Last night’s nonsensical yet entertaining series finale of Harper’s Island was riddled with questions — just not the one I expected to have racing through my head for the entire two hours. [Spoiler alerts ahead, DVR users!] Nope, the “Who is the second killer?” mystery was pretty much solved from the “previously on” segment, where we once again got to see Christopher Gorham’s Henry trying to stop Abby from taking a shot at Wakefield. And then, of course, Gorham’s increasingly unhinged performance gave us another solid tip-off that his bridegroom was the one with blood on his hands.
Indeed, the true overarching riddle of the Harper’s finale was this: What were they drinking in the writers’ room during their last-act brainstorming sessions? The following is a (chronological) list of just some of the plot developments from last night’s show that made absolutely no sense:
Why didn’t everyone with a gun open fire when Wakefield was on the ground? Why did they keep Wakefield tied up with belts back at a police station that had to contain at least one pair of handcuffs? How come Shea took a cat nap before telling the group about Jimmy’s arrest record? And what kind of a mother wouldn’t have noticed her pre-teen daughter had wandered off to chat with a mass murderer in his jail cell? Why is it that Sully didn’t shoot definitely guilty Wakefield, yet seemed eager to blow away possibly guilty Jimmy? What possessed Sully, who’d previously been ready to quit this clambake, to not get on the boat with Shea and Madison? How did Wakefield make it out of the church with a flare embedded in his stomach? Why did Abby drop the shard of glass and the telescope while trying to flee from Henry? (There’s too much intelligence in Elaine Cassidy’s eyes to believe her character would be all “Look, ma! No weapons!”) Isn’t it better to have a weapon of some sort when angering the man who hanged both of your parents? Why did Henry need a signed confession from Jimmy when he’d already pinned the murders on Wakefield, when he’d left blood and tissue samples from Jimmy’s body, and when Shea, the sole adult survivor, had suspected Jimmy was the accomplice anyway? If you were Jimmy, wouldn’t you have grabbed a weapon to use against Henry instead of using your own body to hurl him over the cliff? After watching most of your close friends and family die, would you really make out on the Coast Guard boat taking you off the island? (And a bonus question my husband shouted at the TV when Abby used that screwdriver against Henry: “Why on earth would you stab his f****** foot?”)
Of course, this isn’t to say Harper’s Island was ever a shining example of great, well-thought-out storytelling. At its best, the CBS thriller was a throw-away summer diversion, and last night’s episode was no exception. Madison remained impressively annoying to the bitter end, nagging Sully about the broken radio to the point that I was hoping he’d taser her with the same vicious glee he unleashed on Wakefield. Trish putting on her wedding dress right before her frantic run through the forest was pure ridiculousness, but the white fabric proved a stunning canvas for the mud and blood Jackson Pollock it would soon contain. (I actually said, as Trish ran through the forest, “If she falls, this is the worst show ever,” right before Trish fell.) And Danny’s death by desktop paper spike was hands down the most artfully shot murder of the series, although Trish and Sully — like so many victims before them — behaved rather ambivalently with their lives in jeopardy, despite having had plenty of time for fight, flight, or both.
And therein lies the crux of Harper’s Island‘s biggest problem: The show’s writers had dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of opportunities to elevate the series from entertaining trash into something truly memorable, especially given a truly unique premise and a pretty solid cast. But just as I can’t say Harper’s didn’t entertain me (I stuck around for all 13 episodes, obviously) I’d also be lying if I said it didn’t disappoint me. Bringing Wakefield back “from the dead” was a boneheaded move from the get-go, the kind of lazy writing that allowed the writers to pick off countless victims without ever having to explain the absence of a killer who was part of the wedding party. Wouldn’t it have been great if Henry was, in fact, the sole killer, and the final episode had gone backwards in time and explained how Henry had snuck off and performed each and every murder during the series’ run? And couldn’t the writers have given Henry a better reason for becoming a homicidal maniac than his anger over being put up for adoption with a seemingly loving family that could afford fun summer vacations on a picturesque island? Okay, so yeah, he had Wakefield’s DNA coursing through his veins, and it had to sting a little that Abby’s mom gave him up, then a year later kept Abby, a girl with whom he’d had a lifelong bond, but that seems like a weak impetus to plan a mid-sized destination wedding during which you’ll slaughter every person on the guest list, no?
Hindsight, I suppose, is irrelevant in this case. Harper’s Island may not have been a commercial or critical slam-dunk, but it had its moments — the denouement featuring video footage from the boat was a nice testament to the show’s solid cast, though where were Uncle Marty and Trish’s dad and step-mom? — and I’m hoping that its low-rated run doesn’t scare off the networks from tackling other limited-run, non-procedural-style programming in the future.
What did you think of Harper’s Island‘s full run? Were you disappointed by the finale, or did it live up to your expectations? And someone help me out: I’ve played Sully’s death scene a half dozen times, and I still can’t tell what Henry said to him: “You never should’ve dug/dogged/done Trish.” I’m voting for “dug,” but if enough of you disagree, I’m happy to change my mind!
More on ‘Harper’s Island’
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Breaking: ‘Harper’s Island’ made me feel something! (Other than ennui.)