Season 1, Episode 5: “Curse of the Starving Class”
Directed by John Badham
Written by Michael Gans & Richard Register
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “On the Road” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Showdown” – click here
Interesting note: this episode takes its title from a play written by the ever amazing Sam Shepard (RIP), The Curse of the Starving Class, about a family in tragedy. Well, that fits right in at Bristol Cove, where several families – from mermaid to human – are experiencing their own varying degrees of tragedies.
So, we’re jumping ahead one month. Cut to Dutch Harbor in Alaska. Chris (Chad Rook) gets a surprise visit at the bar from none other than Aldon Decker (Ron Yuan), who’s there to search for the “unstable” woman Chris escaped with from the military complex.
In Bristol Cove, Ben (Alex Roe) and Maddie (Fola Evans-Akingbola) are continuing their marine research. Ben’s found a deep sea fish near the surface, which is curious. At the same time, the couple feel as if they’re distant lately, or at least Maddie does. That prompts Ben to try putting those feelings to rest. Although it’s clear they’ve both got Ryn (Eline Powell) on the brain.
Elsewhere, Dr. Abbott (Patrick Gallagher) talks with Elaine Pownall (Sarah-Jane Redmond). She’s wondering about Ben. The doc tells her of the “damsel in distress” Ben called about a couple times, as well as seeing him somewhere late the night before. This just makes mom believe her son may be cheating on Maddie. That’ll surely start some awkwardness. Sure enough, Elaine calls her son’s partner later to arrange a lunch. Uh oh.
Xander (Ian Verdun) is having issues out at sea, too. Another guy’s been hurt. The crews are tired, the industry is booming, and men are getting injured on the boats. Ben’s concerned. Poor Xander and his buddies are just trying to make a living. All the while there’s more of those deep sea fish turning up in the catches. This is all driving Ben towards working with his father, Ted (David Cubitt). The son wants to help find a “better way to fish,” being a marine biologist and all. Taking a more active role in the family business might allow him to at least TRY and change things from the inside-out.
A signal suddenly turns up at the Marine Research Centre – Ryn is coming back. They find two tails on the shoreline. Likely Ryn and her sister Donna (Sibongile Mlambo). It’s so interesting how they handle the folklore/mythology angle of the mermaids in Siren. Really dig the tails, how they turn into ash when they’re shed and touched afterwards. Creepy and cool. But when things are left behind, it also means the military have a trail to follow. We see Decker tracking the mermaids, checking in with Admiral Harrison (Anthony Harrison). It’s only a matter of time. Yet something about Decker intrigues me, like he’s started to see the mermaids as human instead of a wholly other species. Just maybe.
Ryn and Donna are indeed on land. The former tries to explain to her sister that humans aren’t all bad: “Some are good.” And she also explains they can help; meaning Ben and Maddie, of course. The mermaid women are learning about life on land, and Donna’s not happy with her sister. Donna doesn’t like being on land because she’s experience the horrors of being caught by humans rather than helped.
The sisters go to the centre, where they find Ben and Maddie. Helen (Rena Owen) also shows up. And all these people sort of sets Donna on edge. Ryn tells them all about how there’s “nothing to hunt” for food anymore. The mermaids are beginning to die. Donna starts getting the impression these people are taking the food, after she sees the deep sea fish in the lab. Thus begins a massive fight, which pits sister against sister, and Ryn tries fending off Donna before someone gets killed.
Unfortunately this once again divides the mermaid sisters. This perfectly encapsulates the themes of Sam Shepard’s The Curse of the Starving Class within the context of Siren. Fantastically written episode + choice of homage. There’s also the whole bioethical consideration of the show, involving these mermaids, the depleted food sources and ecosystems of the ocean, and so on. A timely series, really.
Later, Donna goes out seeking food. She finds the Pownall plan. There she has a brief munch, but she’s caught by a worker. She then attacks him before running off when the alarm goes off. Next morning, Ben arrives for his first day of work with dad, as the place is a bit of a crime scene. Out on the docks, Chris reunites with Xander and Calvin (Curtis Lum) after his month on the run. He tells them about the “psycho killer” lady who escaped with him, as well as Decker tracking him down. So he’s back in Bristol Cove to fish with the boys again, believing there’s no mermaid like they once thought.
Ryn has bonded further with Maddie, sharing a kiss between them. It’s hard to tell what the mermaid is thinking. Other than the fact she does care about both Maddie and Ben. It’s hard knowing if it’s a sensual thing, or if it’s merely a familial love she’s started feeling.
At lunch, Elaine and Maddie sit together, chatting about Ben and Maddie’s relationship. That’s when Elaine begins prodding into their business at the centre. She mentions Ben has “issues” and wonders if Maddie is his “current rescue.” Quite an insulting line of questioning, despite her insistence she was the first rescue of her son. Quite a family history buried there.
Ben starts snooping around his father’s office, hoping to find out more about Coastal Mills – who’s buying up the catches Pownall Seafood is hauling in, hand over fist. He manages to hack into dad’s computer, taking a look at Ted’s e-mails. He discovers Coastal Mills has “gained quota waivers,” so they can all but clean out the ocean in Bristol Cove.
Now Ben and Maddie have more to go on. Only there’s no records leading back to Coastal Mills, nobody even knows who runs the company. Lots to be suspicious about, that’s for damn sure. A government-sanctioned conspiracy bent on starving out the mermaids, driving them up towards the surface to be caught. The military’s even got more tanks ready built to house them.
Helen’s found Donna, down by the wharf near the water. She’s brought the mermaid a bite to eat, trying to show her some care. Donna is still quite wild. But Helen says they “want the same thing.” FINALLY WE GET THE REVELATION: Helen is one of the mermaids. She surely came to Bristol Cove years and years ago, evidenced by the scarring on her legs. Wow. I’ve been waiting for that one.
Love this series. Keeps getting more interesting, more wild, more fun. The Helen moment was something I wondered about early on, so it’s excellent they finally gave that up. Plus, it can lead in so many different, wonderful directions. The plot has thickened!
“Showdown” is next time.