Diana Dares

Foiling Chicanery with Boundless Intelligence, Fashionable Outfits, Moxie, and One Sporty Blue Roadster.

Monday, May 22, 2006

...and the Case of the Fumbled Finales

Am I alone in finding the recent batch of season/series finales terribly underwhelming?

It's a difficult thing to do, wrapping up everything with a neat little bow, leaving no dangling plot threads or thematic lumps. Undeniably difficult. Endings are harder than beginnings, in television and in life.

But unlike life, when endings can sneak up on you and kick you in the teeth, leaving you on your back with the wind knocked out of you, gasping for air and spitting blood, in television, you know they're coming. Yes, perhaps your show will be unceremoniously yanked from the schedule and you'll be caught unawares, but even in those cases, there are usually clouds gathering on the horizon for a while. And to the majority of shows, I say: It's In May. It's Your Twenty-Second Episode. Plan For It.

Overall, they were pretty weak, but in a few pointed cases, they were actively bad and harmful to the series.

First up, Gilmore Girls. I don’t care what anyone says, Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino wrote the finale of Gilmore Girls as a kiss-off to Warner Bros. They must have. The alternative possibility is that they fell so seriously off course they didn’t even realize they fell off course. Which, if either of them watched an episode this year, should have been achingly clear. If this was actually an honest attempt at a good season finale, man, they really do need the rest. It’s certainly been a demoralizing year to be a Gilmore Girls fan. Gone are the two characters whom I thought it would be great to know if they existed; they were chicas you wanted to hang out with. And now, they have been replaced by two incredibly whiny women whose antics would not be seen as charming anywhere outside of a television set.

Season Five featured character 180s all over the place, but all of this has been covered by a large group of television critics and angry fans, so I’ll try to focus just on the finale. The season finale which saw Rory lose her boyfriend to Paris and a Rupert Murdoch stand-in who suddenly grew a conscience, Luke insist more and more unreasonably that his child and his soon-to-be wife never meet, Lorelai lose the plot completely and insist that Luke elope with her at that instant or never get married to her, break down, cry, and finally wind up devastated in Christopher’s bed. Yup, that finale.

Lauren Graham is magic, but even she couldn’t save this.

And then there’s the almost equally cool Sherilyn Fenn, playing April’s worried single mother – a character who could have had a realistically prickly friendship with Lorelai. It would have been fun to watch these two play that together over the course of a season. Competitiveness and jealousy wrestling with a recognition of a kindred spirit. Both cute, young single mothers trying to raise preternaturally verbal young women – they’ve got a lot in common. Instead Sherilyn winds up saddled with the role of the villain who says anything to cause conflict. Her convoluted reasoning that she doesn’t want her daughter to have any contact with her father’s fiancé until they are married makes zero sense. Particularly since she was fine with her daughter conducting a very public paternity test by herself while she presumably watched from the sidelines amused at her zany pluckiness or her plucky zaniness. She’s crazy, is what I’m saying.

And fine, Sherilyn Fenn rocks and deserves better, but at least she’s a new character and perhaps this new character is nuts. But when Lorelai and Rory and Luke – the core three – all go nuts the same season...well, at least now she’s got company.

The GG finale was followed by Veronica Mars. A friend had been dismissing the second season of this show all year, growing more and more vocal. I kept the faith, convinced that the writers could pull it off. Soon it will all make sense, I told her. Soon, it’ll all come together and we’ll be amazed. She shook her head sadly. She’s much better at knowing when to write something off than I am. I clung to hope even as the number of episodes dwindled. After I watched the finale, I sat there disappointed. It felt like betrayal. This show was once so good and this season was just a flippin’ mess. The guy giving off bad guy vibes since the second episode actually is the bad guy?! What suspense! And poor teenaged Beaver is not a reluctant murderer so desperate to keep his horrible secret hidden that he attempts to silence someone only to have it backfire and leave him as the accidental murderer of eight teens. That I would’ve bought and even loved. But Evil Eyeliner Beaver as a sociopath with a body count that just keeps rising – it felt false every step of the way. The great twists of last year’s final two episodes were replaced with uneven plotting and stop-and-lurch storytelling. Or maybe I just miss Lily. Thank God for Big Love.

