Harper's Island: Week 4 Recap

This is it folks. I prayed the day wouldn’t come, but many predicted that it was inevitable. It seems that they were right and I was wrong. So here we are. Episode four.

The week that Harper’s Island got inexplicably, inexcusably, and perhaps irredeemably stupid.

Oh, and since the episode doesn’t air until tonight in the States (Global didn’t move it the way CBS did), so don’t read this until tomorrow if you don’t want spoilers.

The episode begins with Shae and her evil daughter visiting the psychic who’ll be entertaining people at Trish’s Hen Night. Madison steal a ‘The Tower’ card from her Tarot deck, and then after the mother and daughter have left and the psychic is looking over the list of guests for the party and she gets a nosebleed. A drop of blood lands right on Abby’s name!

Over at the bar, Nikki is helping Abby put a scrapbook together as a wedding gift. Kimmy enters the scene in a surprisingly jovial fashion for a guy whose best friend – just 12 hours earlier, tried to murder someone and was hauled off to jail. In a well-written piece of fiction, this would be a hint that he’s an emotionally detached psychopath, and likely the killer. Here I’m sure it means nothing. Jimmy and Abby walk out of the bar together, and he tries to apologize for all the island craziness. Well, at least he acknowledges the situation. Also, and this isn’t a problem or a nitpick or anything, but I’ve got to ask – why is there a really well-detailed scale model of a boat in front of the bar?

Over at the hotel, Henry is washing up and getting ready for the day when Trish propositions him. You know, for a woman who suggested that they get separate rooms for the week so their wedding night could be ‘special’, she initiates sex with her fiancee an awful lot.

A little later on Henry meets up with the frat boys as they talk about the stag party, then announce that they’re taking him fishing because that’s his favorite thing to do! Meanwhile the Fat one is busy pitching Richard and Thomas on his terrible business plan, a small brewery called ‘Sacred Turtle Beer’. He wants a hundred thousand dollars so he can get it into stores throughout Oregon and Washington State. Naturally he’s denied the investment. Seriously, would you invest money with a guy who didn’t have the common sense to stop his sideburns before they transformed into a neckbeard?

Trish and Shae are celebrating as well – their mother’s fine china has arrived just in time for the tea party portion of their day! But then one of the cups breaks. Madison claims she didn’t do it, but who can believe an evil little girl?

Out on the boat the boys are just finishing their excursion and comforting Fat Frat Guy, who starts loudly complaining that he’s out of money. As they head back in they see Hunter’s boat floating in the bay. Hold on to your seats, because it’s about to get awful.

Over on the boat they find the corpse, but because Hunter’s face was blown off by the shotgun blast, they can’t identify the body. Everyone freaks out except for Henry and Fat Frat boy. Fat Frat because he spots Uncle Marty’s bag of cash, and Henry because he’s the prime suspect for Hunter’s murder.

Fat Frat grabs the bag and the gun, and suggests that they take it. Henry decides that he’s going to call the harbor patrol, so Fat Frat, in a desperate gambit, shoots a hole in the bottom of Hunter’s boat when everyone’s back is turned. For some reason this makes Henry agree to let the boat sink while they take the money.

Okay, there’s only two possibilities here – either Henry’s happy that Hunter’s body will be lost because he killed Hunter, which makes his actions make sense, or this just became an unimaginably badly-written television show. Why? Here’s the hole in the bottom of the boat:

You could stick a finger in that and plug it. One of the beer bottles. Part of a fishing pole. Hell, you could just sit in the boat and put your foot over it and you’d be fine for as long as it took to tow that boat back to dock. But they don’t do any of those things. No, completely out of the blue, they elect to abandon a murdered human being’s body to the Ocean rather than going to the slightest bit of trouble.

Either these are unbelievably stupid characters, or incredibly callous ones. I’m not interested in watching fiction about either.

Back on the island Jimmy and Abby have stopped to make a delivery on her way to the newspaper office so she can finish her scrapbook, and they pause to discuss their old relationship, mainly how Jimmy pretends to be over Abby, even though he’s clearly not, and how Abby hints that she hasn’t been able to have any kind of a relationship with anyone because she’s so screwed up. They then head over to help an old lady with her car, so Abby can see that Jimmy has grown up into a decent bloke.

At the inn, Trish goes looking for Katherine (who knows why?), and stumbles upon her and Richard playing a twisted bondage game. She finds this understandably upsetting, but doesn’t let them know she’s watching.

Henry and the Frat Guys get back to the hotel and run into Cal, whom they do a terrible job of hiding their guilt in front of. In Henry’s cabin the five of them sort out the money.

They announce that they’ve counted it a number of times, and each time it comes out to 250K, which Douchey Frat helpfully points out is ‘fifty grand apiece’. Of course those are bank-bound packages of hundred dollar bills, meaning that there’s ten thousand dollars in each. The money on the table is four packages wide by six packages tall. Meaning that there’s only two hundred and forty thousand dollars.

