Hurray! Deadliest Catch is back for an new season (number 8), and the premiere episode, “The Gamble,” was definitely all that I had expected from an opening installment. Discovery Channel does a very thorough job of hyping up their shows before they premiere with marathons, so for the last week I’ve had those on in the background to amp myself up for the new season. Here are some of my thoughts on the premiere, spoiler-laden, of course.
The show began with one of the most poignant openings of the series to date, and that’s including last season with the Harris boys struggling to manage after the passing of their father, Phil. In Deadliest Catch, we rarely get to see the home life of the fishermen, except when the stories are tragic enough to rival the danger of the crab boat (e.g. Jake Anderson’s loss of his sister and his father, Phil Harris’s illness). But tonight’s episode began with the men before they leave for the season, briefly running through the families of the Hillstrands, Hansens, and of course the Harris boys. That little girl’s goodbye to Johnathan Hillstrand was absolutely heartwrenching. The settings were just so different from the monotony of the crab boats that they were shocking – I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much green in an episode before.
The family theme continued as the crews prepared to leave, showing Monty’s departure from his brother Keith, Edgar’s return to his brother Sig, and the parting of ways for Josh and Jake Harris. The solution for the Harris boys – Josh being taken in by the Time Bandit, Jake by the Northwestern – really emphasized how much the group of fishermen acts as surrogate family for one another during the crab seasons. You could tell that the captains of both ships were genuinely interested in helping the boys out during a hard time in their lives. I knew from online articles that this was what happened, but it still gave me warm and fuzzy feelings: even the cheesy moment where Jake Harris is revealed to be the “Jake” given instructions rather than regular Northwestern deckhand Jake Anderson.
There was even more story laid out before the crews set sail. The radio transmission concerning the halving of the red king crab quota and the establishment of the titular “gamble” – fish depleted red crab grounds and earn half the money, or spend additional time and fuel looking for the more northerly blue crab – set up the main conflict for this episode and presumably the rest of the season. Now the excess of crab boats being featured in last season (seven, including the Cornelia Marie, which isn’t fishing king crab this season) seems more reasonable, as three of the featured captains choose to start off with blue crab and three stick it out with the red. It will be interesting to see which gambles pay off, particularly Keith’s on the Wizard, which featured a last-minute switch to blue king crab and a promise to fish for red crab as well later in the season.
The halving of the quota feels like a turning point in the show, and a normal part of the fishing world that the men shown on Deadliest Catch have to negotiate – the ebb and flow of marine species and the effects of fishing on an ecosystem. The last significant change to regulations featured on the show was the opening of the blue crab fields in recent years, after that species had been restricted due to the need for the population to recover. The quota slash for red king crab is significant enough of a change to hearken back to the huge switch in 2005 from racing to catch as many crab as possible (derby-style) to the individual fishing quota system. Having the sort of macro backdrop of changes in the industry emphasizes just how much crab fishing has changed over the years, and how much it has essentially not changed for decades. Technology and the politics around the fishery shifts but these fishermen have always been out there hauling their catches and earning their wages.
One thing that bothered me about the premiere was the fancified virtual map used to show where the red and blue fishing grounds were. It was too busy and elaborate for what should have been a fairly simple depiction (looks like the graphics crew got a big budget this year) and wasn’t particularly useful in terms of scale – showing just how far apart the two grounds are. I’m also concerned because the conventional Deadliest Catch radar screen didn’t appear at all in the episode, one of the show’s features that has remained consistent since season 1. Hopefully it will be used as the crab boats get settled and start to fish, because that cluttered “traditional” map is pretty annoying.
All in all, “The Gamble” left me excited for the upcoming season, and the teaser at the tail end of the episode showed that there is some intense action in store…but what else is new for a show called Deadliest Catch?