Saturday, December 22, 2012

Women of Haven

Let's be clear about one thing at the outset: I love Haven. I do, really. I have to, or I wouldn't be blogging this. But some things about the show just make me shake my head and 'oy' at everyone. I don't know if it's a necessity of the characters they've set up or if it's supposed to reflect some initial imbalance or social dynamic (and if the latter, I do have to say kudos, because in context that could make this an impressive feat of pre-planned structure arc) or if it's just a subconscious trend. It's possible that it's just been made necessary by isolating Duke so that he has to come to grips with his destiny on his own, emphasizing the way Nathan holds himself to himself, emphasizing Audrey's isolation in a similar fashion to Duke. Lately we've been wondering if the dynamics around the core three are meant to reflect some sort of initial isolation as I mentioned a moment ago, especially given that Audrey's far older than she looks. Her lack of female friends or even other female presences in her life could be some sort of supernaturally imposed Scarlet Letter, it could be a way of forcing her to But Haven comes across, in terms of women and female presence, as being written by Henry VIII's great great many-times-great grandson. There's a saying, sort of a joke, that you can remember the history of Henry VIII's wives in this order: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, died. Well, in Haven, it's not quite so ordered, it's more like deported, died, deported, died, mindwiped and deported, died. And yes, we're leaving Jordan out there because her fate is yet to be determined. Except that we're pretty certain that on the axis of protagonist to antagonist, she's slipping pretty far down the antagonist line.

But I do love Haven. And so with that in mind and that intent, let's examine the women of Haven and the manner in which they are portrayed. 

One of the first recurring women we met was Eleanor Carr. Alas, Eleanor, you were so willing to be useful and then you were so dead! At least half of what we know about Eleanor is implied by what we learn after she's dead, but when we first meet her she's the town coroner and quite the spitfire without being spiteful or overly mean. She confronts Audrey over some illegal parking maneuvers and, while she's hard on her about the parking, also allows as Audrey's new and will learn the ways of the town. And at least a couple of the things she says to this effect though can be taken as Eleanor knowing about the Troubles and about the strangeness. Contrary to the rest of the town, as well, Eleanor is not shy about volunteering information after she feels Audrey has earned it by staying in town, by working with and helping the Troubled, and by generally being a force for good and healing in Haven. It's possible that she would have told Audrey more had she been around to see what Audrey made of herself and what she did later, but Eleanor was killed by the chameleon and whatever else she knew died with her.

Eleanor Carr was unlike any other resident of Haven, very much on purpose. She did things her way, and while she didn't seem to insist that other people do things her way (though she could, according to her daughter, be stubborn about it where she felt she had authority such as a parent over a child) she did persist and ignore other people's opinions, suggestions, or traditions on how she should behave. This included the unspoken taboo against talking about Audrey Parker/Lucy Ripley's part in the Troubles, or what happened when Lucy Ripley was in Haven. We can expect that she had a great deal to tell, starting with the fact that her daughter Julia not only possesed the Guard tattoo which indicates that she was Troubled, but also was able to consciously or unconsciously make the tattoo appear and disappear. We may, from this and from the fact that other relatives had the tattoo, at least assume that Eleanor knew about the Guard, if she wasn't Troubled herself. Either Eleanor's family or the family she married into is/was also deeply involved in the Guard, considering Julia mentioned and showed Duke the photograph of her grandfather. Which side the grandfather was from was left unsaid. Apart from the Guard, Eleanor also participated in the autopsy on the Colorado Kid, meaning she at least was aware of the cause of his supposed death. What else she knew about the Colorado Kid, particularly regarding his relationship to Lucy Ripley/Sarah Vernon, is unknown and will now remain so.

Eleanor's daughter Julia, it seems like, either knew less or was less certain of her friendship with Audrey Parker to share what she did know, but either way we did see a fair bit of her and at least the way is clear for her to come back, writers and the actress's work schedule permitting. While she was on the show, she seemed to be making good friends with Audrey, contributing her own strong-willed compassion for some solidarity and her willingness to be rough around the edges for some contrast. Unlike Audrey's more refined and professional speech, Julia is purposefully blunt, starting with the way she talks to her mother and right down to the way she talks to Duke. Although her affection for him extends to spending time with him, allowing him a certain amount of physical leeway and even admitting to some feelings for him, she isn't willing to put up with his willful dismissal of responsibility, and she doesn't want to participate in his lifestyle as a smuggler, and she draws a very clear line between caring about him and condoning his actions unconditionally. She is more than willing to say "no, enough," when it becomes enough for her, to the point of leaving Haven, and a number of people though most specifically Audrey could learn from this example. If nothing else, Julia's self-awareness and strong sense of identity contrasts sharply with Audrey's lack of it, as Audrey's identity grows more and more nebulous as the show goes on. Having Julia come back now, when Audrey's doubting almost everything about herself, would set up some interesting contrasts between what determines who you are and how much you can determine of that.

