Thoughts on the ‘Harper’s Island’ finale: Who did it? And why?

07.12.09 8 years ago 10 Comments


Back when it premiered, I reviewed “Harper’s Island” on the basis of a single episode. I asked CBS for additional episodes, saying I needed figure out the show’s direction a bit more before crystalizing my opinion, but I was politely turned down. On the basis of that pilot, I tore the show to shreds, but if I’d been able to see a few additional episodes, I might have tempered that judgment. 

At no point did “Harper’s Island” ever fully figure out what it was supposed to be. It was an Agatha Christie mystery with the heart of a schlocky slasher film. By six or seven episodes in, it seemingly embraced that slasher core, but I’m not even certain that the producers would cop to that categorization. 

“Harper’s Island” never really had the brains to become an involving mystery, but it absolutely had to guts to become an amusingly audacious splatter flick stretched over 13 hours. I’d hesitate to tabulate the total number of casualties on “Harper’s Island,” but they killed off at least 15 characters we cared about and maybe 10 others that we never got to know. Although those deaths had to be toned down for network standards, viewers never turned off the TV on Saturday night feeling short-changed for carnage. Sometimes we liked the people who were killed. Sometimes we hated them. And often we felt like we didn’t much care. But people kept dying and since that was all that the producers and CBS ever promised, “Harper’s Island” lived up to its potential.

We lost many more brave souls in Saturday (July 11) night’s “Harper’s Island” finale. We got a lot of answers, even if those answers didn’t make any sense. And we got closure, even if there weren’t many survivors around to enjoy it.

[Discussion of the “Harper’s Island” finale after the break. Obviously, I’m spoiling everything, so just back away slowly, if you care.]

Seriously… Last warning… If you don’t wanna know, go read our Comic-Con schedules. They don’t spoil anything.

So we knew that one of our killers was Callum Keith Rennie’s Wakefield, who proved every bit as unstoppable and vicious as Jason Voorhees or Mike Myers (the “Love Guru” perpetrator, not the “Halloween” character). We also knew that Wakefield had a kid and even though the people on “Harper’s Island” were too stupid (or distracted) to put it together until well into the finale, I that there were many viewers who hadn’t pegged Wakefield’s kid for the killer’s assistant. 

And that assistant turned out to be…

Henry, or “The Groom” as CBS called him. It was a great opportunity for Christopher Gorham to shed his nerdy nice-guy persona and he did it well. I wasn’t exactly shocked when Henry embraced the terrified Trish, sprinting through the woods barefoot in her wedding dress, told her that he was Wakefield’s accomplice and then gutted her. Nor was I shocked when Wakefield appeared and Henry addressed him as “Dad.”

Because of the prolonging of the mystery, just about every character came under suspicion at some point. Without a doubt, I suspected Henry for a at least some time, but that was also in the same period I was assuming that one of the killers was going to be somebody we thought was dead. My hunch was that Henry and JD’s were working together and that JD’s apparent death was just a ruse. 

And if I want to give myself some credit, I was right. The killer *were* Henry and somebody we thought was dead, though at the time we weren’t working with the knowledge that it was even a remote possibility that Wakefield might still be alive. Wakefield’s return was a bit of a cheat, but the characters in the show didn’t know he might possibly return, so it makes sense that we wouldn’t know either. It’s a cheat. But it makes sense.

So yeah. That theory of mine was totally right except for the ways in which it was wrong. And I’d pretty much abandoned my suspicions of Henry. If you’d asked me before the start of tonight’s finale, I’d have guessed that Trish was Wakefield’s daughter. I still think my solution is cooler and I like the idea of Katie Cassidy as a stone-cold killer, but maybe she’ll live up to that potential in The CW’s new “Melrose Place.”

Henry. Nice Guy Henry turned Psycho Killer Henry.

We learned Henry was Wakefield’s son, by way of Abby’s mother, which means that Henry and Abby were half-sisters all along. All together now, “Awwwww.” 

But Abby’s mom put Henry up for adoption and he was adopted by the Dunns. What was so bad about the Dunns? Well, nothing. Rather than bouncing around the system, Henry was adopted by a family with the wherewithal to go on regular summer jaunts to a beautiful resort island. Did Abby’s mom specifically place Henry with a family she knew would eventually come to be in the neighborhood three months of the year? Did she encourage her young daughter to play with the boy she gave up for adoption? Or did she just pass Baby Henry to Mrs. Dunn through the mail slot one evening on the condition of occasional visitation? 

