What happened in DAM Season 1?

By TVPlus8 February 2023

What happened in DAM Season 1?

Join the catfish cult and catch up on what happened in Season 1 of Showmax Original series DAM.

Illicit sex, cults, murder, land theft, possession, very big fish and other river monsters … Showmax Original series DAM peels back the skin of the “good old days” when sweaty small-town folk made their own amusements instead of mucking about on the internet.

With DAM Season 2 now ready to binge on Showmax, here’s a rundown of what you need to know from Season 1. Watch it with the lights on … and the water off!

Spoiler alert! This article is a recap of the action from DAM Season 1 and contains many spoilers!

The season in brief

Yolanda “Yola” Fischer (Lea Vivier) is called home to Fischerhaven after her father, the town leader Jacob (Andrew Buckland), commits suicide in the midst of a drought. Jacob leaves the family farm to her instead of her sister, Sienna (Natasha Loring), who’s stayed in her hometown. But she can’t sell it because part of the property is subject to an ancestral land claim by the Zitha family, descendants of the Qlwashu clan, original inhabitants of the land. The man spearheading the claim is the local inyanga (traditional healer), Mboniswa Lazarus Zitha (Anthony Patrick Lazarus).

As Yola spends more time in her childhood home, memories return to her and she realises that her father molested her as a child. She also deduces that her father was responsible for Lazarus’s disappearance.

Yola makes an instant connection with Lazarus’s grandson, Themba Zitha (Pallance Dladla), who’s on the run from his biker gang, as they both investigate the land claim and the town’s sordid secrets.

Siv Ngesi makes a star turn as Victor, the gang enforcer who’s sent to recover a large sum of money from Themba.

The spirit of Lazarus, in combination with the local water spirit Mamlambo, starts to possess Themba’s aunt, Lindiwe (Faniswa Yisa), a psychiatric hospital nurse, and Yola can hear Lazarus and the spirits whispering through the plumbing in the Fischer farmhouse. Many eerie and downright creepy watery supernatural events occur, but Yola struggles to make sense of what’s real, as she has been manipulated to believe her whole life that she’s mentally ill, and she has recently run out of her prescribed medication.

As her sister, Sienna (Natasha Loring) struggles to come to terms with her father’s will and her sister’s loosening grip on reality, she decides the best course of action is to commit Yola to the local mental institution – the same hospital where their mother has lived for years, alongside Clara (Tarryn Wyngaard), a young woman with a mysterious story.

Sienna is involved in an affair with Rudy, the self-appointed new boss in town in the wake of Jacob’s death – and a married man. But when new detective Dirk (Francois Chouler) arrives, she’s immediately drawn to him.  

It’s revealed that Jacob’s suicide is part of a ploy to lure Yola to return so that the local cult can use her in their Spring Princess rainmaking and “fertility” ritual. The historic ceremony centres around the tale of the town’s founder, the first Jacob Fischer, having sex with the woman who rescued him, San princess Okhethiweyo of the Qlwashu clan.

All the key figures in Fischerhaven are cult members and use their positions to cover up the rapes and (in some cases) murders that they commit during the ritual.

In the finale…

In the Season 1 finale, after Yola rescues Allegra (Avuzwa Gqamane), the new Spring Princess, Yola’s aunt Dora (Antoinette Louw) reveals that Allegra is just bait. And that the cult needs the ultimate “sacrifice” – Jacob’s favourite daughter – since previous sacrifices have not broken the drought. Yola and Dora wrestle in the dam after Dora expresses sexual jealousy over the fact that Jacob was molesting Yola. Yola seems to win, and she resurfaces from the dam carrying Lazarus’s corpse, concealed there by Jacob after he murdered Lazarus.

Meanwhile, Themba lets Lindiwe/Lazarus/Mamlambo attack, kill and cannibalise Victor. When Yola finds Lazarus’s body, Lindiwe is able to breathe again and seems to come back to herself, but a brief expression hints that she’s probably still possessed.

Dirk comforts Yola on the shores of the dam and gives her a warm drink. After everyone else leaves, Yola passes out at the dam (Dirk’s drink was drugged, revealing that he’s now a cult member), and she’s taken to Okhethiweyo’s cave, where she’s raped by at least three cult members wearing barbel (fish) head masks. As Yola starts crying, the drought breaks and the rains fall … and Aunt Dora crawls out of the dam, fuming and possibly not entirely human.

