Young Adult content has been taking the online streaming content field by storm. I mean, shows like School Spirits, Riverdale, or even the hit Euphoria have similar themes to explore. While that may lead to stagnation, the reason for their constant production is the kind of reliability they offer. In spite of some supernatural inclinations, these shows look at the core of how young people are changing through their shared experiences in early school. Episodes 1, 2 & 3 of Harlan Coben’s Shelter (Season 1) introduce us to Mickey Bolitar, a grieving young boy who, after losing his father to a car accident and his mother to rehab, is trying to understand his new life in New Jersey and the school he is a part of.
Here is a detailed look at everything that happens in the show, with all its twisted glory.
Harlan Coben’s Shelter (Season 1), Episode 1 “Pilot” Recap:
A flashback shows us that Brad, along with some other kids, has been kept captive by a controlling woman. Cut to 25 years later, he has returned to the US and lives with his family. He calls up someone about returning back to the States and possibly filling up some void in his life.
The family, which consists of Kitty and his promising young son Mickey feels complete. However, before we can get to know them better, a gruesome accident tears them apart.
Four months later, the action comes circling back to New Jersey (the place of the opening flashback sequence). Mickey, having lost his father in the car accident, now lives with his aunt Shira. His mother is under special care.
Mickey has joined Kasselton high, a local and renowned school that has sent the super geeky Arthur Spindle to escort him and be his guide in the new school. We also briefly learn that Mickey has been trying to avoid talking about his loss with his aunt, who also claims to be grieving for her brother.
While walking to the school, Mickey feels haunted by the song that was playing during the accident. Adding to the spooky feeling is the abandoned house that we saw in the opening scene.
When at school, he enquires about the house from Arthur, who tells him that there is a lore associated with the house, but those are just made-up stories.
Everyone at the school knows of Mickey’s famous Basketball player, uncle Miles Bolitar, and when he approaches the opening day thingy, he happens to have a flash of love at first sight with the new girl Ashley. Troy, the basketball captain of the school, also introduces himself along with his girlfriend, Rachel.
The fraction at the school is known as Camel, and we see Mr. V, a creepy school teacher taking pictures of Rachel before school commences.
There’s an instant connection between Ashley and Mickey over their loss of a father and their being new. They decide to hang out after school. Additionally, at the cheerleader practice, we see a gun in Ashley’s bag.
Mickey gets into a basketball game and almost kills it before he is disturbed by flashes of his father’s accident.
Walking back home, Mickey hears the same song again near the abandoned house. On trespassing, he notices a grave that reads ‘E.S’ before he sees a mysterious old lady who feels like the ‘Bat Lady’ Arthur was talking about earlier.
She seems to communicate with Mickey and tells him that his father, Brad is not dead and is actually alive. This shocks him, but when he tries to reach her, she simply vanishes.
He instead meets Ema and who seems to be pissed at Mickey because he claims to have seen the Bat Lady when she is nowhere to be found. We learn later that Ema is a perpetually irritated character who is mad at the world for some reason.
In spite of confirming to hang out, Ashley doesn’t show up at the diner, leaving Mickey disappointed.
Slightly upset because of her not showing up, Mickey has a stand down with Shira. He blames her for his father’s death because she never liked his mom.
In anger, he goes to the Bat Lady’s house and starts shouting about her knowledge of his father’s death. Police Chief Taylor intervenes and takes him in. Shira goes to the police station to get him back, and we see she has some history with the chief.
We briefly see Mr. V texting someone about Ashley.
Shira tells Mickey about the myth of the Bat Lady and the disappearance of a kid named Dylan. She also tells him about the time his father, Brad, was bullied to go into the abandoned house and how it changed him in some way.
Moments later, we realize that it was a young Shira who was one of the bullies that made Brad go into the Bat Lady’s house.
Troy, who happens to be Chief Taylor’s son, and his friend Buck try to pick up on Arthur, but Mickey gets at them and saves the day.
