June McDaniel is learning that it’s tough being a teenager. One minute you’re running away from your oppressive dad with your cute, romantic boyfriend, and the next you’re shape-shifting into a grizzly Nordic man who recently tried to kidnap you. Like, we get it June. We’ve all been 16 before.
Okay, so June isn’t your typical teen. Welcome to The Innocents, Netflix’s new supernatural YA romance series. If that’s a phrase that makes you cringe, then this is definitely not the show for you. If, however, you are into any of the following: Teens in love, shape-shifting, Guy Pearce’s jawline, beards, damp weather, the general splendor of the Norwegian countryside, and/or sweaters, you’ve come to the right place. Button up your best cardigan because we’ve got an episode to chat about.
It’s clear from episode one that The Innocents will be parsing out information as to what in the hell is going on at a glacial, or perhaps more appropriately, fjord-ian pace. I’m okay with that for now because our teen protagonists, June and Harry (Sorcha Groundsell and Percelle Ascott) are so incredibly endearing, and also I’m into gratuitous shots of Norway. Still, there are an awful lot of characters thrown at us in this first episode — many of whom are white men with beards who look very much alike — and it’s tough to tell who is actually dangerous and who is just mysterious.
I mean, it doesn’t seem like a great sign when the first sight of Guy Pearce as Dr. Ben Halvorson is that of him chasing a gruff-bearded man to the top of a cliff while wearing a strange jacket and rubber gloves. That’s bad, right?
But then, it turns out that Ben is stopping this man from throwing himself over that cliff. That’s good!
BUT THEN he brings him to an interrogation-like room decked out with ’80s technology, where a glass wall separates the two and any time you see the gruff man in a mirror he actually looks like a short-haired blonde woman. Okay, so … bad?
While Ben and this man are talking about how he thinks he’s a liability and uncontrollable and Ben reassures him that “none of this would be here without you,” we see the exact same gruff man next to Ben, seemingly in some sort of trance with vibrating eyeballs. I don’t know if that’s bad or good but it is for sure not normal. And if you weren’t already asking yourself, “What is happening here?” the man shape-shifts into the blonde from the mirror. This is Runa (Ingunn Beate Øyen) and she is a shape-shifter. Ben would do anything for Runa. Sure he seems very much in love and he seems like he’s helping Runa, but he also seems shady as all hell. Jury’s out on this guy.
There is another shady bearded man to meet over in England: John McDaniel (Sam Hazeldine), June’s father. John keeps a trim beard, rocks a tight Henley, and is very good at brooding. He also feeds his daughter a sedative with breakfast, walks her to her locker every day, and is whisking her and her agoraphobic brother Ryan (Arthur Hughes) off to a Scottish isle to keep them far away from society without explaining why, even though there is obviously a reason for it because it’s happening on June’s 16th birthday, a very specific date. So, not the best dad.
There is a point in the episode when Ryan is refusing to go to Scotland and John angrily tells him that he’ll explain everything once they get there. Scenes like these always make me want to scream because, hello Mr. Tight Henley, if you just share the information you obviously have, you’d eliminate at least three problems you’re currently facing. You fool!
Alas, in this episode, we never learn the game-changing knowledge John is privy to, although it’s a good guess that he knows exactly what’s about to happen to June on her 16th birthday. Poor June does not.
June is a quiet, sheltered girl who loves her brother and tolerates her father’s extreme rules. She survives this lonely life only because she is madly in love with her classmate Harry. This is true soul-mate level love. It is “I will sit at the back of the school bus and stare at you longingly while you ride in the passenger seat of your dad’s car behind the bus” level love. YOU GUYS. Harry and June write each other adorable love letters that they hide in the school library’s World Atlas. But most important to know about these two: They have plans to run away together. Tonight.
Obviously, the impetus for this decision is because June’s dad is about to take her away — but Harry has his reasons for wanting to get out, too. His home life is less than ideal: He’s the main caregiver to his father (another beard!), who seems to have some type of dementia in which he’s basically trapped in his head. His mother, Chris (Nadine Marshall), is around but for some reason has nothing to do with his father’s care. There’s a throwaway line later about Harry’s mother having been on sedatives a few years back — so obviously something is going down in this house. We just don’t know what yet.
And so, with an assist from Ryan, June and Harry run away in the dead of night, in a car Harry bought using his father’s wedding band. There is so much joy and hope in this scene as the two lovebirds speed away to their new beginning — June paints her nails and listens to the radio for the first time! They kiss, several times! — that you just know it’s not going to last. It’s too good. Too pure.
If only they knew they’d had a creepy dude in a van tailing both of them for the past few days.
Harry and June are deep into a conversation about the sedatives her dad gives her for “epilepsy” (she’s had no attacks), when Harry has to slam on the brakes in order to avoid crashing into a man having van troubles. We’ve seen this guy before, so we know they are walking into a trap, but good guy Harry will press pause on their runaway plans to help someone in need. Harry is too good for this world.
He gets out of the car and the man leads him over to take a look at the engine, which is never a cool idea in the dark on an empty road. When June steps out of the car to see what Harry’s up to, the back of the van flies open and out walks the gruff man from before (but not the blonde lady version, I know, it’s a lot to keep up with). He’s Steinar (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson). He knows who June is, he knows where her mother Elena (Laura Birn) is, and he has a message from her on his phone. He wants to take June to her mother.
We know he’s telling the truth since we see Elena back at Ben’s farm watching him skin a rabbit in old-timey overalls and talking about bringing June there to “build a family” (okay, so he’s definitely bad), so why does Steinar have to go all kidnap-y to get his point across? He attacks June with a syringe, Harry runs over to fight him off, and they end up in a terrible tussle. Eventually, Harry knocks Steinar out cold, his accomplice takes off, and the kids are left wondering if they’ve just killed a man.
Harry and June make it to a nearby hotel and Harry is completely gutted. June wants them to keep moving forward, but, wondering if he killed someone, the guy can barely speak. I told you he was too good for this world! Once he passes out (June is the big spoon, aw), June decides to go back to where they left Steinar — she needs to find out if he’s really dead, for Harry’s sake. It is clearly an awful idea.
She finds him there, the scary music swells, he reaches for her like a horror-movie villain, and then we cut to Steinar stomping down the road, until he ends up at the motel room door. Harry is horrified to see him, panicked over what’s happened to June. They fight until Steinar puts Harry in a headlock and forces him to look into a mirror. “It’s me, Harry,” he says. Only Harry isn’t looking at a reflection of Steinar — it’s June who has him in a headlock. She’s just shifted for the first time.
The big reveal would be much more of a surprise if we didn’t already know the premise of the show, but it’s still emotionally affecting to see the confusion wash over Harry’s face as he sees that somehow, incredibly, Steinar is June. This is most definitely not the person he thought he was running away with. But like June so innocently told him earlier, it’s too late now.
• We don’t spend a ton of time at Dr. Halvorson’s Norwegian Shape-shifting Farm (also known as Sanctum), but between Runa and her fellow shape-shifting blondes, Elena and Sigrid (Lise Risom Olsen), it’s easy to see we’ll have lots of Knit Happens contenders coming out of that eerily idyllic place. Sweater of the Episode goes to Elena and her chunky knit button-up cardigan. The woman looks like she’s been through some things but also very cozy. They can’t touch each other or talk about personal things for fear of emotionally triggering each other into shifting, but at least they get to wear nice sweaters!