Siren Call: Why You Should Be Watching Siren
By Kailyn Walters
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There’s never been a better time to be a fan of mermaids. Growing up in the Disney Renaissance put mermaids on the top of my youthful obsession list, but even as popular as Ariel was in this great era, mermaids were not as accessible as they are now. As a kid, I regularly tried to swim like a mermaid, sing like a mermaid and read all about mermaids in my spare time, and let me tell you the material available was underwhelming. Today, mermaids are IN. Weeki Wachee Springs advertises their world-famous mermaids, you can buy swimmable mermaid tails, there are makeup lines inspired by mermaids, and then there’s the promised land- media. Growing up the only mermaids in popular culture for me were Ariel (Walt Disney Studios, 1989) and Madison (Darryl Hannah, Splash 1984), but now there are more than a handful of shows on streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, and even Discovery Channel has capitalized with their mockumentary drama about the existence of mermaids (Mermaids: The Body Found, 2012). Guillermo Del Toro’s Shape Of Water (2017) won Best Picture- a film about a “fish-man”!
Television today is more complex than it ever was, and the ever-changing landscape of the life of a television show has also evolved. The presence of social media’s impact on shows has become more prominent, and the buzz generated can make or break a show in its infancy. When Supernatural debuted on television in 2005, genre shows were hard pressed to make it in the existing television landscape at the time. Still, the show was renewed for several seasons before the writers changed the layout of the show from monster-of-the-day to a serial drama with angels, demons, hunters and a lot of mystical, mythological references in addition to being a horror genre show. Nowadays, shows rarely make it to a season 3, despite the size of their fanbase. Networks aren’t gambling as much on their shows as they used to, put blatantly if the numbers are not there or reflect what they want, the show will likely be canceled after the first season or the first few episodes. Network Television also must compete with streaming services, many who produce their own original content. Streaming has changed the way we view shows, watching all 8 or 10 episodes at once, or watching full seasons of shows at a time. Long story short- it’s a tough business to be a show on network television in 2019, so when a show like FreeForm’s Siren comes along, you don’t just want to watch it. You want it to be around for a long time.
Siren debuted in March of 2018. Instantly, the sight of a very scary, lethal-looking creature told you this would not be a retelling of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. The trailers for Siren were cast in somber, dark colors, with a breath of mystery and… horror? Yes. Siren approaches the idea of mermaids as creatures and not humans. Creatures with high intelligence, as well as a predatory streak; similarly, to the Hollywood narrative of interacting with aliens. The notion of studying the creature, fearing the creature, and in many cases falling in love or caring for the creature are prevalent; but Siren goes well beyond this. Ryn’s actions in the first few episodes distinguish her as anything but a helpless mermaid. An apex predator, with instincts less human than we imagine. She looks scary, with fangs and a stinger on her tail. By the start of season 2 (which aired in January) our characters are facing many personal issues, as well as environmental. A continuing theme of the show that many fans have expressed heartfelt notions for is the theme of conservation. Trust, fear, love, guilt, acceptance and desire are all themes commonly displayed by characters on many shows, but Siren has a way of displaying these themes and ideas in a more complex, psychological way. In its first season, Siren took many by storm with its catchy soundtrack, chilling mystery, fresh faces and of course, heart. While it was not as popular as other shows on the network, it miraculously saw itself renewed for a season 2, and fans rejoiced. I went online into several fan groups (some which I am a part of, as a fan myself) and asked fans what it was about Siren that drew them in and kept them watching. Without further ado, here are the top 5 reasons you should be watching Siren.
Siren shows the effects of the seafood industry, overfishing, and offshore drilling in a way that feels organic to the story as well as truthful. Main characters Ben and Maddie are marine students working at their local center in Bristol Cove with seals and other animals. Ryn hunts further and further out for food, while the local seafood company (owned by Ben’s family) bring in their catch, and profit. Whales and dolphins are beached as they try to escape the noise pollution emitted in the search for oil. In its first season FreeForm ran ads in between the breaks about what you could do to help save our oceans, with the tagline “save the mermaids”. The awareness the show brings about these environmental issues is one of the top of reasons fans mentioned about what they love about the show.
- Fantasy Meets Reality
Ryn is a mermaid. She is half human. Her journey of discovering her humanity is endearing, but the world of the mermaid in the water, the apex predator built to kill or be killed; is intriguing and beguiling at the same time. It’s not beautiful like you’ve been led to believe, and it’s not friendly and sweet. It’s also apparently a notion fans seem to point to- the idea that mermaids could exist, because of how undiscovered our oceans are. The idea that mermaids of myth and legend could exist in the places we can’t see or understand. The approach of viewing the mermaid as a species, an animal and something scientific with an established biology feels “real” to many fans, who said if mermaids existed, that this depiction is likely more in line with what they would be like rather than the sugar coated versions we have seen throughout the years. Fans also stated that they felt the show conveyed the reality of how we would treat them if discovered.
If you’ve never seen Siren, I’m sure by now if you have googled it that you have heard of a polyamorous relationship in the show, and if you haven’t, consider this your warning. In season 1, Ben’s affections for Ryn are a main point of his story line, as well as Ryn’s. The question of whether he is in love with Ryn or under her spell is explored, as well as Ryn’s affections towards other females, including Ben’s girlfriend Maddie. As you would guess, affections of this sort might put a strain on a relationship, and this story line finds its way into season 2, where polyamory comes into context in a refreshing, healthy (and beautiful) way. Still, with the seeds of this type of relationship in season 1, many fans are divided on this portrayal of love between characters. Regardless of your feelings about consenting adult relationships, the ‘throuple” presents a refreshing take on a typical trope often found in many shows in which one person must “choose” between two individuals, and there’s often a gray area of “will they won’t they” and “does the other person know she is with so and so too? Is that cheating?” and presents us with an alternative where there is not a competition and there is no betrayal. It also presents a unified standpoint between all parties, while showing a one on one dynamic within that unified structure.
The actors, the set, the special effects- all come together to seamlessly produce a show which looks and feels authentic. The show is shot in Vancouver, which is no stranger to chilling, moody vibes. If you like the moody, rainy, dark vibes of Supernatural or Twilight, expect to see a lot of the same style, as the show takes place in the fictional sea town of Bristol Cove, Washington. The mermaids are a mix of practical effects and CGI and are not as high up on the budget as other shows, but they are done masterfully well. Eline Powell (Ryn) has delivered more complex emotions in one look with no words than should be necessary on a television show. Ian Verdun (Xander McClure) has done a phenomenal job portraying grief, guilt, anger and forgiveness in one singular moment during season 2. Rena Owen (Helen) lends an aura of mystery as well as wisdom and strength not just to her character, but to the general dynamic of the show. The actors are also very involved with their fans on social media, making the relationship between everyone from fan to actor to producer, a more well-rounded relationship with admiration.
Siren presents several themes through the duration of the series. While fans seem to love the theme of conservation, and mythology mixing with history, there are other ideas the show tries to get across. In Season 1, Ryn is treated more as a specimen, akin to the discovery of a new marine species. Throughout the season we see Ryn adapt quickly to her surroundings and learn the human ways. In Season 2 we explore more of the mermaid culture from an anthropological standpoint; with the hierarchy of males and females (yes there are mermen!), and equally from the human side in situations we would find common, such as hanging out a bar. The theme of sexuality comes up frequently and is always treated with the utmost care in the reactions. When a merman tries to imitate Ben kissing his girlfriend as what he perceives as normal behavior by attempting to kiss Ben, Ben explains it’s not appropriate, and when the merman asks if it was wrong, Ben says no and explains why it wasn’t appropriate in that particular situation. It’s not shunned or homophobic, or politically correct it just is. The show also challenges the idea of monogamy in a fresh and organic way (as it appears in the animal kingdom), and pays homage to native American culture, government secrecy and animal experimentation in relation to medical advancement, patriotism, addiction and many others.
At first glance Siren may seem like a brooding Riverdale style drama about mermaids, but one episode in you will see it is unlike any other show on television currently, which is why it deserves our attention to ensure it stays on the air. Siren returns from its mid-season hiatus, June 13 on FreeForm. Check your local listings.