But that’s not the point I’m getting to here. No, the stupid stuff starts up again almost immediately, when Henry says they should turn it in, and Geeky Frat announces that they can’t, because they committed a crime by stealing the money! Um, who exactly did you steal it from? The corpse? Let’s say they call the police right now and announce that when they found the boat with the body in it, and picked up the gun it accidentally went off, sinking the boat (which is close enough to true, anyhow). If they then announced that they took the money off the boat in the hopes of preserving evidence (that would otherwise have washed away), what crime does he imagine they could be charged with?

Of course, maybe Geeky Frat is just being panicky, because he immediately announces that there’s probably drug dealers on the island looking for the money right now! But if we’re supposed to think that Geeky Frat is just being crazy, why does no one say that? Fat Frat takes Henry aside and apologizes for screwing up on the boat, and asks if there’s some way he can keep the money, because he’s a sweaty desperate fat guy who’s over his head in debt.

The stupidity then gets ratcheted up another few notches when Henry announces that since there’s no good way to get rid of the money, they should hide it today, enjoy his bachelor party tonight, and deal with ‘the dead guy’ later. It’s his wedding, and he wants to have fun, so they can deal with the money situation once it’s all over.

Oh my god.

Remember that movie Short Cuts, where the guys are going fishing and find a body, and elaborately rationalize to themselves how since they had to walk six hours to get to the fishing spot anyways, and since it was already too late to walk back so they couldn’t go and get the police until the next morning, it wouldn’t be so bad if they did a little fishing that night, so long as they did it upriver from the body? Remember how callous those people seemed, even while their actions were understandable because the fishing trip was so important to them, and after all, it’s not like the body was going anywhere.

The brilliance of that movie is that the audience can completely understand where Fred Willard is coming from, even while being disgusted by his actions, and totally agree with his wife, who feels that he’s done something monstrously wrong.

By comparison, look at Henry’s situation here – he knows someone has been murdered. The actions of his stupid friend has risked the body disappearing forever. Every minute that goes by without him calling the Sheriff and reporting what they found the chances of that body being recovered all the slimmer. So what does he want to do? Deal with ‘the dead guy’ later.

How exactly are you going to ‘deal with’ the dead guy, Henry? You can’t find the body. Are you going to call the Sheriff tomorrow? If so, what are you going to tell him? That you found a body yesterday, sank it, and then didn’t bother to tell the proper authorities for twenty-four hours? Let’s see how that plays out.

The simple fact is, there’s no reason not to call the Sheriff. If you want to keep the money, don’t tell him you found it, and hide it somewhere (it’s not like he’ll find evidence of it on the submerged boat). If don’t want to keep the money, but you’re scared of drug dealers, turn the money over to the Sheriff. It instantly becomes his problem. If you’d like to keep the money legally, also turn it over to the sheriff. If no one turns up to claim it after a certain amount of time, you get to keep it. Okay, maybe laws on ‘found money’ vary from state to state, but the most the sheriff will ever be able to turn up is that it belonged to Marty, so it’ll wind up getting turned over to Henry, anyway.

Unless it turns out that Henry killed Hunter, his actions here are totally inexcusable. If he killed Hunter, and is happy the body’s going away, fine, great, I get where he’s coming from. But the problem is that for Henry to have killed Hunter, he would have had to have killed Marty as well (to get the money and gun). Since Henry couldn’t have done that, the only reason not to call is because he doesn’t want anything to interrupt his party, which is the action and mindset of an awful human being.

You know what? We’re down to one likable character on this entire show: Cal, the foppish Brit. Even Abby’s too stupid to be sympathetic at this point, and we’re only four hours in.

Here’s the funny part – this whole dead body/money situation? It hasn’t reached the low point yet. But it’s coming.

Over at the Harper’s Globe newspaper (check the website for a series of webisodes about the island! I haven’t!) Abby drops by, looking for a back issue with a picture of Henry as a young boy in it. While the woman working there goes to get the paper, Abby notices a stack of papers lying on the counter with stories about John Wakefield in them. In addition to giving me more fodder for my Fake Journalism feature, we also learn a valuable lesson from the papers. Either John Wakefield isn’t dead, or we’re going to be seeing him in a flashback soon. How can I tell?

I'm 95% sure that’s Callum Rennie. The same Callum Rennie that starred in Due South, Da Vinci’s Inquest, Battlestar Galactica, and was mentioned in a monologue by Bruce McCullough on the Kids in the Hall. Somehow I doubt they cast this instantly-familiar character actor to do nothing more than pose for a mugshot. Sure, Live Schreiber was only in one shot in the movie Scream, but they cast a real actor for the part because they knew they’d need him if they made a Scream 2.

