The Rewatch: Harper's Island

Twitter is not my favorite social media platform. I find it annoying more often than not, but it's become pretty necessary for certain interactions. And once in a while, it manages to redeem itself! For instance, if I weren't on Twitter, I would never have heard through the Horror Honeys grapevine that Harper's Island has been added to the Netflix streaming catalog. Harper's Island was a 2009 murder mystery show on CBS, and promised a gimmick in which at least one of the characters would die in every single episode. The combination of the Ten Little Indians premise with the assumption that its airing on network TV meant that it wouldn't be too gory drew my interest immediately, and I jumped in happily. On first viewing, I thought it was extremely cheesy, often silly, and...a total blast. In fact, it became the only non-reality show I ever recapped/reviewed.

Harper's Island centers on a destination wedding taking place on an island off the coast of Seattle. Seven years ago, the island was the site of a brutal mass slaying, which included the mother of the main wedding guest, Abby. Abby reluctantly agrees to come back to attend the wedding, since the groom is her best friend, but her reappearance kicks off another chain of murders. Since I've already described the show episode-by-episode, I'm not going to do the same here. I just wanted to talk about how the show struck me on the Rewatch, since this time, I was watching with full knowledge of who the killer is. Did I spot anything new? Were there clues that I missed the first time, but picked up on now? Did the ending make sense in hindsight? Is there any fun in watching a whodunnit when there isn't any suspense about, well, who done it?

Let's answer that last question first: Yes! If anything, I enjoyed the show more this time around. It's still a guilty pleasure, but I'm prepared to argue that despite some goofiness and cliche, it's actually a really well-crafted mystery that doesn't (entirely) rely on playing "Gotcha!" with the viewer. On first viewing, I had fun trying to figure out who the killer was. On the Rewatch, I had fun testing the feasibility of the killer's plan. While I did pick up on some nuances I missed the first time around, for the most part, things that puzzled me the first time around still don't entirely make sense. With a lot of brain space once devoted to picking apart the mystery freed up, I was able to focus on characterization a lot more this time. I've got to say, I found it a lot more impressive on the Rewatch. These actors did not phone in their performances, and apart from Madison, who is as stupid and creepy a brat as ever, everyone gets a chance to shine. OK, maybe not Non-Entity Beth, but that's not the actress' fault.

Best Episode (judged in 2009): "Sploosh"
Best Episode (judged in 2014): "Splash"

Worst Episode (judged in 2009): "Sigh"
Worst Episode (judged in 2014): "Seep"

Overall Grade (2009): B+
Overall Grade (2014): A-

Harper's Island didn't get the attention or respect it deserves. For those who like murder mysteries, it's a hearty recommend that people should jump on before the streaming availability expires. For those who have already seen it, I have some questions and comments. So be warned! From here on out, expect some massive SPOILERS.

-For those statistics geeks out there, it took until Episode 8 for me to suspect the actual murderer. And even then, I wasn't sure. Good job covering your tracks, Henry!

-So who killed the deer and left it on Shane's truck with the "PSYCHO" message? Maybe it was JD? That would explain him washing all the blood off his hands, though it seems a little extreme for JD, who tends to act out in less gruesome ways. But by the same token, I don't think Wakefield would have bothered with something that petty.

-Similarly, who left the deer head in Henry and Trish's bathtub? He cleans it up so Trish won't see it, so it couldn't have been him or Wakefield. It seems retaliatory, so did Shane do it? And if so, why leave it in Henry's bathtub and not JD's?

-The psychic tells Trish that a male will both betray and save her. We assumed at the time that she was referring to Richard, and that still seems to be the case, since he saves her from drowning, but it leaves some open questions. How did Richard betray Trish? He betrays the hell out of Sinister Dad and Shea, but nothing he does has any real effect on Trish. Who closed the pool cover on Trish? Henry was lurking around, but he seems genuinely surprised by the situation. Plus, he had plenty of opportunities between the pool incident and Trish's stabbing to kill her, and didn't take them. Richard doesn't have a reason or the temperament to do it, unless he was just trying to give her a good scare. So if it wasn't Henry (who never saved her), and it wasn't Richard (who never betrayed her), what is the psychic talking about?

-It's likely that Wakefield or Henry left the raccoon corpse on the church altar, as it was probably practice for Sinister Dad's eventual murder. The firecracker at the scene leads everybody to suspect JD, though, and the situation is never really cleared up. JD claimed his plan was to put a Roman candle in the Unity candle. OK, so, what's the chain of events here? JD goes to the church and sets up his Roman candle, leaving behind a firecracker by accident. Then Wakefield/Henry comes along and splits a raccoon with the head-spade. Then Henry "discovers" both the raccoon and the firecracker? And reports them? That seems off. Maybe Henry just planted the firecracker to divert suspicion. (And as an aside, too bad that the Unity candle was never lit. Plenty of action takes place in the church afterwards. How cool would it have been for someone to have used the candle as a weapon?)

-At Henry's bachelor party, Richard is entirely unperturbed at his affair with Katherine being discovered. And later, Sinister Dad admits to Trish that his relationship with Katherine is complicated, though he never gets to the reasons why. I can't find it now, but I remember reading something about the backstory on this, which got left on the cutting room floor. Everyone treats Sinister Dad as if he has immense wealth and power, but it turns out that he's essentially broke, and it's actually Katherine who has all the money. This explains how Katherine and Richard don't much care if people find out about the affair, and why Sinister Dad sticks around.

-As I mentioned above, some unexplained things from the first viewing remain mysteries. How did Henry kill the priest if he was busy having sex on his wedding cake at the time? How did he kill Richard if he was busy digging up Wakefield's grave? If Madison was incidental to the murders, why does she act so dumb and suspicious all the time? What's the significance of the red ink in Kelly's eyes? Why did Uncle Marty bring a gun to the island? There are plenty of plot holes like these to be picked at, but none of them so big that they spoiled the show. Hell, maybe I can fill in some of these gaps if I watch it again in another five years! See you then.


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