Dig deeper into DAM

Read on for the background facts unearthed during Season 1 that’ll still be in play in Season 2, coming to Showmax from 16 February.

The local legend

DAM is set in the fictional small Eastern Cape town of Fischerhaven, which was founded in 1825 by settler Jacob Fischer. He was saved by a San Princess named Okhethiweyo of the Qlwashu clan. She found him lying in the water at the bend in the stream where she was bathing (known in the modern day as Mamlambo’s Bend) and took him to her cave.

As she nursed him back from starvation and malaria, she fell pregnant (possibly because he raped her – there are different versions of the legend). As soon as Jacob was well, though, he reunited with his own people and abandoned her. In her grief, the Princess miscarried and her tears turned the stream into a river … which made the valley fertile and green. But with that blessing comes her curse: Mamlambo is the incarnation of the lost child, a vengeful water spirit who’ll return to collect from everyone who took from her and abandoned her.

The Spring Princess cult

Fischerhaven experiences periodic droughts. The descendants of Jacob Fischer and the town’s other founding families have created a horrific ritual based on the legend. A local teenaged girl is chosen as the Spring Princess. She’s decked out in finery and flowers and paraded through the town. She’s then drugged (this was possibly not always the case) and her body is washed the way you would prepare a corpse. The Spring Princess is loaded aboard a boat or raft and taken down the river by the light of flaming torches at night to Okhethiweyo’s cave.

There, masked men (chosen from the town) gang rape her in a ritual that is meant to bring rain and restore fertility to the land, through her “sacrifice” and tears. For generations, the cult has been led by the male head of the Fischer family, who has personally selected both the rapists and the Spring Princess. Previous Spring Princess victims include Lindiwe’s daughter Simphiwe, who was found drowned on the banks of the river, and asylum patient Clara Daniels (Tarryn Wyngaard), sister to hotel barman Charlton Daniels (Marvin-Lee Beukes), who was institutionalised after accusing high-ranking men in town of raping her. Clara obsessively draws vortexes, barbels, and men and women with barbel heads. The cult’s core beliefs centre on patriarchal white supremacy and “traditional” values.

How to spot a cult member

Antoinette Louw as Dora in DAM

Those in the cult display a common symbol in their homes and businesses: a taxidermied giant barbel head. The rapists wear the barbel head during the parade and in the cave, hiding their identity from the Spring Princess. All the key figures in Fischerhaven are inner-circle cult members, also known as The Committee.

In episode seven we saw how cult recruitment works with outsiders, as Rudy revealed that he knew detective Dirk’s exes have restraining orders against him for stalking. Rudy offered to “help” Dirk to win back Sienna. It’s likely the cult was active in investigating prospects for the post and selected him to become the town’s new detective based on his record.

Key cult members:

  • Jacob Fischer before his death
  • Aunt Dora, who’s the teacher on the Fischers’ girls-only farm school
  • Rudy Reese (Laudo Liebenberg), owner of the local general dealer store and Sienna’s lover
  • Greta (Melissa Haiden), Rudy’s wife
  • Max (Gerald Steyn), Rudy’s psychopathic pig farmer brother
  • Annie (Rika Sennet), Max and Rudy’s mother, the pharmacist
  • Franz Joubert (David James) the town’s leading attorney
  • Tannie Marie (Amor Tredoux), the head librarian
  • Dr Ben Nel (Andre Odendaal), head of Fort Vannenberg asylum
  • Innocentia (Gabriella Cirillo), Fort Vannenberg’s head nurse

The Fischer family

While he was worshipped by the men of Fischerhaven, farmer, artist and town leader Jacob Fischer was an out-and-out perv. He had a peephole in the attic that he used to spy on his daughter Sienna in bed. He obsessively sketched his sister, Dora, (identified by her back tattoo of a woman with a barbel head) in the nude with a gynaecological level of interest. And he molested his daughter Yolanda when she was a little girl, possibly stopping short of penetration to keep her “pure”. Jacob’s wife, Yvette (Jennifer Steyn), has been in the local asylum, near catatonic since the night when she tried to kill herself and her young daughters with the gas stove. Sienna and Yolanda survived but their sister Kristi died. In the course of the story, we find out that Yvette probably cracked under the guilt of knowing that Jacob was molesting and grooming little Yolanda, and thanks to what she knew about the cult’s activities.

