Metawitches full review of The Innocents is HERE.
The Innocents is finally here. It’s time to go on the run with June and Harry, a teenage shapeshifter and her
stalwart sidekick devoted boyfriend, who leave their home and strict families for something better, only to discover that it’s a cold, cruel world out there, and everyone has been lying to June about who she is for her entire life.
Except June isn’t secret royalty or a mob princess, she’s a
werewolf shapeshifter, whose body takes on the form of the first person she touches during stress-triggered shift-states. June discovers this accidentally, when she’s alone with an unconscious man. Later she has to convince Harry that she is who she is, despite the way she looks now. Love and mirror reflections (see the photo at the top of the page) conquer all, eventually.
It’s Twilight meets Orphan Black, with some Altered Carbon thrown in.
This show is for fans who’ve missed classic supernatural teen romances set against the background of larger mythology and ideas, like Roswell and the early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Vampire Diaries. The soulmate aspect is important, and as the season goes on, it’s explored not just through June and Harry, but through other couples as well.
All kinds of relationships, family, loyalty and devotion are explored, along with their counterparts of obsession, exploitation, manipulation, cults, and abuse. The positive and negative sides of families and relationships come up, and how they can both save us and harm us, sometimes at the same time. The grown up cast is given the task of showing how people and relationships change over time, for better or worse, and how having more life experience adds more complexity to relationships.
In other words, this isn’t just a fluffy teen romance show, unless that’s all that you want to pay attention to. It’s character driven, and not in a hurry. Plot points are revealed as the characters discover them. The scenery is gorgeous, and the camera takes time to enjoy it.
The kids are out in the world for the first time, so everything is new to them. That means they sometimes take side trips for fun and discovery that have marginal effects on the season-long plot. If you’re looking for episodes packed with action and plot, this isn’t for you. If you’re looking for world and character building with characters you actually like, this might be it.
The pilot episode opens in Norway, with two men running up a rocky hillside on a damp, cloudy day. Ben Halvorson (Guy Pearce) chases Steinar (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) to the top of the hill, where Steinar is forced to stop by the edge of a cliff. He looks down over the sheer rock face, considering jumping into the fjord below. Ben begs Steinar not to jump. Steinar has flashbacks of medical tests, blonde girls and women, then prepares to jump. Ben grabs his collar and pulls him back onto the ground, just in time.
Next, they are in an interrogation suite, with Ben in one room, sitting behind a desk. Steinar is unconscious on a bed next to the desk, except for his eyes, which vibrate rapidly. But Steinar is also in the interrogation room that’s separated from the questioner’s room by glass. Ben asks Conscious Steinar if he was out of control on the cliff because of his illness. Steinar replies that it wasn’t only because of that. Then Ben wants to know if Steinar was really going to jump. Steiner answers in a mixture of English and Norwegian that he would have. He says his moods are shifting quickly. When he heard that Ben and Steinar planned to bring June to Sanctum, he wanted to support it, but he could only think of his loss. He became upset instead, and lost focus.
Ben reassures “Steinar” that he’s paying attention now, and, “None of this would be here if it weren’t for you. That’s how we made Sanctum, together. That’s how we can help these women, and now this young girl, June.”
“Steinar”: “We are building a new family here, aren’t we, Ben?”
Ben: “That’s right, my love.”
“Steinar” takes a deep breath and begins to writhe. After a moment, a middle-aged woman begins to appear from his features. “Steinar” is a shapeshifter named Runa (Ingunn Beate Øyen), who is Ben’s wife. Unconscious Steinar, who is the real version, wakes up.
Ben continues talking Runa down: “We lost Freya. I’m not prepared to lose you as well. This is not the end, Runa. It’s just the beginning. And I’ll do everything I can, anything.”
Runa gets up and walks to the glass wall between them. She says, “I know you will.”
They press the palms of their hands together with the glass between them.
I’d believe Ben’s words more easily if he came out from behind the glass, and didn’t refer to shifting as an “illness”.
June (Sorcha Groundsell) sits at her vanity in her bedroom and puts the finishing touches on a handwritten letter to her boyfriend, Harry (Percelle Ascott). She adds a lipstick kiss before she puts the letter away, then wipes the makeup off her lips, since her strict father won’t allow her to wear it.
I’m so excited, and I just have to write this down so I can keep pretending to be that good girl for one last day. We’ve been waiting for so long, and now, after all of our letters, all of the dreams we never dared believe could come true, we’re gonna run. We’re gonna be free. Away from Dad and his rules. Telling me what to do and how to feel and thinking he can take me away to some Scottish Island where he’ll never let me grow up. Well, forget that. I’m coming with you. ‘Cause when I’m with you, I feel like anything’s possible. After everything you’ve been through, you still have hope. You see me for who I am. It makes me feel so alive. I know everything’s about to change, and I’m ready for it. I love you, Harry Polk.
