Just a stone's throw from greatness.
I’ve written previously in my two (count ‘em!) posts on Eli Stone this season about how I think the show lost some of its spark during the second season, but the most underwhelming parts of season two were, evidently, saved for last, to slowly peter out during this three-episode burn-off. To be honest with you, I’d forgotten a lot of this season simply because of the break between when I last watched and these remnants. Thus, nothing really stood out to me about them and they only served to reinforce my early assessments of what went wrong with the show. And keeping Maggie and Eli away from each other, while it did allow Maggie to come into her own (looking especially confident and sexy in the last episode) it lost a little bit of the spark from one of the most interesting relationships on the show, only to half-assedly rekindle it in the final episode’s desperate attempt for closure.
I actually found the whole central vision-mystery from the last episode to be extremely frustrating for two reasons, one complaint for each part of it:
1. The parents of the braindead girl who didn’t want to give up her heart to that dying woman are selfish idiots. I am not a religious or spiritual person, but I was raised Catholic and I can tell you that there are several flaws in their argument about “not wanting their daughter’s heart to burn in hell because it’s inside an atheist.” First of all, denying someone the chance to live is possibly the least Christ-like thing a so-called Christian could ever do. Second of all, Christianity believes in the soul, not the body. So if their daughter dies, she goes to God, not her body and not her organs. Certainly, if she signed up to be an organ donor, she is aware of that fact, and so are her parents who are executors to her will. This whole case was insanely stupid, and I’m glad Eli proved their idiocy by basically pointing out my first complaint that denying someone the chance to live because they have different beliefs than you do isn’t only discriminatory, but COMPLETELY ANTITHETICAL TO YOUR SUPPOSED FAITH.
2. I guess Eli was busy using all his smarts and logic on that because he seemed COMPLETELY INCAPABLE of using it to interpret the plane crash part of his vision. He knew from the beginning it was a KeyStar air flight. He made a correct step in getting employee flight records after seeing the Weathersby Stone travel bags, but for some reason never made the connection between the name of the airline and what employees might be flying on that airline. Instead, he totally wasted Jordan, Taylor and Matt’s time by asking them not to board their flights. (Now, I suppose in the world of Eli Stone, KeyStar might be the ONLY airline, but I find that highly doubtful, as that would be an air travel monopoly and, surely, some client of WPK would have already sued them and broken up said air travel monopoly long before Eli turned over a new leaf.) Then, once he got the time and date of the crash in his next vision, he didn’t take any further steps toward, say, looking up KeyStar flights departing from SFO that day and figuring out, based on listed travel times, which ones would potentially be the ones that would crash. I realize he’d still look like a crazy person/terrorist if he called the TSA and gave them a list of specific flights to check, but it would also stand to reason that he might be able to better prevent the crash if he actually took the time to narrow down the field of possibilities.
Instead, we got a little deus ex machina with Maggie’s fateful voicemail announcing her receipt of the Weathersby Stone travel bag and her intended us of it during her flight to Italy, departing that day. I suppose I should be happy that it got him there in time to drop seemingly-dead, only to have him reunite with Maggie, who just happened to demand to be let off the plane before it took off due to her own hunch, which then caused a flight delay for another safety check, allowing the airport staff to find a safety problem with the plane, preventing it from blowing up and saving the lives of all of its passengers. I should also be happy that Eli’s burst aneurism didn’t kill him, although I guess he’s still got that second one in there, waiting to destroy him.
Then there’s also that who odd and problematic talk with God/his father, in which its revealed (yet more telling instead of showing) that the atheist he fought so hard to get a heart for ended up dying during her transplant, which miraculously and conveniently ended up giving that braindead girl’s heart to none other than Eli’s soul mate, Grace. Are they still soul mates now that Eli’s still got a deadly aneurism and Grace has a new heart that will allow her to live a normal life? And how does Grace figure in to last season’s vision of Maggie with a baby that is presumably Eli’s? I know this God-snowglobe ending was meant to tie up loose ends, but I feel like it mostly made a mess of things.
The next murder I'm hosting will definitely be held in my new murder basement, by the way.
I never got the chance to write about Harper’s Island prior to this, but I did watch the limited-run series in its entirety and enjoyed the show’s commitment to campy fun good times. You see, I like murder mysteries. In fact, every year, I host a murder mystery party at my house in which I invite some friends over for dinner and a 4-hour immersive role playing game with lots of improvised craziness and clue-solving. Watching Harper’s Island was exactly like playing one of my murder mystery dinners, only with a significant increase in the number of potential suspects and an ever-growing body count. (At my dinners, only one person dies. And they stay dead, unlike John Wakefield.) Clearly, I am inclined to like such a thing.
In the beginning, I thought the show wasn’t going to be as cool as it ended up being, and part of my problem was with the casting and the writing. Too many of the actresses looked the same, and didn’t seem to have distinct enough personalities. In fact, up until the near-end, I would sometimes confuse Bride Trish’s sister with her step-mother, and I’m glad Bridesmaid Lucy died so early on because otherwise, I’m not sure I’d have been able to tell her apart from Chloe (unless Chloe were in every scene with Cal, like he has was cute her British accessory, or something). But once certain unnecessary bodies were dispensed of, the key players really started to flesh themselves out and the show got good. I’d say this is when the cast was probably at a total of 10, just after Mr. Wellington’s encounter with that headspade that awakened everyone to the possibility that there was something other than a wedding going on on Harper’s Island. (Here I must insert that my murder dinners are meant for eight, which is a perfect number because these things are filled with a plethora of information to keep straight, and maintaining tidbits from any more than eight sources while drinking bottle after bottle of wine is exceptionally difficult.) Once we got down to a manageable number of characters, we started to explore Abby’s past with the island, the history of the Wakefield murders, her mother’s diaries, her father’s obsession and the possibility that she – or someone else – could have been John Wakefield’s love child.
