Warning: contains major plot spoilers for Harlan Coben’s Shelter
Harlan Coben’s Shelter, now out in full on Prime Video, really bought in to Mickey’s dad’s mantra that “you can’t get a hit if you don’t swing the bat”. For eight episodes, it swung its bat wildly in every direction, spinning it crazily overhead and sweeping it low in circles, possibly while wearing a blindfold. If there was a hit to get, Shelter swung for it – and with some success.
It was the story of Mickey Bolitar, a bereaved teen who investigated the disappearance of a fellow high school student but discovered a great deal more. Adapted from Harlan Coben’s YA spin-off to his mega-successful Myron Bolitar series, the thriller veered hugely in tone (pairing real-life holocaust atrocity and child abuse with teen comedy felt tasteless at best) but its red herrings, cliff-hangers, twists and charismatic cast certainly kept you watching.
Now that the finale has aired, let’s pick over the bones of just what on Earth was going on. Spoilers!
The Big Brad Bolitar Twist!
Who’d have thought that a Gwen Stefani track could save somebody’s life? The makers of Harlan Coben’s Shelter, that’s who. When Mickey heard his Aunt Shira singing “Hollaback Girl” from a floor away through the plumbing in the Bolitar family home, he realised that when Lizzie/Bat Lady said she still heard his dead father’s voice sometimes, she wasn’t talking figuratively. Lizzie was hearing Brad’s voice through the pipes in her labyrinthine home, because he wasn’t dead at all but still alive and being kept prisoner in a sealed off, soundproof room in an underground tunnel system accessed through the house.
The whole series ended on the cliff-hanger of Mickey breaking into the burnt-out remains of Bat Lady’s place and discovering his father alive and locked in a secret room under the house. It took the Mickey Bolitar book series (Shelter, Seconds Away and Found) three novels to reach that point, but the TV adaptation has pressed fast-forward on the story. So, who was keeping Brad locked down there? Read on.
Luther and Little Ricky
The LA paramedic with the facial scar (not so progressive with your choice of villain, Harlan Coben’s Shelter) who took away Brad’s body after the traffic collision in which he apparently died, was no paramedic. His name was Luther, and he’d had a decades-long vendetta against Brad after the death of his younger brother Ricky when he and Luther were just kids.
In the 1990s, Luther and Ricky were part of a group of young boys rescued by Abeona – the organisation run by Lizzie/Bat Lady that protects abused children – from an abusive foster home. A teenaged Brad was in charge of the rescue operation, having encountered Lizzie and her work years before through his Little League pal Dylan Shakes (more on him below). During the foster home escape, Luther cut his face badly on a nail, an injury for which he blamed Brad. When the rescued boys were hidden in Lizzie’s soundproof basement room, Luther’s little brother Ricky had an asthma attack and died. Ever since, a traumatised Luther had hated Brad and blamed him for Ricky’s death.
That’s why, the moment Brad, Kitty and Mickey moved back to the US, Luther took his chance for revenge. He orchestrated the car crash, took away Brad’s body from the scene, faked his death. and locked him in the same soundproof basement in which Ricky had died. Luther also tried to kill Lizzie by stabbing her, locking her and Mickey in her secret photo room, and setting her house on fire, but Mickey managed to escape, and they both survived.
The Butcher of Lodz
Lizzie told Mickey that Luther – presumably still at large – was “his butcher”, in reference to the Butcher of Lodz, a Nazi war criminal responsible for atrocities during the Holocaust, of which she was a survivor. She had Photoshopped Luther’s face onto a picture of the Butcher of Lodz and given it to Mickey when he was researching the era for a school project to warn him about Luther – but schoolteacher Martha recognised the fake.
Lizzie came to Abeona, named for the child-protecting Roman goddess of safe returns, following her experience as a rescued Holocaust survivor. The organisation saves children and teenagers from abusive situations. Its symbol is a blue Abeona butterfly, such as the one tattooed on Ashley Kent after she was rescued from a child trafficking ring by the group.
Brad and Kitty Bolitar worked for Lizzie and Abeona, alongside “Octo-Face” (real name: Antoine, the tattoo was temporary and part of a disguise in his mission to help to save Ashley) and “Sunglasses” (original name: Dylan Shakes, see below). However, Mickey’s parents wanted to get out of the organisation and live a normal life with their son in the US.
Rescuing Ashley (not her real name) from a child trafficking operation was Brad Bolitar’s last job for Abeona before he “died”. Under the guise of a camping trip with son Mickey, Brad carried out the rescue operation and Ashley was rehomed under her new identity, but ended up enrolling in school at Kasselton High along with Mickey.
Her kidnappers, helped by the school drama teacher who ran a side-line in child trafficking, tracked her down and after being rescued by Rachel from one kidnap attempt, they took her. Ashley was held in a dungeon underneath a very sketchy club where underage girls are sex trafficked. Just as she was about to be sold to a wealthy pervert, Mickey and the gang rescue her. “Octo-Face” arranged for her to start again at a new home, under a new identity. “I’ll always wonder what could have been, Mickey,” Ashley told him when she left. “Me too, maybe one day we’ll find out,” he replied. If season two is confirmed, maybe they will.
Dylan Shakes, Sunglasses, Lizzie and Martha
27 years earlier, the town of Kasselton had been shaken by the disappearance of a young boy Dylan Shakes. It turned out that Dylan’s father was physically abusing him, behaviour spotted by Dylan’s Little League coach Martha, and his doctor.
When Dylan’s father deliberately burned Dylan’s eye with a cigarette, Martha took him to Lizzie, who arranged for him to be taken away to safety through Abeona. Martha had wanted to adopt Dylan, but instead Lizzie chose to send him as far away from his father as she could.
That’s how Brad Bolitar was recruited to Abeona at such a young age. When his older sister Shira dared him to go inside Bat Lady’s house, he found his friend Dylan there and was sworn to secrecy about him for Dylan’s protection. A grown-up Dylan, never seen without his sunglasses (hence the nickname), was also recruited by Abeona, and has been helping Lizzie ever since. He was the one who shot dead Kasselton High drama teacher/child sex trafficker at the end of episode one.
Unsolved: Why Was Spoon’s Picture on Lizzie’s Wall?
In episode seven, when Mickey confronts Lizzie with his theory that she killed his father because he wanted to leave Abeona, Mickey finds her in a secret room surrounded by photographs of the thousands of children Abeona had helped over the decades. Ashley’s picture is there. Luther and Ricky’s picture is there. Dylan Shakes’ picture is there. And so – unexplained as yet – is Spoon’s.
We’re told in the series that Arthur/Spoon has known loss, and know that he lives with just his father, but what is his background involvement with Lizzie and Abeona? Is he adopted? Is that picture even him, or an identical twin saved by Abeona? That’s something else for a potential second season to explore.
Harlan Coben’s Shelter is available to stream now on Prime Video.