Also, how big is this island? How on earth do they have a daily newspaper? Weekly I would totally understand, but daily?

The news lady returns and explains that someone had called to ask for all the Wakefield news articles (probably Chloe, that nut!), but hadn’t come to pick them up yet. Abby gets the picture she was looking for, a clipping about a ten-year-old Henry catching a giant fish. It’s all for naught, though, because the second she walks out the door Abby almost gets hit by a car (driven by the psychic!), and winds up dropping the scrapbook into a pool of mud, destroying all her work! Of course, I can’t really blame Abby for walking out into the road without looking – she was distracted by the ridiculously ominous way the news lady was watching her through the windowed door of the newspaper office.

Oh, and based on that sign, the news lady’s name might be ‘Wendy’.

On the upside, this episode has given me a chance to learn everyone’s ages. Between a note given to the psychic with all the women’s birthdays (apparently Shae confused ‘psychic’ with ‘astrologer’) and Henry’s newspaper, we’ve got a good overview. Henry’s 28, Trish is 27, Abby is 26, and the rest of the characters don’t particularly matter. Except for Katherine, the trophy wife, who’s 35, just eight years older than Trish, her younger step daughter, and eight days younger than Shae, her (literally) older step step-daughter. Ick.

Also, in addition to the bridesmaids we’ve met there are three more who haven’t had lines: Jennifer Stanwyck, Keira Riddle, and Joanne (name cut off). Are they among the possible pool of victims? I’m guessing not, but who knows? There could be an absolutely brutal cull of the extras coming.

Just as Henry gets out of the shower Trish returns to their room, upset about the twisted bondage relationship that Richard and Katherine enjoy. This makes it difficult for Trish to hold in her contempt in the next scene when Katherine gives everyone pink hoodies to celebrate being in the wedding party!

And now, for the stupidest thing in the episode. It was just barely plausible last episode, but here all suspension of disbelief must be thrown out the window. This is a gathering of the bridesmaids, and not a single character wonders where Lucy or her dog is. I don’t care if you have another text, or a message left at the counter, or what, but this absolutely must be addressed or your characters lose all credibility.

Trish and Shae are distracted for a moment from the disappearance of their dead friend when the inn manager appears and informs them that all of their dead mother’s china has been destroyed! Madison instantly assumes Madison did it, what with her being an evil little girl and all, and Abby runs off find her. And find Madison she does – the little girl is sitting in an empty room, picking the petals off a flower one at a time and announcing that ‘the spirits’ told her that she’s not going to get to be a flower girl.

Hopefully because she’ll be dead by the wedding.

When we return from commercial all of the frat guys are drinking at some kind of lounge in the hotel. They discuss the money quietly while Geeky Frat freaks out some more, sure that they’ve committed a serious crime. Somehow all four of these men got through college without gaining even a basic understanding of the workings of the law. Just then two thugs walk in, carrying guns. Everyone panics and leaves the lounge, then Henry announces that too much trouble has been caused. They’ll hide the money, and then once things have cooled off, he’ll find a way to turn it in.

Or you can just turn it in now, because no one’s committed a crime. And why do you think the ‘drug dealers’ are looking for you? This isn’t No Country For Old Men (SPOILER ALERT), there’s no radio tracer in with the money.

Prepare for it to get even stupider. Henry thinks they have to hide the money somewhere ‘safe’, i.e. not in their rooms. The plan? Bury it somewhere in the woods. None of the Frat Guys wants to do it, although I’m not sure why they’re not just all going out into the woods and hiding it together. Henry announces that they should draw straws.

No, you shouldn’t. Geeky Frat’s to freaked out to be trusted. Fat Frat needs the money too much to be trusted. Douchey Frat is too much of a douche to be trusted. Black Frat hasn’t been given any personality at all so far, so we have no idea if he’s trustworthy. The only sane, responsible member of the group is Henry. Of course he should hide the money.

But he doesn’t. They draw straws, and Geeky Frat gets the job.

Later, during the Hen Night festivities, the psychic is doing a card reading and announces that a man is going to betray Trish, but he’s also her savior! Then it’s Abby’s turn and – who saw this coming – the psychic is terrified by what she sees when handling Abby’s mom’s necklace, and flees!

At the bar it’s time for Henry’s party, and Fat Frat hasn’t arrived yet. But Douchey Frat and Black Frat have decided they agree with Henry, and can’t keep the money. Since the party hasn’t started yet, Henry goes over to Richard and confronts him about the S&M situation. Richard is unapologetic, and dares Henry to tell Thomas. Ah, Richard, you’ve developed into quite a scumbag.

