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Series / Siren (2018)

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Siren is a sci-fi drama series from the Freeform network, which premiered at the end of March 2018. Set in the quiet West Coast town of Bristol Cove, the story follows Ben Pownall (Alex Roe) and his girlfriend Madden "Maddie" Bishop (Fola Evans-Akingbola) as they—along with several of their friends and family—attempt to unravel the peculiar events taking place in the town, including the disappearance of a local fisherman and simultaneous arrival of a strange, mysterious girl (Eline Powell). Behind the scenes, a shadowy government conspiracy is determined to proceed with its sinister agenda while keeping the public any means necessary.

Siren contains examples of:

  • All Just a Dream: The second season finale has Ben saving a reporter from drowning. The man ends up exposing video proving the existence of mermaids. Months later, Ben, Ryn, and Maddie are on the run with mermaids being hunted for everything from their bodies to a rich guy using one as a party favor. It culminates in Maddie getting shot and dying in Ben's arms after his dad betrays him... and then it turns to Ben outside the reporter's car as this is all what he imagines can happen if he saves the guy and thus decides to let him drown.
  • All There in the Manual: The other two merfolk who come ashore in Episode 8 are officially named "Katrina" and "Levi," but their names are never stated onscreen in the first season — and in fact they aren't even given them until midway through the second season.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Ryn and Ben Almost Kiss in Episode 3, and later in the same episode, she climbs into bed with him and Maddie, though only to sleep. In Episode 5, she kisses Maddie and then Ben in Episode 6. Maddie herself seems to be surprisingly okay with these moments. Also in Episode 6, when Donna accuses Ryn of "liking human", the former doesn't specify which human and the latter doesn't deny it. Justified in that Ryn is learning the nature of human relationships and interactions, and like anyone learning, she imitates what she observes. It just happens that the relationship she witnesses most is a romantic one. The latter case is open to interpretation is to what Donna means by "like".
    • By the ending of the fourth episode of season 2, there's nothing Ambiguous about Ryn and Maddie's bisexuality
  • "Angry Black Man" Stereotype: Or Woman, as Donna and her daughter Cami are capable of carrying a lasting grudge against humanity for harm coming to them.
  • Anti-Villain: Decker, the scientist leading the government conspiracy, becomes deeply conflicted about what he's doing after he learns that mermaids are sentient creatures.
  • Asshole Victim: David Kyle and Bryan.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: Mermaids apparently have a matriarchal society, and when Ryn defeats "Katrina" in one-on-one combat, she assumes leadership of the pod and orders the rest of them away.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Katrina decides to slit her own throat, when defeated by Ryn. Interestingly, Ryn even offered her to rejoin the tribe, but Katrina's decision is final, meaning this also overlaps with Spiteful Suicide.
  • Big Bad: Tia, who seeks to commit mass genocide of humanity out of merfolk supremacy.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Admiral Harrison, David Kyle and Bryan, who all tried to exploit the mermaids for their own self interests.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Done twice in quick succession in the season 3 finale. Ryn's tribe arrives just in time to help her and provide her with a weapon. When it becomes clear they are hopelessly outnumbered, Yura and his tribe arrive evening out the odds.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The season 3 finale. Tia is dead, Hope is saved, the cure worked and Ryn is the accepted alpha of three tribes, but Dale Bishop died, possibly alongside others who did not get the cure in time, Ben is nowhere to be found, and Maddie leaves with Robb for Tokyo to get some distance from the events.
  • Blade on a Stick: The merfolk's signature (and only) weapon. Different tribes will have their own variation of it.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The merfolk, being apex-predators with a strong warrior culture, naturally don't share humans scruples when it comes to killing people they perceive as a threat. They learn and adapt to the cultural differences on land, mostly; though they are leaning more towards violence when feeling threatened, and are in general a great deal more touchy-feely, which adds to the Homoerotic Subtext of the show.
  • Clothesline Stealing: Ryn steals clothes (twice from the same person) to cover up the first couple times she comes to land.