Ashley is missing at school and in Mrs. Friedman’s class. The story of Anne Frank and no proof of her death make Mickey think about what Bat Lady said again.
At the cafeteria, an unlikely trio between Ema, Mickey, and Arthur (who now wishes people call him ‘Spoon’) forms. They discuss the Bat Lady again.
Curiously, all three of them land at her house, and Mickey confesses what she said to him earlier about his father being alive. They decide to break in, and Mickey goes in, putting the other two as scouts who are on call with their AirPods on.
Someone approaches the house, so in order to buy some time, Ema asks Mickey to look around fast. Mickey looks around to make sense of the ‘Shelter’ soundtrack that was playing when his dad died and is now also playing in the house.
He asks Ema to create a distraction. So she kisses Arthur so that the suspicious man with sunglasses doesn’t get to know about what they are doing there.
Inside the house, he finds the hippo that Ashley had in her locker room. The three of them meet outside, and Mickey tells them about Ashley’s involvement making them hunt for her address in case she is in trouble. Mickey also tells them about the song that was playing inside the house, making Ema leave for the night.
The episode ends with a lot of loose ends. We see Mickey and Arthur run to what they think is Ashley’s home, only to discover they the police are already there taking someone away. Only, it is not Ashley that they are taking away, and as it turns out, Ashley isn’t even the daughter of the lady who lives there.
We also see the mysterious Mr. V parked out of the house and Ema having some connection with the ‘Shelter’ record as the album cover in tattoo form on her body is unveiled.
The ending of episode 1 finds Rachel being in possession of Ashley’s gun. Does she have anything to do with her disappearance? Possibly!
We learn that Dylan Shakes, the kid who disappeared, was Mrs. Friedman’s son.
The end also shows us that Mr. V approaches the Bat Lady, who is very much real. He informs her that they cannot find Ashley, which is when the guy with the sunglass, who we saw snooping around Ema and Arthur, kills him.
Harlan Coben’s Shelter (Season 1), Episode 2 “Catch me if you can” Recap:
Episode 2 of Harlan Coben’s Shelter opens with Mickey and Arthur in custody. They try to piece things together before their respective peers, Mickey’s aunt Shira and Arthur’s angry dad Arthur Sr. arrive. The history between Shira and Chief Taylor is more apparent when Shira meets his wife, Hannah.
We learn that Shira and Hannah were once best friends before their big falling out.
Rachel is being extremely cautious about something. She senses that someone is trying to harm her, but we don’t see anyone outside her huge house.
The trio decides to follow up with Dr. Kent (the guy whose house they ended up in before getting arrested) lead. On enquiring, Mickey learns that Ashley has withdrawn from the school. Mrs. Friedman receives word of the now dead Mr. V’s (aka Barry Vollmer) sudden resignation.
In class, Mrs. Friedman assigns the students their first project and asks them to get into groups. Rachel, who has been blowing off Troy, picks Mickey to be her partner. She also asks him to come to her house to work on the project.
Ema, Spoon, and Mickey reach the hospital and try to coax Mrs. Kent to tell them something about the attacker. After a bit of deliberation, she tells them that the man who did this had an octopus tattoo on his face.
Back at home, Mickey, after talking to Shira, realizes that Dylan Shakes was his father’s best friend before he suddenly disappeared back in the day.
Ema comes to Mickey’s house, and they go for a walk together. They both talk about some personal stuff and just before Ema is about to tell him about her tattoo, the sunglasses guys show up there, possibly stalking them. Mickey chases after him, but all he gets out of him is a threatening grunt to stay away.
The next morning, Shira and Mickey drive to get his mother from the probation center, where she is admitted for her longstanding fight with depression. After a little chat, Kitty (Mickey’s mother) asks him to trust her and let her be on her own for a while.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Friedman, who suspects foul play, gets into Mr. V’s office and finds pictures of a kidnapped Ashley in one of his drawers.
Mickey has a brief chat with his mother about how he feels guilty for his father’s death because they moved to the States because of him.