Continuing the trend of strong-willed women in Haven in the first season we also have Jess Minion, Nathan's brief girlfriend. Jess's willfulness took a much softer form than either of the Carr women; she could be pushy, but her approach was more often to nudge or cajole or otherwise offer a carrot rather than to show the stick. Like the other two secondary female characters, she worked in the medical profession, in counseling rather than in a biological or anatomical science. When we first see her at her work rather than at her home or in capacity as a romantic interest she's acting as a grief counselor, a position which requires a great deal of patience and that hard-to-balance combination of good instincts and grounded training. She certainly seems to have the training to act as a counselor, her behaviors and speech patterns are appropriate, and it seems fair to say that she has the instincts as well. We're first introduced to Jess as a suspect in the Troubled murders of two hunters, and the overall impression both her costuming and her blocking/setting give is one of a nurturing person who does run on her natural instincts. She is, however, not Troubled as first implied. As far as the Troubles go, Jess takes it somewhat in stride, first learning about the animals attacking hunters that the police think she might be responsible for via witchcraft, then learning about Nathan's condition. But while it seems she can deal with the Troubles when they take a form she can explain by science, such as Nathan's pseudo-ideopathic neuropathy, when they take the form of a shadow man actively trying to kill her she balks at further contact and leaves Haven. It's hard to say which was the greater factor in her leaving, the attempted murder or the fact that it was perpetrated by an intangible manifestation of a patient's rage. Apart from the very real trauma of having been attacked in your own home which can certainly make a person inclined to pack up and leave town, contributing factors might also have been the complete and blatant defiance of the laws of nature which she was forced to confront, or the underlying truth that she had managed to misjudge a patient so badly as to miss his deep, homicidal anger. Any one of those would be enough to make her question the current course of her life, all three apparently were enough to make her leave Haven. Which is a pity, because Haven could certainly use more counselors.

At the end of season one and the beginning of season two we are introduced to FBI Agent Audrey Parker. And the most notable thing about FBI Agent Audrey Parker -- the real Agent Audrey Parker -- is that there is very little to say about what we see of her that can't also be said about Haven's Audrey Parker. They are very, very much alike, from graceful tenacity to distrust and skepticism of the Troubles to the practical, let's-get-down-to-work attitude that accepts the fact that something is happening if not necessarily the lack of science behind it. Audrey Parker Original Flavor was also responsible for at least one significant breakthrough regarding the mysteries of Haven and its Audrey Parker's origins (Love Machine 2x02). From the authorial point of view, I find it entirely likely that the writers erased her memories and wrote her out of the show because otherwise they would be forced to find increasingly implausible ways she and Haven's Audrey weren't coming up with solutions and causes for the Troubles. However, between what we do see of Audrey Parker Original Flavor and what we've seen of Lucy Ripley, the same, we can extrapolate at least a few constant attributes that are either searched for or compatible with whatever mechanism leads to AudSarLu's return. The most significant of these I would put as, tenacity, flexibility of thought, strength of will and self-awareness, and compassion. The original Audrey Parker certainly displayed the first two as well as the last, and her relative composure in the face of her near-complete (if not necessarily permanent) mind-wipe indicates that she has considerable strength of will and a strong awareness of self.

After Audrey Parker came Evi(dence) Ryan (Crocker?), Duke's wife. Initially mistaken for Duke's sister, which is hilarious on account of both race and body type differences. I'm visibly different, racially, from my own sister, but we do share similarities in body and facial structure. Not so much with Duke and Evi. When Evi shows up we learn that she and Duke were and likely still are married, but the D word never comes into play, either as something that happened in the past or as something either of them are seeking in the present. That in and of itself is interesting, both for what it says about them and the fact that you don't see too many happily separated yet not divorced couples on the big or small screens, and even fewer when sexual orientation doesn't come into play. Evi is, clearly, from when Duke was between twenty one and now, giving him a roughly twelve year period or so in which he could have met, wooed, and married her. She is also just as clearly not an established part of Haven's Troubled community, making it all the more odd that she manages to fall in with the Rev. Not from her perspective, but from the angle where the Rev trusts her to reel in his most prized asset: Duke Crocker. For Evi's part, she has a couple of angles she's working towards her own goals, but the chief end she seems to be working towards is to get Duke squared away and out of Haven for good. She aims for this in a couple of ways, starting with insinuating herself into the town and its movers and shakers and following up with finding out what Duke's issues with Haven (and therefore with his father) are and why he's there.