After the incident, Dr Nel put Yolanda on “antidepressants” for bedwetting (a common trauma response to childhood sexual abuse). Dora knew the truth but covered up the abuse by telling everyone that Yolanda is a liar and mentally unstable … like her mother. Yolanda developed a pattern of freezing up in bed out of terror, which is why she didn’t say anything when Dirk drunkenly got into bed with her believing she was Sienna.

The Qlwashu clan

Pallance Dladla as Themba

In modern-day Fischerhaven, the Zitha family claim descent from the Qlwashu clan and Okhethiweyo. Before the start of the story, the Zitha family’s elder was the Fischerhaven farm inyanga, Mboniswa Lazarus Zitha, nicknamed Mal Oom Lazarus in town. Lazarus’s sister, Lindiwe, is a nurse at the local asylum. Lindiwe is still mourning her daughter, Simphiwe, who was found dead on the banks of the river one year before, just after the Spring Princess festival. Lazarus’s grandson Themba flees back to Fischerhaven when he lands in trouble with his biker gang, whose enforcer, Victor, has been sent to collect R50 000 from him. Themba “stole” the money from bike club membership fees to give to the girlfriend of the Chapter President (who he was in love with) to help her escape some trouble. Apparently, Themba has always been a “rescuer” and he can’t resist helping anyone in need, from a dog with ticks to a girl in trouble. Their neighbour, Qaqamba (Thembisa Mdoda), is studying as a healer with Lazarus and Themba calls her in to help when Lindiwe falls ill. Aside from rotting like a drowned man, Lindiwe struggles to breathe, starts speaking in a different voice, and starts coughing and spitting up tadpoles.

The land claim and murder

Lazarus is missing when Themba returns to Fischerhaven in September. He finds out that Lazarus was seen fighting with Jacob Fischer at the local hotel bar in August, shortly before he disappeared. His family assumed that Lazarus was away doing research. But after Themba finds a copy of a land claim in Lazarus’s house/apothecary, he finds out that Lazarus was petitioning to claim ancestral land in an area of the river on the Fischer farm known as Mamlambo’s Bend. The claim had been dismissed or disputed ‒ problematically ‒ on 3 August, shortly after which Lazarus vanished.

Dora later reveals that Jacob murdered Lazarus on impulse. Jacob then hid the corpse in the dam. This land claim will form a major plot point in Season 2. (NB! In Episode 6 of Season 1, Franz, the lawyer, has both Themba and Yola sign a contract, supposedly for Yola to give Themba the money he needs … but neither one of them reads it – Yola is drugged, and Themba has a gun to his back.)

Haunted water

In life, Lazarus was an inyanga and in the story he lives up to his name, crossing between the lands of the living and the dead, both through the water and through Lindiwe. As Lazarus starts to possess Lindiwe’s body, she starts going insane and physically rotting. It might not just be Lazarus acting through Lindiwe, though. Since his body lies underwater, he could be acting with Mamlambo to attack the cult members, which we see when Lindiwe tries to drown Dr Nel. And as Themba’s protector, Lindiwe also attacks and cannibalises Victor, which is more Mamlambo’s style.

When Yolanda approaches Lindiwe/Lazarus/Mamlambo, though, the “monster” smiles, caresses her face, and looks at her with a calm happiness and even joy. Throughout the series we see that Yolanda is able to hear Lazarus and the spirits in the water. The constant plumbing problems in the Fischer farmhouse can be attributed to Lazarus/Mamlambo’s activities. Windmills, wind and water (especially vortexes like the ones Clara draws) show up throughout the series as these are key themes in stories about Mamlambo and Xhosa mermaids, and the passage between the material and spiritual worlds through whirlwinds and whirlpools.

What can we expect in Season 2?

It’s been three months since the Spring celebration, and Yola has not been seen since. Sienna is beside herself with worry, and trying to investigate what might have happened to her. But when Yolanda reappears with no memory of where she’s been, it raises more questions than answers.

What is certain is that the powers that be in Fischerhaven are not done with Yola and Themba, and there are many more hurdles to cross before any of them find peace.

Binge both seasons of DAM now »

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