RTF Retro Review: AQUAMAN: MERCY REEF
The Worlds of DC is mere days away from releasing their newest entry, Aquaman. Despite the fact that the character was seen in last year’s DC hero team up Justice League, Aquaman’s new film will help reintroduce him to audiences in a standalone tale that hopes to start a new chapter- both for him, and for entire DC universe. But as the release date fast approaches, I decided to revisit the Aquaman from a failed 2006 TV pilot, titled Mercy Reef.
In 2005, the WB network was enjoying its final days on air, as early talks of a merger between UPN and its parent company CBS had begun with Warner Bros Entertainment. The ensuing result was a list of series either canceled or not picked up during pilot season, all due to the consolidation of broadcast time between the two networks in the creation of The CW. The biggest casualty of this merger and a surprise to many, was the pilot episode of Mercy Reef not getting ordered to series.
Mercy Reef was being developed by Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, both received critical acclaim five years earlier for their reinterpretation of the Superman mythos. Like Smallville, the Aquaman series juggled with a few different names, Tempest Key and Mercy Reef were often tossed around as potential names for the series, before ultimately not getting picked up. The creators modeled this new series after its predecessor, Smallville, and in similar fashion chose a younger and unaware of his destiny hero, while exploring his journey of becoming the hero we know and love, Aquaman.
Interest for the series grew after a season 5 episode of Smallville titled “Aqua” aired the previous year, the episode garnered a lot of attention and a spike in ratings. Aquaman or “AC” as the series referred to him, was played by Alan Ritchson, but this AC was a character already well into his journey of combating environmental threats, and in control of his abilities.
The Smallville creators chose to recast the role for the potential series and bring the characters journey back to its beginning. However, the creators never ruled out a potential cross over between the series, and if Mercy Reef would have been picked up, we probably would not even have an Arrow series today or the rest of the Arrowverse shows. Interest for the Arrow series grew after the characters popularity on Smallville’s final five seasons. After the networks passed on Mercy Reef, the Aquaman pilot star (Justin Hartley) was cast as Oliver Queen/Green Arrow on Smallville, originally for a recurring role in season six and seven, before being bumped to series regular for the final three seasons.
How does Mercy Reef hold up today?
Mercy Reef opens with a monologue from a woman, soon to be revealed as Arthur Curry’s mother, Atlanna. Atlanna is shown flying a seaplane over the Bermuda Triangle with a young Arthur and on the receiver with a Coast Guard Officer, Tom Curry. Atlanna’s necklace begins to glow and in the cloudless sky a beam of light from the ocean shoots up, while creating cyclones that bring the plane down. After the plane crashed and begins to sink, Atlanna removes her necklace, hands it to Arthur and calls him “Orin” before being attacked by a creature from the depths. The next scene shows Arthur being rescued by whales, before jumping ten years in the future. Here we are introduced to an older Arthur played by (This Is Us) Justin Hartley, swimming through the ocean floor and interacting with marine life before dashing through the water to his boat.
Throughout the episode we see he secretly combats illegal fishing, marine life in captivity, and is struggling with a feeling of having a greater purpose. The series also introduces us to his father Tom Curry, played by Lou Diamond Phillips, who in this interpretation of the mythos is a Coast Guard Officer and not a light house keeper. The series creators chose to create two separate characters as representation of his land father, the other goes to the light house keeper, McCaffery played by Ving Rhames. Mercy Reef from the onset, mentions that Curry discovered McCaffery, Atlanna, and a young Arthur in shark infested waters.
This depiction of the story finds that the light house keeper is also a refugee of Atlantis and escorted Atlannn and young Arthur to the surface after the Royal Family was under attack, by forces within Atlantis wanting to wage war with the surface world. We also discover that the Bermuda Triangle is shrouded in advanced technology that prohibits the outside world from discovering Atlantis, and is the reason so many planes, and vessels have gone missing throughout history. The plot twist however is, that these missing individuals have suddenly reappeared decades after their disappearance, with no recollection of ever going missing or without aging a day.
Mercy Reef also sets up an antagonist in the form of a Siren, a vicious mermaid played by Adrianne Palicki. The Siren wants to bring Arthur back to Atlantis for execution and destroy any remaining hope its citizens may have since the coup against the royal family decades prior. It is also revealed she is the sea creature that attacked Arthur and his mom on the sea plane, the day his mother was killed.
The Special effects hold up well enough today, although much like Smallville, the use of CGI was not as abundant as the current Arrowverse shows. This series also fit nicely with what the WB network was known for at the time, in creating series with angst and drama to carry the shows. Mercy Reef would have fit nicely in the Smallville canon and would have been the start to a cross pollinating network of shows. The series also succeeded in planting seeds for the future, such as McCaffery’s warning of more creatures coming for Arthur, and the mystery surrounding the Bermuda Triangle. If the series would have continued Arthur would have faced ocean polluters, evil oil companies, other environmental threats, and fulfillment of his destiny as a bridge between two people, the surface world and Atlantis.
I believe that as much as I would have enjoyed Mercy Reef had it gotten picked up, I can’t help but feel we would not have the Arrowverse today. Hartley brought popularity to the character of Green Arrow on Smallville and had the series been picked up, there is no telling if the character would have even been featured.
With Worlds of DC’s Aquaman nearly upon us, Mercy Reef is nice to revisit or watch for the first time. Not to compare but look for similarities such as a dispute among the Royal Family, his destiny as protector of the seas and the surface world or wonder where the series could have taken us. What if McCaffery was Vulko or actually his father, and had the series continued we could have explored their relationship together. The series remains available on iTunes for purchase, and for a mere $1.99 I would say it’s worth every bit. As we wait for the release of Aquaman this Thursday, we would like to hear your thoughts on Mercy Reef, sound off on the comment section below.