  • Colorblind Casting: Ryn and her sister Donna are played by actresses of different ethnicities, and the other two members of her "family" that come ashore to find her are also ethnically different from both Ryn and each other. It may be that mermaids have a different conception of familial relationships than humans do, but that remains to be seen.
  • Color-Coded Eyes: The merfolk have different eye colors depending what tribe they belong to.
    • Ryn's tribe has intense blue eyes.
    • Tia and her tribe have purple eyes. Incidentally, Tia happens to be the new and as of yet most powerful villain of the series.
    • Robb's tribe sports Icy Blue Eyes. Fittingly his tribe lives at the coast of Alaska.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The homeless man that the main characters walk past in Episode 2 returns in Episode 6, where he inadvertently helps the police find and arrest Ryn.
  • Deceptive Legacy: Ben, like all the family, assumed Charles was just a crazy guy who made up the romance of a mermaid to cover an affair. When he finds they exist, he learns from Helen how Charles basically tried to wipe them out over a broken heart and is horrified at his ancestor's actions.
    Helen: Genocide. That is your legacy.
  • Downer Ending:
    • "Aftermath": Donna dies despite everyone's efforts to save her, and Decker commits suicide. Suffering from the effects of the Siren Song, Ben almost drowns himself, causing both Maddie and Ryn to leave him until he gets his head back together. Maddie's father is under investigation by the Town Council for his attempts to cover up all the weirdness happening in town. And Maddie's troubled and absent mother appears poised to come back into their lives.
    • Season 2 mid-finale "Leverage": Cami attacks Zander for his role in her mother's death, which sets his boat on fire with him and Calvin still on it. Zander least sends out a SOS text to Ben. In the water the merfolks destroy the drill. However Frank dies which makes them visibly distressed as they grab hold on to his body and begin to swim away with it. Also, due to the drill being destroyed the rig above begins to topple down all of while being live streamed to an horrified public.
  • Dreamville: In the series finale, Ryn has a fantasy about having a white-picket-fence life in the suburbs with her boyfriend Ben and her daughter Hope. This is in sharp contrast to her actual situation at that point,where Ben is missing and presumed dead, while she and her daughter (being mermaids) have to consider whether to stay on land and wait for Ben, which would imperil their health, or return to the sea and risk losing the ability to return to the land.
  • Driven to Suicide: The Siren Song really messed Decker up. When Donna dies, he just walks into the ocean. The same almost happens to Ben.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Helen Hawkins, crazy old lady and proprietor of the local tchotchke shop, who knows an awful lot about town history and mermaids. Because she's a descendant of a mermaid who came ashore and started a family.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The sea lions freak out whenever Ryn gets close to them, and for very good reason: her kind are vicious predators even more dangerous than sharks. Though it's less that they detect evil in her, so much as they recognize Ryn as a siren. When they realize she's not a threat to them, they mellow out to her.
  • Fantastic Racism: Donna's experiences at the lab lead her to quickly develop a hatred of all humans, which brings her into conflict with Ryn. A conversation in Episode 6 reveals that even before her capture, Donna had a low opinion of humans. Later episodes reveal that the merfolk actually have a deeply-engrained distrust of humans, due to an incident in the past.
  • Genre Blind: Chris appears to believe that he is escaping the weird government facility he was kept in with a human nurse who for some reason decided to run away with him, despite minor hints something is off like her wearing blood-stained scrubs, not knowing which car was hers, hissing at him when he got too close, clearly not understanding English, her decision to turn off a car stereo by stabbing it, and generally her complete unfamiliarity with...human stuff. Admittedly he's badly injured at the time, and his judgment is likely further impaired by lingering drugs in his system.
