July 16th, 2010
The second episode of any series is often more telling than its pilot, as it represents the writers’ first chance to give an indication of where the series goes beyond the original concept. This is especially true with shows like Haven which rely on a combination of serialized elements and procedural components, as you start to see the balance take shape when freed from the more blatant exposition required in a pilot.
The two tests that I have for episodes like “Butterfly” are the Serial Extension test and the Procedural Competency test: the former looks at how the show expanded its serialized elements in order to keep viewers intrigued to see the series and its characters evolve, while the latter looks at how it constructs its stand-alone case in order to serve both those serial elements and our general entertainment. I wouldn’t say that, at this early stage, one is more important than the other: we may be enticed to stick around longer should the serialized storyline come together in an interesting fashion, but we’re more likely to quit earlier if the show just isn’t engaging in the stories it will tell in the majority of each episode.
I think that “Butterfly” passes the Serial Extension test with some spooky terminology and a sense of history, but it fails the Procedural Competency test: while certainly not the worst hour of procedural television I’ve seen, the dialogue just isn’t capable of selling this material, and the story’s conclusion is unbelievable not because it involves magic, but because the episode failed miserably at engaging me within its resolution, leaving me skeptical that the series can execute on the small tidbits we’re getting on the serialized front.
If Haven isn’t going to have a sense of humour, its stories are going to have to be a whole lot more engaging than this one. The tale of a foster child whose dreams become a nightmarish reality after his parents died in a car accident is not actually terrible in theory, especially since the Reverend who takes him in as at the heart of the divide between the Godly and the Ungodly in Haven – the episode’s biggest contribution to the series’ future is the notion of the Troubles, that Nathan and others like him experienced something during the 1980s which forever changed the town and continues to haunt them to this day. It provides a context for the events unfolding, and so this case should have felt particularly energized as a result; the problem, however, is that this show lacks anything even close to energy, both due to some very clunky dialogue and some nondescript directing. The effects weren’t bad, as the CGI butterflies and the various “nightmares come to life” scenarios were pretty effective, but the characters weren’t given the same sort of attention.
There are some moments where the story gives way to the serialized side of things, which is when the episode became sort of interesting; however, when it moves to resolving the standalone story, that resolution makes very little sense. It may have sounded like a great idea on paper to have the agents play the role of his parents while his dream state allows him to listen in and “save” his parents, but the execution lacked any sort of emotional impact. It’s a poor piece of design because there’s no chance that anything is going to happen to the two leads of the show, which eliminates any suspense and which then makes it a highly predictable sequence. Combine with not much in the way of original characterization, and you’ve got a case which failed to make an impact beyond the exposition it provided.
Normally, I’d say that 1 out of 2 ain’t bad, and that introducing some intriguing mysteries from the town’s past is a step in the right direction and that the procedural side of things will come together in the future. However, I think seeing a story which failed to move me demonstrated how little fun there is in this show, how the chemistry between the leads is less than electric (which isn’t to say it’s absent, but rather that it doesn’t have any energy) and how any attempts to turn the Chief of Police into a comic figure felt at odds with just about every other portion of the episode. The most telling sign was that, despite my reservations about Eric Balfour’s presence on the show considering his existing “star” image, I missed having a character who didn’t take all of this so seriously, who might have been able to show some layers to the Troubles and that side of the series rather than having it all unveiled under intense, and serious, secrecy. The serialized stories have never been my concern with the show, as there’s always room for another science fiction series to join Fringe, The X-Files and Warehouse 13 in this area. My concern now, though, is that there are no elements to get the series through those periods where these sorts of exposition-heavy episodes won’t exist, and where they will have to rely on a procedural competency which just didn’t measure up for me.
It’s summer, and the novelty of the Nova Scotia locales hasn’t yet worn off, so I won’t be giving up on the show: however, any chance of the series joining Warehouse 13 in terms of quality is slipping away based on the sense of procedural structure and overall aesthetic achieved in “Butterfly.” I wouldn’t really be worried if they were struggling with the serialized story at this point, as it’s only part of each episode and has a season to develop; by comparison, the procedural structure is the basic foundation for the show, and for it to be so poorly done here simply raises some red flags for me.
- According to IMDB, another issue at play here was that the episode was airing out of order, intended to be the third episode (which explains some of the oddness in the episode’s setup). However, normally I’d expect this to weaken the serialized elements rather than the procedural, so that remains a bit strange.
- The script actually bugged me quite a bit: there were some very strange dialogue tics, in particular how quickly Audrey picked up “The Rev” as a term for the Reverend – conversations just never seemed to happen naturally, and there’s none of the flow you see from Burn Notice or Warehouse 13.
- I’m still a bit confused about what The Troubles actually are: was it that this was when people’s conditions first manifested, or was it that this was a particularly bad period? For example: Nathan has presumably been like this since that point, so it’s not as if his “abilities” went away for all of those years, so what exactly constitutes an “outbreak” for him? It’s easier with others, whose powers manifest more externally, but I found that they were more vague than they really needed to be.
- I’d be willing to look past a lot if there was a comic element to this series, but the doom and gloom appears to be the dominant mode, which I think is really going to harm the series’ traction in the long term.