While June is reading her letter in voiceover, her stepfather, John McDaniel (Sam Hazeldine), makes her breakfast, gets out her daily medication, and calls her down to breakfast.
Harry sits on his bed and counts his money, then his mom, Christine (Nadine Marshall) asks him to wash his Dad, Lewis (Philip Wright). While Harry washes his dad’s hair in the sink, his mom leaves for work. She says that she’s not sure if she’ll be able to do the shopping, so Harry offers to do that too.
Lewis is severely disabled and needs round the clock care. Christine pushes most of the care onto Harry, other than what’s done by the caregiver who stays with Lewis while Christine and Harry are out during the day. Harry’s good with his dad, but he shouldn’t have to feel chained to his ill parent at 16 years old.
June looks at photos of the Scottish island they’re moving to during breakfast. She says that her mom always wanted to move back north, and would’ve loved this cold and dramatic island. John gruffly points out that June’s mom won’t be there.
June’s mom, Elena (Laura Birn) has already moved back north, to cold and dramatic Hordaland County, Norway. Ben sits outside and skins a rabbit, which will turn out to be an uncomfortably accurate metaphor for his personality and treatment of the shifters. Nearby, Elena sits doing chores with Sigfrid (Lise Risom Olsen) another shapeshifter patient, and complains that all they do at the clinic is the farm work necessary to keep the place going. They seem to be homesteading, fulfilling as many of their needs on the farm as possible and only purchasing what’s absolutely necessary. Sigrid answers that they all have chores to do that are purposeful.
She asks about Elena’s stress level. Elena hasn’t been sleeping well because of frequent, vivid nightmares. Today, Ben is supposed to perform another test on her. But Elena thinks she’d feel more comfortable talking to Sigrid, since they’re both shifters. Elena’s been there for 4 months and she’s barely spoken with Sigrid.
Runa sharply interrupts them, reminding Elena of the rules. No sharing secrets, because those memories might trigger a shift-state. Elena walks away. Sigrid tells Runa that Elena told her that June’s birthday is tomorrow.
John has Ryan’s breakfast ready. June offers to take it to him, since John and Ryan are fighting over the move. She offers to talk to Ryan (Arthur Hughes) about the move. Ryan doesn’t answer his door, so June leaves the meal in his little transfer box, since it’s time for school.
Harry and Lewis watch a nature show while Harry feeds Lewis his breakfast.
When an animal is attacked by a predator, it has two choices: run or hide. While running may seem more obvious… The mimic octopus is perhaps the greatest shapeshifter of all, morphing its shape in an instant, to look like any animal around it. It can pull its arms behind its body to swim along the seabed like a…or conceal itself in the sand to convince its attacker that it’s a deadly seasnake.
Harry watches the octopus, and tells his father he thinks it’s amazing. Lewis has picked up on some of Harry’s plan, and says, “Will you take me, too?”
John drives June to school. He stops at the edge of their farm property and activates her cell phone, then gives it to her. She’s only allowed to have it during the day, at school. He makes a speech about knowing she’s upset, so she doesn’t have to pretend to be happy. He says change is hard, but it has to be done. June says that it’s okay, she’s ready for a new start in the great big world. John says she always surprises him. He’ll be extra surprised when he discovers that her speech meant she’s leaving home with a boy.
John and June catch up to Harry’s school bus. Harry watches June out of the back window until John goes around the bus when it makes a stop. The man just has no feel for young love. He walks June all the way into school and drops her at her locker. He just might have some control issues.
June finds a note paper in her locker with Ø written on it, which must be Harry’s signal that he’s hidden a new letter for her. She goes straight to the library and takes out a hollowed-out world atlas. No one studies geography in this school. The book is filled with paper and a jackknife.
This is it, the last letter I’ll ever leave you here, and you know what? I’m going to miss it. I’ve been thinking about how it’s going to feel to hold your hand, to kiss you, never having to live in secret from your dad. I’m going to take you away from that, June, and I’ll never tell you who to be. I know I joke about being stupid, but I’m not an idiot. Leaving is hard. And once we’ve gone, I don’t know if we can ever come back. But being apart from you would be way worse than anything we might face out there. I feel like everything is about to begin, but you have to be sure. So if you have any second thoughts, if it’s too much or too painful, then I understand. But I love you, June McDaniel. And if you love me, too, then you know what to do.
June picks up the jackknife, looking thoughtful.
Harry buys a car on his way home from the store, partially paying for it with his dad’s wedding ring. He probably figured his dad wouldn’t miss it, and saving June from Scotland is more important.
John picks June up from school again and collects her phone. As they drive away, someone is taking stalker photos. Maybe John isn’t so crazy after all.