    • Related to Chris and crosses over to Villain Ball, but it's a little baffling for the Military (who are trying to cover mermaids up up) to just abduct him and leave everyone else on the North Star alive without explanation. Of course, the first thing his friends do is try to find out what happened to him and his parents predictably call the cops; who then start calling every military base from Washington to Alaska. Did they assume everyone would just forget about Chris. If they had sunk the North Star everyone would have written off his disappearance as an accident, or just released Chris and then no one would have cared. Instead they spend the rest of season one proving a stitch in time saves nine.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Tia, as by killing Charles Pownell centuries ago, she is responsible for enforcing the Fantastic Racism between humans and merfolk and the events of the first two seasons prior to her debut.
  • Happily Adopted: Maddie is actually Dale's stepdaughter — but you could easily miss that given how happy and comfortable they are together.
  • Hate Sink: Bryan, a thuggish merfolk hybrid supremacist with a hypocritical goal of having a merfolk grandchild of his own.
  • The Heavy: Katrina, the reoccurring mermaid antagonist, who also becomes The Dragon for the Big Bad Tia.
  • He Knows Too Much: In the Season 2B finale, Ian, the relentless Intrepid Reporter who tried to abduct Ryn for his story, ends up going over a cliff into the ocean, is left to die by Ben of all people because of his discovery of the merfolk.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Complicated example. The merfolk certainly believe that, and the government conspiracy led by Decker doesn't exactly dissuade them from that opinion. Decker's men were perfectly willing to ruin the local ocean ecology simply to lure more test subjects to the surface where they could be caught, after all. But the incident that led them to hate and distrust humans in the first place turns out to have been a simple misunderstanding. Charles Pownall seemed to have genuinely loved his mermaid lover and their child; he just didn't know how to care for them.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Tia's eventual fate. By her own and Ryn's spear no less.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: Ryn just doesn't get why walking around naked makes such a fuss.
  • It's All My Fault: In Episode 4, Helen deduces that Ryn blames herself for Donna getting caught because it was Ryn's idea to come so close to the surface.
  • Knight Templar: Tia, who has been captured and experimented on by the Russian military intends to return the favour by wiping out all of humanity. She also aims to unite all the divided merfolk-tribes around the world, but will kill those she believes will stand in her way. Predictably, this puts her in conflict with Ryn.
  • Last of Her Kind: Helen Hawkins is the last descendant of Charles Pownall and his mermaid lover.
  • Lightning Bruiser: The merfolk in general are this compared to humans. They have superior reflexes, accelerated senses, are faster, stronger, more durable, and have an easier time recovering from grave injuries (they are just as vulnerable to bullets as anyone else though).
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Ryn takes her name from a cartoon seahorse. This also applies to her human surname Fisher that Ben picked out for her in season 2
  • Love Triangle: A very weird one between Ben, Maddie, and Ryn. Ryn being an siren, she has Ben under her spell (however unintentionally), and his mixed-up feelings toward her complicate his relationship with Maddie.
  • Magic Music: The Siren Song is apparently a defense mechanism: it's sung to distract or enthrall humans. It leads to lingering effects that Ben equates to an addiction; both he and Decker continue to crave the song long after they hear it for the first time. In Season 2 Decker's autopsy reveals that the Song actually caused him some brain damage, and everyone is now worried about Ben. The Big Bad of season 3 takes this one step further by weaponizing the song and launch a mass-scale attack against humanity.
  • Missing Mom: Maddie's mother left her and her father about nine months before the series began. It's heavily implied the departure was not a cordial one.
    • In Episode 6, Ryn reveals to Maddie and Ben that her and Donna's mother died when they were young.
  • Motive Misidentification: When he learns the truth of Charles, Ben assumes that the family created the legend of his "romance" to cover up how they were a party to genocide. He challenges his dad on "the truth" only to find Charles' family thought he was just an eccentric drunk who made up the mermaid thing over his affair. They then created the legend just to increase tourism, not knowing what they were truly covering up.
  • Ms. Fanservice: There's no denying that Ryn's terrestrial form is very pleasing to look at, though her strange behavior and eerie, inhuman eyes subvert it a bit.