As Mickey is going to class, he notices one of his photos with Ashley has her completely freaked out. On investigating more into it, they discover an opposite-direction photo that has the octopus-tattooed man looking right at Ashley.
Ema knows a local tattoo artist named Agent, and they decide to go to him and find out about this man. At his shop, they get no further clue, but Ema sidelines Agent and asks him why the not-so-permanent butterfly tattoo (the one that looks eerily similar to the Shelter album art) that he did won’t come off. This is where we learn that the tattoo symbolizes goddess Abeona – the protector of children, and it might be what the spirits want Ema to be.
When Mickey reaches home, he realizes that his mother never got there. He panics and calls the hospital and then goes out with Sira to track her down using her car’s GPS. They reach Paterson Falls, but Kitty is nowhere to be found.
Meanwhile, Troy snoops into his father’s laptop and finds out that he has been stalking Sira.
Agent, the tattoo artist, burns a picture of the Octopus tattoo guy, clearly stating that he lied to Ema.
The sunglasses man sneaks into Mickey’s room, gets his laptop, and copies some data onto a pendrive. He, however, has to hide when Spoon gets into the basement as well.
At the falls, Mickey finds her mother sobbing all alone. He embraces her as she says that she is not ready for the world yet.
Mrs. Friedman is seen in Bat Lady’s backyard, angry over her son’s death.
The episode ends with Rachel sneakily reaching a train station locker in which we see Ashley’s bag. The bag is full of cash and has multiple passports, which hints at the fact that Ashley is a runaway who has been sneaking into other people’s identities, possibly to escape from someone. Is it the tattoo guy who she is afraid of, or is there a bigger conspiracy in the works?
As Rachel tries to get away with the bag, she is surprised to see the tattooed man who tells her that the bag doesn’t belong to her.
Harlan Coben’s Shelter (Season 1), Episode 3 “The Dirt Locker” Recap:
Episode 3 of Harlan Coben’s Shelter opens with another flashback, this time about a time from Bat Lady’s past. The black-and-white memory of multiple children all being taken to a beautiful place feels both sad and liberating at the same time. While not many hints about this are introduced, the explosions and gunfire sure feel like it is from a time when the world was ravaged by war, and these children had no place they could call home. All of these children look scared, except for one of them who feels liberated.
The flashback ends when the sunglass guy tells Bat Lady that he couldn’t find anything about Ashley on Mickey’s laptop except for the one picture of them together. Mickey’s mother is back at the institution, and he is back in guilt-ridden mode. Meanwhile, Rachel is traumatized as she returns home. We can make out that she must have somehow managed to escape from the clutches of the tattooed guy as we see a sharp cut on one of her hands.
Mickey and Rachel are absent from class, which pisses Troy off. Ema and Whitney have a moment together. The sensational gay energy between the two is palpable as Whitney suggests Ema put her dark art out on ‘uDou’ (an app similar to Instagram) so that people like her can appreciate their true beauty.
Shira’s parents Allen and Ellen, arrive home. We can see that they are quite intrusive as they have organized a party at their house.
The school, like each year, organizes a celebrity to look over the musical performance of the year. Angelica White (a renowned celebrity) takes over the proceedings this time around, introducing the musical of the year to be ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ People cheer for Buck to be the lead, but we can clearly see Spoon’s interest in the same.
Mickey finally shows up at school and tells them about his mother. They console him, but soon after, they get back into Ashley’s missing case. Spoon takes them to his secret lair inside the school, where he claims to have an ear on everything that happens in the school. There, he has chalked out the most obvious clue that he could find and proposes that there can be a possible connection between the disappearance of Dylan Shakes 27 years ago and Ashley because both happened on the same day, 8th September.
The group thinks that someone from Dylan’s family could be responsible for Ashley’s disappearance but since they don’t have any clue, they point towards Ashley’s locker, which has been possibly emptied by the school after she withdrew. Next, they try to think about how to get into the school’s security footage, but Spoon is already one step ahead by hacking into the system.
