And Then There Were None

by Viorica

In which characters are obnoxious, writing is awful, and the reviewer curses whoever greenlit this crap.
Uh-oh! This is in the Axis of Awful...
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Last year while I was watching season one of Dollhouse, I saw some adverts for a thriller/suspense series called Harper's Island. The premise was fairly simple: a wedding party is trapped on a remote island off the coast of Seattle as a serial killed picks them off one by one. Kind of like And Then There Were None in that it's exactly like Ane Then There Were None.I didn't bother watching it as it aired, but when a vidder I'm subscribed to on YouTube started making fanvids for it, I figured that I might as well give it a shot. Chalk that up as one of my less-brilliant decisions.



Now suspense is a tricky genre to do right, because should you fail to generate suspense in the audience, the entire thing falls flat. Some movies/shows fill this hole by having interesting characters (an approach that this show most definitely does not take) or entertaining dialogue (see note on characters). The problem with Harper's Island isn't a specific lack of likeable characters or snappy dialogue or a spooky atmosphere; the problem is that it lacks all three.

Let's look at characters first. The heroine, if you can call her that, is Abby Miles (played by Elaine Cassidy, breaking new records in how devoid of emotion a person's face can be). Seven years previous to the main plot, her mother was murdered by a serial killer, which is why Abby left the island. She's now returning for her friend Henry's wedding. The opening scene is dedicated to introducing all the characters, and what I noticed right away was that I couldn't stand any of them. Henry and his fiance Trish are bland nonentities; Trish's sister and her daughter are obnoxious and bratty, respectively (the show also hints that the girl has sociopathic tendencies- we see her frying a snail with a magnifying glass- but they never follow up on it) Trish's friends are mostly indistinguishable douchebags- all bleach-blonde, all sprinkling their conversations with "Like, ohmygawds!". One even has a miniature dog who she carries around with her, for fuck's sake. The only real exception to this rule is Cal, the boyfriend of one of Trish's bridesmaids, and I just find him charming on the basis of his British accent. Trish's dad is classist (the series makes an attempt to engage with the issue, but falls flat on its face, especially in light of later revelations) Jim Beaver as Abby's dad is basically playing the same character he does on Supernatural, and her love interest is bland as bland can be. The only emotion I felt towards any of them was a hope that the killer would finish them off.

But specifically, I want to talk about Henry. It's established early on that he's been Abby's friend since they were kids, he comes from a family that doesn't have as much money as Trish's, and he's basically a standup guy. His actions never indicate otherwise, even when he's alone and has no reason to behave contrary to his true nature. Which is why it comes as a shock when (and I swear to God, I'm not making this up) it's revealed that he's Abby's half-sibling who her mother gave up for adoption after dumping his serial-killer father, and he's obsessed with establishing a pseudo-Eden with Abby on the island. After killing every other inhabitant. And he's doing all this in collaboration with his father, who is the one who killed Abby's mother all those years ago. Together, they're out to get revenge on the world for "abandoning" them. By the way, when I call this a shock, I mean it as a "what the fuck is this shit?" kind of shock, not a "Wow, what incredible plotting!" shock.

So not only is Henry out to boink his sister, he orchestrated the entire wedding in order to do so. That's right: he got into a relationship with Trish, proposed to her, planned a gigantic wedding with all their friends, and at no point during all of this did anyone notice that something strange was going on. I do not buy this at all. Furthermore, why did he need to kill all their friends and family in order to "be with" Abby? Couldn't he have just murdered the island's regular inhabitants and then moved her in there? Also, why does he eschew traditional methods of murder (like stabbing or shooting them) for elaborate schemes like tying them to boat propellors and rigging chandeleirs with sharp objects? Why, when he has several opportunities to kill the other characters (at one point, the bride's niece is kidnapped, and then he lets her go) does he neglect to take them? So let me get this straight: he's evil enough to murder dozens of people in a twisted quest to get into his sister's pants, but he stops short at murdering a kid? That's a pretty damn specific level of evil. Of course, it's he's helped by the fact that the rest of the wedding guests are complete morons; it takes someone being murdered right in front of them for them to realize that something's up. This is after several people have vanished without a trace. They just assume that the missing people took off and left without telling anyone. People this stupid deserve to be murdered; it's basically Darwinism in action. (Oh, and did I mention that one girl- the one with the cute British boyfriend- commits suicide right after her boyfriend is murdered? Granted their relationship was the only one I could stand, because they actually showed some moral fibre under pressure, but come on.)

Speaking of morals under pressure, the characters all reveal their strength of, well, character when they realize they're in danger. Short version: they haven't got any. When informed that the kidnapped child will be killed if they leave the island, one guy responds by saying "Why does she have more of a right to live than us?" and attempting to hightail it out of there. Another guy responds to finding a sack of money lying next to a dead body by hiding the body and trying to keep the money for himself. When discovering that Abby may be related to the serial killer, they all turn on her, blaming her for the entire mess. These people are the most selfish, greedy, obnoxious assholes I've ever had the misfortune to encounter in fiction. By the second episode, I was rooting for the murderer.

So with no likeable characters in sight, the next potential draw is the plot, and I covered the numerous plotholes above. So the only chance for the makers to redeem themselves now is the atmosphere. Needless to say, this is bungled as well. There's so many fakeouts that by the time something shocking actually happens, the audience is in a coma of boredom. Oh look, someone pulled Chloe underwater! Oh wait, she's just fucking with her boyfriend's head. Someone snuck up behind Abby and slapped a hand over her mouth! Oh, it's just hunters trying to make sure she doesn't scare away the game. Look, someone's following Trish! Nope, it's just a dog. Not only that, but the pacing is shot to hell. The plot is more suited to a movie than a thirteen-part series; the episodes are chock-full of filler as the writers desperately try to stretch the story out. It doesn't work. What it does do is make the viewer throw their hands up and shout "When the fuck is something going to happen already?" They're helped somewhat by the location- the location scouts, at least, were doing their jobs- but mist doesn't fix the gaping holes in pacing, plot, characterisation, or writing. This story was more interesting when Agatha Christie wrote it.
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at 01:36 on 2014-10-25
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