera.

And speaking of opera, those odd calls Abby is receiving, with "Ave Maria" playing over the cell, is okay but not terribly threatening. Anyone feel threatened by a Catholic prayer transformed into an operatic aria? Maybe Abby is more into country music.

Finally, the moments of suspense are intersliced by the comedic pair of Cal and Chloe. In this episode, the frolicking attractive young couple have just returned from sailing, when Brit boy Cal realizes someone found the engagement ring he'd recently lost. Adventuress fiancée-to-be Chloe makes a scene to retrieve. Not great comedy, particularly since they've put an end to a long-term relationship, but the true consequences of these escapades is to interrupt an otherwise suspenseful episode with mild television-level comedics. Not quite worth it. In fact, so distracting I'm hoping they'll become victims soon, or freak me out by being the killers-at-large.

I'm posting this final image to remark that I am quite impressed with the props for the show. Detailed stuff. I also liked the canned tomatoes and vegetables in the pantry, and took it as a warning not to dine at the Candlewick Inn.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Harper's Island: Thwack

Thwack (Episode 5)
Directed by
Written by
First aired 9 May 2009
Rating: 7/10

For the previous episode, please "Bang."
For the following episode, please go "Sploosh."

[Spoilers below.]

This episodes highlights fathers and daughters. Trish and Thomas Wellington bond after getting knocked off their bicycles--and the path--by a large tree trunk, while Abby actually bonds a little with her dad Charlie. It's rehearsal day so appropriate as father is preparing to give away the hand of daughter. The episode also features dogs, secret obsessions, the first body discovery, the first public death, my first serious suspicion and a surprise killing at the end (that made me jump a little).

As predicted, expendable bridesmaid Lucy's little dog is spotted loose on the island. Not as rabid as I'd hoped, the little yapper nonetheless leads Trish and daddy Wellington to near death. Battered and bruised, though their make-up still perfect, the two bond over their hobbling back to civilization, while encountering and killing a vicious dog let loose by a forest stranger. Mr. Wellington seems finally to be accepting Henry, and in a fit of anger Trish tells him that stepson Richard is sleeping with his latest wife. "I am such a cliché," Wellington says, which is probably what makes his character so appropriate to the series.

Meanwhile Abby attempts to bond with her father, Charlie Mills. She learns Charlie and Jimmy are actually buddies, and while breakfasting with the pair actually seems to have a good time. She goes over to daddy's house, her old home, to look over some of her things, and discovers that Charlie is secretly investigating a new set of murders possibly linked with John Wakefield. Creepy stuff.

And then I decided that Jimmy is the killer. For one thing, he's a nice guy, likeable and hence not suspicious. Also, he doesn't have an obvious motive and the writing isn't placing him in the spotlight of murder, focusing his character on his love for Abby. Moreover, Abby confides in him, and the heroine confiding unknowingly in the killer is a standard thriller trope. She confides in him of her father's obsession, while he is Charlie's only friend (it would appear), and except for the fact that Charlie is tirelessly investigating the crimes I might suspect that the two were working together. Moreover, Jimmy is an island labourer, an expert at chopping up fish, and therefore practiced enough to chop up human limbs as well.

Part of me was secretly hoping Henry was the killer, but he has no motive and really, that would be quite weak. So what is Jimmy's motive? Maybe Wakefield was his father and he's avenging the man's death. Maybe he's possessed by Wakefield's spirit. Maybe he's just doing what the Tarot deck (or the writers & creators) are making him do.

More fingers are being pointed to Henry's brother J.D., which is a bit wasted as he's not the killer, though he is certainly up to no good. More dead animals are featured with the dog mentioned above and a raccoon left torn apart in the church. J.D.'s firecracker is found at the site, which is supposed to make us suspect him, but we've seen enough mysteries to know it's never the one linked to the most obvious of clues. Yes, he was washing blood from his hands, but there's likely another explanation. Strangely, nothing is made of the fact that he seems not to care that Kelly hanged herself. I guess he has that affect on people.

Finally, the concluding death was effective in surprising me twice: first by its suddenness despite the obvious build-up, and secondly because I was surprised to see that character eliminated at this early stage. This death along with the discovery of Reverend Fain's chopped up body will surely change the course of the show. Now it is undoubtedly clear to all guests that a killer is among them. Or near them. You'd think they'd call the mainland for help... or perhaps the remaining eight episodes will take place in only a few hours. Whereas each episode, so far, has elapsed through the course of one entire day.