They take turns to look into the footage (at this point, I am not sure why their absence in class is not made out to be a huge deal). Anyway, Mickey returns home to see that his grandparents are home and have organized a party. Rachel is also there for the history project they are to do together. While they are talking, the name Lizzy Sobeck comes up – an urban legend about a girl who rescued kids on a train to Auschwitz (cue to the opening sequence with the butterflies and war).
Looking through the security footage, Ema finds two things. Firstly, Whitney has a thing for her, and her sexual inclination toward her is not one-sided, and Ashley was extremely distressed that day.
The Tylor family shows up at the party, and Troy wants to find out why Rachel has been blowing him off. The two of them have a small altercation, and Rachel ends up hitting him because her stress about the tattooed guy builds up when he tries to grip her tight.
Surprisingly for the show, though, Sira and Hannah bond instead of getting on each other’s case for one of them stealing the other one’s man.
Brad’s parents have a little tiff in the basement about not channeling their grief about the loss of their son. They then urge Mickey not to let go of Basketball just yet. We also briefly see Mickey going into one of his memories with his dad that hints towards a secretive job that Brad and Kitty were up to when Brad was alive.
Mickey then shoots hoops with his aunt Shira who tries to get his trust by telling him that she did not approve of his mother. She also tries to bring him back to his interest in Basketball.
Mickey then receives word from his friends about something they have found in the security footage and rushes to the boiler room. Ema and Spoon have discovered that the cheerleading squad was bullying Ashely before she stormed off feeling upset. They also find that the Sunglasses man came in later that night to steal the hippo magnet out of Ashley’s locker.
Post the party, when everyone has left, Hannah comes in a kisses Sira. The twist here is that it wasn’t Sira and Tylor who were a thing and the reason for the distance between them, but their secretive relationship with each other that must have led to some major disagreements.
Harlan Coben’s Shelter (Season 1), Episode 3 “The Dirt Locker” Ending Explained:
What does Mickey learn about his father’s death from the Bat Lady?
To know more answers, Mickey decides to go to Bat Lady’s house all alone. While he is trying to get in, he sees a car pull up to a garage on the property and sneaks in. He discovers an underground bunker of sorts inside the garage and decides to go in. The bunker leads to an entire underground passage that then leads to a closet and then to a second house. The sunglasses man is inside, and he is waiting for Mickey.
Behind him, the Bat Lady comes up and finally confronts why she told Mickey that his father is alive. The Bat Lady narrates the story of the children from Auschwitz and the magical butterflies. However, she doubles down on the darkness that resides within the loss of people. She claims that the magical butterflies weren’t as magical as she thought, as it led most of the children that she saved to their death.
This is when we learn that the Bat Lady is, in fact, Lizzy Sobek, the Holocaust survivor whom Mickey and Rachel are doing a history project on. She tells him that the Nazi general, who she knows as the butcher, killed almost all the children who reached there, with only 6 of them surviving the brutality.
Now, this is where things get extremely twisted and, frankly, super odd. The Bat Lady says that the common connection between her story and that of Mickey is that they have a common villain. The paramedic who we saw earlier coming to his father’s rescue after the accident looks exactly like the Butcher. Both of them had a scarred face, and Mickey, along with us, the audience, are left shell-shocked with this kind of strange connection. Is this some kind of supernatural twist? Maybe. Maybe not!
Anyway, Bat Lady tells Mickey that their lives are connected. Another revelation that comes up is that Lizzy is unaware of where Ashley is, and like Mickey, she has also been searching for her. Why’s that, though, is still unclear, but if we are to make an assumption, the Bat Lady is some kind of messiah for lost children who have nowhere to go.
Episode 3 of Harland Coben’s Shelter ends with Ema and Spoon looking through the footage and realizing that it was Rachel who came up before the Sunglasses guy and stole Ashley’s backpack. What is Rachel’s motive here is, again, unclear. So is the fact that it wasn’t the first day of school when Ashley first saw Mickey and that she has been running around to save herself for a while now. This and more questions will probably be answered in the upcoming episode. Until then, stay tuned.