Freeform, the network previously known as ABC Family, has been tackling sexuality in more nuanced ways than any other network today. We’ve seen lesbian love stories on Pretty Little Liars and badass queer women of color on The Bold Type, but their latest queer-inclusive show is one I never saw coming.
Siren follows an amphibious predator of the sea turned land walker: A mermaid named Ryn (Eline Powell). Set near the ominous, chilly, misty Washington coast, the supernatural show is super evocative of Twilight. If you can get past the New Moon-esque sweeping drone shots of damp forests and salty marinas, you’ll discover something that’s never been done on-screen before: bisexual polyamorous mermaids.
To catch you up, Siren is currently five episodes deep, and is in my opinion, a derivative work of American cinematic mermaid classic, Aquamarine (joking). A deep-sea fishing expedition goes awry when a group of fisherman catch a creature so strong, it’d make any sane sailor say “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” The monster in question is a mermaid, a creature long mythologized in this coastal Washington town. Feeling threatened by her captors, the siren slashes one of the boatmen, necessitating another to radio in a distress call, which is felicitously intercepted by a secret naval government agency. The secret operatives appear to collect the creature, who becomes the subject of inhumane and painful tests.
A second mermaid, Ryn, washes ashore in search of the firstwho she refers to as “sister.” Ryn has never been on land before, and thus is completely alien to human culture, language, and customs; “sister” is the first word she learns to describe two women who love each other, so it’s unclear if they’re actually sisters, friends, or are romantically involvedwe just know she loves her. As we watch Ryn learn the most basic human lessons, like always wear clothes in public, don’t hiss at people, and don’t get in cars with creepy menor just, avoid men in generalwe also trace her confusion at the ways in which Ben and Maddie, the couple who takes her in, interact with each other.
Once she learns concepts like love and trust, she comes to understand that she feels those things for Ben and Maddie, while also grappling with the idea that Ben and Maddie feel those things for each other. Well, clearly, mermaids are well-acquainted with syllogismRyn deduces that they all are in love with each other, and climbs into bed with the couple to sleep between them. Ben and Maddie eye each other as if to say, this is clearly weird and inappropriate, but meanwhile, they’re both separately falling love with the sea crawler, without necessarily communicating it to each other, but also without being shady. A natural three-way bond just materializes naturally.
That brings us to last night’s episode. Ryn and Maddie have always had a stronger connection than Ryn and Ben, which isn’t shocking considering all we know about mermaids thus far is that they’re women, which means they must have relationships with each other, as is true with other women-only worlds, like Themyscira. But until now, we’ve only seen scant furtive glances between the women, tantalizing chest touches, and tight-breathed hugs. Ryn is developing feelings for Maddie in the purest, most human wayshe feels connected to her, and doesn’t know anything about the barbaric politics of land walkers and their homophobic garbage. Maddie, on the other hand, treats this obviously fraught and unusual circumstance more delicatelyshe clearly feels something for Ryn, but is unsure what the protocol is on crossing a line with someone who appears human, but is invariably a different species.
While bandaging Ryn up after a scuffle with her rediscovered “sister,” who escaped the research facility with the use of sheer mermaid force (they are significantly more powerful than humans), Maddie shares an intimate moment with her and Ben’s third. Ryn calls her shirt “pretty,” another word she picked up recentlyshe’s now learning faster than everand Maddie pulls away, confused by her own rapid-firing synapses. Maddie explains that she only wore a nice shirt because she’s having lunch with Ben’s mother, struggling to articulate what words like “mother” and “family” mean.
Once again, Ryn understands “family” to mean something more all-encompassing: People who love each other. She repeats, “family important,” as she has heard the couple say in the past. Maddie agrees, asserting, “family is love,” to which a wide-eyed Ryn, almost child-like in her pure intentions, says, “You are love.”
Maddie replies, “Thank you,” and hands Ryn a bat before leaving the housefor safety. Dressed in The Lesbian Uniform of overalls and a cropped tank top, Ryn proclaims in somewhat broken English that she missed Maddie when she was away. Then, the sweet baby angel mermaid repeats a move she’s seen Ben and Maddieher only model of loveperform mindlessly, time and time again: She places her hand on Maddie’s neck, pulls her in, and gives her one long, sweet peck goodbye, quipping, “Bye, bye.” Maddie stifles her reflex to laugh in an awkward situation and stammers, “Oh, uh, yeah. Ok. Bye,” and hurries awayprobably reflecting on that time earlier in the seasons when Ryn caught her and Ben banging in the shower.
Look, this show is weird. It’s literally Ocean Twilight. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t addicting, and you’ve got to admire the creativity of these (obviously male) creators. Siren offers a bizarre, unique, and nuanced commentary on love and connection in their most basic form.
The moral of the story isn’t any less heavy-handed than the last thirty seconds of an episode of Full House: When a being is freed from the chains of hateful principles like homophobia, or social constructs like monogamy, it’s easy to see that love is love, and anyone can fall for anyone, in whatever capacity.
I’ve been keeping up with Siren, nodding my head so hard my vertebrae is splintering, yelling, “We get it!” at the screen, but nonetheless, it’s an admirable and valiant attempt at inclusion and queer storytelling. We’ll start there.
Siren returns Thursday, April 26 on Freeform.