  • Mugging the Monster: A lowlife tries to rape Ryn in his car, and throats him before smashing him through the windshield.
  • Naked on Arrival: The mermaids when they first come on land, since they don't wear clothes in their natural habitats.
  • Naturalized Name: Tia, the Russian mermaid, has a mermaid name, but adopts the name "Tia" for dealing with humans. It's short for "Tiamat", the legendary sea monster.
  • The Neidermeyer: Admiral Harrison and David Kyle, who both seeks to exploit the merfolks' abilities to increase the military might, while not caring for how unethical and torturous the experiments they commit are.
  • Non-Action Guy: Robb is by no means idle, but unlike the rest of his species, he's not a warrior. Possibly because he's unable to transform back anymore, but he never displays any level of aggression that his people are prone to, and is in general shown to be fairly cheerful.
  • Non-Idle Rich: The wealthy Ben devotes his time to oceanic research and conservation.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Between episode seven and eight of the third season, Robb's tribe went into battle against Tia's tribe, who ventured there trying to secure followers, and defeated them. They really are as fierce as Ryn claimed.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Maddie and Ben both get subtle yet epic ones when Ryn is knocked into the pool in Episode 3. Subverted when the non-ocean water fails to trigger her transformation.
    • Ryn and Donna both get one when Donna brings two other merfolk to bring her back to the water and they both realize that they're actually there to kill her. Apparently they didn't tell Donna this either, so they both become fugitives.
    • Robb gets a subtle one, just before his cover is blown by Ryn. When introduced to her, sociable Robb, recognizing her as well, stops dead in his tracks and his smile slowly starts to slip.
  • Older Than They Look: Merfolk are apparently very long-lived. Donna's daughter Cami doesn't look much younger than her mother. When Ben questions Ryn about her age, she is unable to give him a straight answer, as Merfolk reckon time differently. They tell time by counting annual whale migrations, and Ryn only says that she's seen "many."
  • One-Word Title: As a reference to mermaids.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: An aquatic humanoid race who are capable of transitioning into a form with legs when they have to come on land, but the transition (from land to sea, at least) is neither quick nor clean. Those who do step out of water have to eventually return to the ocean (and subject themselves to a Painful Transformation), or their bodies literally break down. They have much denser bones and far greater strength than humans as a result of living in the ocean's crushing depths. Their eyes are larger than human eyes, but their pupils are smaller to compensate for the different way light behaves when traveling through water (as opposed to air). Also, only ocean water triggers the transformation, meaning Ryn can be in a bath or pool and still be in human form.
  • Painful Transformation: A mermaid's transition from terrestrial form to aquatic is neither smooth nor painless; see Transformation Horror below. The transition from sea to land appears to be very painful as well. Apparently, the longer they stay on land, the slower and more painful their transformation becomes, to the point where it is possible for them to stop transforming entirely.
  • Perpetual Frowner: The merfolk aren't big on smiling in general and will usually wear a stoic expression. Ryn is extremely confused when she sees Ben laughing and asks him if he's okay. Tellingly, her own first attempt at laughing didn't go too well.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Ryn is 5'4" and rather scrawny, but is fully capable of snapping a much larger man's neck, smashing that man through a car windshield, and throwing a metal rod with enough force to pierce through a wooden post. In this case, it's somewhat realistic and justified. Ben and Maddie's tests reveal that she weighs almost 200 pounds, probably because her body tissues (bones and muscles especially) are much denser and stronger than humans' as an adaptation against the higher pressures in the deep ocean.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Tia, Katrina and Bryan, who view their mermaid bloodlines as top of the food chain while looking down at humanity.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Xander, after deciding to join the police force in the third season; and previously Dale Bishop.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Happens to Hunter in the third season. After recovering from a nearly fatal wound she joins Tia while being held at spear-point. Realizing Hunter would say anything to save her life Tia is naturally wary of her, though Hunter does everything that is asked of her, even when she had the opportunity to rejoin her former tribe. This is being rewarded by being left behind as a decoy for the military and Ryn to find; the latter being understandably pissed. It is unclear what becomes of Hunter afterwards.
