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Tidelands - Season 1 - Review - Rolling In the Not So Deep

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“I drowned him. And I liked it.” That semi-perturbed declaration from main character Cal McTeer sums up Tidelands nicely. Like that quote, which inserts itself jarringly into an otherwise gripping scene, the show has no use for context or character development. But there are enough shows being acclaimed for quality out there. Sometimes you need a guilty pleasure that relies solely on superficial charms and melodrama to hook its audience. Tidelands is an ice cold glass of water best downed in one long gulp. You’ll get brain freeze, but that’s not always a bad thing.

A quick recap of this relatively simple show. Cal McTeer returns home to Orphelin Bay after ten years in prison for setting a man named Dunbarrow’s house on fire, unaware that he was inside the house, causing his death. She finds out that her father Pat left her money in his will. This money was eaten up by her truly awful mother Rosa who we learn egged Cal into burning down Dunbarrow’s house. Rosa repeatedly suggested he was behind Pat’s disappearance. Cal makes a couple startling discoveries soon after returning home. First, her father ran a drug ring in partnership with a reclusive local group called the Tidelanders, and her brother Augie has taken over this family business. Second, after someone tries to kill her, Cal learns she too is a Tidelander. This means she had a human father who was “lost at sea,” seduced by a siren, and killed by a siren. The sirens leave their part human offspring on the shores and islands of Orphelin Bay, where they are collected by their fellow Tidelanders. (It was Rosa who tried to have her killed by the way. Rosa is the worst.)
Shortly after Cal’s return, the economic ecosystem of Orphelin Bay starts sliding into chaos. The source of this is partially Rosa (who has an F-level subplot about trying to get rid of Tidelanders) and partially Adrielle, Queen of the Tidelanders. The Tidelanders are becoming restless under Adrielle’s leadership, because she seems to be squandering their money on mysterious trips and purchases. Having survived a massacre in her youth, Adrielle is seeking to recreate a horn that will summon an army of sirens to destroy mankind. (This is a little perplexing, since Tidelanders are only possible because sirens lure human men and the Tidelander men are apparently infertile, but we also find out Tidelanders live hundreds of years.) She declines to share her plans with anyone close to her, resulting in widespread doubt among her closest followers. After sentencing a child to have one of his eyes gouged out, Adrielle’s popularity ratings decline further. She gets some good buzz after actually summoning a siren. All Tidelanders have an overpowering longing to meet their real mothers. However, her quest for more money to finish the horn alienates her people again when she draws new dangers and commits a couple extra murders. Naturally, this sets the stage for Cal to be a possible usurper.
There are also some shenanigans that see Augie wind up in danger when his men decide to overthrow him. There is a subplot where one of his men Colton fathers a baby with a Tidelander named Violca (Madeleine Madden is wasted in this shallow role). There is another subplot with her keeping a Tidelander captive in her dungeon, in order to intensify visions that Tidelanders apparently have when cut with the horn shards. There are numerous other subplots that involve romantic connections, although only a couple should really be classified as romantic. Little time is put into developing relationships. Almost every character on this show is constantly horny. It must be something in the water. The Tidelanders also have some healing abilities, in addition to being able to breathe and manipulate water. Female Tidelanders have stronger powers.
The show starts off by having Cal be different from the other Tidelanders by virtue of being raised human and not being part of the community. By the end, it turns to more familiar territory by suggesting she might have extra powers, though it doesn’t venture to theorize why. Charlotte Best and Elsa Pataky one hundred percent commit to their respective performances as Cal and Adrielle. Pataky endows Adrielle with a majestic ennui, as she glides uncaring from one part of her scheme to the next. When a prophetic vision hints that Cal might possibly kill Adrielle, she quite surprisingly does almost nothing about it for the longest time. But she does take the possible murder weapon and put it in a box in a “very secret” closet. Adrielle sees herself as a “Chosen One,” and Pataky certainly commands every scene she’s in. There’s not even one reason why we should root for Adrielle, except that without her the show would lose almost all its bite. Cal, by comparison, spends nearly the entire season on the brink of despair, occasionally finding respite in the arms of a couple immensely hunky love interests. The chemistry with one Tidelander, Dylan (Marco Pigossi), works very well. One wishes there was something to give it more meaning. Pigossi too turns in a good performance though, as his faith in Adrielle slowly erodes, and his constant regret and doubt makes it possible to forgive some of his more disturbing actions.
Amidst all the walking among the tides and all the scheming, there is one connection in Tidelanders that packs a real emotional punch. That would be Cal’s relationship with her brother Augie. Aaron Jakubenko makes sure his character isn’t just another very pretty face. Augie genuinely wants to protect the people around him and his town. He is both happy and apprehensive when Cal returns, and he makes many small gestures to rebuild their bond. Two of the best scenes are when Cal saves Augie from drowning inside his boat and when Augie rescues Cal from the tank. Even when learning she’s not his biological sister, Augie doesn’t stop thinking of her as family. Their efforts to protect each other form the only real emotional stakes the show has, making it the best choice for the season finale to put his life on the line in a big way.
There are quibbles to be had for sure. The longing the Tidelanders have for their mothers wasn’t established very well. So many characters were just plot devices that basically only impacted Cal (Bill, Corey, Genoveva). The opening scene with its vicious topless eye-gouging was a bit gratuitous. Cal’s declaration that Orphelin Bay was her home wasn’t earned. Other than passionately making out with Dylan and Corey, she was almost utterly miserable there. The show should have perhaps leaned further into her bond with Augie. A second season would also hopefully give Adrielle and Cal more scenes together.
Some parts of the story were solidly executed though. On occasion, the visuals of the show can be exquisitely striking.The disturbing punishment early in the season came full circle by the finale, with major consequences for everyone involved. And the final scene is just dripping with devastation and promise. Tidelands leaves a distinct enough aftertaste to get you a little thirsty for a second round.

Additional Thoughts:

Watch out, Olivia Crain! Adrielle Cuthbert officially enters the Netflix Most Elegant Sleepwear Worn as Clothing Contest.

Speaking of Adrielle, all those scenes of her lovingly walking in the tide and when she finally dove in they didn't show a thing.

The characters spent very little time in the water for being half-siren. And nobody ever walked dramatically out of the surf.

For anyone who thought 2018 TV was short on abs, Tidelands makes up for the discrepancy.

My favorite moment of the show is this scene where Cal and Dylan are on the beach, and these birds just stride quickly past, going about their business. It's the kind of thing you can't plan, and I hope the show relies more on the natural beauties of its setting in its second season.

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