June stops in to visit Ryan, who shares some brotherly advice when she starts having second thoughts about running away. He says that John is all packed and ready for Wickerman 2, but Ryan doesn’t want her to end up trapped and stifled like him. He pushes her to take this opportunity and make the most of it. The father who’s keeping them in more and more remote cages is actually only their stepfather. She turns 16 tomorrow, and John wants to take her away to a place with no school, no friends, no one to ask where she is or what happened to her.
Well, it doesn’t sound creepy at all when you put it like that.
June is worried about Ryan becoming even more isolated because of his agoraphobia, and pushes him to get treatment. Ryan insists that he’s not interested in the outside world. His disability involves a shortened right arm, a limp that causes him to use a cane, and back pain. Today is a bad pain day, so June massages his shoulders a bit.
Ryan and Lewis are both breaking my heart here. Surely the kids need an extra quirky entourage. It worked for Buttercup and The Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride.
Ryan tells June that Harry loves her and will take care of her, but that doesn’t pay the bills, so he’s gotten her a prepaid credit card with her name on it for her birthday. They hug and remind each other that everything begins at 10:00.
Back in her room, June quickly repacks her school bag with runaway clothes. When John checks on her at bedtime, everything looks normal.
Harry prepares his father for bed. Lewis obsessively rubs the spot where his ring should be. Harry says a tearful goodbye to his dad. Lewis says, “You have a kind face. I wish you could meet my son.”
At 10:00, Ryan’s panic alarm goes off. John races down to save him from… an overflowing toilet. June hops out of bed, uses the jackknife to jimmy the lock on her window, then makes her escape. Harry is waiting for her down the back alley. They run to the car, holding hands. He gives her a bag of candy for her sweet 16, they kiss, then drive away.
After John finishes with the toilet, he and Ryan have another argument.
Ryan: “You’re never going to get me on that boat.”
John: “We’re going, Ryan. Even if I have to drag you the whole way. If not for me then for your sister.”
Ryan: “June is all I care about. You want to lock her up because Mom got away. You’re a disease, killing our family.”
John: “Just shut up for once. You have to trust me. When we get to Fair Isle, we’ll have a talk. As a family. Then you’ll understand why I’m doing this.”
John doesn’t want to share the truth in a place where June or Ryan can easily escape after they hear it. He’ll tell the truth, but only once he has complete physical control.
Harry and June are enjoying this perfect moment where they’re free and hopeful and it feels like the possibilities are endless. They make out for a moment before she gets out to use the restroom, then she worries that it’s too much. Obviously Harry tells her that it’s not.
While she’s gone, Harry notices that she has a box of prescription sedatives.
John pulls out his box of Elena mementos, including a family photo, her dried wedding bouquet, and a locket engraved with her name. He gives them a long look, shakes his head, and puts them away.
June’s sugar and adrenaline rush is wearing off. She quietly sings along to The Zombies’ She’s Not There in the car.
Harry asks her about the pills. She explains that they’re for a form of epilepsy that she got from her mom. Her mom started having seizures at around her age, but she hasn’t had any, thanks to the medication. Harry is confused, because they’re not an epilepsy medication, they’re just sedatives, and they’re prescribed to her stepfather, not her. His mom used to take the same medication.
The off-label prescription isn’t that weird. I take an epilepsy drug for something completely different. But I’m gonna guess that while the sedative is for the same condition June’s mother has, it isn’t epilepsy.
The fact that they’re prescribed to someone else in a country with national health insurance is very shady. That means that John either couldn’t convince the doctor she needed them or he didn’t want anyone to know she was taking them. Probably the latter.
Their conversation is cut off when they come around a bend and almost hit a van that’s broken down in the road. Uh oh. The driver is the photo stalker. He flags them down, and, sweet soul that Harry is, he gets out on that dark, lonely country road to help a stranger.
Once the stalker, Alf (Trond Fausa), has Harry behind the hood of the van listening to it run, June steps out to bring him his phone. Steinar gets out of the back of the van and addresses her by name, telling her that he’s a friend of her mother, Elena. He tries to lure her into the van to listen to a phone message from Elena. Then he tells June that her mother is in a safe place and wanted him to find her.
This is everything parents teach little kids to run away from and yell, “Stranger Danger!”
Harry realizes what’s happening, and Steinar panics, assuring June that he’s trying to help her, as he grabs her and pulls out a syringe. June and Harry both fight Steinar. Alf is involved briefly, but drives away when Harry picks up a wrench and gains the upper hand. He knocks Steinar out. June crouches on the ground in fear, chanting, “Keep calm, come to no harm.” Once they get past their initial shock, June and Harry move Steinar off the road and back into the woods.
Lewis wakes up moaning. Christine tries to get Harry to deal with him, but discovers Harry’s gone. As she’s getting Lewis settled back down, he tells her, “You’ve got a kind face.”
June and Harry keep driving. June tells Harry what Steinar said, then directs him to pull over at a hotel.
