Much like a tidal wave, Tidelands, Netflix’s first Australian Original, is overwhelming, engulfing the viewer in a lot of drama, a lot of action, and a lot of blood lust. With only eight episodes, all of which arrive on Netflix December 14, the show does impressively speedy work with its narrative. The tide is high, but, with some light work, we can hold onto Tidelands' furious plot.
By the finale, things have truly flown off the rails and into the ocean — literally. There are, by my count, five major deaths in the show’s bloody 36-minute finale, and almost all of them are surprises. Who knew that a show about sirens could have so much blood on its hands? It’s convenient that there’s an ocean nearby; all the characters can wander towards it to wash their respective sins away.
The last person standing in Tidelands finale face-off is Cal McTeer (Charlotte Best), a part-siren part-human who will be the new queen of the Tidelanders. Tidelands follows a loosely Odysseian plot, and Cal is its hero, returning to her homeland just in time to claim her throne. After ten years in juvenile detention for a crime she kind of didn’t commit, she returns to Orphelin Bay, where she discovers that her history is far more complex than she realized. (That’s the part that’s not like the Odyssey.) And it’s not just her history that’s complicated. Orphelin Bay has complex underpinnings that involve semi-present sirens, a group of vengeful sea widows, and a potentially imminent flood. All of this comes to a head when Cal McTeers returns.
Orphelin Bay has, for generations, operated as a massive laundering effort on behalf of the Tidelanders, who are the abandoned children of sirens and humans. The sirens are exactly how they’ve been described in legends: sleek, silvery women who drown men using their song. In episode 7, Cal makes use of this death knell, calling one of Stolin’s men to his death with a screechy coo. The humans help the Tidelanders by operating the drug business and keeping other humans away from Le Tonte, their cozy, half-siren hideaway. The sirens age slowly, Adrielle explains, and humans often grow too curious about that kind of magic. It’s “an old story every continent knows,” she says, alluding loosely to colonialism. The Tidelanders are an exclusive group, and they don’t like humans being meddlesome.
In the finale, Cal must contend with Adrielle (Elsa Pataky), who, like all great villains, has a plan to destroy the world. In what looks like an allegory for the breakup of a tech company, Adrielle’s queendom is shaky. Her “people” — the dedicated Tidelanders — aren’t pleased with how she’s handling their money or their business. She’s spending money recklessly and engaging in business with Stolin despite the drug lord’s reputation. A small faction of her people are interested in dethroning Adrielle, who, by the way, dethroned the previous queen by force. Adrielle possesses some enviable sangfroid; she’s almost as unfazed as her flowy dresses. (Surely, at some point, these dresses would rip, tear, or at least get wrinkled.) That said, Adrielle certainly doesn’t have a handle on her people or her plans.
The truth is that Adrielle is Tidelands’ Voldemort. In the final episode, she is positioned as a kind of maniacal mastermind who wants to destroy all of mankind.
“You want to burn down the whole damn house,” Cal tells Adrielle. “I know the feeling. Difference is, I grew out of it.” Adrielle claims that if she kills all of mankind, the “mothers” of the Tidelanders — true sirens, not just half-sirens — will make their presence in Orphelin Bay permanent. It’s a sympathetic goal. Don’t we all want our mothers to come home?
For this, though, Adrielle requires the pieces of an ancient horn which apparently has the capacity to call forth a great, deadly wave. By the show’s finale, she is very nearly done assembling the horn. Cal’s great discovery, though, is that her father Pat McTeer (played by Dustin Clare in flashbacks) hid one of the horn’s shards in her childhood home. The horn shard is both the reason Cal went to prison and the reason she’ll be able to defeat Adrielle.
As Adrielle’s plan becomes more defined, Cal — our redheaded Odysseus! — makes it her mission to stop the wayward queen. This is her home, Cal tells a forlorn-looking Corey (Mattias Inwood), and she intends to make it a safe place to live. (Corey dies in episode 7. Corey, we hardly knew ye.)
Stolin, though, is awfully meddlesome. The final two episodes reveal that Cal’s stepmother Beth McTeer roped him into the drug trade on the island as part of an effort to kill off the Tidelanders. Her plan almost works; in the finale, just as Stolin is prepared to hand off a set of horn-shards, he and his men draw their weapons. Stolin wants the horn for himself. He’s human, but, you see, he’s on a mission to find God. The horn will help him get closer to that goal. (Sure! Okay!)
In the ensuing fight, Gilles (Finn Little) stabs Adrielle and Adrielle stabs Dylan (Marco Pigossi), while Stolin shoots both Bijou (Chloe De Los Santos) and Augie (Aaron Jakubenko). Cal manages to save Bijou using her siren powers, but Augie is collateral damage. Augie and Dylan are two of the major deaths here, and their loss is profound. Augie was Cal’s brother and Dylan a prospective romantic interest. Without them — and without Corey — Cal is utterly alone. The final death is Stolin, who falls prey to the call of sirens. Someone had to die that way.
Then, as Lorde’s cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” plays, the sirens arrive on the beach to collect Cal McTeer. Cal is the new leader of the Tidelanders, and the sirens have come to recognize her. Odysseus has officially returned home.