Spoilers for The Innocents Season 1 below… obviously.
Forget happily ever after! Netflix’s new teen romance The Innocents is a sweet, smart love story about two runaway teenagers with a tragic twist. Harry (Percelle Ascott) and June (Sorcha Groundsell) are just two average kids in love trying to run away from their troubled home lives and start anew — that is until they make the terrifying discovery that June is a shapeshifter, capable of not only transforming into another person’s body during her heightened moments of fear, but also able to step into their minds and experience their memories.
That makes her powerful and terrifying, especially to herself, and it also makes her the target of the mysterious Dr. Bendik Halvorson (Guy Pearce), who is running an off-the-books experimental operation focused on shapeshifters. Tucked away on a remote island, Halvorson runs experiments on his ailing shapeshifter partner Runa (Ingunn Beate Øyen), who suffers from a degenerative mental condition, a true believer Sigrid (Lise Risom Olsen), and June’s mother Elena (Laura Birn), who’s abilities are tragically triggered by feelings of love.
That heartbreaking trigger has already lead to one great tragedy, known as the case of “Pennines Five.” Years ago, Elena had an affair with Harry’s father, and when he told her, “You should meet my son,” a wave of love triggered a transformation, her first in years. Panicked, she ran through the streets, touching one person after the next, and since she never reverted to her original form between transformations, she left all of them comatose; trapped and unable to return to their bodies. In the years since, Harry’s father has said nothing but those words: “You should meet my son.” The feels!
In the present, Harry and June are on the run for London, but when Halvorson sends his loyal right-hand-man Steinar (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) to bring June back to the island, he accidentally triggers her fear, causing June’s first transformation and setting off the chain of events that lead to the series’ heartbreaking finale.
The bulk of The Innocents plays out like a road romance, following June and Henry on the run, where they hide in playgrounds and makeout in public restrooms, befriending all sorts of shady individuals, including a charming but dangerous crowd of drug-runners and ultimately, another young shifter who offers to show June the ropes. Kam (Abigail Hardingham), as she calls herself, turns out to be just as tangled up in Halvorson’s web as June; she’s also a second generation shapeshifter. She’s Runa’s daughter.
When June makes her way to the island, Kam calls Harry and warns him not to let her go — and just in time, as Steinar breaks into Kam’s apartment and tries to capture her. Harry teams up with June’s father John (Sam Hazeldine) to bring June home, but when they make it to the island, they find she’s unwilling to leave after being reunited with her mother.
And boy, that reunion is a doozy. The two shapeshifters paddle out on the lake for a quiet talk, but Elena is triggered by her love for her daughter and June is triggered by her fear of her mother’s reaction. They touch, and June transforms into Elena, but she also uses the opportunity to dig through her mother’s memories and find the truth — something that almost costs her her own mind. Elena’s memories overtake Junes and the traces of June’s mind and body start to slip away.
Ultimately, it’s only Harry who can bring her back to reality, but he can’t bring her back home. In June, Halvorson has finally found what he needs to save Runa from her degenerative mental disorder — he plans to force her to absorb Runa’s memories and essentially become his lover (while Runa’s real body would lie in a twitching coma somewhere for the rest of her life). Halvorson locks Henry up in his office and tells the others the young man took off over night, meanwhile he tries to convince John to leave.
But before he can get too far in his nefarious plan, a recording of one of Halvorson’s sessions blares across the loudspeaker, drawing everyone to his lab. There, they find Stienar holding a gun and playing back recordings from Halvorson’s early sessions. The patient is Kam, aka Freya, Runa’s daughter and Halvorson is ruthlessly implementing shock treatments to trigger her transformative state. He had planned to use Freya, as he now plans to use June, as a vessel to absorb Runa’s memories. Halvorson wrests the gun from Steinar and kills Sigrid, taking June hostage with the intent of forcing her transformation into Runa.
Harry escapes and works with John to break June free, disarming Halvorson in the process. Runa takes the gun off Harry, keeping it trained on Halvorson, and Steiner comes towards her crying — there’s a transformation, and we learn it’s not Steinar but Freya, who came to save June from the same fate she endured. Finally reunited with her daughter, Runa finds the strength to prioritize her child over her lover and shoots Halvorson in the head.
This would be right about the time for a happy ending, but The Innocents isn’t that show — at least not in its first season. Runa and Freya confront each other but reach no resolution, and Freya rows away in her boat leaving her mother behind. Meanwhile, June, Harry, John and Elena make their way back to the mainland, but when the boat comes to dock, Harry’s mother (a police officer) is waiting for them and she’s determined that the shapeshifters are dangerous (and it turns out she’s not wrong).
Elena willingly surrenders herself, but Harry and June make a break for it, racing out of the boat in a car, and Harry drives at a breakneck pace to make the getaway. When the car hits a pothole, the tires explode and the car smashes into a tree, leaving both Harry and June incapacitated. But June is much worse off; she’s mortally wounded, and Harry convinces her that she has to shift into him in order to go find help. She doesn’t want to, afraid that she’ll hurt him, but dying on the side of the road she thinks she has no choice.
“I’ll see you again soon,” Harry says as she touches him, and he falls into the trance state, his eyes twitching. Just then, Harry’s mom comes racing around the corner and unknowingly dooms her own son. She reaches for June thinking it’s Harry and as soon as she touches her, the die is cast. June transforms once again, and Harry is left in a fugue state. June immediately transforms back into herself and tries to shake him awake, but he’s gone, dead-eyed and muttering “I’ll see you again soon.” We see his mother waking up in the background, but Harry is gone, and June clutches him, crying, while the credits roll.