Chesapeake Shores, S2 E1 “Secrets, Lies, and School Supplies”
Written by Nancey Silvers
Directed by Sean McNamara
“I do know that life is more about rewriting than writing, and if you don’t like what’s on the page, change it.”
Chesapeake Shores punched up its game and improved its product in the year since last season. The season opener moves faster, resolves conflicts on screen rather than offstage, and heightens the tension between some of the characters. Even the new theme song picks up the tempo and rocks a little harder. Some elements remain incongruous: one has to wonder whether it is really cheaper to film in Canada when you factor in the cost of all those winter coats required to keep the cast from freezing to death while they’re trying to depict a summer in hot, humid Maryland. Also, the script includes a throwaway reference to some characters who are Peace Corps volunteers; this is apparently Hallmark Channel’s idea of being inclusive – give a brief shout out to any liberals who might be watching without showing any people of color although the show is set in a very diverse state.
This week’s episode revolves around the annual end of summer Lantern Festival, known as “Illuminate the Bay”. As explained by Mick O’Brien as he treats his granddaughters to a little over-indulgent back-to-school shopping, the festival commemorates a battle that never happened during the war of 1812. The British sent ships up the Bay to attack Baltimore, but they were stopped and the ships were burned, leaving many British sailors in the water. The people of the town banded together on the shore and lit lanterns so that the sailors could escape drowning. As Nick explained it, some battles are won by love and not fighting. That seems to be the theme that sets up this season of the show.
At the end of last season, Bree received an offer from the ex who cheated on her to return to Chicago and take a job as playwright-in-residence for a prestigious theater group. It sounds like the dream job when Bree keeps describing how great it is to everyone else in the hopes of convincing herself. Her ambivalence signals the audience to keep cheering “Don’t Go!”, because like a lot of “dream jobs”, this one sounds like it could turn into a nightmare. We know that Bree’s ex is a villain because a) he disses books and writing and endangered species like bookstores and only bastards do that, and b) he makes so many changes to Bree’s play that nothing remains of her original work but the title. When she finally decides not to go to Chicago, the audience breathes a sigh of relief only to have it dispelled by Mick. In a pep talk, he urges her to go and fight to make her writers voice heard. He tells her that she has something to say, and she should not let anyone stop her from saying it.
Another sign of Hallmark’s daring new approach appears when Mick decides to develop 100 acres of pristine land along the Bay that’s been owned by his family for decades. This makes Mick look like the baddie in this transaction for two reasons: one, because Mick’s heretofore unknown brother is a co-owner of the property and opposes the development, and two, because Mick seems to be taking advantage of said brother, who wants to turn the 100 acres into a nature preserve but is currently off saving Everglades habitat from destruction. Boo, hiss. More about that later.
Last season’s cliffhanger suggested that Trace was going to jail instead of going to visit his father in the hospital. After a brief detention, Abby bails him out and gets him to the hospital where his father is undergoing treatment for a heart attack. Trace and his father do not get along, in part because Trace’s father has usually acted like the disappointed patriarch. He asks Trace to go to the Lantern Festival in his stead since he has gone to every single one that he can remember. Attempting to follow those instructions, Trace discovers that his dad kept every single handmade lantern Trace made as a child. That suggests an unplumbed depth to their relationship that may reveal itself as the season progresses.
Jess, ever the needy one of the family, overbooks her B&B and washes all of her pristine white sheets and towels with a red sock, ensuring certain doom for her business, her life, and possibly the entire planet as well. In addition, she discovers that her estranged mother Megan is moving back to Chesapeake shores and – gasp! – wants to try and mend relations. What could be worse? Hysterical serial texting ensues but Bree and Abby ignore her. Jess convenes a family fire pit (in Maryland, in the summer, with blankets! – these people must be made of asbestos) in order to make sure that the rest of the family gets to enjoy her suffering. Abby just tells her to grow up, which not surprisingly has no effect at all. But Kevin tells her that instead of trying to do everything right, she should be true to herself and keep doing everything wrong and it will all work out. In true Jess fashion, Jess solves the problem of overbooking by renting out her sister’s bungalow without asking permission or even giving her any notice. When Bree protests, Jess says she had to rent out her own room, too, so that makes everything all right. Bree lets it pass, and in the interest of sisterly relations even swears that she is no longer interested in David, just in case Jess still feels an attraction. Even as they both swear they no longer want him, it’s clear that they do: the specter of a future love triangle still hovers over the proceedings.
Facing possible extradition without bail, Trace returns to Nashville to face the charges resulting from a terrible accident that caused his friend and bandmate serious and permanent injury. Against legal advice, he takes full responsibility for the wreck. The man who was injured writes a letter to the judge in the case, stating that everyone in the car was too tired to drive so it could have happened no matter who took the wheel. While there were no alcohol or drugs involved, it was very late after a gig and everyone was sleepy. This letter combined with Trace’s acceptance of responsibility convinces the judge to reduce the consequences to a $500 fine and time served. While the legal angle of the case resolves satisfactorily, Trace’s attempt to reconcile with the injured man does not fare so well. Trace visits the man at his home, and he answers the door in a wheelchair. Still seething with resentment, the man states that it’s not because of the accident. It’s because Trace abandoned him and the rest of the band.
Abby gets swamped at work with a new project for a high-powered New York client who brings a lot of prestige to the Baltimore firm where she works. As she digs into the specifics of a proposed transaction her firm has been hired to vet, Abby realizes that the proposed development she is investigating concerns the hundred acres her father and uncle own and which has been in the family for generations. It seems that Mick directed the work towards Abby’s firm, not realizing that that may provoke a conflict of interest in more ways than one. Abby confronts Mick and asks him why he intends to develop the property when that was never his or the family’s intent, but that question never gets answered.
As the family assembles for the Parade of Outerwear that comprises the Lantern Festival, Nan makes a surprise appearance, having just returned from her trip to Ireland. She tells Mick in no uncertain terms that she is aware of what he is trying to do with the land and she is not going to let him tear the family apart.
While Hallmark Channel ramped up the drama and tightened the writing for this new season of Chesapeake Shores, and those changes are welcome, the truly compelling crisis concerns how everyone in CS wears long pants and sweaters and scarves and nobody dies of heatstroke. Chesapeake Shores may be the television equivalent of a beach read, but that doesn’t mean that that’s all bad. The settings are lovely, even the Canadian ones, the characters are three-dimensional, and the plot presents a hopeful, not too taxing take on typical family drama. There are worse ways to spend the summer. Keep warm!