I also became somewhat invested in the growing relationship between Chloe and Cal, and, subsequently, in the changes in their characters during this whole ordeal. At the beginning of the show, Chloe was an effervescent party girl who was nothing if not gorgeous, which is perhaps why I couldn’t tell her apart from Lucy. Cal, on the other hand, was a fish-out-of-water Englishman, a man a bit too posh and uptight for seafaring life in the Pacific Northwest, constantly picked on by other party guests and locals because of his difference and because a girl like Chloe had no business being with a man like that. But as they found themselves in the midst of danger, Cal and Chloe stuck together. She got a lot tougher and a lot smarter, and he likewise proved his mettle by employing his medical knowledge (from working as a mortician, I believe), to help the survivors figure out facts relating to bodily injuries and their causes, as well as patching up certain wounds and instructing others how to patch up his own. Nothing cemented their growth more for me, though, than Cal’s death at the hands of John Wakefield and Chloe’s defiant swan dive to join her would-be fiancé in the river below, growling, “You can’t have me,” just before she takes the plunge. Beginning-of-the-series Chloe wouldn’t have done that for Cal, but end-of-the-series Chloe did.
Now, about that John Wakefield love child. As it turns out, that love child ended up being Wakefield’s accomplice, and it isn’t Abby, but her childhood best friend, Groom Henry, who reveals to her (after kidnapping her and murdering his father and anyone else still alive except for hostage Jimmy) that he set up this whole thing (including his fake relationship and fake wedding to Trish . . . ouch!) to lure Abby back to the island so they could be together . . . even though they’re technically siblings . . . which is really creepy, but doesn’t seem to bother Henry at all. I don’t understand why he kept Jimmy alive to allegedly pin the title of “Wakefield’s accomplice” on, especially after going through all the trouble to stage the burning deaths of Trish, Abby, Jimmy, Wakefield and himself. Even with “Wakefield’s accomplice” alive somewhere, it’s doubtful that the Washington State police would dig further into people “proven dead” or go digging about on an even more remote part of the island to look for said accomplice. So to take someone hostage and force them to write a false confession? This strikes me as very bad planning on Henry’s part, especially since his only post-massacre plan was to hole up in a really sweet house with Abby for the rest of their days, living out a warped little domestic fantasy and hoping she developed Stockholm Syndrome. Clearly, keeping Jimmy as a hostage is just a handy plot device so freaked-out Abby can find him, thus making her even more freaked-out and so Jimmy can find a reason to break free from his restraints and launch himself at Henry, thus taking him out with a very large boat knife and allowing Jimmy and Abby to ride off on a state police boat into the Puget Sound sunset.
But all in all, I had a lot of fun watching this show, delighting in the ever-growing body count, the inventive, nautical deaths and the various murder mystery tropes and red herrings dropped along the way. I wish the series had been more of a success, though, because I like the idea of these limited-run series. As my friend Drew wrote, they definitely solve the problem of Twin Peaks Season 2, and other series with a central mystery that outlived the story they’d planned to tell. (Joss Whedon was always very good at keeping each Big Bad around for only one season, and any subsequent seasons would deal with a new and different evil.) Plus, it was kind of like having a murder mystery at my house, only without all that cooking and planning. I’d have been interested to see other incarnations, especially because Creepy Little Madison was already poised as a natural successor to Abby as a Wakefield survivor for the next edition of murders in and around the Pacific Northwest.
As usual, my wife catches me with this article just when I’m getting extremely busy at work, so I can’t contribute very much, but I will agree with pretty much everything she said about both shows.
In a little way, I think I enjoyed the final four episodes of Eli Stone more than my wife simply because of some of the nice character development, but was left scrambling to reach for my iPhone and look up character names as they were mentioned, because a several months-long break between episodes kind of destroys any concept of who is named what. (This doesn’t happen to quality shows like Mad Men or anything on HBO, but that’s because they’re sweet programs that dare you to forget their characters.)
As for Harper’s Island (which I almost accidentally typed as Herpes Island, which is the inevitable porn spin-off), this was the perfect show to watch out of the corner of one’s eye while playing Peggle and Unblock Me on my nifty little Apple phone. (I plug! You give me money!) I had an even harder time telling the characters apart, but basically because I never bothered to learn their names in the first place. Except for Abby. (Yes, I forgot Henry’s name, even though the actor played a very memorable Harry on Ugly Betty over the last three years.)
More importantly, I don’t think there was one point in the entire series where either my wife or I ever bothered to venture a guess as to who was going to be the killer. No clues followed. No online community message board chats. I just watched until the next kill or the next shot of a scantily clad Chloe. (By the way, this Alvin & the Chipmunks actress, Cameron Richardson, has done her share of tasteful nude photography, so go forth and view.) Once during the final three episodes I jokingly guessed that it would be Madison, which, to be fair, wouldn’t have been the worst idea in the world. Just implausible.
More limited series, I ask, and networks could take a lesson from CBS sticking to this show, even if it was shifted from Thursday at 10 to Saturday at 10. To think, would Taye Diggs’ Day Break have developed more of a cult following had ABC allowed it to finish out its run? The world will never know.