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Ragged Isle Season One Review

on Wed, 10/03/2012 - 00:00

“My name is Vicki Burke. I am on a journey to Ragged Isle, an island that lies twenty-one lonely miles from the coast of Maine and is the farthest east people live from that shore. A reunion with my brother and a chance meeting will change my life forever, leading me down a path of dark and dangerous secrets. The island is drawing near, this lonely place where I will face death and find love—both for the first time.”

Thus commences the first season of the supernatural web series Ragged Isle. Filmed in Maine, the series contains scenic shots of the picturesque landscape and contains a lyrical musical score that is sometimes soft and calm, while other times brooding and haunting. Underneath these tranquil sights and sounds, however, lies a darker community filled with mysterious deaths, hidden secrets and a story of forbidden love that ended in tragedy decades earlier. The narrative begins the night of the aforementioned Vicki Burke’s (Meghan Benton) arrival on Ragged Isle when her brother Eric (Michael Dix Thomas) and three friends set sail to check their lobster traps off the northern tip of the island. One of them—Mac Lee (Dominic Lavoie)—falls into the water, and while his colleagues are able to retrieve him, Mac’s demeanor is not the same as it was beforehand.

Mac Lee is found dead the next day, an apparent drowning victim even though his body is nowhere near the ocean. Another member of the fishermen quartet is likewise discovered in a similar fashion, adding to the mystery and testing the investigative skills of Sheriff Rick Dalton (Rick Dalton) and “Deputy Dan” Therrien (Erik Moody), his second-in-command. The section of Ragged Isle where the four were located when Mac fell into the water is owned by Harrison Shaw (Todd Manter), a local businessman who in effect controls the lobster industry on the island. Shaw has decreed the northern section of Ragged Isle as off limits, although no one knows exactly why it has been declared a forbidden zone. “Thus it has always been, and thus it shall always be,” newspaper publisher Vance Trundle (Denis Fontaine) explains to Vicki Burke. Harrison Shaw immediately becomes the prime suspect in the deaths of Mac Lee and Bill Saunders (Doug Porter) but is later found dead himself, albeit by a more explainable means.

Ragged Isle hints that the answer to its central mystery rests in the supernatural realm of a ghost driven by the need for revenge. “Haven’t you ever heard the story of what happened at the old sardine plant?” tavern owner Rachel Moody (April Joy Purinton) asks Sheriff Dalton. “The plant had two owners—Wilbur Henson and George Bridges. Bridges fell in love with a factory worker, Emma Dobson. Henson threatened to dissolve the whole partnership if they didn’t stop seeing each other. Bridges came from money, Dobson didn’t. Henson said it made the company look bad. He may have had other reasons. People said that Henson was in love with Emma himself, and one night he caught George and Emma kissing in the office in the factory. Went crazy with jealousy. He barricaded the doors, burned the place down to the ground. Set off a forest fire, burned the whole northern tip of the island. It was so hot, they never even found the remains.”

The tranquil small town setting, unexplained mysterious deaths and elements of the supernatural brings to mind the classic ABC television series Twin Peaks, and the first season of Ragged Isle does indeed contain a similar texture with its slow-but-steady pace and effective use of mood and atmosphere. The David Lynch-created drama was populated with an assortment of quirky characters, and while Ragged Isle does not contain the same off-beat humor, it is an effective companion piece nonetheless. During one of Vicki Burke’s voiceovers that open each installment, the budding journalist remarks that “an old menace begins its slow, silent sweep across the island,” and the same can be said of the “old menace” named Bob that swept its way through the town of Twin Peaks decades earlier. The episode “Last Night on Earth,” meanwhile, features a talent show in a rustic tavern that likewise conjures memories of the Great Northern Hotel.

In addition to its central “Who killed Laura Palmer?” narrative, Twin Peaks was a soap opera that featured the requisite subplots revolving around love, betrayal, greed and revenge, and here again the same threads run through Ragged Isle. A romantic attraction develops between Vicki Burke and her brother’s friend Paul Soucey (Ian Carlson), for instance, while a brewing love can also be found between Sheriff Rick Dalton and Rachel Moody. Harrison Shaw, meanwhile, is the type of businessman who seemingly has his hands in numerous Ragged Isle pies and is not tolerant towards those who defy his edicts. As for other members of the community—including newspaperman Vance Trundle and council member Rose Fuller (Beth Saufler)—they likewise appear to carry their own secrets and personal agendas.

Ragged Isle was born from a previous project that our company, the Entertainment Experiment, produced years ago called Criehaven,” director Barry Dodd explained to Camilla Stein Review in June 2011. “It was an entry into a soap opera web video contest sponsored by SoapNet. Our video was inspired by the classic Sixties soap opera Dark Shadows and our idea of what a modern soap that combined elements of the supernatural might be like. We made it to the finals but ultimately lost out to a more traditional entry. The basic idea stuck with me—a remote Maine island, murder mystery, spooky atmosphere—over the years, and eventually my wife and creative partner Karen and I decided to revisit the concept as a self-produced web series.”

While Criehaven may have come up short in the SoapNet contest, fans of slow-burning, character-driven, atmospheric supernatural thrillers have found a winner with Ragged Isle. After hearing the story about the old sardine plant, Sheriff Rick Dalton remarks, “You’re right, it’s a good story. Murder, jealousy, forbidden love—it’s got everything.” In the end, the same can be said of Ragged Isle.

Anthony Letizia (October 3, 2012)

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