There are two major pitfalls that supernaturally themed TV shows can easily fall into. First, since these shows have to walk a narrow path between the familiar and the extraordinary, it can be all too easy to have stories that, however well intentioned and honed, are just kind of silly. The other major pitfall is that, as the number of stories expands, the universe of possibility has to expand, as well - and that can lead to mythology bloat, where the supernatural world is so overloaded with nuances and histories and backstories that watching the show becomes impossible without eidetic memory, or an open wiki for the show to help you follow along.
In its third season, Haven straddles the line of both these potential errors, and at times jumpes headlong into one, or the other. Nominally based on Stephen King's The Colorado Kid, Haven is about former FBI agent Audrey Parker (Emily Rose), who finds herself in the little Maine town of Haven, investigating a regularly recurring series of strange events in town, known as The Troubles.
Audrey Parker is special, because the Troubles do not affect her. She was drawn to Haven…and, in fact, is not really Audrey Parker. She's also Lucy, and Sarah, women who look identical and who have visited Haven several times throughout its history, always when the Troubles begin (and already we can see the complicated mythology creep).
The season starts with a bang: Audrey was kidnapped at the end of Season 2, and right from the beginning we see her tied up, interrogated by a shadowy figure, and asked: where is the Colorado Kid? The whereabouts of the Colorado Kid has been one of the central mysteries of the series, and the solving of this mystery is one of the major plot-lines of this season. Along with the Trouble-of-the-Week storylines that make up the bulk of the series narratives, there is the on-going mystery of the bolt-gun killer, who kidnapped Audrey and is killing people in town and out with the bolt-gun, and taking parts of their skin. Looming over all of these is the secret of the multiple Audreys, who appear and disappear with regularity in Haven history, taking the Troubles with them. Audrey eventually learns her time to disappear is coming up fast, unless she can find some way to stay.
This final, and most significant, storyline is at the heart of what is a problematic first half of the season. Haven is a supernatural show, and dark and strange things happen, but it is not a horror series (as, ultimately, The X-Files was). It's a fantasy series, and while fantasy dips its feet in the horror pool, and horrible things do happen, Haven has mostly stayed out of that deep end. The first two seasons were mostly fun. But now, there's the serial killer skin-thief. There's Duke, the sarcastic smuggler who plays the foil for Nathan and is a potential second love interest for Audrey, learning dark things about his past, and who has a terrible legacy to uphold. Over all of this is the impending doom of Audrey, who takes her imminent disappearance/demise/who knows what's going to happen very seriously.
It makes for some damned mopey TV. It doesn't help that at least two of the first six episodes are absolute dogs, and probably two of the worst episodes the series has done. The first of these, "Stay", falls headlong into that first major pitfall - it's just too silly - spoiler follows. Nathan and Audrey have to investigate groups of feral, naked people found in Haven. The Trouble is that dogs have been turning into people. It's not an interesting Trouble, and it isn't handled in a very interesting way. The entire episode falls flat, as well as having a downer ending focusing more and more on the impending doom of Audrey.
Character interaction is the central pleasure of most TV series - we watch people we know interact in certain scenarios. And sometimes those scenarios dictate that the characters react in ways that are realistic, but aren't necessarily fun to watch. The turbulence in her life has understandably disturbed Audrey, and Emily Rose's moodiness, taciturn and semi-depressed performance feels real…but it makes the first half of Season 3 an often boring slog.
It's a miscalculation that throws the series off, but doesn't completely capsize it. The back half of Haven has faster pacing, more interesting stories with some real surprises. Some of these involve new members of the cast: Claire Callahan (Bree Williamson) plays a psychiatrist who is assigned to Audrey to deal with the trauma of her kidnapping. Tommy Bowen (Dorian Missick) is a Boston cop who gets wound up in Haven's Troubles just like Audrey did back in the beginning - he arrives mostly by accident, and doesn't seem to want to leave. Jordan (Kate Kelton) is a member of the mysterious organization The Guard, who Nathan has to get closer to in order to find out what they want with Audrey, and what they have to do with the Troubled.
A highlight of the last half of the season is the episode "Last Goodbyes", where all of Haven have fallen into deep comas, except for Audrey and one mysterious stranger. The stranger is played by Nolan North, veteran voice actor who along with Emily Rose is the lead voice talent for the Uncharted series of PS3 games. The actors have great chemistry, and the episode plays smartly with the themes of abandonment and disappearance that are central to the season, without overloading Audrey's visible-misery index.
The season ends on another cliff-hanger, explaining some aspects of the world of Haven while again deepening and expanding the story's scope. Hopefully, when the fourth season premieres (just over a week from when this review will be published) they will find a way to keep the stories as simultaneously playful and meaningful as they ended this season, ditching the more leaden tone with which they began it.
Disc notes: Several episodes have commentary tracks by the writers, filled with production detail (and the customary back-clapping that make so many commentaries a mixed bag.) On the fourth disc there is a large selection of extras, including Webisodes and a 45-minute video of a Haven panel from the New York Comic Con. There is also a documentary that deserves special mention. Called "The Haunting Truth About Haven", it is a fly-on-the-wall style doc about the production of the "Real Estate" episode, which involves a haunted house. It is an above-average production doc, short on interviews with the cast and long on candid footage of production meetings, equipment being moved, actors in small parts being interviewed. Maybe it wouldn't interest a casual viewer, but for someone interested in the nuts and bolts of TV production it is really pretty terrific. With the package is a 16-page comic book, showing what happens after the cataclysmic season finale, and setting up conflicts to come in the season ahead.
Cinema Sentries is giving away three Blu-ray copies of Haven: The Complete Third Season. Learn how to enter the contest here.