Evi's motives seem to be out of genuine concern and fondness for Duke, though it's very unclear whether or not she's still in love with him in any sort of romantic way. Everything she does in the show apart from returning to Haven is driven by her perceptions of Duke's needs and what she wants for him. While on the one hand it does make her a startlingly one-dimensional character for someone so vivid on the surface, it also must be taken into account that her time in Haven was relatively brief, and other goals might have manifested had she lived. While she was there she certainly showed signs of having skills developed in pursuit of other goals, such as the admittedly lackadaisical grifting and the much more effective straight-faced lying to Duke. Her morality seems flexible around a core of a very few, very basic set of values. Like the later example of Jordan, Evi lies for the good of the person she loves; unlike Jordan, Evi's lies more involve her own actions (giving files to the Rev) and what she knows (that Duke's father was involved in his return to Haven) rather than the actions of an entire nebulous-sized group. Nor do they involve Audrey or anyone else Duke cares about directly, to the best of Evi's knowledge, whereas Jordan knew damn well what she was doing to Nathan. As far as Evi knows, her lies do not involve condoning murder, kidnapping, or other forms of violence. It's difficult to say where her balking point would be from this, but it did seem to be murder and violence given that what prompted her to demand the truth (at the subsequent cost of her own life) was the threat of sniper fire. There's also an element of familiarity to consider; Evi is presented at the outset as being familiar with Duke, whereas Jordan has only just met and is only beginning to know Nathan, and so when Duke finds out that Evi's lied to him it has undertones of him feeling that he should have expected it. After all, their past involved smuggling together and apparently quite a lot of double-crosses - which in their youth would have added to the glamour of the relationship. Though the bloom is off that rose, Duke still cares for Evi while knowing when not to trust her. Nathan, not knowing Jordan well at all, feels betrayed by a woman who claimed to trust him and care for him at least as much as the Guard if not more so.

Jordan might have felt that she did trust him and care for him more than she does for the Guard, so Nathan's assessment isn't entirely wrong there. But Jordan's state of mind as it unfolds in the show is complicated and severely damaged.

To begin with, we are introduced to her as a person who cannot touch others, although we can be reasonably sure from the pattern of the Troubles that this is a development within the last few years at most. Later, we find out that it's only been a handful of months, which is still enough to cause considerable psychological scarring. Especially since, to the extent that she physically does touch anyone, her touch causes immense pain and instant repulsion for the source of that pain. We know from repeated behavioral studies both on animals and involving humans that person-to-person benevolent touch is an essential if poorly understood human need, and being deprived of this undoubtedly caused Jordan some psychological harm on its own, regardless of the circumstances of her Trouble manifesting. Adding on to that the fact that her Trouble manifested possibly as a form of self-protection because the circumstances of the manifestation were an assault, most likely penetrative and sexual. Jordan needed to be in control of her body and needed to repel her attacker, and she was "rewarded" for that with a Trouble that requires her to be aware of her body at all times and makes her capable of repelling everyone, regardless of how she might feel about them. Yay Haven! Oh wait.

It's hard to say how Jordan started out for the first twenty, thirty years of her life. She might even have missed the first wave of Troubles the way Duke seems to have, depending on how her affliction is activated and passed on. We do know, though, that at some point she got in with the Guard, whose actions have always been at best extralegal and at worst outright violent (kidnapping, assault, attempted murder). We know that she believes the Guard without question. We can suspect that she sees the Guard as a replacement for the family she doesn't talk about, which might be a factor of the subject not having come up or it might be a factor of her family being abusive or distant, perhaps as a result of a family member or Guardian having an active Trouble.