That was never made clear. But the Dunns never told Henry he was adopted and they certainly didn’t tell Henry that he was was related to Abby and they certainly certainly didn’t tell Henry that his dad was John Wakefield: Convict, much less John Wakefield: Killer. But he found out. First he met Wakefield mid-original rampage and they had “a connection.” And then, in Seattle, he met Wakefield and learned the secrets of his genealogy and trained at the master’s knee, eventually becoming the Wakefield Copycat Killer who so concerned the Sheriff. Why? Because Henry had “impulses.” Interesting that the “Harper’s Island” would try to buy into the questionable theorizing that serial killing is in some way hereditary. But there you go.

To this point, I get Henry’s motivations. From there? Things get fuzzy. He seems to have decided that the only way he could be happy would be to be all alone with Abby on Harper’s Island for all eternity. As siblings? As lovers? As what? Dunno. The only way he could figure out to make this dream a reality was to throw an elaborate wedding on Harper’s Island, invite Abby and then kill everybody else involved. So those 30-some-odd people killed during the run of “Harper’s Island”? Most of them were just a means to an end. Confusing matters is what any of it had to do with Henry’s Daddy, who was perfectly eager to kill off everybody involved, including Abby. If Henry’s end-game for a season of slaughter was a hermetic existence in a cabin by the water, why did he bring Wakefield along? And did Wakefield have an end game? Or did he imagine that he and Henry would go live in that same house for the rest of their days? 

I’m only saying that as grand schemes go, this one was not efficiently thought out by either of the killers and there just had to be a simpler way. Why didn’t Wakefield come back years earlier, killer the Sheriff and Abby and be done with it? Why did the Reverend have to die? Or the deputies? Or the burned dude? Or all of the hotel employees?

And since we’d established that Trish and Henry had been a couple since, like, forever and that Sully had been Henry’s friend since junior high, how had they abandoned or lied to Henry? When did his relationships with his lover and his best friends become merely a vehicle to eventually get lots of people to the island for a wedding to lure Abby?

Talk about playing a long con.

Or is it enough that Henry was crazy and his version of logic isn’t exactly a sane person’s version of logic? He spent a long time trying to explain himself to Abby, nearly the last 30 minutes of the finale, and then he seemed so flummoxed when she didn’t instantly embrace his plan. And then so betrayed when she ran him through with a pointy object.

Plus, I still think Jimmy’s a killer. Or maybe C.J. Thomason just wans’t very good at playing authenticity. In any case, be careful Abby!

Some other thoughts on the finale:

*** Poor Danny. And poor Sully, who redeemed himself over and over in the last few episodes. Truly the bromance between Danny and Sully was more believable than anything between any of the other characters. And Danny came so close to surviving, too, bucking the “Black Guy Dies First” mantra of the slasher genre. If you were keeping score at home, Wakefield rammed a metal spike (a desk paper organizer) through Danny’s eye, while Henry stabbed Sully.

*** And if you were keeping score at home, the people who survived were Abby, Jimmy, Sister of the Bride Shea and Creepy Kid Madison, who became somewhat less creepy when she began to display a proper amount of terror toward the end.

*** So Henry was in the process of tying up all of his loose ends, but he still found the time for a post-trauma quickie with Trish? There’s a man with his priorities in order. And other than the great image of a bride tearing through the forest, why did Trish get re-dressed in her gown after the quickie? And *did* Trish just randomly fall off a cliff, land safely and shrug it off as just another misadventure?

*** The closing montage of well-wishes from the deceased wedding guests was very nicely done. It was good to revisit some of our favorite corpses. I was also glad Jim Beaver returned briefly in the flashback at the start of the last hour.

*** After 13 weeks on “Harper’s Island” does anybody out there have a sense for the island’s geography? I sure don’t. It was both easily traversed on foot, but also huge and confusingly laid out. 

*** I think I’ll be talking to Christopher Gorham on Tuesday as part of my ongoing series of “Harper’s Island” exit interviews. Any questions for Killer Henry?

What’d you think of the “Harper’s Island” finale and of the series as a whole?

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