In Netflix’s ‘Tidelands,’ ‘The Little Mermaid’ Meets the Drug Trade

The new sci-fi series balances the fantastical and the dramatic with a rare finesse.
February 6, 2019
7 mins read

Sex, drugs, murder and … mermaids? Yes, you read that correctly. The new Netflix original television show “Tidelands” is an Australian drama, but with a twist of crime, sci-fi and fantasy sprinkled into the mix.

Netflix describes the show, which made its Netflix debut on Dec. 14, 2018, as “ominous” and “steamy,” and quite frankly, I couldn’t agree more. The first season of “Tidelands” is composed of eight episodes ranging between 35 – 50 minutes in length — an easy day-long binge, which I’ve now managed to do twice.

The story takes place in a seemingly modern-day Orphelin Bay, Australia. The town has existed as a small fishing hamlet for generations and is home to the main character, 24-year-old Calliope (Cal) McTeer, who we see being released from prison after 10 years of incarceration for arson and murder.

Cal, with her tousled, long brown hair, fit stature, light eyes and tom-boyish style, is an unlikely beauty with an edgy personality, and within the first episode we are introduced to her tumultuous relationship with her family.

Cal’s father, Pat, is dead but he has left Cal money and property in his will. Immediately following her prison release, she seeks to claim what is hers. Her mother, Rosa, is a recovering addict who shows no affection for Cal and is the trustee of her father’s will. Cal and her brother, Augie, have a very close relationship, and we see that he has taken their father’s place in the family business of “fishing.”

It does not take long for Cal to discover that the family fishing business isn’t about selling fish at all, but rather, manufacturing and distributing drugs. The fishing business is just a cover, one that has worked for many years. When Cal makes this discovery, she stakes a claim in the family business, realizing there is more of an opportunity for her to make money by helping her brother sell drugs than to wait for her unloving mother to sign over her father’s will.

Just when you think that you’ve been fully introduced to the plot — an ex-convict diving back into a world of crime — you’re slapped with a twist. Aside from Orphelin Bay’s reputation as a fishing village, it is also known for its haunting history of losing its local men — specifically fishermen — to the sea.

Across from Orphelin Bay is L’Attente, a sort of a commune-like village, home to the Tidelanders. Initially, you think that the Tidelanders are just some flower-power hippies, but you soon discover that things are not so simple. The people that live in L’Attente are actually half-breeds: half-human and half-siren.

Sirens call to the fishermen from the sea with the intention of mating with them and then subsequently drowning them. When sirens give birth, they abandon their baby, making them orphans. These orphans have made a home for themselves at L’Attente and are governed by Adrielle Cuthbert, a blonde hair, blue-eyed, tanned goddess-like vision with murderous tendencies.

Over the years, the Tidelanders have lived alongside the locals of Orphelin Bay and have been long-time business partners with the McTeer family. Adrielle and the rest of the Tidelanders living in the compound supply drugs to the McTeers in exchange for money. The Tidelanders then use their money for survival and discretion, while the McTeers sell the drugs to an outside buyer in exchange for more profit.

However, things take a turn for the worst when Adrielle starts demanding more money from the McTeers during their exchanges. Augie’s role in the family drug business is called into question after he caves to Adrielle’s demands, and soon both Adrielle’s people and Augie’s fellow business henchman begin to rebel against their leaders.

To make matters more complicated, Cal’s mother is determined to kill Cal and has two men kidnap her, secure her legs together with a heavy chain and drop her into the middle of the ocean. This is the moment viewers discover that Cal is not at all who or what she thought she was. Instead of drowning at the bottom of the ocean, Cal is able to breathe underwater and free herself from what should have been her watery grave.

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Without revealing too many crucial points, it is worthy to note that when Cal discovers that she is not all human, the action and drama heightens considerably. Cal realizes that she has been lied to her whole life and that nothing is as it seems. Season 1 of “Tidelands” not only sets the scene, but also begins to establish Cal’s journey of self-discovery, untold secrets and her struggle to find a place of belonging.

When I first stumbled upon “Tidelands,” I was skeptical. I have always been a fan of the sci-fi and fantasy genre, but budget can sometimes make or break how well such a show does. When studios produce a story that involves non-human characters or deluxe special effects, it requires a lot of money and a talented crew to bring those graphics to life. Without an attention to detail and some deep pockets, even the most promising sci-fi premises are doomed.

I was curious as to how “Tidelands” would fare, especially since the primary plot involves mermaids, sirens and the ocean, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well it was executed. When you think of mermaids, you likely envision the top half of a human and the bottom half of a fish. In “Tidelands,” they manage to portray the Tidelanders as half-breeds but without the use of fins, an artistic choice that I can get behind. Not only does the choice reduce the show’s reliance on expensive graphics, but keeping the Tidelanders as more human-looking is far less complicated and helps to maintain a sense of verisimilitude.

At its core, “Tidelands” is a classic criminal drama with a unique hook, contrasting environments and variety of complex dilemmas. I should say that the storyline moves rather quickly, lacks a certain build-up and skimps on a few details, but if you can manage to look past the hiccups or have been dying for an adult version of “The Little Mermaid,” “Tidelands” is it.

Netflix has yet to announce whether “Tidelands” will be returning with a second season, but reviews suggest that it is a likely possibility.

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