Trickster crossed my radar on Tumblr where somebody was talking about it as “indigenous contemporary fantasy” with an actual Native star. The show is based on a trilogy, Son of Trickster, by Eden Robinson, a member of the Haisla and Heitsuk First Nations in British Columbia and the series is directed by Michelle Latimer (Algonquin/Métis).
Thus, I feel I can at least somewhat trust that the show is not, you know, white people trying to write about First Nations. As a white person myself, I’m probably not the best judge, though.
So, I’m mostly going to talk about episode one as television.
It’s Well Put Together
First episodes are almost never the best episodes of any show, and thus I was willing to #1.1 (the episodes are untitled) a pass. So, I found it well put together. The chemistry between Joel Oulette (Jared) and Crystle Lightning (his mother, Maggie) is very much there from the start, as is the relationship between him and his best friend, Nathan Alexis (Crashpad).
Joel Oulette is an actual seventeen-year-old playing a seventeen-year-old and a talent, in my mind, to watch.
It Starts Slow
It’s the style of Canadian television to soft start, using the first episode to introduce the characters and themes and then launching into the action thereafter.
Trickster is no exception. #1.1 introduces us to a cast of characters and to their lives…and problems.
The description refers to Jared’s family as dysfunctional and boy is it. Maggie had him very young (and the actor is appropriately aged for that). She and his “father” (Spoiler, I’m 90% certain that his father is, in fact, just the one guy who would marry Maggie when she got pregnant as a teenager) Phil are separated and not on good terms. Oh, and she’s possibly mentally ill. It’s hard to tell, because she’s also using. A lot.
Jared’s best friend, Crashpad, is a bit of a cliché — an overweight guy who plays video games all the time, but Nathan Alexis (also First Nations) is absolutely wonderful in the role. And at least in this first episode, nobody is fat shaming him, except for slight hints from, well, the school bully.
But not much happens in this first episode and the fantasy elements are minimal, which brings me to:
I Wouldn’t Call This Fantasy, Exactly
If Trickster was written by a Spanish or Portuguese speaking author the genre would be easy: Magic realism. However, that particular term is restricted to Latines.
So, I’m going to go with the official genre moniker: Supernatural thriller.
It’s a drama that has elements of the supernatural that impinge on the real and entwine with it. So, while it’s roughly under the fantasy umbrella, calling it that could result in disappointment if the prospective viewer expected something more, ya know, like Constantine or Buffy. I was expecting something more like Buffy.
That doesn’t mean it’s not good, but I did have to revise my expectations. The only supernatural elements in the episode are the prologue (in which Maggie rescues infant Jared from…well…we don’t quite know yet) and the very end (where a crow says hi to Jared and he thinks he’s tripping).
Which brings me to:
It’s About Addiction
Again, Canadian television tends to introduce themes and one theme that comes straight to mind in #1.1 is the theme of addiction.
At one point Jared informs a foster kid who’s just moved into the area that “There’s nothing to do here.”
And he’s pretty much right. The town in which Trickster is set, Kitimat, British Columbia (which is where the author of the books is from) is, in the show, portrayed as a place where there’s nothing to do except throw wild parties in each other’s homes and get stoned.
In fact, Jared’s introductory scene is him in a trailer…cooking up ecstasy for said wild parties. His mother has a $3,000 drug debt, which he flails around trying to pay off only to find that she had a, well, pretty bad way to solve the problem.
The only places of “entertainment” we see are the diner Jared is fired from (because of his mother’s “craziness”) and a dreary bingo hall where he tries to gamble to get the $3,000 and fails.
The episode is, in fact, mostly about drugs and the lengths people will go to to get them.
One notable character is sober: Crashpad. But that’s only because he’s addicted to video games instead. Which is better, but still not exactly great.
There’s a strong message here of “When people have nothing to do, they are vulnerable to addiction.” I wonder what this says about the Kitimat, BC in which Eden Robinson grew up.
I’m going to continue to watch Trickster and see how it shapes up. The show holds a lot of promise…just don’t expect a lot of dramatic action or overtly supernatural elements in the first episode.
The former will certainly come and the latter? We’ll see where they go with it.