Stephen King: News from the Dead Zone #167

Haven: Part 1 — What the hell kind of town is this?

Season 5 of the Syfy series Haven begins on Thursday, September 11, so I thought I would review the series to date in the weeks leading up to the premiere. The show’s move to Thursday nights seems to be a vote of confidence, along with its 26-episode renewal after a successful fourth season. The first 13 episodes will air this fall and the second batch in 2015.

Haven, as you probably know, is based (loosely) on Stephen King’s short novel The Colorado Kid, published by Hard Case Crime in 2005. That book involved two old-timers named Vince Teague and Dave Bowie, editors of the Weekly Islander, and their young intern, Stephanie McCann. A reporter from the Boston Globe has just treated them to lunch while attempting to extract from them local unsolved mysteries for an article in his paper. After he leaves, the men tell Stephanie about a real unsolved mystery, that of the Colorado Kid. His body was found on the beach without any identification. His pocket contents were uninformative and mysterious. Eventually he was identified, but no one knows why he came to the coastal Maine island and how he made a seemingly possible trip there from Colorado.

Very little survives in the series from the novel. The story of The Colorado Kid is there, and his real identity (and that of his wife) is the same as in King’s novel, although the series expands upon this greatly. Some of the other unsolved mysteries Vince and Dave tell Stephanie show up as parts of plots (the story of the boat that washed ashore, for example, or the Tashmore church poisonings), but that’s about it. The setting is changed from Moose-Look Island to the coastal community of Haven, Maine. Vince and Dave are now the Teagues brothers, who run the Haven Herald.

And yet, the concept behind The Colorado Kid is still there: the notion that our world is a place filled with unsolved mysteries. Each week, the main characters confront such a mystery. In a sense, the show is a cop drama or a whodunit, because the identity of the person behind the strange incidents is a mystery and the writers do an excellent job of creating red herrings to misdirect the audience into suspecting different characters.

“Haven?” I hear you asking. Isn’t that the place where The Tommyknockers is set? Well, yes and no. The towns share a name, but they aren’t the same place. In particular, the Haven in The Tommyknockers is not on the coast. Quoting the novel, “Haven was not on either of Maine’s two major tourist tracks, one of which runs through the lake and mountain region to the extreme west of the state and the other of which runs up the coast to the extreme east.” And yet, the TV Haven is in the Stephen King universe, not far from Castle Rock, Derry, Bangor, Little Tall Island and Cleaves Mills.

In fact, the writers of this series are very conversant with the Stephen King universe. Every episode contains at least one subtle or overt reference to a King book or story. Often these come in the form of names that are drawn from characters in similar situations in other works, but in one memorable instance, the opening scene from It, in which a little boy in a yellow rain slicker plays with a paper boat that goes down the drain, is recreated in loving detail. The writers are strongly influenced by It and the concept of something evil that recurs on a regular basis. In later seasons, Dark Tower concepts such as doorways to other worlds and thin spots between universes also enter the story. Ideas from King stories creep in (in one case, machinery comes to life and attacks people, much as in “Trucks”). There are also a lot of businesses around Haven with the word King in their name, and physical copies of King novels (and a Misery novel by an unnamed Paul Sheldon) appear on screen.

Haven (sometimes known as Hayven) is an old community, with a current population of about 25,000 (according to the Season 2 Christmas episode).  There was a strong Mi’kmaw presence in the area when it was established in the late 15th century (its original name, Tuwiuwok, is a Mi’kmaw word that means Haven for God’s Orphans) and the aboriginal lore pervades its history: legends of Wendigo and shapeshifters, for instance (both also used by King in other works).

The town’s main claim to infamy is the so-called Troubles, afflictions that have plagued its residents throughout its history. Every 27 years (a timespan that will be familiar to people who’ve read It), the Troubles return. They run in families and often bear a relationship to something about the afflicted individuals. A stressful incident triggers a person’s Trouble during the period when they are active, giving him or her a supernatural ability that generally has terrible consequences for the person and for those around him or her.

On the same repeat cycle, a mysterious young woman comes to Haven. She is a kind of “Troubles whisperer.” She has the ability to help the Troubled, usually by making them aware that they are the cause of whatever strange events have been taking place of late and by talking them out of the strong emotions that unleashed their supernatural power.

Most Troubled people can be taught to manage their Troubles—though not all. Many of them cannot remain in society for the duration of the Troubles and must be sequestered in one way or another. For others, more drastic measures are sometimes called for. The writers seem to have a bottomless supply of interesting and innovative Troubles to inflict upon their characters, and one of the show’s intriguing aspects is the various ways some people take advantage of their afflictions. One character, for example, uses her power to blackmail people. Another uses it to gain revenge on enemies and yet another thinks that his ability to create conflagrations is super-cool, so he wreaks mayhem on Haven. Most people, though, are ashamed by their Troubles and few talk openly about their individual afflictions.

One of the things that appeals to me about the series is its essential Canadian flavor. Though it is set in Maine, filming takes place in a number of communities on the south shore of Nova Scotia, not far from where I lived during the 1980s. The symbolic lighthouse often seen (and occasionally destroyed) is the one at Peggy’s Cove, a popular tourist destination. I had the chance to visit the set in late June—you can read more about that on my blog.

With the exception of Emily Rose (Audrey Parker) and Eric Balfour (Duke Crocker), most of the cast is Canadian. Familiar faces, from the actor who plays Chief Garland Wuornos to the most recent medical examiner, played by Jayne Eastwood, pop up from time to time. Lucas Bryant, who plays Nathan, and Adam Copeland (aka WWE’s Edge), who plays Dwight, are both Canadian, as are John Dunsworth (Dave Teagues) and Richard Donat (Vince Teagues). Colin Ferguson, who came into the series as the mysterious William in its fourth season, is from Canada, as is Jason Priestley, who appeared in a four-episode arc and has directed episodes as well. People familiar with the region will see all manner of recognizable sites, including the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and Lunenburg’s Town Hall, which doubles as Haven’s police headquarters. Fans travel to Nova Scotia from all around the world to see the beautiful scenery depicted in the show, and while there isn’t a Haven Tour of the South Shore yet, there should be some day.

Though the show’s mythology started out slowly, giving viewers time to become familiar with the characters and the overall scenario, Haven has developed a complex mythos that asks questions and occasionally answers them.  I recently watched the four seasons over the course of a few weeks and I was amazed and gratified by how well it all holds together. There is clever writing, with callbacks to incidents from early episodes that pull everything together, and good chemistry among the main characters. Although no one will likely mention it in the same breath as The Wire or Breaking Bad, I think this is a vastly underappreciated series, even though it appears to have a substantial following, both in the US and internationally.

One place where this show succeeds where Under the Dome, perhaps, does not is in its sense of humor. It isn’t unreasonable to compare the two series, which are both “inspired” by King novels and strike out into uncharted territory very early in their runs and never look back. Under the Dome has little or no sense of humor, whereas Haven is rife with humorous dialog and asides, mostly from Duke and Dwight. There is playful banter and some black humor that will make you jump and then laugh.

Next time, I’ll look at the course of events that shape the show’s first season, and will follow up with each of the subsequent seasons, culminating with a look at what we know about the main characters and where things might go in Season 5.

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