A few minutes later Henry proves to have the worst taste in friends ever, when it’s revealed that Douchey Frat is his best man – and when the ‘drug dealers’ show up and reveal that they’re looking for the money from ‘Sully’, Douchey Frat immediately claims that Henry’s the guy they’re looking for. Then, in a ‘hilarious’ turn of events, it turns out that the gun-carrying guys were actually the stripper’s bodyguards! Exactly how much is she being paid that she can afford two armed bodyguards?

So off into the woods Geeky Frat goes, carrying the bag of money and a shovel. He hears a scary noise behind him, and turns around, gun drawn. It was just Fat Frat, following him so he could could steal the money after Geeky Frat leaves. Of course, he doesn’t say this, and claims to have been ‘watching (geeky frat)’s back”. Geeky Frat is so relieved by this that he lowers the gun an it accidentally goes off, despite the fact that his finger was clearly along the side of the gun, nowhere near the trigger, and the hammer wasn’t cocked.

Oh, no, Geeky Frat has shot himself in the leg! And somehow neither of them has heard of a tourniquet! Even though they’re both wearing belts! Fat Frat doesn’t run looking for help, both because he doesn’t want to leave Geeky Frat, and because he wants all the money for himself. Presumably he then buries the body, but we don’t see any of that happen.

The Stag Night continues, and the stripper comes out, making sure to never come anywhere near taking her bra or shorts off, because this is a network show. There’s another play for comedy when it turns out that the stripper is someone Henry knew from childhood, but it doesn’t go well.

There’s a quick cut back to Abby, who walks out of the inn to find the psychic waiting for her, announcing that ‘he wants you dead – he won’t stop!’ You know, this is why I can’t empathize with Abby at all. She already knows that someone’s stalking her, and now there’s a psychic bringing a message of doom. But will she leave immediately? No. Instead she goes over to Jimmy’s house in the middle of the night, presumably to get it on. Well, it’s not totally clear. They hug, anyway.

Later, at the bar, Fat Frat finally shows up at the bar, having changed out of his blood-and-dirt-covered clothing. No one mentions to him about the lack of drug dealers, and Fat Frat claims to not know where Geeky Frat has gone off to. Then, back in his hotel room that he shared with Geeky Frat, Fat Frat feels really guilty and starts to cry. I’d be a little more worried about how he plans to get away with it. Is he going to tell them that Geeky Frat ran off with the money tomorrow?

Then it’s over to the pool where Trish falls in and goes for a little swim while drunk. When she heads underwater for a moment someone turns on the automatic pool cover, which starts to close. There’s a not-at-all-terrifying moment where no one in the audience thinks she’s going to drown. Seriously, this is a terrible job of creating suspense. If she dies, the wedding’s off, and everyone leaves the island.

Anyhoo, Richard jumps in and saves her, establishing him as the (apparent) embodiment of the psychic’s prediction. He betrayed (tried to drown) her, then saved her at the last minute. Henry runs up, apparently he was nearby as well, and grabs Trish, then the two of them look at Richard suspiciously. They both assume what the audience does, that Richard planned the whole thing to make Trish greatful, and less likely to tell anyone about his twisted S&M relationship.

But when did he come up with that plan, exactly? Was he following her, hoping that she’s wander into a dangerous situation he could rescue her from, or did he happen along at exactly the right moment? Hopefully we’ll find out next week.

Which will be the first week of Harper’s Island that I’m not excitedly looking forward to. No, the whole ‘money’ subplot as so soured me on the proceedings I no longer have any faith in the creative staff behind the show. It’s classicly bad Slasher Movie writing to think that a killer roaming the island isn’t interesting enough, and feel the need to include other interpersonal threats and conflicts.

Look at Ten Little Indians. There wasn’t a subplot about which one of the guests snuck into the old lady’s room and stole her diamond necklace.

And don’t tell me you need to do some padding to make up the 13 hours. If you can’t make a murder mystery last that long with this many characters to juggle then you shouldn’t be allowed to work in television. Resorting to stupidity this epic and revealing characters to be this awful just to kill a little time is utterly horrible writing, and I can only pray this thing has one hell of a turnaround next week.

There wasn’t even a murder this week! There was an unrelated accidental death that has nothing to do with the main plot! That’s not what we were promised, Harper’s Island! And don’t tell me that we were only promised a ‘death’ every week. You know what the implication was, Harper's Island. What’s next week’s death? Is Maggie, the lady who runs the inn going to slip in the shower and crack her skull?

I’m not going to stop watching, but man, am I going to hate myself for doing so if it doesn’t improve 100 percent immediately.

Suspect and alibi section – we don’t need one! There wasn’t a murder this week!

Man, I wish I was the kind of person who swears about things, Harper’s Island.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow! You nailed it right here! Good for you for not only figuring most of it out by episode 4, but for saying what needed to be said - that basically this was an idiotic show all along.

I could tell from the beginning that this wasn't intelligent TV, and that Henry was the most likely candidate to be the murderer. I just kept hoping against hope that I was wrong.

Oh well.