I called my friend.

“You were right,” I whispered, still in a daze “This show is a jerk boyfriend. I get it now. He’s a jerk. He’s not really nice. He doesn’t really love me.”

“Took you long enough,” she muttered. “Only took him breaking your arm.”

The worst part of the finale was undoing one of the most perfect hours of television ever by rewriting it so that this year’s villain, in addition to killing over a dozen people, also happened to rape her and lie about it. It undid so much wonderful storytelling and added to it in such a clunky, off way. What was a resolution that drew storylines together while elegantly mirroring classic film noir is now the unlikely scenario wherein two guys at a party each separately find a passed out girl in the back bedroom and decide to have sex with her within an hour of each other, with underwear being pulled off and then put back on in between each unpleasant occasion, each unaware of each other, with no witnesses. Or rape kit. It’s possible…but why would you undo something that worked so well for THAT?

Moving onto Alias. Wow, the chick shows really biffed it this year. Watching Alias has become like hanging out with an old friend with whom you no longer have anything in common, because your old friend is now kind of sucky. And phoning it in. I was the most faithful of Alias viewers until Season Four broke me, taking with it much of my faith in humanity. But hey, it was ending, they were getting the whole gang back together, and I had to see how it ended.

The final run-up to the end held glimpses of the FUN that Alias used to be – any moment when Bradley Cooper was back onscreen, Jack handing Sydney a gun while she’s in labor and barking “Cover your mother!”, Spy Daddy’s Babysitters In Black, any scene with Spy Daddy, Peyton finally looking a little spy-ish as she shoots a plane out of the sky with a RPG – but the end? Come on, writers! I know everyone’s tired and you and the actors and everyone wanted this to end two years ago, and everyone’s jealous/resentful at the way J.J. can just scamper off when he wants (but on the other hand: 8+ months, including a press tour, with the Wee Crazy One, so maybe the whole thing's a draw, fellas) but you are paid a lot of money and it’s only one more episode and oh my god, how hard is it to make it GOOD?!! Aaauuuuuugghhhh!

And then they killed SpyDaddy. Oh come on. Seriously. Screw that. They killed off SpyDaddy because he was the character everyone cared most about and loved the most. Yes, even more than Syd. And because they couldn’t figure out anything about Rambaldi or that the Italian countryside doesn’t feature Himalayan mountains with ice caves, they just shrugged and said, “If we kill him, everyone will cry and we can peace out of this thing.” Boo! SpyDaddy was supposed to stay in the spying game, reuniting every so often with SpyMommy (who was also supposed to live) while Syd and Vaughn retire happily to (chemistry-free) married life on some beach. THAT is what was supposed to happen.

Then, just when matters couldn't get any worse, Lena Olin showed up. Syd tracked her down and found out that her evil mastermind of a mother basically has the same plan as everyone from Rhett Butler to Dick Cheney. Profiteering? Wow. Pretty damn weak.

So SpyMommy is bad and evil and SpyDaddy is wonderful and good, and honestly, the resolution of the SpyFam bothers me more than anything. Because we all knew all along that they were pulling this Rambaldi stuff out of their bums. But the reason I watched and loved Alias is that it used the spy genre as a metaphor for being in a family and growing up within a dysfunctional or broken family. And Syd was raised with the idea of one parent as the hero and the other as the villain, and then it flipped. But she was young and prone to black and white thinking – one of her parents was the good guy, the other was the bad guy. And both her parents were revealed over time to be complicated, difficult people who loved her but had poor ways of showing it. They were parents who had made bad decisions raising her, sometimes ostensibly to “protect” her from the other parent. These “protections” weren’t seen by Sydney as that, but rather as betrayals. Why did you leave me? Why did you lie to me? Those were the questions she was left with again and again as she sought to figure out whose truth to believe, which parent to trust, and whether they could maybe both have some ownership of the truth.