  • Rose-Tinted Narrative: In-universe example. Bristol Cove's famed local legend is a cutesy story about town founder Charles Pownall falling in love with a mermaid. It's even the subject of a cheesy kids' pageant in the pilot episode. The true story is more complicated than that: Charles Pownall did fall in love with a mermaid, but they conceived some kind of mutant baby that Charles gave away to the local Haida tribe because he had no idea how to care for her. The merfolk believe that he killed the child, and have been hostile to the humans of Bristol Cove ever since. In actuality the child survived, was healed by the Haida, and had descendants, of which Helen Hawkins is the last. And to further complicate things, because Charles was already married at the time, the modern Pownall family think that this was just an extramarital affair that's been conflated by legend, and consider it to be the old family scandal they'd just as soon forget about. Ted Pownall is apparently paying Helen off to keep quiet about it.
  • Scary Black Man: The African-looking merfolk are this when they are aggressive, specifically Donna, her daughter Cami and Levi.
  • Scenery Censor: When the mermaids are Naked on Arrival, the series makes liberal use of plants to hide their naughty bits. It almost becomes a Running Gag.
  • Sex Shifter: Everyone in Robb's tribe is born female, but by means of a pool they are able to transition to male in order to reproduce.
  • Shapeshifter Mode Lock: Robb lost his ability to transform back into his aquatic form, after being on land for too long.
  • Ship Tease: Ryn gets some very blatant teasing with both Ben and Maddie. It's quickly approaching Threesome Subtext levels.
    • In Episode 1, she uses her siren song on Ben.
    • In Episode 2, she gets very handsy with Maddie, yanking her by the hair and touching her breasts (specifically the feather tattoo on her right breast, but still).
    • In Episode 3, when Ben is measuring her dimensions, she starts feeling his muscles and they Almost Kiss, but he pulls away at the last moment. Later, after getting knocked into a pool, Maddie tries to dry her off and Ryn, sensing that Maddie is afraid of her, attempts to assuage her fears by laying her head on her chest. Finally, when it comes time to go to sleep, Ryn climbs into bed with Ben and Maddie, though only to sleep.
    • There's not much in Episode 4 due to Ryn's worsening condition, though there is still a Held Gaze or two in the early parts.
    • In Episode 5, Ryn compliments Maddie's dress and they have an emotionally intimate conversation about family and love. Ryn tells Maddie "You are love" and "I miss you", and then they share a lingering kiss—full on the lips.
    • In Episode 6, after seeing Maddie give Ben a kiss and tell him "I love you", Ryn does that too. Not on the cheek, mind you, but full on the lips. Ben and Maddie seem unsure of how to react, though Maddie does mention the kiss from previous episode. Then, when Donna accuses Ryn of "liking human", the former doesn't specify which human and the latter doesn't deny it.
    • As of season 2 episode 3, it's officially no longer a tease, as Ryn led Ben and Maddie to bed at the episode's end and there was no ambiguity as to what was going to happen.
  • Shout-Out: Ryn uses a picture of Frozen's Anna and Elsa to communicate that she's looking for her sister.
  • Sirens Are Mermaids: The mermaids have a captivating song.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Merman Levi is the one who killed Xander's father, but in Season 2 became remorseful and guilty for the killing and even apologized to Xander for it, telling him he was Just Following Orders.
  • Third-Person Person: Ryn often refers to herself this way, though it lessens throughout the seasons.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Often done with freshly transformed mermaids for propriety reasons.
  • Tragic Bigot: Merfolk are this towards the humanity, especially Donna for the torture she was subjected to, while Xander is this towards the merfolk for his father's death in retaliation for Donna's torture.