June pulls out some cash and gets them checked in. Harry’s shock is getting worse, now that he doesn’t have to concentrate on driving.
Harry lies on the bed and worries that he’s a murderer. He wants to call the police. Everything’s changed, and this is the end of everything, instead of the beginning. June tries to get him to talk reasonably about things, but he’s too far gone.
Once he’s asleep, she leaves the room and walks back to the scene of the crime. Steinar is right where they left him. June takes out her knife and rolls him onto his back. She checks for signs of life. As she’s feeling for a pulse, Steinar grabs her hand and she screams.
Not dead then. Harry’s not a murderer. But June’s alone with Steinar.
The next thing we see is Steinar walking into a ladies room and vomiting into the sink. He’s shaking, touching his face while looking in the mirror, and having flashes of the woods. He ignores his ringing phone.
Ben was the one calling Steinar. He leaves a message. Runa walks in on the end of Ben’s call and asks what’s going on. Ben tells her that Steinar called, but he kept it from her because he didn’t want to add to her stress. Runa insists that she’s fine now and over the depressive episode that she had earlier.
Ben shares that Steinar had good news and said an unexpected opportunity had come up. But they haven’t been able to talk since. Runa asks Ben not to shut her out any more. She needs and wants to be a part of finding and helping June. The chance is small that June’s a shifter, but she’s in danger if she is. June belongs at Sanctum with them.
Ben is relieved to see the woman he loves back to normal.
So far, the only danger we’ve seen June in is from the people who are supposedly trying to protect her.
John makes Ryan’s oatmeal breakfast, and spices it with a healthy dose of powdered sedatives. Ryan eats up. John discovers June’s gone when he tries to wake her up. He goes to Ryan for help, but the drugs have already taken effect.
Alf comes back to the spot where he left Steinar. We aren’t shown clearly what he finds. Just pieces of June’s outfit on the trees, her knife on the ground, and naked legs on the ground.
Harry sleeps until morning and is awakened by Steinar pounding on the door. Steinar pushes his way in, begging Harry for help. Harry threatens to hurt Steinar if he’s done anything to June. They start to wrestle each other again, but Steinar yells at Harry, “It’s me! Look, Harry, it’s me!” He grabs Harry in a headlock and turns him toward the mirror so that both faces can be seen. In the reflection, June is holding onto Harry where Steinar should be.
Who is the Freya that Runa and Ben lost, and how did they lose her? Was she a child who died, or a patient who decided to quit the therapy regimen?
I do love a good love letter. Harry wins this round, but June wins on the hardcore practical side. Going back to check on and possibly finish off the guy your boyfriend mostly killed then panicked over is OTT romantic in my book.
Lewis’ line “You have a kind face,” has to mean something. He said it when Harry was leaving and when Harry was in trouble.
Steinar didn’t even try to approach June and convince her like a normal person. He went straight to kidnapping and treating her like a violent criminal. If Sanctum is such a great place, it shouldn’t be hard to convince shifters to go there. If they’re worried about the shifters going into a shift-state, they can have a divider in the van.
The evidence that both John and Ben are treating shifting as a mental illness that leads to criminal behavior is worrying. Ben also treats it like a contagious illness, keeping himself apart from the shifters and them apart from each other. John isn’t much different, keeping June on tight lockdown. Sanctum and the planned move to the Scottish Isle remind me of the fresh air tuberculosis sanitoriums that were popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries before antibiotics, or a medieval leper colony.
But what’s worrying me most is Ben’s strict rules about fraternization among the shifters. If he’s trying to help them and learn more about their condition, then getting them all talking together and comparing common experiences is the quickest way to give them a sense of normalcy and give him a sense of what’s typical for shifters. Keeping them artificially separated inflates his position and importance, the way a narcissicist and/or cult leader would.
A little more about Arthur Hughes, the amazing actor who plays June’s brother Ryan:
So much about this pilot reminds me of Roswell, especially the first 13 episodes before the network interfered and tried to turn it into Buffy. The plotting became a mess over Roswell’s 3 seasons on 2 networks, but most cast members still show up regularly on TV or elsewhere in the entertainment industry, and many became stars. The writing for individual episodes was some of the best scifi/teen romance/supernatural stuff around and the Max/Liz romance is one of my favorites, ever. The CW is doing a remake of Roswell, but it’s hard to imagine it surpassing the original in overall quality and style, though it might win in plot consistency. Roswell took place in the New Mexico desert, which was a character itself, just as the Norwegian setting is an unforgettable part of The Innocents.
It’s always damp and cloudy on this show, so don’t expect to ever see the sun. Maybe these showrunners can make a good version of the Twilight series when The Innocents ends, since they like working in wet conditions like the Pacific Northwest would be, and they understand how to do supernatural teen romance without being hokey or cloying.
Images courtesy of Netflix.