The show spun that metaphor out so assuredly, until the writers stopped caring about it. And in the finale – the last 47 (hee) minutes of its life -- they undid it all! All that work building up a show’s mythology, wiped out like that. Whoops, turns out Syd was right all along, before she knew anything. One’s the good guy; one’s the bad guy.

Not-J.J. did better on Lost, but honestly, I haven’t been watching that carefully. I plan to grab the DVDs and actually sit down and watch them in a marathon session, because my distracted viewing of four minutes here and there during commercial breaks has left me…actually, not that far behind most viewers. I wasn’t thrilled by the finale, but for all the flaws of the show, they have some of the best *moments* of television. “We’re the good guys.” The big foot. And the ice station with the phone to Penelope! And it may be that they are too happy to sacrifice logic for those moments, but honestly? I always love them. I really do. Plus, Clancy Brown!

Grey's Anatomy. Honestly, this show is just so bad that I can't even talk about it anymore. No Grey's. Okay just a little. A prom? Loretta Devine keeps silent about her knowledge of her husband's affair for 25 years and a flippin' PROM gets it out of her?! McDreamy, god, you rival the drama queen antics of most 12-year-old girls. And Izzie, please leave medicine and take your dead boyfriend with you. Your friends protecting you isn't loyalty; it's criminal. Is is possible for the Chief to be weaker and more ineffectual? ("I'm here to get answers! Or maybe I'll just listen to you all mope about your g.d. love lives instead of talking about how you participated in the almost-killling of a patient.") Christine behaves like no person on the planet ever has or ever will. Ever. And Izzie, even though I think you are crazy, I still think you are very, very pretty. I just think this show is so lazy in its ethics. If a likable character does something despicable (Izzy, Meredith), not only are we supposed to understand it, we are supposed to support it, because a FRIEND did it. I can't get with that. When a friend of mine does something awful, like say, compares me to Meredith Grey ("not looks, just her personality and her whole character"), I cannot support her in that terrible act. I also feel like I might want to kill both my friend and myself, but that's neither here nor there.

So to recap:

Gilmore Girls = way to unwrite Seasons 1-3 by changing the characters into unrecognizable crazies

Veronica Mars = way to unwrite Season 1 because Veronica can’t understand rape (in upcoming Season 3) unless she’s been raped.

Alias = way to undo the overarching mythology of your show, and to do it without WIGS!

Lost = once you’re fine with all Bad Robot shows eventually turning to crap, it’s actually lot of fun.

Grey's Anatomy = She meant it as a compliment, but how is that even possible?????

There is one bright shining spot in all of this. The Office. Oh, The Office. This half-hour comedy is delivering more dramatically satisfying moments than most of the one-hours on television. When Jim quietly confessed “I’m in love with you” to Pam in the parking lot, I actually gasped. Twenty-seven episodes of build-up and lost opportunities and dancing around the unspoken, obvious truth finally crashed down around Jim and Pam. When’s the last time you gasped at something on TV? (me: last season’s Alias finale…which, yeah, we know how that worked out.) So many big moments on television at the moment involve conspiracy theories, murders, prison breaks, serial rapists, severed body parts, lost relatives, and once again for good measure murder, but The Office got a gasp out of Jim finally -- finally -- saying what he had to say. It was a small, human moment, the kind most of us will have or have had, unlike the uncovering of conspiracy theories, murder, prison break, serial rapists, severed body parts, or lost relatives – which makes the gasp it elicited from me all the more impressive.

2 Comments:

  • At 8:06 PM, Blogger Mia said…

    Oh my god! YOu are hilarious!! I completely agree about "The Office" too! So sweet.

     
  • At 10:54 AM, Blogger Diana Dare said…

    aw, thanks! glad you're enjoying it!

     

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