Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by Scott Stewart
Written by Eric Wald
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Lure” – click here
We start in the Bering Strait. A boat and its crew are experiencing intense waves during a bit of a storm. They manage to haul in a load of fish. But something else is in their catch; something dangerous. It wounds one of the men badly before slipping away.
The men wait for a medical evacuation. In the meantime, armed men show up to see what they’ve “caught.” They take the wounded crew member, and they tranquilise the creature taking it off someplace else.
Bristol Cove is in the midst of Mermaid Days, a big festival. This is a mermaid-obsessed town. They celebrate Charles H. Pownall, one of the town’s “founding fathers.” Ted Pownall (David Cubitt) gives his big speech, but he’s not impressed his son Ben (Alex Roe) isn’t there.
That’s because Ben is out saving the world, one animal at a time. He and Maddie (Fola Evans-Akingbola) are marine biologists. He used to be a fisherman, and he knows the guys from the boat. They tell him about the Navy SEALs who came for the creature and their wounded buddy. This is the first full-on mention of a “mermaid.” Just not the romanticised version, the one mythologising femininity and so on. This was more predatory. Ben highly doubts it was a mermaid. Hard to sell to a bunch of guys who saw their friend get bit by something inexplicable.
The military’s busy figuring out exactly what they have on their hands. Admiral Harrison (Anthony Harrison) is brought in to see for himself. He looks at a creature in a tank, and there floats a mermaid. A woman-like form, though with no definable sex organs like many perverted visions of the mermaid throughout history have been depicted. Already loving Siren, solely for the creature’s look.
Xander (Ian Verdun) is having trouble reconciling what he saw on the boat. He insists that there could possibly be things below the water they “we haven‘t seen before.” Even so, Ben can’t bring himself to believe in a mermaid. Not unless he sees it with his own eyes. There’s a great homage to Jaws here, as a young boy’s in the water swimming, and a dead shark’s head pops out of the water. Something bit it apart; something ferocious. Ben and Maddie study it to try and figure out what could’ve done that to a shark.
On his way home that evening, Ben finds a young woman in the middle of the road, naked, and barely conscious. He takes her to his place where Dr. Abbott (Patrick Gallagher) agrees to meet them. The girl doesn’t say much, aside from singing her siren song. Luckily, she’s interrupted when the doc arrives. She sneaks out, anyway. But Ben’s already infected with that song, hearing it in his sleep.
I love seeing Ryn (Eline Powell), our mysterious girl, look at her feet with wonder, then moving them as if they were still a tail. The best/saddest is seeing her species commodified for capitalism in Bristol Cove – murals, merchandise, near a whole town built on the legend of the mermaid and bringing in revenue. There’s also Helen (Rena Owen), who Ryn passes by; she seems to sense the strange presence of the young woman.
Ryn ends up in a man’s car getting a ride. He stops to have a nip of whiskey, offering her some, too. It’s getting creepier by the second. Although I get the feeling he’s not going to have as much fun as he believes. It isn’t long before she kills that would-be rapist. She’s noticing her skin is drying out, a green-ish colour peeking out from underneath.
The mermaid heads for the Bristol Cove Marine Research Center, where Maddie’s giving a tour to a bunch of kids. Maddie cites the famous idiots who passed the little dolphin around until it died, and then still after. Most compelling is how the seals react angrily after Ryn comes out by the wharf. They can sense what’s higher on the food chain. When Ben gets to the Center he tries to befriend Ryn more. He sees the condition of her skin, and wants to help. And he’s still hypnotised by the girl’s siren song.
Poor Ryn can’t contain herself a whole lot longer. She’s gradually reverting to her original form, so she has to crawl herself back out to the water, where she can become herself once more. Ben sees her on one of the bay’s cameras, so he dives down to see for himself what’s really happening. This prompts Ryn to attack. He’s thrashed around, managing to crack her in the face then get back onto the wharf in one piece.
This sends Ben to go see Helen, she used to tell the kids “tall tales” about mermaids. He knows now the truth is right there in their bay. Helen knows all about the creatures, including the bloody history of the Pownall family. Now Ben is going out on the water with his old pals, determined to know more.
All the while, Chris (Chad Rook) is in some military complex somewhere.
This was way better than I’d even expected. There are so many things setup here. I’m hoping that they’re going to use a bit of feminism in the writing, which feels poised to open up in regards to the Pownall legacy of genocide against mermaids. It’s the perfect setup for a horror involving patriarchal rule and the oppression of women, all drawn out in a folklore metaphor.
“The Lure” is next, and I’m damn excited.