It’s easy to watch the first few episodes of Haven and think that Stephen King—or his agent—must be a con man of the highest order. For all of the show’s claims of being inspired by King’s novel The Colorado Kid, it initially seems to have very little to do with its source material.
Oh sure, there’s King’s patented setting of an isolated Maine town, a pair of newspapermen, and the fact that the Colorado Kid died decades ago. That’s about where the similarities seem to end, though.
Haven could just as well take place in Mayberry, Springfield, or Hooterville.
King fans, however, will quickly recognize a town called Haven as the setting for his novel, The Tommyknockers. It’s one of countless nods—from a man rolling into town fresh off parole from Shawshank State Prison to a character thumbing through a copy of Misery Unchained —that works to construct a loose alternate reality based in the King universe. As the series progresses, it becomes obvious that the show’s creative team wants to take the town’s central mystery—the unsolved murder of the Colorado Kid—and make it an axle on which many of the series’ stories spin.
As Haven opens, FBI agent Audrey Parker (Emily Rose) comes to town in search of an escaped prisoner. Instead, she finds his corpse, and the investigation into his death leads to someone who can control the weather. It’s Audrey’s first brush with “the troubles”, which seem to be a recurring town-wide affliction in which people manifest strange powers.
Audrey is an open-minded sort, and the troubles intrigue her, but not as much as an old newspaper clipping of the Colorado Kid story that shows a woman who looks almost exactly Audrey. Knowing nothing about her parents or her past, Audrey takes a short leave from the FBI to assist the local police force, and to dive into the mystery of this woman who might be her mother.
Audrey works alongside officer Nathan Wuornos (Lucas Bryant), who’s not only the police chief’s son, but also incapable of feeling physical sensations (likely related to the troubles). She must also cut deals with Duke Crocker (Eric Balfour), a roguish smuggler who shares a tense history with Nathan.
Plus, there are the other locals such as the Teague Brothers, who run the local newspaper; EMT Eleanor Carr; and fire-and-brimstone preacher Edward Driscoll (who naturally considers anyone showing signs of the troubles to be damned). Audrey wades into this mix to uncover clues to her mother’s identity, and these characters are really the strength of the show.
Towards the end of the first season, Haven begins revealing some of its more sinister arcs, promising to make it more than a “Trouble of the Week” kind of show. Lots of people know more than they reveal, and it’s not just because Audrey must prove herself to be a local (her struggles to exude a “just one of the regulars” vibe is a consistent source of humor).
As an outsider, Audrey isn’t privy to many of the tensions between some of the townsfolk. Nathan and Duke spar consistently, perhaps recognizing a “path not taken” aspect in one another, while Chief Wuornos rides Nathan relentlessly for reasons of his own. Everyone, it seems, knows something they’re not telling.
By the end of Season One, Audrey has solved plenty of troubles (often coming up with compassionate and, let’s face it, sometimes impractical alternatives to jail cells for troubled souls who innocently endanger the town). She’s also found the search for her mother to be more unsettling than she could ever have realized.
In the surprisingly entertaining bonus features, the show’s creators claim that they have roughly seven years of plot—should they need it—sketched out. That would be a relief. By the time Haven‘s first season winds down, it’s shaken off some rough edges. (Did the first few episodes all use the “they came here after a tragedy befell their family” school of foreshadowing? I believe they did.). The interaction between the characters is crisp and fast-paced, and multiple agendas are aligning themselves against one another.
True, after a few episodes, you get used to the show’s love of red herrings, in which Nathan and Audrey see theory after theory busted, but some of those false trails (such as one case that initially seems to indicate werewolves) are pretty well done. It would be shame to see a show this promising succumb to the continuity-shirking “we’re just making this up as we go along” vibe that poisoned the end of The X-Files.