Regardless, Jordan is introduced as the representative face of the Guard, and remains so for a handful of episodes. She refers to 'her people,' but all we see are some blurry extras as they escort the prisoner Fromsley off the scene. She commits assault on policemen on behalf of the Guard, but clearly seems remorseful and upset by this use of her Trouble and explains to Nathan that Fromsley could have inadvertently burned down the entire prison and everyone in it due to his Trouble, and the Guard can take care of him better than prison can. Which is laudable, but the fact that she didn't tell Nathan all of that at the outset shows that while she clearly likes him, she isn't willing to trust him with herself, because she does consider the Guard a part of herself. And while that's understandable for a woman who's already been forced into being standoffish and who has come to think of cops as, at best, a friendly enemy, it doesn't show that she's all that knowledgeable as far as creating an atmosphere of trust. Nathan isn't blameless in this, either, there's a lot of things he's not telling her and yet he's pushing her boundaries of intimacy, which as an assault survivor has got to push some buttons for her. That look she gave him after he left, after he had kissed her and while she had to deal with the shock of being able to kiss someone for the first time in a few months, that was justifiable upset at having her issues deliberately pressed. At having control taken away from her in the form of surprise physical contact, made more surprising by her established lack of it, and then at having that contact come from someone she cannot, by the circumstances of her life, yet trust. I'd be pissed off, too. Actually, I might punch him, little good as that would do because of it being Nathan.

So, to start with in the Nathan-Jordan relationship, we have few boundaries being respected and both parties lying to each other about motivations and goals. This is followed by a blatant display of partisanship from Nathan where he takes her hand and vouches for her, sides with her against his ostensible partners on the police force. Jordan isn't used to being able to trust people outside of the Guard, and she isn't used to being able to touch people at all, at least for the last several months, and the double whammy of touch and trust definitely messes with her head. It gives her the impression than Nathan understands her and wants to be with her, or at least wants to be on her side. Not only that, he presents a united front with her while underneath they're fighting like a married couple away from the children about who betrayed whom and who's right to suspect whom. Their relationship survives that, albeit strained, which reinforces Jordan's idea of her and Nathan as a Thing. Another couple episodes go by and we get more of a view of Jordan McKee, competent Guard investigator and soldier, so we know that whatever issues she may have with intimacy, trust, and romantic emotions, they don't affect her ability to function about 90% of the time.

Of course, they do affect her ability to maintain a stable relationship, and we've already rambled on about that at great length in Burned, so we won't repeat it in any detail here. The upshot of her actions in Burned are that she acts as though the romantic ends justify the untrustworthy means, and in particular regardless of what Nathan actually wants. At no point did she appear to consider giving Nathan the information she has and letting him decide for himself, thereby taking away his agency and his ability to participate equally in the relationship. She chooses to take away choices and informed consent away from Nathan, to predictable reaction: "there is no us."  And so the relationship that started out based on lies, concealment, and deception ends in flames. It's hard to say whether or not they could have had a solid, positive relationship to begin with; there aren't many unilaterally negative aspects to Jordan, just a mess of issues and psychological scars leading to bad habits and bad reflexes. She's not a bad person in and of herself, she just needs loads of therapy (too bad the town therapist is now dead and skinned).  But they both chose to start the relationship lying to each other, and that never ends well.

Overall, we actually get more information about Jordan, her abilities and her past than we do about almost everyone except perhaps the Carrs, most likely in equal parts due to the fact that Jordan is a member of the Guard and to the fact that Jordan is Troubled. By narrative necessity, we tend to get more information on the Troubled because Audrey often asks where and when they were when their Trouble started in an effort to understand it. No one does that for Jordan, but the information is given for the audience's sake anyway.

As opposed to Claire, about whom we get no information whatsoever before she gets, as mentioned, dead and skinned. We have a whole mess of personality traits: she's stubborn, she's optimistic and energetic, she's intelligent and perceptive, but she's also prone to babbling when nervous leading to an impression that she's not aware of the value of the information she learns. Or she's not in the habit of keeping it to herself, which, that right there is an optimistic trait. It takes a cynic to believe that anything someone else knows could be used against you in a court of law or otherwise. We get that Claire earned degrees in psychology and has status sensitivity issues, we learn that she's been counseling many of the people in Haven after their Troubles manifest for some time. We also learn that she's resilient in terms of picking up new information that contradicts the laws of physics and nature, accepting it and moving on with as much practicality as she can, which is what made her "That's impossible" comment regarding Tommy Bowen's untimely death so out of character. And which is one of the many little signs that told us she was the latest victim of the skinwalker. Alas, Claire, we hardly knew ye.

