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I first watched Freeform’s Siren pilot, about a fierce mermaid who makes it to land, last September, roughly a month before the New York Times published its damning exposé on now-disgraced mega-producer Harvey Weinstein. The second time I watched the fantasy drama’s premiere was at New York City Comic-Con, just two days after the news of Weinstein’s wide-ranging history of alleged sexual harassment and violence, and the systems that protected him, became public knowledge. Upon second viewing, and with society’s collective shock and rage over the Hollywood power player’s alleged abuse practically in the air, one certain scene took on a whole new meaning.
The moment in question is when a plaid-clad creep named Donnie (Toby Levins) attempts to sexually assault Siren’s titular mermaid, Ryn (Eline Powell, whose bone structure was made for this role), in his truck. We see Donnie force a silent, unblinking Ryn — remember, she hopped out of the sea about 20 minutes prior — to grasp what we can all assume is an erection underneath his jeans. Then, he aggressively climbs on top of the young woman, pins her into her seat, and forces her into a kiss. It’s obvious Donnie plans to escalate things, despite the fact Ryn hasn’t said a word and looks like a “little girl,” in his own words.
The camera quickly shifts focus from inside of the car to the wide windshield. After a few beats, you hear Donnie scream; a few more beats and a splatter of blood streaks across the glass. Finally, a few more beats, and we see Donnie’s dead body ejected through the windshield, his corpse flopped onto the hood of the car. Ryn, a deadly supernatural woman, killed him.
What originally felt like a subversive feminist statement from Siren, which debuted in earnest on Thursday night, takes on a totally new meaning in a #MeToo world. In a landscape where the ills of sexual violence and harassment are now constant conversations, Ryn’s bloody scene becomes one of the most cathartic moments in TV in a while.
Eline Powell, who brings Ryn to life agrees, agrees. “I’m not going to lie. It’s sort of immensely satisfying to be able to do that,” she told Refinery29 over the phone about filming the sequence. “In a situation like that, I thought, ‘I wish we could do that.’” That explains why Powell, who generally used Björk’s music as a touchstone for creating Ryn, specifically listened to the Icelandic artist’s 1995 declaration of fearlessness “Army Of Me” to get into the right mindset to film that scene.
But, such a moment can’t work if it’s all abrasive rage or gory violence. There also needs to be a level of emotional vulnerability in this kind of scene if the audience is going to connect to Ryn, who’s now a murderer, and Powell understands that. During filming, she also questioned just how terrifying Ryn’s situation would be in the real world, explaining. “Even reenacting something like that, oh my God it’s so claustrophobic, emotionally claustrophobic. I can’t quite imagine what it must be like for survivors who have experienced this.”
Yet, before anyone can accuse a young adult mermaid show of getting too self-serious about itself, Powell is the first to get very real about Siren. “I don’t want to over dramatize that we are trying to save the world in the #MeToo movement with our show,” the Game Of Thrones alum (she played that young actress determined to kill Lady Crane in season 6), cautioned. “But we are definitely addressing versions [of the issue] here and there and showing, ‘We should treat each other with respect, on every level.’”
This outlook also seems to influence what the London native hopes viewers will take from her scene with Donnie. “It’s so hard for me to say this because it’s not that I’m saying, ‘Go kill someone.’ I don’t want to be the voice of that,” Powell admitted after already insisting she doesn’t “condone” violence. “But definitely [fans should get] a sense that this is wrong and those situations are wrong, so feel free to do some damage in order to defend yourself. And make sure you get out.”
While Ryn’s self-defense scene rightly feels like a #MeToo conversation starter, it’s not the only perceivable connection to the movement. After Hollywood predator after Hollywood predator was dragged into the light, many questioned whether the entire process was a “witch hunt” that targeted all men, innocent or not. But, the deluge of disturbing revelations only demanded retribution from dangerous men, in the same way Ryn isn’t running around Siren's fictional home of Bristol Cove, Washington murdering every guy she sees.
“She could be forgiven for suddenly after that experience [with Donnie] making up her mind about human males. But she doesn’t,” Powell pointed out. “ She still goes on a case-by-case basis. She still does not attack unless she deems it necessary, if they harm her … [Mermaids] are not just mindless killing machines.” The same could be said about the women at the front of the movements currently fighting against misogynistic harassment and brutality.
These layers of Ryn’s character, which also apply to her mer-sister (Sibongile Mlambo), speak to what Powell deems Siren’s greatest feminist goal: reminding us “[women] are immensely capable of more than just one thing.” As the TV mermaid said, “We are vulnerable and fierce. We can be aggressive and we can be merciful and in love and full of hatred. We make mistakes and we can achieve great things.”
“Women are grand, grand beings.”
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