Harper's Island: Bang

Bang (Episode 4)
Directed by Guy Norman Bee
Written by Lindsay Sturman
First aired 2 May 2012
Rating: 6/10

For the previous episode please  see "Ka-Blam.
The following episode is found here at "Thwack."

(Spoilers below.)

Not wanting to miss out on any potential silly overused plot points, episode four quickly introduces us to a Tarot deck and its nose-bleeding psychic. The psychic and her deck are to be part of the exciting bachelorette festivities, where we learn a few things. Trish will be betrayed, and yet the one who betrays her will be her saviour. Her step-mom perhaps? Henry? The people who write her dialogue? We also learn that Abby's life is in danger, but we clever viewers knew that already without having to drip nasal blood. Finally, we learn that the Tower card is magical, since creepy little girl Madison leaves the psychic's den with the card in her hand, and yet it reappears that evening at the bachelorette.

Things slow down in episode four since a new, integral plot point is inserted, and the need to include back story for some previously minor characters affects the pacing.The boys are out fishing when they discover Hunter Jennings's body, sans head, and a bag of money. We've conveniently just learned that groomsman Malcolm Ross (Chris Gauthier) is strapped for cash and is trying to start-up a business or brewery of his Sacred Turtle beer. Good timing, and he nabs the cash ($250,000) and the gun, accidentally sinking the ship, all of which generates tensions between the groomsmen, and sends us off on another familiar road (see my post on episode three--this was expected). Everything is complicated when groomsman Joel Booth (Sean Rogerson), with that same Uncle Marty, accidentally sinks himself. Now Malcolm is not just a desperate broke thief, but a desperate broke thief murdered. Turns out Booth was his best friend and room-mate, has a mother... so much we learn about someone when the writers require our sympathy. Writer Lindsay Sturman does manage a good job in having Malcolm convince Henry to hold off on giving in the case. Henry must remain likeable and yet we need also to sympathize enough with Malcolm  to not just be interested, but worry about the consequences of this theft. Actor Gauthier deserves credit as well, playing up the desperation quite well.

Gauthier is a familiar face in smaller parts on television and in film, played the Toyman in Smallville and Vincent in Eureka. Writer Sturman, on the other hand, wrote five episodes of the excellent Odyssey 5, which also featured Christopher Gorham (that's Henry Dunn to you).

This new sub-plot is the reason why none of the groomsmen have yet been killed. I assumed, as with Lucy in episode two, that with the exception of Sully (Matt Barr) they'd each be expendable wedding guests. I was a little surprised they all survived the episode three scavenger hunt. This sub-plot will require something fresh and preferably exciting as it is so familiar. I'm hoping the gun and money will be tied to Marty so we can have an explanation.

As for Madison and her own potential psychic abilities, I find this sub-plot more interesting. (Excluding the "real" psychic portion.) I don't think there really is a ghost smashing good china or communing with the child, but I'd sure get a kick out of there being one. I'd also like to see an alien abduction and the appearance of a couple of men in black. (We do get a couple of big guys with guns, but it's just not the same.) I'm still waiting for a sea monster, mysterious lighthouse keeper and oversized insect (as per that Mysterious Island movie). The writers can have a lot of fun with this concept, but they seem to be taking it a little too seriously.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Harper's Island: Ka-Blam

Ka-Blam (Episode 1.3)
Directed by
Written by
First aired 23 April 2009
Rating: 7/10

For the previous episode, "Crack," please slip through here.
For the next episode, please be patient.

[Spoilers included.]

And the silliness keeps getting sillier (while I keep getting hooked).

Half-way through the episode I had my first suspicion: Sheriff Charlie Mills (Jim Beaver). I figured he was traumatized by his wife's death, the loss of his daughter Abby (they've become estranged) and her return along with the others has made him snap. What's more, I doubt that the notorious John Wakefield is the real killer, but a pawn or a patsy or simply wrongfully accused. The sheriff killed him in self defense, we're told, but perhaprs he was simply hiding his tracks and planting evidence. But then the writers conclude the episode by making him an out-and-out suspect and all I can think is that I've been had. Here I am spouting about conventions and analyzing plot points and death intentions and the writers all along had me guessing precisely as they willed it, just to toss in that ending as though tossing my own self-assured analyses smack-dab in the middle of the face.

The bastards got me good.

Meanwhile suspects are being eliminated as are threads, while a new one has been introduced. Hunter Jennings was killed after discovering Uncle Marty's cash and gun. Good timing for Hunter's death since he's too evil to be the killer and his thread was quickly getting tired. Also, the mysterious money is back in play and should generate fatal consequences, as found money bags normally do (think Shallow Grave, No Country for Old Men and A Simple Plan). Shane Pierce (Ben Cotton) has also been removed, though possibly temporarily. He also cannot be the killer since he's too mean and unstable, and he was also getting tiresome, particularly since his character was among the most single-dimensional. Sure he might be conducting crimes from the prison cell, perhaps working in collusion with another, but I doubt it.

I didn't care for the J.D. kidnapping subplot. It was obvious and didn't lead us anywhere aside from Shane's removal. I'm also indifferent to J.D. as a character and won't mind seeing him getting knocked off, especially if the writers can't manage a better thread. Why was he washing his bloody hands? I don't particularly care. Out, out damn spot. Die, die, stale character.

I did like Kelly though, yet her surprise death proves to the viewer, as Marty's death in the pilot did, that everyone is fair game. I'm expecting to be surprised some more. The shot above is of Kelly post-mortem, the discolouration in the eyes being result of ink. Perhaps a plot to make us suspect J.D. since he's covered in tattoos. Perhaps a red herring. Yet there is a riddle involving red eyes. Ink in the eyeball, Candlewick Inn matches... a few seemingly random clues which I hope aren't just tossed in arbitrarily.

Harper's Island: Crackle

Crackle (Episode 1.2)
Directed by Sanford Bookstaver
Written by Jeffrey Bell
First aired 16 April 2009
Ratibg: 7/10

For the previous episode, "Whap," please visit this page.
For the next episode, "Ka-Blam," please click here.

[There are spoilers in this review.]

Episode two of Harper's Island opens the morning after episode one closes, and lasts one entire day. The pacing in episode two is better than in its predecessor, but that's primarily the result of less preamble: we've met the characters, the situation has been set up, and we can now sit back and watch events unfold. And watch stereotypes get killed. Episode two presents us with a healthy body count: one kindly priest, two young women, two deer and maybe even a little dog. The dog's fate isn't clear, but it's possible he'll be found wandering the island half starved. Or transformed into a wild man-eating mongrel.

Only one of the deaths in episode two is surprising, but it's necessary in leading heroine Abby Mills to the conclusion that something on this island is afoot. We find that goth chick and John Wakefield-obsessed Kelly Seaver (Anna Mae Wills) has hung herself, but we are smarter than television characters and know that she's been murdered. Abby doesn't believe for an instant that Kelly would kill herself, especially since earlier that day Abby agreed to let her live with her, albeit temporarily, in Los Angeles, sending Kelly into absolute euphoria. Plus she's into this new guy, Henry Dunn's brother J.D. Abby is level-headed and has a good sense of character, so we'd expect Kelly's death to propel her to investigate the recent disappearances and odd island occurrences, like that deer head that appeared in Trish and Henry's bathtub.

The other deaths are just for show. Reverend Fain (veteran character actor Terence Kelly) has no real part in the plot and the girl with the little dog had victim emblazoned on her character at the outset. Other old college friends will surely follow down that same path, or at least I hope. I must admit that it's unclear whether everyone will be wiped out, as with Agatha Christie's own island adventure And Then There Were None, or if a small handful will be be spared. This unknowing is to the show's advantage, since it makes us wonder whether so-and-so will survive the massacre. Any random slasher movie will have all but the heroine and perhaps, though rarely, her boyfriend/brother/best male friend survive, but while Harper's Island is following slasher conventions, it also follows Gossip Girl conventions (though thankfully without that pitiful narration). We are promised at least one death per episode, and while a walk-on like Reverend Fain might steal that role, I doubt the writers would stoop to such a cheat since it will disappoint fans while also slow the show's mounting momentum.

This first full day on the island has exciting activities for the guests with a scavenger hunt. While it actually isn't exciting at all, it is potentially a good idea for the writers to both play around with character groupings and keeping people separated. Unfortunately there is little interest in the hunt itself, the humour about it being lame is itself lame, and the writers can't seem to multi-task. Cal getting lost and strung up is an ok addition, but the viewer pretty much knows that he isn't at risk since, for one thing it would be too obvious, and for another there likely won't be two similar deaths in the series, let alone during a single episode.

There is, however, a new twist is introduced and along with a new character, Hunter Jennings (Calgary native Victor Webster from Mutant X and many other television projects). Jennings is Trish's old ex who has apparently returned to reclaim her. Teen television element and traditional soap opera melodrama is blatantly fused with slasher plot as Trish must evaluate her love for Henry, since it's obvious that Jennings still has her steaming. You can't get more blatant than with a name like Hunter.

Finally, there's a nice touch with the fire pit scene at the end, since the leather gloved killer is seen striking a match against a matchbox from the Candlewick Inn, where Jennings is staying.But wait, that's where everyone is staying, isn't it?

And I still have no clue as to who the killer might be. Right now I'm honestly too interested in watching these stereotypes getting killed, which to me is the ultimate purpose of the series.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Harper's Island: Whap

Whap (Episode 1.1)
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Written by Ari Schlossberg
First aired 9 April 2009
Rating: 6/10

It was the premise that peaked my curiosity, otherwise I'd never heard of the series.

Harper's Island appears to be an attempt by CBS to emulate specialty network programming. With HBO, AMC and others delivering tense R-rated programming, shows normally short on episodes but high on body count, the once popular CBS has to compete. Unfortunately prime time television is not HBO, and the tameness of Harper's Island is immediately obvious. There is no nudity, swearing or originality, but there is surprisingly a fair amount of violence and more gore than you'd expect. There are attempts at bordering prime time limitations by showing women in skimpy underwear whenever possible). The dialogue is less than stellar though far from terrible, while the characters are incredibly generic and the actors good looking. There is much focus on relationships, familial and new, as well as elements returning from the past, along with teenage-level humour and so forth, so that the series comes off like what you would expect Gossip Girl to be if one or two characters were killed off each week (which wouldn't be a bad idea). Essentially a slasher Gossip Girl.

Despite the show's obvious faults I enjoyed the opener. It isn't high brow nor is it original, but somehow it manages to be fun. Filmed on Bowen Island in beautiful British Columbia, the scenery is lovely, the surroundings grey and wet. The cinematography is sometimes surprisingly good, though not always consistent (yet neither is the weather in BC), and unfortunately the editing is a bit scattered. There are tonnes of characters and situations, yet they're all well contained within this cozy setting. In fact the entire cornucopia of cliché that is Harper's Island is brought together well in this contained environment. A semi-secluded island, it's reminiscent of Agatha Chritie's master mystery And Then There Were None (or Ten Little Indians, among other less than politically correct titles).

Briefly, the series follows a group of people gathered for a wedding on Harper's Island off the coast of Washington state. It's a week-long wedding between a former boat hand and a wealthy local. There are a variety of characters, all familiar, so tensions abound in many forms. Just like a traditional soap opera. Add to this mix the haunting element of the community's past: seven years ago John Wakefield killed six people on the island. Now, during this week of bliss, more bodies will be added to that death list, at least one a week we're promised, and property values will surely decline.

The fact that there are so many characters and such a diverse range of relationships tossed into this salad allows the writers to confuse the viewer and keeping the audience from guessing, at least at the onset. We're too busy trying to figure out who these people are, why they're there, and so forth. Some characters are clearly expendable wedding guests while others are so obviously suspicious that they cannot be guilty of the crimes. The first victim, cousin Ed, is knocked off quite early and quite horrifically that we're off to a good start.

I won't discuss plot details and will assume you're reading this because you've watched it rather than because you're curious (IMDb is for the curious). I will, however, briefly discuss characters. Abby Mills (the lovely Elaine Cassidy) is the standard unattached, level-headed and intelligent protagonist. The Jamie Lee Curtis of Harper's Island. Abby is a former local and her mom was a victim of killer John Wakefield. I'm expecting her to figure things out early on. The groom is Henry Dunn (the excellent Odyssey 5's Christopher Gorham), former boat hand marrying island rich chick, an all-around nice guy and Abby's best friend. The bride is Trish Wellington (Katie Cassidy), rich over-protected girl. Then there's Henry's goth brother J.D. (Dean Chekvala) who looks nothing like Henry, the outsider nerdy stereotype proper comedic rich British guy Cal Vandeusen (Adam Campbell) and his slutty yet faithful girlfriend Chloe Carter (Cameron Richardson), Abby's sheriff father Charlie Mills (Jim Beaver), Trish's powerful daddy Thomas Wellington (Richard Burgi), and thousands of others. College friends, a girl with a yappy dog, the fat guy, the black guy, the mean guy, the womanizer, the girl's best friend, the former boyfriend... you name it, the stereotype's here.

And there's Uncle Morty (Harry Hamlin, you know, Perseus from the original Clash of the Titans). Hamlin is surprisingly good and properly mysterious. Everyone's friend (or uncle), a handsome bachelor womanizer who happens to be carrying a gun and loads of cash. I was genuinely surprised when he was knocked off at the end of episode one, and am curious if that bag filled with cash has an purpose in the plot.

 As for my predictions? I have absolutely none yet.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The 4400: White Light

White Light (Episode 1.5)
Directed by Tim Hunter
Written by Scott Peters
Co-starring Mark Valley
First aired 8 August 2004
Rating: 7/10

For a review of the pilot, please fly over here.
For a review of the previous episode, "Trial by Fire," please step back here.

Like the previous episode, this one does not introduce us to any new returnees. Unlike the previous episode, however, this one works well. The major difference is the lack of a sub-plot, and the resulting focus on our regular cast of is tense and taut. Moreover, we receive an explanation for the abductions which is both surprising and interesting. A good hook for season two.

Amid the burgeoning story-lines we discover that Jordan Collier's investment in the returnees is less than humane. He is hoping to grow some of Lily's baby's chromosomes in a lab. We don't yet know why, but can assume (since we've seem it before) that he is hoping to harvest some of the returnees' special abilities. Do a little genetic engineering perhaps, possibly even inject himself with some baby chromosome. Interestingly enough, the baby somehow warns mommy that the apartment they originally wanted to rent was not good or safe enough. Good little helpful fetus. However, the apartment she Lily and Patrick do move into ends up being bombed, and the baby can't recognize that JC's gated community isn't safe, something that I, with my unlimited lack of special powers, can figure out from so many miles away. "That baby belongs with me!" JC shouts out.

"White Light" takes leaps in the Tom Baldwin/Diane Skouris relationship. Here they are forced to trust each other, or at least Tom to trust Diane, and they prove to each other that they can work together, and that they're essentially on the same side. It's a progression that is sped up in relation to The X-Files, in the sense that trust between Mulder and Scully was slower to progress. There's an additional tie-in to that show in that the geeky technician falls for the lead female investigator.

Moreover, Diana's relationship with Maia is also highlighted. This is good in including Maia in the events of the final episode, since her role is fairly small, relegated to observations such as "Your son, Kyle. He's the answer," or allowing Diana to deliver a dose of television philosophy: "Normal people like me, they just wish they were special, like you." We certainly can't forget Maia since she was so integral to the series opening, and likely plays a major role later on. The best thing here, however, since her appearance in "White Light" is not terribly necessary, is that it is kept short and limited to the early part of the hour.

[A semi-spoiler on the abduction explanation.] Kyle turns out to be someone else in that he embodies a messenger who is supposed to reveal the great mystery of the 4400 to his dad Tom Baldwin. Now, we know that he never was abducted and couldn't be operated on so how did he nonetheless become this messenger? If the messenger spirit was so simply injected into him, why do these people need to be abducted for so many years? All stuff to think about, and I doubt we'll get an answer. Especially since so much of the abductions was geared toward the Mystery. This Mystery, which I won't reveal in detail here, is reminiscent of the excellent short-lived series, Odyssey 5. Both shows deal with the eventual end of the world, but of course The 4400 contains more fantastical elements, to the point that it is a science-fiction/fantasy crossover, whereas Odyssey 5 is strictly science fiction. Premises for both shows offer much potential.

There are, admittedly, a couple of weak moments, in particular how Skouris knocks down that hulking yet evidently dim-witted security officer. The joke's ok, McKenzie's delivery is great, but seriously... Overall well handled by director Tim Hunter, who has worked on numerous projects, from average 80s mainstream movies to a variety of television shows, including Mad Men, Nip/Tuck and that haunting episode of Carnivàle, "Babylon."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The 4400: Trial by Fire

Trial by Fire (Episode 1.4)
Directed by Nick Gomez
Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Co-starring Helen Shaver and Mark Valley
First aired 1 August 2004
Rating: 6/10

"Someone's coming who'll make everything better." Maia to Diane Skouris.

(A few spoilers also coming.)

There are some great story elements in "Trial By Fire" but the plot progression is slowed up due to a badly handled sub-plot. This week's sub-plot does not feature a new member of the returnees, but instead with a series of terror bombings against them. Television mogul Barbara Yates (Helen Shaver) has leaked the names of addresses of the 4400, making them easy targets. Fairly interesting and quite threatening, illustrating the division between returnees and those who have never left. Unfortunately there is little suspense as the tormentors' identities are revealed early, and the entire thing escalates in a lengthy chase sequence that is lacking in excitement and suspense, since we know they will be stopped without causing any damage. There is also an element of silliness as the two 4400 investigating agents are involved in every aspect of this crime, from investigating bombings to riding choppers in pursuit of the threat when normally experts would be handling the grime and they'd simply read the reports and watch whatever footage is available. Even something so fantastic as The 4400 deserves some realism.
The ripple effect theory comes into play as we learn early and all too simply that the bombers are brothers of one of the Friday Harbor Killer's victims. They are avenging her death through terror acts, and end up killing a returnee: Mary Deneville (1 August 1999), so that we're now left with 4398. All this makes us wonder about the ripple effect, and that perhaps there is none, or that the creators have taken on something a little too complex. The thing is, there is so much rippling and consequences will continue even outside the story-line that not all questions will be answered. For instance, why was Deneville killed? Why was she abducted in the first place, given the power to brighten flowers, and killed off? Perhaps the abductors cannot foresee the future all too clearly? And so forth.

As I mentioned there are strong elements in the episode. Collier is still a mystery, Kyle's return is freaky, a new guy coming in to potentially take over the Homeland Security office looking after the 4400 in a bid to take over Ryland's job.

Getting rid of Barbara Yates was all too simply handled. While it annoyed me a little that she was eliminated so quickly and so conveniently, the scene does portray Dennis Ryland as a less than sympathetic power weaver. While his intentions are better than Yates's, he is shown in a light not too different from hers. I appreciate this since the show lacks mystery in its division between heroes and villains. To elevate this shadow we are introduced to Warren Lytell (Mark Valley), an investigator sent by DC to "clean up Ryland's mess." We might wonder if Ryland has perhaps made a mess of things, especially since he's revealed a dirty card when dealing with Yates. Unfortunately this opportunity is squandered as Lytell is portrayed off the bat as an untrustworthy person, while the devotion of agents Baldwin and Skouris never waver. Compared to The X-Files, where we are unsure of nearly everyone at the beginning, from Alex Krycek to Walter Skinner, in The 4400 uncertainty exists in very few characters, at this point limited to Jordan Collier. But even his intentions are soon revealed.

JC continues to care for Lily and Richard, and the other returnees. He's invested so much in them by having built a gated commune with its own security team. A pretty place, but certainly creepy as all gated communities appear. Lily is now clearly suspecting that his has ulterior motives. Those deep creases and dark looks she is now giving him are enough to convince the viewer as well, removing whatever shades of doubt we might have had.

While there are a number of flaws in the episode, it's strengths are enough to keep one interested, and we are hooked primarily thanks to Kyle's plight. Having just woken from a three-year coma he is acting a little oddly. "This is not my house," he tells his parents. "These are not my memories," he says when looking at old photographs. We learn that Tom and girlfriend Nikki are aware of Shawn's power, a power that was supposed to have been Kyle's. Furthermore, one scene makes it clear that Diane suspects that Shawn has a hidden ability, and that Tom knows it. All of these complications and intrigue are nicely built up, and give rise to potential for later plot and character development. A great performance by Chad Faust as Kyle, some nice creepiness and that great last existential line:
"I'm not Kyle Baldwin."

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