In a lot of ways Claire was the perfect foil friend for Audrey, while Audrey II was the perfect identical twin friend. Claire provided gregarious pushing when Audrey closed off and shut down, which she does have a tendency to do. Claire tended to people's minds in the long term, where Audrey only fixed the immediate issues; though we never saw her counsel anyone on-screen save Audrey herself, Claire makes mention of Troubled individuals going back to season 1. And for all that we screamed about her lack of patient confidentiality, that did serve to emphasize the fact that Claire stuck with it. The original casting call had her as a former native of Haven very recently returned, but we never get that impression in the episodes themselves; instead, Claire is a piece of Haven that Audrey doesn't normally deal with for the very simple fact that she's running around putting out fires and has no time to revisit old cases unless they're somehow related to the Trouble at hand. Unfortunately, we never get to see her interact with anyone else in her professional capacity before she's murdered, so it's difficult to say how much of her pushing with Audrey is tailored and how much is her natural tendency as a therapist.

And of course, last but far from least, Audrey Parker. Or as we've been calling her, AudSarLu, the repeated incarnation currently known as Audrey Parker rather than Audrey Parker, FBI Agent. It's an interesting piece of writing that we've gotten to see both the original Audrey Parker to compare her against Troubled Audrey Parker, and that we've gotten glimpses of both Lucy Ripley and Sarah Vernon to compare them against the current incarnation of Audrey Parker. It's still difficult to tell what traits are innate and what traits are selected for by whatever agency does the selecting of memories for AudSarLu's new incarnation. Or perhaps AudSarLu's initial incarnation, if there ever was one, had certain traits and the selection process involves matching to those as much as possible. We may never know! Isn't it fun. Common traits, whatever the source, include ferocity and protectiveness, lateral thinking, compassion and empathy, and solitude. As far as we can tell from what we've seen of Sarah Vernon (there's too little of Lucy Ripley to know), AudSarLu is always isolated from strong outside influences except her superior officer, which seems to always be Agent Howard. Nathan even comments during the beginning of season one that Audrey seems to have few friends. This isolation enables Agent Fuck-You Howard to drive her towards Haven the next time she's needed, and with her false memories implanted she has no idea that she's being driven at all.

Not only does Audrey have the unusual problem of having and requiring a few consistent qualities from personality to personality, these qualities tend to define her. She pulls her definition of self initially from who she believes herself to be, while she still believes in the false memories, then after she's built up a pattern of behavior and record of deeds in Haven she pulls from that to identify who she is. When she finds out that her memories are false, she instinctively takes her cues from what she's done since she arrives in Haven; until Audrey Parker Original Flavor came to Haven she had no concrete way of knowing at what point her false memories stopped and her real self began. The more details she discovers about her past incarnations and their stay in Haven, and how her constant reincarnation works, the more she is able to define herself outside the qualities of compassion, ferocity/tenacity, and isolation. She makes friends, she makes decisions, and she becomes a person. Only to be erased again when she goes into the barn.

It's not what one might call the happiest of endings. By any stretch of the imagination. But then, nobody in Haven gets a happy ending, really, do they? The unTroubled tend to die and the Troubled tend to have to live in a compromise with their affliction, and not always the happiest, either. Beatrice is confined to a lighthouse except apparently on certain occasions (a lighthouse that, might I add, seems to suffer an inordinate amount of damage), Lori Fulcher joins the ranks of those who must stay absolutely calm or her power will electrocute everyone and everything around her, Piper Taylor was ripped to shreds by the animals she stuffed and then brought to life. The only one who gets a remotely happy ending is Jackie Clark, at the expense of someone's life. Admittedly the men don't fare much better, Anson Shumway was driven to suicide by his Trouble-enhanced compulsive disorder regarding his need to repeat everything until it was perfect, Stu Pierce accidentally kills one of his friends due to his contact-induced super-dehydration Trouble. The ultimate result here, really, is that while there is a severe and ongoing disparity in the number of recurring female characters to recurring male characters, nobody is getting a happy ending. Potentially, until Audrey does. The pattern is most egregious with the women because the pattern of women in fridges is pervasive and exhausting, and as much as we love you, Haven, it would be nice to see that change.


  1. At least, unlike Tolkien, Haven has strong female characters with the potential to write their own stories.

  2. For me Elenor was a character they killed off too soon. She knew stuff, was as quirky as Haven itself and may have actually helped Audrey. Julia was way too whiny and self righteous esp after her experience in darfur. Claire would have come off better if introduced in season 2 like Dwight then the audience wouldn't immediately assume she's the bad guy. I also liked Hannah Driscoll, stronger than she appeared and was good fit for Nathan in some ways