  • Transformation Horror: Ryn's transformation back into her aquatic form. First, her teeth grow into shark-like points and her fingernails lengthen into razor-tipped claws. Then her dorsal fin bursts painfully out of her back. But the worst is yet to come, as her legs bloodily and graphically fuse into her tail accompanied by the delightful sounds of tearing flesh, ripping muscles, and snapping bones. And all the while, she's shedding her human skin, but it's not like that of a fish, oh no. Instead, her skin sloughs off her body, falling off like a leper. And even before the transformation, prolonged periods away from seawater turn her eyes yellow and bloodshot, while her skin becomes scabby, flakey, and blistered like dried-out mud. Contact with even small amounts of seawater can trigger the transformation, though it is fortunately reversible in that scenario. When they go from sea to land, it appears that a merfolk's tail literally splits underneath the scaly tail, leaving it behind. It's only been seen once on-screen, and not in great detail, but the merfolk's reaction clearly indicates that it's also painful.
  • Uncanny Valley: invoked Justified and done deliberately with the mermaids. Ryn's eyes are larger than a human's, while her pupils are noticeably smaller than would be expected, causing her irises to appear more striking than normal. Her behavior and mannerisms are completely alien, and even after she's spent some time adjusting to land, her movements and walking are still not quite the same as that of good ol' Homo sapiens.
  • Uncertain Doom: As of the season 3 finale, it's unknown whether Ben died or not after saving Hope. Ryn firmly believes he will return to her, while everyone else isn't too confident about it.
  • Uneven Hybrid: Helen Hawkins is the descendant of Charles Pownall and his mermaid lover. She says she's about one-eighth merfolk. She doesn't have any mermaid powers, but she knows a lot of lore about them - and she has a weird skin condition that may or may not be related. Also she and the other hybrids are immune to the damaging effects of the siren song.
  • Ungrateful Bitch:
    • Donna really takes the cake. She thinks all humans are evil as a result of the admittedly inhumane treatment she was subjected to at the lab. However, she conveniently forgets that if it hadn't been for Chris, she would very likely have never been reunited with Ryn.
    • Katrina, even more so than Donna. She was taken in by Ryn's tribe when she was young and lost and was a never-ending source of trouble for Ryn, betraying her multiple times and still always offered a chance for redemption by the former. She ultimately ends it with a Spiteful Suicide.
  • We Have the Keys: In season 2 the military are working on a plan to capture a mermaid for study. This will obviously require some serious force, given what happened the last time they tried this... except then Lieutenant Martinez realises that Ryn is friendly towards (some) humans, so she just walks up to her and asks for her help.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Xander gives Ben this treatment for not telling him about the existence of merfolk after his father is killed by them.
    • Maddie calls him out on both hiding a decaying mermaid-body, and finding out he has been injecting himself with said mermaid's stem-cells.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Many of the main cast are Fake American, and they make valiant attempts at a generic American accent with varying degrees of success (Alex Roe has the most slippage among them). Rena Owen stands out in this regard, speaking in some kind of amalgam of her native New Zealand and an American accent that actually ends up sounding like Maritime Canadian.
    • In-Universe: Maddie claims to her mom that Ryn is a Finnish Native when Susan asks Ryn where she's from.
  • White Sheep: Downplayed example. The Pownall family isn't exactly evil, just snooty and avaricious. Ben is the son who left the family business to do environmentalist work, and his parents still get passive-aggressive with him whenever he decides to show up for family functions.
  • With Us or Against Us: This basically sums up Tia's way of thinking. Join her or die. There is no middle ground.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Spoken verbatim by Helen when a pack of half-drunken teens from a "mermaid party" converge to swim at the very lake the renegade mermaids are using to refresh in.
  • You No Take Candle: Ryn speaks this way since she not only hasn't any experience speaking English, she has no experience with any human languages whatsoever. She learns quickly throughout the seasons and thus gradually grows out of it.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Siren


Siren Metamorphosis

As Ryn demonstrates, transitioning from human to mermaid and back is both painful and visceral.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / PainfulTransformation

Media sources: