The general expectation for the episode following a season premiere is a drop of intensity and overall quality. If you take into account the fact that last week's episode — though more than acceptable — was slightly disappointing, you will understand why my expectations for "Fear & Loathing" were rather low. I must admit, however, that I couldn't have been more wrong. Haven followed through with a gripping story in which no frame was wasted, no dialogue missed the mark, and no drop of intensity occurred. I have liked many episodes of Haven before, but it was always because some characters and some aspects of the storyline stood out and drowned the rest. Until now, no episode stood the test of a more "structural" approach because they all invariably failed in at least one of what I would consider the basic building blocks of storytelling on TV.
The series has always had issues laying out its investigations, with Audrey "breakthroughs" being literally that, breaks through a barrage of facts as to confound Sherlock Holmes himself. It got slightly better with the season premiere and was flawless here. We could follow the three investigators without having the feeling that there were "jumps." In addition to the main investigation, the attempt to understand where our Audrey came from — by tracking down her agent Howard — provided an interesting sub-plot directly taking us into the series' overarching storyline. My initial guess was that New Audrey would not stick around beyond the season premiere, but the final scene last week firmly established I was wrong. Her presence in this episode allowed the writers to pen down the investigation differently, with more "orthodox" methods and a more skeptical view of the events which, even if wrong, helped put things in perspective. By improving and expanding those various procedural elements, the episode allowed the tension to build up steadily.
Haven has always capitalized on its lead characters, and has never failed to deliver. Secondary characters are an entirely different story, with probably as many hits as misses. The first achievement of this episode was to provide an interesting New Audrey. The character and the actress were very uneven during last week's episode and did not quite live up to my expectations before the final scene. "Fear & Loathing" showed us, like in that ending, two Audreys who could use what they shared to work together. The scenes designed to expose their similarities were much smoother and it was brilliant to show that Audrey wasn't affected by Jacky, the troubled young woman. All supporting characters — including Ian, the villain of the story — were engaging, with Jacky and her boyfriend developed enough for us to care and understand Nathan's choice on the boat.
Duke was as likeable as ever and after charming us all, he even managed to sound interesting — "In my experience, when people are scared, either they run or they fight. I'd start planning for both." He has the uncanny ability to find himself in the middle of certain events, which makes sense and never feels like a plot device because of his track record and his personality. Audrey, just like Duke, is a very engaging character who has the viewer bewitched by the mystery surrounding her. The less accessible of the leads is Nathan on whom the show has been doing a great job for several episodes now. Whenever on TV a man and a woman are close, we tend to see burgeoning love. Nathan's particular affliction and Audrey's ability to undo it obviously gave cause to some speculations. With his choice on the boat and the beautiful scene in the restaurant, now fans should feel even more emboldened.
The show's writers produced a compelling story and developed it at the right pace. Anyone watching Haven has no problem with the supernatural, but just like ideas in other genres, not all supernatural ideas have the same appeal or can translate into breathtaking television. Watching eaten food turn bad or a human fetus turn into a baby in a few hours can be fascinating to some viewers. However, it doesn't have the same visual impact as watching, during a moonless night, a building burn in a few seconds just because a replica of it has been plugged into a children's puzzle board. The impact is at its greatest when the villian's goals are hidden from viewers. The mystery provides an element of surprise that peaks our interest.
After taking us through an interesting story, the writers managed to succeed again where they previously failed: they brought us a satisfying conclusion. They closed one door by killing Ian and opened another by freeing Jacky of her affliction, all the while allowing one character to grow and teach himself (and others) a life's lesson. This was undoubtedly the best episode of Haven to date.